Faultline Challenge Recap

Kia Ora! We are back from New Zealand and recovering from all our adventures and wanted to share our wonderful experiences leading up to and including the Faultline Challenge! There is a lot more we’ll share later!

The spectacular Faultline trails link 5 bike parks along an active fault in and around Wellington, and I’ll get to that. But what will draw us back to New Zealand is how everyone we met welcomed us into the Faultline and Tailwind families. Their kindness and generosity will stay with us forever.

Our Tailwind NZ partner Mark Drew picked us up at the airport in his trademark colorful garb (you can’t miss him!) and bright orange Tailwind Holden (Chevy) Colorado truck. First stop was to meet Mike Hunn at My Ride New Zealand who bent over backwards to make sure we had dialed bikes for the race. Mike also raced the Faultline 160k and shared trail beta over Wellington’s excellent espresso. Tuesday of race week began with a pre-ride of Mākara Peak mountain bike park with Steve Bale and Mark, complete with 360 degree views of the Wellington area and our first taste of bush riding (amazingly lush coming from high and dry Colorado!). Steve is a fantastic cyclist, Tailwind Trailblazer, and coach who works with Liz Gasson, a force of nature with an indomitable spirit as she works towards the LA 2028 Paralympics. Liz met us for a late lunch at Zealandia and filled us in on their upcoming trip to the US, riding Bike MS events and sharing her inspiring story. Stay tuned for more on this.

On Wednesday, we met the Faultline race director Bengy and his family who welcomed us to the Faultline family and introduced us to the team. The Faultline began as an idea to showcase the extensive trails of the Wellington area. Even in the central business district, you’re never more than 10 minutes from a trail, and the dips and folds of the faultline that runs through Wellington make for spectacular views and some serious elevation. True to the family ethos, the Faultline weekend featured run and bike races of all lengths and welcomed all abilities.

After dropping off Tailwind for the Faultline’s aid stations, we headed to the Paekākāriki Escarpment Trail where the Tailwind family awaited us. I can’t say enough about the community Mark and his wife Fibi have built in New Zealand. A crew of Tailwind Trailblazers decked out in awesome jerseys welcomed us with hugs and gifts (lots of chocolate!). The Escarpment trail traverses steep hillsides with 2 swinging bridges and a lot of stairs along the coastline with views of the South Island and Kapiti wildlife refuge. We were beginning to suspect Mark was trying to wear us out before we even started the Faultline! Mercifully, they took us in the “easy” direction with only 300 or so stairs instead of the usual run from the other direction involving 1200+ steep stairs.

The Tailwind Trailblazers were out in force the next couple of days at the Faultline expo, coming in from all over the country as well as internationally (Jeri Chua, our Tailwind partner from Singapore also flew in). We also got to know the awesome Faultline crew who rolled out the red carpet for us and were everywhere all weekend. Ostensibly we were working the expo, but really it was more like a family reunion as we laughed, hugged, ate Kat’s home baked treats, and enjoyed making new friends. One of the highlights of the trip was the Pōwhiri (Māori welcome ceremony) at Te Wharewaka o Pōneke. As guests, we were invited to participate in the hongi, shaking hands, pressing noses, and sharing breath. The ceremony welcomed us to Aotearoa and opened the door for dialogue. We would return later to Te Wharewaka o Pōneke after the race for a cultural walking tour where we learned more about the history and meaning of the welcome.

Wow. I’ve written more than a page without getting to the race, and I feel like I left out so many details of the friends we made and just how kind and generous everyone was. But this is a recap of the Faultline, so time to put our winter training to the test! That time would be 12:35 am on Saturday when my alarm went off after sleeping for like 90 minutes. Did I mention the race started at 3:30 am? What to wear? Wellington is known for winds and rain that can blow in at any moment, but we lucked out, and rain had disappeared from the forecast. I went with a wool jersey base layer, Tailwind Trailblazer top, leg warmers, and long fingered gloves. And since I’m from CO, I brought a puffy along for the start line just in case.

Jeff’s 80km/50 miles

The Faultline Teams Miler Event is also billed as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Was Bengy trying to tell us something? A shuttle bus took us to Whareroa Stream at the Kapiti Coast beach for the start. The course started out through Whareroa Farm into the Akatarawa Forest with a 400m climb over about 8K. The grade was gentle, but I found myself sweating buckets almost immediately in the moist ocean air. A fast descent led to the steep second climb which would take us to the highest point of the course. 300m over 2k - definitely granny gear territory for me. Somewhere in the dark bush I managed to miss a refill station where I’d planned to refill my pack with Tailwind. That meant running dry with another climb to go before a fun bike park descent into the Hutt valley and the first full aid station. Kind of ironic for a co-founder of Tailwind to run out of fuel!

