2017 Fleche: Team Once in a Blue Moon

It’s been a week since our six-person, five-bike team Once in a Blue Moon rode 226 miles in 24 hours on April 22-23 as part of the D.C. Randonneurs 2017 fleche, and I’m just now getting my head clear to post our story, so forgive the tardiness. It’s worth it to get a story that isn’t clouded by sleep deprivation, I hope.

In case you are unaware of the fleche, it’s the main team randonneur event of the year. Teams of up to five riders or bikes (tandems count as one bike, yay!) make up their own route that covers at least 360 kilometers (223.6 miles), with 24 hours to finish and no stops of longer than two hours, so you can’t race and finish way early.

Interested? Perplexed? Shocked, even? Typical for randonneuring, there are a bunch of rules, see them here. In sum, it’s a long ride with time limits, just like other randonneur rides, but you get to make up your own route and have to finish together.

I tried to get this post out earlier in the week but needed time to process the whole event and catch up on my sleep.  I always think I’m back to normal from the fleche after just one or two night’s sleep, but it always takes longer.

The Fleche: What the Heck is That?

We like the fleche but mostly during the ride and after. In advance the concept is daunting.

The fleche is run on or near the Easter weekend so spring weather is a given. Riders have to bring night/cold/wet weather gear, and of course learn how to stay awake in the wee hours. They also have to get to a remote start, if a point-to-point route is chosen to the designated finish at the Key Bridget Marriott in Arlington, across the Potomac River from Washington.

This year our team had two randonneur newbies which added another bit of extra uncertainty – though they did fine! More below.  A team must have at least three bikes finish together for an official result, but the goal is always to complete the ride with nobody dropped, and optimally riding as a group the entire way.

Sunny skies in Cumberland for our arrival

 

Lastly, there is always the threat of bad weather. It’s rare that there is no rain somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic on a fleche weekend, and usually some winds. Every team (this year there were seven that attempted the DC Randonneurs event, five were successful) throws the dice in deciding their general direction regarding the weather. Last year half of 10 teams abandoned because of a massive cold front from the northwest with gusty winds.

This year we started in Cumberland, Md., at the northern end of the C&O Canal Towpath where it meets Great Allegheny Passage Trail that links Washington with Pittsburgh. Mary and I drove out Friday morning in a rental minivan with the Spectrum tandem, which isn’t allowed on the train because it’s too long – the tandem, that is!

It fits!

Clean, for the moment

 

Cumberland has an Enterprise franchise that accepted a one-way rental, and a staffer drove us back to the hotel, which was nice.

Our Team

Team OIABM was drawn together by our English pal and captain Jerry Seager, who loves to provide cue sheets in proper European kilometers instead of miles, finds restaurants for meals, and looks for mountains and dirt roads to liven up the proceedings. For the second year in a row Jerry had us start from a town on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited line, which has bike service, so that our team could ride a point-to-point route without arranging a shuttle.

 

Bilal and Natasha in Cumberland

 

We and Jerry were the holdovers from our team last year. Rando stalwart Eric Pilsk joined us this year along with newcomers Natasha Calderwood and her partner Bilal Zia, who Jerry recruited. They are very active cyclists in the DC racing/cyclocross scene but not randonneurs, so they were green to the brevet cards and middle-of-the-night riding thing.

The makeup of the team brought its own stresses, because it would be our first ride together, but also made it interesting to see if we could come together on the road.

Eric and Jerry at our first stop in Corriganville, five miles into the ride

 

To meet the minimum mileage, Jerry devised a question mark-style route that initially sent us in the opposite direction from Washington, which was kind of strange, but hey this is randonneuring so just follow the route, OK? Joking aside, devising a fleche route is not easy, and we’re indebted to Jerry for doing the work.

See our GPS track and data at RidewithGPS and see Jerry’s route at Ridewithgps.

Basically, we took the GAP Trail towards Pittsburgh over the Eastern Continental Divide and then left the trail in Meyersdale for some gruesomely hilly & gravelly/scenic riding to Bedford for lunch. From there we turned south through the steep but lovely Laurel Highlands, landing in the early evening in Hancock, Md.

Pointing our wheels to the southeast, the remaining highlights were:

  • rolling back roads to Shepherdstown, W. Va., (for a planned dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe, hence our team name);
  • a few flat and muddy miles on the C&O Canal Towpath to a Potomac River crossing at Brunswick, Md;
  • more back roads to Leesburg in Virginia;
  • the finish in Arlington via the paved W&OD and Custis paved trails.

Friday Arrival in Cumberland

The forecast for the weekend was ominous, and that left us with some dread on Friday, with cold rain forecast for most of Saturday and all of Saturday night. Our hopes were pinned on the chance that the rain would somehow miss us.

Mary and I got into Cumberland under sunny skies and light breezes, an ironic touch. I forgot my knee warmers at home but we found some nice Endura ones at the friendly nearby Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop, right by our Fairfield Inn hotel.

We had just one gear scare. I brought my Sidi road shoes by mistake instead of my mountain shoes. They are set up with Shimano SPD road cleats so we tried them out on the tandem and they worked fine with our dual-sided SPD pedals. Using only SPD pedals on our bikes paid off this time.

Saturday: Rain at the Start

We met at 7 a.m. for handshakes and photos under heavy cloud cover in Cumberland and sped off to the early control points that were needed to verify our route. We had our rain gear handy and it would come out in short order.

