This year is my year of British microadventures. A year of seeking out challenges, new places and new experiences in my own country. In order to try to encourage a wider span of people to sample a microadventure for themselves, I am going to cover a range of different types of microadventure. I’m kicking off with adventures that are ready-organised for they are the simplest to commit to, get a flavour of, and perhaps be tempted to try a bigger and bolder adventure next time.
The first category of microadventure for this year is to enter a race. Races are excellent because they cater for every capability. Everyone on Earth can push themselves to their very limits in a race, whether it be a 5km run in the local park, the London marathon, or a 24 hour mountain bike race. Don’t think you have to enter a race in order to win: I’ve never won a race in my life! Enter for fun and for a challenge.
The Strathpuffer (a 24 hour winter mountain bike race in northern Scotland) is a race that illustrates this well. I entered the Quads division, which is the least taxing as you share the burden with three team mates, alternating laps throughout. If that is too easy you enter as a Pair. And if you are well hard you enter as a Single, looping round and round without stopping for 24 hours. But even that is too easy for some people. A mad minority rode the Strathpuffer on singlespeed bikes (bikes without gears) and are the daftest of the daft!
Here’s a brief account of my time riding the “Puffer”:
“50% icy terror, 50% fun,” was how I described my first lap of the Strathpuffer.
My final lap felt more like 10% fun (for zooming downhill on a bike is always fun) and 90% exhaustion. After a day and a night the novelty of the 7 mile loop had worn off somewhat.
As the hours and laps and riders passed a good deal of the ice had been scuffed from the trail. So mud replaced ice. Night replaced day. After 15 hours of night riding, day once again replaced night. And as the clock ticked over to 24 hours and the race ended, the waves of weariness were replaced by a warm feeling of satisfaction, an enormous appetite, and a yearning for my bed.
The Strathpuffer had everything that I look for in an endurance race: it is tough, it’s a bit daft, it’s in a beautiful landscape, and the organisers and competitors are all friendly.
In between laps I drank tea, ate voraciously, and compared horror stories of icy crashes and muddy punctures with other riders. Music from the PA system kept spirits high throughout: the race began to Springsteen’s “No Retreat, No Surrender” (followed by the equally apt “A little less conversation, a little more action, please”). In the evening a live band (The Mystic Shoes) kept muddy legs tapping and stopped heavy eyelids from slipping closed.
The route began with a long climb up a track slick with ice. After 20 minutes of constant climbing, slipping and crashing I hated the course. A skeleton wearing a bike helmet and perched on a rusty bike looked on as I cursed the leaden skies. But the rest of the course compensated for the harsh winter conditions. There were stretches of technical rock slab to negotiate, a steep muddy singletrack slalom through gorse bushes, and a long exhilarating swoop down through a forest which provoked whoops of delight from me even at three in the morning. Or perhaps I should say “especially” at three in the morning.
For I was acutely conscious, in those long, dark night-time hours, of the absurdity of what we were all doing. Hundreds of mud-caked idiots riding as hard as they could round and round in circles while the rest of the world were enjoying their Saturday night and then their Sunday morning lie-ins. I was wet, cold, hungry, muddy, sleepy, bruised and a bit scared as I rode hard downhill, focussed on the pool of light from my headlamp picking out the patch of track ahead of me. And yet there was nowhere I would rather have been.
I encourage you to enter a small event as you will find it friendly and non-intimidating, even as a complete novice.
Rather than entering a normal marathon or half-marathon have a go at something a bit different for once. A vital part of the microadventure ethos is trying something different.
Enter a cross-country race, or a mountain bike race, or an adventure race. They are held all over the country (here are 10 Great Races to start you off). Low-key, gently eccentric events that will push you as hard as you wish to be pushed, taking place in beautiful parts of the country that you may never have visited before, and for a pretty reasonable price. The Strathpuffer cost £45. Divide this by 24 and you get your fun for under £2 per hour! So go on: sign up for a race today.
Don’t be intimidated – have a go. You may surprise yourself.