What is ideal prep for a big cycle event or race? Well it is not finding on the eve of travel for the event that you have destroyed your freehub and don't actually have a spare.
So on the phone to Dave at Surrey Hills Cycleworks whilst madly messaging mates. After some digging around, Dave couldn't find one. But Taz had already offered, washed and packed a spare wheel and I threw in a spare bike I could at least cut the desired drive train over to.
Sonder Broken Road ready to go, or so I thought.
A very unhealthy freehub.
So the following morning I packed and headed for Kielder Castle to register and then join Taz and Dan at the lodge for some moderate wheel building and beers. It would take a very frustrating 8hrs to arrive, swift registration and I was lodge bound.
Quite light packing really.
At the lodge it was great to see Taz again and meet Dan, have a great meal cooked by Taz, sort the wheel (which Taz had kindly loaned me) and have a few beers and a good chat. Soon it would be wise to go to bed, so quickly I sorted my stuff whilst drinking a whole lot of water and went to bed.
Go time! In the morning we were up, ate, sorted ourselves fairly quickly and headed to Kielder Castle again for the start of the event. The 3 of us mounted on singlespeeds ready for the 200 in my case and the 130 for Taz and Dan. Excellent challenges for all.
Soon we off! Riding amongst the pack and the fast guys and ladies charged off the front. We started the first climb getting the general comments from others in the pack "You're mad!", "Single speed, very brave!" the list goes on. But the encouragement you get from others is endless and would last for me at least until I walked into get the free curry at the end.
Eventually we settled into our rhythms and I rode away from Taz and Dan, and wouldn't see them until I returned to the lodge. Whilst the sun shone, the headwind we experienced for the first 70kms hid it's true soul gouging nature, that would come later. The first 70km prove pretty standard, good riding, tough hills, amazing views and company as you meet and chat to many different people, a pleasant but rapid feed stop more riding and chatting. Some you see again and again, others only the once.
I pushed on still enjoying the route and company that came and went. For a while I rode with a lady from Bristol who was suffering a little with a back injury and just after the special stage would make a very hard, but very wise choice and abandon. I hope she is OK and the injury is already healing? The special stage itself is where my challenges started. At 2 points I had to walk just a short distance, 40-50 metres to pass the steepest. Not so, for the fast chap on his fixie blowing pass me. Damn fine effort by that man.
Me trying to look cool.
From this point the descents get longer and faster as we encounter less traffic, these are where the Broken Road comes into it's own, stable, fast and agile. I start to play cat and mouse with those on gravel bikes as I put some time into them on descents and they catch me on the climbs. But this is always fun and in good humour with others. Breaks up the suffering and often starts a conversation.
Soon I would arrive at the Alpkit and Sonder feed station, basically the half way point. Chatting to Rich S and some of the others whilst I refuel on coke, bananas and flapjack. They have a great sheltered spot, a sofa and a generally chilled vibe, making some, maybe linger longer than they planned. I understand why.
Alpkit/Sonder feed station
Just as I was leaving I noticed some other riders, who we had exchanged encouragement with each other earlier. More yo-yoing would ensue. A relatively pleasant ride for a few k's and the 130 and 200 route separate and long but nice climbs awaits. Over this I was feeling a little light headed, but pressed on. The fight with the headwind beginning to grow.
Some more yo-yoing with riders and I suddenly realised the route we where on and how it would be affected by the headwind. I muttered a few words, it was going to be worse than I had imagined. After a slightly exposed climb a descent leads you to hell. Hell being an undulating gravel road with nowhere to hide from a soul gouging headwind. With a geared bike you stand a chance of holding your own in a group, catching a wheel as a group passes or just finding a gear that makes good progress.
On the single, you suffer, suffer a little more, then suffer again. I can recall the point my soul left my body. A few passing riders were close enough for a few short tows, but ultimately the elastic broke. Soon a group I had seen a few times passed again, being driven by a machine, she cheerily yelled 'C'mon single speeder!!" well that is what I heard in the wind. I doubt this was an offer of a wheel as they flew past. I think the rest of the group where struggling to hold her wheel anyway. Top bombing going on there. I would see them again at the last feed station. A chap I had ridden with on and off did catch the wheel and vanished with them into the dust.
