It wouldn't be the holidays without another attempt at Rapha's Festive 500. For the fourth year in a row, I'll be taking a run at putting in 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, riding in whatever weather we have, before and after work, on icy roads or soft, idyllic snow with a fat bike. Check back to this post for updates on rides, progress, and the slow deterioration of both body and mind over the next week of riding.
'Twas the night before Festive 500, and I'm at work. It's also still morning, with the shop still dark and a final pre-Christmas purchase order to have checked in. Zero sugar plums, but a few final gifts that will make it under somebody's tree. Hey, nothing makes spirits bright quite like compression socks and a frame bag.
Tomorrow, I've recruited Jon Throop to join me for the first ride of the first day of 500, and I can't think of a better candidate than Throop. He's always up for a challenge, and he probably has more experience putting together multiple days of multiple hours than I do. He's got a chipper attitude, a big engine and a willingness to give anything a go.
Conveniently, we both have a secondary mission, and that's to put two prototype bikes through the wringer. Bearclaw Bicycle Co. is putting the final touches on a new titanium road bike, due for release in the spring of 2017. We have the only two test frames around, and BBCo. will be submitting the final tweaks and changes early in January.
The weather changed just in time for us to at least give this a good shake. With frigid temperatures and a lot of snow to start December, I wasn't even planning on trying to start Festive 500 this year, but a warm-up over the next three days will at least make it possible. My goal is to end Monday with 240 miles, leaving me 70 to clean up between Tuesday and New Year's Eve on Saturday. Those might be the toughest miles, with snow in the forecast and highs in the 20s. It's really these first three days that will make or break the effort.
Check back here tomorrow for the recap of the first ride, a planned 80 mile excursion on Old Mission Peninsula at the brave and cold hour of 5am.
December 24. Ride Numero Uno.
Start time: 4:50am
Temperature: 33 degrees
Conditions: Snow and Slushy. And dark. Because it's 5am.
Highlight: Shakira's Chantaje on the 'phones
Lowlight: Losing feeling in my toes narrowly edges out regaining feeling in my toes.
After not being able to sleep the three nights previous, I was wiped out by 6:45pm last night and, after suffering into the wee hours of 8pm, I was out. I woke up at 4am PUMPED to get out there and after it. Microwave that oatmeal, press that coffee, slice that banana and watch the first lap of the Diagem cyclocross race before busting out the door.
On my stoop, I paused and noticed there was more snow than I had seen there the night before. I didn't think it too out of place, because it's December, and I was cranking some J. Cole (we'll get to that later) and I didn't want to be late. Lights on, rear blinky impressively powerful, and I blasted out the alley at a decent 8mph. It was really pretty snowy.
Throop being Throop, I knew he was going to be late, so I put a few 'hood laps in before we met up. I could tell we were in for it; overnight, we'd gotten 3-4" of snow, and the road salt had only made that wet. I was riding along with a rooster tail spray that would make a lot of people jealous, although I couldn't imagine anyone trying to stay in the draft.
Throop rolled up ten minutes late, but who's counting, and away we went, headed north along Peninsula Drive toward to the Lighthouse and into conditions unknown. What started off as a 17mph cruising speed quickly slipped to a 15-16mph slog, with both of us using every ounce of our handling skills to stay upright, heads turned to the side to avoid the road spray. The wind was strong enough that it was blowing sideways across the width of the lane. But it being so early, we had the whole road to ourselves and once we were further away from the ambient light of town, it was just our headlights bobbing along.
Our ambitions had been altered, going a good 3-4mph slower than we'd planned, and we held back on any descents to try to stay upright. About 12 miles in, the roads weren't salted and the snow was deep, with a treacherous layer of ice hiding underneath. There wasn't an easy pedal stroke to be had, and we turned around at the 45th parallel hoping to find easier going on the leeward side of the peninsula for our return leg.
Not really. Not really any different. But we'd found a rhythm, and it was great to have Throop there. Nobody is as positive and upbeat on a big ride like that, and even as we clipped towards the three hour mark, our only really issue was the lack of feeling in our feet. With so much road spray, our feet had been soaked for hours, and Throop's toes were completely numb. When our photographer/soigneur/friend Brian Beckwith pulled alongside of us, Throop confirmed he would be heading home.
