In the old days crazy ideas would be sealed over a pint, these days it is done over a coffee..
Well, a really good friend of mine, Simon, who I ride hundreds of miles a year with, had managed to convince his wife and family to give him the chance to do the Rapha Festive 500 Challenge this Christmas, and the weather forecast looked like it could be in his favour.
For the uninitiated, the #Festive500 is a Strava challenge, which requires you to cover 500km between 24th December and 31st December. Simple, you might think, but at the end of a long year, when the temperature is low, nearly as low as your motivation, it’s harder than I thought.
Anyway, the conversation went on the lines of me offering to ride with him for a few days as it is always easier to keep going when you have company.
24th December Day 1
I had recently spotted an image of a location locally that I wanted to visit, and it would be a round trip of around 80km, so I put a route together.
It was a cold morning, but surprisingly bright and a great start to the challenge. The destination, Stoney Cove, near Leicester. I know, sounds like it should be at the coast, but it is a body of water used by divers for training.
When we arrived, we felt cold and started to look for somewhere to get a brew, when we noticed divers in the water, all dressed up I appropriate clothing, then several ladies came out of the changing rooms in just swim suites. At this point we felt even colder, just looking at them. Once they stepped into the water I had to look away.
We found a place called Nemo’s on-site and had a hot chocolate and fed a friendly Robin with a bit of biscuit. As we arrived back at the bikes these very pink ladies wandered back to the changing rooms and a shiver ran down my spine. Too much for me.
The journey back was pleasant and passed quickly. It’s strange when you visit somewhere reasonably local for the first time as you are on new roads and feel like you are a million miles away, then suddenly you turn a corner and recognise a road which you have ridden many times before, then before you know it you’re home. Exploring is what cycling is all about.
Total 77km and 729m of climbing, temperature 50 and cloudy– 423km to go
25th December Day 2
This was going to be a short local ride, it is Christmas Day and all that. Simon has a family, so it isn’t fair to be out for too long. We did a nice local ride in the cold, but we did have beautiful sunshine. Despite the clear skies there was no ice, so riding was safe.
We did come across a field full of Alpacas, which seemed very surreal, on Christmas Day in Leicestershire.
My bike was now beginning to make some horrible crunching noises from the bottom bracket, which I knew was suspect, but had wanted to make last until the end of January (more on that later), but also to my surprise, the rear wheel. My guess was that the freehub bearings had probably been washed out when we rode through floods a couple of weeks ago.
Total 41km and 327m of climbing, temperature 20 and sunny – 382km to go
26th December Day 3
I knew Simon was unsure when he would be able to get out today and it was truly miserable outside, cold, windy and raining.
I knew that my cycle club had a festive 10-mile Time Trial at 10am, about 12km away, so I togged up and set off. I must admit 10km in and I wished I had stayed in bed. The cold rain and strong winds had got to my bones, even though my top half was mainly dry, it was just a bitter wind.
I met up with a few people I knew in a layby all waiting to start their ride, looking at them in their shorts and lightweight tops, wondering how they could do that. I really do feel the cold these days. There were 18 riders, a good turnout considering the weather.
I headed towards home, stopping to watch them pass by, then, too cold to go any further and still enjoy it, I went home for a warm bath. The winning time was 23:33 (average 41kmh) in that hideous weather, good effort!
Simon did go out later and went 30km further than me, so I now have a choice: do I continue as support for him when I feel like it or crack on and complete the 500km?
Total 29km and 319m of climbing, temperature 30 and miserable, wet and cold – 353km to go
27th December Day 4
We set out west aiming for a coffee stop we had used before down on the canal near Rugby. We knew the roads were interesting out that way and I had checked to see that the café was open.
The ride out was a lot warmer than we had been used to and the roads were lovely and quiet. As we arrive through Hillmorton and down to the café…. you guessed it, shut, opens on the 3rd March. We were not prepared to wait that long, so we decided to start the return journey.
This is where it turned in to a bit of a mystery tour as we looped through a new housing development, which is actually a new village near Crick. We then we ran the gauntlet on the A428 through to Crick. A dangerous stretch of road through the M1 junction close to the DRIFT logistics hub. Always a bit tricky, but despite one bizarre stunt by an articulated lorry, we lived to reach Crick.
By the time we hit Crick it was getting colder and the visibility was closing in fast. Feeling really damp we aimed for Guilsborough, where I remembered there being a local store with a café attached. Well I was right about the store, but the café area had been replaced by grocery shelves in the store. Luckily, they had a hot drinks machine, which did produce a good coffee and hot chocolate, and we consumed sat on a wall in the car park. Do we know how to travel in style? Not quite what I had imagined.
It was only 23km home, so a quick bar and we were on our way home. Despite some disappointments, it was a really nice ride.
Total 73km and 732m of climbing, temperature 30 and cloudy – 280km to go
28th December Day 5
Saturday morning, and as you will know if you have read my blog before, I organise a café ride every Saturday morning, and this Saturday was no different. The difference was that Canvas Café that I normally ride from was closed for the festive period. My friend Rory, who also runs a Saturday café ride had the same issue as his usual café was closed, so we joined both rides together and set off from our town centre.
It was good to catch up with Rory. We both used to lead a ride out from a Café Ventoux, 20km north of my hometown, but since my daughter-in-law opened her café 5km from my home, it seemed logical for me to run a ride from there.
We covered 50km of local roads, catching up with the regulars who are crazy enough to join us on a Saturday. The ride then finished in a Café in the park around the corner from my house, where we had lunch and a good chin wag.
One of the riders, Ady, had ridden through to join us, so I set off with him after lunch, just to get an extra few kilometres in.