Our humble start point

Eric in Cumberland

Steep hill into Frostburg

Us, in Frostburg, mostly dry

Bilal and Natasha in Frostburg

 

Light rain started after Frostburg where we picked up the GAP Trail. By the time we were over the Continental Divide there was steady cold rain, and we were shivering. At the Sheetz store in Meyersdale we put on all of our cold weather gear and rode off in drizzle that seemed to be getting less intense. Before long the rain stopped completely, which was great news.

Natasha and Jerry on the GAP Trail. Courtesy Mary G.

The Continental Divide on the GAP Trail

Bagging that turkey on the GAP Trail

 

Best of all, the rain did not catch us again on the entire ride, as we stayed behind the cold front moving toward the southeast. It was chilly, especially on the downhills, and cloudy, but that was so much better than rain.

Dirt Climbing with Eric and Jerry

 

We still had a lot of ups and downs to conquer in the first century. Jerry has a knack for finding steep dirt lanes and on this day he did not disappoint. We took on a few including Schoolhouse Road on the way to lunch in Bedford, and the appropriately-named Hill Road that took us over McKee’s Gap into Hancock. We added these to our annual list of fleche grievances.

(Tech note: we enjoyed good traction with our new tire choice, the 700×32 Panaracer Gypsyking Gravelking file tread model. We’ve been using Panaracer Pasela PT 700×32 for years).

Crazy steep Schoolhouse Road

 

Jerry is also good at finding better lunch spots. This time we enjoyed the farm-to-table restraurant Horn O Plenty in Manns Choice, where Mary and I each had a Monte Cristo sandwich – a ham-and-cheese on French toast – which must have had 1,000 calories, and we didn’t leave any behind. The staff was really great too about getting us our food fast. Eric shot past the place (it was easy to miss), but he returned with five bonus miles and they got him fed in fast order.

Big Lunch at Horn O Plenty

 

The many hills in the area offered fantastic views but they came with a downside for a fleche team with a tandem included – we became well strung out.  The fast downhill speed of the tandem (48+ m.p.h. on one hill) pulled us away from the group and we rode a number of the miles by ourselves, with Eric coming up from time to time on the ascents before we’d fly off again. Jerry,

Natasha and Bilal were out of sight behind us somewhere, which made us worry, but we figured there would be a regrouping in Hancock. Temperatures remained in the 50s, not ideal but warm enough.

Up in the Hills courtesy. Mary G

 

We arrived at Hancock way behind schedule, at about 6 p.m., or 11 hours for the first 115 miles, and the rest of the group was some minutes back. We were barely making minimum overall speed for an official finish. Not good!

Dinner was not happening at the Blue Moon in Shepherdstown – the restaurant would be closed at 9 long before we got there, and Natasha’s stomach was acting up, keeping her from getting nutrition and slowing her progress.

There was some consternation at this point about our team prospects. We decided to split up, with Bilal and Natasha taking some extra time to see if she could recover. It was sad but we had to move on if there was to be any chance of making an official finish.

The Reunion and the Magic

Along the way to Shepherdstown, riding by ourselves, we got off course for a couple of miles. After returning we noticed bike lights ahead and eventually caught up to Natasha and Bilal, who had gotten past us. Natasha was so surprised to see us that she initially thought we were some other tandem couple riding around in the dark!

Meanwhile, Jerry and Eric found a pizza place in a shopping center near Hainsville and we had a happy gathering. Natasha’s appetite returned, we got plenty to eat, and set out in good spririts. The gentle terrain kept the group together and the miles flew by.

There was conversation. There was laughter. We stuck together and got into Sheperdstown late but happy.

Racing to the Finish

The night ride was foggy and damp but mostly uneventful, except for a chance meeting with the Severna Park-based Four Guys and Another Guy team at Harpers Ferry. Our group stopped under the pedestrian bridge across the Potomac River after midnight, only to hear people clomping down the spiral staircase above. Another happy meetup!

After some pleasantries they sped off east while we took the C&O south, splashing through the puddles, toward our next control at Knoxville outside of Brunswick, Md.

Eric in Knoxville

 

Our final goals were a 7-11 control in Leesburg, and then our last control at Amphora diner in Herndon, which we had to reach by 5 a.m. We knew it was going to be close. After getting confused in an apartment complex trying to get on the W&OD again in Leesburg that required a bit of bushwhacking, we rode hard to get to Amphora, and made it with about 10 minutes to spare.

After a 20-minute rest we trundled out toward Arlington, and a randonneur team time trial formed. We arrived with seconds to spare at 6:59 a.m.! It was a joyous moment after a long and at times tough ride.

Team portrait at the finish. Courtesy Mike Wali.

 

Final Thoughts

There is a lot of talk in cycling these days about epic adventure rides, particularly on gravel. The fleche, at least when Jerry is making up the route, is a great way to experience the long miles, night skies and remote roads right here in the Mid-Atlantic. This year’s edition was particularly challenging and an official result wasn’t always a sure thing. Our team pulled together in the dead of night and made it happen, and for that I’m proud of them and us.

It was a pleasure to ride with Natasha and Bilal, who remained calm and resolute throughout.

And, as always, special kudos are due to Mary, who rode with her usual aplomb. I’m always glad to be part of our tandem team.

Mary and Me. She looks much fresher. Courtesy Mike Wali.

