Charlie’s (The Bikemonger – not Mortleman) Dorset Gravel Dash

(This was back in May – not got round to a write up until now).

This looked like it would be an altogether “different” event, and so it proved. Organised by Swanage based “Charlie the Bikemonger” it comprised 100 miles mainly off road around Dorset, along farm tracks, coastal paths, sandy heath, fields, disused railway, and the odd bit of dreaded tarmac, either in one day, or over 2 days with an overnight camp for the “bikepackers”.
(Interesting character Mr Bikemonger. 6 ‘ 4 with big black curly hair and impressive beard, Charlie had a corporate career before arranging a meeting with his boss and telling him he was sacking him – whereupon “Charlie the Bikemonger” was born, selling assorted Salsa’s, Surly’s, Fat Bikes, Jones’, and bike-packing kit, with a healthy disrespect for anything new-fangled – such as gears, for example).

The “rules” of the event (such as they were) gave a good indication of the “vibe”:

  • This is not a race, it’s a reliability trial.
  • If you don’t know what is around a corner, assume its a cliff and certain death. There are a lot of cliffs around here.We will have a broom wagon to sweep up the unlucky and bring them back to the pub.
  • There will be minimal markers on the route. but you will need to navigate it yourself
  • Terrain is mixed: dirt, mud, gravel, some road sections (sorry), chalk, tech, grass.... and if the tide is right... nudist beach.
  • Don’t be a d@ck

An ingenious solution was also offered to the perennial Mort “shall-we-stop-at-the-feed station” debate (Sally – we will lose a couple of minutes; me – but they may have sausage rolls, or jaffa cakes….”): there wasn’t one……………….

So we gathered at the Red Lion pub in Swanage at 730am for pre-match bacon butties (“food of champions”) with assorted cx’ers, gravel racers, fixies, singlespeeds, mountain bikes, fat bikes, and monster crossers, for a quick briefing. Details of the “broom wagon of eternal shame” were strapped to bars, a quick briefing and we were off at 800 ish, with a request to George Budd (top endurance MTB racer and the previous year’s first one back, even after having won a 6 hour mtb enduro the day before – on a Fat Bike…) to text when he was near so someone could come and welcome him over the line. Most riders looked pretty fit, not as in power-meter-and-heart-rate-monitor-fit; more a ride-10-hours-across-windy-rainy-moors-and-still-be-smiling  kind of fit.

All you need to know. The rest is just unnecessary detail

How much lunch? Nice bike though


Ready for the off, feeling pneumatically challenged!

George was off the front after a few hundred yards with a handful trying to keep pace (no prizes for guessing one who was amongst these!). I settled down for a long day out, and after an hour or so caught Sally – “I don’t know how hard you’re pushing but I won’t be able to hold this for another 7 or 8 hours”. “Oh we won’t be that long”. 
(My sense of self-preservation is now sufficiently developed not to bring up this conversation 9 hours later on the long last haul up Ballard Down, Sally’s chin jutting out almost as far as Old Harry rocks, when we were close to a bike-chucking-over-cliff-edge-tantrum).

Only 9 hours and 83 miles to go, dear……

The course itself took a clockwise loop of Dorset, out along the Jurassic Coast (nice views apparently – sea mist put paid to that), then inland and back across Wareham Forest and Studland. On the first stony descent (taken somewhat gently on my 40mm tyres) there was an apocalyptic rumble of thunder behind me. “What the hell was that?” “That – my friend – was the sound of a fast descending Fat Bike”. Didn’t look as much fun on the road sections though.  Inland there were long runs through forests, and across some particularly ‘orrible bumpy fields (my jiggly bits have just stopped jiggling), disused railway, and heathland. Occasionally there was a bit of tape around a gate post just to show we were still on course. Any arrows – we had been informed – were to be ignored at all costs – “they are for another, organised event”. We also came across the hordes of the Tour of Wessex sportive, who looked rather bemused by our motley-ness.
The first opportunity to replenish supplies was at about 50 miles (large pasty and big cake); quite a few took advantage of a handily placed pub. It felt quite strange to be saying “only another 45 miles to go”.
So on and on, with a nasty push around some ancient fort ramparts and some navigational difficulties in Wareham Forest, and a fairly frosty last 20 miles or so (tactic: stay far enough away to keep out of earshot, but close enough not to get in trouble), eventually finishing back at the pub in 9 hours 45 ish (no official times), cheered in by hordes of locals and a wildly waved chequered flag. George was probably back home in Surrey by the time we came in, having finished in 6 hours 50. Sally was first woman in (of a huge field of 3) by a good hour or so.

Never has a beer felt so good. Long old day out.