A Festive 500km: Part 1, Laura

The truth is there will never be a “training starts here” for our Round the World Challenge. “Training” is an ongoing process and has been going on since we first learnt to ride bikes. Winter is a tricky time to be motivated and finding reasons to ride is key to getting the winter miles in. The Rapha Festive 500 is a cycling challenge to ride 500km (~312miles) between Christmas Eve and New Year (8days) so is a perfect way to get us in the saddle… however, it is not without plenty of obstacles and this year we were both hoping to complete it… (Only Laura did last year!)

24th December, rides 1 & 2

So after a rather ambitious run in the Peak the day before, I think it could be said my legs weren’t exactly on form to start the Festive 500 winter cycling challenge…

But I had been desperate to eek out what little time I had in the outside before the busy Christmas period and was paying for it the next morning. Hoping to loosen up on the bike I overcame my first challenge of taking the long way round to work despite my grumpy legs and headed out to the lanes of Radbourne. Unfortunately, my self talk that the risk of frost was just an excuse to take a shorter route turned out to be wrong and I carefully navigated the descent of the “Col D’Radbourne” past the hoary verges with a suspicious twinkling to the road. I have come a cropper on black ice a couple of times, luckily from minimal speed but there is nothing quite like the feeling of going from vertical from horizontal in a split second, feeling like you’ve left your stomach where your heart was… luckily my caution paid off but it cost me vital commuting time that my creaking legs were struggling to make up.

Then, in an unexpected turn of events a road closure! Usually inconsequential the the leisure cyclist who can merrily potter around, for the flustered commuter it posed and unexpected obstacle and I clattered through in my cycle boots, nodding thanks at the helpful workmen whilst trying to make sure I didn’t go flying on the ice. Riding the rest as fast as I dared I arrived at work a bit flustered and just about on time! Just over 7 miles done… 305 to go!

Early morning commute

A busyish day on my feet helped loosen my legs and plenty of Christmas treats from Etwall Vets and their clients helped fuel my recovery. Delightfully Stevie was waiting to collect me on his own ride and after a false start where I realised I’d almost forgotten to Strava we wheeled back through the lanes at dusk.

26th December, ride 3 & 4

A full day at work and present opening and Christmas dinner eating duties precluded commuting to job #2 on Christmas day. I would have loved to ridden my bike, but with a 11 hour shift I needed to make time for family too. This I feel is a much a part of the challenge as the weather and conditions outside as finding the time to ride the requisite number of miles during such as busy time is no easy task! I was very much spoilt by Santa though and a late night Christmas Dinner wonderfully plated up by my amazing Mother in Law sustained me for an early start on Boxing day.

Christmas Dinner to go! An no, the cat did not get any!!

A 6:15am get up on Boxing day was less than ideal and I queried my sanity slightly whilst downing a mug of tea. Not overthinking things I bundled myself on the bike and started turning the pedals- Stevie had offered me a lift again, but I knew I would feel better for cycling and was pretty sure I would drop too far behind on the challenge without todays miles. I also had a new toy to play with in the form of an action camera (Balco action cam from Aldi- a stingy girl’s Go Pro!) and had my first attempts at taking some cycling footage as I road in.

The commute was wonderfully peaceful, especially in the tranquility of the Derby River path. The roads were empty and I very much enjoyed my ride, I even heard owls hooting to each other approaching Sandiacre. I always feel a good commute sets me up better for the day, and feel much more relaxed than if I was stuck in a little metal box! Just as well, with the day I had ahead of me…

By the time I finished my shift at 7pm, I was pretty knackered. It had been non-stop all day and I had only managed to stop to grab lunch at 4pm! I bundled myself into my layers and started to roll home. But if only it was that easy! A stonking headwind from the West was straight in my face and I seemed to barely make any progress. My head and legs were exhausted and I desperately battled to get my pace up, to make progress, to just get home… my speed dropped and dropped and in what a I believe is a new record it took me about 2.5hrs. By the time I got home, Ste was already in bed after his own busy day and I soon followed suit.

27th December, Ride 5

I begrudgingly started stirring much later than usual after my busy Christmas shifts. Stevie was planning to meet a friend for a ride at 10am and what had originally seemed like a good idea to join them, now turned out to be the last thing I wanted to do. I rolled back under the covers as Stevie got ready and only ventured out just before he left to acquire a cup of tea and settle down with a book. I just wanted to stop.

An hour or two of doing pretty much nothing I felt much better and the lure of the sunshine through the window became too much… I was also sure I would need to get some miles in today to stay on track. Our festive 500km plans have changed numerous times this season and today was the day we originally would have been “riding home for Christmas” on the tandem to my parents. Them moving into Tier 4 had recently put paid to that idea, but it had been looking fairly unlikely for weeks. My next best crazy plan had been an epic 200-250mile ride involving a series of our standard 50mile loops from the house to the local area. This was an ambitious plan to say the least, with less than 8 hours or daylight in 24 and a high dependency on the weather being good enough- a spell of icy or high winds would be enough to curtail riding for 20+hours straight. Luckily, Ste had talked sense into me as the weather looked increasingly unpredictable over the Festive period and I had settled for a much more sensible plan to split the rides up over the remaining free days I had, leaving just enough miles to be covered by three commutes to and from job #2 of about 54miles.

