Strathpuffer 2018

“How do people live in Alaska?”

“How do people put up with this every day?”

“Why is my brew stuck to the ground?”

“Jesus Christ, why does the heater not work?”

These were just some of the hundreds of inane questions we were all asking each other over the course of last weekend, sat in our dark, squalid, filthy gazebo while we each waited our turn to ride another lap of the snow and ice-covered Strathpuffer lap.

The Team JMC gazebo isn’t normally a disgusting hovel, combining the worst of the Glastonbury Festival, an explosion in a breakfast cereal cupboard and the Calais Jungle – it was just that this time it was inhabited by 4 blokes who were all racing and not one of us had brought our mum.

27479993_10155579396881339_2036434624_o

Before the mess got really bad. Gas fire clearly not working. (pic: Rachel Sokal)

It really was very cold indeed. I had to retreat to my car at one point and left Darren (my pairs team-mate) to ride 2 laps. I don’t think he minded. Riding your bike was the only way to stay warm. The car seemed like it was bloody miles away – in reality it was in a hotel car park in downtown Contin. If you’ve ever been to Contin in the Highlands you’ll know that heading ‘downtown’ takes seconds from whichever part of Contin you’re currently at.

Heated seats on full blast. Heater on full blast. I was shivering uncontrollably while the damn car took 45 minutes to get warm. The car’s external thermometer reckoned it was -7.5 degrees centrigrade. It felt far colder. It’s a 16 year old car so the instruments probably start to go mental when they get really cold anyway.

The weather lady on the BBC last night said that Saturday night was minus 13 in the Highlands so I’m claiming that.

Minus bloody thirteen.

ere y’are yer bike’s ere Daz

At least the mysterious Tesco bag of poo that Carl discovered under the van was ‘manageable’ in the cold temperature.

Why use the massive forest we were in the middle of when you have a carrier bag? Five pence well spent.

Back to the exciting racing we were doing. Tom and Carl were bashing out laps and were flying. They’d been training and it was paying off.

Darren and I were also doing ok, in our own way. We weren’t messing about (ok we started to mess about quite a bit once we realised we’d dropped out of the prestigious top 25 places and our motivation to keep changeovers below 10 minutes diminished) and we were getting round steadily.

spiky tyre, beige powder

Not much choice really – the generous covering of snow on the course meant that momentum, a vital ingredient of Awesome Singlespeeding, was hard to achieve and even harder to maintain.

On the uphill bits, any hint of pedalling out of the saddle resulted in a large amount of rear wheel slippage, so pushing the damn thing up even the smallest of inclines was necessary to avoid a stem/ballsack interface-event.

throw bike on floor, walk off.

Alternating between pushing uphill and trying to pedal uphill at a cadence of 10rpm only gave us a sore back each, which to be fair we both turned up at the race with anyway. But we weren’t going to be singlespeeding our way to a bad back cure.

In essence, we got slower and slower as the race progressed.

Chilly HQ

It didn’t really matter – neither of us had any burning podium ambitions or expectations and while it was very cold (I might have already mentioned this), this was probably the most perfect Strathpuffer conditions ever. The lack of mud, rain and the fact that the whole thing LOOKED AMAZING more than made up for any suffering on offer.

Not Salford

Our fast pair (and by far the pair responsible for most of the shambles in the gazebo – I’m just putting that out there) of Carl and Tom finished in 5th place in the pairs after some late neck-and-neck racing drama where some other chancers pipped them to 4th place. Me and Daz, after reaching the heady heights of 10th earlier in the race, somehow managed to finish in a less-than-awesome 34th place in the pairs. We only had 2 gears between us though, we Kept It Real therefore technically, WE WON.

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Strathpuffer weatherwatch / bellywatch

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so under-prepared for a 24 hour bike race. I’ve not been completely lazy since arriving in Scotland, but I’ve not done anything that I’d call ‘training’, nor have I been making an effort to drop some bodyweight in the few weeks leading up to this point, just a few days before the Strathpuffer.

Weirdly though, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m racing in the pairs with Daz. I’ve never raced in the pairs at the Strathpuffer – I imagine it’s quite horrible in a ‘flat out/shiver/flat out/shiver’ kind of arrangement and while the weather this week seems to be doing its snowy worst and I’ve hurt my back clearing out the shed last weekend (not ideal for 24 hours of fast singlespeeding and I’ve been on the CoCodamol all week), I have an inkling it’ll be a memorable weekend.

At the very least, it’ll get me right back into the frame of mind I need to be in for the stuff planned this year….

Happy New Year!

 

 

Start of a new chapter

Well, that was difficult. We’ve finally moved house. Normally moving house is hard but this move was insane really.

I suppose when you have a situation that gradually becomes more and more of a headache, by the time the really hard bits kick in you’re far too committed to pull the plug so you keep going.

