Daring Deeds - real stories, expeditions, road trips and adventure
Huffing and Puffing: Strathpuffer Part 2
By Adventure Pedlars
26, Jan, 2019
Alpkiteer Pete McNeil spills the beans on his 'Puffer experience
After Neil told his Daring Deed of this years installment of Strathpuffer, here's Pete to let us in on how he found the much loved suffer-fest that is the 'Puffer...
Pete's Sonder Broken Road, fully 'Puffer ready
The Strathpuffer is a special and wonderful kind of event. Whilst at 3am with your eyelids pinned open shivering in 3 layers of down jackets on a caffeine and sugar comedown and wondering what on earth you’re doing it might be easy to see the ‘special’ in it, perhaps the wonderful is a little less apparent!... But when you realise that some lunatic somewhere on the course is still up, sitting out in the snow on a deck chair next to an inflatable bear, covered in fairy lights and warming themselves in front of a washing machine drum filled with dying embers cheering on random passersby you get that glow inside that makes you realise that people are awesome and ‘wonder’ is probably the best way to describe it.
It was my second crack at the Puffer and whilst I originally contemplated the solo category I’d been pretty hammered by some self-supported races over the summer and as such hadn’t really thought too much about any sort of training since. The opportunity to race as a quad with some awesome Alpkiteers seemed like good craic and whilst we had plenty of hard won experience between us, as a quad I knew there’d be a good balance between suffering and enjoyment.
The great thing about racing as a quad is that race strategy can pretty much go out the window and you can just let rip, riding a lap as hard as you can, handing over the batton at the end and taking the next few hours to drink tea and recover. (kind of like a really drawn out interval training session). This approach is especially great fun on such a well laid out, technical and fun course and fits well with my own ‘dog chasing a car’ style of racing. It’s all very well rationalising where you are in the field and metering out appropriate effort but whilst there’s someone out in front to overtake, the urge to do so is hard to ignore. This ‘bull in a china shop’ approach led to me punching out a pretty speedy lap to begin with and kicking the race off in second place. (The effort was mostly thanks to a fear of being embarrassingly crushed by our own 14yr old Tom Siepp 3 laps later… he wasn’t far off!) Fortunately, however, we didn’t keep up with the pointy end of the race otherwise our suffering to enjoyment ratio may have been thrown way out of whack. Instead we settled into a steady rhythm, all putting in consistently solid performances and supporting each other in our luxuriously kitted out Sonder Bikes pit area (albeit at the expense of an alarming cafetiere breakage rate on the part of Neil…)
On the start line - Ready, set, GO!!...
....41 minutes later!
We continued with a one-lap-each schedule as the light quickly faded and the course got progressively slippier. My titanium Sonder Broken Road didn’t skip a beat though as I swapped out the 27.5+ wheelset for a set of pre-prepared ice-spiker 29ers and these gave me the confidence to continue railing the corners on the descents whilst being the envy of many other riders gingerly tripoding down the trail. Two blissful hours of sleep were grabbed in the wee hours of the morning thanks in no small part to the loan of a cozy Arctic Dream sleeping bag. And then, just as it seemed like it might never happen, the first wisps of dawn edged their way into the sky. It was at this point that the Puffer threw down it’s final gauntlet, sprinkling a light rain shower over the already frozen course it turned the riding surface to ice. Sitting in the finish area we counted and grimaced as at least two thirds of riders washed out on the final corner. Over a hot sausage butty I suggested to young Tom that I could take his last lap, making the most of my spiked tyre advantage but he was hearing none of it, going on to succeed where many others had failed in smashing the last lap unscathed.
We finished up respectably in the top 20 and the Strathpuffer has now been cemented in my race diary. Who knows what will make next year special?
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