Friday 13 January 2012
24 Hours of Madness
I'm not the racing type. I don't really have that competitive streak or the dedication required to get really fast or good at anything. However, once in a while an event comes along that seems to feature just the right amount of madness to look "interesting". So it is with the Strathpuffer. As if a 24-hour mountain bike race in Scotland wasn't mad enough, it's held in January in order to ensure maximum darkness. Now, I've thought about doing the Puffer a few times over the years and circumstances have conspired against me. This year, I was asked to be pit-bitch for a friend and I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to see the whole thing up close and to finally help make up mind whether or not I was going to add this to my Palmares.
We were all prepped up on Friday and rolled in to Contin in the afternoon, getting my van and a caravan organised. Temperatures were completely unseasonal and the snow and ice which had featured previously was nowhere to be seen. A bit of a disturbed nights sleep made for a less than promising start, but by 10am we were all ready to roll.
Once the riders had done their Le Mans style sprint and headed off up the fireroad climb for the first time, we got ourselves organised in the start/finish marquee, claiming enough table space that we could get all the food, drink and spares together in the (relative) warm and dry.
After a fast start, the race settled down a bit and I found I had 10-15 minutes of intense activity - getting food and drink organised, checking over the bike when it came in - followed by about an hour of boredom. This pattern was briefly interrupted when we had a problem with brake pads on one of the bikes and again when a "stomach upset" meant that some riding time was lost.
Further illness meant we ended up with an unplanned break early in the morning but we were up again and ready to roll for a couple of hours as the sun rose and the race eventually ended at 10am.
Overall, it wasn't the mechanical carnage I'd expected. The weather obviously played a part with thin mud running off rather than sticking to the moving parts. The competitors seemed to enjoy it, whether they were in it for a place or only for the craic.
For me, the most important moment was just after midnight, walking down to the van, away from the piped music, the generators and the lights. The full moon was showing through a large break in the clouds. The occasional star was visible as the clouds swept noiselessly across. In the far distance, I could just make out small patches of snow on the hills above Strathconon. It was calm, mild and perfect. Perfect for sitting outside a bothy or tent with a wee dram that is!