I hung about for a bit waiting to see if Stevie would arrive back, but it seemed he was on a longer loop than planned so I decided to set out whilst there was enough hours of daylight. I had a rough idea of where I wanted to head, but actually relished the freedom of having no set plan and being left to my own devices. The new action camera came too and although undoubtedly reduced my average speed I enjoyed trying to get some footage in the sunshine. I took the rolling B road out to Wirksworth, past the farms and fields, lapping up the sunshine on my face and feeling like the vitamin D was soaking into my bones. I pulled in to check Strava and found Stevie had uploaded his ride so must be home safe and sound so was happy to continue on my own spin. Descending down Cromford Hill revealed a minor issue in that my back brake was severely worn and the metallic scraping on the rim sounded less than ideal, cautiously using my front break only I weighed up whether to continue and decided to proceed with caution.

A steady roll along the A6 got the miles under my belt and I was still weighing up how far to go but couldn’t resist the temptation of probably my favourite hill climb in the Peak: Beeley Moor. A steady ascent from Beeley Village rises you above the houses then fields, through an almost Alpine forested section to emerge in the moorland on the tops. My timing had worked perfectly to catch a gorgeous sunset and I was quite happy to trundle up the climb, not worried about breaking any records or QOMs (Queen of the Mountains). Arriving on the “tops” put a beaming smile on my face as I breathed deeply in the crisp air and admired the rolling moorland around me, the tranquility is certainly good for the soul.

I rolled on cautious of the drop in temperature and also my lack of braking capacity as the sunset slowly in the clear skies. A small routing misdemeanor took me up a down a rough surfaced narrow lane, reminding me to pay attention and I opted for a very slow a cautious descent to Ambergate as the dusk settled. A blast back along the A6, up and over Quarndon hill while I still had strength in my legs and I arrived home feeling rather pleased with myself and my efforts for a “short spin”.

28th December, Ride 6

The weather could not have been more different from the clear skies of the previous day and we awoke to oppressive grey clouds that seemed to block out any of the weak winter sun, the house was warm and cosy and another bike ride on a murky cold day was not tempting! Ideally I wanted to cover 150miles over the next few days to stay on track, but with both of us feeling pretty tired after being so busy over Christmas we agreed a 50mile loop today and 100miles tomorrow.

We opted to take the tandem out for a spin for a change and chose one of our favourite 50mile routes out to Abbots Bromley and across Blithfield Reservoir, tactically avoiding the normal climb up Hanbury Hill. This gave me the opportunity for more fun with my action camera and self stick from the stoker seat on the back! We rode out into the cold afternoon and the sky felt heavier and heavier, the wind from the North was bitterly cold and despite putting on more clothes it soon started to creep through our winter layers. Surprisingly the temperature dropped as we headed South and there was suddenly snow on the ground, making it pretty but bitterly cold. I had soon given up any attempts at filming to try and preserve my fingers and a brief mince pie stop let my core temperature drop even further. By the time we were sailing down the descent to the long bridge over the reservoir, usually my favourite part of the ride, I was feeling distinctly chilly and determined to keep moving to keep warm. A bit of climbing raised our heart rates enough to be able to jump off the bike and throw our final spare layers on but it was still awfully cold and I just put my head down and pedalled hard to get home. Disappointingly a few miles short by the time we got back, our endurance mode kicked in and we lapped the estate a couple of times to round up the mileage. Piling back into the warm house with ice blocks for feet and hot aches in our hands we were frankly thankful the ride was over and another box ticked on our way to a Festive 500.

29th December, Ride 7

I woke up feeling groggy and tired and tentatively sticking my head outside the back door to let the dog out realised again it was pretty cold and with heavy skies. A quick scout of the Met Office app confirmed my suspicions and we were due snow within the next hour, but then a bright if cold day after. I stuck the kettle on in an attempt to lure Stevie out of bed…

By the time he had roused, plump fluffy snowflakes were descending on the Close and the world outside becoming gradually whiter and whiter. Stevie, who was not only feeling groggy and enthusiastic about riding in the snow was also suffering from a stiff neck overnight and clearly though a bike ride was the last thing he wanted. He was now significantly behind me mileage wise on the challenge and it was dubious as to whether he would bother completing it- after all it is a completely arbitrary thing and a bit of a daft thing to do, especially given the weather.

I on the other hand was quite excited as it is my last day of freedom – I have taken a new job which will see me working 5-6 days a week so a weekday off was an opportunity not to be missed in my book and from experience I knew riding on fresh snow would be easier than once it had mushed up and frozen tomorrow. I knew 100miles was extremely ambitious on such a day but was determined to at least go out and see what I could achieve. After a bit of toing and froing with different plans, both of us finally got out the door. After yesterday’s bad experience I had layered up… and then some! Eight layers on my top half might have been slightly excessive but I was determined not to freeze today! As we started out the weather soon brightened up and once on to main roads we were clear of the worst of the snow. The countryside was beautiful and different in it’s white covering and our spirits soon lifted, feeling pleased with ourselves for have taken a leap of faith getting out the front door. I was soon shedding layers as I warmed up, but it was still pretty chilly and I was glad to have spares in my Carradice Junior on the back of my steel tourer “Betty” the Raleigh Royale.

