And we will go 500 miles! There’s a whopping 8 hours drive ahead of us before we land in the Travel Lodge Inverness. Things are very different this year; the weather is almost tropical at 8 degrees in late January. For the Scottish Highlands that is pretty unusual!
We know what to expect this year and the feeling is just ‘bring it on!’
Our small group have all arrived safe and we settle down to an “all you can eat ” curry night……what could possibly go wrong?
A good night’s sleep in a comfy bed and we get back in the van ready to roll by 9am.
Friday morning and the real journey begins. A quick dash over to Square Wheels in Strathpeffer to get booked on. Team Nier and the Shibden cc are first in the queue and its only 9.30 am, only 2 hours 30 mins to wait.
Time flies by as we chat about all things bike and discuss where we hope to pitch on the fire road climb. 12 o’clock looms and Donna is primed ready to dash for the van once she has signed in, pass in hand ……12.02 and we’re off on a short drive to the next village and up the fire road into the woods. We seek out the spot we were hoping for and stand guard until all our Team arrives. Next it’s a mad dash to set up camp.
from left: Dean Tempest-Mitchell, Donna Waring, Richard Dobson, Michal Siemencuk, Nigel Smith
The camp takes shape – to be fair we’ve had enough practice over the past 12 months! We stand back to watch the procession of vehicles going further up the fire road- horse boxes and £80,000 motor homes – all going to prove just how far Puffer has evolved with more than double the entries at over 800 compared to just a few years back.
We settle down once the generator and coffee machine are set up to await the 6pm sign on.
We were very unsure of our rivals this year. The teams have crazy names but conceal some really strong riders; “2 fat ladies” translates to two really quick female riders.
We decided to stick to what we know with Nigel lined up to do two laps from the gun then sit into doing alternate laps.
We hit the sleeping bags at 7pm and as per usual Nigel was too hyper too sleep, The following morning he rolls out of the van and didn’t think he had actually had any sleep at all! The buzz around the venue was rising and quickly things got hectic as we made all our last minute tinkers, fitting mud guards and deciding what to wear because it’s already 8oc!
Nigel comments: ‘It’s 10am and I’m in the lineup for the start. The brief has ended and we are 2 mins to go. I realise I’m a long way back! On the gun I try to wind my way through the masses to get a decent start, and after collecting my bike from Donna, I run about 50 yards before jumping on the bike. I knew I needed to keep ahead so I put the hammer down to get towards the front and quickly rode into the top 15 on the fire road climb then eased off. There’s a long way to go ! Each lap is around 6.7 miles of sloppy mud greasy rocks and around 900ft of climbing.
Donna adds: ‘With the dibber round my neck I set off for my first of many laps, picking through the many riders on the track. I knew once the darkness kicked in there wouldn’t be as many out, and I much prefer it that way! I tried to drink at least 750ml of fluid after each lap and tried to get food in, mainly chia charge rice cakes, bars and my favorite chia charge peanut butter and jam sarnies (without the crust)! And with a comfort break I knew my fluid intake was ok…………. My makeshift ensuite did the trick!’
Nigel continues: ‘I was having gearing issues with the intensity of the sticky mud and the only way to keep the transmission going was to jet wash the bike down after every lap. Dean was king of the pit and dragged at least 15 barrels of water up the hill to keep the jet wash going. Without his consistent maintenance I’m unsure we would have got through trouble free!’
‘By lap 12 we had made a significant gap on 2nd by being 1 lap up. Now it was all about sustaining the lead through the dark hours into early morning. At midnight I rode a double to give Donna a longer break but after this we were on back to back laps again till dawn.’
Donna picks up the tale; ‘My darkest moment was when Nigel went out on a double lap. I sat in the van after refueling and must have had a slight doze. Dean knocked on the window and said, 10 minutes! As I got out of the van I said “don’t think I can! Not really sure why I said this as I knew I would never give up. Dean looked at me and said come on you can! And I did 🙂
‘We were well into the night and on every lap my thoughts turned to the mudfest on the final section and having to get off and run. There was no way through that sinking feeling as the mud sucked your feet in and I struggled to even push my bike. On the final down into transition I made the decision to run this on my last 4 laps as I saw one too many go over the bars trying to ride. Then it was transition and the slog back to camp with 4kg of extra mud on board!’
‘I really appreciated the chats with a number of riders, giving each other the encouragement to dig in. I also rode alongside Guy Martin on the first fire road climb, both heads down until we reached the top when he turned to me and said “are you going first lass or do you want me to go?” referring to the bridge and rocky section at the top of the climb. I said ‘Go on I’ll let you go Guy; I will follow your line……. but don’t fall off!’ He replied ‘can’t promise that lass!’ and off he went, with me following.’
Nigel adds: ‘Our exposure lights were faultless and really made a substantial difference to the cheap Chinese options we had last year. The conditions were far harder but I was determined to do more laps, and although we could have eased off at 26 laps, we were a lap and 30mins up. As I went out with 55mins still on the clock I thought that maybe I would go out for a 28th but …on the first moorland rocky section I managed to burp my rear tyre reducing the pressure dramatically which meant either stop and put some air in or ride out of the saddle to reduce the weight at the rear. I chose the latter.’
‘This also slowed me down and I missed the cut off for another lap by a few minutes so 27 laps it is! Every lap ended with a major mudfest which meant it became almost unrideable in the later laps. I chose to run this section for maybe 8 laps, but I’m not complaining – it all adds to a 24hour race which is meant to be extremely tough.’
We both love Puffer and the people who run it are just amazing. The event’s atmosphere would definitely take some beating; it’s competitive but everyone is supportive of each other.
Our journey home on Monday was not a pleasant one as you can imagine following one night’s sleep after being awake for 36 hours. Would we do it again?….YES! Bring on 2017!
Big thanks go out to all involved in the Puffer trip. Dean Tempest Mitchell you really are a star, none of this would be possible without you, and pitting for 4 people was a huge ask and you did it without complaining, taking a nap or getting into a flap!
Michal also rode solo achieving 13 laps and Richard Dobson achieved 16 laps both on their first 24hour solo – a great one to choose as your first, mental!
Huge thanks goes to Tim at chia charge who has supported us with fantastic products to keep us going. Nutrition is a huge part of performance in a 24hr and I think we are getting there, although at times you have to force yourself to eat.