It’s great to finish something.  No matter how much it really sucked, the human spirit has a way of filtering out the negative and only recalling the positive.  Such is the case for me with both 2011, and Rapha’s Festive 500.

For some reason, I felt that signing up to ride 500 kilometers between December 23rd and today, the 31st, would be a fitting end to a challenging year.  I figured why not end it with a ridiculous challenge?

My quest began with an aborted ride in the wee hours of the 23rd when I awoke to a few inches of snow on the ground and no studded tires in hand.  Nothing like starting the nine day clock with zero mileage in the bank.

I went to the shop, and realized that my winter Deluxe, although great fun for cruising around town and trails in the ice and snow, just wasn’t going to chew up the miles fast enough, so I ordered a pair of studded tires and some clip on fenders for my ti Planet CX and hoped for clear roads until they arrived.

Well… some days of OK road conditions, and then some more ice and snow, so sometimes you just have to “run what you brung” as they say in NASCAR… my trusty XS Club Racer.

She’s one of a kind, built for 2010 NAHBS in Richmond, and ended up pulling duty for lots of the 500K.

Animal tracks, four legged and two wheeled.

As the week rolled by, the kilometers/miles began to accumulate, but I quickly learned that they would not come easy.  Lots of riding after dark; and the cold, wind, and messy road conditions made for slow going, not to mention the busy work week.

The workload towards the end of the week only allowed for riding after dark, which turned out to be pretty awesome.  The wind tends to be a little less of a problem after nightfall, the traffic is light on the back roads, and I had more than a few memorable moments of Christmas lights and a waxing moon reflecting on the bay.

I also had one really sketchy moment where my head light died on a very dark and rainy night.  Fortunately I was only a few miles from home, so I knew the roads well.  I just rode in what I thought was the middle of the road and kept looking over my shoulder to see the edge of the road in the glow of my tail light.

So, today it came down to a final 50 miles.  The weather forecast last night called for the dreaded “wintery mix”, and sure enough, it was freezing rain, with lots of ice on the roads.

Fortunately, my studded tires and fenders for the CX bike arrived at the end of the week, and I installed them on some older Mavic Ksyrium SSC SL’s.  I can remember when those wheels were the hottest things on the road, and now they are my winter warriors… lots of great miles and simply indestructible.

A big shout out to Nokion.  Those fine Finnish folks really know how to make a winter bicycle tire, and the Planet Bike clip on fenders were a breeze to install.

With the icy road conditions, I figured that I’d incorporate some gravel roads, thinking that they’d have more grip, but they were just as bad.  For some reason(s) of physics that elude me, the rain froze just as thick, if not more so, on the gravel.  Kind of funny to see that the municipal trucks had been out to sand a gravel road (the more orange stuff in the middle of the road).

One of my favorite quotes about riding in hard weather comes from Justin Spinelli,  a fellow Granite Stater and ex-pro.  He said that, “riding in the cold and rain is not epic, getting up and doing it day after day is”.

The on and off freezing rain, combined with the cold temps were pretty tough, so I did a route in the morning, then broke for lunch and some dry kit.

The temps rose a bit after lunch, so there was some incredible fog.

At one point a truck pulled up next to me at a stop light and the driver rolled down his window and asked, “are you crazy”?  I said, “no, I’m a cyclist”.  He then asked, “what kind of a cyclist rides in this weather”?  I thought for a minute and all I could reply was, “a festive one”!  He laughed and the light turned green.

So now that it’s all done, time to toast finishes.  Here’s a hearty recovery shake to all of you, your friends and families.  May all your rides in 2012, if not be warm and dry, at least be festive.

Happy New Year!