Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Double Studly and Fat for Festive 500 - 2016

Let me start out by apologizing right away to my neighbors for all the cold, snowy and sometimes downright miserable weather that we had between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. I will take full blame for the excessive snow. You see, I've been hoping for some nice snowy photos to use for our annual exhaustathon, where we document 500 kilometers of bike rides between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

We've been taking part (and completing) the Festive 500 every year since 2011 *see links at the end. Somehow, though (until I reread the prior year's reports, while putting this one together) the rose-tinted glasses had me remembering all those previous challenges as mild and snow-free. I distinctly remember seeking out an ice rink, to get a shot in front of some Zamboni snow. I also remember a snowy ride one year when Rapha reps came to join us and quite a few bitterly cold days, as well as some rides that tested the limits of my rain gear. But still this time, I really wanted lots of photos with lots of snow!

So, I was elated when The Farmer's Almanac predicted a snowy winter. Despite making our mini-tour of Vermont a bit more challenging than we had hoped, I was pretty happy when winter arrived super early, with our first snow coming in October!

We've had a few more - as the news/weather folks call them - plowable snow events since, so this year's festive 500 was really shaping up to be rather promising for some good snowy photos.

I will say that we are well prepared for these conditions, having ridden and commuted year round through snowy Boston winters. Our bikes have fenders and lights and studded tires. We have all manner of warm clothing, hats, gloves, boots, overshoes and toe warmers. 

However, as more and more snow piled up in December and the forecast for the week included a couple of big storms, we decided to prepare even more and add a couple of FAT BIKES to our fleet! Luckily, the weather for the whole week wasn't so epic that we actually had to push 5 inch studded tires through fresh deep snow for 500km, but our new fatties would see a bit of use during the challenge.

So... Enough teasing, onto some snowy photos. 

Day 1 - A slight change of plans

Despite all the talk of snow, Christmas Eve started out wet and dreary, with the most miserable of all possible conditions: rain combined with temperatures just above freezing! However, the forecast was for it to clear at mid-day, so despite all my boasting of heading out into the most challenging conditions, I decided instead to make waffles and then stalled until the rain actually stopped.

We had planned to make proper use of our studded tires and head north out of town on some icy dirt roads. We'd both been out these roads the day before finding roads to be icy but dry, conditions where our studs provided good grip and traction. However, after all the rain, even with studs, there was a bit of sliding. Skating about on wet ice was a challenge neither of us was willing to undertake. So we turned back onto pavement and headed down the valley on paved roads. This proved a great choice as the sun even popped out for a while.

Day 2 - A Traditional Christmas

We decided to try heading north, again. This time we planned to ride the tandem, but rather than mounting our Ice Spiker tires, which are seriously studly and heavy, we wussed out (yet again) and stuck to pavement. Jason, having been abandoned by his very smart wife, who was spending the holiday in warm, sunny Arizona with her family, joined us for a gentle spin up to Brattleboro. We joked about it being a flat ride as we climbed 800 feet out of town on the first gentle hill.  

Last year on Christmas Day, we had a festive holiday dinner at a Dunkin Donuts in Northampton. However, this year, the nice managers in Brattleboro had given their employees the day off, so it was a festive meal of trail mix in a wind-sheltered, but sunny spot in a drugstore parking lot. Tradition is big in our household!

Being studless, we'd made good time. Well, poor Jason was on studs, so he had no trouble keeping warm! The magnificent afternoon sunshine, combined with having some daylight in hand, persuaded us to add an extra loop and clock up 100 kilometers for the day.

It's all about the documentation!
We saw a fox in the field below - just after we put our cameras away!

Day 3 - Dirty, Icy and Studly

OK, I asked for it. Time to Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk.

The Suomi A10s we have on our Evergreens are what John calls good-condition studded tires. They are great for black ice and dry icy dirt roads, but more aggressive tires with more studs would be a better choice for the super sloppy wet ice like we saw on Christmas Eve. The problem we have is there aren't many options in 650B. It's either these or the super studded, extra heavy Ice Spikers, which are actually too wide for our single bikes. Don't get me wrong. The Suomi tires are a great tire for winter road riding, where icy spots can be random. They also work really well on the dirt roads around here. These roads get plowed, but some snow remains, and after a few thaw/freeze cycles, they are covered in a layer of ice for most of the winter. As long as the roads aren't also soaked from a heavy rain, these lightly studded tires provide excellent grip. But they aren't so aggressive that they make road riding miserable. Still, there is enough drag that I'm thrilled to take them off in the spring, when my speed increases by 2-3 mph.

Anyway... on Monday, it was dry and quite cold, so the dirt road conditions were perfect for the A10's. We headed south to take in the long dirt climb from Pratt Corner, followed by the amazing descent on Dudleyville to the Leverette Co-op. Here, we warmed ourselves with soup and took the opportunity to change into dry clothes and add a layer.

We aren't true badasses. We skipped this unplowed road!

Day 4 - Boy do I feel strong when I'm not riding studs

After a couple of long days riding studded tires, I was relieved to wake to much milder temperatures. I pretended it was spring and excitedly swapped wheels and headed into the hills. Now, while studs might not be needed on this day, fenders most definitely were, with so much snow melt running across the road!

