#team18 ride writeup
Grant and the Dirty Reiver
Grant headed North for a long CX bike ride, here's his writeup!
The Dirty Reiver was my "A-race" coming into 2017, it's a 200 km (ish) gravel event held in the Kielder Forest area of Northumberland. My first ever Winter of structured training was mostly in preparation for being able to complete this event in a reasonable time. Unfortunately, things on the day didn't quite go to plan...
I'd arranged accommodation in a camping pod about 40 mins away, which turned out to be minimalist, but had everything I needed - namely shelter from the elements and some power sockets for charging gizmos. The Border Forest site I was staying on was beautifully remote and the lack of light pollution made for breathtaking star-scapes at night. I'll definitely head back for a more relaxed time in the future.
I decided to register on the Friday afternoon so that I could have a slightly later start - a 5:10 am alarm is brutal enough, thank you. In addition to a number board (having each rider's name on them was a nice touch), some choice free items were a t-shirt, a Panaracer inner-tube and some WD-40 bike lube.
I started in a group at about 7:10 on the Saturday morning, and Emma Peasland (another Team 18bikes rider) ended up being in the same group. We rode together for a few minutes, but both wanted to do our own thing in terms of pacing. Much of the route was typical forest track with mainly a gravel surface and finding a solid line without too much loose aggregate was key to keeping a decent pace. Every rocky section seemed to be littered with people fixing punctures, so I was glad to be running 60 psi, even if it got pretty uncomfortable (think pogo stick) on the rougher stuff.
The first feed stop was a little shy of 60 km and I was making decent time at that point and feeling good. I topped up on banana, flapjack, jelly babies and water, before hitting the 'road' again. At about 70 km I took that a little too literally! On a flat, innocuous looking section I managed to clip the central ridge of the track with my front wheel and had a slow-motion (but nothing-you-can-do) crash. I was a bit scraped down one side and put some extra holes in an arm warmer, but came off relatively lightly. Apart from the chain coming off my bike seemed to be okay, and as I was getting the chain back over the chainring another rider crashed in exactly the same place I did. Trying to set off again it was obvious something was catching my rear tyre. ARGH! The clip that holds my saddle bag on to the saddle had snapped during the crash. I managed to get the bag into my bottle cage to get moving again, but I was pedalling knees out like a scally on a stolen bike. There was no way I was going to be able to ride another 130 km like this, so my goal turned from finishing in a good time to simply finishing somehow. My plan was to limp to the bag drop / feed station at 100 km, stuff some essentials into my pockets and hope someone would take the bag to the finish for me. That way I could probably manage the 130 km route - better than nothing.
Goal turned from finishing in a good time to simply finishing
After another 5 km I reached a river crossing, which was attended by a few marshals. They had an enormous first aid kit and kindly gave me some eye wash that I used to clean the dirt out of the cuts on my leg. On the other side of the river I stopped for a snack and a couple of fellow riders asked if I was okay. Explaining that I was more concerned about my saddle bag potentially ending the ride, they responded with "we've got a spare strap, maybe we can get it back on". With the help of these knights of the gravel road (thanks a million guys - I didn't get your names) it looked like the 200 km was back on! Trying to pedal standing up made the bag swing around alarmingly, but as long as I could stay seated it was fine.
The rest of the ride was much as I expected; long pedalling stretches, big views, struggling to eat enough... A couple of sections stood out for different reasons. The first was a foray into Newcastleton and hence Scotland - it was a false flat, lumpy, in the direct sun and into a headwind - a real test of the soul. On a more positive note, towards the end there was a relatively long section on a track through the woods close to the shore of Kielder Water. This was a lovely swoopy section of track for a gravel/cross bike, but with something like 180 km in the legs I wasn't in the best place to really enjoy it. In fact, the last 25 km felt like a real slog - I was hungry, tired and my knee was really starting to ache. I just about managed to keep moving and made it back to the castle area, where there was a small crowd cheering people in at the finish. I was glad to get my finisher's patch, and a cup of soup and a cheeseburger has never been so welcome.
- Carry a spare strap, it might save your ride.
- I don't want to see another energy gel for quite a long time.
- The mental aspects of this type of ride are almost as demanding as the physical. Being able to push on can be tough.
- Compared to riders around me I found that I was climbing the hills well, but losing out on the flats/descents. Some of that may be due to crashing (and wanting to avoid doing it again), but I need to work on building / maintaining momentum on the flat.
- Wider and tubeless tyres (with lower PSI) would increase comfort, which may help with the above.
I went into the event with a target of finishing in under 10 hours. My chip time ended up at 10 hours 18 mins. Taking into account my crash / bodging bag etc., I'm ultimately pretty pleased with that. Looking at the results sheet, there was quite a large number of riders DNF.
Would I do it again? I'm not sure. It's a long day out in a way that took some of the enjoyment out of the pleasure of riding a bike in some wild terrain. However, there were some nice sections and beating that 10 hour mark is likely to bug me. It's hard to know what might have been without the crash too, perhaps I would have enjoyed the longer sections a bit more.
As always, a big thanks to 18bikes for supporting me. It's great to be able to go into an event knowing that my bike is in good shape - I'd better get it in for a check-up!
Published Friday 28 April 2017
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