Fleche Flashback: The Terrible Twos and a Threesome

Of the seven teams that hit the road April 16 on the D.C. Randonneurs Fleche, just one, The Terrible Twos and a Threesome, were lucky enough to miss the big storms that sent three teams home and hit the other three with heavy rain and high winds.

Team TT&T, consisting of two tandem teams and three riders on single bikes, was led by veteran rider and route-designer Lynn Kristianson. 

Congratulations to the team and thanks for your stories. The fleche is a special event and it’s always fun to hear about the fun and challenges of a 24-hour adventure.

Team Terrible Twos and A Threesome (courtesy Ron Tripp)

Lucky Fleche 13
D.C. Randonneurs Fleche Report for The Terrible Twos and a Threesome
April 16-17, 2011

Part 1: “Terrible Twos and a Threesome – Lucky Fleche 13”
Pre-Ride Report by Team Captain Lynn Kristianson

On seeing that the DC Fleche roughly coincided with my 60th birthday, I figured riding 24 hours would be a pretty appropriate celebration. I quailed slightly when I realized that it would also be my 13th fleche but decided that perhaps diligence and attention to detail would overcome any superstition.

Last year’s DC fleche route from Emporia was so gorgeous, relatively flat and easy to control that I wanted to try a modified version leaving out the 30 miles of ugly rollers on US 1 – and hopefully the 15-25 mph headwinds. That meant that the ride would have to start farther north on I-95 from the thriving metropolis of Stony Creek, VA. It also meant we had to cross the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford. This point would be fairly late in the ride, so the Inn might be closed and unusable as a control. Bill said I could have a volunteer sign cards and Kelly’s Ford had some cottage rentals complete with kitchen and showers. A friend and former fleche supporter agreed to stay at the cottage, transport and set up our late dinner, carry drop bags, sign our cards and be generally helpful.

The team roster started with the essential members of North Carolina’s Jerry Phelps and Gordon as tandem captain. Nick volunteered early on when I stoked for him in December on a permanent. That day, we rode with Mary McLaughlin, new to randonneuring, but so capable and cheerful that at ride’s end we set upon her to join the team, deviously using her slightly befuddled state to convince her that riding 24-hours was a great idea. John and Cindy seemed like such obvious fleche candidates, always smiling, strong and competent, that I could hardly believe no one had snapped them up earlier. And Jerry is always happy with the prospect of more tandems, looking into bicycle bungees as good investment for the fleche.

Mary had come to the team complete with volunteer driver in the form of PPTC rider Ron Tripp. John and Cindy didn’t see any problem with shuttling back to Stony Creek to pick up their van after the ride. Transportation solved. There were some last minute explosions in this careful travel plan in the form of a new (surprise!) smaller vehicle that couldn’t carry our tandem, some difficulty with roof racks and fenders, and Mary’s loss of a brand new bike headlight driving south. A little improvisation smoothed over the rough patches.

After a group dinner at Little Italy, complete with birthday cake and humiliating public birthday singing (I will never do that to anyone again), we met in the morning for breakfast and launch at Denny’s. Overcast skies, damp pavement, but NOT raining.

Part 2: “How Seven Cyclists Schlepped their Studley Bumpasses from Stony Creek to the Potomac River”
Ride Report by Lantern Rouge rider, Nick Bull

We did not have to wake up very early for this fleche, something civilized like 5:40 for a 7:00 start. Give the tires a last pump and then ride over to Denny’s. What to eat? Hmm, Super Lumberjack Special sounds good … maybe that will help me keep up with all of these fast riders. Somehow I’ve ended up on a team whose average speed is at least ten percent faster than mine.

(c) Ron Tripp

Coffee: check! Grapefruit juice: check! Pancakes: check! Sausage links: check! Weather forecast: Uhh, it says we should have tailwinds, at least, and scattered showers and thunderstorms, maybe getting worse as we get toward DC.

(c) Ron Tripp

Soon, after a group photo under grey skies, we roll out. The pace seems relaxed enough, maybe I can handle this. We’re almost immediately riding on pleasant country roads, just slightly rolling and with almost no traffic. Very pretty countryside. I seem to be overdressed, and am getting too warm on the uphills, but I don’t want to stop and slow the team down. My new Soma B-Line 650Bx38 tires seem to coast downhill at just about the same speed as everyone else, so it’s nice that their high volume doesn’t make them a slow tire.

(c) Mary McLaughlin

Soon, John and Cindy’s tandem gets a flat. While it is theoretically possible to get a flat on the front wheel of the tandem, empirical evidence shows that tandems only get flat tires on the rear wheel, which means trying to disengage the drag brake with one hand while simultaneously moving the derailleur with your other hand and then using your third hand to remove the wheel. So while John juggles wheels and tires, I get a chance to strip off a bunch of extra clothes and put them in the Carradice. Then a quick trip to the woods because the Little Italy restaurant from the night before seems not to have agreed with me. Then it starts raining, but only a little, so I put the raincoat on but not the rainlegs. Before I get the chance to alter my wardrobe yet again or re-visit the woods, we are off.