Fleche Training Weekend: Spring is here?

Four of our five-person Team Definite Maybe hit the road on Saturday from Warrenton for a shakedown ride to get our legs in shape for the D.C. Randonners Fleches Velocio on April 6. That would be Lane G. and Bennett M. on single bikes, and me & MG on our tandem. (The fifth Beatle Mike R. could not join us.)

Bennett and Lane headed south

Bennett and Lane headed south

What is a fleche? It is a 24-hour team ride first run by French randonneurs in 1947, culminating in an Easter rally. Teams start from different locations on self-selected routes that converge on a common finish point and time for a celebration.

Being a randonneur event, it has some rules. The ride must be 24 hours in duration with no rest stop longer than two hours. Teams must cover a minimum of 360 kilometers (about 224 miles) with at least 25 kilometers ridden in the final two hours.

Because the D.C. Randonneurs set the finish line at 7 a.m. Sunday at the Key Bridge Marriott hotel in Arlington, this makes for interesting Star Wars cantina-style scenes at area 24-hour establishments.

Teams typically pick an all-night diner or convenience store as a 22-hour stop, where they linger until 5 a.m. This mandatory stop puts them in the mix with the late party crowd and the early Sunday risers.

As you may have realized, we ride all night. Bright bike lights, reflective vests and quiet roads are important. So is coffee!

See more at the Randonnuers USA site here.

A good long ride a couple weeks out from the event helps get the legs, seats and confidence in shape. This year we initially planned a two-day team trip starting with a 155-miler from Sperryville, Va. to Lexington, Va., west of the Blue Ridge Parkway. To our disappointment the weather forecast for the 115-mile Sunday return was terrible, with sleet and snow predicted at higher elevations.

We postponed that ride for another time and went with a terrific standby, the one-day Gordonsville Fleche Tuneup 155-mile loop. It was cued by local route whiz Lynn K. a few years ago and remains a favorite early season jaunt.

Our route to Gordonsville, staying east of the Blue Ridge around Culpeper, Va.

Our route to Gordonsville, staying east of the Blue Ridge around Culpeper, Va.

Our full route details from my GPS are here.
You can see more photos: MG’s, Bennett’s and mine.

The course winds over hilly roads west and south from Warrenton around Culpeper to Gordonsville for lunch. Riders then make a run to Orange and back to Warrenton over flatter terrain.

This plan also meant missing the D.C. Randonneurs 200K brevet out of Urbana, Md., the same day. Our schedules did not allow us to wait until next weekend for a long shakedown ride, so we had to experience it through the photosets of our club mates Bill Beck and Mike Wali.

We did get to see our neighbor Lisa S. leaving at the same time as us as she was driving up to Urbana. That Zipcar ahead of us with the bike in the back at 5 a.m. — her!

Our foursome gathered at 6:30 a.m., at first light. Temperatures hovered around freezing with light winds, and we knew it would get even colder out of town. Lane and Bennett were still assembling when we left on the tandem but they’d be up to us soon enough.

The departure straight downhill from the parking lot was menacingly cold, made worse by my decision to leave my balaclava and helmet cover behind. My sinuses ached so badly that I had to drop my head to shield them, which caused cold air to flow over my glasses. My tear ducts promptly sprayed the inside of my lenses, making vision difficult. MG wailed about her legs because she had worn light tights for the warmer temperatures predicted later in the day.

The route climbed out of Warrenton, which warmed us on the uphills. Then we froze again on the downhills and in the forested sections between horse and cow pastures. I knew it was cold because my Camelbak tube froze solid, not unlike my cheeks and nose. Our booties and chemical toe warmer pads helped keep our feet somewhat warm, but after a few miles they started to ache too.

Lane and Bennett reached us near Flint Hill, before our first rest stop at mile 30 at Washington, Va. By then the sun had fully risen.

Yes, I am from the future. It's so cold here!

Yes, I am from the future. It’s so cold here!

We ate and waited awhile to let the sun climb higher. The temperatures were still not anything like warm by the time we had to go, and MG put on most everything she had for the departure. We rolled off toward the sublime Fort Valley Road — or F.T. Valley Road, depending on the road sign you come across.

This road consists of a series of rollers toward the Blue Ridge, culminating in the high point of the day, the climb up Old Rag Mountain via Etlan Road.

Lane makes a friend at Old Rag Mountain

Lane makes a friend at Old Rag Mountain

A friendly puppy charged out to investigate and made friends at the top where we stopped to regroup. On the other side we saw the only other road riders of note today, a group tooling up toward the mountain from the opposite direction.

From here our routes diverged. The long haul to Gordonsville at mile 87 prompted Lane and Bennett to detour to the Yoder’s Store south of Madison while we stayed to the cued course. Light winds made the going easy — other than grinding up hill after hill — and we stopped along the way to take off layers. The hills and valleys teemed with horses, cattle and birds.

The fields are alive under bright sun

The fields are alive under bright sun

Time for a roadside break on Blue Ridge Turnpike

Time for a roadside break on Blue Ridge Turnpike

We reached Gordonsville at 1:40 p.m., after the infamous hard climb into town. This was later than we wanted and there was no sign of Lane and Bennett at our appointed lunch spot at Fabio’s Pizza.

Oh well, how slow we are! They must have given up and left us. Sadness.

