Shimano Gravel Alliance rider Erwin Sikkens teams up with Bas Rotgans and decides to ride a 360kms gravel loop over one weekend, in the middle of winter. How hard could it possibly be?
Imagine a stormy wind coming straight from the west. Now imagine you know of an all-road route, taking you mostly in that same western direction, heading straight into the stormy wind. Consider that this particular route is a full 360 km long and you already committed to riding it a couple of weeks before, probably from some warm cosy living room couch, thinking ‘how bad can it be?’ Well… pretty bad I can tell you… and also, this is exactly the situation I found myself in not too long ago.
The name of the underestimated ride was Super Pathfinder, a 320 km long DIY challenge that me and my cycling buddy Bas decided to extend to a full 360 km. We did this to also tackle the Orbit360 #rideFAR DIY challenge in one go. Now, I know that sounds like cheating… and it probably is, but hey, when you’re riding for fun… you can!
I myself am not the kind of person to turn a long ride like this into a race. Especially not with a curfew in place preventing us from riding the whole thing in one go. It was therefore decided that we were going to tackle the distance in two days, turning the ride into a weekend bikepacking adventure… right up my alley.
On an early Saturday morning not too long ago, I met up with Bas and last-minute teammate Jan, to start our 360 km long challenge. I had charged my GRX Di2, filled my bottles with water and stuffed my bikepacking bags with sleepover gear and food. I was ready to tackle the wind head on. Or at least, I thought so. Over the last year I had experienced gravel riding as this party-pace, fun experience, but now out in the open fields of southern Netherlands I experienced that smooth gravel in an open heather field can feel exactly like riding your road racer on a coastal dyke i.e. pretty hard work!
On and on we bashed our gravel bikes into the wind, riding from forest to forest, finding shelter behind the trees. We stopped at every little town we rode through, drinking crappy coffee at supermarkets, filling our mouths with any food we could find. For a while, I wasn’t too sure if I was going to make the distance, as the kilometers ticked away so slowly… and 360 km is such a big distance! It was with the great help of Jan, who sadly turned his bike around and headed home at the end of the first day, that we had achieved 230 km already on the first day. It still meant that we had another 130 km to go the next day though, with legs empty and bodies tired.
After a good night sleep at a local monastery and possibly a beer just before bedtime, Bas and I departed for our second day. Moral was good again, breakfast tasted great and after another 35 or so kilometers riding against the wind, we finally turned our bikes around.
We had our eyes on the finish and even though we still had somewhat over 90 kilometers to go over diverse and often sandy terrain, the stormy wind in our backs made us fly back to the finish. It was just before the end of the afternoon that we finally got back to our cars in some suburb of the city of Eindhoven. Bas’ bike computer registered 361 km. Mine said 359.3 km.
While Bas loaded his bike into his car… I rode three more left turns in the neighbourhood, to get the number I had worked for so hard on my screen and make it official. Finally… back at my car again, 360.2 km on the screen. Challenge completed!