We paused to say hi to Brian, grab a stroopwafel and reload. Throop waved us on our way, and I stuck to the eastern side of the peninsula where the snow and slush wasn't so bad. Sugared up, I was feeling up for another our or so, and earmarked Smokey Hollow for my goal, which would give me around 60 miles or so.
So to the music. The album of the year has got to be J. Cole's For Your Eyez Only, which is HOT. Don't sleep on that, and don't skip this DEEP CUT that comes late in the album. Throop and I were talking about how rare it is that anyone listens to a complete album anymore, and how much that changes the experience. I'm as guilty as anybody, but a good four hour bike ride is a good time to make an effort.
Beckwith hopped along the route getting some sweet shots and making sure I didn't reappear in the spring like a frozen deer carcass. I finished up and rode to the shop just as my toes went 99.9% numb, had a damn good latte, and worked. It's another year of Christmas with Kanye, and we'll get way into that tomorrow, trust me.
December 24. Ride Duh.
Start time: 2:10pm
Temperature: 36 degrees (American degrees)
Conditions: Much drier roads, but wind, man, some wind.
Highlight: Saw a kid who looked exactly like Bobby Hill.
Lowlight: Apple Music played "Gold Digger" 6 times in under two hours. That's just too much "Gold Digger".
"Christmas with Kanye" got going this afternoon after a very pleasant four hours on the clock with Lowetz and Ben. We had a few regulars stop by to say hello, a few last minute gifts picked out and bagged up, and nice visits from Tim and Jody Pease, Tim and Erin Reicha, and my old kind-of-neighbor Dave Clinton. Of note, Dave is rocking an original Surly Pugsley, and it's wild to see how far fat bikes have come in just a few years.
Beckwith had graciously dropped off my backpack at the shop, so I had a full suit of fresh threads ready for the second ride of the day. After leaving my boots dangerously close to a hair dryer, they were dry enough for another shot. The TART was a quagmire, running thick with little rivulets between ice and snow. The roads were clear and, if not totally dry, much faster. I reprised much of the morning's route. Traffic was still light on Peninsula Drive. I sat bolt upright and set sail with a tailwind, strong from the south.
Christmas with Kanye has been a thing for a few years now, a culmination of my annual hip-hop habit around the holidays. Kanye West is absolutely insane. He has lost his mind. But The College Dropout and Late Registration remain two of the finest albums ever released, and not just because Bernie Mac makes cameos. Dropout introduced me to hip-hop, and Registration made me actually, really, really listen to it. 2004 and 2005 were the very height of a high school Cody Sovis, eating lunch alone in the locker room and playing chess on breaks, always with an ear bud in. My favorite track is probably "All Falls Down", with Syleena Johnson almost stealing the song. It's a song and a feature only rivaled by the efforts of Lupe Fiasco (of "Kick Push" fame) on the next album, but I think what Yeezy puts together is a more accessible and identifiable exposition on our plans, our failures, our hopes and our realities.*
I was feeling the 4.5 hours from this morning, but having the tailwind helped me get moving, and I ended up going a little further north than I planned, bringing it back south for 33 miles and 103 on the day. Oh, heading south on Bluff, maybe a quarter of a mile from the junction with Center, the real life version of Bobby Hill was walking a dog. "Bobby" threw up a deuce, with no expression on his face, which I very soberly returned.
Tomorrow could be a tough with, with a just over freezing, but roads likely iced over. I'll give it a go, but I don't want to get killed or maimed over this. I'm hoping to get done by noon, have a light lunch, and get in some Christmas activities, which include watching Home Alone, maybe eating a gingerbread cookie, and hopefully relaxing. The goal is to get 80 miles in, but we'll see. What I do know is that, leering towards Tuesday, winter is coming back strong. I don't want to rely on fat bikes miles for more than 60 or 70 from Tuesday through Saturday, and so I need to rack up what I can Sunday and Monday.