We rode out to Ashbourne along the A52, usually a route we avoid and I must admit the road surface alone would make me stick to the back lanes except in exceptional circumstances like today! Wending our way East from there to Ambergate and a garage stop for “al fresco” pizza slices and mocha coffees went down a treat before a blast up the A6 took us to Cromford and up the Via Gellia to Longstone. Again all roads I don’t normally ride and a bit of an eye opener as to how we become so fixed on our standard routes. I was very much enjoying the change in scenery and the snowy scenes in the Peak District were beautifully picturesque. We were making up the ride as we went along and ended up looping back around the Ashbourne, initially planning to head to Uttoxeter but the low sun in our eyes after a few 100metres heading West had us turn around to find a less risky route- if we couldn’t see the road ahead, neither could cars and therefore they couldn’t see us!

Ste was thinking to retrace along the A52 from Ashbourne, “but what about the fixed 50 route?” I said? The “Fixed fifty” is a favourite route of our which is just over 50miles and often ridden on fixed wheel bicycles (with only one gear and no freewheel), but is still certainly not the flattest route. Ste hesitated but then made the turn and I was relieved to avoid the pot holes, and also retracing which I dislike doing where possible. I had conveniently forgotten he was on fixed and had already been battering up whatever the Peak District threw at us without the luxury of my low gears… oh well it’s a lovely scenic route along Carsington and back through Wirksworth!!

The sunset arrived whilst we were on the tops having just puffed up the Kniveton dip above Carsington Water and the sky was illuminated with intense pastel shades reflecting off the snow- a beautiful day to be on the bike and the snow had caused next to no problems with riding. My calculation were correct and we had just gone over the 75mile mark which left me a doable 25miles to cover before my night shifts started tomorrow. Stevie was still trailing behind and the lack of mileage today left his attempt in even more doubt…

30th December, Ride 8 & 9

After a bit of a lie-in in an attempt to stock pile sleep I was togged up and off again. Subzero temperatures overnight mean a serious risk of frozen snow on the roads creating treacherous conditions, but having found that Derbyshire Council publish their gritting routes overnight I planned a ride based on these. I left Stevie attacking the frequently recalcitrant bottom bracket on my work bike “Pauline” who I would need to ride that evening and headed out. Another chance to play with the Go Pro and I took it easy on a familiar route through the lanes, first heading out through Hilton, Hatton and Sudbury before heading North to pick up Long Lane for a rolling ride home.

I arrived back just in time to catch Ste who had had rather an ordeal with my bike and was only just out on his own loop- a few hours behind what he intended. He said he would be back before I left for work at 5pm but I had my doubts…

Buoyed with confidence by the lack of ice on the roads earlier in the day and a shiny new bottom bracket on Pauline I was soon loaded up for my night shift. Stevie did indeed make it back to see me off, which was lovely to see him but left him a ridiculous amount of miles to get done tomorrow: over 100!!

I had based my route on the gritted roads, diverting from my usual off road bike tracks but got fed up of traffic and potholes by Alvaston and divert to peace and icy puddles along the river until Borrowash. The diversions extended my route to over 20miles, and the percentage bar on the Challenge section on Strava was dropping in a satisfying fashion. As long as I didn’t do anything daft like forget to start Strava through tiredness or the weather stopped me riding I was well on course to complete the challenge.

31st December, Rides 10 & 11

A busy night at work and a hard frost made for a slow and brisk commute back. With daylight on my side I risked more of the off road tracks but the frozen puddles created a bit of a minefield along the river path. The sun was out however and it was a beautiful morning, this being the only daylight I would see today I made the most of it and relished being outdoors and on the bike. Stevie, the diligent husband he is, made me breakfast and tucked me into bed before setting out on a ride of his own.

The alarm went off before I knew it and I arose to a quiet dark house and set about getting ready to go back to work. After check my Strava was recording several times I bundled up for another freezing commute, this time avoiding the ice of the river track and sticking to gritted roads. A nearly full moon guided me in a I finally clicked finish to see the percentage bar reach completion and the little challenge completed logo flicker up on my news feed.

It would be the following morning before I could properly assimilate what I had achieved yet again- another commute home on the bicycle, this time with no worries of miles to add to the total!

But what about Stevie…? To be continued…

0 thoughts on “A Festive 500km: Part 1, Laura

  1. Well that puts us to shame ! We haven’t yet started our 2021 cycling. John is the cautious one and it has been pretty icy, but he has persuaded me that we really don’t want any old broken bones and really really don’t want to end up in hospital. So very well done to you.

    1. It has certainly been tricky avoiding the ice so I don’t blame you! I have been getting off to walk icy bits on the paths, but the nightly gritting updates have been a great help. 🀞 the weather will be good for a local spin soon!

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