I like how ideas form in the mind. They get in there, roll around a bit, they grow and mature, and before you know it you have a plan. My latest plan combined two goals: do Rapha’s Festive 500 (500 km between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day) and complete a 500 km brevet (500 km in in under 40 hours start to finish). Both goals, when viewed independently, seem ambitious yet doable. Three hundred and ten miles over eight days averages a bit less than forty miles a day – not easy given the short days and nasty weather here in the Pacific Northwest – but for a fit well-prepared cyclist the goal is reasonable. Three hundred and ten miles over forty hours during the long warm days of summer is a challenge but, once again, not out of reach for a fit cyclist who has logged the required saddle time. Combine the distance with bad weather, short days and cold temperatures and you have a solid challenge – Festive 500 brevet style.
My first cut at the plan was to make a large loop around the Puget Sound. I came up with a scenic varied route, but the drawback was that we’d either have to ride continuously or spend the night at some midway stopover location. One continuous ride would require some sort of support and reserving a room or renting an AirBnB would mean that we’d have to pick a date and live with the weather. I wanted to ride with out a sag and instead of nailing down a hard date I wanted to take a “minuteman” approach – be flexible on dates and when the weather looks best strike. This meant starting and ending two loops, each around one hundred and fifty five miles, from home. I’d do the first loop, go home, shower, eat, sleep a bit and then head out for loop number two. If I rode steady and limited my time at home I could easily make the forty hour cut-off
The challenge of this ride is keeping yourself in check on day one so that you can wake up at 4:30 AM on day two and ride a century and a half. The other, more important, challenge is to enjoy the ride. Cyclists like to throw around the word “suffer.” Over the past four decades of riding and racing bicycles I’ve suffered no doubt, but I’m over that, no longer interested. Today my headspace is to continue to set challenges, pursue goals, but to also enjoy the ride, to savor the freedom of moving outside on a bicycle.
Dan, Ryan, Mykenna and Blaine were game for the challenge, so we began watching the weather forecast looking for the least bad window. Monday and Tuesday – the 28th and 29th – appeared to be favorable, so we agreed to meet at 6:00 AM Monday morning when the weather forecast called for clear skies and sub-freezing temperatures.
I rolled out of the driveway at 5:30 into a frosty fog; the thermometer read thirty degrees Fahrenheit. Five miles later I met up with the group and we headed northeast towards the Snoqualmie Valley. After a coffee stop atop Novelty Hill we descended into the Valley where the digital mercury bottomed out at twenty-four degrees. The morning fog and freezing temperatures created slick roads which forced us to drop the speed and ride with extra vigilance. By the time we reached the Sultan Bakery the sun had ascended the eastern horizon and begun thawing the pavement. The forecast had called for sun, but this was actual sun, not that hazy “I can kind of see a round object in the sky” stuff that normally passes for Seattle winter sun. Sunshine makes every single thing better.
The climb out of Sultan warmed us up and by the time we reached Granite Falls we were ready for some Gatorade and candy bars at the Chevron. We rolled into Arlington on easy roads, where Dan and I sat in the park eating our sandwiches while Blaine, Ryan and Mykenna put in to-go orders at the local café. From Arlington the Centennial Trail took us free and easy all the way into Snohomish.
We were now on familiar roads and rolled into the night towards Woodinville and then onto Redmond. From here it was autopilot home and when I rolled into the driveway I was surprised by how warm and fresh I felt. A shower and a big plate of baked ziti and it was bedtime.
4:30 came quickly but I woke up feeling fresh and fine. After a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal I was once again rolling out of the driveway at 5:30. Mykenna and Ryan were on for day two, and the three of us pointed our bikes south towards Renton and the Interurban Trail. The overcast skies didn’t threaten rain, but as we left the Seattle metropolitan area the temperature dropped below freezing. Mykenna attempted to ride across a section of glare ice – it didn’t work. “You look like Bambi on the frozen lake,” Ryan said as his friend attempted to get himself and his bike off the sloping skating rink.
After a coffee stop in Tacoma, we headed west towards the Narrows Bridge. The temperature continued to hover around freezing, as it would for the remainder of the day. At Port Orchard we stopped at Taco Time for some burritos, rice and tater tots. An added challenge of this COVID ride was the fact that we couldn’t go into a restaurant, sit down, order food and warm-up. Instead, we had to order at the counter and then eat outside in the thirty-three-degree weather.
From Port Orchard it’s a flat scramble to Bremerton, where the only difficulty was negotiating the garbage strewn shoulder along Carrier Row. From Bremerton we rode north to Silverdale where a nearly two-mile long hill tested my resolve. Once on top a gradual downhill took us into Poulsbo where we caught a welcome tail wind through the Big Valley and onto Highway 3. I’ve ridden the stretch of road between Paulsbo and the Hood Canal Bridge a number of times and it’s always been an enjoyable cruise on a wide shoulder over rolling terrain – this time was no exception; I was feeling good. At Hood Canal we turned right and rode into Port Gamble for some cookies and coffee.
Our original route took us to Hansville at the northern tip of the Kitsap peninsula, but instead of this make miles detour we pushed straight for Kingston and the soon-to-arrive ferry. We would make up the missed fifteen miles on the eastern side of Puget Sound. We rolled out of Port Gamble in a light rain which transformed to full rain by the time we reached Kingston. Fortunately our ferry timing couldn’t have been better: we had a less than two-minute wait before riding aboard.
We disembarked the ferry at Edmonds into a cold, dark rain; I had forty five miles between myself and the three hundred ten mile goal (Mykenna a bit less and Ryan a bit more due to different ride from home distances). At this point we decided to go free form on the route and basically just ride in the general direction of Mercer Island with a couple of detours and extensions to add mileage.
Cold and soaked through Ryan and I said a quick goodbye to Mykenna at South Lake Union. Mykenna headed for West Seattle while the two of us went north to the University of Washington and then south to Leschi. Once across Lake Washington we turned south around Mercer Island; Ryan couldn’t keep warm at my moderate pace, so I stopped to put on a jacket and he powered on towards his home in Kirkland. I reached my house with three hundred miles on the odometer, and without stopping to ponder if three hundred is the same as three ten I continued past home and took a second lap of the Island. That final lap actually passed quickly and I rolled into the driveway wet and chilled, but on the whole feeling rather fine.
Planning, preparing for and then finally doing something that you weren’t entirely sure that you could do is a nice feeling. Doing it with positive encouraging people is even better. Due to the combination of my slow riding style and the COVID-19 pandemic my first thought was to do the route solo – ride my own pace, stay isolated, but I’m glad that I didn’t go alone. During these uneasy times it’s spending time with good people is not only good it’s necessary.
BTW Dan and I attempted the Festive 500 InOneShot last year but were foiled by a broken derailleur hanger just shy of 400Km. Here is a cool video of the ride put together by the folks at Rapha. If you look closely you might just see the two of us.