Kielder 100 – 15th September

Tony waits for the 6.30am start

So where the hell do I start? Last year is probably a good place…. Timed out by 11 minutes at the 78 mile cut off after 10 hours 26 minutes of hell. It rained from the riders meeting at 21:30 on Friday to the podium presentations at 20:30 Saturday. Friday had been a nice day, and Sunday was too, someone upstairs had decided that the Kielder100 2011 was going to be horrific, and they’d pretty much got it right. I bumped into Bruce another GT at the 78 cut off. His brake pads had worn out again, and he’d run out of spares, so he’d had to pull out. As we were riding back along the road to Kielder Villiage I said to him that if he ever saw me on the start line of this again he could punch me in the face and break both my legs so I couldn’t do it.

So imagine my suprise when the entries for the 2012 race opened and I found myself pressing the “Enter Now” button on their website!

Roll on quite a few months and there we were, the Godiva Trailriders ready to take on the big one. Smitty, Rob, Tony, Bruce and me. Unfortunately Steve, who won the singlespeed event in 2011 had been struck down with a bad case of man flu so had decided not to defend his crown. The usual handshakes and “good lucks” as we joined the crowd waiting for the 06:30 start. Smitty headed forward as he was aiming for a good final position. The rest of us stayed mid pack, survival and finishing being the only aim.

On time we rolled out of Kielder Castle, the first few miles being behind a quad to stretch out the field. I could see the other three mortal GTers ahead for most of the lead out. Soon the quad pulled over and we were climbing fireroads high above Kielder Water. The cold I’d had for the couple of days prior seemed to slow me getting warmed up and into a rhythm, and I lost sight of the other GTers, but once I did find my breath and get into the groove I could see a GT top ahead. I tried to reel them in. but quickly decided that it would be pretty stupid to burn myself up this early.

Soon we were hitting the first section of singletrack, and I felt great…. then the front end felt strange…..weird. Bollocks, the front was going down! Aggghhh! Bike upside down, wheel out, tube out, I couldn’t find anything sticking through the tyre. I hate that, I’d rather find something! New tube in, tyre on, CO2 cannister and the tyre is up, and it’s staying up…. thank god for that! Soon I was rolling again, the first course crossover meant a bit of a wait, but the tyre was still up, and I’d subtly muscled my way to the front so I was first into the next section… nice!

A bit of a traverse and soon it was climbing back up, past the crossover point. This was a long slog, and lead into a muddy, sloppy descent, keep it rolling and everything was fine… messy, but fine! Onto the next open section and I had a couple of weird phantom shifts. They went as quick as they arrived…. but soon they were back, not bad, but just enough to totally mess up my rhythm as I couldn’t predict when they’d happen. I squirted the remaining contents of my plain water drinks bottle over the rear deraillieur, and that seemed to sort it. I set about overtaking all the riders who’d just passed me. Soon it was back… bike upside down, try and clean it as best I could with mucky gloves…. no more water…. a Camelbak full of sticky energy drink…. a bladder with a bit of pee in it….. Some of the riders I’d just passed, now overtook me as I pissed on my own bike! But it sorted it!

Some really fast fireroad descents followed, and the gears behaved themselves. Onto a grassy climb and it strated playing up again, this time alot worse, it was all over the place. I knew this section from 2011, and knew it dropped steeply onto a fire road, and I was certain the first feed stop and technical area wasn’t far away. I flew down the grassy drop, but at the bottom my gears were shot, they seemed to be stuck between sprockets, the shifter moved but the cable didn’t. It was now obvious there was a serious cable issue going on. I managed to get it to stay in one gear, and limped a mile or two to the 25 mile feed stop and a helpful technical service bloke.