*This is a striking contrast to the contradictory and poorly thought out chorus of "Gold Digger", wherein Mr. West repeatedly denies calling the unnamed "her" a gold digger, but spends the full 3:41 of the song detailing what we can all agree is gold digger behavior. Sorry, Yeezy, you're calling her a gold digger, that's exactly what you're doing. Also, this is the song Jamie Foxx covers from Ray Charles for the refrain.
December 25. Ride Tres.
Start time: 6:55am
Temperature: 31 degrees (count 'em)
Miles: 61.6 miles
Conditions: Windy. A very cruel wind.
Lowlight: My 8 minute attempt to eat an entire package of Skratch gummies.
And so this is Christmas,
And it wasn't much fun,
Tried to do 70,
That's the low-quality song writing you get after 3.5 hours of crosswinds, folks. It's ugly, it's embarrassing, and it doesn't reflect well on any of us. It was a mind-numbing morning on the traditional Northport ride, the third year I've done it. All the roads in the town were skating rinks, but once out on M-22, I put the hammer down and roared up to..16.5mph. You know when you try to push a door that says "Pull", but you're dumb and don't read? And you push it a few more times, make a surprised face and question everything? I did that for 60 miles today. Tired from yesterday, sure, of course, I get it, but man, I felt like I was putting out 240 watts to hardly sniff 17mph.
The wind was almost perfectly out of the east, and there wasn't an easy pedal stroke or light mile the whole way there or back. I slumped along, entertained by the Christmas lights along the road and tried to enjoy it as much as possible, but that was pretty tough today. The miles clicked by slowly, although going through Suttons Bay as the sun came up was charming. I also really like Omena, which could be my back-up plan if my long promised coup to take over Elk Rapids, er, I mean be mayor of Elk Rapids, falls through.
The last hour heading back to TC, the wheels were coming off, and I struggled for 8 minutes to eat a bag of Skratch chews. It seems ridiculous, but that's one of the hardest and most frustrating thing about this challenge. Simple tasks that you wouldn't thing twice about in summer become monumental tasks. Try wrestling your water bottle out of the cage with gigantic winter gloves on. Try grabbing your phone to change the playlist, or take a picture, or then get it back into your pocket after. Riding one handed over ice and frozen bits of wind-swept snow drifts is taxing, when it wouldn't be anything to worry about if it was over 46 degrees.
No second ride today, instead, we're going to watch Home Alone and jeez I hope we get a hold of some sugar cookies because I'm both proud of how few I've eaten, and also morbidly upset on how few I've eaten this holiday season. You only regret the cookies you didn't eat, except that you also regret an awful lot of the cookies you eat in a sweaty, glutinous attack on the dessert table.
So, we're at 160 miles with 150 miles to go and six days to do it. Winter is coming back, and I'd like to get some miles in. The weather looks really warm, but rain much of the day and 20mph winds. Hoping I can recruit a wheel or two to make it a little easier. Or, maybe I'll sleep in and ride Zwift and move on with my life. Who knows?!?!
December 26. Ride Quatro.
Start time: 6:57am
Temperature: 37 degrees, 14mph wind out of the SW, raining in all directions.
Miles: 29.7 miles
Highlight: Showering afterwards
Lowlight: That first sensation of water coming through my boots.
I did not want to go this morning. 37 degrees, a steady downpour for the first 50 minutes, and I am feeling the miles from the first two days. I was originally were planning on doing a ride to Northport again, taking full advantage of the tailwind, but I busted in to work to help Dan open and make sure we were good to go until Lowetz showed up.
I did the southern part of Old Mission, 29 miles in the dark and rain, riding south on Peninsula in a full aerotuck and still struggling to hold 17mph on some very tired pins. I felt way better after an hour than I did just getting out the door, and with 120 miles to go, I am glad I got something in. Again, these might be tough miles, but they're still more efficient than fat biking at 10mph.
It was a nice Christmas, one that went a little later than I planned. I got a grand total of five shirts, sweatshirts or scarves, which I'm deciding to take as a sign that people really, really want me to keep my upper body covered. Which I'm fine with.
The morning was a bit more hectic because I had to go walk my brother's dog, Disco Volante. Disco is the most friendly dog in the world, I'm told, although I seem to be the only person he hates. Vehemently. However, last night and this morning, with no alternative and no owners to impress, he was docile and calm. I think he was pretending not to know me, and I'm sure that the next time I go over there, he'll strike with blood-red eyes and fangs as long as your finger, searching out my jugular.
