George Moore has written a lyrical account of his first fleche, last month, with Lynn Kristianson’s NCDC team. The group had a happy ride up from southern Virginia, and George gives us the perspective of the newbie doing well.
By George C. Moore
They say that in making a success of a long team bike ride, the people make all the difference. So, I was very lucky this year to be invited to join a fleche team with a fantastic leader and great teammates. And they made a huge difference for me.
We rode 365 km from Lynchburg, Va. to Arlington on April 24-25 on a gorgeous route that started in pleasantly hilly country along the James River, crossed some lovely, flatish stretches of Piedmont farmland, and returned to the metropolis at night, incidentally masking the unpleasant signs of exurbia. As the sun rose in front of us on the 25th, we scared up some deer and rabbit coming through Fairfax County into Arlington.
Food is always important when you burn a few thousand calories. We found lunch at Donna’s Place in Scottsville, Va. My bowl of pinto beans, with corn bread, green beans, and a mound of mashed potatoes were perfect to keep me going. The down home feel of Donna’s place was an interesting contrast to the elegant dining offered at our more upscale dinner stop at “The Inn at Kelly’s Ford”. There, as the sun set, we were sitting on a veranda, looking out over elegantly groomed pastures at Virginia horse country and eating such offerings as pecan trout while sipping wine. Velocio might not have approved.
Of course this ride went so well, thanks to our team captain (oh captain) Lynn Kristianson. Lynn participated in the first fleche ride in the U.S., and has been a consistent fleche rider and leader ever since. I got an e-mail from Lynn in January — Lynn plans ahead — inviting me to join the team. After much encouragement from Lynn and Crista Borras, I decided this was doable, and that it would be great fun.
Lynn recommended two training rides for me to get to know the team. We did a 200K with Lynn and Berndt Kral, and a 163-miler on a cool, rainy day with Lynn and Bob Sheldon. After this second ride, my wife Maggie, Lynn, Bob and I had dinner with Crista, Maile, and Lane in Gainesville after their checkout ride of the Warrenton 200K.
I learned innumerable things on these rides. First, I learned my teammates are very experienced and stronger riders than me — for example, all had ridden PBP. Berndt had just been to Florida and ridden 365 miles in 24 hours. Bob has been riding and commuting since college (I guess), is very much a people person, and is a strong rider who has toured across the US. Jerry Phelps of North Carolina, our other teammate, rode the fleche on his lovely single speed – and he was usually out in front. Lynn just pops up those hills. From each of these people I got practical advice about a myriad of things including gearing, training goals, what to take on long rides, etc. And, I learned that they were willing and eager to mentor and support a rookie rider. I felt very welcomed and nurtured. Thanks!
Lynn’s preparations included regular e-mails about the route and cue sheets, controls, where to eat, where to stay in Lynchburg, travel arrangements and what to do with stuff that we needed before the ride. For example, on the practice ride with Bob, Lynn wisely checked out a control near Wilderness, Va., of Civil War fame.
It turned out not to exist, which caused a significant route improvement – one of many. In the end, the route was as perfect as any I have ever seen. Lynn put the route together from her extensive experience with long brevets in Virginai, and advice from contacts she and Jerry have with North Carolina cyclists who venture north into the Dominion State. As Lynn and Bob’s friend Seth drove us to Lynchburg to start the ride, Bob, Lynn and Seth shared stories and memories of other rides that crossed our driving route.
So, by the time of the fleche itself, I’d already had loads of fun doing the training rides, mapping out the route, looking for places to stop on Google, etc. Still, the actual ride was double the fun.
The ride began with an early breakfast at the “Texas Inn” diner in Lynchburg. It was chilly, but the route was there to compensate. After a short downhill to cross the James, we had a nice climb up to Madison Heights to get us warm. Then the route went across the top of the heights. As the road dipped back toward the James there was a fantastic view into an idyllic verdant green valley: the James River – a railroad – old log barns – cattle – few roads except the low-traffic country road that we followed. You could almost hear the banjos playing.
From there the route jumped from bend to bend along the river, climbing briefly through pine forests to get to the next bend. We met some fine folks getting ready to fish for catfish, and saw a lonely freight train rumble down the valley. Before we knew it, we were arriving at the first control in Scottsville for lunch.
