Early in the year, I signed up again for the 2nd Dirty Reiver event, a 200km gravel race ( I rode the first one, which you can read about in my book). This is not really my normal type of ride, but I enjoyed it last time (funny how memory gets skewed over time) so thought I'd give it another go.
The date of the event was almost upon me as I realised I probably hadn't been doing enough riding. I also had a bit of a bug and wasn't exactly feeling brilliant. Still, this was no time to be mouping around, I checked my 29 hardtail bike over, oiled it up and drove myself over the hills down to the remote village of Kielder where I'd booked myself a spot in the camp-site for a couple of nights.
A sleepless night later (multiple snoring neighbours) and at 6am, far too early in the morning, it was time to get up. The race started at 7 and by the time I'd waited in a queue for the toilets and eaten some breakfast, it was a bit of a rush to get myself to the start line on time. Once there there was the usual bit of standing around in the freezing cold, eager to get going and warm up. I didn't mind the cold too much though, I was just glad it was dry. A week of good weather meant the tracks would hopefully be dusty and mud free. A wide range of different bikes proved that this was an event for all types of cyclist. Plenty of mountain bikes, a majority of cross-bikes with some wider tyres than normal road bikes thrown in. Handlebars of all shapes and size were also present, from long distance bike packing bars to triathlon aero bars.
Soon we were off, and after a quick roll along tarmac roads and a short forest climb, we passed the official start where timing chips were detected by big transceivers mounted by the road side. We were now on gravel track roads. Somehow, I'd managed to start near the front of the pack where the better riders who wanted good times has positioned themselves. We rode on up the first few hills, with several people already stopped at the roadside, having had mechanicals or punctures within minutes of starting. Little did I realise that it would be my turn next. As I sped down a particularly rocky hill I felt a big thump as my back wheel caught a big rock and moments later I could tell my tyre was softening. I wasn't worried though. "I'm running tubeless tyres" I thought to myself "It'll sort itself out". Usually the hole quickly fills with sealant and it's just a case of re-inflating the tyre.
I stopped, and got my tool kit out. However, no matter of pumping was going to inflate this tyre. I found a hole big enough to stick my finger through.
This was going to take longer than normal to fix. I did all the usual tricks, rubber boot inside the tyre to cover the hole, even in desperation jamming some mud in the hole to bind the sealant. It was no good. The air just kept on coming.
"No problem" I though, I'll just have to take 10 minutes, take my ghetto tubeless setup apart and put a spare tube into the tyre.
The problem with this was that the nut on the tubeless valve had cross threaded and refused to turn. I couldn't pull it through from the other side either. I was stuck......I almost gave up. I sat for a minute wondering what to do. I'd only been cycling for 15 minutes. I couldn't believe it. The majority of the riders had already gone past. I was on my own.
"Fuck it" I thought, grabbed the nut and started working it back and forth until it started moving. Imperceptibly slowly I worked the nut towards the end of the valve, my fingers aching and a big blister forming on my finger. After 30 minutes of this, I stopped for a break when the nut was near the end of the valve. I couldn't turn it any more. A cyclist came up the road, maybe a late starter or maybe he'd had his own mechanical issue to sort out, but he stopped, pulled out a tool kit selected a ring spanner, jammed it on the nut and with a bit of force twisted it off. The valve was free!! I thanked the cyclist profusely, shoved a tube in, and was finally off again. I'd been stopped for almost an hour.
I floored it, while being careful to stay as clear of pointy rocks as I could. I didn't have another spare tube, so couldn't afford to have another puncture. Many long climbs passed. miles of riding completely alone passed. I was having fun though. Eventually, just as I was nearing the first food stop at 60km, I started to catch up with the back enders. I chatted to a few as we cycled along.
A quick stop to grab some food and refill my bottles. I was very glad to find I could get hold of a spare inner tube from the mechanics.
Soon I was off again, the relentless climbs just kept on coming. 30km later and I started feeling not so great. I'd pushed too hard catching up and was now paying for it. I slowed and just hoped to get through to the other side. I passed the 130km cutoff point where I seriously thought about stopping. I just wasn't having any fun at this point. I wasn't feeling well and, dare I say it, the route here was just.....a bit dull. Relentless hills, the same surface all the time. I started to question why I was doing this at all.
It took a while, but the awesome 5 mile descent to the last food stop certainly helped. The proper coffee at the excellently run (by panier.cc) stop also helped. I stopped for a full half hour, stretching my lower back which was now aching and eating sandwiches with my coffee. I met a guy I knew. He was doing the event on a single-speed...impressive!
I felt much better. From here I really enjoyed the ride. I put on some music and set off again. Straight up some more hills. Feeling good again, I found myself constantly passing other riders as we climbed back up the hill tops. There was still a long way to go though. Racing downhill on the far side of the hills, the lake was a welcome sight. I knew I was getting near to the end now.
The rolling and smooth paths around the lake were a welcome change, I knew that all the big climbing had been done, it was just a matter of finishing now. The light was fading as I cycled on, following flashing rear red bike lights way ahead of me. I did the last section cycling along, chatting with another rider. Eventually with one more steep section, i rolled over the finish line with some undeserved cheering and clapping. I was handed a bottle of beer and sat down with some soup and a delicious cheeseburger. We were soon joined by a couple of other folk I knew. The consensus was that it had been a really hard day out.
I'd taken a full 2 hours longer than the last time I'd ridden it. Maybe I'll do a bit more training next time.
Right now, I don't know if I'd do it again though. It was tough.........probably will :-)