Thursday, June 3, 2010

Five Fleching Friends

The annual Fleche is one of the few team events in the sport of Randonneuring. Although many people chose to ride with a group during a brevet, it is not required and many times groups will morph during the ride as people change pace and make stops. During the Fleche, teams ride from around the northwest into Olympia and celebrate a post-ride brunch. Each team is required to ride a minimum of 360k in 24 hours without taking more than a 2 hour stop in any one place. This creates unique challenges and is good training for night riding during the longer brevets. This is one of my favorite events and is the third year I've participated in this ride.

This year, our team called the Five Fleching Friends Following Fellow Fools Follies, departed Olympia at 4pm heading south to Rainier. The warm sun was on our backs and the ride felt more like a casual evening ride rather than a start of a 24 hour adventure. We ran into heavier commuter traffic as we headed around the military base into Tacoma. When I was designing this years route, I forgot to take into account that we would be riding through the most populated areas during rush hour. Luckily, there was a large shoulder and the traffic gave us plenty of room. Corey and I came up with the idea of this route based on where we would be spending our two hour nap. Some groups spend that time sleeping in a gas station, Denny's, or Post Office, but we opted for a warmer option of the hospitality of fellow rando rider Jon who happened to live about 100 miles away in Port Townsend.

It felt strange bicycling towards a major city, usually we are heading away. We were distracted by a beautiful sunset over the Olympics as we approached the Narrows Bridge. As dusk settled, we prepared for night riding with reflective gear and some warmer clothes. The night air was cool, but warmer than I was expecting. I have ridden a few times on the Kitsap Peninsula and knew that it was hilly. So I avoided those hilly roads in hope of finding a new secret flat route into Belfair. Of course, those roads are only flat on the map, and we spending the first few hours of the night screaming down steep rollers and then creeping back up the other side. Traffic was low and the stars were out above us.

At the Safeway in Belfair we grabbed a close-to-midnight snack and took a few minutes off the bike to enjoy the break. Just after the break Chris discovered our first mechanical of the night. He had lost a screw from a cleat in his shoe, not allowing him to unclip from his pedals. Corey came to the rescue with a spare bolt and we were back on the way, Chris thankful that he didn't have to ride to Port Townsend without being able to unclip his shoe. The conversations started to drift as our group began to get sleepy. I'm not used to staying up into the early hours of the morning and yet we weren't going to be into PT until 5am. After the coffee runs out, I start with mint chewing gum to help distract me from drifting off. Corey and I chatted for awhile and eventually we started to see the lights of the city ahead.

Jon, an experienced randonneur and Fleche veteran knew how to treat tired riders. He had beds and food laid out for us and we quickly sacked out on various mattress pads and spare beds. Getting up from an overnight control is one of the more difficult parts of randonneuring. The spattering rain didn't help our spirits but the promise of hot breakfast and coffee at a diner woke us up enough to cruise down the hill. Refreshed and refueled, we turned our eyes south and headed for home. It wasn't long before the drizzle of morning rain turned into heavy rain. We put our jackets on and heads down counting down the miles until we hit 101. A quick jaunt over Walker Pass and we enjoyed a few moments of 35 mph into Brinnon. I have ridden the highway to Brinnon many times and was prepared for the rollers. Soon, the sprinkles turned into full on showers and we were soaked to the bone. I always wondered how difficult a fleche could be in the rain, and now I knew.

We met our secret control in Hoodsport just in time to see a few sun rays poke between the clouds. These vanished again once we were on the way to Shelton and our 22 hour control. We arrived in Shelton with our tails between our legs and water dripping off of our helmets. At this point we knew we would be pressed for time to reach the end of the ride before the 24 hour time cut. We had just a few more miles to go, but the weather was keeping us from making good time. With no other option other than to go on, we headed back in to the faucet and snuck closer to home. A few more brakes in the clouds helped lift our spirits home. As with the rules of the fleche, we stopped where we were and marked our position at the 24 hour mark. We were just a few kilometers from the official end, but had covered our required distance of 360k, so we were still going to get credit for the ride. We parted ways and searched out warm showers, clean clothes and a soft bed.

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