Thursday, 3 January 2013

Rapha Festive 500

The Rapha Festive 500 probably needs no introduction to the cyclists out there, it's an annual challenge to ride 500km over the festive period from 24th to 31st of December.  If you're a keen cyclist, the distance involved split over a week isn't too daunting, but combine it with the children (we have a one month old baby and a seemingly irrepressible toddler) and all the family commitments of the festive period and you start to realise that finding the time was going to be hard!  My wife said I should give it a go, so I sat and planned out a weeks worth of riding to take in 500km.  The only way this was ever going to work, especially at this time of year, was through planning and organisation.  The weather forecast for the week wasn't terrible, but it certainly wasn't brilliant either...  I re-proofed my now tired gore tex jacket just in case!

One of my favourite MTB racers, Sally Bigham, recently wrote a blog where she thanked all her sponsors for their support over the past season.  So it's only fair for me to mention Infacol, without which I would be so sleep deprived I'd not have had the strength to ride anywhere!

Day 1 - 75km

The challenge started on Christmas Eve, I planned a 75km ride north of Dalbeattie to Loch Urr and back via the Glenkiln Reservoir (home to several Henry Moore sculptures).  Accuweather forecast was for light showers.  Last time I believe them.  It started raining as I rode through the rolling farmland by the river Urr and by the time I was climbing to the Loch it was pelting it down. 

I was wet and not even at half way.  I turned at the Loch and headed down the opposite bank, into a headwind and driving rain.  The ride home was going to be brutal, though some of the riding was superb.  By the time I got to Glenkiln my hands were numb, by the time I'd got back to Dalbeattie they were painfully cold.  I sat on the floor in the shower in agony as they warmed up.  Great start!  Kit all washed and up to dry, shoes packed with newspaper and drying.  Time to get everything ready for Santa's visit!  Lucky old Santa enjoyed a 16 year old Jura single malt that night.  Well earned.

Day 2 - 105km (180km total)

I was intending to ride across to my parents for Christmas Day but family and time took precedent so I took the day off and planned out a ride for Boxing Day (already my careful planning was out the window!)  Very fortunately Santa brought me a pair of Rapha thermal shorts for Christmas so the 105km I planned up to Moniavie over to Dalry before coming back down the side of Loch Ken and through Castle Douglas would be the perfect test.  The ride itself started in the rain again.  Great.  Luckily by the time I started the long climb out of Moniaive it stopped and I had time to dry out as I climbed.  It's very quiet out there.

I read lots of blogs and tweets from people in the south of England getting excited about the quiet roads at this time of year.  Up here it's always quiet!  At Christmas even more so.  I lost count on the way over to Moniaive.  Was it 2 or 3 cars I'd seen?  You can often feel like the last living soul.  Though sods law dictates that when you stop to answer a call of nature is when the minibus full of German tourists rounds the bend...

The Rapha shorts performed brilliantly, a more detailed review will follow in the coming weeks but suffice to say they literally saved my arse over the coming km's!

Day 3 - 30km (210km total)

A quick blast round the coast coming back via part of the Tour of Britain route from a couple of years ago.  It was dry and the sunset over the Solway Firth was beautiful.

A late ride due to a day hanging out with my daughter and her new pink bike from Santa - cue a very happy and proud dad!

Day 4 - 55km (265km total)

Rode to a party at my parents house via the coast and then looping round some of the back roads.  It was grim and wet when I left so full gore tex and overshoes.  It dried up about half way through.  I got a little hot!  Still, felt very 'pro' as I rode over some left over graffiti from the Tour of Britain this year !  Also managed to find some well flooded roads.  Right up over my shoes and half way up my shin!  Left the bike at my folks for the night.

Day 5 - 60km (325km total)

Picked the bike up before anyone was even up!  Don't they have some km's to get in before the pub lunch we had planned?  Rode back criss crossing the main road taking in a lot of my favourite GWR's (great wee roads - shamelessly stolen from Iain Banks).

This region is truly beautiful, even when the clouds are low and grey.  Saw my first and only other road cyclist of the festive period as well!  Oh, and the sun came out, briefly.  Which was a turn up for the books!  Enjoyed a guilt free pub lunch.

Day 6 - 172.5km (497.5km total)

So close!!  It was now the 30th of December - if I was going to finish this I had to either do all the last km at once or split it over the remaining two days.  The weather forecast for the 31st wasn't good.  Strong winds and rain.  The 30th looked dry but with strong winds.  By now my wife was also getting a little fed up of me disappearing out each day leaving her babysitting so I decided to try and bag as many km as I could in the one day.  I planned to ride from Dalbeattie to Mennock, up to Wanlockhead and back down the Dalveen Pass, a brilliant road on any other day.  I packed lights, just in case.  The route was long and I didn't have a lot of daylight. Unfortunately I started later that I'd have liked, about 10ish.  The ride out to the foot of the climb (over the Old Military Road to Shawhead, through to Dunscore and over to Thornhill) was lovely (though for any visiting cyclists, the A76 is not a particularly nice road and should be approached with caution).  The wind was at my back and it was dry.
I turned off at Mennock and climbed up to Wanlockhead, as I gained height the weather gradually closed in, the winds building.  Some of the gusts were truly fierce.  I had toyed with the idea of riding up to the golf ball (radar station) at the very top, a tough climb across exposed hill side.  But I could see it was still covered with snow and probably ice so I decided not to bother and stuck to the main road.  It was vicious enough!

Unfortunately I made a bit of a navigational error and missed my turning in Leadhills.  Yeah, the ONLY turning in Leadhills...  By the time I realised this I'd descended very quickly into Abington.  The tail wind drove me along at some pace.  I had no option other than following the A702 along the side of the motorway to Elvanfoot and eventually the Dalveen pass.

That tail wind was now in my face and a strong head wind.  It was grey, grim and brutal.  I could barely manage 20kph!  I crawled through Elvanfoot, fighting to keep the bike in a straight line.  It felt like it took forever to reach the top of the Dalveen Pass and once the road started angling down my speed barely crept up.  I fought the bike all the way down to Durisdeermill.  I now knew I was finishing the ride in the dark.  It had taken me a lot longer than I'd hoped with my slight route deviation and the head wind.

I refuelled in Thornhill and then struck for home.  Lights on as the rain was now falling.  By the time I'd reached the A75, crossed onto the Old Military Road and was close to home the light had faded and the rain was hammering down.  I could barely see the road, was fighting the wind and the rain was soaking me through.  I had planned on adding a few km on the end to roll past 500km, but conditions were so bad I took the quickest route home possible!  I'd do a lap of honour on the 31st to grab the final few km needed, all I wanted at that point in time was somewhere warm, dry and off the bike!

Day 7 - 5km (502.5km total)

I rode the final few km's I needed up the hill behind the town to catch the sunset.  The wind had died and it had dried out.  A fitting end!  I was pleased to have completed the 500km, I enjoyed it, despite the weather!  I spent 19 and a half hours on the bike, didn't have a single puncture or mechanical and rode some beautiful roads.

It was a lot of time to dedicate to cycling when we have a colic suffering infant and toddler at home.  My wife has been very supportive and luckily I have a whole other week of holiday to now spend with the family.  And not on the bike.  Well.  Might fit in a couple of wee rides here or there!  I think my MTB is feeling neglected...

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