And so it started quite innocently with Lisa Scott.
I had no intention of riding the Puffer due to quite a serious crash I had on my bike at the tail end of June when I found out if you hit a tree around 20 odd mph with your shoulder there was always going only one winner.
Separated shoulder, Grade 3, complete separation of the joint, AC and CC ligaments completely torn which required double Endobutton surgery to pull it all back together which happened within two weeks of the crash.
Having started last year in fine form winning the quads and getting the fastest lap of 2017’s Puffer, high finishing in the Selkirk Marathon on the singlespeed and a 3rd in the Vets at GT7, again on the singlespeed the crash and the recovery was demoralising to say the least.
Back on the bike finally at the end of September/beginning of October Lisa Scott posted up that unfortunately she would not be racing at Strathpuffer due to injury and her solo place was available.
Looking more for motivation than anything else I spoke to my long suffering wife Avril, who had put up with me from June, and we had actually missed the family holiday due to the crash, whole heartily supported me, told me to ‘go for it’ what else are you going to do over the winter’.
I spoke to Lisa, got the entry switched and I was in, happy days. All I had to do was get fit!
The journey up to Strathpeffer is always boring with endless speed cameras and HGVs travelling at 50mph but this year brought something different, heavy snow lying on the roads.
Leaving the house at 6am the plan was to hook up with Paul Innes from Perth and run as convoy as we were both riding solo from the same pit and long-term biking buddies.
The going was slow but eventually we got there to stand in the freezing cold at Square Wheels to collect our parking pass, feet numb (Poor Mile Milne from the Angus Bike Chain had already been there for an hour and a half wrapped up like and Eskimo with his folding chair) and shivering, this was going to be the tone for the weekend.
Setting out our pits, we’re old hands at this now, gas blow heater, gas stoves, tables, duck boards, lights, generator, separate bike pit and of course our leather couch which follows us everywhere was up in a matter of an hour or so.
Wendy Milne, ‘Pit Boss’ and general kicking us up the backside motivator, Andy Kindress and Mark Smith, ‘bike mechanics’ were our secret weapons. Ant Jordan, Rachel Sokal and Carol Cleary also helping out and looking after us all, all experienced and knew what was required.
The other riders involved running from the pits, Mike Milne and Jane Lockhurst, Paul Cooper and Marie Meldrum as mixed pairs (3rd and 1st finishers in the pairs Mixed Cat), Paul Innes solo, Neil Hutchison solo, Martin Smith solo (2nd overall) and Gary Wood and Steph male pairs. This was going to be busy.
Walking down to the start I met Tom Hodgkinson and had a wee chat about what we were in for !
The usual run/walk, slip, scramble start to the race over sheet ice was a nightmare in SPDs, trying to get ahead of the pack for a couple of free run laps is always ideal here, one single line through the snow.
The plan was just to see how far I could ride, singlespeed fully rigid Niner was my choice of bike, no spikes just grippy tyres, wide bars and a 32:20 gear. What could go wrong!?
First couple of laps I was going too fast, Andy Kindress gave me a row after the second lap, my wife texted me to say ‘slow bloody down’ but the race had got me, forgetting my lack of fitness and the fact that this is for 24hrs was not on my mind, I had to settle down to a manageable pace.
After the fifth lap things started to get sore with the shoulder, constant pulling on the bars to manipulate the bike up hill due to the lack of gears was starting to tell. By the 7th lap I was burst. Into the pits, heat, pot noodle, coffee, pain killers and back out with a big push from my pit crew.
The snow was described by another rider to me on the course as ‘funny snow, no grip, powder and a git to steer the bike in’. Personally I just found it just hell to ride in. Singlespeeding requires a certain technique to climbing, I normally climb out of the saddle and just mash the pedals but this was getting impossible. Up to that point I was clearing every climb except one but people were slowing down and I was having to take a run up to build momentum but then catching the person in front and having to turn the crank around at 10rpm behind them because you couldn’t go offline or that was that, stop and push.
The climb after the Bridge of Thighs was my favourite, spurred on by a big chap that was shouting encouragement. Every lap I cleared it to his comment of ‘Yer a machine big man!’ really gave me a boost. Simple things eh?
As the night wore on the temperature was going down, and down, and down until ice was forming in places, bottles froze, toes numbed but I still didn’t think Ice Spikers were required. Just pick a line I kept saying to myself which was getting harder as I was getting tired. Then the rocket bang to tell everyone we’d reached halfway, is that all? 12hrs to go, only 12!
Around 7am that was that, completely done but I felt I had exceeded what I had came to do considering.
I pulled into the gazebo spent, cold and ready to call it a day. The guys told me I was sitting 2nd singlespeed and 7th overall, but I was now in my chair with covers, jackets and anything else that would keep me warm with my shoulder in pain thinking that’s it.
I fell asleep for around 30mins then Andy shook me up to tell me the guy 3rd singlespeed was back out and was within a lap of me. That gave me the kick in the nuts I needed. Quick change of clothes, another pot noodle from Wendy (and reminder from her that this is a 24hr race not 20hrs and give up – we can always rely on her) and I was back out, strangely fresh and ready to get on with it again.
Back to it I felt quite strong again, passing folk on the climbs and just chatting gave me a boost. Two more laps and that was it, 19 laps, 2nd singlespeed and 8th overall, I was completely done in but so happy with my race.
I have got to say without the guys support from the pits I could never have done the full race, it’s amazing ,when you don’t think you can push any further, the boost your friends can give you to get back out and pedaling.
With Keith Forsyth winning his fourth Puffer and Martin Smith churning out lap after lap in those conditions, there could be another great battle next year.
I’ve got my first 24hr solo race done now, Strathpuffer ticked off and ready, maybe, for another but singlespeed with front suspension next time!