Sunday, January 31, 2016

Three Strikes. The Strathpuffer 2016.

Neil, Mitch Bryan, and Simon Owen with the all important race numbers!
Every year in Northern Scotland, in January, there takes place a remarkable event, The Strathpuffer 24; fondly known as The Puffer.

"The Puffer"; it's an endearing abbreviation, it makes it seem somehow cuddly. Don't be fooled!

In the UK it's the type of event that we might best describe as "character building".
It's an event that attracts a lot of characters, and a lot of people with character. As Winston Wolfe so profoundly put it in Pulp Fiction all those years ago "Just because you are a character doesn't mean you have character". The Puffer can help you solve that particular conundrum.
Fundamentally it's a 24 hour mountain bike race; nothing unusual in that, there are plenty of them on the calendar, there's even a World Championships. It has Solo, Pairs, Quads, and Team of Ten categories. The Solo's, quite rightly, attract the most attention; and the places sell out in less than five minutes every year!
What The Puffer has is 17 hours of darkness and the wild vagaries of Scottish winter weather; snow, ice, rain, sleet, hail, wind, and mud, (in varying permutations) along with trail conditions that destroy drive trains, chains, brake pads, bearings, tyres, clothing, skin, and spirit, with merciless impunity.
It is probably the hardest 24 hour race going. Any self respecting endurance racer should have this on their palmares.
It's the most fun you can have in January with your (many layers) of clothes on!
As far as I was concerned this was to be my third and final attempt at completing it, if I failed this time that would be it, I would accept defeat.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Yak Attack - 2015. Inside out.

The NorthFace Nepal Yak Attack from TheYakAttack on Vimeo.

 ^^^ Check out the new video ^^^

Yak Attack 2015 was a very different experience for me this time. Race organiser Phil Evans asked me if I would be interested in supporting him with the day-to-day running of the event in one form or another.
We've become good friends over the last four years and I jumped at the chance to be involved. 
(For those that don't know; Yak Attack is an 8 day mountain bike stage-race held in Nepal and is considered to be one of the toughest races in the world). 

2015 had been a tough year in Nepal. The devastating earthquakes in April & May decimated not only communities but also much needed tourism. This was swiftly followed by a long and still ongoing border blockade, a political crisis caused by a short-sighted, and divisive, new constitution, and deep political corruption, that has resulted in chronic shortages of essential goods and fuel.
For Phil Evans to be able to convince and cajole 29 riders to take part in the race is nothing short of amazing, especially considering it was on the verge of being cancelled at one point.

I have actually raced it three times previously; in 2012, 2013, & 2014, and with mixed results I might add!
In 2012 it was part of a bigger adventure; the first half of my trip was spent trekking the "Old Expedition Route" from Jiri to Everest Base Camp with my friends Dave Slater and Wilco Voulon after which I stayed on in Nepal and took part in the race, more for the adventure than for racing.
In 2013 I decided to do it again to actually race it proper and see how I could do. Unfortunately it ended in disaster with a high speed crash on Stage Six which resulted in a dislocated shoulder!
Fortunately (sic) that year the race was being filmed as one part of a documentary series for Channel Five in the UK and I made a cameo appearance for all of the wrong reasons.
(You can read my account of that here in Part One and Part Two).
So in 2014 I had to return again! Fortunately it went well and I finished the race in one piece and happy with the performance I put in.
And that was supposed to be it for me, "No more!" was the cry!
But it's a special event, it is one of those races that pulls you back again and again. I'm not the only one with this affliction either, several international racers have returned two, three, and even four times. Paul Cooper, Yuki Ikeda, Peter Butt, Andre Deplechin, Sonya Looney, and Tyler McMahon are all multiple veterans.
2016 will be the Tenth Anniversary and it is set to be very special; if it can be pulled off logistically then the race might well have some new stages in The Forbidden Kingdom of Upper Mustang. I may or may not go back and race it once more; but then that's it, no more!!! Hahaha :D
This years event was definitely the best one yet, for a multitude of reasons, read on to find out all about it.