Rapha Festive 500: Spending the Christmas holidays in the saddle

Repete, Rapha festive 500, cycling

The Rapha Festive 500 celebration has become a tradition for cycling enthusiasts. The event began thanks to Rapha’s former chief designer, Graeme Raeburn. He had spent 1,000 km in the saddle over the Christmas holidays, but when he finished his ride, he realized that even half that distance would still be quite a lot. The idea was not about chasing kilometers, but about enjoying the journey itself. The ride gave him the opportunity to visit with friends and most importantly - experience the festive days a little differently. It all went down between December 24 and New Year's Eve.

The reason

In late November 2018, I became a father and my life was slightly turned upside down, affecting both my body and my mind. Even though you want to be with your son and family over the Christmas holiday, as tradition dictates, the idea to finally get in your winter “500” creeps into your head. You start to ask yourself if you’ll have enough time to plan everything and make the entire ride happen. Luckily, the circumstances were on my side. The temperatures on holiday were supposed to be mild and with the support of those closest to me, I could start right on the first day of the holiday. We were all set to go. We journeyed away from the city, my family in the car and me cycling alongside. Everyone was just hoping for a good start.

Small present

On Christmas Eve, the first day of the Festive 500, I chose the route at the last minute (it would be the same in the following days). I kept thinking that I needed to take care not to wreck myself in the beginning and I had to be sure not to experiment too much, just make it in time for dinner.  The first day would be enough to test the comfort of my winter clothing: the pants and underwear, neoprene sleeves, two pairs of socks to fit in the jersey, spare gloves and a jersey windbreaker, neckerchief, and scarf. Imagining the upcoming winter kilometers in plus or minus zero degree temperatures always seemed a little uncomfortable and foolish. In the winter you should do winter sports, right? I pushed ahead. I left my worrying family behind. I said a prayer to make it back with my health and without a puncture. The courses of our holiday dinner are mainly influenced by our son’s needs and the rhythm of breastfeeding. The first day was already incredible. For a moment, I felt free from the so-called duties and could simply focus on the landscape and myself.

“It is not a mile-chasing thing but rather a journey. It’s about getting out there, enjoying being on your bike and riding with other people.” – Graeme Raeburn

Repete, Rapha festive 500, cycling
Repete, Rapha festive 500, cycling

Holiday Silence

There were some well-known places and turns, but when I need to explore the unknown, a few pleasant surprises, such as new surfaces of the exit from Jílové u Prahy to Zahořany. I would see a single snow-covered meadow in Chotouni, where people would be skiing the next day. The weather felt like early spring.

The body needs a double shot, espresso, espresso macchiato. It feels strong and is stimulated by unexpected movement, in the unexpected silence of intersections, excited by the approaching landscape beyond the city, really calming the mind. With the rolling sunlit landscape, I took a short detour through the Sázava valley. The end turned into a struggle with the constantly changing winds, but despite the hardships, I made it home in good time was welcomed with some mulled wine. I was excited to see my boy, enjoy Christmas lunch, and relax in the warmth of home. My son’s face was patiently smiling at me for my last few kilometers. In the evening, I checked up on my progress for my first two days. Well… it was not much – less than a hundred km, but my first goal was accomplished, not to wreck myself at the start.

Madness and short days

Day Four (I did not ride on the third day, opting to relax, move the family to our next destination, and visit with family and friends). We then returned to town. Before I ran downstairs, I changed the next route and direction of our trip about three times in my head. Regardless of the late start – to be “in play” at all – I was already planning a longer challenge. We ate at 14:10 and the sun sets at 16:05. Uh, nothing. I felt good. There was just over 400 km to go. Thoughts about how many km remain come up often during the rides, but eventually disappear after a couple dozen kilometers. Keep the pace. If I could do one gravel stretch (Ledce) before dark, I could ride for the rest of my route with the lights on. Along the way I wonder, can I make it? I try to think about my Plan B as I usually do when I ride, but I haven’t made one yet. After a short climb, I reached a missing bridge over the road to the south (Senohraby). The gravel stretch was not happening so I took a shorter route because it was already getting dark. It turned out to be a good decision. Darkness brought calmness and better visibility around corners as the oncoming car lights are visible from a long distance. I hoped the wind would assist my final push before entering the city, but unfortunately it was not to be. My shoulder and the front wheel formed a sort of monotone image in my line of sight.

A few friends hit me up in the evening. Should I let myself get pulled into “being somewhere on time?” I made plans with my family and it was decided. There are just two of us, in the end, but it didn’t matter. After a home-made breakfast and a cup of coffee, we set out. I suggested a flatter route for the day. We made our way out of the city, about 60 kilometers to the confluence of Labe and Vltava rivers. The clouds rolled in and the temperature noticeably fell a few degrees. I realized that I had always taken this route in winter (when there’s zero traffic on the Vltava trail which is normally super busy). My buddy Kamil comes from Mělník and we talk about cycling, home transfers and plans. Our planned coffee break already in our heads.

Our decision-making skills got a boost after our caffeine recharge. We enjoyed some classic commuter wandering to finish the ride,  passing the Letňany singletrack park and eventually making it to the “home zone.” With three days left, I had ridden about three hundred kilometers so far and was really starting to feel the rear part of my body.

Repete, Rapha festive 500, cycling

On the lights

Days six and seven repeated the late afternoon starts of previous days. I had to plan two rides in three days to finish the Rapha festive 500 challenge, since we were going to spend the last day of the year outside of the city. The hills and night forests provide something between meditation and hallucination (Voděradské bučiny, Mnichovice). I dance in the saddle and sing along to the playlist. I experienced a sudden joy when I realized that I would reach my goal as long as nothing unexpected happened. I returned home after dark and thawed out at the bar with a cup of mulled wine. I have only fond memories of preparing family dinners and the blissful sleep with our little boy, whether crying or sleeping soundly. The final 30 kilometers of my ride was similar to the first day. I felt at peace while I was recapping the past year, arriving in front of my gate with a smile that exposed my satisfaction of the year’s accomplishments.

The Experience counts

What makes me happier than a badge is the fact I didn’t give up. There were several moments during the rides when I really felt like quitting. Only when I learned about the crazy amounts of kilometers others do in the span of eight days, I realized Reaburn’s humorous statement – that even 500 is quite a lot, was really on point. Just don’t rush and seize the moment. I hope that in the next few years, there will be more chances to experience the 500 differently. Because that’s what really matters, anyway.

More than earning a badge, I am pleased that I didn’t give up on it. There were several moments during the rides when I really didn’t want to go on. It was not until I saw Raeburn’s humorous statement, “even 500 km is quite enough”, that I realized that despite the insane number of kilometers others ride in the span of 8 days, it was not the number that really mattered. It is more important not to rush the journey and just enjoy it. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to experience the “500” again in the coming years to once again prove that concept to true.

Repete, Rapha festive 500, cycling