#Festive500: Postcards from the road
When Rapha received Ruth Cousins’ entry for last year’s ‘Spirit of the #Festive500’ Awards, we knew immediately that we’d found our winner. Ruth’s series of beautifully hand-painted postcards told a story that touched everyone at Rapha HQ and earnt her a trip to Colorado and the factory of bike brand Moots. There, she picked up a new custom bicycle and rode it all week long at the brand’s ‘Ranch Rally’.
Since then, Ruth has continued to embody the spirit of the #Festive500. After her trip to USA she made another stunning artwork, which we are delighted to show here, and she entered the French Divide, a 2,100km off-road bikepacking race across France. Ahead of this year’s #Festive500, we caught up with Ruth to hear how her year has gone. We left as inspired as ever.
I first heard about the #Festive500 when it popped up on Strava last year. I was doing a little bit of cycling and I wanted to improve so thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t think about the distance or the timescale. I just thought I’d set off and see how I got on.
The distance doesn’t seem like an awful lot when you start. The more you get into it the more you realise how difficult it actually is. My partner Ian started with me and he gave up well before I did. I work for the police and so had to juggle my night shifts with riding. I’d come in at 8am and go out for a four or five hour bike ride, then go to bed and sleep until my night shift started again.
I only decided to make the postcards on my final ride on New Year’s Eve. I realised I should write about the conversation I’d been having with my dad [who had passed away from cancer that year] during the rides. The #Festive500 rides had been a massive adventure for me, particularly because of the weather and the hilly terrain, and it all reminded me of adventures I’d had up in the mountains with my dad when I was a little girl.
I never thought I’d win the top prize. A lot of my artwork is about putting down a feeling in pictures, and my entry was more about talking about my Dad and having the confidence to do so. Honestly, I’d completely forgotten about the competition and when Rapha called I thought maybe they just wanted some of the pictures. When they told me I’d won it was a massive shock. I was so excited.
My trip to the Moots factory was absolutely mind blowing. I still can’t quite believe I’ve been all that way and had all those bike rides and experiences. The only thing that makes it real is coming home with that Moots bike. I’m constantly looking at it and thinking, “Yeah, I actually did go there”. It was a bit like being transported into somebody else’s world. The new artwork I’ve done is based on photographs of some of our rides and bits of pieces from the workings of the factory.
I entered the French Divide on a whim. That was another crazy adventure. My experiences with the #Festive500 and Moots have encouraged me to want to do more adventures so I thought, “Oh well, why not?” It was way more than I could manage though, and I didn’t finish it but did as much as I could. I cycled my legs off for five days until I was utterly exhausted. It was an amazing experience.
The #Festive500 has completely changed my life. It sounds corny but it has inspired me to be fearless. Before, I was quite timid about riding my bike. I wouldn’t go out if it was a bit rainy, or I’d think twice about going up a road if it was really steep, but now pretty much nothing fazes me. I’d encourage other people to think in the same way. There are so many people out there who are like how I was. As long as you’ve got an open mind and you try something, you never know what you can achieve.
My advice to anyone thinking of riding the #Festive500 this year? Just start, and see how you get on. Don’t be upset or disappointed if you don’t complete it, because that’s what I had in my head. Any amount of miles you do is a bonus. It’ll make your legs stronger and give you more confidence.