by tyler smith, director of sales sports specialty
Near the end of every year, cycling apparel brand Rapha poses a challenge to riders around the world: ride 500 kilometers (around 310 miles) between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. This may seem easy enough, but once you throw in the usually less-than-enjoyable weather that time of year, holidays (and the usual travel and family obligations that come with them), and the abbreviated daylight hours, it starts to get a little inconvenient.
I usually complete the Festive 500 by chipping away at the mileage a little every day, with a few days of rest here and there to make time for family and the holidays. This last year, with more obligations than ever, I decided to get a little crazy, and try and complete the distance in one ride, and convince some of my more gullible/adventurous friends to join me. Granted, other riders around the world have successfully done this before, so we weren’t going to break any records, but the distance was still intimidating, and to be honest, the fitness just isn’t there that time of year. (still working off that Turkey, stuffing, and pie if you know what I mean.)
We settled on a route (the border of Canada down to Portland, Oregon), locked in the dates, and started planning for what would be an unsupported adventure of around 336 miles.
what we took with us
clothes: not being sure of what the weather might throw at us, we brought extra shoe covers, jerseys, socks, arm warmers, bib shorts, vests, caps, and gloves. Best case scenario, we wouldn’t need any of it. Worst case, we would get rained on, and need all the warm and dry layers available.
tools and repair kits: planning for an unsupported ride, and not knowing how far you will be between bike shops, we brought the usual spare tubes, patches, multi-tools, tire levers, and pumps, and also added the “Murphy’s Law” list of a spare tire (in the case of serious damage), set of pedals (not fun to have these break in the middle of nowhere), extra chain links, and a foldable rear fender in case weather got real nasty.
lights (and extra batteries): with the winter daylight hours being pretty short, we assumed that we would start in the dark, and be riding through the night on our journey (witnessing at least two sunrises). We packed enough tail lights and blinky headlights for the city miles, and more powerful mountain bike lights for the dark stretches of country roads we would be encountering.
first aid: you never know when you will need that band-aid (or more)
tunes: we brought a blue-tooth portable speaker, and made sure to have some motivational songs downloaded for those disheartening miles where you need all the distraction you can get.
flask (with a little of our favorite whiskey): assuming a successful voyage, you never want to be empty-handed when you arrive at your destination A long, cold ride calls for some emergency cheer in your bag.
hydration and nutrition: although we were planning on multiple stops for “real” food and meals, we knew that we might not always have the availability of our favorite sport nutrition options, so we packed the bars, chews, rice cakes and nuun that we knew we would want in the middle of nowhere.
what we ate
breakfast: knowing that we would eventually be forced to eat convenient store food and less healthy options as our ride progressed, we wanted to start out with a hearty breakfast of bagels, berries, peanut butter, oatmeal, and of course, some quality coffee.
restaurants: we anticipated our ride would take a good day and a half, so real meals needed to be factored into our planning, and fortunately, our route passed by enough decent options that we were able to find something that satisfied everyone. We opted for a specialty burger place for lunch, complete with french fries and milkshakes (the calories were needed), and a quick stop into a Starbucks for some more caffeine, sandwiches and baked treats for an afternoon snack. As it got dark and the temperatures started to drop, we popped into a grocery store that had a hot soup section, fresh bread, and lots of options for additional fuel to take with us, including a Sin Dawg (insert link), which would prove to be invaluable later on...
gas stations: when you’re riding through the country, and through the night, you don’t always have a choice on where you stop, or what kind of quality you can expect from the food and drink. We found ourselves getting pretty punchy around 3 am, shivering from the misty, freezing valley we were passing through, and even having a hard time holding a straight line on the path we were on. We needed to find some food, caffeine, and even a few winks, if such a place existed. Fortunately for us, a 24 hour gas station, and an exceptionally generous attendant was right around the corner. After helping ourselves to some sandwiches and instant coffee, we took a quick nap while our gloves and scarfs thawed out on the hot case and phones and lights charged. When we awoke 45 minutes later, we were warm and reinvigorated, and ready to take on the next stretch of road.
hydration: we relied exclusively on nuun electrolytes for hydration, filling our bottles at each stop, and trying to consume at least one bottle an hour, even if we weren’t thirsty due to the cold or fatigue.
the sin dawg: in the stretches between civilization, and when your body and mind are at their lowest point, you need calories that aren’t just nutritionally dense, but also a little fun and a treat to eat. This whole grain, baguette-shaped cinnamon roll is a perfect example of a food that has great ingredients, packs a ton of calories, and also tastes a lot like dessert! It’s also big enough that a couple of riders should be able to share it.
finish line pizza: whether it’s pizza or another favorite food, you will envision a finish line reward during the final stretch of your ride, and almost obsess over it in anticipation. You’re draining the tank and have pushed your body potentially further than ever before. Figure out what kind of food you want to celebrate with and use that as additional motivation to crank out those final miles.
We made it to Portland in just about 36 hours (24 hours moving time) and had just enough time to order several enormous slices of pizza before boarding our bus to return to Seattle. These were promptly devoured, and then it was time for sleep. A lot of sleep.
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