Fortunately…. or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, there wasn’t many other people about so he put the bike on his workstand and set to looking for the problem. I headed of to get my food bag, and was shocked to see there were only about 10 left…. bloody hell! Back at the technical bloke, he’d pulled the rear cable through, had cleaned and put it back. He was convinced some grit had got up inside the cable down by the derailieur. Sure enough, back together, adjusted, and it shifted through the gears great. Right, it’s gone 09:30, I’m miles behind, I really do need to get a pace on to make the 50 mile cut off time…

I just got my head down and tried to keep the pace up, climbs, pine trees, mud, gravel, descents, singletrack, fireroad, it was all a bit of a blur really. I just kept looking at the clock on my bars rapidly heading to 13:30 and the 50 mile cut off time, I was slowly overtaking riders I recognised from earlier. At the start of a big loop that I remembered from 2011 I saw Bruce, he’d just done it and was about to head over the Kielder road. I thought back to last year, this must be about an hour and a half loop, bloody hell, I’m that far back!

More head down and ride, the yellow tape with “FUEL!” written on it did it’s job. The problem I was having was my snotty nose meant that a mouthful of Snickers flapjack (very nice) meant I struggled to breathe! But taking small bites I could ride and eat! 5 miles to feed stop, the sign said….. I can’t remember that time my clock said, but I worked out I could make the time cut off. The climb to the 50 mile point was a long slow slog, but once I saw the marshall with the timing thing I felt great. 20 minutes inside the time!

Just enough time to change gloves, replenish food stocks and top up with liquids and I was off. I bit of downhill, but all too soon it was heading back up. This time a horrible rocky climb that leads you up to the point where you can wuss out, go right and head down to Kielder or man up and turn left…. to Scotland!

Christ I wish I’d chosen the wuss out option! I knew the zigzag rocky climb was a killer, but it leads to a boardwalk section with stunning views over the Kielder valley. Unfortunately a massive headwind meant more time was spent keeping the bike on the boardwalk than looking at views, staying areodynamic is usually about going fast, not staying on the bike! By now there were only a couple of riders in view, and all of them were wobbling about, being battered by the wind. Soon the ‘Borderline’ trail entered a forest section, at last a rest from the wind, although the sound of it whistling through the tops of trees was a constant reminder it was out there waiting.

Emerging from the trees it was now open moors all the way down to the border stone, and the wind was gusting, dropping then hitting you hard. As the trail snaked down, it hit you sideways, and narrow trail was a tough target to follow. I heard a shout from behind me, turned and saw a rider who had followed me through the trees standing with his bike in boggy peat. The wind had caught him and blown him off the trail. He gave me the thumbs up so I carried on trying to make myself as small a target for the wind as possible.

Soon I could see the piper at the border, but even though the wind was blowing from his direction I couldn’t hear the bagpipes he was playing, just a constant wail of the wind. It was almost as though Scotland was trying to defend it’s border from the advancing riders. Crossing the border I paid the piper, and had my photo taken with him by a race marshal. He asked where I was from, and when I said Coventry, he straight away said ‘the home of the best bikes in the world’…. Turns out he races a 1969 Triumph in historic races.

I paid the piper!

Leaving the border, the trail slowy climbed, but the wind didn’t abait. A gradient and a headwind! I could see figures on the horizon, further up the trail, not riders, but a group. as I got closer I could see they had dogs with them, then closer still, holding guns and wearing kilts… a proper scottish hunting party.

Dropping down the Scottish side of Larriston Fells now gave some stunning views of the mountains in the distance. Soon I was riding familiar fireroad as I dropped into the start of some of Newcastleton’s finest singletrack. This particular section was the bit I rode several times at the 24hours of Exposure… but that’s a different story. Out of the trees and up the climb over Priest Hill and the wind was still not playing fair. Over the top and down the familiar drop to the next time cut off at 62 miles. This time I’d made it by 15 minutes, I’d lost 5 minutes, not bad considering the headwind, but with my nemesis, the climb up Kershope Burn to come I really would have prefered the 20 minutes I’d had at 50 miles.

