Eight Tons for Tommy – Rapha #festive500

Just before Christmas my Father died. This time of year delays everything and the family had the arrangements in order as best they could. My way of dealing with it, rightly or wrongly, was to immerse myself in the Rapha Festive500 challenge before the bureaucratic gears returned to normal in the new year.

The Rapha Festive 500 challenges you to cycle for over 500km for 8 days over Christmas, I decided to pay homage to my dad by riding an imperial century, 100 miles, for each of those 8 days. Long distance cycling concentrates the mind, time to be alone with my thoughts and scroll through the memories unhindered from all other stresses. #fortommy

The Saturday start meant for a pretty relaxed opener, being away from the mad Christmas rush was a good tonic. The moody sunrise welcomed me on my task, my lovely old Litespeed cruising through the miles leaving me to drift into memories of childhood. It was sacrilege to subject such a thoroughbred to the black salty filth of winter roads, but I really needed a reliable easy going friend to ease me along. 101 miles completed.

The weather gods offer support
The weather gods offer support

Day 2 was Christmas day, a difficult start, the whole significance of this family event meant sleep didn’t come easy so I slipped out of the house quietly at 3am. Riding on Christmas morning is a joy, the whole road to yourself, at this hour it was tear down the dotted line. The unusually warm temperatures meant there was no need to eat too much fuel, not wanting to spoil Christmas dinner, and conscious that being late was not an option. Despite being given a glass of beer, full in the face, from a moving car at 6am around Bedford it was a great ride. 101 miles and Christmas dinner never tasted so good while toasting the departed.

Boxing day I needed friends, visiting a local TT and a few beers mid ride put the worlds to right and recharged the emotions when I was ready to quit. The weather was kind, sun on my back and another 100 miles, so far so good.

Day 4 required a plan, as children we were regularly driven West long before the fast dual carriageways came. Today I travelled the old roads that time has forgot: Remembering all the old villages the busses struggled to get through, the sharp corners that are now laybys, the breakdowns, and the horror crash that so nearly ended all our lives so prematurely. A very poignant and cold days riding on roads less travelled. Fuelled and thawed by a welcome coffee stop at the MeloVelo café in Daventry  the 4th 100 mile was completed.

The trusty Litespeed gets pampered too with a defrost indoors
The trusty Litespeed gets pampered too with a defrost indoors

Wednesday was the Gorilla cyclists Christmas afternoon meal and drinks, rolling out at 6am in minus five degrees to get the job done in time I took the simple gritted B roads and headed for the old North road. The old road has long been bypassed for long stretches and provides a safe quiet place to ride in bad weather. I have some great old footage of my Grandfather driving my parents up the A1 in the early 1960’s, it filled my head, it was probably as much of an epic undertaking to them as my journey by bike today. Well fed and with the kind thoughts of fellow riders todays 107 miles was a joy.

The next two days meant work, this meant an extended commute. 50 miles out at 5am, thick freezing fog, and then a similar return the only blessing being that I could feed and get warm mid ride. It was bitter and the routes had to be chosen carefully, I could not cause any more family stress with an injury. The sunsets both days were a joy to behold. 205 miles, 7 for 7, and the hardest commutes ever. I hoped Dad would be proud.

No wind and such great sunrises I'll take that.
No wind and such great sunsets I’ll take that.

The final day and New Years eve being a Saturday meant this was in the bag, plenty of time to ride steady on the ice, and for refuelling stops. An hour and a half in, at only 24 miles BANG! With my mind elsewhere on a steep section I’d crossed gears and thrown the rear mech into the back wheel, it was all over. The litespeed is from a time before replacable mech hangers and the frame had snapped off at the dropout.

Just hanging on
Just hanging on

Covering myself in oil a singlespeed repair was fashioned, winding the squewer up tight on what little frame remained I slowly headed for home. No distress at the loss of the bike, this week had taught me to accept that when a life ends it’s time to reflect and cherish the good times, no going back. Surprisingly the chain was perfectly lined up and tensioned and without the noise or thought required of multiple gears the almost silent progress was smooth and easy.

What was I doing thinking of giving up, it might seem a pointless challenge to some but I had a point to prove to myself, quitting was not an option. Memories again of long journeys of my youth, how there was always a way to repair the snapped cable or failed pump to limp home, this was easy in comparison. Limping home with no more drama except for aching knees it was an emotional experience.

Eight century rides in eight days, or in cycling speak 1315 Km and 49th out of 82,00 entrants to the Rapha Festive500 completed in horrible conditions at times; I can see the old boy boring the nurses with the facts now, in my mind anyway, and that makes me proud. Cheers Tommy.

The final toast to the end of road for man and machine (reversed by the camera)
The final toast to the end of road for man and machine

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