After just a little over two hours of riding we get to our first control. I have annotated my cue sheet with expected arrival times based on my brevet forecasting model, and it says we are half an hour late, but that’s OK since we left the start a few minutes late and had the flat. And according to Lynn’s official team schedule, we’re almost right on time. I drink a dark cherry soda that can’t be beat, while borrowing Jerry’s phone to touch base with my wife. Note to self: Charge phone before 24-hour rides! Going with the theory that “wool is warm when wet and besides it is only sprinkling,” I take my raincoat off and strap it to the Carradice; Jerry takes his raincoat out of his handlebar bag and puts it on.

We roll out and in no time at all are coming up to the metal-grate bridge over the James River. At least it isn’t raining hard. We make sure to avoid scaring Mary with stories about riders going down on metal bridges, and we all get across safely. Soon we’re coming up to our lunch stop at an enormous convenience store that has a Subway and even has a few miscellaneous bike accessories like safety vests. We’ve been riding hard and have made up fifteen minutes, and the schedule says we get a half hour for lunch. We use every minute. We control nearby at the New Kent winery, and it starts to rain hard enough that Mary brings out the heavy ammunition–her shower cap. She makes me promise never to post the picture below. Gordon and Lynn find this very amusing.

(c) Nick Bull

(c) Mary McLaughlin

After a few more pedal strokes, (and having transited the “Studley Rd” mentioned in the title of this report) we are pulling in to the Ashland Tea and Coffee (ATC) for an early-afternoon “second lunch”. Gordon and John both ride away on their tandems, supposedly to get a light and pump up the tire, though there is some speculation about their true intent, trolling through Ashland with empty stoker’s seats. Eventually they come back, but meanwhile I am still waiting for the ATC staff to return from their fishing expedition to the Chesapeake to catch some crab for my crabmeat quiche. Eventually they come back and deliver the quiche, which is worth the wait. The chairs are very comfortable, but an attempt at a nap fails.

(c) Nick Bull

Not too long after leaving Ashland, it starts to drizzle. Soon it’s drizzling too much for the “wool is warm when wet” theory and Jerry and I stop to put more raingear on. The drizzle turns to rain and soon there is lightning and thunder. I decide I’d better turn the dynamo light on. As I reach into the handlebar bag for some goo, I notice an electric tingle in my left arm. Weird. I have a momentary thought about whether this is what it feels like just before you get struck by lightning so I put both hands on the bar to sprint and the tingle goes away. A couple of minutes later, I use my other hand to do something, and the tingle comes back in my other arm. Turns out to be repeatable. What could be causing this? The only thing I’ve changed was to add a dynamo taillight–maybe the wiring is backwards. I disconnect it … tingle gone.

Soon I’m riding with Mary who is worried about the lightning. But I reassure her that the road we are on is next to electric lines, which makes it pretty safe. And we count the interval between lightning strikes and the thunder–ten to fifteen seconds. I tell some off-color jokes that I’ve heard on fleches over the years to try to distract her. Eventually the lightning goes away and it’s just drizzling, and we ride through Bumpass (see fleche report title) and stop at the control. We’re still ahead of schedule, good! Soon we roll on out, at least it isn’t drizzling. And while we were stopped I spent several minutes reversing the wires on my taillight…no more tingling!

We backtrace through Bumpass, and soon we’re entering Spotsylvania County, almost home (well, at least more than halfway home). We stop at “The Barn” and eat our first dinner while watching weather reports. Tornadoes in Raleigh, NC, and it looks like there has been very bad weather in Maryland and maybe even as far south as Manassas. Which is where we are going. We’ve heard that some teams have abandoned and hope everyone is alright. But our weather is nice, as we roll out of the control into the sunshine, and the clouds are beautiful in the sunset. We have 40 miles to go before the Kelly’s Ford Inn. The miles go by quickly, and soon night is falling and we are riding on the same roads as one of my permanents. It really does feel like we’re getting closer to home. Soon, we are riding in the dark on the long stretch up Eley’s Ford Rd, past the Chancellorsville Battlefield.

