Update - Naomi successfully completed the GT24 in a time of 28 hours and 39 minutes. On the way she set a female record of 16 hours and 38 minutes for mountain biking the West Highland Way.
I'm blessed to have good friends who are super accommodating when it comes to helping me act out my photography ideas. Whether it be endurance athlete and adventure racer Joanne Thom camping on snow at 1,000m so I can get mountain running photos ("There's this great narrow ridge I think would make a cool location for mountain running shoot. The only problem is it's a 4-hour drive, a 2.5 hour hike and 700m of ascent to reach it. Oh, and the weather forecast isn't that great so it may be a complete waste of time. What do you think?". Joanne - "Sounds like an awesome adventure! Let's go!”) or my friend David Hetherington regularly climbing completely random bits of rock so I can capture mountaineering photos ("Yep, hold on. I'll try and find the best way up for you") and also joining me on trips e.g. to remote mountain bothies so we can have a 12-hour winter hiking adventure.
My most recent photo shoot was with Naomi Freireich, winner of the solo female category at the 2016 Strathpuffer 24-Hour Mountain Bike Endurance Event (and also 3rd place finisher in the 2015 UK 24-Hour championships). Naomi and I were joined by her partner, Edinburgh-based doctor and ultra-long distance runner, Charlie Lees. I’ve photographed Naomi before, in our local hills above Edinburgh (see this feature in International Mountain Bike Magazine) but we’d never been out in the bigger mountains together before. Charlie I’d also met before, in January at the Strathpuffer race as he supported Naomi on her way to first place. I was competing in the Strathpuffer as a pair with Davy and we shared resources with Naomi, who says she is looking forward to returning the favour for Charlie by supporting him as he races in the 96-mile West Highland Way race from Glasgow to Fort William in Scotland in June.
The reason I photographed Naomi Freireich was because she has been in the news recently, as she prepares to take on what is likely a unique endurance challenge, the GT24, a route concocted by Scotland’s Gary Tompsett. Naomi will be tracing her partner Charlie’s 96 miles route along the West Highland Way but from there continuing another gruelling 73 miles to Inverness along the Great Glen Way. That's 169 off-road miles with 5,000+m of ascent. And she plans to do it alone, non-stop, in record time for a female.
To help Naomi with her GT24 preparation, and to get some publicity shots (see why below), we headed up to the West Highlands of Scotland for a mountain summit bivvy on Stob Choire Claurigh, a 1,177m high Munro in the Grey Corries. I hadn't even given mountain biking the ridge a thought - my mind was focused on mountain landscapes and running images - until Naomi messaged me and asked 'Do you know how much is rideable". If you know the Grey Corries, you'll appreciate they're definitely NOT conducive to mountain biking, with lots of shattered quartzite blocks and scree covering the ridge, the colour of which lends the mountains their name. And, although my interest was definitely piqued - I thought the backdrop of the ridge would be awesome for some cycling images - I had to be honest and I replied "Not very much". It says a lot about Naomi's attitude that her response was to ignore me and respond enthusiastically, "Well, why don't I take it and we'll see? I need the 'hike a bike' practice anyway"). And so the decision was made. On a beautifully still and quiet evening, completely removed from the nearby bustle of the Fort William UCI Mountain Biking World Cup, both Charlie and I frequently commented on Naomi's tenacity as she pushed, cycled and carried her bike - a Specialized Epic Carbon Elite World Cup model - all the way up Stob Choire Claurigh to the mountain's summit. And what did we find? There definitely is mountain biking on the Grey Corries.
Pancreatic Cancer Action
Sadly, the reason Naomi is riding the GT24 is to raise funds for the charity Pancreatic Cancer Action. In June 2016, Naomi and her family tragically lost her sister’s husband, Jonathan O’Riordan to pancreatic cancer. “Jonathan was a year younger than me and married to my baby sister and father to their amazing 3-year-old boy. Pancreatic Cancer is cruel. Only 3% of those diagnosed will win their battle with the horrible illness, which takes people away fast and painfully. Unlike other cancers, this prognosis hasn't improved in the last 50 years, and I would like to help change that so others don't have to live with this horrible sentence. We were all quite shocked by just how quick and painful Jonathan's condition was, having seemed to respond well initially to chemotherapy. It was only in the last few months of his life that I fully appreciated just how awful pancreatic cancer is and just how little hope people have because of lack of diagnosis. I felt powerless to help my sister and brother-in-law and thought that the next best thing would be to try and help raise awareness and funds for research".
Ali Stunt, Founder of Pancreatic Cancer Action, said, “We are very grateful to Naomi for giving her time to support Pancreatic Cancer Action. As a charity, we rely on the generosity of individuals to help us continue our vital work. These funds enable us to continue research into early diagnosis and raise awareness of pancreatic cancer".
You can support Naomi in her challenge at: https://www.justgiving.com/LoveRhino.
Monies raised from the sale of these photos will be donated, through Naomi, to Pancreatic Cancer Action. See more images of Naomi Freireich mountain biking in the Grey Corries in my stock image library.