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Emily Chappell Does Festive 500: The Rides that Didn’t Happen

Emily is attempting to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year. Are you joining in?

The Rapha Festive 500 is an annual challenge to all of us to blow away the Christmas cobwebs and get out on our bikes, at a time of year when many of us would otherwise end up surgically attached to the sofa. Thousands of cyclists all over the world will be attempting to ride 500km over the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year. Emily Chappell reports on how she’s getting on with this year’s challenge.

Day 3 – Boxing Day

After the horrors of Storm Barbara, Boxing Day dawned crisp and bright and clear and still, and I celebrated by climbing a hill with my family – on foot – and not touching a single bicycle, thinking ruefully the whole time that I would have done better to swap one of my rides to today. Instagram helpfully showed me that many of my fellow riders had made better decisions than I had.

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Day 4 – 27 December

I decided that today’s ride would be a ‘gentle recovery spin’, something I struggle with at the best of times, and even more so now that everyone was going to see how many Strava QOMs I failed to win.

I managed to convince myself that I could use Strava as a force for good in this case, and set off up the hill (you can’t avoid hills in Wales, but you can remember to use your small chainring), resolving that I would complete my entire 30-mile loop without a single QOM, and that the further down the leaderboard I was for each segment, the better.

(Please tell me I’m not the only one who has to turn moderation into something she can win at.)

As it turns out, the bitterly cold air took matters out of my hands. An hour into the ride, as I was attempting to photograph the descent into the Elan Valley, my phone battery abruptly conked out (I was familiar with this from my winter rides in Turkey and Alaska), leaving me with no way of recording the remainder of the route, let alone how many QOMs I did or didn’t win.

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“If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.” Or so I’ve been told. For a moment I was utterly dismayed. My Festive 500 was a disaster, my distances wouldn’t add up, no one would believe I’d really done it…

I quickly realized how ridiculous I was being. Given that I’d only joined Strava that week, none of the other thousands of kilometres I’d ridden this year had officially ‘happened’, after all.

So I settled in and enjoyed the rest of the ride at my own pace and for its own sake – and a very lovely one it was too, over the hills to Rhayader, and then back up the Wye Valley on one of my favourite little meandering lanes.

Today’s distance: 56.0km
Km completed: 185.4
Km to go: 314.6
Today’s lesson: Even if it’s not on Strava, it still counts.

Day 5 – 2 December

Today was always going to be one of the highlights of the week. Four of us – me, Mike, Isla and my brother Sam – set off into a cold, frosty morning to ride over every hill we could find between home and Bwlch-y-Groes, the highest pass in Wales.

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As we puffed and panted our way to the top of the first climb out of Llanidloes, I noticed a puncture in my back wheel, but for once no one minded. The other three stood around in blazing sunshine as I fixed it, passing round a hipflask and gazing happily out over the rising mist and frosty hilltops beneath us.

Isla had planned the route, so we might have known there’d be a few offroad sections, and she’d done us proud, with a nice little over-the-top detour to avoid the main road into Mallwyd and warm our legs up for the long slog up Bwlch-y-Groes.

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And then the pass itself, brutal and glorious. We each took it at our own pace, Mike sprinting off in the big ring; the rest of us happy to trundle up in the lowest gears our bicycles would permit us, admiring the vast corrugated cliffs off to our right, and the smooth, sunny tarmac stretching relentlessly upwards ahead of us.

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After a few minutes at the top, passing round the hipflask again and gazing north at the giants of Snowdonia and the clear, bright sky behind them, we zipped up our jerseys and turned east, anticipating a fast descent, and then an effortless spin along the southern shore of Lake Vyrnwy to the café stop.

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As it turned out, this was the most challenging section of the ride. Much of the Vyrnwy road had been in shadow all day, and was still covered in lethal sheets of ice. We braked (and occasionally walked) cautiously down the descent, then spun gingerly around the lake, anxiously scanning the road surface as we went, trying to tell the difference between tarmac, water, slush and ice.

One after another of us ended up sprawled on the road, doing considerable damage to clothing, skin, derailleur hangers and dignity, and after restorative pots of tea and plates of beans in the Artisan Café, we all agreed to reroute the remainder of the ride onto A roads, knowing that once night fell we’d stand no chance of avoiding the ice on the tiny lanes, and suspecting that the offroad route Isla had planned between Llangadfan and Cefn Coch would end up claiming at least one of our collarbones.

So we formed ourselves into a reluctant chaingang and raced back through the freezing fog, arriving home with all our limbs intact, and tucking into huge plates of curry as we agreed that we’d just have to go back and ride the full route some other time – perhaps when the mercury was a little above zero.

Today’s distance: 133.58km
Km completed: 318.98
Km to go: 181.02
Today’s lesson: Discretion is the better part of valour.

Three more days to go. Will Emily complete the Festive 500? Will she overdo it completely? Stay tuned!

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