Dorset Divide

I entered this event in my usual style – impulsively and optimistically. When I saw the distance and time limit I thought I would be able to ride 100 miles per day and get some good sleeps in. I had previously chatted to my old uni housemate, Tamzin (currently absolutely smashing the Pan Celtic) about ultras and said that they weren’t for me as I do not do well on sleep deprivation. Then I started to recce parts of the route and realised that it actually really wasn’t that simple.

This year I’ve been trying to get back into crit and road racing. I had a good winter on the turbo. I then got Covid in March which set me back. I’ve done a few bikepacking trips and adventures but nowhere near enough long rides.

Harry had organised some training rides and gave some amazing advice and reassured that it was about enjoyment not racing! He had suggested that shortcuts could be taken if needed.

I had a day off work on Wednesday. I headed out for a chilled road ride with a friend in the morning then got packing! My bike was mainly loaded with food – I had 3 bags with snacks and evening meals for every day. The best food I brought was: outdoor provisions nut butters, OTE flapjacks and super gels, Uncle Bens rice packets and salted peanuts. I also packed 3L of water, having run out multiple times the previous weekend when bikepacking. I had a 1.5L hydration bladder in a bum bag (or lumbar pack as Osprey call it), 1L hydration bladder in frame bag and a 500ml bottle on the bottom of my bike. Electrolyte tabs were also a must. I just about managed to finish packing by the evening in time to go to the pub with friends. Then it was time to put everything on charge and get some sleep.

In the lead up to other events I have felt awful with nerves. This time I felt ok. I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t really know what I was going in to or if I had a better mindset. Instead of being a perfectionist and competitive, my main aim was to get round, even if not within the deadline (I have a few days off work this week). My plan was to enjoy it rather than get too wrapped up in it all.

I finished work at 5 (thankfully) and did some last minute faffing then left for camp. The race briefing ended with a “people die during these events so please take care”. Reassuring. I stuffed a load of food in me and bedded down for the night. I will definitely return to Portland Bill Camping for more stunning sunrises and sunsets! Mine was definitely the most loaded bike with lots of riders not planning to stop and sleep.

We started at 5:30 in the morning from Portland Bill. As everyone sprinted off I stuck to the back. I love the gravel round Portland and was able to ride most of it. I managed to go the wrong way a few times despite having done the route before and having the route on my Wahoo! Then it was up to Hardys Monument (another of my favourite climbs off road) for stunning views and across to Abbotsbury. I love this section for the views and had a few photo stops. I stopped for an early lunch in West Bay, which I think was my mistake. After this I really struggled to get moving again and really started to feel the heat. I very nearly dropped out. I shed a few tears, talked to my boyfriend and my mum then I had a stop at Charmouth beach and had a double espresso and ice lolly and decided to crack on. I made better progress after this as it started to cool down. I found a campsite at a pub with showers and stopped for the night, deciding to re-assess in the morning. One of the options I was considering was cutting across the loop into North Dorset.

My 4am alarm woke me and it was actually a bit chilly. I very reluctantly emerged from my cosy bivvy, had some coffee and porridge and set off. This day went much better; it started with rolling roads, had a few off road climbs and then went on to relatively flat roads in North Dorset. A few obstacles included a farmer seemingly obsessed with barbed wire and making the bridleway as difficult as possible to navigate and some overfriendly cows. I made it to Gold Hill in Shaftesbury just after sunset. I will be returning there on my road bike and attempting to actually climb it all! It reminded me a lot of Michaelgate in Lincoln. I then headed out of Shaftesbury and found a field to camp in for the night.

Another early start and I got cracking. Felt good and started to think I might just manage it! My aim was to get to Wareham then finish it off on the Monday. But my bike had other plans. First I got a puncture which took me 30 mins to change (bike mechanics are not a strength of mine), I picked 2 thorns out of the tyre and luckily they had not majorly ripped despite being a bit worn. I got going again to then realise my disc brake was rubbing, not ideal. I took the wheel out and put it back in which usually fixes it, but sadly not this time. Some virtual help from a friend on Instagram and a Youtube video and I managed to sort of bodge it so that the wheel could turn (albeit noisily). All this, however, took up the whole morning in which I was planning to ride at least 50 miles.  After this I then lost a fight to a bramble bush on yet another overgrown section. Whilst picking thorns out of my arm I decided to call it a day. I then rode to Blandford, had a Sunday lunch and cycled the last 30 miles home.

What an experience! Will I be doing more ultras? Unsure. I do absolutely love riding off road though and looking forward to more bikepacking adventures. Next up – Kings Cup Gravel in September.

Ways I kept myself entertained: Usually when I’m on a solo adventure I use my Aftershokz headphones to listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks. This time I was very aware of battery life so did not use them (I had them for the odd motivational song or phone call if needed). So I mainly sang to myself, often just 1 line from songs based on where I was or how I was feeling, e.g. “green green grass, blue blue sky”, “as we ride through fields of gold”, “the only way is up”, “feeling hot hot hot”, “keep on moving on anyway” and “aint no mountain high enough”. I also had to talk to myself giving firm words of encouragement.

What I’m glad I packed: electrolyte tabs, outdoor provisions nut butter, hydration bladders of water, aero bars to give my hands a break and suncream! What I would take next time: a beanie hat to keep my head warm and tweezers (for getting thorns out of tyres and skin).

Total distance: 303.95km / 189.97mi

Total time: 23 hours, 22 minutes

Elevation gain: 5416m / 17769.03

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