Today's game plan is to bust out on a half day and get in 20-30 more miles, as I'd like to have under 100 with 5 days to go, so I don't have to fat bike 2+ hours a day to get done on time. I would also like to have time to get to GT Pie Co., have a sugar cookie and some coffee by the fireside before all the Christmas decorations are down. It's the simple pleasures, people.
December 26. Ride Cinco.
Start time: 2.40pm
Temperature: 51 degrees.
Miles: 47.7 miles
Conditions: Beautiful and sunny...but with a 20mph wind.
Highlight: Having Jaden and Sara perfectly drilled for echelons.
Lowlight: Emptying the tank into the headwind, only to look down and see we were going 11mph.
What a difference four hours make. From a monsoon this morning to the most beautiful day Traverse City has ever seen in December. A brilliant shining sun, warm and pleasant, everyone looking darn pleased about it, too. The strong wind from the morning turned into something absolutely incredible, storming from the south with gusts up to 40mph.
I was really happy that my buddy Jaden Drews could sneak out for a ride, and we met Sara Nestor at TCC for a backwards TNR. Hoping onto Peninsula Drive, we were shoved along at 26mph, a mind-boggling change in situation from Christmas Eve, when Throop and I could barely hold 16mph in the slop and slush. Today, we couldn't help but go 22, and we made the turn at The Lighthouse we were in good spirits, but weren't dumb enough to think it would be easy both ways.
And it wasn't. I was putting everything into the pedals as we crept along Center Road towards our turn on Swaney, putting out almost everything I had and hardly tickling 11mph. I stuck with some long pulls, but both Sara and Jaden hopped to the front and we plowed a long and lonely furrow. Three strong riders, at effort, at pace, and it was something like a miracle to even go 18mph. At the 90 minute mark I felt really good again, luckily, because the final stretch on Center to East Shore was absolutely brutal. We made it, slowly, with our average speed dropping from 20.6 to almost 18.
Some great company and unreal weather really changed the day, which started off frustrating and, of course, extremely wet. 68 miles to go, and I don't look on them at all easy. The temperature is diving back to below freezing. What bike, and where to ride? I'll try to decide in the morning and get 15-20 in and have a bit left in the tank to knock this thing out before Friday.
December 27. Ride Whatever Six Is.
Start time: 6.50am
Temperature: 26 degrees.
Miles: 37.6 miles
Conditions: Cold and, yep, you guessed it, windy.
Highlight: Seeing a giant pine tree down across East Shore
Lowlight: The headwind.
Back into a more normal life schedule, I knew I had about two hours this morning before I needed to get to work. It was a balmy 26 degrees, but after yesterday, I knew the roads were dry and clear, so I bundled up and headed out for a roll up East Shore. The winds howled all afternoon and evening. Even in the middle of the night, I could hear some gusting roars that shook my little bungalow. Outside, it wasn't long until evidence of the wind was littered everywhere, with branches, logs and felled trees across the road. East Shore was completely blocked, and I really wish I would have gotten a photo. But pausing for more than a few seconds is so cold, and taking off my glove sounded physically disgusting, so I have a determined about-face and inched my way up Timberlane. It was nice getting a climb in, which continued on Center, but the problem with climbing in the cold is you get sweaty, then you coast downhill and freeze.
I made it out along Bluff and up Smokey Hollow, with a few cars heading into town slowing down to watch me go by. The way back was slow. That west wind always curls around from the south, so it was a cross/headwind, try as I might to duck it on the leeward side of the peninsula. My average speed slipped from 17.5 to 16.7, especially after climbing up Center past Underwood Farms, which is open and extremely windy.
Today was a tough one to get in, but I'm glad I did 37 instead of the original plan, which was 30. We'll see what the weather does today and tonight, and that will dictate if I'm fat biking or back on the road with 30 miles left to cover.
December 28. Ride Seven.
Start time: 6.45am
Temperature: 22 degrees.
Miles: 30.6 miles
Conditions: Cold, fat bike-y and pretty great!
