Last fleche I participated in was back in 2008. At the time, and for several years after, I was pretty darn sure I did not want to do it again. Last year, I wanted to, but the timing was sub-optimal.
This year, I found myself designing a route in November, assuming an Olympia finish. There were two of us, and we quickly recruited two more. Then one more. And an alternate. I continued refining the route, hunting for control locations, and getting the distance as short as I could.
The route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/2235322
Things can change quickly before a fleche. Two teammates withdrew to go ride some dirt. The alternate suggested "next year". Another person joined us out of the blue, which was good, because someone one got injured.
By now, you might be wondering about the origin of the team name? It indeed has to do with arrows. I am a fan of the S. M. Stirling Dies the Fire alternate future history, which is set in mostly in the Willamette Valley. We are all from the Willamette Valley. Seemed to fit.
By now, the route was finalized - EXACTLY 223.7 miles (360km). Somehow I did not get as much done before the ride as I would have wanted, but the bike was cleaned (and wow, did it need it!), and I did a lot of mental packing. Late Thursday, I did some, but not all, real packing.
Michal, Cyndi (Mrs. Michal, ace driver and cheering squad), and Keith all appeared later Friday afternoon. Cyndi and I made the Coconut-Blueberry-Chocolate Chip rice cakes for the ride and dinner (Chicken and Spinach with Rice and Lentils). Michal tried to get a nap.
After dinner we filled up bottles, did last minute faffing, answered the door ("Lynne, there is someone here giving away money! - I love in-person paycheck delivery :-) ), and then coasted over to the Village Inn, our official start point. Fitz and Cyndi drove over, and we all had pie. The riders also had some coffee.
And, at 7pm, we started out. The cue sheet was only 2 pages long, and most of the first page was going the first 24 miles to Banks. A couple of short stops along the way, to add clothes and such.
Michal had gotten a new GPS, had loaded the route, and was trying to get it to prompt him for turns. The key word here is trying. Some badmouthing of the GPS user experience ensured.
But wait! Heading west on Meek Rd, we spotted three cyclists approaching! It was The Ladies' Tea and Crumpet Society, the OrRando women's team which started in Albany at 1pm. A short visit, and a round of pictures and we were off again.
Got a look inside Keith's windsock on his recumbent. - big storage compartment in back, and a nice storage arrangement in the front. I think he had a microwave, video game console, fold-out bed and hot tub in there.
Onto the Banks-Vernonia trail. It felt a little more claustrophobic in the dark. I couldn't ride next to or close to anyone. Michal and Keith found a cyclist sleeping off to the side of the trail; no blanket or anything. He said he was ok. Perhaps alcohol was involved.
Our control in Vernonia was the Cedar Side Tavern (nothing else open just before midnight.) We got our cards signed, and were apparently very entertaining to the very relaxed crowd. One woman assured us that she could not ride the length of Vernonia (!) without getting exhausted and told us to watch out for log trucks (note: no log truck sightings). Ate a savory rice cake.
Then north, with the next maybe stop the Birkenfeld Store. We did stop briefly and snack, but they were very closed. Guess the late night is Saturday. We pulled on some more clothes. It was about 43 degrees and just downright chilly. By now I was wearing shorts, knee warmers, short socks, shoes (you know, those toe covers would not have been a bad thing to bring along), ss wool jersey, wool armwarmers, ls wool jersey over that, windbreaker and my Windstopper reflective vest. A wool cap and shortfinger gloves with the DeFeet wool gloves over those. In other words, all the clothes I had with me.
I mentioned to Michal that I had forgotten to put Mr. Happyface in my bag, and it might have come in handy. Michal: "well, I wasn't going to tell you, unless your neck really started hurting, but I've got ours along." :-)
Water stop was at the Elk Refuge, 13 miles down the road. Before we got there, I had to pull over and close my eyes for 10 minutes. Oh, this isn't going to be good...
The bathrooms were unlocked, and joy of joys, heated! Keith headed into one, I went into the other. I finished, Michal came in and left. I went in to fill bottles, came out, and found Michal sitting on the ground with his shoes off. Keith was apparently still in the bathroom; Michal was beginning to wonder if everything was ok. At which point Keith poked his head out and cheerfully informed us that they were heated! We all went inside for a few. The SMART rider (clearly not me) would have brought a snack along and eaten it. Need to get into the "if you stop, stuff something in your mouth!" mode.
Now we were starting the climb over the Coast Range. It was dark and chill. And I kept needing to nap. Passed over the summit, and it seemed way too easy to get there. Perhaps because of the stops and not entirely speedy pace. Much zipping of jackets and such (we were all wearing everything we had), and the long-ish downhill to Olney. The store wasn't open yet there, but it was just before 6am.
What with all the stops, Michal finally figured out how to get his new GPS to prompt him on turns.
