Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Addicted to Flèche

Last year when doing some randonneuring in Oregon, I casually mentioned to Lynne Fitzsimmons that if she was leading a fleche team in 2015 and needed another member that I might be interested. So I was delighted when the invite came a couple of months ago to be a part of Team Type 2 Fun.

The fleche is a unique team event in the sport of randonneuring.  It has a bunch of quirky rules that only randonneurs would understand or appreciate, but basically you have to cover the distance of the route in about 24 hours and you can't stop at any one location for more than 2 hours. So whether you're fast or slow, you're out there for one complete lap of the clock.  For a more complete definition of what a fleche is, scroll down to the bottom of this post for Randonneurs USA's official definition.


Lynne designed a route that was exactly the minimum required distance of 360 km and what appeared to be a relatively flat profile. Perfect for me because I'm definitely still in the base miles phase of my training for the season after a long winter.


Team Type 2 Fun: Jason Karp, Fatima Aviquivil, Keith Moore, Steve Bredthauer, and Lynne Fitzsimmons
Our team gathered at Jim and Patty's Coffee in Beaverton, Oregon and got acquainted with each other. I've found in cycling, that you can start a ride with total strangers, and by the end you're life-long friends. I met Fatima and Steve for the first time, and each person on the team was meeting someone else on the team for the first time.

We set off at the incredibly sane hour of 10AM-a change from the typical brevet which usually starts at stupid early o'clock in the morning.  Since the ride is 24 hours-it doesn't matter when you start, so why not start after a good, long night's sleep and a leisurely morning? In the first few miles through the streets of Beaverton and Hillsboro it was explained to me that there is type 1 fun, which we all know and love, and type 2 fun involves a lot of pain and suffering-which really is the essence of randonneuring.


Somewhere between Gaston and Wilsonville. Still nice and flat.
The first part of the route was just a big loop through the Willamette Valley from Beaverton to Forest Grove, Newberg, Wilsonville, and back to Beaverton. The loop was mostly uneventful and we put some time in the bank.  The only major excitement for me were the two crossings of the Willamette River. The first on a too narrow bridge with a school bus and the second on the infamous I-5 bridge by Wilsonville. We made it back to Beaverton and Lynne's house where we were treated to all the pea soup and corn bread we could eat-much better than the typical gas station cuisine randonneurs thrive on. Many thanks to Lynne and her husband Bob who were incredibly gracious hosts.

With 83 miles under our belts and full bellies we made preparations to head north to Olympia. The graying sky and dropping temperatures were proof that the weather forecasters weren't going to be wrong. We were going to get wet...but when?  A few sprinkles began to fall as we started climbing immediately out of Lynne and Bob's driveway.  We slogged our way to the top of Skyline Drive and got plenty warmed up again. We were all together at the Skyline Tavern where Keith Moore demonstrated a wonderful technique for obtaining a card signature without buying anything.  He slapped down a $5 bill on the bar and asked the bar tender to sign. Signatures were happily given and we were on our way down the twisty-turny Germantown descent just as darkness, and the rain, fell.  My disc brakes, which perform wonderfully well on scary descents, also squawked and screamed like a rusty old tractor all the way down. Disc brakes work just fine when wet, but they can be noisy-a problem I had to apologize to my teammates for over and over again. But at least they knew I wasn't going to sneak up on them.

The next segment of the route, crossing over the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, and the I-5 Bridge crossing the Columbia River and connecting Oregon to Washington was urban and very cool. Unlike down in Wilsonville, this I-5 bridge has a separate pedestrian/bike path.  After the bridges we dropped into Vancouver and our next control at a little taco stand where a willing patron signed our cards and marveled at what we were trying to do. I requested an additional stop at a c-store in Vancouver as I was dangerously low on food and tacos are hard to carry. It was 46 miles to our next control.  So another stop was made and the required junk food was acquired, including a 6 pack of little donuts, two snickers bars, peanut m&m's, and a little savory from a combo cheese and pepper stick. Yummy!

Off we went, leaving the bright lights of Portland and Vancouver behind as we followed quiet back roads that wandered over the hills that the adjacent I-5 cut through. This is where the anticipated easy route became quite hard as these punchy little hills wore us out.  No climb was very long, but on many occasions my front tire was lifting of the pavement, meaning the grades were quite steep.  This segment was also punctuated by some navigation confusion in Woodland and a 4 mile stretch on I-5 in a down pour. The I-5 riding was easy in that it was flat, and the trucks must have gotten word to our presence via CB because almost all moved way over, but it was absolutely pouring buckets on us and bicycle tires are extremely flat prone on freeway shoulders from all the tire debris, broken glass, and other sharpe objects.  So it was with great relief when the exit for Todd Road finally came into view.

By this point everyone was suffering.  And thanks to my added stop in Vancouver, those endless little hills, constant rain, route navigation issues in Woodland, and just the need to warm up in some random gas station, we were falling way behind. Things started to come apart a bit when Keith and Lynne rolled into Shari's diner in Kelso on flat front tires, and we were about an hour and half behind schedule, but in desperate need of food and coffee...and more coffee.  Lynne was battling stomach and fatigue issues, along with the flat, and implored us to leave her behind and press on. Of course, the rest of the team tried to encourage her to continue, but Lynne's mind was made up and the train station was only a mile and a half away. We got her tire changed and reluctantly set off into the wet night without her, but not until after the delicious Shari's breakfast sampler and a couple gallons of coffee were consumed.