The Hutt valley was billed as a chance to rest on a slightly downhill fast river trail before the next big climb. But something I learned about Bengy and the Faultline is they take every opportunity to spice things up! I quickly found myself back in the bush on a narrow track that looked barely ridden. It was tight and twisty, and at one point my shoulder bumped a tree, pitching me off the trail and down a steep slope. Fortunately, I grabbed a tree on the way down and managed not to break anything. We’d been told all week that nothing in the New Zealand bush will kill you, so that was reassuring! Kiwis have a funny obsession with critters like mountain lions, bears, and especially snakes, none of which exist in NZ.

By now it was light, and next up was the climb to the top of Boulder Hill and spectacular views in every direction. It felt like being on top of the world where only Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam had ventured. And a bunch of sheep! After some hike-a-bike at the top, the trail led into Belmont bike park with a blast down banked switchbacks and even a little air. What goes down most certainly goes back up in the Faultline, so up it was up a nice grade in the bike park that would progressively become not so nice as the cumulative climbing caught up with my winter legs. More steep pitches at the top with views of Wellington, lots of sheep, and some consternation as the minutes ticked past faster than the k’s. Eventually, I climbed the last hilltop and started a fast descent into Porirua for the last section of urban riding. A bit over 50 miles (with a slight detour getting lost) and 8K feet of climbing, and I was ready to hand it over to Jenny for the second half.

Jenny’s 80km/50 miles

And what a second half it was! I was fortunate to ride in the daylight which gave me the thrill of a lifetime while riding the ridges (this was the Faultline Ultra after all!) and anticipating an earthquake at any moment. Apparently, Wellington experiences earthquakes every day, but I am relieved to report there weren’t any big enough to give me the shakes.

My ride started with a nice steady climb (no surprise there) up the magnificent Te Ara Utiwai that took me to the top of Rangituhi. What a stunning view that greeted me when I reached the top! If you could imagine the historic English pastoral lands and some sheep thrown in, this would describe the view. This also happens to be the start of the ridgeline that would take me all the way into Wellington. 

After a nice descent through Spicer Forest, I was greeted by folks who recognized me in my Tailwind shirt and gave me words of encouragement - and that was really the theme of the day. The volunteers were amazing through and through from the words of support, making sure we had what we needed, and providing a preview of what was to come (but in a good way!). AND…I encountered my first Kiwi bird - and a large one at that (haha). I grabbed a couple of pictures with this friendly creature and was on my way to Mākara Peak Mountain Park where Steve and Mark had taken us earlier in the week.

WHAT A TOTAL BLAST!!!! Two loops including a swinging bridge and I was on Cloud 9. Throw in an aid station crew member that hailed from Fort Collins, CO and I was in 7th Heaven! The trail was in perfect condition and a mixture of nice swoopy turns, great views, and a small bit of technical thrown in. I rode into the hub at the bottom where Jeff and Nigel (a Tailwind Trailblazer who would later join us on another adventure) met me. After a quick fill-up, I was on my way to the final 32km of the Faultline

After another climb, I came across a site that really captured my imagination - the Brooklyn wind turbine, the oldest operating wind turbine in New Zealand. Fortunately for me, the wind was not roaring during the Faultline! Then, it was onto Zealandia and Waimapihi, where there was an inkling of what was to come as I noticed the trail system was extensive. As Jeff mentioned before, from anywhere in Wellington, you can access a trail within 10 minutes. Great during the day, but at night…

Well you can guess what happened. I got lost. Part of it had to do with a light that failed (thank goodness I had a commuter light loaned to me by Trailblazer Fabiano), but it was pretty weak as it was designed for commuting - not for navigating in the bush! I guess the only thing I can say is that I was in good company as this is the forest where Frodo and Sam got lost in Lord of the Rings. After wandering for nearly an hour, a fellow MTB’r came along who was lost as well. We worked together to navigate the trail with my going down one trail and her going down another, until one of us would yell, “Found the blue ribbon!” It was literally like a scavenger hunt! We finally made it through the trail, stairs, and whatever else was thrown our way! 

After some stairs and a quick few turns, I hit the waterfront and it was straight to the finish line from there. An incredible journey and one that leaves me begging for more!

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