Sometimes I have good ideas, sometimes I don't. Saturday was probably one of the latter. We'd signed up for the Dirty Reiver 200km "gravel" event around Kielder Forest. Now neither of us have a "gravel" bike, which is just a marketing term for a fatter tyred cyclocross so Cath chose to ride it on her Stooge (with MTB tyres) and me? Yep, the Pompetamine - drop barred, 39:28 single speed, commuter with 37c CX tyres!
Confidence wasn't helped by chancing upon the only three people we knew doing the event when we arrived: "What you riding Bob?", "Single speed", "What ratio?", "Err, 39:18", "Good luck, I'll be thinking about you when I'm spinning up in 32:40!". To be honest I was more worried about the lack of cushioning in the tyres and frame than the gearing.
After a rather chilly bivy, just under 2C according to one of the organisers, we grabbed breakfast then milled around as the throng of riders worked out how to get their bikes pointing towards the start rather than away from it. There was some sort of announcement, well it was a different muffled noise from the Euro-pop that had been playing over the PA, I don't think it was Mongolian throat singing or Gregorian chants.
Shortly after the announcement/chants/throat warbling we could see riders heading down the starting ramp so we presumed that someone had said "go!". The first kilometre was neutralised as it was on the main road through Kielder village so it wasn't until we actually got into the forest that the racing started. Well perhaps for those in the front, mid-pack it was basically track-standing uphill, the flats and downhills spread riders out but each ramp would see us bunch up again. Rather bizarrely there were lots of riders at the side of the trail with mechanicals on the first climb.
The route to the first food point was a mixture of old and new to me so I'd turn a corner and suddenly realise where I was. There's not much flat so mostly I'd be standing on the pedals for the downhills or waiting for the clunk of bad gear changes to signal getting out of the saddle to stomp up a climb. As a result I didn't have a sore bum at the end of the ride, there really hadn't been much bum to saddle contact!
Heading into the first food stop Stu Rider was heading the other way, hmm, going quicker than I thought. The food stop was packed with riders milling around so I headed for the plain water to refill my bottles and grabbed a couple of slices of malt loaf and got going. The road section leading back into the forest was hard work then on the first drop I thought the back tyre felt a bit "funny".
It was losing air quite rapidly. I tried pumping it up but within a few pedal strokes it was nearly flat again. Hmm, put the inner tube in (I was running tubeless). All well and good until putting the wheel back in, pssst! The tube had been patched and the patch had come away! My fault. So back to tubeless but now the pump refused to work. Honestly! Fortunately another rider stopped and gave me an inner tube and had some CO2 to inflate it. Half an hour wasted but I was on my way again.
The tyre wasn't quite inflated enough but it was good enough for now. The Paddaburn ford wasn't too deep and I got my front wheel on the far bank before stalling, ah well. By now we were riding along the edge of the forest and with the fine day the views over to the North Pennines and The Lakes were fantastic. Lots of riders were stopping to take shots. The next bit was the roughest part of the route and with an under-inflated tyre it took a bit of line choice to get down without puncturing.
Where the track debouched onto the road there was a marshall's van and I noticed a track pump, time to get some air in the back tyre. It just so happened that one of the marshalls was an ex-Lakes climber who knew me. After a bit of a chat I asked him to give Cath some encouragement when she came through and headed on to food stop number two.
Again lots of people milling about but grab a bit of grub, refill water bottles and oil my chain and I was on my way. The climb over to Kershopeburn from here was one of the more awkward parts of the ride, damp and greasy. Some had complained before the event about the climb past Kershopeburn but I found it OK then a long rolling descent to the route split: left for the 200km, right for the 130km. Left it is.
More climbing then a long descent to cross the Kielder road and begin the final third. There's a steep ramp to get round to the Forest Drive which is the hardest climb so far, or perhaps my legs are feeling it. The drive isn't as bad as I remembered from our crossing in the opposite direction at New Year and I plod slowly upwards with the occasional "Good effort mate doing this on a singlespeed". There's one ramp I have to walk (my first of the ride) then it's the long blast down to the final food stop.
More people milling around including Mark Evans who I hadn't realised was riding. After a bit of a chat he heads off and I grab some of the savoury food on offer, a welcome change from the sweets at the previous stops. After ten minutes it's time to go.
Of course, it's now a long climb to get back over the hills we'd just ridden. Some more walking then the angle eases and I can keep riding. We'd done most of this in reverse at New Year but once at The Combe it's on to new stuff to get over to Kielder Water. Another long drag but at an easier angle than the last one so I can keep riding, but ever so slowly. Finally the route drops and there's no more big climbs left to do.
Unfortunately the Lakeside Way is nowhere near flat and there's a few short steep climbs I'm forced to walk. Just keep moving forward. Eventually I start seeing features I recognise and I realise I'm near the end. There's a final ramp to get to the finish complete with cowbell wielding crowd so I can't walk this bit.
I cross the line in something like 11hr35, a bit slower than I'd have liked but hey ho. Beer, food, more beer.
Cath gets back about 90mins later.
That was by far the longest I've ever ridden on a single speed. For me it wasn't the best choice but it was definitely a challenge, which is what it's about really. I wouldn't do another similar event on SS or on such narrow tyres. I also possibly didn't eat enough - most of the food at the first two food stops was sweet and that's what most riders carry anyway, something savoury feels much better and seems to sit nicer in the gut.
Hopefully the effort will have put some strength into my legs and the failure of the pump was providential as I'd rather it happened now than in a month's time on the HT550. There's a couple of long rides we've slated in before then so I'll use those to fine tune the setup of the bike and kit.