For two years in succession, Katherine Moore skimmed down her wet local roads in late December to reach her five-hundred-kilometre goal. But in 2017, she found that completing a trio of triumphs on the road wasn't motivation enough. Instead, she decided to venture off the beaten path and take on the daunting distance entirely off-road: “That was the year I really got into that kind of riding. Come December, I thought, f**k it, let’s see if I can do it.”
The Road Less Travelled
After two years of reaching the finishing target of the Festive 500 with relative ease, rider Katherine Moore decided to kick it up a notch by heading off-road on a journey that took her from Devon, to Bristol and on to Wales, with an unexpected detour into romance.04 December 2020
Back with her parents for the festive period, Katherine was unsure where to find trails and byways around Exeter. “I posted on a local Facebook group, I think it was Exeter Wheelers or something,” she explained, “asking whether anybody knew of any good 100km gravel routes or wanted to join me.” And it wasn’t long before a friend of a friend reached out to suggest his favourite route, and took Katherine up on the offer of accompanying her. Something special must have happened on that ride on Christmas Eve: “We then turned into best friends for a year,” she recalled with a smile “and now we’ve been together for two years. It’s a weird Festive 500 love story.”
Starting on a high, there were tougher days ahead for Katherine’s off-road attempt. Tackling uneven terrain is challenging even in ideal conditions but during a British winter, you’re in for some nasty surprises. Katherine learnt this the hard way: “On Boxing Day, I went through a woodland, Ashclyst Forest, that turned out to be a total bog. It took forever to get anywhere and it absolutely pissed it down. I think I cried on the way home because it was so hard. I’d only done 70 out of 100 kilometres I said I’d do, and I was super annoyed because I knew I’d have to make it up later.”
Unperturbed, Katherine set course for Bristol where her cat was patiently awaiting her return. With only a few kilometres under her belt, it was time to call in reinforcements. The day after Boxing Day riders from Katherine's local club, Das Rad Klub, gathered for their annual festive gravel ride. Curtailing the group’s riding ambitions again was the weather which was not on Katherine’s side: “We ended up doing only 32km because my toes were frozen and wet. We spent most of it in a cafe”. With only four days left to complete the challenge, the pressure was now on.
Behind schedule to complete the challenge, a few days solely dedicated to riding through rural Wales couldn’t have come soon enough. Katherine and a gang of her equally enthusiastic riding friends got together in a remote cottage in Pontardawe, South Wales to ride and decompress after the holidays. “On the first day,” she remembered, “we did this famous mountain biking loop called The Long Gap. It’s essentially a pass between Pen y Fan and Fan y Big, and it was totally covered in snow. We got to the top of this pass intending to go down the other side and it was just sheets of ice.”
Weathering grizzly conditions, Katherine persisted through sleet and snow to reach her five-hundred-kilometre goal before New Year’s Eve. “Reaching the 500km mark was a big relief,” she sighed. “Off-road it was just so much harder because it takes so much more time. You can’t draft your friends off-road because you’re going so much slower. I was constantly out, I barely spent any time inside, which was nice in a way.”
When Katherine clocked up those final few kilometres, she felt invincible. And it’s that sense of achievement that keeps people coming back to the Festive 500 year after year. When most people are indulging and taking it easy, bucking the trend and heading out on your bike gives you a delectable sense of accomplishment, sweeter than any festive treat.
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