I rode the 352-mile Unbound XL gravel race so you don't have to

Destructive mud, thunderstorms, hallucinations and a Big Friendly Giant: Unbound XL is the ultimate Type 2 challenge

Anne-Marije Rook competing in the 2023 Unbound XL event
(Image credit: Will Tracy)

It was 4 o’clock in the morning when I saw it. A white mask floating in the blackness ahead of me; two black holes where eyes should be, a white ghost catching the glow of my dynamo light. Is this the spirit of gravel? It was coming closer and closer until…holy cow! Cow! Cow!

Two cows were headed straight toward me and my newfound riding buddy on a narrow gravel farm road somewhere in the middle of Kansas. I’d been on my bike for 13 hours straight at that point. I had slogged through concrete-like mud for hours and was in a serious sleep- and calorie-deficit. By now, I had fully accepted that I’d started hallucinating, but that wouldn’t come for another few hours yet. We were simply encountering our first wildlife, some 170 miles into the Unbound XL. 

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Anne-Marije Rook
North American Editor

Cycling Weekly's North American Editor, Anne-Marije Rook is old school. She holds a degree in journalism and started out as a newspaper reporter — in print! She can even be seen bringing a pen and notepad to the press conference.

Originally from The Netherlands, she grew up a bike commuter and didn't find bike racing until her early twenties when living in Seattle, Washington. Strengthened by the many miles spent darting around Seattle's hilly streets on a steel single speed, Rook's progression in the sport was a quick one. As she competed at the elite level, her journalism career followed, and soon she became a full-time cycling journalist. She's now been a cycling journalist for 11 years.