Cutting a very long, stressful story short, we eventually arrived in Scotland, having sold out house in Manchester so lived in a caravan while the rain POURED down, causing us to have to carry the kids across the mud so they didn’t get their new school uniforms dirty. We didn’t have much with us and we had to share the caravan with our 2 cats and the dog.

It was pretty cramped and being honest, Debbie and I thought we’d made a massive mistake.

The England-based removals people weren’t helping (we had to get another firm involved for part of the job – they were awesome). Nor were some of the English solicitors. The old couple we bought the house from certainly didn’t make the final few days before moving in that easy either.

We moved in, threw all our boxes of stuff willy-nilly into the building and immediately flew to Tenerife for a week to recover (once we’d bought new flights following the news that Monarch had collapsed).

Not Scotland

We had a minor scare when we arrived there too, when the apartment we were staying in didn’t seem to exist…

Anyway, we had a great holiday and returned to our new house. We’re here. Newton Stewart, a long way from Manchester, is our home now. As the weeks have passed, it’s become obvious that nothing that we’ve done in the past year to move here was a mistake.

The people here are friendly and welcoming. The girls are doing things at (or rather outside) school that they seldom had the chance to do in Manchester. There’s fresh air and the views up here are pretty spectacular in every direction. The house needs a bit of work but it suits us perfectly and it’ll scrub up well.

And the cycling and the running? Amazing. The best bit is that I’m yet to discover most of it.

10 at Kirroughtree

I thought that 10 hours of laps around a rocky trail centre would be brilliant fun on a long-travel, steel hardtail with downhill tyres. Like I’d said in my previous post, I’d entered the 10@Kirroughtree race several weeks ago when I assumed that I’d be a resident of these parts by now but we’re still in Manchester – what should have been a “race from the front door” job was now a big weekend away.

Luckily our friends Lisa and Ritchie helped us out massively by providing us with a brilliant cottage to stay in for the weekend. Want somewhere nice and quiet to stay in the Scottish Borders? Give them a shout.

The race was fun up to a point. The first couple of laps were pretty good and I wasn’t worrying about getting a puncture. The first couple of hours of the race went something like, 11th place, 6th place, 4th place….but then things went a bit hazy. A combination of heavy bike, over-enthusiasm, a relatively untrained physical state and simply not eating enough sent me right to the edge of a full-on bonk and I slowed right down.

Crashed a couple of times while finding it hard to focus.

Got back to the pit area and consumed sweets and various pastry products.

Had a cup of tea and a sit down while Lisa continued to offer me food (while looking after the food and water needs of Ritchie).

Reminded myself that I was doing this for the laugh.

Glanced at my heavy lump of big-forked madness bike.

Drank more tea.

Decided I would ride more laps.

Rode pretty slowly, but got my head firmly into ‘get my money’s worth’ mode.

No idea where I finished but I was nearer the back than the front. It didn’t matter though.

 

Thanks again to Lisa and Ritchie for the digs, thanks to Deb and Lisa for feeding me and cheers to everyone who’s supported me this year. It’s been a weird one!

Now then – time to get packing our earthly possessions into boxes….

 

Tour De Mon and the 10@Kirroughtree not-bothered-what-the-weather-does weatherwatch

I’ve spent a lot of time on the Isle of Anglesey in the past 40-something years. When I was a child I’d more or less be there permanently through the school holidays and most weekends during term time. I thought I was familiar with all of it, despite being able to pronounce a very small percentage of the place names properly.

When I entered the Tour De Mon sportive, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get much out of it. Apart from it being a good excuse to pay my parents a visit I assumed that there wouldn’t be many surprises throughout the whole ride. I’m glad I did enter though, the route contained plenty of unfamiliar lanes and ‘grass up the middle’ stuff to open my eyes to parts of the island I’d never been to or had long-since forgotten.

one of many wheel-sucking moments

It wasn’t easy either – 104 miles (plus a 30 mile ride to the start – rarrr) and over 2500 metres of climbing on up-down-up-down-up-down roads meant that you knew you’d had a good day out. There was even an actual sort-of race for a mile along the Mona airfield, which took some recovering from…

Next weekend it’s the 10@Kirroughtree race, about 3 miles from our new house in Newton Stewart. When I entered the event months ago I wrongly assumed that I’d be a resident of Newton Stewart by the time the race starts but obviously that isn’t the case, so we’re driving up from Manchester instead.

I’ve not done a great deal of training in the past few weeks either due to ‘other stuff’ but it’ll be a fun day out and to make sure it is fun, I think I’ll take a Big Bike with a Big Fork and Big Tyres and have 10 hours of fun in baggy shorts.

Capture

Another chance to see some more of the trails up there and to catch up with friends north of the border.