The first few hours were horrendous. Whilst sitting in the pits between laps, I was absolutely frozen. The kind of cold that makes your stomach contract and your feet hurt. Outside the sun glistened off the snow and ice. It was like sitting in a giant fridge freezer. Full of tress and rocks and stuff. If I was this cold now, what in earth would 3am feel like?! The thought filled me with dread. I actually felt pretty low.
The contrast once I was on my bike was dramatic. I LOVED it! After the chaotic start was over I settled into the long first climb near the front of the field. The mountains and fells opened up all around me; bright dazzling white light shimmering in every direction. Only a small number of tyre tracks weaved through the snow covered rocks. This was going to be an epic race. We took the pairs lead early.
This is what Phil Simcock, (Team JMC) and I had come for. A Proper Puffer. Snow and Ice. A Tougher Puffer. Last year was postively benign compared to this. It was going to be the rough with the smooth. Pairs is tough in it’s own special way. In these conditions, the hardest part is ironically when you’re not riding.
The pattern continued; elation on the bike, (it doesn’t get much smoother than riding rocky snowy Highlands singletrack). Rough; how it felt sitting in the pits, hugging your knees in a vain attempt to retain any body heat.
We lost the lead to an early puncture. We had anticipated that Craig Bowles and Jason Hynd would be close and determined competition. They did not disappoint. They hung in front of us but just out of reach. The race settled into its rythm. Ride hard but not really hard. Hand over. Throw on some seriously thick clothes. Try to trap some heat. Eat. Faff. Bloody Hell! It’s time to shed the jacket and stand back on the icey fire road, ready to go again before you know it!
After a period of complacency, we gave ourselves a good talking to and upped things. We took the lead back and settled in for the long night ahead. Everything was going well.
Then around 3am (impeccable timing) everything seemed to fall apart! Phil snapped a seat post. I messed up a light swap and ended up barreling down a rocky descent in total darkness. Then Phil ripped a rear mech off at transition which sent me straight back out again. Total chaos. Surprisingly, we actually lost little time and gained a load of nervous energy. Get through till dawn. See where we stand.
Dawn is a strange thing at the Puffer. It happens quickly and you know the end is just round the corner. By this time we had a defendable lead. I just needed to get out on lap 34 and bimble around. Which I enjoy the luxury of in a 24 when it happens, because it gives you the chance to properly thank all the amazing marshalls. And they don’t get any more chipper and cheery than at the coldest 24 in the UK! Brilliant!
And this is just one of the reasons I love this race: the atmopshere is incredible. The ‘all in it together’ feeling is almost tangible in the air. Get through the Puffer and you have achieved something to be proud of. It’s the best bad idea ever.
I got great help and support ahead of and during the race:
Schwalbe Tyres – provided Ice Spiker Pros. Amazing tyres and perfect for this course. They corner like it’s a summers day on ice and snow. Inevitably the final descent turned into a mud slide (brilliant fun) and the Ice Spikers worked superby as a mud tyre in their own right. Highly recommended.
Exposure Lights – The amazing new Equinox blasts out more than enough power on it’s own. The remote switch on your handlebar gives you even less reason to take your hands off the bars and your eye off the ball. Paired with a Maxx-D, it’s the perfect night racing combination.
My Specialized Epic – supplied by M Steel Cycles. What a brilliant bike. It was perfect on the jagged bumpy rock sections and so comfortable over the long haul. The guys also fitted some new brakes at the last minute for me. One good reason why shop sponsors are ace!
Team JMC – for taking me into their fold once again. Great people to spend a weekend with. Debbie Miles was great company in the pit and single handedly made sure everybody had what they needed.
Guy Kesteven sent me up a disc that I thought I ‘might’ have needed. Turned out that having it made my life massively easier. Had I known how much easier, I wouldn’t have been such a tight arse, and just gone and bought one anyway
Guy Martin’s mechanic stripped / relubed my internal cable. Lubed my suspension and changed my dics pads, during the night when my hands had totally seized up. Along with my brain.
Richpips and Minipips inspired me, (and just about everybody else in the forest) to shut my mouth if I even felt like having a moan.
Phil said quite emphatically ‘Never again’. Yeah, whatever! But something in his tone sounded sincere. I may have to go back on my own next year…
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