I would never expect anyone to slow for me, especially when I make silly life choices, like riding a single speed. :) But I was impressed with some of the smaller groups speeds considering the conditions.
Not longer after, I did find myself in a group and things got easier for a few kilometers and broke the back of the war of attrition with the headwind. Eventually, I cut the elastic on that group knowing it may blow my legs out.
Last feed station approach was signaled by the Red Bull truck, music and encouragement. At the village I have to say I felt embarrassed and sorry for the villagers as the RB team there was pretty loud, especially for the type of event, I guess it worked for some people. The volunteers dutifully made sure everyone was aware of what was on offer to refuel and we took what was reasonable. Riders now felt they had made it, 50k to go and only a few hills left, only a couple really nasty ones. Smiles had started to reappear on faces.
I left moments after the group that passed me yelling encouragement as we battled the head wind did, but I would never see them again. The short sharp climb out of Stonehaugh is brutal, the next longer meandering climb is much nicer, but reminded me of the job left to do and the nastiness that awaits the other side of the dam at Kielder Water.
Knowing what was coming is always a double edge sword, but I do prefer the knowing. But things started to even tougher all of a sudden. I was starting to struggle to breath a little on the climbs, having to stop on a couple. Fortunately the terrain flattened a little and for sometime I was OKish and ended up riding a lady from Rotor. Thanks for your company, was great to chat and help me reset a little. (I hope the family and you enjoyed you extra few days in Kielder Forest).
On a long fast descent we parted ways, then my breathing concerns returned again on each steep climb (turns out I was getting a chest cold). But there was 35 to go, 30 to go, 25 to go............."Damn it!" Or should I say "Dam it!" We crossed the dam and headed for a short brutal ramp. Seeing the riders with gears just in front slow significantly, I span the legs up and made an effort to get as far up as I could. Nearly made it this year, had a short walk and remounted, for the moment.
The last hill of any concern lay 400 metres ahead, I rounded the corner and got out the saddle, it came at me like a wall, I stalled, got going again, this happened twice, then I dabbed and stepped off. As I did "OH, don't do that, I just caught you again!" came from behind. My Rotor friend appeared with a smile. Me: "nothing left. Allez Allez!" she rode strongly up the hill and away. I trudged to the top, jumped on and went for it. I pushed on for the finish, the next hill seemed easier than last year, around Kielder Water did to. May be the distraction I a fellow Southerner and chatting about the riding their help. A new good natured game of cat and mouse with the fast moving lady along the shoreline help too.
The soft grassy field just below the castle was a different matter, that was just mean DR team, just mean! But when you hit the ramp to the castle, everything comes alive again, up, hard right and finished!
This year felt harder and timing suggested it was. It was just as enjoyable as the years before and the atmosphere was great as always. The one thing that still gets me is the encouragement riders give each other is un-ending. Even those having a nightmare, give a smile and say "Good luck!" "Enjoy!" "Are you mad single speeder or just brave?" Mainly mad, yep, the mad bit!
You honestly can't go wrong with a Sonder Broken Road, but maybe apply gears liberally.
Thanks to all those that do yell encouragement or slow to ask why? The answer is I don't know, it is fun. Thanks to the dust covered lady as I entered the curry tent for the big congratulations, it was really appreciated. I hope it showed? I was a little wasted by then. I hope you and your friends had an excellent day out?
A little less wasted after some curry.
To the head wind, you were traumatic and there are a few hundred riders that want their souls back!
To the organisers, FC workers, sponsors and amazing volunteers, thank you again from not just myself, but I am sure every other rider. Keep doing what you do, it is an ace event!
I may not be back, as it is time to look for other adventures (there are a few in planning), but everyone must do the Dirty Reiver at least twice. I have done a few times, I might sneak back with gears and some proper training one day. Who knows? But do give it a go if you are gravel suffering inclined
Big shout out to:
and of course Nik and the kids for suffering my foolishness. :)
Keep riding and have fun!
Next up some trail riding and maybe a 200km loop around the South Downs. ;)
You can follow Scott's adventures here.