It seems like a long time ago that me and one of the Moray Minx girls made a pact to do the Puffer on a club night out. She was already enlisted so I think she was just looking to stitch someone else up. Anyways, when I asked for team members or a partner there were none forthcoming so I decided it would have to be solo. This is a massive undertaking for me as I'm a relative newbie to mountain biking having only taken it up since retiring from rugby and the only event I have ever taken part in is a couple of laps of the 10 More in Moray as part of a quad. The morning the places went on sale I logged in 40 mins after the website opened and ......sold out! Ah well. I tried. Shame. I'll just have to enjoy the festive season with lots of food and beer then. But wait, on the 27th of December I'm out having an all you can eat Chinese because I'm sick of turkey and an email arrives. Someone has fallen out and would you like their place? Bummer, training starts tomorrow then. At least it would if there wasn't so much snow around. I made do with local runs in the snow but after thinking that it was pretty hopeless I decided that I would still do the event but just enjoy it rather than take it seriously, not that someone aged 44 and as heavy as me could really compete anyway. It would have to be a battle not to be last and not to look a numpty. Thanks to my lurcher nagging me and some of the club members pushing me I managed to get a few longer rides in in the last 2 weeks, some on completely suicidal sheet ice in the hills. Oh how useful that practice would turn out to be!
I got 2 of my drinking buddies to volunteer to be pit bitches. Luckily one of them is quite a skilled mechanic and owns a 4WD Bongo camper with winter tyres on. Winner!
I gave myself most of the Friday off so we were able to arrive just after 2pm and get a good pitch on the fireroad with enough room for 2 tesnts, one big one as workshop and changing area and one as my bed. The pit bitches had the campervan and all of its nice thermostated heaters. They did offer to swap but I figured a nice warm bed would be too much of an incentive to fail. Friday night the Moray Minx girls' crew made us chilli and rather naughtily I had a few ciders, just to help me sleep on the sheet ice bed that I had you understand. I got woken by the wind (big concern as tents were only held down by rocks and kit, the icy and rocky road was too much for our tent pegs which all bent) and quite a few people who couldn't get there early and then had to drive up and down looking for somewhere to camp. I was warm enough on an inflatable bed, sleeping bag and quilt with all my clothes still on. I got about 6 hours kip.
I had rice pudding, bacon roll and banana for breakfast, the pit bitches were briefed to get gels, isotonic water, nuts and banana down me every time they saw me and to carry spares for chains, pads and tyres down to transition. I had hoped to ride my tubeless HRs and left it to the last minute before deciding to swap to snow studs as the rain had failed to melt the ice. I had also taken a SS but the ice ruled that out too, at least in my head. If anyone is ever thinking of buying Schwalbe Snow Studs forget it. They are pish. They might grip as you corner but you get no traction on the sheet ice as found at the top of the course. Proper ice spikers with studs on the centre line are the way ahead. I am really glad I chose flats and 5:10s as the ice was horrendous. For the 1st 6 laps there was absolutely nowhere to relax, coast and zone out. It was 100pc concentration or you were on your arse. This was probably the worst bit, you don't expect to have to focus that hard for that long, even on the fire road climbs. I did a lap or 2, had a brew and a chat, got fettled and went out again. I was watching the insane youngsters do laps in 34 mins and feeling totally inadequate to the point where I would start racing people when I was out. I watched lycra clad lightweights dismount and walk on the steeper climbs and took huge delight in powering up past them. Both mistakes. You have to go at your own (slow) pace and walking the steep climbs is actually a good way to save the legs for later. Shame it took me 8 laps to realise as I found myself in granny where previously I had been middle and middle.
I figured that if I did 8 laps I wouldn't be last and I'd done them by 11pm so I treat myself to curry and chips and a few hours kip. I figured 12 laps would be attainable. I was out again at 5am. Lap 9 was nice, the Hope 4 and DX light fully charged again and the rice pudding sitting nicely in the gut with all that gel. Most of the ice had gone. Lap 10 was the worst biking I had ever done. I had refused gels and food as I felt ok but by the time I got near the top I had nothing in the legs. I was walking some, pushing some on relatively easy stretches. By the time I hit the Bridge of Thighs I was feeling sick and thought I was about to faint. I threw the bike down and got loads of emergency haribos down my nexk along with an ancient twix that I found in my pack. I can't really remember the rest of the lap except the last descent as dawn was breaking and it was gorgeous. Lap 11 was fine, I'm going to get 12 in after all I thought but after a slow puncture which I stopped for 4 times before finally swapping the tube, which then pinched probably wasting me 30 mins in all, I was left with 1hr 5 to get my last lap in. It wasn't going to happen so I gave the nice lady my dibber. I survived and finished in the top half. Result! Apart from the punctures I snapped a fancy KMC gold chain which I'm a bit annoyed at as it was new and supposed to be stronger than the others that I keep snapping and only 2 sets of pads. I've written this because I think there are tips in there for anyone else thinking of doing it but also to document that when I do it again I can take it a bit more seriously and I think I've got 14 laps in these here legs. I loved the whole experience. The whole thing was fun from start to finish so if you are teetering over whether to do it at all just sign up. It was great, particularly the support from the crowds and marshals.
Descending in my sleep!
Spaced out after 7-8 laps.