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The Dirty Reiver - with stohk beer

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

We head up to kielder forest for an epic weekend of gravel cycling

When the beer bro's at Stohk invited us up to the border for a dirt dash and boogie, we couldn't say no. Check out our summer camp this year for more gravel action!

After what has been a seemingly endless winter, fraught with many a storm and not a lot of sun, we were excited to head north on a bit of a road trip. We were met with stunning weather and views as we drove up and into the Yorkshire Dales from our base in the Chiltern Hills. Dramatic rollercoaster hills and bright blue skies guided us towards our first stop of the drive at Robin Hood's Bay, a very quaint fishing village on the Heritage Coast of the North York Moors.

Blown away by the sheer beauty of the place, we found it hard to leave and spent the night at a ludicrously well situated and named hostel "YHA Boggle Hole" before heading up to Kielder Castle where the event was going to take place.

getting to the forest

From Robin Hood's Bay we headed further north, past Newcastle and then for the hills and forests near the England/ Scotland border.

the rides

More and more cars, vans and cyclists emerged from the pine=lined roads and the anticipation built as we neared the castle and event village. Signal dropped off completely and so any outside contact suddenly vanished, along with any urges to check social media which was deeply refreshing.

A later arrival than we'd hoped for meant a quick change into some kit and onto the bikes before registering and joining the social ride at 5pm. The 15km exploratory ramble confirmed everything we'd thought; this place is gravel heaven. The seemingly endless gravel roads almost felt like they had been combed with a fine brush before the weekend and were super fast rolling with a light crunch. Is gravel ASMR a thing?

With two of our team tackling the 60km distance and two on the 200km, we enjoyed a delicious pizza in the castle courtyard and some of stohk's very own Dirty Reiver special IPA (now sold out, but check out our favourite - the XPA). Having washed our pizzas down, we set up camp and began our bike faff/preparations which lasted well into the night before going to bed and getting some kip.

the 200km beast

Myself and Vincent (our newest crew member) tackled the 200km route head on and started with the others before carrying on into the surrounding wilderness. A mass start meant the peloton was packed as we picked our way forward slowly through throngs of gravelista's. Early mechanicals left what seemed like hundreds of riders on the side of the trails with exploded tyres, punctures and tubeless sealant covered limbs. We prayed for our tubes not to puncture and powered down flowing gravel descents at 50km/h +. The first 50km went very quickly as gravel road after gravel road flowed in pretty much every direction. The miles rolled by and the smooth crunch of Reiver gravel distracted us from the challenge and what lay ahead.

50km to 100km proved to be a challenge but was manageable as the scenery was so stunning that we didn't realise the distance that we'd covered. I don't think I looked down at my Garmin navigation once during that section and just enjoyed the expansive views over lakes and the distinct contrast between sublime gravel and bright blue skies. It felt like we were in the wild west, John Wayne style.

At our second feed stop at around the 100km mark a lovely bloke offered us sandwiches and thus saved our lives. I don't think I would have made it the whole way around without those tasty buns as I'd begun to tire from the over consumption of sweets, which there seemed to be an abundance of. Tip number one for next time: pack savoury and salty food! Things began to get tough after this stop however as we lined up with a direct headwind which battered us for around 40km over a totally barren wasteland section. You could easily liken this section to Mordor where Frodo struggles to carry himself up Mt Doom to return the ring to its fiery origin (sounds dramatic, but that's how we felt at that point).

Finally, after the 150km feed station, my legs began to feel good again and with a new lease of life we made light work of the last part of the route. It was a much faster section, with the back of the elevation broken for the day it wasn't quite downhill for the rest of the way but we began to enjoy ourselves again. Grinning from ear to ear, we rolled down beautiful fire roads and along the stunning lake at Kielder Castle before crossing the finish line.

Till next time, dirty reiver, you beaut!

Want to get in on the stohk action? Check out their properly tasty selection of beers online which we'll be carrying on all of our adventures this year. As they put it so eloquently: "Explore before you pour."



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