200km of dusty gravel, the amazing views of Kielder Forest and a group of friends could not have made for a better weekend.
Having been driving around the UK for the previous couple of days (More on this to follow) made me wish for a couple of extra hours in bed. But when you are greeted with breathtaking scenery it easily made up for the chilly early start to the day.
As we slowly rolled out onto the main road and into the first climb it was astounding how many people were there. This has to be the largest gravel event in Europe and you can see that once you reach the top of the first climb. That being said there were a fair few people walking back to the start having had issues with punctures, broken and snapped rear derailleurs, as well as other mechanicals.
Although there had been a chill to the start it became clear that it was going to be a very long, hot day in the saddle. At the end of the first climb I have to say I think fifty percent of the people started to strip off realising how hot it had become. This also became a great focal point to catch up with friends and those folks you often meet at events like this.
Throughout the day we covered pine forest, single track, amazing fast descents and almost everything you could ask for. The climbs became gruelling in the heat, but we had each other to help push us along. The odd cramp came and went as I clearly didn’t drink enough water. The food stops were a welcome break and a chance for the who were unfortunate to stock up on inner tubes, water and replenish other essentials. A mechanic was on hand if you needed to make adjustments or tinker with brakes etc. If you were lucky enough to make the third feed station run by Pannier.cc you were greeted with coffee, amazing potatoes and a warm smile.
This is an extremely well-run event and with people from all over Europe attending it makes for an amazing weekend. That being said the weather helped a great deal. Last years ride in near-zero temperatures would have been very different for many riders I am sure.
At the split I had to make a decision due to my rear brake having seized up and climbing became a bitch. Thinking of cycling with your rear brake constantly on and you have what it felt for over the last 20kms. To my astonishment I wasn’t the only one having issues. Speaking to the guys from Bombtrack (Banana Man/Mr Chicken) They told me about various issues people had had including being asked for spare spoke nipples, replacement hydraulic hoses etc. Could I face another 70kms or should I head to the finish?
As we rolled into the finish line and picked up a beer it was great to reflect on the day’s events. So much so that we have already spoken about going up next year and tackling those dusty gravel tracks once again.