First Festive 500

In all my years of cycling I’ve never completed the Festive 500. The closest I got was 410km and on the final day, the snow and cold was just too much to try and do another 90km.

By the time December 2019 rolled around, it was time to deal with the tirade of tweets from riders confirming their challenge of the month. The Peak Brevettes Facebook group has been a hive of activity and inspiration since I joined and the same could be said of December.

Ange floated the idea of doing it in three days/rides with a bunk room at York YHA – go on then! With my DIYs registered, I packed up my bike and asked Jonny for a lift to the station.

The weather window was a smidge off perfect: dry forecast across the three days, quiet roads and great company. A better bunch to ride 500km with, you’d be hard stretched to find. We rolled out of Sheffield on a chilly Sunday (29th) morning and tackled the inevitable hills to leave the city behind us. A pitstop at some bizarre A1M services signified the last of the major lumps and we tapped away to Ripon. While I had studied the route, I expected a few more bumps along the way given were in the north proper and we all know the north ain’t flat like.

The lunch stop brought about an extra wheel to follow in Caroline. She’s also signed up for All Points North, so it was nice chatting to her. She rode back to her folks’ home in Knaresborough after we landed in York.

York was beautiful with its twinkly Christmas charm, the minster draped in a luminescent blanket and the carols of our freehubs rolled gently past. I must come back here for a weekend, I thought.

The next morning, we rose early in anticipation of a harder day with our noses to the wind. Our destination was Flamborough and we knew we had a headwind on the way back so it was all engines go to the seaside in anticipation of a longer second half.

Kirkham Priory

As it happened, it wasn’t all that bad and I felt fairly strong so didn’t mind sticking my nose in the wind for a bit having a silent conversation with Ken and reenacting Saturday night fever pointing out potholes.

A beautiful section I remember well was the road from Driffield to Pocklington which begins as a steady tap up on to the moors before descending into a valley. I went ahead to ride on my own for a time, I’d meet the others a little further up the road but I just wanted some alone time with my thoughts, my bike and the road ahead. It was wonderful. Katie caught me up and we nattered into the valley remarking how we’d both like to return in the daylight to capitalise on the views that were mere shadows forming a corridor for our bike lights.

We “boshed it” back to York just before my official bed time. Ange and Ken fed me (still grateful), I washed up and we all scurried upstairs for some shut eye. The next morning would be another early one due to mine and others’ deadlines but what greeted us as we twitched at the curtains would require every layer we had.

My GPS read -4ºC and the most I had in terms of layers was a rain jacket to put over the top of my thick jersey/jacket (I don’t know what the technical name is for it!), a deep winter baselayer and insulated gilet. I was still shivering and after a couple of slippy rear wheels, we decided it’d be wise to thaw out in Selby.

After what looked like bowls of coffee and a few “that’ll do” rounds of toast in place of the missing teacakes, we remounted and set sail for our next stop in Askern. The frost evaporated, our toes regained feeling and we made it back to Sheffield by 15:00 just in time for a celebratory half at the station before I jumped on board back home.

Ange, me, Mark, Katie, Ken and David

I loved this ride (or three rides) and the company of others made it that much easier to do. 500km is a long way on your own or when you have commitments with family and friends over such an intense period of time. If you’re aiming to do a Festive 500 this coming Christmas, see if there are a few friends local to where you’ll be who can accompany you for all or some of it. If you’re into longer stuff like I am, you might find it easier to do in two or three rides with a little stopover in between.

Good luck and let me know how you fare!

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