Not so, whew! They rolled up about five minutes later and we enjoyed a pleasant hour. Our waitress was super-nice, brought extra water for us and ignored the fact that we brought in our own drinks. For that, we pumped up the tip.

I am always impressed by the courtesy we’re given in these small towns despite our out-of-place obvious appearance. We’re riding our bikes on the roads, for heaven’s sake; not normal. She warned us about the drivers, but we had no problems this day.

The next big question was whether we had time to stop in Orange, Va. in 14 miles for a coffee at the Sheetz convenience store. By the time we arrived the answer was yes. Getting up at 4:30 a.m. leads one to crave caffeine in the late afternoon, though I’m not sure of the science behind this.

Lane and Bennett (courtesy B. Minton)

Lane and Bennett (courtesy B. Minton)

Me and MG in Orange. No jackets! (courtesy B. Minton)

Me and MG in Orange. No jackets! (courtesy B. Minton)

The afternoon sun was bright and by now we had put away our jackets and winter caps. We loved the feeling of spring to come and took photos to celebrate. Loose dogs came out to give us friendly encouragement.

Full Flight! (courtesy MG)

Full Flight! (courtesy MG)

The remainder of the route was over familiar roads, as the route was created from one of the club’s 300K brevets. The goal now was to get back to Warrenton by nightfall around 7:30 p.m., and we almost did it.

The starter raises his pistol for the final leg to the finish. (courtesy B. Minton)

The starter raises his pistol for the final leg to the finish. (courtesy B. Minton)

We rolled the final 54 miles into a slight headwind and took one more rest stop, which got us back to the car at 8 p.m. There was just a sliver of light still in the sky.

MG in fading light

MG in fading light

After a casual dinner in town the day was complete. It was long, but satisfying. Many thanks to Lane and Bennett for the companionship and laughs. By all indications we are set for a good fleche.

Epilogue:

Both MG and I woke up with dehydration headaches on Sunday morning. After puttering around over breakfast and espressos we got out for another 37 miles on a meander-and-eat recovery ride. First we went up to Bethesda via the Capital Crescent Trail and had a muffin. Then we went to Potomac for lunch before rolling back home for afternoon naps.

We realized we had not consumed enough liquid on Saturday. MG and I find it a challenge to drink enough on cold days.

On the positive side, getting out on Sunday was a sign that our legs are getting stronger, just in time for the big ride in two weeks.

Fleche Footnotes: Table for Five

Hi friends. I meant to write a post earlier this week, but my post-fleche fatigue and other duties kept me from doing so.

Speaking of the fleche, I wrote a little bit about some of its particulars previously. Last weekend, I ventured out with Team Table for Five for the 2012 iteration of the adventure.

Table for Five at the finish (c) Bill Beck

Felkerino put together quite a nice ride report detailing our experience, but I also wanted to throw my two cents into the ring. (Mixed metaphor of badness, ha!)

The fleche is one of the strangest rides I think I’ll ever do. As a recreational runner and cyclist, I’m used to participating in events where you have a set distance to cover and a specific time limit within which to accomplish it.

In addition, the faster you complete the distance, the better your place in the pack of entrants, the sooner you can stop pedaling, and the more post-event napping you can get in before resuming regular life.

Bye bye, D.C. See you in 24 hours!

The fleche, like many of the events I just described, is also a predetermined overall distance, and must be completed in a time limit of 24 hours.

However, unlike other sporting events, there is no reward for finishing earlier than 24 hours except perhaps a disqualification for not following the rules.

That’s because the fleche is a 24-hour cycling odyssey. No more, no less. Yes, we make stops along the way but the point is to keep moving.

The longest a team can stop at any one place is two hours. So you can’t ride half of your fleche, sleep for five hours, and then ride the other half.

If you pedal your brains out and decide to cover extra miles, it doesn’t matter. You only get credit for covering 360KM.

If you go too fast, you start to have to worry about staying more than two hours at any one stop or finishing the ride too early, both of which can result in a ride disqualification.

The fleche is all about that 24-hour journey with your team.

Eric and Lane

Ah yes, the team. The team rides as a group. Generally, there’s no value in surging ahead of your teammates. You all must finish together in order to officially finish the ride. The point of the event is to cover your team’s full distance, in 24 hours, together.

The fleche encourages one to pedal earnestly, but not frenetically. It’s a ride where stopping to smell the roses (and eating something while you do it) is encouraged.

As I rode along this past weekend, there were times where I felt the need to push along. I wasn’t sure why. Sometimes I get that feeling around sunset. Must pedal. Time to start heading for home. Other times I was totally in the moment, just pedaling steadily, unhurriedly taking in the scenery, as though I could do it forever.

I read tweets and Facebook updates of others who were riding. This was the first time I had ever kept track of anyone this way. It was fun to see how people were doing, where teams happened to be at any given point of their ride, and the miles they had covered. It was weird to imagine that somehow nine fleche team were all going to converge at the finish in Arlington. At times people seemed pretty spread out.

Some teams started earlier than others. Some teams covered more miles than required. Some teams carried an overall faster pace than other groups. Routes varied in their terrain difficulty. Ultimately, the things that mattered for every team were to:

  • keep pedaling;
  • stay awake;
  • keep eating;
  • make it to the 22-hour control on time (that is, 22 hours after you started); and
  • cover the required minimum distance in 24 hours.