(c) Nick Bull

I notice a bit of wind in the trees, and it doesn’t seem like it is just a dusk wind. Yes, indeed, just as we start the descent to the Rapidan River, the skies open up. It’s one of the biggest descents in the area, of course, and I’m reminded of PBP, descending into blinding rain. I stop to put my helmet cover on and a tandem flies by with the stoker screaming! A few miles later, we stop at the Richardsville VFD, where a bingo game is going on. Startled bingo players try to maintain their focus as seven cyclists in bright, waterproof clothes with reflective gear wander around the hall: B6! We are offered a ride to Kelly’s Ford, and receive some incredulous looks when we say that we are in a sport where we have to continue riding our bikes for 24 hours, whatever the weather–but it’s not a race. They double-check that we know that Edwards Shop Rd is “tricky”. Yes, we know. They say that since they’re driving toward Kelly’s Ford anyway they’ll drive on ahead and scout the road for hazards, which is very nice of them.

Meanwhile, the sirens of the VFD sing an alluring song about staying with them in the warm and dry to eat hamburgers and hot dogs. The temptation is great, but we tie ourselves to the mast — OK, we tie our feet to the pedals — and continue out in the rain to our main objective at Kelly’s Ford. The VFD guys drive by in an ambulance, I guess they want to be prepared for the worst, to scout the road ahead. We ride on up Eley’s Ford Rd and soon enough we turn onto Edwards Shop Rd, and a few minutes later drop down the descent to the one-lane-bridge (soon to be two-lane) and a half-mile later we come to a driveway and turn into it, hoping it’s the right one. If not, there are going to be some surprised guests at the Kelly’s Ford Inn. But it was the right driveway, the entrance to Nirvana.

After a brief period while we all changed into dry clothes from our drop bags and put the wet stuff into a dryer (a dryer, on a fleche!!!), we reconvened around the dinner table (well, all but Mary who was taking a nap). Lynn had made a feast for us, lasagna, salad, olives, bread and olive oil, wine, followed by Tiramisu. Wow! After dinner, I wandered down the hall, crawled into a bed, and had a half-hour nap. By the time we rolled out, the weather was dry, the evening was cool but not cold, and we’d rebooted our ride. The miles went by rapidly and soon Mary had finished her first double-century at around 2:30am in Manassas. We controlled and continued on. But by now the miles were wearing on me, and the 18 miles to the 22-hour control went very slowly. 3am to 5am always seem like the toughest hours on a fleche. Too much time to think. And I was having trouble having any energy, but couldn’t tell if I needed to eat more or less. Neither seemed to be working very well.

(c) Mary McLaughlin

(c) Mary McLaughlin

About halfway to the next control–six miles from Mary’s house–Mary suddenly calls a halt. Lynn says she dreaded what might have come next: “I’ve decided to ride home.” But no, “I have my helmet on backwards,” says Mary, “I took it off at the light to adjust a strap and I think I put it on backwards.” As she takes it off, Lynn takes one look and says “It’s on the right way, see, the light is to the front!” We roll again, having accumulated 23 seconds of blessed stoppage time. We have one more control before the 22-hour control, so we roll out fast with only 4 miles to the 22-hour control in Herndon. We arrive with sixteen minutes to spare, and I spend most of those snoozing against a stack of six-packs of Coke. Surprising how comfortable a linoleum floor can be. Others slept while leaning against the coolers, and someone must not have slept since there are photos of snoozing randonneurs that have been entered into the evidence.

(c) Mary McLaughlin

Most of the ride from Herndon to Arlington was on the W&OD trail. But first we had to get there, and the two miles to the W&OD felt like they took five miles to ride. It seemed like we were zig-zagging and riding in circles. And then the W&OD came off from the road in the opposite direction to what I expected. Clearly I was about as turned around as it is possible to get, since later on when I looked at the GPS track, it shows an almost straight line from the control to the bike path. Good thing I wasn’t in the lead! Finally we were riding the W&OD and watching out for deer. I was worried that this section would continue at the glacial pace of the prior twenty miles, but soon we were on the long, gradual rise toward Vienna. We crossed the beltway and regained our tax-and-spend mentality. Soon we were off the bike path, riding on familiar Arlington streets, and only moments later turned in to the Marriott parking lot.

(c) Bill Beck

What a fleche! Lynn did a great job organizing the fleche, and captaining the team, keeping us together, moving us along when we needed to be moved along, etc. Gordon and Jerry set the pace most of the time, keeping to a comfortable speed that ate up the miles (the photo below shows Gordon “setting the pace” on a couch at the Kelly’s Ford control). Three riders finished their first fleche, Mary, John, and Cindy. It’s hard to imagine how one can top having a whole cabin at Kelly’s Ford, catered dinner, showers, and beds. But at a deeper level, what makes a fleche enjoyable is a team that works well together and enjoys riding together. While this ride report hopefully has conveyed some of the funnier moments, there were many “you had to be there” moments of laughter, at things that are particularly funny only late in a long ride. It’s often those “hard to convey” moments that are the best memories of riding together. Thanks, Lynn, and the “Terrible Twos and a Threesome”!

(c) Mary McLaughlin

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