Once again we headed over to Belgium to meet up with 75 other cyclists for the Dirty Boar Bike-Packing Weekend. Based in and around the Ardenne the two day ride covers 239km and 4,600 meters of climbing. Add the ever changing weather and it made for a very fun filled weekend.
As with last year the ride started from the huge dam Lac de la Gileppe where the monument of a huge lion looms over the water making sure everyone was safe. With our bicycles, camping gear and gpx files loaded we all headed off at various paces ready for what awaited.
No sooner had we started to enter the forest when it became clear that the rain from the evening before (It pissed it down) was going to add a little extra something to the ride due to the damp conditions, lenses fogging up (Which caused untold issues over the weekend) and the mud splatter from when people cycled past.
The route for day one was going to be one of stops and starts due to missing the first wave of cyclists as I tried to keep up so I could photograph as many people as possible. That being said both days have stunning scenery and as this was no race I was more than happy to spend the day mixing it up among different groups of cyclists, chatting about the ride and catching up with friends from last year. This area of Belgium really is stunning and it is only when you get away from the main roads and villages that you see what a ride like this has to offer.
Working my way towards the German boarder you are gifted by small river crossings, steep climbs on slate where it became a little tricky at points carrying camera equipment, a bike and myself without slipping but you are then rewarded by the amazing descents which are fast and fun. The Dirty Boar Bike-Packing Weekend so far had delivered on all accounts and I could not have been happier.
As the showers came and went, the sun trying to poke through the clouds waves of other riders soon appeared only to vanish no soon as I had time to take my camera out. While I was there to photograph I will admit I did enjoy myself on the slow winding single track that the route offered.
Lunch was a not-so-quick stop at a camp ground that seemed to be overwhelmed by those taking part and while I should have probably have had something larger and more filling I opted for a coffee and ice-cream. The way I had seen it at the time there was only 42km to cover and I had snacks with me…..how wrong would I be!
Directly after lunch we were greeted by a huge climb and found it hard to get going. From here on out I think I covered the last part of the ride mostly on my own as Guido and I seemed to yo-yo back and fourth. Later in the day I did manage to catch up with a few other riders all of whom had stopped at an impromptu feed stop that Phillip from Venom Cycle Works had setup. Thank God for this as I had run out of water and the Jelly Babies I stocked up on were just what I needed.
Rolling into camp with the sun beaming down on us it was hard to think how the weather had changed so much that day. The smell of roast pork soon filled the air and the clatter of beer bottles made sure that any memories of knee pain or aching backs soon vanished.
That evening, sitting round the camp fire, we all enjoyed a few more beers and spoke about the days ride and how each of us had found it. The few spills that people had on the slate descent were laughed off and we all agreed that tomorrow would be an epic day.
The folks from Dirty Boar know how to make sure riders were all feed and watered with a huge breakfast, copious amounts of coffee and my personal favorite Cécémel chocolate drink. During the morning I photographed everyone’s portraits and realised that Guido and I were probably a good hour and a half behind everyone. Knowing this and that there was a huge swamp or hike-bike that people would have to cross, we opted to make a slight detour to try and catch up with everyone.
The previous night we were warned about a 17km climb and knowing that day two would be tougher, more technical and far more rewarding, no sooner as we had come to the first climb than we started swearing under our breath.
Throughout the day we hardly came across another cyclist and with the sun hot in the midday sky we were happy to find a spot for lunch, have a coffee and refuel for all the climbing to come.
One thing Tom from Dirty Boar and I always joke about is the arse shot. When I’m cycling behind someone and all you get is their backside. While Guido is a handsome chap, I’m sure having the same photo of him all day would become very dull, very quickly.
So it was with great pleasure we were often greeted by stunning views and huge sky’s as we reached the top of each peak and the pains from churning out lowest gears were soon forgotten. The river crossing were breathtaking and the natural beauty of this area lends itself to rides such as this where you are often away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Even some of the more technical mountain bike climbs over rocks were actually fun as we darted around jagged rocks, slate and crumbling debris.
The 15km that we had both missed out allowed us to catch up with various riders and friends from the previous year. On reaching the highest peak in Belgium we stopped for a beer at which point I soon discovered that the cafe which is situated there no-longer makes Tart Tatin……how outrageous!
While other riders came and went I waited and was soon joined by various friends from other gravel rides. The last 20km can only been described as zooming down gravel descents going as fast as we could and taking it in turns to race each other when safe. The odd lump or large rock made for some rather interesting braking maneuvers and as soon as we came across tarmac it was game on for the final sprint.
It is weekends like this that you really get to catch up and enjoy yourself with like-minded people. As there is no real rush to cover the distance and due to not being a race, people seem to relax and chill-out where as single day events always seem to have that competitive edge. I honestly cannot wait for next year and am already looking forward to catching up with friends old and new.
If you are interested in any of the events visit the folks at Dirty Boar to find out more information.