Maybe if our team had pedaled faster we could have spent more time at our various stops. 7-11. Sheetz. Rutters. The Gettysburg Diner. International House of Pancakes. While our stops were not uninviting, none of them offered an ambience that made me think I needed to sit and stay too terribly long. That was a good thing because it made the road appealing, especially since the weather during our ride could not have been better.

Ed and me - finishing the fleche (c) Bill Beck

The fleche is the one event in which I’ve participated that is not about getting there as soon as you can. It’s about passing the miles with your friends and enjoying some laughs and food along the way. It’s about seeing the other teams at the finish, eating a big breakfast, and making sure that, when all is said and done, you can say that you and your team rode for 24 hours and finished the journey together.

Table for Five at the D.C. Randonneurs Fleche

Our five-person Team Table for Five completed the D.C. Randonneurs annual fleche ride on Sunday, one of a record nine teams to complete this year’s running. We rode our bicycles 234 miles in a loop from Washington, through Virginia, then into West Virginia, north through Pennsylvania, and then south through Maryland back to D.C.

Put another way, we went on a really long ride. It was tremendous fun, and, as MG says, “an honest challenge.”

Lane G. was our captain again this year and Mike R. joined us from our previous outing as a fearsome foursome in 2010. Our team expanded to five this year with our pal Eric P., which made for an easygoing and strong group.

Our recruit Pete B. could not join us, due to a cold, and our teammate-in-spirit Ray S. cheered us over the Internet. Next year, guys, OK?

Team meeting: Eric, Lane, Mike, MG

Our Fleche Route. Click to see bigger.

My photoset from Team Table for Five. Click to see more.

See MG’s photoset here. Eric also took lots of photos. See them here. And, we have a GPS track and other data at my Garmin Connect page.

For those who know about randonneuring, a fleche one of the three team events in the sport. In a fleche, riders of up to five bikes ride a minimum of 360 kilometers (223 miles) over 24 hours, with the teams taking different routes of their choosing but ending at the same location, and same time, for a breakfast celebration.

That’s right — we rode overnight, in the dark! Those with experience know how to minimize risk and maximize the magic of riding under the stars, by choosing quiet roads and using bright lights front and rear with lots of reflective gear.

The rules require teams to cover at least 25 kilometers in the last two hours, leading to the so-called 22-hour control. You have arrive at an open business by the end of the 22nd hour; you can’t leave before the same time. See more here. We had four teams converge on the IHOP restraurant in Gaithersburg, Md. for their 22-hour control, which led to some lengthy waits for breakfast, but everyone got served and out the door.

As in the past, the DCR teams finished around 7 a.m. at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington (save for one that came in at midnight — Smart Alec’s TNT) where the 49 participating riders and family lingered to swap stores and greetings over breakfast.

This year’s event was blessed with sparking spring weather on Saturday and only a few passing sprinkles overnight into Sunday morning. We adopted a French approach in which we rode hard, then then stopped for food and drink, then repeated. They eat good food, we eat convenience store and diner food, but the idea is the same.

Our total time off the bike was about eight hours. Somehow we ended up mostly at places that served espresso and coffee, which if you know our team should be no surprise. We consider the bean one of the major food groups of randonneuring.

We started just two blocks from our home in southwest Washington and rode out the W&OD Trail to Leesburg, Va., dodging the local runners and club riders. After a control at the 7-11, we traveled to Brunswick, Md. to the Beans in the Belfry cafe for espresso and treats.

Leaving DC over Memorial Bridge.

Then we took the lovely C&O Canal dirt trail under a canopy of trees for the short run to Harpers Ferry, W.V. The beauty was lost for a few moments while we lugged our bikes up the stairs to the pedestrian bridge over the rocky Potomac River, but the view from up there is always worth it.

On the C&O Canal Trail to Harpers Ferry

Crossing over the Potomac

By then the sun was high and warm. We had shed our arm and leg warmers and made our way over rolling hills to Shepherdstown for lunch at the friendly Blue Moon Cafe. The Carnivores team was finishing their meal and greeted us briefly on their way out.

Lunch Time

After lunch, we lit out to the northeast to Waynesboro and Shippensburg, Pa., with an impromptu coffee stop in Smithsburg.

After climbing away from the river, it was impossibly difficult not to pull in to the Sheetz in Smithsburg where we got a coffee for us, a Coke for Mike and treats for all. Discussion about being behind schedule made for entertaining conversation while got ourselves fortified for the haul to Waynesboro. Nothing much happened there, but we did eat some more and sent out some Twitter updates.

Through Pennsylvania farm country

The skies were darkening by now but the temperatures remained in the 70s and westerly winds made the going pleasant. Our group got to Shippensburg around 7 p.m. as the town was coming to life for Saturday night. Snacks and espresso drinks at Sheetz ensued while we put on our night gear — Lane showed off his new MEC reflective vest, with rear pockets! Snazzy.

Reflective vest party in Shippensburg

Our one major climb, over Big Flat Ridge, took place in the dark with enough cloud cover that the stars were obscured. The air smelled like rain but none fell, and we bombed the descent down into Arendtsville, amidst acres and acres of orchards. This is where we hit our top speed of the event, 54 m.p.h. Mike stayed on our wheel while Eric and Lane took it easy, and we all regrouped for the quick run on descending rollers to Gettysburg, mile 157.

The town was active as we arrived around 10:15 p.m. We parked at the Lincoln Diner for dinner just as drizzle started to fall.

