The Dirty Reiver is a 200km gravel challenge round Kielder Forest in Northumberland. As well as being a Dark Sky park, it’s also an internet black hole. There is no phone signal for miles around, and certainly no 3G. If you have the luxury of staying in a hotel you might also have the luxury of wifi, and therefore the means to do one final check of the weather forecast. But then you might also be trying to force porridge into yourself at 5am and forget to think about such things.
Campers and proper bed sleepers alike found themselves lined up on a frosty start line under sunny skies. With last year’s inaugural Dirty Reiver fitting all the weather in one day, no one dared hope that the sun would last. Most assumed that clouds, or winds, would appear at some point.
By some freak of nature – or perhaps the Weather Gods were sated by the sacrifice of last year’s hardy riders – the sun continued to shine throughout the day. This was to be a source of some consternation to those whose water bottles had bounced out on the first descent of the day (along with a great many rear lights). The wind put in an appearance in the form of a soul sapping headwind on a long soul sapping climb, which brought to mind one of the last tweets of the late, great Mike Hall:
A new day of fresh torment, delivered direct to your soul, regards, The Wind #IPWR
— Mike Hall (@Normally_Human) March 23, 2017
With number boards imploring riders to #BeMoreMike the headwind, the hills, the hills, the hills, and the heat of the sun were all moments for riders to grit their teeth and dig a little deeper. And then a little deeper on the next inevitable hill.
But what goes up also comes down, and Dirty Reiver riders (and those on the new and shorter Dirty 130 option) were rewarded with descents. Miles and miles of fast gravel tracks – pick your line right and there’s a smooth, hard furrow between the skittery loose stuff either side. Genuine whoop inducing Type 1 fun. Pick your line wrong however – maybe look at the view, or fumble for some food – and the loose stuff could swallow you up. Indeed, one lucky/unlucky rider was seen somersaulting, narrowly missing a large rock, and completely folding their front wheel. Yes, he had a long walk out carrying his bike and a new front wheel is needed, but if he saw a video replay of the crash he’d definitely be counting his lucky stars.
Bikes of all varieties took on the challenge, with the various set ups offering different benefits. The mountain bikers enjoyed the suspension on the descents but paid in weight on the climbs, while the gravel bikers risked white finger and punctures but the fortunate (and tubeless) enjoyed super fast rolling speeds.
Between the feed stations, the cheery marshals, the ford crossing, the variety of off road surfaces, and the periodic collections of puncture fixers on rough descents, there was enough interest to keep the miles (or kilometres, depending on the mental approach you take to working out how much further you’ve got left) ticking by. Without cold and wet to battle, getting round was a question of keepin’ on keepin’ on, grabbing food and water when you could risk a one handed bar moment, and choosing the lines which looked least likely to cause punctures.
The fastest finisher, Soren Nissen, an ex-pro from Iceland, finished in an eye watering 7:32:06, with the slowest riders finishing in an equally eye watering 14 hours and more. grit.cx and Singletrack’s Hannah made it round in 11:53:53 (something that’s she’s both stunned and stoked about). Full results are here.
If you were there, you can bask in the knowledge that you were there the day the trails of Keilder yielded dust. If you weren’t there, maybe next year you’ll get lucky?
More photos and thoughts to follow, check back later…