By John McCracken
It was with a lot of apprehension I headed to Kielder to take part in the Dirty Reiver. I have ridden that sort of distance before (200km) but never off road.
My practice run on the mountain bike in Dumfries and Galloway 2 weeks previous did build my confidence at just shy of 100 miles and helped me make final decisions on what kit to carry.I decided to ditch the Camelbak. With food stops at regular intervals I decided to go with water bottles only and I was never out fo liquid. I also decided to go with Active Root ginger energy drink. I have never been a fan of energy drinks but this stuff is really the business. The ginger is perfect for settling the stomach and I had no nausea as I have had previously on long distance efforts and the sea salt really stopped any cramping at all…..and it tastes great. I am a fan of ginger beer already.
I also decided to go on my cross bike. A clubmate who rode last year told me the terrain was smooth in comparison to Gelntrool’s Big Country loop and the MTB would be overkill. There were parts of the day I longed for the fat tyres but he was right, they wouldn’t have been worth it on the whole.
Arriving about 40 minutes before the start, as I got out the van to set up my bike the -1 degree temperature hit home. It was freezing. With the temperature hitting a high of 7 and an easterly all day I was able to take the jacket off eventually when I got moving but I can’t say I was ever warm, although the knee warmers did come off at the first food stop.Food stops is how I broke my day down. Thinking about the final distance could really mess with you so at all times my goal was just to break down the distances to the next food stops and then divide that by two to ration my water properly. The food stops were at 44km, 95km (this one had a fire pit in a tepee) and 135km(with hot tatties and cheese!) and these broke up the day and kept the focus in something my brain could cope with .
The gravel was for the large part smooth and a few sections of road were chucked in here and there to link parts with only the Lauf special stage near the end chucking in some horrendous conditions, which didn’t feel good with 170km in the legs.Northumberland is desolate and when not cycling through Kielder’s many trees (Europe’s largest man made forest) you found yourself in a bleak hinterland that wouldn’t be out of place in the barren expanses of Mongolia. There isn’t much to look at. Despite the lands barren nature I did manage to amass over 4000m of climbing throughout the day so it is not a route to be underestimated.I finished the day at 6.40pm at Kielder Castle, back where I’d started at 8am with a moving time of 9 and a half hours and the 200km course in the bag.
This was the toughest ride I have ever done but enjoyable none the less. I’m not sure what it would be like if it rained and I don’t want to find out.
The organisation, course, food and setting are excellent. Will I come back? I won’t say yes but I won’t say no. Despite the cold I got lucky with the dry and April can be a month of snow or heatwaves. There are shorter versions which in the future I’d consider plumping for and maybe having a go on the mountain bike but for now I’m booking my physio appointment and enjoying a beer at the end of a tough ride.