A handful of Jaffa Cakes, water bottle filled, chain lubed and I was off. The climb out of Newcastleton is a pig, you know it’s gonna hurt so it’s just a case of getting your head down and grinding your way up. Once you hit the the top of Castle Hill most of it is narrow twisty and down. Crossing the fireroad halfway drops you into ‘Hidden Valley’ a section that isn’t used on the 24 hours of Exposure race, but is simply stunning! Now a gradual climb up Tweeden Burn, before getting to the Border Staine where a right turn dropped me down to the bottom of Kershope….. oh, god!

So, Kershope Burn, my nemesis, a 300 ft, 4.5 mile gradual climb on the scottish side. In 2011 it had been my undoing, both physically and mentally. At the bottom I’d been tired but OK, by the crossing into England at the top I was broken. A combination of rain laiden headwind and misread distance signs screwed me up and killed my chances of getting to the 78 mile time cut off on time. This part of the route really had been playing on my mind… for ages. But this time the sun was shining, and the wind was blowing up the burn…. a tailwind! The first one since the 50 mile point! And it would be pushing me up Kershope!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a slog, but with the sun shining it looked fantastic, so different to the grey hell it was 12 months previous! Crossing back into England killed the demon. Now it was a short section of rough track, before a stunningly fast descent back down towards Kielder. Not a great deal of pedalling, and looking at my cycle computer I was going to be in the cut off time… just. The five miles from the border seemed to go on forever but I knew I’d get there in time so several times I shouted at the world! Rounding a bend I saw a red gazebo….. the 78 mile cut off point…. with 13 minutes to spare! I’d made it! 22 miles to go, and no more time points to hit!

It was weird standing there with my feed point drop bag not having to think about getting on the bike as soon as possible. Several times the marshal had to remind other tired riders that it was OK, there were no more points where you’d get timed out. Bloody hell, that sounded good! Say it again, and keep saying it!

The climb up from the 78 mile cut off was a horrible gravel fireroad job, no fun at all, so along with a couple of other riders I pushed the bike up it, and while we did we had a good chat. I’d spoken to other riders during the day, but it was always a couple of sentences and that’s all. It was quite refreshing to have a decent conversation!

The main part of this loop seemed to be fireroad, not exactly inspiring, but everyone was shattered and groups of riders formed, riding along together helped. I rode with a bloke and his mates from the Chilterns for a while, he remembered me from the Bucks 123k back in 2011! We’d talked about the merits of 29″ wheels back then. He’d got a better memory than me, I vaguely remembered the conversation, but didn’t recognise him.

I dropped off their group, then looking at my bars saw the “FUEL!” sticker, and realised it’d been quite a while since the 78 mile stop where I’d last eaten anything. During the day I’d worked out that it was far easier to eat on slight downhills, as my snotty nose meant breathing and eating was an issue, so just rolling, I wasn’t brething as hard. Now was an ideal opportunity as I’d got on a slight downhill section.

One hand on the bars, Snickers flapjack in the other I rolled on. The trail steepened and turned slightly left. Before I knew it the bike was starting to accellerate, and running wide. The fire road had recently had a ditch cut down the right, and I was starting to drop off the side. I dropped the flapjack and grabbed the bars, I was now riding over large lumps of rock the the forestry vehicles had pushed to the outside of the bend…. I’d gone past the point of no return, I was going into the ditch!

The bike started to drop in. Looking down I didn’t want to follow it as it had some big cut logs at the bottom, that looked hard! I’d got the bike down to running pace so decided to get off! As I did, somehow I tripped and fell. I put my left arm out and in a split second thought of my elbow, so pulled it back in. I landed on my shoulder… As I lay there, I thought you’ll have done your collarbone…. But…No pain, so that’s OK. I stood up and my arm felt wierd. Looking at my left elbow pad it’d hit the ground… my elbow felt warm. Oh god, Nursey had warned me off mountain biking a couple of weeks ago, and had said a direct hit on a deep wound could split it open. I just stood there, scared to have a look. After a few minutes standing there panicking I felt around and got no red on my right hand… relief!

