Double the Gravel
On the 21st of April Nick T and I headed for Kielder Forest, well the castle to be more precise, the sign on for the Dirty Reiver 200 a 200km gravel race in starting in the Kielder Forest and doing large figure of eight type route around Kielder and the surrounding areas around the Scottish Borders.
After a long casual drive we made it to the castle, had time to sign on and chat to some old friends then beat a quick retreat to our campsite and the hotel in Bellingham for dinner.
Back at the campsite after dinner we prepared our bikes, loaded them with spares and food, and made sure they still worked.
In the morning after a fitful sleep we ate, loaded the van and headed of the Kielder Castle for the start. Loads of people had already lined up and we found ourselves towards the back. Soon enough we rolled off towards the start gates. Once through gates, Nick and I started to weave through the throngs as the first climb steadily lead us into 200km of excellent gravel route.
Soon Nick had to ease off as he was feeling unwell and he would eventually choose to complete the 130 instead of the 200 and was waiting when I returned happy and determine to return next year.
As I continued the field would thin out and I would get to ride and chat with some great people and some friends. An unscheduled toilet stop followed by a puncture which sealed quickly, but required some more air to be pumped into my rear tyre broke my rhythm, but I was ticking over again soon.
The nature of the route was pretty much up, down and a little bit of flat. After each feed station the difficulty of the route seemed to increase. After the last food stop, there were two more major climbs and then the route undulated around Lake Kielder and back to Kielder Castle for the finish.
However, it the top of the last major climb, my front wheel tyre flatted, after quickly repairing it the wheel was back in the fork. At this point it went tiny bit wrong, my quick release would not tighten back up. After 20-30 minutes of faff and noticing the thread had worn, I managed to force the QR up tight and then would play a game of don't get a front puncture. On fast gravel descents, this was difficult and at one point almost ended with me if a ditch after a very large and bum tightening 2 wheel drift (the sort on a MTB you would love).
I continued to watch the ground closely for sharp or square edge objects all the way to the castle and the finish. A beer, some soup and a big thanks to Paul Errignton, his happy helpers and the FC staff on my return and I was done. Smile on my face and I will return.
Sonder Bikes (Alpkit) has designed and produced one hell off a good bike in the Camino Ti, it was the perfect bike for the event and I will do a build blog abut my Camino build very soon.
Grave Dash 100 - it's not a race:
The following Sunday was the Gravel Dash 100 (mile) founded and ran by infamous Charlie the bike monger and his band of merry elves. A great bunch of velofiles and Dorset dwellers.
After a couple of drinks with Crispin the night before and a rocky night in the van on the foreshore in Swanage, thanks to the howling winds. It was wake up, get food and coffee and ready for the off.
I had no look at the route a great deal, but enough to know that riding it single speed I had to at least change my rear sprocket which I had to something a little lighter. This was a good plan, whilst there was less climbing, the climbs were quite a bit steeper. Especially the first hill hit once we left the road out of Swanage, I tried to clear it, but thought better of it about half way up, only 2 others would have me off walking, both at the hill fort sites.
For the first part the route undulated and took in some magnificent views, many from the tops of the numerous coastal cliffs in the Dorset region. Eventually we turned inland and the route flattened out a little. By this time I had passed or been passed by Carla (the first woman home on the day) and would ride with her and a chap called James for a number of kilometers.
As it seems to be tradition my rear slider decided it would loosen off and force me to stop. This did this multiple times and I eventually went gorilla on it and wanged the bolts up super tight, way beyond torque. This fixed this problem and I found my rhythm again and tapped out the ks, through forest road and single track, cow path and over hill ridge. Belting along lose gravel paths with others and over the field of 1000 really bloody annoying bumps. Not long before this I had joined Carla and James again briefly, but sped away on a descent.
Relief came in the form of several ks on road and a surprise addition of a water, cake and beer stop at 80ks (half way). Some water, a laugh with the guys there and being rejoined by Carla and I was off again. Legs, no w feeling it, but some urgency as I was now in to the last half of the course and soon a large flat section (leads to the hill forts).
Once at the hill forts after riding with a small group I broke the elastic to them and snuck away. A little bit of hike a bike at the first fort and then more of the same at the second then things would flatten out again. Again the views had been amazing.
No I sped along the flats, through forest and over some heath land, some more forest and then back onto a coastal path, that followed the cliff tops towards Swanage, rounding a bluff you could see Swanage, roughly 15ks away, but with one more bluff and the finally climb to conquer.
As I approached this, I was cheered on by several walkers as I passed and very slowly made my way to the top of the final ridge line, a kilometer or 2 along here and it was all down hill. Off down the loose path Charlie had warned us about, low of the drops, saddle up my butt, I only paused for a second to choose which of the 4 deep chutes to take as an old couple sat on a bench a couple of feet away enjoying a cuppa.
Down through this, into Swanage and back to the Red Lion for cider and food and to hear tales of heroics and drink more cider.
I came home as the first single speed rider and feeling surprisingly OK. Even a tubleless tyre repair at 30k to go minutes after a passing shower had soaked me, had not slowed me or dampened (pun intended) my spirits.
The Surly Karate Monkey that Phil Moore had encourage me to get and sourced and gave advice on the best build had finally had a proper hit out and it had been totally awesome. Thanks Phil.
The KM post GD100 fun.
Chalie and Crew, thanks, what an excellent low key, fun event, long may it last.
Thanks to The Red Lion for having us and a fantastic cider selection.
Alpkit, Wolf Tooth and Surrey Hills Cyclworks, thanks again for your support and great products.
Gravel racing is ace!