In a good mood in Gettysburg

Eric and me

By now all of us were yawning and thinking ahead to the 75-mile overnight ride ahead. Diner food and sodas fueled us, as we looked out at the small groups of tourists gathered to hear guides in 1800s period dress explain the history of Gettysburg.

Another Coke for Mike, please

A steady, light rain set in and we put on rain jackets. A rather helpful gentleman suggested we didn’t realize the danger we faced riding at night. I thanked him for his kind words, which made him laugh.

Flatter, but not flat roads led us to Thurmont, mile 175, and our third Sheetz coffee stop of the ride. MG danced a little to the terrible 80s music playing inside and we topped up our caffeine and sugar reserves. The rain slackened and we got out of the jackets. The store clerk was on the phone to police after turning away a drunk customer who tried to buy beer.

While I was in line, the woman behind me asked, “you guys are really riding a bicycle at night in this weather?” I replied, “this isn’t weather!” She thought that was funny. The clerk then took her beer away from her because she was with the drunk guy.

The randonneur hokey-pokey in Thurmont

The 40-mile segment to our 22-hour control loomed ahead, over easy roads to Frederick, Md. and then on the hilly Rt. 335 south to Gaithersburg. It was in this segment that we started having some of the typical slowdowns that seem to happen when you’re tired and trying to just get there.

Lane flatted outside Frederick, which we knew about immediately when he commented on it in a very loud and sharp tone. After the rear wheel was dislodged and the rear tire removed, a group meeting broke out over whether to boot the tire.

Lane was also carrying a brand new spare tire. It was roundly agreed that, in the dark and under intermittent drizze, installing a new tire and tube might save some time. That, and the punctured tire was showing cords, which might have led to another flat. Lane pitched the old tire in a dumpster, which we hoped would take the flat tire hex with it.

Later Eric’s front generator light went dark, but the loose wire was discovered and on we went. While we waited for them up the road, I closed my eyes and drifted off, standing up. It felt really good, and I didn’t fall down. Finally we got to the IHOP with 45 minutes to kill, ready to eat. We had planned 90 minutes there. Oh well.

The place was full of randonneurs, late-night clubgoers, and a harried staff. Then, the bad news: Mike Binnix told us their Severna Park group had waited an hour to be served their meals. Turns out IHOP is not ready for the salsa-rando late-night convergence. The riders had to slam their food and run to stay on schedule.

Lane was famished and this was not a good scenario. He dashed across the street to a 7-11 to eat, while MG and I sat in the waiting area, too tired to move. In a few minutes everyone seemed to leave and we were seated and served our food just as Lane came back in. Mike got in a few winks but MG, Eric and I managed to stay awake.

IHOP, the fleche oasis

Fed and anticipating the finish, we got back on the saddles to cover the final 20 miles with visions of pillows dancing in our heads.

First light shone in the east between parting clouds. We enjoyed the downhills and dodged the broken pavement that dotted Rt. 355 as it crossed the I-495 Beltway and became Wisconsin Avenue in D.C.

Georgetown, nearly there!

By the time we got to Georgetown, the sun was up and we had the ride in the bag with time to spare. All five of us crossed an empty Key Bridge and arrived at the hotel to a bustling scene of randonneurs and bikes. Finished!

Mike and Lisa at the finish, at our second sunrise of this event

Handshakes and hugs all around, with Mike’s wife Lisa there to greet us, and a sweet kiss from MG, made it a finish to savor. Bill Beck took our team photo and we were done.

I wish to express gratitude to Lane for overseeing our route and controls, to Eric and Mike for being such good company, and to MG for being her patient and strong self. This was our second fleche together on tandem and we loved it.

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

2011 Fleche: Team Four Guys and Another Guy

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.

Riders on the Storm

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.

Drat! Flat!

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.

At Dinner. 140 done, 100 to go.

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
water.

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.

Chip

DC Randonneurs Soggy 2011 Fleche — Not Soon Forgotten

There is always some kind of fleche drama every year, usually of the amusing variety about teams scrambling for riders and route selections. The 2011 D.C. Randonneurs event last Saturday was of a different nature altogether.

The drama came from Mother Nature, to be precise. The date coincided with the gigantic spring storm moving up the East Coast, the one that caused huge damage in North Carolina. We had been expecting rain on Saturday, but by Thursday, the forecast became downright ominous.

The National Weather Service ramped up predictions of a violent collision of a warm moisture-soaked coastal low pressure system into a high-velocity cold front from the west. It was the kind of storm that generates heavy rains, huge winds, thunderstorms and possible tornadoes.

I started researching the scary terms showing up in the Weather Service discussions, such as negatively tilted trough. Not that I understood everything, but it all added up to a big red flag to me.

Our fleche team, Team Table for Five, started exchanging emails on Thursday about whether we would ride or not. There was not much enthusiasm for a 24-hour ride in biblical conditions.

Friday morning, our RBA Bill Beck polled the captains of the eight teams to ask if they would agree to move the date to April 30. Captain Lane G. got in touch with us and we unanimously agreed to reschedule, even if it meant one of our team could not join us.

Then Bill learned that the date could only be moved a week, and next Saturday was already booked with our Old Rag 200K ACP brevet. He checked the forecast one more time, saw some glimmers of reduced threats, and after one more check-in with the captains, announced that the event would proceed as planned.