A few more naps, including one at the big Hood-to-Coast/Portland-to-Coast Relay camping field ("hey, I've slept here before!"), and it started to get lighter. No need for headlights to see. But still no actual sun. Just before Astoria, the sun did put in an appearance and I looked right at it, in the hope that it would perk me up. It actually did.
Route planning note. I routed us the shortest way to the Pig 'n' Pancake, because I didn't want another control. So Michal and I rode that way, which meant UP (4 stair-step climbs) and then DOOOOWWWWWN (that was very, very steep, with a stop sign, and then gravel). We found Keith at the Pig 'n' Pancake, sucking down coffee. He had ridden around, which is flat. Keith had no cue sheet - "hey, I am just going to ride along with you all!" Breakfast ordered all around; I didn't do a great job eating all of mine. The waitress and adjacent diners were a bit amazed at our riding plans. We were outside our time window, but the slowest time was way slower than we would be riding in the daylight. I was positive we'd get back on time. Michal was a bit stressed. Keith was cheerful and continuing to crack bad jokes.
Then up and over the Astoria-Megler Bridge - 4 miles long. And we were in Washington. A pause to peel off extra layers - we kept them on because it was windy up on the bridge, but now, with the sun up, it was already over 60 degrees! With a stiff NNE headwind.
Long stretch headed north to Raymond, via Naselle. Lots of sloughs adjoining the river which feeds into Willapa Bay, and a set of relentless little climbs. Eventually we popped out on the flats, and headed into Raymond.
After a bit of discussion we decided to stop at McDonalds - they did have coffee. I got a mocha frappe, with chcolate and whipped cream in addition to the coffee. Ice cream headache! It was right before noon, and we were back within our time window.
Then Raymond to Montesano. Discussions on the proper pronounciation ensued. I pronounce it like everyone else in Huntsville, Alabama pronounced it, which isn't anywhere near the proper Italian pronounciation.
Mr. Happyface made an appearance at least once.
Marcello had warned us that it was surprisingly hilly between Raymond and Montesano. The route profile had 5 little lumps, and, indeed, starting right out of Raymond, there they were. Slog up, pedal down. I was counting, and was happy to leave #5 behind us. Lots of logging through there.
Into Montesano, quick stop for water and a sweet rice cake. Water in the bottles, water dumped on heads... Off to McCleary. The road between Montesano and Elma is possibly the worst chipseal job ever, with 3 levels on the shoulder. The furthest right was original smooth pavement, but it varied in width and had loose bits of gravel on it. Once we got to Elma the road improved some. Michal tried to pull me, but I was not mentally alert enough to draft.
I kept apologizing for being slow and kept being told to quit apologizing.
Some up and down, and FINALLY into McCleary, our 22 hour control. About 15 minutes before the 22 hours. My toes had been killing me, so Michal told me to take off my shoes first thing. I did that, and then stretched out on the sidewalk for a 5 minute rest (not to be confused with a nap). Cold water appeared, bottles topped up, various potions mixed in. Cold water dumped on heads.
On to SR-8, and the nicest pavement of the entire ride. Big wide smooth shoulder bounded by a rumble strip. Noisy, but I didn't care. The headwind didn't seem quite as fierce. Mostly. There was a gentle climb for about 10 miles, then a wonderful downhill all the way to our exit. Michal's GPS was confused, but I knew where I was. A few more miles then into Olympia, where we stopped and checked maps. And, at 6:50pm, rolled up to the front door of the Governor Hotel, where the Ladies' Tea and Crumpet society, Cyndi (volunteering!) and another volunteer came out to applaud.
Pictures. Soda. Beer. Chips. Strategizing on dinner. Asta and Susan recommended a BBQ place a few blocks away. So, after some sitting and eating and talking, we all went and got showers, then came downstairs to find Susan and Asta and Lesli ready for another dinner :-) Tasty beef BBQ. Walk back through downtown Olympia - pretty lively place! Early bed.
Wandered down for coffee and first breakfast at 8am, knowing we'd have a nice banquet at 9am. Found many riders in the breakfast room, with the same plan. At 9am we all drifted into the banquet room. Mass quantities of very good breakfast and fun people.
Each team got up and described their ride. One team went for a serious amount of off-road. While there was a cue sheet, there as also Ian, who knew where to go. The serious distance team did, well, serious distance with serious vertical feet. The Ladies' Tea and Crumpet Society had a strict schedule and stuck to it. We finished in time, which is all, really, which is required. 360km, 3 machines finish together.
While there were no official awards, we obviously got Lowball (shortest distance) and Slackers (least climbing).
Keith was planning on riding back. So was Asta, so they joined forces. With no arm-twisting at all, Susan joined them. They finished somewhere around midnight.
And all the pics