We had many people asking where we were riding to, and it was always fun to tell them – then watch their reaction. Interestingly, people asked “where are you going?” and seldom asked “where have you come from?” So, it was easier to get a big reaction earlier in the day.
One of our next controls was at Spinning Lizard Cycles near Lake Monticello in Orange County. Chris, the owner, was very interested in our ride, and came out to check the folding cycles and equipment. He noticed details like the Brooks saddles on two of the bikes as well.
A little before Scottsville the countryside changed from pine forest to farming country. And as it did, it became more populated. The area around Lake Monticello was one of several areas we passed with lots of commuter housing. Most of the afternoon was pleasantly passed moving through more farming countryside until we arrived at the Inn at Kelly’s Ford, just in time for dinner. As we arrived Bob had an interesting conversation with four elementary school age girls who wanted to know why we were bringing our bikes. He explained it was for the same reason that they brought their car. As we left and as we were lighting up the parking lot like a runway at night, several of the staff came out to gawk and ask about the trip.
As always, the night riding was slower than during the day, but we made steady progress. As Bob noted, the night had absolutely fantastic weather too. At one point we passed a field with two bonfires burning with many people around, it what may have been a pagan ritual. Lynn had planned a steady series on controls where we could stop, so we pressed on through Bealeton, Warrenton, and Haymarket. The ride from Warrenton to Haymarket is especially scenic during the day. At near midnight, the almost complete lack of traffic was some consolation for missing the scenery.
I enjoyed seeing how the various lighting arrangements worked. Berndt was running a generator hub with dual E-6 headlights that put out a prodigious amount of light. When he was behind me, I kept mistaking his headlights (and Bob’s for that matter) for a car. Lynn had an amazing tiny rechargeable LED light that I need to learn about.
Because several of us had our taillights in flashing mode, the group looked like a runway from behind (my normal view of the group). Later that night I got to watch three of the group come up a hill from about a quarter of a mile away. At first I though it was a car with one cyclist on the outside. But as they got closer, all the lights started to bob and weave more, and I could tell it was several cyclists. Seeing this helped me understand why drivers (probably also disoriented by the lights) tended to give us a very wide berth. It also convinced me that we were very visible.
From Haymarket we rode basically north to Ashburn. There were many signs of exurbia along the route – right outside Haymarket, near Arcola, and coming into Ashburn. But there were also pleasant stretches of quiet country, as well. We decided to wait until the 22 hour control (in Herndon) to get some sleep. While I was sleeping on the sidewalk, someone wisely found a comfortable post office lobby for us to sleep in. I found the 45 minutes of rest to be very restorative. As I lay down to sleep, my mind was replaying visions of space relentlessly moving past me. By the time I had rested, the sense of persistent movement stopped. With a little massage, my hands, arms, and legs started to relax. And soon enough it was time, and I was ready to go again.
So, then it was just a quick run down the W&OD Trail from Herndon to Arlington, with a few streets at the end to get to Lynn’s house. At 5 a.m. there was still almost no traffic, but by 6 a.m., traffic was beginning to appear. About 5:30, half a dozen deer darted in front of us, and not along the part of the trail where we would have expected, but out of someone’s yard. The birds had started signing and the sun came up before we got to Arlington. Along the way we passed another rider who yelled “Go Team NCDC. Wahoo!” But, by then, we’d already gone by.
The ride was followed by a great breakfast (and shower – thank you Lynn) at Gordon and Lynn’s place. After eating, and some it was back to normal life. I know the ride seems better after the fact, than it was at the time – but from both viewpoints, it was an absolutely fantastic ride.
Find more pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wabeck/sets/72157617270789401/
Find Jerry Phelps’ account at http://ncrandonneur.blogspot.com/
P.S. While we rode on Friday/Saturday, the rest of the teams from our club rode on Saturday/Sunday.
Some pictures of these teams arriving at Lynn’s place are at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-is-a-bike/sets/72157617347917852/ They have great stories too.
I banked about 5 hours extra sleep before the event, over about 4 days, including a couple hours the afternoon before we started. Then I slept about 4 more hours after getting home. Sunday, I wasn’t sleepy or otherwise affected by the 24 hours with so little sleep, until 5 p.m. — when I crashed. I’ve been good since.