Highlight: Rolling with Throop on a perfect morning.
Lowlight: The second crash. First one was fine. Second one was embarrassing.
That's it, that's all....kind of. Last night, we put down a game plan to get out our Balthazar fat bikes and try to finish this thing off. We got just enough snow over night that we weren't to confident that the dry roads of Tuesday had stayed clear, and with cold weather, we didn't want to risk the ice. Instead, we loaded up for TImber Ridge to bust out some laps on the 25km.
I showed up a little early and did 3.5 miles on the .5 mile loop behind Timber, just to give myself a little buffer. Throop showed up and I was goofing around in the lot, and promptly crashed hard on some perfectly smooth, mirror-like ice. It was so shiny I could see my stupid face looking back at me before I pushed myself up.
The 25km was like a highway, with the snow cover essentially turned into pack ice. It was slick, but very fast on the straights, which was a welcome relief on our tired legs. Throop has been going hard for Festive now, including 108 miles on Monday and another 43 on Tuesday. We did a full lap of the 25km and ran into Beckwith, out taking some photos. We did The Nipple again and curled back for some glamour shots which we think turned out pretty great.
We went back out to get the miles we needed, and included another trip down Anita Hill, for two reason. 1) We wanted to make sure we didn't come up short 2) We wanted to be able to say "Triple Nipple" in this write up. Great news, we accomplished both, as you can see.
So my Festive 500 adventure is done, and it was not easy. 310 miles, five days, and about 16 hours of riding. It will be my biggest week of the year, mile-wise, and that's not counting tomorrow's plan. Throop is going to head out tonight and rack up some more miles (not easy after 2.5 hours of fat biking this morning) and we will head out on Old Mission to get whatever miles he needs finished off.
310 miles. I have to admit, they've all blurred together at this point, but it's been an interesting test of will power. There's no better way to show that getting out the door is the hardest part than riding in Northern Michigan in December. Even with the glorious day of 51 degrees, most of those miles were in the dark, before work, in temperatures below freezing. The right gear, a tough bike, and a willingness to stick your nose out the door is all you need.
December 29. Ride Ocho.
Start time: 6.45am
Temperature: 31 degrees.
Miles: 48 miles
Conditions: Cold, snowing and not terribly windy.
Highlight: Finishing up!
Lowlight: What are we going to do with our free time?
Throop's done! I finished up yesterday, but Throop had just 44 miles to cover, the weather wasn't terrible, and I felt great...I went, too. We really did luck out. The snow and wintry mix forecasted overnight never really materialized, and the only precipitation was a rather picturesque snowfall that cut out by the time we turned onto Bluff off East Shore.
Throop had put in 108 miles Monday, 43 Tuesday, and 30 fat bike miles with me yesterday, and he was starting to feel it. I was, too, but we were in great spirits and we kept is slow and steady, especially with that inch of snow on the pavement covering up ice and potholes and other hidden terrors. It was really a beautiful morning, and we were again tucked out of the wind on the lee ward side of the peninsula. We rounded the Lighthouse (QUIZ: How many times did Throop and I go to the Lighthouse combined for this?) and headed back south, looking to run into Brian Beckwith near Devil's Dive. He spotted us near Neahtahwanta, and he was in place for some cool shots going up the Dive before he raced to get ahead of us to Bluff Road.
That Bluff Road picture is one of Beckwith and my favorite spots in the state, where East Bay crashes onto land along a row of stacked and layered rocks. It gives the illusion that the road is just inches from the water, and it's especially cool on our Tuesday Night Rides, with 50+ riders storming past with the waves just a few feet away.
Throop headed back home and I went to work, but before we compared some reactions to the Bearclaw Bicycle Co. prototype titanium frame, I'm going to keep calling Sancho for now. The geometry is dialed, we both were really happy with our respective build kits, Throop on Lowetz's Force and me with my tried and true Rival. I was very impressed with the ride quality, the smooth feel, and all the little touches I got to add in, like the Antares VS X saddle, Thomson cockpit and KFC carbon bar, and my favorite WTB Cross Boss tires. The bike rode great in the snow and ice, and I can't wait to get it on some fast group rides this spring.