Team Blue Without Two’s 2008 Fleche

Nick Bull has written up the saga of the “Blue” fleche team, whose name changes every year. In 2008, it was Team Blue Without Two. Thanks for another great tale, Nick.

Nick on the road with Team Blue Without TwoNick on the road with Team Blue Without Two

by Nick Bull

A few pictures (two are courtesy of Bill Beck) are at my Flickr page and my Motion Based track is Here.

Team Blue Without TwoTeam Blue Without Two: Tom, Mike, Fred, Nick, Alex

Two regular members of the “Blue” fleche team couldn’t ride with us this year: Hank Greenblatt and Doug Young. So two new riders joined the team: longtime randonneur Alex Sanchez, and rookie randonneur (but experienced triathlete) Mike Desmond. The remaining members of the team are (captain) Tom Reeder, Fred Robbins, and Nick Bull. Why are we the “Blue” team?

In 2004 (before I joined the team), the team was on a training ride and kept being passed by a group of cyclists, so the team said “They blew right by us.” Thus the name “Blue Bias”. As it turns out, the team rode so strongly that they blew by all competitors–thus they blew by you (well, in their dreams, maybe …) so …

In 2005, they became “Blue Bayou”. During that fleche (my first with the team), two riders blew out their tires, so …

In 2006, we were “Blue Attire”. During that fleche (we all wore some blue attire, of course), temperatures were quite hot, leading to serious stomach upset after a stop to eat barbeque sandwiches. The result? Riders didn’t actually blow chunks of barbeque, but they wanted to, so …

In 2007, we were “Blue Barbeque”.

Back to the story for 2008. We followed the same route as usual: Our route is somewhat of an arrow shape, pointing toward the south west, with its tip at Madison, Va. The “top left” corner of the arrow is at Purcellville. The top right is at Key Bridge, which crosses the Potomac from Rosslyn in Arlington County, Va., to Washington, D.C. We start out from the Westover district of Arlington County and head north-west on the W&OD trail to its end at Purcellville. From Purcellville, we head roughly southwest to Madison.

Then we turn roughly northeast heading in the direction of Key Bridge. After Madison, we face a nearly-80 mile stretch that has practically no convenience stores, and only one place we can fuel up–a pizza place that closes early enough that it can be a bit dicey whether we can get there in
time for food.

After a little bobble when the 7-11 clerk at the start control refusing to sign our fleche cards because of fears that he would be deported (or something), which were thankfully overcome by the persuasive powers of Ruth Reeder, we started just a few minutes late, riding into near-freezing temperatures. Just to keep things interesting, we had a few minutes of sleet near Leesburg, plus winds from the north at 12 m.p.h. with gusts to 18 m.p.h. that hindered our progress to the northwest.

Alex, Nick, and Mike powered down the W&OD, with Tom and Fred coming along behind. Apparently, Fred just hates the W&OD, but he told himself that if he could just get to the end of it, then he could do the rest of the fleche with no problems. We regrouped at the 7-11 in Purcelville, with riders heading out as soon as their teeth started to chatter, so the late arrivers left a few minutes after the early arrivers. Now heading southwest, we had a nice tailwind that kept up for the remainder of the day until our turnaround at dinner.

Alex and Nick rode together for most of the leg down to Warrenton — or at least, Nick kept up sufficiently with Alex so that he kept him in sight most of the time. Mike powered off down the road, only to arrive at Warrenton a few minutes after Alex and Nick. Apparently, the Blue route contains too few miles for Mike.

Sheltered from the wind by the Warrenton Sheetz, it was comfortably warm sitting in the sunlight, which made it hard to get going again, heading back into the chilly mid-40’s temperatures. This year, the barbeque at Tolliver’s store was fabulous. Many hours later, after an afternoon that barely reached 50 degrees, and that fortunately only had one “scattered shower” we regrouped at the McDonald’s in Madison — again, Alex and Nick beat Mike there, as Mike decided to add a few more miles to the route.

We were worried that the tailwinds would now become a problem as we turned northwest toward home, but the hlly terrain provided some shelter, and the winds died down somewhat with the arrival of dark. But … now the temperature dropped precipitously, heading toward freezing quit quickly, and then gradually getting down to an overnight low in the high 20’s. This year, when we stopped to put on lights, I remembered my experience last year with painfully-cold feet in the desolate wasteland between Rapidan and the M&P Pizza control, so I put on my full kit of foot-warming technology.

We arrived at the M&P at 9:30 (Alex, Nick and Mike), which is quite early by historical standards, because of the earlier tailwinds; Tom and Fred came in just a few minutes later.

Matt Settle, Doug Young, and Ruth Reeder were all at the M&P, so we had quite a party, at least as much of a party as tired, cold, and hungry randonneurs can handle. We suited up in our coldest-weather gear (well, as usual, I had just a little bit more in the Carradice, “just in case”). We headed off at 11 p.m., riding as a group for the remainder of the night, for another 45 miles of riding in the wasteland between M&P and Occoquan, eventually controlling at a 7-11 where I dipped into my clothing reserves and put on a wool, long-sleeved shirt.

We moved out fairly quickly, but when we arrived at the 22-hour control had only 20 minutes to spare. I’d been having problems staying awake, so took a 15 minute nap in the dirt, sheltered from the wind by a fence and a dumpster. What a lovely little spot!

After carefully buying a muffin at precisely 4:00 am (to get the time-stamped receipt), we headed north again, we eventually were riding along the bike path next to the Potomac. Someone had
thoughtfully arranged for a choir to sing to us from across the river.

Paced by Fred, we arrived with only five minutes to spare at our usual “regrouping” park bench, 1/4 mile south of the Key Marriott. We had a moment of panic when Tom hadn’t shown up by 5:59:00 and we decided we’d better ride to the hotel and check in, but he arrived at the hotel a minute or so later, which is close enough to be “simultaneous.”

This is the first time that the “Blues” have gotten five members across the finish line together, which is cause enough for celebration. But all of us were particularly inspired by Fred Robbins, who had DNF’d in our previous two years, and who this year had begun training earlier and harder, and who stuck with the ride with determination and fortitude. Several of us went to Lynn Kristianson and Gordon Meuses’s post-fleche breakfast party, and had a great time. Thanks so much to Lynn and Gordon.

With the deep, cold weather this year, many of us spent much of the ride blowing our cold, drippy noses. So …

For 2009, we will be “Blue Noses” (I don’t know how Tom comes up with this!)

April 8, 2008

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