Among the four teams to make it to the finish on the D.C. Randonneurs 2011 fleche on April 16 was Team Four Guys and Another Guy, composed of fleche veterans and first-timers from the always-game Severna Park Peloton club.
They encountered all the incredibly bad weather that day and then some. Our heroes kept plugging along, fixing flats, blasting through monster puddles and taking to the railroad tracks at one point to get past a flooded road.
Chip Adams has written up their adventure. Thanks to Chip for the gripping story and to the unnamed photographers whose pictures Chip graciously agreed to let me include.
Team Four Guys and Another Guy 2011 Fleche
by Chip Adams
Every ride starts out as an empty bucket for pouring in memories. Needless to say, this year’s Fleche did exactly that. First, thanks to all who came out and supported our Fleche start. It was 30 minutes filled with fun and laughter and paying attention to final preparations before leaving. Thanks to the good folks at the Big Bean; Deb for arranging to open early for our start and to Angie for opening and working quickly for
everyone to get their favorite coffee drinks and snacks.
On the way over to the start it was sprinkling steadily and was a prelude to what would come later. We had a pretty good dry run up until about 9:30 AM when the sprinkles became a little more diligent and forced us to make a call to put on the rain gear. As it turns out, the rain gear didn’t come off until the next morning. The conditions rapidly deteriorated during the morning and a wind developed from the east pushing rain through the vents in our rain shells.
We pedaled into the Fawn Grove, mile 54, a little behind our schedule just as the rain and wind became more intense. We took about 45 minutes to eat, dry ourselves off and prepare for even more nasty weather ahead. The good part as we headed out is that we now had the wind at our backs and it helped move us westward. Unfortunately, it was really raining now.
We had another 55 miles to go to our next control in Gettysburg, Pa. We discovered a couple of miscues on the cue sheet, but I was very familiar with the roads and all of the turns since I had designed the course. I promised to fix them before next year and we moved on. Dan found a bit of misfortune when a crosswind blew him off the road and when trying to make the correction, hit the deck pretty hard. After determining he would live and we didn’t need Mike to come get him, we got going again. The real good news was that the bike was OK.
About midway to Gettysburg, we were about an hour behind our scheduled arrival and it was raining steadily. We were having to make some quick but necessary unscheduled stops for making adjustments, getting snacks, nature breaks, etc, so it made sense we were a little behind, plus you just came make the same amount of time riding in the rain as you can when it’s clear.
We pulled into our control in Gettysburg about 4:00 PM, at about the time we should have been leaving there. When we got there, it was raining even harder. We were looking forward to sitting down and grabbing something to eat and drink, but, unfortunately, it was so crowded that we decided to find a convenient store close by and help save some time, as well.
We ended up at the 7-11 around the corner; a place that we use quite often on other Brevets that take us through the area. We all grabbed something to eat. I believe everyone else, except maybe Dan, was wearing a shower cap to help keep the water out, but looking at how stupid they looked on everyone’s helmets, I just couldn’t bring myself to wearing one so I never got one. I was regretting the decision because now water was starting to penetrate my skull cap and cycling cap. Through all the rainy Fleches I’d done in the past, that had never happened. So I found a plastic bag and placed it between the caps, tucking it all in nicely so that I looked all proper — not like those guys with the shower caps.
After a 30 minute stop, we were once again rolling. We saved a little bit of time, but we were still behind. No real biggie though, because we had built a little time in. We had to dodge some emergency vehicles who were
responding to some emergency farther up the same roads we were using. As it turns out, they were likely responding to incidents created by major flooding in the area.
Five miles after leaving, we encountered our big detour. Our intended route was flooded and they were not allowing cars or bikes any farther. We took the detour that all the other traffic took, but quickly encountered flooding on those roads. We were able to ride through it. We soon found some of those cars that took the detour were coming back the other way because they couldn’t get through. We found ourselves looking for a way back to the main road. I flagged some cars down who gave us directions back to 116, but they said these roads were also flooded. Clint used the GPS to find and confirm the route so we took off in search of a way out.
About a mile later we found another river crossing the road. Clint went on through while I talked to the driver of an emergency responder who informed us the road was out. We discussed the alternatives briefly, but
we were wasting valuable time so we pressed on and joined Clint on the other side. You could feel the water trying to move you across the road, but it wasn’t awful.
Within the mile, we found the BIG water crossing. On the other side, however, were a half-dozen emergency vehicles and personnel busy making sure nobody entered the water or ultimately were swept away. We were on a descent down to the river and if Clint stopped, I didn’t see him. He just went straight through the water that was up nearly to the axles. His feet at the bottom of the stroke were well under water. Looking back at it after we were all back on the right road, that move was probably the pivotal move that put us back on track. We all wasted no time duplicating Clint’s move. Clint said we should probably get out of there so that we didn’t have to discuss it with any of the emergency personnel. He was right and we quickly got down the road.
For the next 6-7 miles we were crossing washed out roads leapfrogging a state truck that was putting up barricades with flashing lights warning other drivers of the high water. After one final washout crossing, we would make our first significant climb of the day.
The first flat of the day came midway up the climb. It happened to be mine. I poured about a half-cup of water out of my tire while fixing the flat, but we got it repaired and underway. A little way up the 2nd climb
and Clif became the next flat victim. But, unfortunately, he cut a tire on a chunk of glass. Clint had brought a spare tire and we put that on Clif’s bike.
