For the past couple years 500 kilometers from Dec 24 – Dec 31 has been a cake walk. Okay, it’s never easy, but I always say that for December it could be much worse. Well it finally happened, the much worse part. It was about as bad as it gets for us, 3-4″ snow, then ice, then more snow, and more again, and mostly in the 20’s. But lets back up a bit. Every year I peer pressure all of my friends to join in the fun, and this year was no different. I signed up early to show my commitment. Most of my friends choose to wait and watch the weather. Turns out they were the wise ones. In the days leading up to the start I watched as the snow dumped on us, with a pit in my stomach. Thinking to myself there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this.
Game Plan: knock out as many miles as possible the first four days because after that it’s back to work and things get even harder when there’s no day light. In my fantasy world I had thought maybe 75 miles per day for the first four…
Dec 24 I did manage to con a few guys into the 500 and Dave was one of them. We headed south aiming to get over Frenchman Hills with the hope of finding some clear roads. The first 20 or so miles were a bit sketchy on Dodson Rd, the shoulders were chunky ice leaving us to ride in the car tracks. Fortunately this close to the holidays nobody wanted to get on the naughty list and they gave us plenty of room. Frenchman was pretty good and once we got on the Royal City side the roads were decent. Adams rd was our route back which is nice and new pavement. It was right about here where the temperature finally rose above freezing, but just enough to make the roads wet, the water then froze on us and our bikes. The fast descent back off of Frechman was a mess, neither of us really expected wet roads so no fenders, we were hosed. Now back on our side of the hill it got cold an icy. My Garmin said 17 degrees. There’s no lollygagging at 17 it’s go time. Finally got warmed up (it’s all relative) and finished it up on Martin rd which was also a skating rink of a road. Despite a cold, wet, snowy, icy day we racked up 80 miles. This was a pretty big victory, it was tough, but if we could overcome those conditions there’s just a chance this challenge is doable.
Dec 25 Christmas day I was flying solo, and was able to get away for a bit in the afternoon to head out Dodson toward Moses Lake. Again it was cold but at least today there was some sun. As long as I stayed on “main” roads I had mostly clear sailing. My planned route had a few gravel excursions that each proved to be rutted icy messes, I opted out. Between the fact that I had just rode 80 miles yesterday and was all by my lonesome self today it made for a bit of a slogfest. Still, managed to get another 60 miles on a very winter day, victory.
Dec 26 Saturday! This is our typical group ride day so I was able to get all of my Festive 500 guys in on a trip to Tri Cities for what will become known and the “Three Towers of Hell” ride. It was Dave, Dru, and Brian, we started in Kennewick at Scott’s Cycle. Our gravel bikes rocked the mtb trails at State Patrol as we passed through and climbed like mofos to tower #1. It was a good thing to get that one out of the way first because it hurt, wicked steep/rocky/hike-a-bike, yikes! Down, down, down we go and onto the first bit of pavement, but not for long before it’s South on gravel Owen rd and up, up, up to Jump Off Joe Ridge and tower #2. Again, ouchies, it just got steeper and steeper, grind! We continue South and drop off the back side and into the forgotten land. There is nothing out here forever, just keep peddling through soft gravel and rolling wheat fields as far as the eye can see. Slog. Eventually back to pavement and headed toward town, but still a slog in the fog and cold riding sluggish fat tires (32’s) on chip seal, on tired legs. Eventually me made it back to civilization and Circle K. We were pretty dang cold by this point so coffee and candy bars was the ticket. With one tower to go yet we couldn’t get too comfortable, so off we went toward Badger Mtn. There just so happens to be a quaint little path that winds it’s way to the top. By now we were riding high on snickers and caffeine and feeling pretty ok. Tower number 3 check, now how the heck to we get back, this part wasn’t given near the thought in the planning of this ride and proved to be yet another challenge. My brain had officially turned to mush, and it’s getting dark. Luckily between the four of us we were able to cobble together a route back to the truck. 75 miles, 6500′ climbing, it was dark, we were all smashed, cold, and in dire need of a recover beverage. Luckily the friendly staff at Scott’s were able to direct us to Icehouse Brewery nearby. I couldn’t say it at the time, because they all wanted to kill me for getting us into that mess (and crushing everyone’s Festive 500) but that was AWESOME! Seriously, those are the best rides!
Dec 27 This was supposed to be another big day, it’s Sunday and tomorrow is back to work. But it’s dumping snow and every part of my body hurts from yesterday. I moped around the house most of the day looking outside and moaning. I finally drug myself out the door around 2:00 pm and got a measly 25 miles in with a fresh 3″ of snow on top of our existing 3″ of chunky, icy snow. All I can remember was that it was cold and grey and I helped push some girl out of the ditch.
Dec 28 I was back to work today but was able to get in 17 miles in the morning and 5 at night. Up until now I’ve been riding lots of miles in snow and ice without crashing, and I was starting to think I must be pretty good. Nope, just lucky. Crashed twice today. Not that bad or anything, but it kind of rattles your confidence and you start riding a little more tense.
Dec 29 More snow. I got out early again and ended up right behind a plow. Not much else to report, riding like a pansy trying not to crash does not make a very good story. Sorry. 26 miles for the day.
Dec 30 Today was a good day. I finally knew I had it in the bag, whether it happened today or tomorrow, the end was near, and that’s a good feeling. Morning ride went smooth, even caught an awesome sun rise. In the evening with just 10 miles needed to finish I couldn’t resist, not even going to do the same boring loop I’ve been doing, opted in the spirit of Festive 500 to slay my dragons and head north. North into the hills and the great white. There was definitely more snow up high and my legs felt like they had way more than 490 kilometers in them. I crashed again. No big deal. I get home just in time to catch up with the Wednesday night crew and go for a cross country ski. What a great winter activity.
Final thoughts: definitely the toughest 500k I’ve taken part in. After the first few big days I began to realize just how hard this would be, but that it was within reach. No studded tires were used in the making of this Festive 500, although by the end I would’ve used them if I had them, especially after hitting the deck a few times. After getting hosed from road spray on day one I put fenders on for day two. There were a few places that they were handy but I took them off for the rest of the 500k. I wore a Rapha merino base layer, long sleeve merino cross jersey with a hardshell jacket and was amazed at how well this kit worked. Hands and feet are the trick in the cold though, so with the exception of the tri cities ride I wore the my big lobster Pearl Izumi gloves the whole time and have some crappy no name shoe covers that are in tatters but work well. I’ve got to say I’m feeling pretty good about the accomplishment but even better about coming into a new year on a high note. Yeah, I’ll probably do it again, but no promises until we get a bit closer!