Strathpuffer is a true test of mettle

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There we were on the A9, 14 of us in a mini-bus, heading back home to Arran, hauling a trailer full of bikes, tents, camping kit and all we needed to survive the Strathpuffer 24-hour mountain bike endurance race. Eleven pupils from Arran High and three adult supervisors, only one of whom had slept in a bed the night before. Exhausted, absolutely exhausted. Except for Stuart who was still yattering on, for a short while at least. It was so worthwhile. A great weekend. The race site is in Forestry Commission land, a Scots Pine forest with many walks and trails. We had pitched up between trees and a large grass area that was covered in frozen snow. Very cold and apparently the toughest year since this event started 14 years ago.

AHSMTB Club had entered two teams, one a mixed quad and the other a schools mixed team of eight, although we only had six riders in ours. The race began at 10am on Saturday morning with a classic ‘Le Mans’ start and our first pupils racing were James and Louie who, with a little imagination managed to be the first to get to their bikes, which was a real advantage. Excitement was palpable amongst the hundreds of competitors and their support teams. Louie was the 20th rider back home with an excellent sub 50 minutes circuit, James arriving minutes later. The transition was good and off went Luke next with Stuart not far behind. First casualty home … Luke, with a grazed knee and staved wrist. The course was treacherous because of lying ice and hardened, rutted single track. At some points it was better to ride off track to avoid unpredictable surfaces.

An excited Eilidh was next for the quad team, with Gregor four minutes later. Both came back safe and sound but finding the conditions extremely difficult. Although there was snow on the ground none was falling, for which we were all grateful. Meanwhile, back in our base tent the wood burning stove, along with sun beating through the plastic managed to get the temperature up to a ridiculous 27C!

Next out was Charlie, the last of the quad team and then Patryk, both coming back in under an hour and by this time requiring lights to negotiate the tricky course. We had realised that most of the other teams had been to Strathpeffer before and some of them practised on the course too, so the times our riders were getting were very good indeed. The quad team sent out Louie again whilst Sid was out for his first run. The resting riders in the tent were buzzing. Trying to get them to eat properly was becoming difficult,as they were on such a high, sustenance wasn’t a concern. Daisy was the last of our pupils to ride the circuit and came home in a good time. Euan and Mrs Dick went back to the bunkhouse to sleep, as they were both driving home the following day, leaving Robert, Blair and myself to fix the bikes, generators, stove and kids.

By this time of night the outside temperature had dropped to under 3 below and we were finding out how the new wood burner was performing. At times, as it was a wood burner for tents, we found it clogged up very easily and the temperature inside dropped below 10C, so a lot of work was done trying free it from ash. Without it we would have struggled with the intense cold.

2am. The riders are starting to flag, sleeping bags are coming out but everyone is refusing to succumb to the tiredness and cold. Hot soup is drunk, biscuits nibbled, the chairs are all much nearer the stove. Bikes are being worked on after each leg and we are now finding that during the walk from the tent to the start line, about 500 metres, the derailleurs are freezing up. Patryk and Luke each came back with only one gear working, which was a tough call. Ice is on the underside of every bike and they have to thaw out before maintenance.

4 am. Most riders are now sleeping around the stove when they aren’t on the trail. Waking them for their next ride is tricky and it takes time for them to rouse. We all know what it’s like to only get a couple of hours sleep, when your body is crying out for more and these pupils then had to get changed into cycle kit, go out in freezing conditions and ride a treacherous course, in the dark. One positive was that at that time of night there weren’t as many competitors out, so or riders weren’t being held up by slower ones.

6am. All the riders are now dozing or asleep, when not riding or getting prepared, but by near dawn Gregor is feeling better, as is Daisy, so they are going to do one last lap for their team, who sorely missed them. Stuart had had to do two continuous laps to help out. Dawn came with clear skies and the threatened snow didn’t appear. Everyone was in good spirits and keen for the last push. We only had two hours to go.  Both teams knew they were doing very well so were getting quite excited and found renewed energy.

Well done to all the Arran riders who participated, it was a real achievement. Results and standings can be found on the Strathpuffer website.

Thanks to Robert McNeice for all the hard work he has done in putting this trip together. It was a totally different event from anything that AHSMTB Club has been involved with before and was much more complicated, but Robert had all the bases covered. Thanks also to Duncan, Greig and Darryl for the loan of generators, County Carpets for floor covering, Arran Energy for fuel, Phyllis and Ian for the transportation and Kinloch Hotel for the marquee and catering equipment.

                                                                                                                       Steve Garraway


Arran riders prepare for one of the night stages. NO_B06puffer04

The chimney from the wood-burning smoke pours smoke into the night sky. NO_B06puffer05

The youngsters try to keep warm in the marquee with all their provisions to hand. NO_B06puffer06

Huddled in their sleeping bags and trying to get some sleep. NO_B06puffer07

A rider sets off on a night stage of the challenge. NO_B06puffer08

Stuart Logan prepares his bike for the challenge. NO_B06puffer09