The Festive 500 is a Strava challenge that was cooked up by our friends at Rapha to ride 500k from December 24-31. It doesn’t sound that bad on paper… it comes out to approx 40 miles per day, much less if you do a big ride or two (or three). But it is harder than one would think. I did it last year and remember feeling like it was all I could do just to keep up. Not to mention if we actually got real winter weather (not complaining). I’ve been looking forward to the Festive 500 for awhile now, studying maps, planning routes, scheming. On Dec 23, the night before it begins (in classic Jake Maedke style) I was servicing bikes and came across a nasty crack in my carbon cx bike. That brought my excitement level down a notch, now I will be riding the entire 500k on my winter bike which is a heavy turd bike that is fine for commuting around town but not very enjoyable for long days. Then I notice that the tubeless road tire that I had planned to run was looking like it should’ve been replaced about 400 miles ago. All of the time I had to prepare and I wait until the night before… kids there is a lesson to be learned here.
Day 1 Wednesday December 24: Pre-dawn Potter Canyon Quickie -33 miles
This was a work day for me with a four day break to follow, I knew that it wouldn’t be much but something is better than nothing. I got up early, put my headlight on, and hit Sagebrush Flats road. It always seems slower when riding in the pitch dark. I made my way out to Rd 23 and returned via Sheep Canyon. This was my commute to work, I was able to get a few more miles on the way home giving me 33 for the day.
Day 2 Thursday December 25: Lil’ GFE -72 miles
This was my first opportunity to dive into the Festive 500 head first. And I could think of no better way of doing that than the Gran Fondo Ephrata course. For the puposes of time savings I was deleting a few portions of the actual gfe course. The sun was out and the riding was good. I got up Baird okay but the whole way down to highway 28 was a slog, getting beat up by a headwind. And for that matter the highway wasn’t much better. I had been telling myself it will just mean I get a tail wind to push me all the way home, but as a cyclist I knew that I was lying to myself. Never count on a tailwind. I rounded the corner to Palisades road and did in fact get a nice break from the wind for awhile, but that canyon has a funny way of chewing you up and spitting you out, regardless of wind. By the the time I got to the Three Devils I was feeling it and knew it was time to bust out my secret weapon: cool mint Clif Bar (with caffeine). It was just the boost I needed to get me out of there. The rest of the way was fairly smooth rolling and eventually I even got some tailwind to help out.
Day 3 Friday December 26: Mardon Hundo -100 miles
In the beginning of this thing I had grand visions of smashing it with big rides early on. Part of this was to include a 100 miler. Timing and weather shaped up to make Friday the day. After a fairly ambitious ride filled with gravel and climbing yesterday I knew that I would have to find a reasonably flat route. Even then I worried about my ability for back to back big days. I set out south in search of a big flat “easy” ride that still had some interest. My planned route was approx 87 miles with lots of ability to add or subtract as needed. One of the cool parts was a trip through the Moses Lake sand dunes. I stair stepped my way across the grid of farm roads on a chilly but sunny morning, only to be greeted at the sand dunes by a giant sign reading Road Closed. Surely they didn’t mean me though. Shortly past the road closed sign I discovered the reason why it was closed. There was a huge hole in the ground where there was once a bridge. Ironically as I’m considering backtracking and going all the way around I see a set of bike tracks going through the gap. I figure it must be okay then and go for it. (Turns out it was one of my nutty friends also doing the 500). I made it through, but had it been about 5 degrees warmer I thing the mud would’ve swallowed me up. I made it the rest of the way through the sand dunes and continued south, then across O’Sullivan Dam, which is kind of cool, and to the “Mardon Resort” quickie mart for a frappuccino and a candy bar. I felt out of place. Dudes came in with 4×4’s and camo and were royalty there. I on the other hand got the look like “whatever spandex weirdo, finish your girly drink and leave.” No matter though, I was a happy camper, back on the road with a nice little blast of sugar and caffeine for turbo boost. I rode out that high until about mile 70, then proceeded to come crashing right back down, bonk city. At this point I didn’t even want to think about adding miles to reach 100. So I did what every cyclist does, proceed to make “deals” with myself. It works. At mile 83 I turned the wrong way and rode away from home, I was immediatly rewarded with two fruit leathers. Then at mile 90 I ate my last candy bar and I was in heaven. Well almost, I was actually on the last stretch of gravel – the Winchester wasteway, which just so happened to be super smooth and hard packed, with a slight tailwind and some sunshine peeking through. It was so peaceful and quiet, that was my happiest part of the day. I rolled back into town and clicked over 100 right as I got home. Mission accomplished. It felt good to win the battle, but I was concerned that it may have cost me the war.
