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Taking on the Festive 500 Challenge

I’m sitting at the visitor center of Saguaro National Park East, basking in the Arizona sun at 2 pm on the Tuesday after Christmas. I’m wearing just my bib shorts and a jersey, no jacket, and I am not sad about it. I’m in the middle of Rapha’s Festive 500 challenge: ride 500 km (310 miles) between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, which explains the “500” part of Festive 500 but the “festive” part is still alluding me. Despite the sunshine, I am sluggish and my legs are not happy to be pedaling long miles for the 4th day in a row. I’m 160 miles in and I’m feeling it. 

Beautiful views and tired legs

I stand up to get back on the bike, sighing as I think about the road ahead of me. I’ve ridden 30 miles so far and aiming to hit 75-85 miles for the day. My brother is currently climbing Mt. Lemmon, which I politely declined, as much as I love that ride, and my partner is at work, poor guy, so it’s just me riding solo. He texts me to ask how I’m doing. “So tired but I’m gonna keep slogging,” I reply.

Hitting the pavement again, I head south on Old Spanish Trail, toward Colossal Cave Mountain Park. I’ve only ridden this section of road once before and I remember it being slightly downhill. It is actually, to my disappointment, slightly uphill. I think more about how tired my legs are and wonder how far my boyfriend is willing to drive to pick me up off the side of the road when my legs simply give out. But despite my silly, pessimistic, musings I start thinking about how cool cycling is. How neat it is that even when my legs are tired and my mind is telling me that it’s too hard and too far and questioning why I choose to do these things….I still move forward. And tomorrow I’ll get up and my legs will still be tired and I’ll still get on the bike and I’ll still move forward. 

The thing about a tough ride is that you don’t always know how it will turn out. Luckily, mine turned out better than it began. I caught a nice downhill and some tailwind as I turned north toward Tucson – my spirits and my speed rose significantly as I cruised back into town. I kept pedaling until my feet hurt then headed home with 85 miles under my belt. Starting the day I never thought I’d make it through such a long day but it turned out ok, just like always. 

Coffee & pastries: my favorite part of riding!
Looking at the Catalina Mtns from The Loop
Good riding buddies make long miles shorter – trust me, it’s science

It made me think about Bicycle Adventure tours and the feeling of tackling a week-long challenge on the bike. Some of our guests have been touring with us for a long time, know what to expect, and dive into each trip with gusto. For some, however, the task at hand is more daunting. Some guests haven’t done a full week of riding before or choose a trip that is outside their comfort zone of riding, which I think is awesome. In this modern era of ultra-comfort, I think it serves us well to challenge ourselves physically and mentally when we have the chance. Taking on a bike trip that feels a little bit intimidating seems like the perfect way to test ourselves in a safe way. There will always be a guide with a van to take care of us should we need it, and other folks around who become our cheerleaders for the week. 

I ended up riding 360 miles in the 8 days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, something I never would have done if it weren’t for the Festive 500 challenge. I rode most of the miles by myself but it helped immensely to have my brother and my partner riding that week as well. We encouraged each other, had some great conversations and reveled in the sun and beautiful scenery throughout the week. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

All smiles in Saguaro National Park East
Ending the day with another gorgeous Tucson sunset

If you are reading this and thought at any point that a week of riding sounds interesting, or wondered if you could do something like that, or simply think riding for a week with other people sounds fun, I highly encourage you to check out a Bicycle Adventures tour. How often do we give ourselves the freedom to spend an entire week just riding bikes and having great conversations? How often do we get to feel the sweetness of completing something that we weren’t quite sure we could? In 2023, I hope we all get to feel a sense of accomplishment, whether from riding or something else that feels like a stretch. 

Next time you’re pedaling down a remote road thinking about why you ride, or how on earth you’re going to make it to your destination, just remember, we choose this, and for good reason. Being on a bike brings such a sense of joy and freedom. That’s what keeps us coming back to it week after week. It challenges us while at the same time distracting us from that challenge with beautiful scenery, good company, and hopefully some excellent food and drink along the way. In 2023, I encourage us all to trust our legs and take on a challenging ride. If that’s on a Bicycle Adventures vacation, even better. 

Wherever you are riding this year, I hope you Pedal Happy. 

Meg

To learn more about the tours we are offering this year, please visit our tour calendar.



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