Lane relayed this news to us and we unanimously (again) agreed to withdraw. It was a tough decision after weeks of planning and anticipation. Yet, we all felt our route — northwest to Harpers Ferry, turning east to Gettysburg, and then south to Washington — would be entirely miserable and at times likely to be dangerous, particularly in the open stretches and after dark coming down the steep Big Flat Ridge.

The other seven teams went ahead and rode on Saturday, and just one, the Terrible Twos and a Threesome, heading north from central Virginia, had a relatively uneventful ride. See their photos here. The others ran into problems with downpours, flooded roads, gusting winds, lightning storms and a tornado sighting. Three teams abandoned mid-ride, three finished as planned, and the seventh had to use an impromptu control short of the finish in Rosslyn, in Arlington just across the Potomac River from Georgetown.

Bill’s report is below. I won’t speak to decisions made by him and the other teams to go ahead. I would hope a brevet, with lots of riders on the same course, would be postponed in the same situation.

For me and MG, braving the conditions predicted on Saturday was just not worth the risks. We are slated to go to PBP this year and did not want to worry about crashing and failing to qualify because of an injury. The fleche is tough enough without the threat of severe weather, and frankly, it’s not a qualifier for anything except the R-5000 award and other distance awards.

We also had family members opposed to their loved one heading out into the tempest. In addition, the Sunday forecast called for a windy but absolutely clear and warm Sunday. We agreed to skip Saturday and ride together Sunday even if it was off the books.

There was some spirited discussion Monday about the ride on the DCR list, mostly about the decision to go ahead with the ride, and some ride reports were shared. In sum, the teams that stopped did so before anything really bad happened, which showed good sense.

You can get a sense through the photos from Team Carnivore, who were on much the same route that we would have used. They had to stop at Gettysburg.

As a consolation prize, MG, me, Lane and Eric P. , (four-fifths of Team TFF) met buddy Ray S. for an impromptu ride Sunday under brilliant sunny skies. First, however, we stopped at the Key Bridge Marriott to see the finishers. They were in good shape, if exhausted.

Later we exchanged bittersweet perspectives on having not ridden, but also relief that we saved it for another day. It’s our nature to get out there and ride no matter what. I suppose we’ll enjoy the fleche that much more next year.

Here is Bill’s report:

The 2011 DC Randonneurs fleche coincided with one of the most severe storms in our area in quite a while. It included torrential rain, high winds, lightning, and even tornadoes. Several teams rode through a flooded section near Gettysburg that was literally up the bicycle’s axles and the rider’s knees. Of the 8 teams that planned to do a ride, 7 teams started, 3 abandoned during the ride, and 4 finished.

Didn’t Start:

Table for Five

Started, then Abandoned:

Carnivores
Fleche and Blood
Sins of the Fleche

Finished:

Blue Darts (final distance under evaluation)
Four Guys and Another Guy
Terrible Twosome and a Threesome
Three Cats and a Bird

More details will follow as teams send out trip reports. Meanwhile, chapeau to all of the riders who braved the storm and congratulations to all of the finishers. My pictures from this morning’s finish at the Key Bridge Marriott are now posted at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wabeck/sets/72157626517395094/.

Bill

A great Fleche ride

We are very happy about our fleche ride this weekend. Team Velo Espresso Gelato, with our captain Lane Giardina leading me, MG and Mike Ross, made its way about a 234-mile course without incident.

We encountered lots of headwinds yesterday on the first half, and made up for it with lots of tailwinds on the second half. We laughed a lot and ate way too much, and encountered the nicest people at our controls.

We really enjoyed seeing all the teams at the Key Bridge Marriott this morning in Arlington. Brunch made for a satisfying payoff after a long night’s ride in the cold.

All in all, good memories!

More to come on our ride. We’ve posted photos at my Flickr site and MG’s Flicker page.

Our friend Maile N. took a lot of photos at the finish. See them here. I also posted our progress yesterday and last night to Twitter, with some photos to Twitpic. See them here.

Time to get some sleep!

George Moore’s “A Rookie Joins Team NCDC Fleche 2009

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
April, 2009

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.

P.S.S.
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.

Italian Ice Fleche Report: The Spirit is Willing, But the Fleche is Weak

The “Italian Ice” fleche team of Chip Adams, Bob Casciato, Greg Conderacci and Clint Provenza left Middletown, Va. looking like this:

Chip, Greg, Clint, Bob

and finished in Quakertown, Pa. looking like this:

All Finished

In between, they went from sun and fun to dark, cold and wet, and that’s before the police got involved. Greg has written up the team’s adventure and it’s a must read for anybody who has left that heavy rain jacket in the car.

The Italian Ice Capades:
The Spirit Is Willing, But the Fleche Is Wet
by Greg Conderacci

April 29, 2008

The saga of Team Italian Ice and the April 26-27 Eastern Pennsylvania Fleche actually begins on April 25. On that day, Clint Provenza, our strongest member, rides the 140-plus miles from his home near Annapolis, Md. to the ride start in Middletown, Va. Our lazier members, Bob Casciato, Chip Adams and Greg Conderacci, drive.

Feeling a little guilty, Adams and Conderacci ride out to meet Clint about a dozen miles from the finish – and confront our first adventure. The low water bridge across the Shenandoah River is under water. Chip plows across the bridge, up to his bottom bracket in water, ignoring Greg’s pleas to turn back. OK, so tomorrow we start with wet shoes.