Day 4 December 27 “A” Team Tour de George -83 miles
Up until this point the Festive 500 has been a solo effort (last year included). This year was special because I have six(!) of my buddies doing too. But as you would expect over the holidays finding free time to ride is a challenge, and nearly imposible to coordinate that time with others. But alas the stars have aligned for this day. At our usual Saturday ride meeting place the Bookery, there’s eight of us getting one last shot of caffeine. We hit the road just as a few snow flakes are beginning to fly, it’s colder today than the last few days. I was a bit worried about how we would fair for our 80 mile goal as I knew we were all feeling the effects of back to back big days. But peer pressure is an amazing thing. It forced us all to dig just a bit deeper than we otherwise would have and push the pace. We knocked out the first 30 miles in no time, running 20+mph most of it. The sun came out. We stopped for lunch at a coffee shop in George and I couldn’t believe how easy we had just done 50 miles. As a group we were able to work together, laugh at how silly what we’re doing is, but more than anything keep each others minds off whatever body part is hurting. We finished our lunch and made good time the rest of the way home, even opting to add on a few miles at the end for a little bonus. This was my favorite ride of the 500k, not because of the ride itself, but because of the company.
Day 5 December 28 Festive 500 Finale in Slo-Mo -25 miles
I thought it would be so cool to smash this thing and be done early. And it probabaly would have if I wasn’t such a pansie. By day five I am completely thrashed. I had ridden myself into the ground and picked up a nasty cold in the process. I actually felt the cold coming on for the last few days but was in denial. But today there was no denying it. I drug myself out of the house as early as I could manage and set out to do the last 24 miles needed to complete the 500k. As crappy as I felt I still could not bring myself to ride one more mile on the boring flat lands where I’d spent the last few days so I headed north into the hills to repeat day one. There was a skiff of fresh snow on the ground making it feel more “festive.” My pace was less than festive though, agonizingly slow actually, but I didn’t fight it, I just chugged away and let my mind wander. I couldn’t help but think how much smarter I would’ve been to spread this out a little better instead of 500k in five days. But then again I wanted to be a tough guy and knock it out fast. I wasn’t feeling so tough at 10 mph. Eventually I made it home where I proceeded straight to bed and sleep for most of the day. There you have it, the sweet taste of victory… actually it tastes a lot like NyQuil.
I’m glad I did it, and glad I’m done. Believe it or not I actually look forward to this for quite awhile. Something about being out when it’s miserable and nobody else wants to ride is attractive to me. Especially if I’m able to con some friends into it with me. A big factor that can make or break the Festive 500 is always weather. We were super lucky, the first few days were pushing 40 degrees and mostly sunny. That makes a big difference. By Dec 30 it was a high of 22 and windy, there’s no 100 mile rides happening when its like that, at least not for me. It was great to have six of my buddies doing it too. Even if we only got one ride together, just to follow them on Strava, and feel like your not the only crazy (dumb) one out there. It keeps you going. One thing that’s huge for me in getting me out the door and on my bike is having really nice winter gear. Stuff that’s so good I almost look forward to crap weather so I can wear it. The key pieces for me were my Rapha merino wool base layer and Rapha hardshell jacket. Both are top notch in my book and helped make a few rides much more enjoyable. I achieved my goal of finishing by Sunday, although as bad as I felt it was kind of a hollow victory. But a victory none the less and I’ve learned I’ve gotta take em any way I can get em.