I think it was James Rennie’s idea, but I can’t be sure. At some point, the ex-Canadian Enduro Series winner came up with the idea of riding the 160km Rimutaka Cycle Trail in Wellington, New Zealand in a single day. Not just any day mind you, but the shortest day of the year, Winter Solstice. While our northern hemisphere buddies were planning large days of self-inflicted pain with massive amounts of daylight, James and his friends had picked one of the worst days in Wellington’s last couple of weeks. It hadn’t stopped raining in the 72 hours leading up to Saturday’s early 7:30 am departure, and before we’d even started, two people had already pulled out.
Why was I even here? Well, James is a long time Kona rider and had been on the Kona Canadian Super Grass team from 2015-2018 that I’d helped manage. He lives back in New Zealand now and is surrounded by a solid group of some of the Capital’s fastest, strongest and craziest riders. Over the last six months, four of the crew have purchased Kona Roves. Four Roves on an epic 160km gravel ride seemed like too good a photographic opportunity to pass up. Clearly a weak link, I indicated my keenness to partake expecting a rebuttal but was instead welcomed into the fold “just don’t slow us down with that camera!”
I knew I would be slowing the crew down, so I hatched a plan to invite a gravel loving friend of mine, who I actually hadn’t ridden with in the last few years. He’s in the 6’4″ club like me and I figured we might ride at a similar pace (how very wrong I was). He rides a custom-built steel gravel bike that his buddy welded up for him. When we met up with him a few kms into the ride I quickly realized the Moose was not going to be my intended safety blanket at all. In fact, he was quite the opposite, setting the pace for day’s ride, he’d only ever drop off the front to see if I was okay out the back. Note to self, Moose is an absolute beast.
The inclement weather and my camera did not get on, although I’d packed light, covered my camera bag in a rain jacket, and even packed a chamois to suck water off the camera body it gave up the ghost around 40km in. At first the autofocus stopped, then it refused to allow me to change manual settings, and finally, it decided it wouldn’t even fire. Despite some nice jackets and wet weather riding gear, nothing was stopping the water. By the 50km mark everyone was soaked to the bone, surprisingly though, thanks to the low density cloud, the temperatures weren’t that low, and while conditions were pretty darn miserable, it was good knowing they could have been far worse.
The Rimutaka Cycle Trail is nothing new, and neither is doing it in a day, in fact, there’s a group of local gravel riders that instead of the shortest day ride, smash it out in the evening starting at 5 pm, completing a “longest night”. This was though, for most of the group, their inaugural gravel ride. The route is about 50% gravel and starts at the top of Wellington’s harbour and heads south around the coast behind the Ōrongorongo and Remutaka Mountain ranges before following an old abandoned rail trail back over the route’s high point at 353m. A connection of cycle paths then avoids the busy state highway and takes you back to the ride’s starting point to complete the 150km loop.
The heavy rain over the last few weeks had taken its toll on the trail. Because it’s also a popular route with the capital’s four-wheel-drive clubs, the rough gravel path had been completely washed into the ocean at numerous points along the coast, which made for slow going for our crew, small streams had turned into swollen rivers.
Moose, who had been casually crushing the ride all day, truly came into his own at the 127 km mark. It was 5 pm, the light was gone and after a quick stop at the first shop on the whole trip to inject warm pies and sugar, Moose set off and really ratcheted the pace up. Dragging the seven remaining riders through the final 33km of interconnected cycle paths back to the city, warm showers and cold beers.
Words & Images: Caleb Smith