The Dirty Reiver is a 200k gravel race taking place in Keilder forest. It includes 12,000ft of climbing and only 5% of the route is on-road. Sean, Alex (my dad), Gareth, Molly, and I first set our sights on this event in 2020 but it was canceled due to covid. It was re-arranged and we participated in September 2021.
2021 was a disaster for myself, dad, and Molly. 10km in, dad sliced his tyre. We were unable to plug it, so we resorted to a tube. Well, 1km later, after painting the trees pink with sealant, the tube punctured, not once, not twice, but three more times. After stopping for about an hour and a half, we didn’t make the time cut off for the 200km. As annoying as this was, it was a bit of a blessing in disguise for Molly and me, as were suffering with knee injuries. A positive was the weather, we basked in the warm sunshine and waited for Sean and Gareth to finish. Anyway, we had un-finished business and had to go back to complete the challenge.
April can be hit and miss with the weather.. Especially up North! But we were so lucky, it was chilly but the sun was shining. Having gained the experience from last year, Sean was determined to get a quicker time this year. Everything was prepped the night before, over night oats, number on, food for the day packed and kit ready to throw on. The alarm went off at 6am. We woke up to very fresh temperatures, getting the kit choice right was tricky. Shorts were on with knee warmers and a Castelli gabba with arm warmers. Kick-off was 7.45am and 3,000 riders piled into the castle gates. Sean and Gareth fought their way to the front.
Now, for a 200k ride with 12,000ft of climbing, you’d think you’d want to pace yourself to make sure you have enough energy to get all the way round. Whilst this was the case for myself, dad and Molly, Sean and Gareth set off like the clappers. Sean’s heart rate for the first 2 hours averaged 170bpm and his average speed was 17mph. He found himself in the front group, with Gareth just behind. The wind was extremely strong and for the first section of the route, we had a tail wind, this helped the speed and progress being made. It was rolling and Sean was pushing hard along the flat and up every climb. A few riders managed to go off the front on a climb but this meant Sean found himself in a group where he felt more comfortable, could control the pace and get everyone working together.
The rest of us were super happy to get past the cut off point to ride the 200k, after last years incident. Although, dad did suffer a slice on his rear tyre but instead of panicking and thinking, oh no, this is a repeat of last year, we used our new personal favourite tool - the Dynaplugger. This is the easiest and most efficient plugging tool we have come across. It acts like a dart. There’s no messing around with tubeless repair strips or having to make the hole bigger to get the strips in. Fire it in, pull it out and boom, plugged! We then found ourselves in a group of 7, the pace increased and we were helping each other battle the wind. My legs were sore at this point and we weren't even half way yet!
I had turned off the ability to see how many miles we had completed, and just kept my wahoo on the maps page. Feed 2 was at 100k, half way. We stopped to have a sandwich and nibbles, ready to tackle the next section of the ride. At this point we were riding into the headwind, the gravel tracks were incredibly open and it was a challenge. Meanwhile, Sean really enjoyed this section. He loves motoring on the rolling sections and he started to put the hammer down, forcing riders into “the gutter”. One by one, riders were getting shelled and it ended up with 4 of them. The three other riders decided to pull into the last feed to top up on water and fuel but Sean saw this as a great opportunity to make up time and he carried on solo, needless to say he had no water and only gels to fuel him with 30 miles still to go. By the time, myself, Molly and dad got to feed 3, the wind had changed direction meaning we were lucky enough to have a tailwind to the finish! This helped morale and meant we were racking up the miles.
The route had taken us the whole way around Kielder lake, incoporating all sorts of different gravel types. With 20 miles to go, we could see the end. However, there were at least 3 more climbs in our way. Gels and haribos are always a winner late on in a ride and helped boost us up these climbs. It’s always mind over matter! Luckily the last section leading us back to Kielder castle was flat and involved smooth, fast gravel. Spirits were high and Sean and Gareth were waiting for us at the finish. Cow bells in hand, they were shouting encouragement and we went all out in the sprint to finish.
A great day was had by all and luckily no major mechanicals occurred this year. Sean came 17th with a time of 7 hours 26, only stopping for a minimal 3.5 minutes!
If you’ve ever questioned what a “gravel bike” is actually made for, the answer is this event! Definitely worth the trip up there.