Sadly Simon could not join us, but he did manage to get 80km in before the end of the day. I was therefore still 30km behind him, but I am in so far now it seemed stupid not to complete the 500km.
Total 70km and 696m of climbing, temperature 70 and cloudy – 210km to go
29th December Day 6
I was beginning to feel it now, having already covered 13,660km this year, 610km of that in December, before I even started on this challenge. I have been riding my heavy winter bike, while Simon had chosen to use his lighter summer bike. This turned out to be a wise move on his part, as fatigue sets in without you really knowing. Battling the cold and constantly rolling up and down hill, trying to keep on someone’s wheel, an extra 3 or 4 kilos doesn’t help.
Today we headed out south west into a strong headwind with the hope that it would be on our backs on the way home. As it turned out it was, but too little too late for me, as I was beginning to feel like I had picked up the wrong legs when I left the house this morning.
We made our turn north at Yelvertoft and thankfully the wind was with us for a while. We knew it was going to be difficult finding a café stop today, so we just pressed on up around Bruntingthorpe and Arnesby before heading back into Harborough from the north, and back into that wind. A fitting way to end me, and the ride, as I must admit I was shattered by the time I got home.
It seems strange to be shattered riding over such a short distance, but the weather plays a major part. Battling into strong winds in temperatures just above freezing for three hours soon takes its toll, on me anyhow, lack of body insulation, I guess.
Total 72km and 694m of climbing, temperature 40 and – 138km to go
30th December Day 7
We are getting closer and today I have made the choice to grab my lighter steel road bike, hoping it gives me a slight edge, even if it is just psychologically. However, with just 20km under our belt, pop goes the rear tyre. It was one of the concerns I had about using this bike, summer tyre with quite a bit of use in them. I made a quick change of tube, only to find the spare tube I had grabbed last night had a short valve stem.
Ok, there is Café Ventoux just north of us, which according to their website is open and they stock inner tubes, plus they have a track pump. So we take a left and start climbing to the café and what do you know, they are not open until January, a lesson learned, “never believe anything you read on the internet” (except this blog, of course)
I quickly change the tube out for another one I have with a longer valve stem, giving me the ability to get more air pressure in and to get us back on the road again.
Well, thirty minutes lost, but now on the road we looped around to the north, dropping back to the east, around Eye Brook Reservoir, which did look stunning, if surprisingly low on water considering how much rain we have had lately. We then looped back along the Welland Valley to Thorpe Langton, then retraced out steps back into Market Harborough and home.
With just 75km to go for me, and 40km for Simon, it was going to be a case of planning a rough route where Simon could peel off and leave me to knock off the final distance on my own.
Total 66km and 738m of climbing, temperature 20 and – 72km to go
31st December Day 8
The final day and 72km to go. I had stripped the winter bike down and I was right, the bottom bracket was dead and the bearings in the freehub were a but notchy. Being New Years Eve no bike shops would have been open, so buying or changing the bearings was out of the question, so out came the steel bike for the final leg. Fingers crossed.
I don’t need to tell you what happened after 10km do I? Yup, same tyre, but right at the beginning of the ride. Well, to say I lost it would be an understatement, but it was out of frustration. I knew they were obviously an issue with the tyre, but I had not replaced them before the ride. I had another set of tyre I could have used. This was all watched on by an amused Simon, who let me get it out of my system, change the tube and get going again. Thanks for putting up with me Simon.
The trouble is you then have this issue in the back of your mind for the entire ride “will it go again?”. Inspecting the two punctured tubes when I got home the holes were in the same place on both. The tyres came straight off and in to the shed. They will be used on the turbo, but no more roadside repairs!
Once up and running again, we headed south east toward Rothwell, up to Rushton and over to Pipewell. A steady climb through the woods, then down in to the Welland Valley, once again. We took on the next climb over to Great Eastern, up the Devils Staircase, a climb we used to use in the club time trials.
We then dropped down in to Horninghold, a lovely hamlet with stunning secluded houses set back from the road as it leads to Hallerton. At Hallerton Simon hits his 500km and we decide to celebrate with a coffee at the Hare Pie Café, which according to the internet is open. I don’t need to tell you what happened next, do I?
We are on familiar ground here as we head west through to Kibworth, dropping in for a well-deserved coffee and amazing bit of cake at Mint and Ginger café. Yes, it was actually open, as advertised on the web!
Refreshed and ready to go, we headed for Saddington, then down in to Lubenham, just outside Market Harborough.
As we hit Lubenham, I still had 14km left to cover, so we shook hands on a job well done and Simon went home. I took a left and got into a steady rhythm up the climb to Foxton, watching the km tick away, hitting my mark as I crested the railway bridge in the centre of Great Bowden. From that point a smile appeared and an inner glow carried me the 7km home.
Total 79km and 891m of climbing, temperature 40
Would I do it again? Not in the UK, it’s just too cold for my old bones. However, it is good to have knocked it off the bucket list.
What would I do differently? Find some way of keeping my toes from turning purple, use a lighter bike from day one, and, Oh Yeah, make sure the tyres were up to the job, before I set off. The poor preparation was mainly due to the fact that I had not intended to do the 500km and just dropped in to it by accident. (That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it)
I think it was important for me to sketch out some rough routes prior to setting off, and to use some roads I hadn’t used for a while or had never used, if possible. At this time of the year it is more of a mental challenge than physical. I get cold feet and after two hours they are numb, so to have ridden for 21 hours over that peiod, I feel like I achieved something.
Would I recommend it? If you have the time and the weather with you, it does give you an inner glow to end the year.