We were at mile 127 –just beyond halfway at 6:15 PM — just a little over halfway in mileage and just under halfway in time by the time we got the flat repaired and moving again. This was the first reality check on our progress and it caused a little concern. The weather had taken a real toll on our progress, but still very do-able.
But, we just had to keep moving. We cruised on up and over the top and sailed into Waynesboro, Pa. about 7:00 PM. Though the weather had eased up about an hour earlier, it was bearing down on us again. We saw the dark clouds looming on the horizon as we had crested the first big climb and now it was on us. We were all riding steadily and with some urgency. I pretty much knew every turn, so I was trying to ride in the lead just making turns so that nobody had to look for them on the cue sheet. We made up a couple of minutes like this.
We were soon clear of Waynesboro. Though not horrible like the earlier rain, it was raining steadily and the lightening was unpredictable. Just when it seemed the storm clouds were far off, a bolt of lightening would
land — a couple within a half-mile or so.
We got into the next Control at State Line just as it was turning dark just before 8:00 PM , mile 140. We did catch a glimpse of the sinking sun just before we got into town. The conditions were improving and that
improved the mental attitude. I believe we were all ready for a little time off the bike. We told the servers we needed to be out of there by 8:30 and I believe they got it done. We, unfortunately, brought buckets
of water into the restaurant with us. Everywhere we were or had been, there was water. I probably had my low point while at the restaurant.
Nothing I was wearing was dry and I had nothing dry to put on. Actually I did have an outer layer, but was saving that in the event things got worse or colder. I tried not to think to hard about it and it worked.
We left at dusk into a partially clearing sky; all with our bellies full and our rain and reflective gear on. With the weather just on the verge of uncomfortably cool, none of us felt comfortable enough to remove that
protective shell. I know it was a good move for me. We had a couple more showers as we rolled into our next Control in Williamsport, Md., about 9:30 pm, mile 153. It was a very quick stop and we were rolling about 10-15 minutes later. Somewhere out on the back road between Williamsport, Md. and Shepherdstown, W.V., some pick-up truck slowed down to tell us he was a rider and had just dropped off 3 riders at a local hotel. We’re still not sure who they were.
We passed quickly through the Antietam battlefield into Sharpsburg, Md. and then into Shepherdstown, W.V. Entering WVA made the 4th state that we had ridden through on this ride. Somewhere close to Harpers Ferry on route 230, Cliff had his second flat. While Clif, Dan, and I fixed a flat, Bryan and Clint lubed everyone’s chains. We rolled into the Quality Inn at outskirts of Harpers Ferry just minutes before midnight, mile 190 on the cue sheet. Our plan had been to get here at about 10:00 pm and rest for a couple of hours, but the good news was, we were actually on a timeline we knew would get us finished on time and allow us a little time at the 22-hour control. We left there at 12:20 am. We had a quick ride through the old town of Harpers Ferry where we picked up the foot bridge that is shared with the train bridge into and out of Harpers Ferry. We were able to ride across to the spiral staircase where we shouldered our bikes down to the gravel pathway of the C&O Canal. The moon was nearly full in broken clouds as we started pedaling again.
We actually had to go about a half mile west on the C&O Canal to pick up a little footbridge where we once again shouldered our bikes to make it up to Harpers Ferry Road. The water was pouring across the road into the stairwell that we had to use to climb up and out. Once we were topside, the next mile and a half was partially underwater. We were constantly avoiding rocks and water, but eventually had to abandon the road
altogether because the water got so deep and just lots of rocks underneath. There was a railroad track right beside us so we climbed up there and walked our bikes about a 100 yards until we were clear of the
We were back in Maryland now, but only for a few miles. We crossed back into Virginia at Brunswick and climbed up to Lovettsville, It was a little after 1:00 AM when we cleared the town and had some good downhills to Point of Rocks. Back in Maryland, we made good time on Rt. 28. But, not before Bryan became the next victim. While crossing some angled tracks he ran out of room and had to adjust so as not to run down an embankment.
Unfortunately, the last track got him and he went down. He too was OK, as was, more importantly, the bike, and Mike wouldn’t need to be contacted.
Around 3:45 we pulled into the 22 hour control at the IHOP in Germantown, Md. We were ready for something to eat and to take off some of the wet clothes. I got my stuff pretty dry by the time we left and even put my last dry piece of clothing on. We had a pretty good breakfast and rolled out of there right at 5:00 am. It was an easy run into D.C., (4 states and now the district) with the exception of some bad roads and potholes that we were constantly avoiding. With one more pitstop enroute, we pulled into the Key Bridge Marriott at 6:55 am. What a great feeling of being done. We had had quite the adventure over the last 24 hours.
After signing cards and taking photos, we all sat down to a great post-ride buffet that the D.C. Randonneurs sponsored for everyone. Afterwards, we loaded our bikes into Bryan’s waiting vehicle that he and Clif had put there on the previous Friday. We piled in and headed for home. Bryan did an outstanding job keeping awake, though barely.
I like to say how great of a team we had this year. The rookies, the first time Fleche riders — Dan Oldale and Bryan Nelson — just strong riders and great team mates. Clif Dierking, a 2nd Time Fleche rider proving
again how much he is geared up for this type of riding. And, Clint Provenza. I’ve never done a Fleche without him and won’t.
A big thanks to Mike Binnix for having our backs in the event anything went badly wrong. Thanks to everyone who came out to see us off.