While I was out enjoying the mild conditions, John was busy working (someone has to), but he and Jason managed to get out in the afternoon and captured some lovely late day light. However, this delightful ride quickly shifted from a highlight of his year to a lowlight - or an "epic," with the benefit of rose tinted glasses. His tyre deflated just as the sun went down and the temperature plummeted. His spare inner tube refused to hold air and, he discovered, "instant" patches - like us all - prefer warmer temperatures. On the plus side, the super thick sidewalls on his studded tyres make riding the rim vaguely viable in extremis!

Day 5 - Another change of plans

As the week wore on, I realized that the big snowstorm that I had wished for was definitely coming and would likely make travelling and riding at the end of the week a bit tricky. We had planned to head east to Boston on Thursday to join Henry and Ride Studio Cafe folks for the Snowflake Century on Friday. However, a forecast of 8 inches of snow here for Thursday afternoon and overnight had us rethinking those plans.

Wednesday, on the other hand, was positively spring-like. John had one more vacation day for the year left to take and he quickly decided to use it on this day, to take advantage of the good conditions. We plotted out a long route down to Amherst and Northampton and then pumped up the tires on the tandem.

Now, one of the reasons we have switched from touring on the tandem to touring on single bikes, is that we get better photos on single bikes. Our photos for the day imply that this was true for the Festive 500 also!

Day 6 - Careful what you wish for!

Throughout the week, every time I looked at a forecast for Thursday, it changed. It was just all over the place. I saw predictions for wildly varying amounts of accumulation, different start times, and lots of varying opinions for when it would wind down. Astute weather watchers, or maybe those using a better forecast than me, headed out early on Thursday to log some kilometers before the storm hit. However, I had a PT appointment mid-morning, so I only managed to get in a short ride to and from PT before the snow began to fall in earnest. By lunchtime, the roads were covered in several inches of fluffy snow. So FAT bike time it was. Around mid-afternoon, we strapped on lights and headed across town to some nearby trails. Riding through deep snow was hard work, but so much fun! 500km of this in a week, though? I don't think so!

Day 7 - More Clowning Around

I got out early on Friday and played on a nearby golf course before deciding to go check out conditions on Green River Road. 

Poor John had to work when conditions were the best. He headed out later and found a muddy, slushy mess!

Fortunately though, the main roads were now clear and dry, making driving east more palatable. So we loaded bikes into the car and headed east to Boston Friday afternoon, with plans to join our friends for a ride Saturday, followed by New Year's Eve celebrations.

Day 8 - Knocking the b'st'd off (to borrow from Sir Edmund Hillary)

I only had 9 km remaining, but John still needed over 100km. It was bitterly cold at the start and suburban Boston roads were icier than we expected. It was hard to get me out the door. But I was excited to ride with my friends, so out the door it was and into the 20F air. I quickly ticked over the 9km, but then remembered that I was within striking distance of 14,000 miles for the year, so I stayed out a bit longer to roll past that arbitrary number.

John took in some of the cultural highlights of the Boston suburbs, including Ponyhenge.

John had to stay out even longer, but managed to clock up the appropriate distance to tick off his 6th Festive 500.

Rapha promotes this event to get folks riding and kick start the new year. To be honest, I usually end up exhausted and reward myself with a nice rest afterwards! Well today I'm typing one handed and under enforced rest as yesterday I had an unexpected flying dismount from my fat bike and then failed to stick a landing. Actually I rocked the landing, as in I slammed my collarbone into a rock and broke it - the collarbone, not the rock. No rocks were harmed in this encounter. Ah well, at least this was after the challenge ended!

(*) We first took up the Festive 500 challenge in 2011. That year, we experienced some brutally cold weather, but the only snow we saw was some man-made stuff on the ski slopes on Mt. Wachusett. Despite the bitter cold, I still managed to log over 500 miles for the 500 km challenge.

In 2012, we had a bit more snow, starting with a dusting on Christmas morning and finishing off with a proper 8 inches for New Year's Eve. Still, it mustn't have been too extreme, I managed to log 500 miles again.

My streak almost came to an end in 2013, when I got hit by a truck and broke my back in September. In a flagrant violation of the rules, I setup my fixed gear bike on the trainer and belted out 500 mind numbing kilometers inside. John did the challenge proper, taking part in RSC club rides every day.

In 2014, I was back on the road and back chasing the 500 mile mark thanks to milder conditions.

Then 2015 came with my biggest challenge, battling breast cancer. We also experienced 4 seasons in one week, starting out with exposed flesh on our Christmas Eve ride, followed by a cold, dreary, rainy Boxing Day and finishing up with a bit of snow on the final day of the year.

This year definitely saw the most snow on the ground, and consistently fewer Fs [and negative Celsiuses! - Ed.]  on the thermometer. Hopefully you enjoyed our snowy photos and, if you live nearby, I trust the shovelling wasn't too hard on your back. I guess I got what I wished for. With that accomplished, next year I might think about heading somewhere warm!


  1. Wonderful photos and account. Whole 'other definition of "going the distance." Thanks for sharing!
    Jim Duncan

    1. Jim,

      Glad you enjoyed the photos. All the good ones are from John. He's not just a great tandem partner. He makes me look good in photos too!

  2. Dear Rugrat, so sorry for your injured bones but so grateful for the pictures that you and John share! Wishing you a very speedy and smooth recovery! -- Teresa

  3. thanks *mom*. getting tired of the enforced rest! But hopefully soon, I'll be pinned back together and ready to go

  4. Oh crap girl! I was wondering why the pictures of your fat biking adventures stopped. Sheesh. Hope you heal up quick!