Festive 500 – An epic journey

The Festive 500. 500 kilometers between the 24th and 31st of december. Short days. Bad weather. Why even bother? For most cyclists it’s a great way to challenge themselves and others in the last 8 days of the year, but for some it is more. More than just a challenge. It is a way to pursue your dreams. Bruno Bobbink is one of those people.

I was doing a casual ride with him somewhere in october I think, when we talked about the Festive 500. He said he did around 1200 kilometers last year, but he wanted to do more. And no more loops around his town. He figured, if you ride around 1200 kilometers in a straight line, you’re in the south of France. If you stretch that figure up to 1600, you’re in Barcelona. I told him if he went through with this idea, I wanted to join him. Not to ride the insane amounts, but to capture the moments. So, that’s basically what happened.


Zutphen – Liège

The first day of the trip. Of course we had to do lots of planning, visit sponsors, and basically do lots of less exciting stuff before we could go, but I’ll leave that for later. It’s not what the trip is about. We met at Bruno’s hometown Zutphen, in The Netherlands, at six in the morning, on the day of christmas eve. Bruno wasn’t alone, some people came out to ride the first bit with him! We packed the car up, talked a bit, and then we both left. They rode into the darkness, and so did I.

Because it was a pretty big trip, and we both wanted to document the whole story, we had to take a lot of stuff with us. So bringing a car was inevitable. It was pretty much all packed up, but it gave us lots of freedom. I could check in multiple times a day on Bruno’s route, to shoot some photos and supply him with food and water. The first time was just after Nijmegen, at the infamous ‘Zevenheuvelenweg’, which translates to Sevenhillsroad. Obviously one of the more hilly area’s in the Netherlands, so perfect for some photo’s. I met Bruno there just after dawn with Guy, one of the other cyclists who joined the first stage.

1600 kilometers in 8 days means you should ride around 200 kilometers a day on average. To make sure you’re not ending up in the middle of nowhere this distance wasn’t the same every day. Because we wanted to go to Liège on the first day, we started of with slightly more; about 220 kilometers. This made for a long day, and just after sunset we reached the apartment. A tough day, with lots of headwinds.

Liège – Metz

6 AM. We’re both awake after a rough night. We’re next to a busy street, and apparently there’s lots of fireworks here already, throughout the night. It’s cold again, but dry. Bruno is leaving for what will be the heaviest day on this trip. I take some shots.

When I’m in the car leaving Liege, a light drizzle is starting to appear. The wind is getting stronger, and it’s going in the wrong direction. And then, there’s also the roads. Everyone who has been in the Ardennes knows it; the roads suck. I’m stopping by Bruno early, and after 60 kilometers he already looks tired. He has to do 180 more today. At the 120 kilometer mark we meet again. The weather still is bad, and the roads suck. The asphalt is in bad state, and in the Ardennes you’re either going up or down.

I’m already in Metz. The’re no drizzle here, and I’m on my bike already. Heading towards Bruno, so we can ride the last hour or so together. I finally meet him in Thionville, absolutely broken. It’s still 40 kilometers with heavy headwinds next to the Moselle, but the hills are gone. Peanuts.

Metz – Dijon

There’s not hot water, apparently. Shitty apartment. At least I got hot coffee. Also, another day of headwinds. Headwinds and long straight roads over rolling hills. Today is another long day, almost 240 kilometers. Still drizzly. I’m meeting Bruno a couple of times today, he’s riding on N-roads pretty much all the way, which aren’t very bike-friendly. They are however, fast.

The scenery is great, but when you’re 10+ hours on the bike everyday, you’re not noticing it anymore. Just another tough day in the saddle. However, there is one thing to look out to: the wind is changing tomorrow. It should be coming from the north, which means tailwind. Finally!

Dijon – Lyon

I probably can’t imagine all the suffering Bruno is doing, but I’m not sure if I want to. I’m not keen on long-distance riding, so I leave that to other people, like Bruno. He’s on the bike at 6 AM again, for a ‘short’ stage to Lyon. It’s still 210 kilometers. But with the tailwind it should be easy. I’m driving through the wineyards of the Bourgogne around sunrise. Sunrise! Finally, the sun is coming through. Blue skies, gold light.

Did mention Bruno is a vlogger? He films himself and his adventures. He mostly films himself in selfie mode, with his camera on top of a selfiestick. I’ve seen him doing it a dozen of times already, but it doesn’t get less weird for me. As a photographer you’re the one who controls the camera. Which means you’re not in the image. But as a vlogger you should be in the image a lot, because you’re filming something about yourself. And that’s a biketrip from Zutphen to Barcelona, in this instant.

Lyon is a great city. It’s old, beautiful, and built on the spot where two rivers collide. I’m on the bike, riding the last part with Bruno again. We’re doing a climb with some great hairpins, cruising down Lyon, and the sun is still out. Life is good again.

Lyon – Courthézon

We’re going south. Courthézon is just above the south coast, and also close to the Mont Ventoux. We call it the kale berg, or bald mountain, in English. It’s a name that doesn’t need too much explaining. This mountain is a very special and emotional place for Bruno. A couple of years ago, his dad died near the top of the Mont Ventoux.. A motorcyclist crashed into him while he was descending down the mountain, right at the sign next to the road with ‘157’ on it.

Courthézon – Gruissan

Côte d’Azur! Barcelona is not far anymore. Bruno is passing through little historic towns, with just locals on the streets. In the summer these streets are flooded with tourists, but no sign of that right now. There are however, more wineyards here. They stretch out inland from the coast, as far as my eye can tell. Hardly any wind, and a nice 15 degrees celsius makes for a great day. Just 280 kilometer in two days, and we’re in Barcelona.

Gruissan – Gerona

Gerona! Probably the most pro-cyclist dense city in the world. Not without a reason: the weather is good, the roads are even better, and I haven’t even started about the coffee yet. It’s a 180 kilometer ride from Gruissan, and we’re passing right by the Pyrenees. Snowy tops as a backdrop to the sunny south coast.

The scenery gets better with every mile, and there’s even some time to enjoy it. Churches on top of hills, beautiful castles and buildings everywhere. Spanish vibes, and our apartment is right above La Fabrica, probably the best coffeeshop in Girona, and also ran by cyclists. It’s all tranquillo from here.

Gerona – Barcelona

Barcelona. The destination of this trip. When we reach the top of the Montjuïc, the peregrinación is over. We might not have made it all the way to Santiago de Compostella, but it most definitely was a pelgrimage.