Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Festive 500 Furlongs

Since completing our first Festive 500 in 2011, riding 500km (or more) between Christmas Eve and New Years has become a yearly tradition in our household. Unfortunately, it has also become a yearly tradition for my annual Festive 500 story to be one about overcoming injury or illness. Well, loyal readers, have no fear for this post is not more of the same. Because this year's story is quite different. This year, it is about my epic failure.

It had a promising prelude. See, back in the spring, my sister-in-law phoned and asked us to sit down before she shared her news.  After 12 years, she and the fiancĂ© had finally set a wedding date.  She then asked John to walk her down the aisle on New Year's Eve. My initial reaction was disbelief!

After all, they had been engaged for as long as I can remember. I'd finally given up asking if there was ever to be an actual wedding. But New Years Eve! Really? Surely they wouldn't make us travel at that time of year. Flights are expensive, airports are crowded and weather delays are inevitable.  But, most importantly - it's Festive 500 week! I mean, really, did she not know how this would impact our Festive 500, the challenge that Rapha promotes precisely to create family disharmony at Christmastime. 

It's already hard enough on marriages when the big credit card bills show up shortly after the black parcels arrive. If you have joined the Rapha cult, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

But then the evil folks at Rapha came up with a plan to get MAMILS out of family gatherings over the holidays by offering a ... well ... a woven roundel - a truly remarkable reward for riding 500km in eight days, up and down mountains, through cold, snow, wind and rain. And if the roundel isn't enough incentive, there is also a badge on STRAVA! And for the lucky one in a million, there is a grand prize of something like a jersey. Now surely the bragging rights alone are worth abandoning children and grandparents while testing the limits of traction on icy roads, but the roundel - well it's all about the woven roundel, right?

Fortunately for our marriage, those black parcels always seem to contain items for both of us and we both look forward to the annual challenge, often logging many kilometers together. We're also quite happy to have something motivational to do over the holiday week. While others obsess about roasting turkeys or the best recipe for stuffing or shopping or gift wrapping or getting a new big screen TV, we are poring over maps, deciding which route to ride each day, and then doing laundry each evening while sorting through photos.

Living so far away from family, we've never been faced with the risk of alienating any of them by spending the week riding bikes. But now - a family wedding intruded on our unconventional holiday tradition. John quickly came up with the peace-keeping idea of heading to southern Spain for 10 days before the big event. We could actually complete our Festive 500 kilometers in mild sunny conditions. No studded tires! No need for fat bikes or moon boots or down jackets! And no risk of frostbite while taking photos! After a nice holiday in Spain, we could just stop in Ireland on our way home and attend the wedding on NYE. 

This sounded heavenly to me. I went online and ordered a case of sunscreen.

Alas, fate intervened. 

Rewind a bit. 

Last December, just before the start of the annual challenge, we bought fat bikes to help us stay sane with all the snow. We even logged some of our Festive 500 kilometers on the new fatties. 

Then in early January, while out riding in less than ideal conditions, I went flying over the bars on a icy rutted descent and landed face first on a very thin layer of snow hiding a rock that took precise aim at the middle of my collarbone. 

It wasn't a bad break, but it would be enough to keep me off a bike (and skis) for the winter.

Luckily I got a plate put in and was actually back to riding after a couple of weeks. I even managed a few days  on x-c skis near the end of the season.

The plate was also awesome because it allowed me put my hair in a ponytail. John is fantastic at everything - except this!

But as a pixie, with no real upper body muscle, the plate stood proud, and was quite painful anytime I wore a seat belt or backpack or bib tights. So once healed, I planned to have it taken out. I very carefully chose a time that would have the least impact on cycling, and of course I had to take the Festive 500 into account. So I counted back 6 weeks from our planned departure for Spain.

A week after the plate came out, I was cleared to resume physical therapy for my other shoulder. Oh if you are new to this blog... I had a total shoulder replacement in June, thanks to complete loss of cartilage in the right shoulder. I've been quite diligent in my effort to regain range of motion and actually build up some muscle in my upper body to counteract the shoulder rounding that comes from spending all day hunched over a bicycle.

My only restriction was not to fall.  The same restriction I've been under since the June surgery.

I did not fall.   

Sadly, however, three weeks after the plate-ectomy, while reaching overhead to adjust a heat vent, I felt a nasty pop. Apparently the bone had only superficially healed and it re-fractured in exactly the same spot. I got the confirming x-ray the next morning and then headed in to see the surgeon in hopes he could pin me back together. Unfortunately, with 8 screw holes in the bone, surgery was not an option at this time. We'd just have to wait for it to heal on it's own, or at least wait for the screw holes to heal before another surgery.

I cannot deny that tears were shed. There went our trip to Spain. And with it the Festive 500!

But wait... Maybe... I'm resourceful and tough.

I have this trike that I used after the shoulder surgery. Maybe I could still manage to ride 500 kilometers on the trike. Since we still needed to get over to Ireland for the wedding, our time to ride would be cut short by a few days. As we would only have 5 days, I would need to average 100 kilometers a day! Hey, I'd ridden 500 miles for previous challenges. 100 km per day should not be a problem.

But the trike is seriously hard work - like doing leg presses all-day-long hard work. I'd learned this over the summer when I attempted all sorts of crazy rides on nearby dirt and gravel roads. I also discovered the limits of traction. With no weight over the drive wheel, it can be quite easy to spin out on loose dirt or steep climbs.

Then freezing rain fell throughout the day before the start of the Festive 500. Roads were still glazed over on Christmas Eve. However I had to try.

I barely managed 29 kilometers. 

Upon returning home with epic failure in my sights,  I joked with John about what unit of measure would still be a challenge to get to 500 and he suggested furlongs!

We woke the next morning to a fluffy 6 inches of White Christmas. Yep, thanks a lot, Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby.

Then the polar vortex set in and temperatures plummeted.

Despite all this, I did still manage to log 500 furlongs of riding outside. So maybe my epic failure could be an epic success. Yep, I'm going with that!

Now long time readers may recall that in 2013, after being hit by a truck and breaking my back, I logged 500 mind numbing kilometers on a fixed gear bike mounted to an indoor trainer. I swore after that NEVER EVER AGAIN would I spend any time on an indoor trainer.

Well maybe I shouldn't be so hasty. The prize for the epic failure this year is a super fancy indoor trainer with some smarts to change resistance and make the workout a bit less mind numbing. Given my recent track record with injury and illness, it might not be a bad idea to look into one of these.

Hey maybe a large black parcel will arrive here soon and I'll tear it open to find a Wahoo Kickr Snap


  1. You are a warrior! I can't believe all you have been through and your adventurous spirit! Reading about it all, though I feel terrible for you, makes me feel better about my year. I endo'd over a little girl on a push bike who pulled out in front of me on a blind curve on a fast descent this past spring, fractured my left thumb, and more importantly, my jaw in three places. Our summer plans of driving out west in our RV were cancelled; and in their place, I got to have my jaw wired and ultimately get braces (for the second time in my life) at age 56. I took 3 months off the bike but am back to riding now, much to my mother's chagrin. She keeps hoping I'll wise up and stop one day, but like you, I refuse to let a few little bumps and fractures keep me down. LOL! Hope the shoulder will heal up for reals this time. Happy New (fracture-free) Year!

    1. Emily, Oh boy. Your misadventure sounds quite unpleasant. I know the pleasure I get from food and a wired jaw has to be brutal. Tell you mom, you could slip in the bath. My philosophy is I can't live in bubble wrap. And seize the day.

      And Happy New Year to you as well.