It’s been a while since I did a big day on the bike, and even longer since I’ve completed one without tears. I don’t really know why I haven’t had the headspace for it, or much else for that matter. But I wanted to get back into it, so when I saw 'Rebound' advertised I thought it would be just the ticket.
Rebound is based on Unbound Gravel, a race in America that has multiple distances to compete in, the flagship being 200 miles. Just a mere 321.87 km for us metric types. I’m a huge fan of the North American off-road endurance racing scene, despite never having ridden in a gravel race or swung my leg over a gravel bike. I’m super hyped to go racing over there, a goal for the upcoming years.
Rebound challenges those who aren’t racing the Unbound to form their own gravel route wherever they are (in my case Wellington), based on one of the Unbound distances, and collectively start riding at 6am on June 3rd. I think there was something about doing it with friends too, but I’ve learnt to stop asking them to join my long rides. If I was doing this then it was 200 miles or nothing. I’ve had a big coastal loop on my mind for a while that I figured would be about 300 km, and if I still had more to go when I got back I’d just do a bit around the bays. Too easy.
My main concern going into this was my mental state, being alone with my thoughts for 15+ hrs would be a massive challenge, but something that I wanted to take on. The week leading up to the ride I tried to get heaps of sleep and make sure that I was in a happy place. It kinda worked.
Saturday morning arrived with my alarm going off at 5:10am, a bit later than I usually get up for work. I got kitted up and tried to eat breakfast. But the nerves hit and I struggled, eventually scraping my last few Weet-Bix into the bin 'cos I realised it was nearly go time. The challenge stated at 6am SHARP start, the clock ticked over and I was still faffing. So, I started my watch whilst still stuffing food into my bag and getting my shoes on. I rolled out at five past. Better late than not at all!
I cruised through the city and hopped onto the cycle path heading north. When I reached Petone I hung a right and worked my way along The Esplanade, then south to the start of the coastal trail.
I hit the first lot of gravel as the sun came up, turning off my lights as soon as possible to save them for what would be a long day. Grateful for the still morning as I sped my way south, I headed around below Wainuiomata and into new territory for me.
A few navigation bumbles followed but nothing major. I saw some wild-ish looking horses as I rounded Turakirae Head. Riding straight towards the low rising sun made for poor vision, so there was a bit of point-and-pray riding for a while.
At times the track would turn into soft sandy gravel and sap away my speed, often causing a dismount and trot along on foot. I came across a seal on the path, resulting in a big detour into sand to give it space
The track got more hardpack again, and turned into a gravel road. I saw more cars and people out fishing, and then it was back onto sealed road and working my way north to find a road to head south on the other side of the Wharepapa River.
I decided that this would be a good time to call my parents for a catch up while I had phone reception, thinking that I could talk to them through my earphones but for some reason that didn’t work, so I rode along holding my phone to my ear for a bit, giving them a rundown of my plans, before deciding that was too much effort and hanging up. Mum had asked about how much food and water I was carrying. I’d set myself up with about 20 hours of food so was sorted on that front, but it brought to my attention that both my water bottles were nearly empty. That was my next target, a tap. I spied a church in the distance and tried my luck. Bingo.
Bottles filled, a food reshuffle and I was on my way again. So far I’d just been listening to music so I switched out to podcasts, about American gravel racing of course, as I worked my way back to the coast and around to Cape Palliser.
At the Cape I stopped to line up for the toilet and someone commented, “wow, we drove past you ages ago, you must be going very fast!” I can’t remember my reply but it probably wasn’t the most interesting conversation they’d had that day. I was definitely starting to get into zone out mode.
Finding more water crossed my mind but I decided to leave it for a bit. Silly decision. I got onto 4WD track for another hour of fun riding/pushing/bike carrying. A few sections of XL gravel made me glad that I didn’t own a gravel bike - way more fun on the mtb.
I had run out of water and was crossing farmland with cows grazing so the small creeks weren’t looking particularly inviting for a refill. It wasn’t super warm but I wanted to stay on top of my hydration. I popped out at the end of the gravel road which took me inland towards Martinborough and eventually found some clean water for a refill.
What followed was the low point of the ride, 50 kms of feeling like I was just going slower and slower. I couldn’t figure out why. Fuelling was still going great, maybe I went out too fast at the start? Or maybe the lack of water was playing a part?
It wasn’t until I went down a fast downhill close to Martinborough that I realised what the problem was. I’d run over a brake pad split pin that I’d dropped in our backyard a few weeks prior and it had caused a few small holes that had sealed themselves, and then opened up again to cause a slow leak. I decided to keep rolling into town and get some food while I fixed it.
By the time I was outside the Martinborough Four Square my tyre was pretty soft. After a quick lap of the aisles I emerged with a 15 pack of cinnamon doughnuts and bottle of Fanta. I crossed the road to the town square and parked up to fix my puncture and chow through the doughnuts. My initial plan was to plug the two small holes, until I realised that I was only carrying a single plug. So I plugged one hole, then tried using the other end of the plug in the other hole. Didn’t work at all so I quickly ditched this idea and put a tube in. I timed this perfectly to coincide with the end of the doughnuts, and transferred the remainder of the Fanta into my bottle and got back on the road towards Featherston.
By this point darkness had started setting in so the lights went back on. I found some new legs as I rolled along to the bottom of the Remutaka Rail Trail climb. I decided the slow climbing pace would be a good time to call a mate for a chat. With all my attention on the call I wasn’t looking at any signage. I just saw a bike track and followed it noticing that it seemed narrower and more ‘mountain bikey’ that your typical rail trail. I made comment about this and had a wee laugh that I could be going the wrong way. I also very quickly lost phone reception and that was the end of the company. After about 10 minutes I popped out at a intersection of what looked a lot like a rail trail. This time I read the signs, to the right would take me to the carpark, five minutes, to the left would be to the summit. Perfect.
I turned left and cruised up the nice wide, mellow gradient climb. A few tunnels later I popped out at the old railway hut labeled 'SUMMIT', snapped a quick photo and got back on my way, zooming down to Upper Hutt. I found my way onto the river trail which is a lot of fun with no one else on it, and followed it south to Petone and then traced back the way I’d came.
I went past the hill to my house as I hit 311 km, so kept going around the bays for another 5 km and then back, with a wee road repeat to make sure I ticked over the magical 200 mile marker, coming to a stop outside my house 16.5 hours after I’d left. Rebound complete.