Sun, snow, Scotland and… mud: Strathpuffer 2015
It seems we just can’t help ourselves – it’s January, there are severe weather warnings everywhere and, just like last year, we’re driving up the A9 into a blizzard on our way to the 2015 Strathpuffer.
The first challenge is getting the van up the icy forest track to the small clearing that Thor and Mugs have spent the evening defending for us – camp Weasel. Then it’s foraging time as we try to gather enough dry-ish firewood to last the 24 hrs of racing that await us. Once everything is in place we can relax. There’s about 15cm of snow on the ground, the sky is clear and a crescent moon is glowing just enough to light up the mountain panorama far off into the distance. The clock strikes hip-flask o’clock and we have the pleasure of this moment, toasting absent friends and admiring the beauty that Scotland holds back for those who’ve earned it.
Except at the moment we’re on credit as far as Mother Nature is concerned – with all the suffering still to come it’s time to get some kip before the big off on Saturday morning. Anyone who has raced knows the score. Just write the following tasks on scraps of paper, put them in a hat and pick them out at random: ‘pee’ ‘zip tie number on’ ‘lube chain’ ‘get dressed’ ‘remember shorts have bibs, get dressed again’ ‘zip tie mud guards on’ ‘pee again’ ‘change mind about clothing’ ‘hunt for snips to trim zip ties’ ‘slightly deflate, then slightly re-inflate tyres’ ‘pee again’ ‘check watch every 15 seconds throughout’ ‘find bike in snow drift’. The last one only usually happens at the Puffer, but you get the idea.
Huw set off for the flying first lap and landed us right in it by pedalling his arse off and getting back in top spot. And so the routine began – one lap each in a quad team gives you a beautiful period just after your lap with two team mates still ahead of you and one out racing. Time to eat, peel off wet clothes and hang them by the fire, chat and relax. Then the two man buffer ahead of you becomes one and your mind turns to tasks such as bike prep – there’s a hell of a lot needed at the Puffer.
Before you know it there’s just you in the queue, endlessly recalculating when the last man headed out so you know exactly when you should be ready at the transition, bike upright and gloves sliding into hands… wait, the frickin’ fingers are all inside out and my hand is so cold I can’t sort them out and shit now I have got them on I realise my down jacket is still on and it won’t fit over the gloves so I have to take the fookers off again and shit my jacket just dropped in a muddy puddle and even bigger shit just the phrase Muddy Puddle has put the Peppa Pig tune in my head and there’s no way I’m shifting that any time soon I HATE YOU PEPPA!!! As ever, it’s a smoothly oiled machine here at team Chris Bell/Honey Badger Racing..
And so it went. Day lasted all of 5 hours before turning into night. Night lasted 17 long, fairly cold and either icy or muddy hours, depending on what the wind was doing and whether a snow shower was passing. Over the course of that period Mags, our Camp Weasel uber-domestique, checked her phone and realised we were still, somehow, sitting in second place. This was quite the surprise and was met with resignation by the riders – we’d been about to start smoking cigars, drinking whisky and generally being slack. Second place meant we felt obliged to dig in and try to hang on to it. Note for next year – go slowly and revel in mid table obscurity!
Anyhow, pedal we did and as night finally turned back into day we were still in second with a good 30 minute margin over third. Daylight also brought with it a far heightened chance of genuinely having fun on a lap – ‘type 1’ actual fun rather than ‘type 2’ purely retrospective Puffer fun that is. And so we hiked down to event HQ to watch Addy cross the line and seal the deal. Things only got better as the very kind lady from the local microbrewery asked “any of you lads want a free beer?” No thanks missus, chalky recovery drink for me, all the way. Oh, wait a minute. Since you’ve poured it then. Even better, nobody cramped and fell off the podium so honour was intact as we were handed some cute trophies, a very snug Haglofs fleece each and another beer…
And there it is, Strathpuffer 2015. We raced bikes in snow, we talked shit, we made a big fire and we saw friends.
Busty, Chris and Rachel were there in the hills somewhere, loving it with us.
Thanks to Mags and Mugs for the photos!