This one had been on the to-do list for a while.
The format is simple, you start riding your bike around the woods outside Strathpeffer at 10am Saturday and keep on going until 10am Sunday, trying for as many laps in the process. Various configurations of rider(s) are available but we opted for a 75% Westies quad. This format offered just the right amount of challenge for it to feel hard while remaining mostly Type-1 fun. For experience, George had ridden the Puffer once before, Niall had crewed his pal a few years ago and Tom lives in Inverness so had reccied the course. I was going in blind with little in the way of expectations.
We sent Niall, our most experienced bike racer, out for the first lap. He looked the part in his Glasgow Wheelers lycra and finished in top-20 despite riding probably the worst bike there. No small feat as when I’d asked Niall if he fancied doing the Puffer 5 months ago he was slumped in his ICU bed, white as a ghost with a barely functioning liver.
I was third man out. Steady climbs on the course rewarded strong legs and techy sections in the woods punished a lack of bike handling ability. My second lap went a lot better than the first after I realised you could just “shout-ask” to get past slower riders. I thought I had it cracked, but my 3rd lap was in the dark which made it more challenging while also simplifying matters – when you can’t see alternative lines you bash on regardless of what’s in your way and its generally fine. More than once I found myself cruising down a line thinking “Damn, I would never want to be riding this.”
We’d initially taken it lap about but opted for doubles on the night-shift so everyone could get some sleep. Starting my second lap around midnight while the BDSM anthem ‘Venus in Furs’ was blasting on the base camp PA felt appropriate. That one was a struggle with an off-the-bike crash and later on being plunged in to darkness when two of my lights failed – glad I brought two spare. Shivering alone in the dark gazeebo afterwards I really struggled to figure out how long I had to rest as basic arithmetic was beyond me.
Luckily I got a decent couple of hours sleep and was rewarded with the dawn lap for my last effort followed by a delicious egg and hash-brown roll. Tom delivered a last strong effort on his by-then completely buckled bike and George, feeling his oats, cracked-out a glorious double at the end to take the team to 26 laps and 11th place.
As always, as the Westies men were plodding along, a Westies woman was crushing it at the sharp-end with Helen Gordon in the winning woman’s quad – nice one!
We were lucky to have an amazing support team throughout – immense gratitude and love to Katie, Ruth, Laura and Ella for their efforts. The cycling is easy, it’s the staying warm/getting fed/bike maintenance logistics that are a challenge and having a solid crew made life so much easier. The support, coupled with a friends stopping by at various points and a good-vibes party atmosphere throughout made this one of the most enjoyable events I’ve ever taken part in.
I was told that you don’t prepare for your first Puffer, you prepare for your second. Am already looking forward to a leaner, slicker, faster Strathpuffer 2025.