Sat 9 Jun 2018
The 100-mile on- and off-road bike-packing event is undoubtedly a challenge, but there is a true sense of adventure
Twenty-two miles from the end of a gruelling, beautiful and intensely varied 100 mile cross-country bike ride through Dorset, the rear derailleur on my bike clacked, pinged and, in the manner of a wounded fly, ended its journey upside down, immobile and missing several parts.
I stood on the dirt track peering down at it, wondering how I’d finish the ride, before my riding buddies set about trying to get me pedalling once more.
This was the Dorset Gravel Dash, an on- and off-road bike-packing event that starts and finishes in Swanage. I’d never bike-packed before, but it’s similar to touring, only with less luggage, arranged in frame bags rather than panniers.
It had already been an eventful initiation. Under non-stop sun we traversed mud, sand, road, hill forts and rocky paths too steep for me to cycle up or down. One recently acquired companion, Ricky, was coated in thorns after somersaulting over his handlebars into a gorse bush on the first day. It took three men to lift him out. Despite having spent 90 minutes that morning having prickles removed with tweezers and a pen knife, he was still freckled with them.
One of our number had cannibalised a chopping board from a hedge to stop a bag rubbing on a wheel. Another had done a backward somersault trying to cycle up a barrow, and his legs were drenched from attempting to cycle through an enormous ford. We were eight people alone in rural Dorset on bikes. As the event’s organiser, Charlie the Bikemonger, put it, we were engaged in scouting for adults.