Chip, Greg, Clint, BobChip, Greg, Clint, Bob

Saturday dawns bright and clear and our ride scout and navigator Chip adds another benefit to his great route – a visit from his parents who cheerfully pick up our bags from the hotel and send us on our way with waves and hugs at 7 a.m. The Rando Rules specify that a fleche must be at least 240 miles and, just for fun, Chip has added an extra 35 miles. After all, we don’t want to be bored.

You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing, and Chip has placed what should be a safe bet on that: we’re heading east to Quakertown, Pa. with the Prevailing Westerlies at our backs – we hope.

Through Golden FieldsThrough Golden Fields

It is a spectacularly beautiful day and we motor along, four cocky PBP finishers, resplendent in our French jerseys, snapping pictures of each other and casually stopping to gorge ourselves at breakfast and lunch. After all, a fleche is supposed to be relaxed, right?

Randonneurs Unite!Randonneurs Unite!

All morning long, no real wind, but as it comes up, it seems to be blowing from the east. Oh, well, no big deal, we think, as we roll into Gettysburg with 125 miles under our belts and almost 5,000 feet of climbing. It’s only 4 p.m. We are making great time and we barely feel the temperatures which hover in the high 80s.

Classic PA Covered BridgeClassic PA Covered Bridge

But as we turn east, the temperatures drop, the headwind stiffens and the hills become relentless. We press on, jaws set, eyes squinting, legs churning. We arrive at Fawn Grove, Pa., just as the light fails us. We are at 175 miles and it is 8 p.m. We have 11 hours to ride just 100 miles. Piece of cake.

Dinner StopLast Time in Dry Clothes

With temperatures in the 60s and the heaviest climbing ahead of us, Conderacci, as usual, over-dresses and is ridiculed by his mates. But as we cross the mighty Susquehanna, the skies open and the temperature plunges into the 40s. Everyone digs for rain gear in the drenching downpour and we all think the same thing: this could be one dark, nasty century.

Over the next 25 miles, the complexion of the ride changes dramatically. Can you say “hypothermia,” boys and girls? We pull into an all-night 7-11 and take stock of our situation. We are all shaking uncontrollably, especially Clint who does not have the advantage of the body fat the rest of us carry. Conderacci heads off to a coin-op laundry in a vain effort to dry his clothes. Everybody else chugs hot soup, hoping to restore internal body temperatures. Nothing much helps.

Warming UpWarming Up

As we ride into the bitter black night, our average speed falls like a stone. Since none of us believe in fenders, we can’t draft without getting an icy shower. Fast descents on slippery roads are out of the question. The wind is slashing through our wet clothes and every descent is like taking a dip off the Titanic. We pray for climbs and are grateful for the shred of warmth they offer. Fortunately, there are plenty of them: we will climb more than 10,000 feet in the second half of the ride.

We stop to wrap Clint in a space blanket under his sopping jacket, but it doesn’t help much. We need to go fast to maintain body heat, but Clint is too cold to do that. Finally, we have to face reality: we need to get Clint help – fast.

Warming Zone AheadClint’s last control: No. Coventry TWP Police Station

Chip remembers a police station on the route in Pottstown. At 3:45 a.m., the lone cop on duty lets us into the station and points Clint to the restroom. Before we know it, Clint sees a shower stall, strips off his sopping wet bike clothes and hops in to warm up. After using all the hot water, he bundles his still-shivering body in a huge blanket and plasters himself against the wall heater. We fetch him a cup of hot tea. He urges us to press on, realizing there is no way he could survive another three hours in his hypothermic state. The officer asks again if he should call 911. As soon as we leave, Clint promptly falls blissfully asleep, wearing only a wool blanket. Sadly, with less than 30 miles to go, he doesn’t finish – even though he’s ridden 393 miles and climbed over 22,000 feet in less than two days!

The next control is only 8-9 miles away and we have over an hour to arrive by 5 a.m. As easy as it sounds, we realize we have a long way to go and not much time to get there. The storm and terrain made the trip incredibly difficult. We divvy up the space blanket, each tucking a third of it under our rain gear to block the chill. Suddenly, we are sprinting through the night, trading the warmth of our effort for the bitter cold. We must have a control stamp at 5 a.m. – two hours before our scheduled finish. We come flying into our control. It’s a sad state of affairs for a team that had expected to be lounging at this point.

With no time to waste, we now must go 22 miles in under two hours. Suddenly, that doesn’t quite seem like enough time. The hills, rain and cold take their toll, but the sky lightens and our spirits soar. It’s 6:30 a.m. and we have only about five miles to go.

Chip in the NightChip in the Night

But then Chip punctures. It’s a slow leak and we try pumping it up and pressing on, but it doesn’t hold – we have to change a tire. Our fingers are numb and trembling, but we manage to fumble through the change. Now, we’re sprinting again. We rocket down a long hill and into the hostel where food, friends and warm showers await us.

We arrive at the final control – right at the 24-hour mark. Chip looks down at his tire: it’s flat again. We’re so cold we’re barely conscious, but, thank goodness, we’re done. RBA Tom Rosenbauer passes out towels and we trundle off to showers, grimy and begging for blankets.

Among us, we have too many years of riding experience to count, but we all agree on one thing: this was the ride that froze Italian Ice.

All FinishedAll Finished!