Once again we headed up to Northumberland for this years Dirty Reiver. After last years heatwave we knew that the temperature was going to be some what colder and with the folks from Focal Events changing the route this year was always going to be an adventure.
Luckily due to timing we had an extra day to check out the routes and on the Friday checked out 93km of Keilder Forest. Without seeing another single cyclist the views were amazing and it allowed us to take some time to go off the beaten path and explore a little.
With the day of the event turning out to be -4c according to the van, not knowing what to wear returning to our three sleeping bags and hot coffee was sightly appealing. That being said we were here to ride and ride we did!
The start was the usual hurrah with smoke canisters and those that were looking to race going off like a cannon. For those who were there to enjoy themselves a far more relaxed pace was adopted as we made our way through the 3km natural zone. It was amazing the amount of mechanical, punchers and other issues people seemed to have that early. Whether this was down to the cold weather or lack of preparation who knows? This is one ride where you need to make sure you are prepared and have plenty of supplies should you need them.
As with most events like this, as soon as you reach the first climb, there is always that moment of self-realisation and once you reach the top shred layers and buckle down for what is ahead.
With a good 30-40km under our belts we soon started to come across the longer, hillier sections that the course was designed around. Riding with the guys from Surly/Halo Wheels who were on single speeds made for some colourful language at times as they pushed themselves and their gearing. This however allowed me to go ahead and photograph. Once over the peak you were rewarded with long gravel descents, amazing views and two guys on fat bikes with music blasting out.
The new route takes in some rather tasty climbs and one of them being an 8km gravel track that goes from 245m up to 550m. At the top it was a good place to catch up with people, talk about changes in the route and what they have come to expect from The Dirty Reiver.
As the KM’s passed through undulating hills, working forest tracks you can see that the area is a huge commercial site. For me and speaking to others this is probably the only drawback to the ride. The landscape would be far better if the trees where still standing or the route were to go through more single track technical sections. That being said there were plenty of people liking the changes and the new route. You will never please all of the people all of the time.
One of the major changes was were the route switches south and you take in some smooth semi-technical bike paths to the beautiful Kielder Water. This was awarded by sections of single track and the ever aloof second feed stop. Savory snacks, olives, stuffed vines leaves and coffee were consumed ready to fuel us for the last part of the ride. The weather had improved and all was right with the world. I could have easily stayed there for a while soaking up with atmosphere as Alpkit blasted music out over the PA and people came and went.
That being said after leaving the confines of the feed-station we were greeted by a rather nasty headwind which briefly sucked the life out of me. Most of us grumbled under our breath as we pushed forward. As we made our way further round Kielder Water the wind died down and the final climb was insight.
This year Lauf had a timed climb where you could win the chance to take on The Drift in Iceland. As I pushed myself up the climb knowing that after this it would be a blast rushing down the decent over hills and back to the finish line it felt like my legs had a new lease of life and the changing scenery came at just the right time. The crowds of people, cowbells in hand cheering you on as you sprint up the last little climb before the end makes you feel like a hero no matter where you have come or how fast you went. It is all about taking part.
As I rolled over the finish, picked up a beer and managed to speak to those that I had ridden with the common sensuous was how great a time everyone had. There were a fair amount of people who had bailed on the 200km ride choosing to tackle the 130km instead. All of who seem to be far happier than many of the riders coming in after 200km and close to 3000 meters of climbing.
No matter what the distance you choose if you’re not having fun then why do it? Yes The Dirty Reiver is there to test you but speaking to so many people it is also about the camaraderie and brief friendships you make while struggling together. While I chose to bail on the 200km myself bowling around with friends over 130km of Keilder Forest, talking nonsense and taking in as much as I could, for me is what these kinds of rides are all about.