Gravel to dirt.

I’ve been riding my bike a lot but mostly for ‘work’, however switching the county I’m working in meant that I took most of this week off. Suddenly I had the opportunity to ride just for the fun of it. So with this in mind I fitted my mountain bike tyres and headed for the hills.

On Tuesday I went for a short spin in the local woods which left me buzzing in a way I hadn’t experienced post ride for a while. It was just fun. Yesterday I decided to challenge myself more and ride Charlie the Bikemonger’s Dorset Gravel Dash 100 route. I missed the organised event which took place in May this year but it seemed a logical local and more importantly big loop on which to test my mettle.
wpid-2015-10-22-09.06.46-1.jpg.jpegMy longest previous ride on mountain bike tyres without sleeping was 70 miles of the Trans Pennine Trail and offshoots from Leeds to Selby via Rochdale. To be honest that route was fairly flat. The Dorset Gravel Dash route is definitely not, on my return Strava informed me that I had covered 6,338ft of elevation. I felt it, it was tough, there were I have to admit a few occasions when I had to push.

In theory the route starts and end in Swanage where Charlie’s shop is. However I joined the route at Bloxworth as it’s 5 miles or so from ‘home’. This wasn’t a bad idea per se however it did mean that I started on the relatively flat section which led back to the event finish. It also meant the hill forts of Hambledon and Hod Hill were at 75/80 miles into the ride. Even with fresh legs Hambledon is steep enough to warrant pushing anyway so a bit of ‘hike a bike’ was inevitable.
wpid-2015-10-22-09.12.33-1.jpg.jpegOne thing I hadn’t considered were the Army. As I headed west from Corfe Castle the noise of gun fire and artillery was hard to miss. This meant I had to divert around the ranges and cut out that portion of the route. Instead I went via Creech and across to Wool before rejoining the route at Moreton. I did throw in crossing Grange Heath to try to keep some off road riding in there. This resulted in losing the path I was following which resulted in some ‘bog trotting’ to get back on the bridleway I should have been following.
wpid-2015-10-22-12.45.37-1.jpg.jpegI genuinely think it’s a great route. There is a fair bit of road required to join up the sections however this lets you recover slightly before the next off road section. The surface is varied which is a definite feature of mountain biking in Dorset. There’s combinations of sand, mud, sticky peat, slippy clay, wheel sucking grass and gravel/loose stones. That’s before you throw in the cow, sheep and rabbit shit! Charlie I think suggested a cyclocross bike was perfect for the event, however I think I would have found that uncomfortable over that distance whilst riding some of those tracks/terrain.
wpid-2015-10-22-11.40.19-1.jpg.jpegAll in all the route took me about 12 hours from leaving the house to being sat back at the village pub. A lot of the route was fairly familiar and I know that helped me mentally to keep going at times. I knew between 50 and 70 miles would be the tough bit. It was through a part of Dorset I’ve never ridden and that was the hardest section for me not because of the terrain but mentally just to keep slogging. The fact it was along wheel sucking grassy field headlands didn’t help.

With the detour I took and also leaving the route early a few miles from where I joined I clocked up 95 miles. I’m happy with that, I don’t need to ride around the block ‘just because’ these days. I felt pretty tired/sore when I stopped but there were definitely a few more miles left in the tank if I had needed to keep going. This bodes well for doing something longer in the future. Today I’m feeling it but not as much as I thought I would, which also suggests that multi-day off road rides are definitely achievable. Bring on the future!

Today’s ‘title track’ is here.

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