Ride with GPS promised that the remaining 70 or so miles only had about 200 feet of climbing. Lies! We started going uphill and then uphill some more.  We had about 7 hours until the clock struck 10 AM and we needed to be averaging about 12 miles per hour, but every glance at my computer showed that we were traveling at less than 10. What I couldn't understand is that Olympia was down at sea level, and yet we were still climbing.  Only in Washington is this possible-I was convinced through this and my Cascade 1200 experience that the state only goes uphill.

Thick fog made me miss the town of Vader all together, though Keith assured me that we did pass through it. Too bad-I was all poised to make some sort of smart ass Star Wars joke.  Opportunity missed!

Day broke to find us still climbing.  Cloudy fatigued minds were trying to work out the complicated math of we have so many miles to go in so many hours and at such and such rate of speed.  In all of that we missed a turn and added about a mile to the route.  Thank goodness Keith was paying enough attention to the cue sheet to catch the error, I had completely ignored the cue sheet since Portland so I was absolutely no help at all.  Despite that, we looked to be in okay shape when suddenly Keith's back tire went down. With the help of a few extra hands, Keith had the tube replaced in record time and we were back underway, but more time was lost.  That's when we were introduced to Barry Road.  A nasty steep little bugger of a road where my front tire was again coming off the ground with each pedal stroke. At 5 mph we weren't getting anywhere.

Then something amazing happened.  For the first time in all my riding in Washington it seemed, the road actually began to tilt downhill.  We picked up speed and soon found ourselves in Centralia and on our way to our planned 22 hour control in Grand Mound. More math.  We weren't going to make Grand Mound with 2 hours to go as planned, but we were sufficiently close enough to think we still had a chance. We marked the spot at 2 hours to go and pressed on.  We got to the McDonalds at Grand Mound about 15 minutes later. No time to sit down, reflect on the ride, and then leisurely cruise to the finish line.  No, we had just enough time to get our cards signed and that's about it. When the girl behind the counter promised that the sausage biscuits were ready to go, Fatima and I took advantage. But there was only one sausage biscuit made and I had to wait. But I needed some food.  I was in pre-bonk mode and without food I probably wouldn't have the energy for the last 20 miles to Olympia. The girl behind the counter sensed my desperation and implored people in the back to get a move on and finally the sausage biscuit was provided sans wrapper to be applied directly to my face.  It was gone before I was out the door-and boy did it make me feel better.

We screamed along the flat roads to Olympia with a light tailwind at the blistering speed of 15 or 16 miles per hour.  When we got to a point about 10 miles away we still had 50 minutes. It would be doable if there were no hills and the stop lights were few and green.

The route did stay flat, the clock became less oppressive, and as we cruised through Tumwater we slowly realized we were actually going to make it. Go through a few lights, cross a bridge, and we're in Olympia. We even joked we could stop and get an ice cream. The Governor's Hotel came into view and we rolled up to the front door. I got a little emotional-it was a great save. Our cards were signed at 9:53 AM-seven whole minutes to spare!


At the finish. I don't look it, but I'm very, very happy to be here.
Then the real fun began. As we sat in the lobby, sending texts and Facebook posts, other teams started to arrive, all tired and happy and excited to be done.  All with great war stories of their own to tell. After a quick shower, food and restorative beverages were obtained at a downtown Olympia brew pub with more stories. My mood had changed from being miserable to having a ball. After a 3 hour nap, and a chance to see more arriving teams, the lobby of the Governor's Hotel was the happiest place in all of Olympia.

The next morning, the Seattle Randonneurs hosted a buffet brunch for all the teams and their families and each team got to stand up front and tell the story of their ride. The adventures were hilarious, inspiring, and awesome.

A huge thank you to Lynne for taking of all the logistics of route finding, mapping, preparing the long and complicated cue sheet, feeding us, and doing all the little and unseen things a team captain has to do.  And many thanks for inviting me to the team.  Congrats and thanks to my other teammates Fatima, Steve, and Keith for working so hard to get to the finish line on time. It was a memorable ride and the celebration at the end was fantastic. It was definitely one of the neater randonneuring experiences I've ever had.

From the Randonneurs USA website:

flèche vélocio(flesh veh low chi o) - A team ride of 24-hours' duration, usually held over the Easter weekend. Very well attended in France, they are becoming increasingly popular among American randonneurs. A team may consist of three to five machines (a tandem counts as a single machine) and at least three machines must finish together to receive official credit. Each team must choose its own route and may not ride with any other cyclists. A minimum of 360 kilometers must be covered inside 24 hours, with no less than 25 kilometers to be ridden in the final two hours. Flèche routes are point-to-point or a large circuit since any particular stretch of road may be used only once during the event by the team. In French, flèche means "arrow", so the traditional method is to ride from one point to another, like an arrow flying into the bullseye. In France a multitude of flèche teams, having left from various cities and villages, will converge 24 hours later on the bullseye, which is the traditional Easter cycling rally in Provence. (Note there are other events in France with this name as well, eg. the Flèches de France, which are not the same sort of event.


3 comments:

Eric Peterson said...

Jason,
Congratulations on finishing what sounds like a challenging ride. You persevered and did the distance, with no sleep it sounds like. The next Flèche will be even better.
Eric Peterson

Jason Karp said...

Thanks Eric. I think the 10 AM start really helped. I got a good sleep the night before. I never felt sleepy on the ride at all. Now I have to figure out how to not be sleepy for three nights on a 1200!

Geoff in Bellevue said...

Ya, roads in Washington go up a lot more than they go down.