I signed up for the Festive 500 with two competing planes of thought. One: piece of cake. I’ve cycled so many centuries and double centuries that this was just three of those, close together. Two: I’m really going to try to do this in the midst of flying cross-country to visit family, thereby ensuring that much of it has to happen on a borrowed bike and stealing away time from a visit my dear mother views as absolutely precious? Obviously, I signed up.
December 24th was a sacred family day. I’d already skipped the house the night before, not more than a couple hours after returning to Nebraska, to go to a punk/hardcore reunion show. While we’d picked up our loaner bikes, throwing a leg over them in the midst of decorating a tree and entertaining several visiting friends and neighbors with endless cookie trays was just not in the cards. We opted for a sunset walk at the end of a dreary day. 0 km logged.
December 25th greeted us with beautiful clear skies, strong sun, warm temperatures, and a hearty Nebraska wind. After an unprecedented shifting of the general schedule of meals, we found ourselves with a nice chunk of the afternoon free for a ride. We set out on the first part of the Gravel Worlds course, fought a headwind to Crete, got stuck hiking a too-soft minimum maintenance road en route to Milford, and soaked in a stellar sunset on our way back to the farm. 78 km logged.
December 26th, the doubt set in. It was cold and damp. We watched cyclocross races in the morning. We ran errands. We ate. We shopped. We decided to have a drink. It just didn’t seem to me like there was any way we’d get the miles done. We had big plans for the next day, though. Talk of hundy-of-the-month club, a whopping 160 km if we did that… We drove home from dinner in an ice storm. 0 km logged.
December 27th, we rose early, gathered all the warmest gear we’d managed to squeeze into our light luggage, and headed to Lincoln to meet the Old Guy Gravel Group at Meadowlark Coffee. The temperature was in the teens, Fahrenheit – well below 0 Celsius. The roads were covered in ice, with about an inch of snow on top. We rolled west, passing by the farm for a quick pit stop that involved snagging my mom’s sheepskin cattle-feeding mittens for Willem’s frozen hands. North, to Malcolm and over some amazing, frozen, snow-covered, rutted, MMRs. We rode on to Valparaiso, where the local Bohemians took pictures of those crazy cyclists invading their convenience store tables. Seeing only one woman on the ride, they asked if we were on a tandem. “Nope, I have my own bike out there,” I said. Hot cocoa never tasted so good. We thawed out our frozen bottles in the sink, refilling them with hot water in hopes it might last a while. Rather than push on to Prague, we joined the rest of the group back to Lincoln, over steep rolling hills of ice and snow. 102 km logged.
December 28th was going to be another cold day. My shoulders and neck ached and pinched from riding a bike with a longer top tube and wider handlebars. In hopes of letting it warm up a little, I pushed for a slightly later start time for the easy miles to Cortland and back. Despite predictions of warmer temperatures, they wouldn’t materialize until later, and it was a brisk 12 degrees F when we pushed off from Corey’s house. We rolled easily on the Jamaica Trail to Cortland, where we enjoyed cocoa and old donuts. The ride back was chill, too, with the mellow rollers south of Lincoln, the endless vistas, and gravel that was still frozen but getting softer as the sun strengthened. A brief stretch of the Jamaica on the way home confirmed it was getting warmer, as our bikes were coated in wet limestone in less than a mile of riding. We would be returning these borrowed bikes a bit filthier, it was clear. We finished off the miles, returned bikes, made a last round of visits, and didn’t eat a meal until far too long after finishing our ride. Then we packed and headed to bed early, anticipating our 3 AM departure. 75 km logged.
December 29th was a blur of a day. Up at 3 AM, pack the cat into her new carrier, drive to Omaha, take a cat through airport security, fly to Chicago, run through O’Hare with a cat with just 10 minutes to get from one plane to the next, fly to Philadelphia, wait for a ride, get home, and introduce one very exhausted cat to her new home – with two other cats. After a couple hours of cat monitoring, we collapsed into the bed for a nap. A shame, since it was beautiful outside, but so it goes. We woke up as the sun was setting, with a goal of getting something on the order of 25 to 30 miles logged. While it was far warmer than Nebraska, I made the tired mistake of dressing too light, and ended up just as cold on our ride through Fairmount Park as I’d been on the Plains. Exhausted but determined, I followed along as Willem connected roads into a loop. 41 km logged.
December 30th, ironically, had to be filled with a very non-bikey set of tasks. While we were in Nebraska, the city converted our block to resident permit parking, which meant I had to get a Pennsylvania driver’s license in order to tag and transfer my car to Pennsylvania in order to get a resident parking permit. This, it turns out, is an ordeal. That took almost all day. We logged a tiny bit of distance (every bit counts) running from place to place before finishing it up in the late afternoon and heading out for a ride as rush hour began. Not in the mood for dealing with traffic, we opted for the Schuylkill River Trail, riding nearly to Valley Forge and back. As the sun set, the cold crept in, and we adjusted our goal for the day, pushing more miles to the finale. We once again returned home frozen. I thanked Willem for dragging me along on this stupid challenge. 73 km logged.
December 31st, we decided not to set an alarm. We had all day to finish off a not-insignificant amount of distance. We had tossed around a couple of ride ideas, some familiar, others new and unmapped. We’d gone to bed the night before still uncertain of our plans, and awoke still undecided. We mapped a route through the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Made cue sheets. Abandoned them. It was colder here now, and we opted for a familiar route, to Tabora Farms by way of Ambler Donuts. We renamed our quest the #fatty500. It was windy, too. Not like Nebraska but much more than usual for Philadelphia. We ate pastries and drank too much coffee. We rode around Lake Galena, frozen. Somehow, little patches of ice on the trail there struck fear in us like miles upon miles of icy gravel roads in Nebraska hadn’t. As we worked our way back toward the city, we did math in our heads over and over. Add a little bit here, and will it be far enough? We did a couple laps exploring Penn Park in the encroaching dark before heading home. Unsurprisingly, we’d saved our biggest day for last. 134 km logged.
I like the idea of this challenge — and certainly enjoyed rounding out the year with some solid base miles. I did, however, spend a fair bit of time cursing the sheer quest to log distance as opposed to just going for an enjoyable ride. It would certainly be more enjoyable if not for juggling family obligations and travel and limited daylight. Because cold weather? Bring it. Happy New Year. 503 km logged.