Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Strathpuffer Trial Run

Yesterday Mike and I took a drive up to Strathpeffer to check out the course for the Strahpuffer 24 race. All weather forecasts showed two rain drops coming out from a grey cartoon cloud so we bravely told ourselves that it would be a good practice for "the real thing".

Leaving at 7am we hit the A9 and had some breakfast at The Inn in Dalwhinnie. It's not somewhere I would normally have chosen but if you are looking to beat the lunacy of Bruar it's certainly worth a try. Besides, it's twinned with Las Vegas according to the sign which should give you some idea of the fun to be had there... It was a time to talk tactics - basically try to work out how many laps to try each at different parts of the 24 hours.

Full of breakfast we carried on to Strathpeffer and called into Square Wheels, the wee bike shop which organises the event. For a little round shop they manage to cram some amount of stuff inside, lots of ways to go into shiny debt. The canny man behind the counter (hmm, how can I get loads of bikers into my shop? In January?) sold us a map and drew the route for us in warning-red. He was also careful to remind us that brake-pads wear out extra quickly on the course; something to do with lots of mica in the soil...

Missing out on using the locked public toilets (tourists don't need to pee out of season) we found our start / finish point and ventured up in the hills. It was wet, very muddy and the course has a real split personality. It was either fairly boring slogging round forestry tracks (which all seem uphill) or incredibly difficult and technical sections with solid rock giving way to thick deep mud in an instant. Some bits were difficult to even see a way through. After 2 laps (managing about 50 minutes for each 8 mile lap) we stopped for some dried fruit and nuts (mmm) but the tea rooms were calling us... We noted how quickly we cooled down off the bikes too. We also realised that the whole "mind your brakes" thing was very real as Mike's rear went from fine to bad to gone... Anyway, time for one more lap then we called it a day.

Once changed we went to Strathpeffer's old railway station which is now collection of shops with a tearoom in the middle where we ate our own weight in soup and bread whle listening to the locals talk drivel. The woman sitting at the table beside us struck up a conversation on hearing we were cyclists - her partner had done it last year. "How many spare bikes are you bringing?" she asked brightly. "At least, brake pads anyway. They say they wear out very quickly..." Even the lady running the shop couldn't resist telling us that she's heard brake pads could wear out very quickly on the course. Message received and understood, everyone!

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