My account of the Dirty One Thirty (Diddy Dirty Reiver) from 21-04-2018.
I’ve wanted to do some proper gravel grinding for ages. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to chase some big skies and long gravel roads as well as exploring a new part of the UK.
Training did not go as planned, and there was a vague plan. Thanks to the extended period of inclement weather knocking out several weekends, I only managed four rides which could generously qualify as training and so had to hope that my ability to feed well would be the main driver for getting me round what promised to be a challenging course. As the day approached I was relieved to have only entered the 130 rather than 200km distance as it still felt achievable if the weather played ball.
Mechanical preparation also deviated from any sort of plan, culminating in a new rear hub being fitted just four days before the event (thanks Woodrup Cycles for sorting this speedily!). I dabbled in the dark arts of tubeless, which worked surprisingly well, fitted a wide range cassette, and finally got some bars where I could comfortably be on the drops and brake (very useful…). For carrying all my stuff I turned to the good folks at Alpkit for a frame bag and then promptly stole my wife’s bar bag when I realised I couldn’t fit everything into aforementioned frame bag. Full dry run of all the mandatory kit plus some food took place on Friday, about two hours before we drove up to Kielder. Nothing like being well prepared…
We (myself, wife, and dogs) travelled up on Friday to check out the gravel expo and get registered. The weather was looking pretty much perfect and we enjoyed mooching round the stands picking up freebies and chatting with the vendors. I treated myself to a natty banana cycling cap from Victory Chimp and also scored one of the Shimano cowbells. Signing on was nice and easy and there was a great atmosphere in the event village with plenty of people milling about soaking up the atmosphere.
“Race day” dawned at 0500 hours to make sure our 45 minute drive to Kielder went smoothly. The car informed us that it was about 3C and the drive over the tops and down into the valley within which Kielder sits was atmospheric with plenty of mist and a spectacular sunrise. After being parked up the road from the start I started affixing luggage to the bike and finally deciding what layers to actually wear. Fortunately my faffing was going better than the three gents from the van next to us with only two front wheels between them…
We rolled down to the start and I found a patch of sunlight to attempt to stay warm. I started out in the non-standard long sleeved jersey over short sleeve jersey since I’ve not got a nice packable gilet (yet) and kept my feet warm thanks to wearing my winter boots (something I’d later regret when it hit 26C). I couldn’t hear any of the pre course briefing but managed to go with the flow setting off decidedly mid-pack with the aim of completing the course in about seven hours.
As it turns out most of the first twenty or so km are up hill. I’m fine with hills, good at them even, I’m from Yorkshire. But trying to navigate in between many of my 1000 new friends was challenging, so progress was slow. The flip side was that I rapidly warmed up thanks to overdressing and felt comfortable with the gradients. Starting from almost lakeside meant winding up through the forest shadows before eventually emerging into the sunlight where vast areas of deforestation were present to remind you that Kielder is a working forest as well as an adventure playground.
My nervous excitement faded a bit as I got into the routine of climbing, only for this to be rudely interrupted by noisey derailleur issues the result of which was having to stop at the top of every climb and manually move the mech to get out of the biggest cog in my cassette. This slowed progress and by the time I reached the first feed stop, at a village hall no less, I was not feeling confident about getting the whole way round, never mind my self imposed seven hour target. Initially I consoled myself with taking advantage of the vast array of cakes, energy bars, sweets, and scones before having a chat with the resident mechanic who was kind enough to take a look at my bike. Whilst the problem wasn’t fixable without spares I felt a more confident about getting round so set off again for the next stretch. By this point I was happily stripped down to my short sleeve Alba Rosa jersey, a fact that I forgot when I was accosted by a fellow rider with a friendly “Morning Alba”. Unfortunately in my slightly dehydrated and worried about rear mech state it took me a full two minutes to realise why I had been address as Albert…
Cycling away from the feed station took us into less forested areas with more rolling gravel roads meaning fast progress. By this point it was very warm and my choice of Gore Tex boots to stave off cold toes and potentially give me confidence crossing the infamous ford were beginning to look like a poor decision. Passing through the shortening shadows of the trees gave little respite to the heat. So when I reached the ford I gamely went barefoot and walked across pushing / dragging my bike with one hand and trying not to drop shoes and socks into the water. Whilst the marshal insisted that most people were riding across (it was about 50/50 based on my observations) I was happy to take the opportunity to cool my feet down without the risk of falling off into the river!
Eventually the forest was left behind entirely and the route began to pass alongside sheep fields and stone walls, before dropping down a superb flowing descent, which gave plenty of opportunity to get on the drops and pick up speed. I’ve only recently learnt to descend properly using drop bars and boy was I glad of it. The final bit of this middle section was on tarmacked farm roads, after 90km of gravel this was a welcome change and the final few kilometers to the second feed station passed by fairly quickly.
The second feed station was manned by the good folk from Alpkit who were merrily dispensing all manner of energy goodness plus litres and litres of energy drink which was gratefully received by everyone. I arrived just before half one and had a fairly short pit stop with just enough time to over indulge on jelly babies and crisps. I resisted the temptation of the bean bags or a lie down in the teepee; I don’t think I would’ve got going again if I’d not stayed standing up! So after giving my chain and squeaky pedals some TLC I was underway again climbing upwards back on proper gravel tracks.
Much of the next 10km was spent climbing up then flitting down roads back in the forest. I caught up with a rider from Here Come The Belgians (their natty red kit looks a lot like Alba Rosa pink at a distance) and had a good chat. I’d ridden most of the way on my own so it was good to have some extended conversation for a while. Unfortunately my fellow rider’s front brake hose had split so going downhill was faster (and more nerve wracking than he would’ve liked). Although in fairness it wasn’t the worst issue I saw all day. That honor belonged to the gents parked up next to us exclaim they’d only brought two front wheels between the three of them…
Bringing up the metric century the route crossed into Scotland, something I hadn’t really thought about despite being so close to the border. Much of the next section followed the border, a winding stream, and the surface deteriorated from hard pack forest road to golf ball sized gravel which was a good test of my tubeless tyres. A further complication was the false flat giving even more punishment to the already weary legs. I couldn’t any gradient, but my body was loudly informing me it was there!
Returning to England brought us to the point where the route splits, the full Dirty Reiver turning left and the Dirty One Thirty going right, retreating back into the forest back onto roads with plenty of tree cover to keep the heat at bay. Whilst I was happy to be taking the shorter route this time round I am definitely keen to aim for the full 200km next time. The next 10 or so kilometers passed relatively quickly thanks to the mostly downhill gradient and tarmac surface. Reaching the waymarked bike trails signals the final stretch along by the water before you are spat out into what passes for civilisation (the main road) and all that’s left is being cowbelled up the short climb to the castle where a handshake and beer were waiting.
I was almost 30 minutes outside my target of 7 hours, but wasn’t disappointed at all. The route was fabulous, a great mix of different surfaces and views, the feed stations were very well stocked, and I’d managed to get round without any catastrophic mechanical failures! After some recovery food (nachos and chili!) to complement my isotonic beverage, my wife and I spent a good hour or so cheering riders up the hill and just taking in the great atmosphere as more and more people finished. I had a good chat with the folks from Alpkit to confirm some N+1 decisions (thanks Neil!) and then we couldn’t possibly leave without sampling the racclette!
The whole event was very impressively coordinated and the range of things to see and do (and eat!) made for an excellent experience. I will definitely be back next year, can we book the same weather?