Dirty Reiver 200km off-road adventure ride

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Report by Ross:

A few months ago one of the regular CX’rs – not sure which one to blame, had an idea of riding this 200km off-road type event around the Scottish border of Northumberland.  The first thing I thought of was 200km, yeah I’ve done that before Wicklow 200 springing to mind.  12000ft of climbing? Mmm, probably Dromara’s old mourne sportive route had around that.  Then I thought about the off-road bit.  The most I’ve ever done on a mtb was about 50 miles and even that had a fair amount of tarmac!  Considering all this and the fact that I would be using my lightish cyclo-cross bike, I signed up along with Rod and Steve M from KCC and 5 others from Shimna wheelers, Carn wheelers and Trail demons.  How hard could it be? Its only gravel/forest roads, I’ll take her handy….

Rod kindly booked the accommodation, a modern take on a mountain bothy.  Wooden shed type building with 8 bunks, shower and a big wood pellet boiler in the corner that ran non-stop :0 :0

So the time came and after an essential planning meeting in dafts the night before, we got the early boat with the forecast looking good.  We arrived at the bothy mid afternoon which was in the absolute middle of nowhere in the Northumberland hills, no shops, no phone signal, nothing – apart from a wee pub about 30 mins walk down the road which put together a bit of dinner for us.  I even had to use a payphone for the first time in about 10 years to phone home!

Anyway, 5am on Saturday morning came; we got our kit together and headed to Kielder Castle for the rider brief before the 7am start.  My lightish CX bike was now a ton weight with a packed ridiculous looking bar bag, saddle bag and two bottles.  Looking around me on the starting line the vast majority were running fat 40mm tyres on their CX bikes which made me look under biked with my 33mms!  But sure it’s only gravel paths – right?

Wrong!  The first climb and decent had rocks the size of your fist and pot holes you could bath in.  On the decent there were water bottles, pumps, ass-savers and glasses lying everywhere, people fixing punctures at the sides and mtb’rs with slightly smug looks on their faces….

The first food stop at Stonehaugh was around 35 miles / 3 hours in. The group had split with me, Rod and Steve sticking together.  At this point my hands, shoulders and back were beginning to hurt but still felt ok ish.  The tea and cake went down well and on we went towards the Scottish border for another battering.  It was at the 65 mile / 6.5 hours mark around the Scottish border that I was at a real low.  I really didn’t think I would be able to finish this. Zero energy, hardly being able to speak!  The track was unbelievably rough – especially on a rigid bike with 50psi in the tyres.  I thought about letting some air out but knew this would be a recipe for disaster on the rocky 30mph pot-hole dodging descents.

The 2nd stop came and went, however I had made the mistake of lying beside the open fire in a teepee style tent so it was hard to get going again!  After this point it became more of a mental challenge.  Just go into your own wee zone and grind away, sometimes as low as 4mph – just enough to stop the garmin from auto pausing!  The split for the shorter 130km route came, although it was tempting we hadn’t come all this way not to do the big one.  At 80 miles with no notion were we where, we suddenly passed where Steve parked his car.  I took this opportunity to lighten up, ditching the horrible bar bag with the spare tyre and clothing in it, just keeping the food in my jacket pocket instead.  It was a good lift and was great to be able see my front wheel!  

After another 6 mile stoney climb followed by a 6 mile very rough decent it was the 3rd and final food stop at around 10 hours, with another open fire and cup of coffee to warm us up.  The organisers said there were another two climbs and then it was pretty flat for the last 15 mile.  At this point it felt like we were on the home straight – even though we had another 30ish miles ahead.  What he really meant was two mountains with multiple climbs in them that just went on and on.  As the sun set we were soon at the reservoir (midges came out)and the boundary forest trail had a nice smooth pine needle surface – not without plenty of sharp climbs and corners, which Rod found out ending up in the shuck!   Fortunately it was our only fall of the day.  We then had the second short tarmac section of the day, through another forest and back to Kielder Castle finishing at 19:45, nearly 13 hours later!

 I was happy to be handed a beer at the finish line! Total distance for the day was 123 miles with 12300ft of climbing.  I was amazed by the shear size and how baron the Northumberland area is – we only think we live in the countryside!  There is absolutely no where like this over here to train for this type of event.  When I finished I said never again but I’m already thinking about next year!

Dirty Reiver web site

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