The bike wasn’t so good, it’d cartwheeled into the logs and the back wheel had taken a big hit and now wouldn’t turn through the chainstays it was that buckled. With a bit of brute force (I stood on it) I managed to get it so it would turn. A couple of spokes were now loose so I nipped them up and set off.

Probably less than half a mile later there was a noise from the rear wheel. I stopped to have a look. A spoke had snapped…. this last ‘easy’ 22 miles was becoming as bad as the first 25! I wrapped it around another and taped them together. In the distance I could heard engines, soon two bikes appeared, stopped and asked it I was OK. I explained about the wheel and spoke and that I was OK to carry on.

I asked how far it was till the end, 14 miles was the answer. And they also told me I was now the last rider… they were the sweepers! I rode on, with the sound of the bikes behind me. Occasionally they’d stop and let me get a lead on them, then race to catch me up. It sounded like they were having a great time… why did I sell my KX250?

Following Akenshaw Burn down towards Kielder Water, I came to a bridge. I got over it and found a rider looking at a sign with a map of the Lonesome Pine Trail. It looked like the route was going to follow this to the end. Simon, as I found out his name was, looked terrible. He’d been sick, and was trying to work out if it was easier just to drop on the road and ride back. We stood and talked for a while. Soon I realised I needed to get moving again, so headed off and wished him all the best.

The trail was pretty rocky, so thinking of my back wheel I took it easy, pretty soon I could see Simon behind me, and hitting a section of fire road we rode along next to each other chatting. We decided that we’d ride the last few miles together and finish joint last! Soon the light started to fade, and we found ourselves back at the 50 mile feed stop, now there was just one horrible climb section that we’d ridden earlier, and then we’d be on the final descent to the finish.

We opted to push up this part, it was just as bad to push up as it was to ride! Eventually we got to the top of the run to the finish. The sweepers told us it was pretty much all downhill. Looking into the trees it was dark, very dark. I’d got a bar mounted light in my pack and Simon had a helmet light. So we fitted them and headed into the darkness with me leading. The sweepers were having to follow us, as their bikes had dynamo lighting systems that get brighter as the engine revs increase… their problem was they couldn’t rev their engines as it was causing the bikes to overheat because they were going so slow.

Suddenly out of the darkness a rider appeared, pushing his bike. With no lights he was struggling to walk down the trail. After the obligatory introductions we suggested Mark (his name) slotted in between me and Simon and ride off our lights. This worked OK and we started covering some distance towards the finish. But soon the trail got steeper, and we’d drift apart. I was struggling to look where I was going and keep looking back to make sure I wasn’t gapping Mark. We ended up working out a system of shouting when the gap in front was getting to big, or if there were any major trail obsticles that needed avoiding.

It seemed to take forever to get down, but eventually we could see lights through the trees, and they could obviously see us as we could hear them shouting. Rounding a left hand bend, there it was the finish. Mark’s girlfriend was there, and so were the GT guys. We’d done it ! There was only one timing dibber so the three of is got our timing chips ready and got them done as close togther as we could.

We’d got to go back to Kielder Castle anyway, to hand our timing chips, but one of the sweepers said we’d better hurry up as there was a reception party waiting. The hill up to the castle isn’t much fun, short and steep, but I think we all flew up it! Getting up there, we couldn’t see anyone, the place looked deserted “They’ve all fucked off home” either Mark or Simon said. Getting to the entrance to the courtyard a forestry bloke we’d seen earlier handed Simon a can of Coke (we’d seen him at about 6 miles to go and Simon who was dying at the time had asked him if he had anything like that, but he hadn’t). He suggested we get in line and ride in, so we did.

Turning the corner, the noise hit us, the courtyard was packed full of people cheering and clapping……. We’d finished!!! It was 20:15, 13 hours, 45 minutes since we’d left.

Bruce…. If you ever see me on the start line of this race again…………..

Ride – #151     Bike – ’12 Trek Superfly Al Elite

Total Ascent – Approx 12,700ft

Miles – 106.8     Total 2012 Miles – 3399.6

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