Sunday, May 04, 2008
Full Metal Fleche
Last weekend I put the limits of my strength and endurance, not to mention sanity, to the test by participating in the Oregon Randonneurs "Fleche Ouragon". A "fleche" is a 24-hour team cycling event in which each team must complete at least 360 kilometers in 24 hours. There is a central finish point, but each team creates its own route to get to that point - usually a straight(ish) line from a distant point, but some routes have a more loop-like quality than others. The rule is that you cannot start and end your ride in the same town. But if you just HAPPEN to plan a route that starts in the next town over from the end, and if that next town over is, say, 1.5 miles from the town you end in, well, that's not EXACTLY a loop, is it?
Completing a fleche would mean riding at least 225 miles in one shot (the longest rest period allowed is 2 hours). That is 28 miles longer than my previous one-day record of 197 miles. But I've been riding further and further each time out, so I figured it was worth a try. So when my friend Rickey Smith started talking about doing a fleche last fall, I started giving the concept serious thought. And when my friend Susan France suggested I be on the all-woman team, I said sure. That was before Susan advised me that she wasn't actually riding and that I would have to be the team captain and put together the route and other documents. Fortunately, she let me use the route she designed last year; with a little tweaking to make it less loop-like (they had started and ended in the same location, a no-no under the new rules - or "non-non," I guess, given that the rulemakers are French). Instead of starting in Forest Grove, we would start in Cornelius. Normally, to get to Forest Grove from Cornelius, you would head west on Highway 8 for about 1.5 miles. We took the scenic route instead, and got there by way of Corvallis. Corvallis is roughly 97 miles south of Cornelius.
Having chosen a route, the next item of business was to chose a team name. My in-depth research had shown that past fleche teams have generally chosen names that played on the word "fleche." Names like "In the Fleche," "Fleche for Fantasy," you get the picture. So we bandied some of those kinds of names about: "Fleche Pots," "Fleche-Eating Bacteria,' "Flechely Delights," "Fleche-Ripping Weasels," etc. None of those really caught our fancy, and in the end we went with "Full Metal Fleche": an homage to one of my favorite movies and an acknowledgment that we all ride steel bikes. The fact that the movie is about the idiocy of entering into an extended ordeal with no clear exit strategy did not factor into the decision. Perhaps it should have.
We decided to start at 9:00 PM. When you do a 24-hour ride, you have no choice but to ride at night at some point. We wanted to get the night riding out of the way while we were still relatively alert. Of course, when we picked that starting time I had no idea that an emergency situation at work would have me pulling some all-nighters at the beginning of the week and just draining me in general. Oh well, if I was going to test my endurance, this was going to be the mother of all tests.
We met at the Grand Lodge, with the plan being to ride from there to our starting point in Cornelius. We all arrived at the Grand Lodge at around 7:30, giving us plenty of time to mess with our bikes and other gear.
At 8:30 we saddled up and rode over to the start. It took us all of 15 minutes to get there, so we hung around the local Plaid Pantry.
The clerk was extremely tolerant of our odd behavior, even though every time one of us went in or out the front door an annoying little bell went off. Peg started jumping over the electric eye beam that triggered the bell, but none of the rest of us were willing to risk a slip and fall.
9:00 came, and we had the clerk sign our cards, and we were off. By this time it was dark.
Heading south (and slightly west) out of Cornelius, we traveled on winding rural roads through wine country. Because it was night, we were not worried about being run over by inebriated wine tasters. Inebriated locals in big pickup trucks, perhaps, but there weren't many of them, either. Our first control was in Dayton. Although it was close to 11 PM when we arrived, the local convenience store was open. I highly recommend the hot chocolate machine there. Its product actually tastes like chocolate. The man at the counter was somewhat bemused by our appearance, and our request that he sign our brevet cards. While we were standing outside finishing our drinks, a car pulled up and a rotound young man who looked like he was straight out of Yoknapatawpha County rolled out of the back seat, looked at us, flashed devil's horns with his hands, and yelled "Smoke marijuana!" No wonder the cashier was so perplexed by us. We were not his usual demographic.
From Dayton we continued to roll south, through the western outskirts of Salem toward our next control in Independence. I have been known to describe Salem as "flat, flat, and more flat." That's true, if your definition of "flat" contains room for the occasional 11% grade. One nice thing about night riding is that when you can't see the top of a hill, you can't psych yourself out thinking how far away from that hilltop you are.
After our tour of the West Salem hills, we turned west onto the debris-filled shoulder of Highway 22 for a mercifully short distance, after which we turned south on to the slightly less debris-filled, but also slightly less-existent shoulder of State Route 51, which we would follow into Independence. Independence was rocking. Well, at least the one bar across the street from the surprisingly nice public restroom was rocking. Rocking with very bad, live band backed karaoke. I have heard some bad versions of "Dream On" before, but I am pretty sure the one we heard in Independence was the worst. We decided not to try to get our cards signed at the bar, and hit up an ATM machine, instead.
Next stop, Albany, where there were no businesses, but I had the address for another ATM at which we obtained a time-stamped receipt. At this point, all the water I had been drinking decided to make its presence felt, and we lost some time while I tried to locate a discreet place to relieve the pressure. Another good thing about night riding.
And it was on to Corvallis, where breakfast awaited us in Lynne's son's apartment. Breakfast ingredients, at least; the fixing of said breakfast was up to us. A very sleepy boy greeted us at the door, initialed our cards, and sat up with us while we ate. Lynne set the alarm on her cell phone for 1/2 an hour, and we all catnapped until the alarm startled us all awake. We has wasted too much time, he sun was up and it was time to leave. We still had 12 hours and at least 130 miles to go.
From Corvallis, we turned east toward the bustling metropoli of Shedd and Waterloo, our next two controls. The market in Shedd was open, and we got our cards signed and lost some time snacking, using the bathroom, and changing clothes as it was starting to get warm. Of course, as soon as I stripped off some of my warmer layers, the sun went behind a cloud never to return.
Waterloo, our next control, is a tiny town with one market and no other businesses.
Although it was almost 10 AM, the market was closed. I had a postcard we could have used to show we had been there, except I had forgotten to stamp it. Oops. Fortunately, we found a man standing in his front yard, and had him sign our cards.
From Waterloo, we turned to the northwest, directly into the wind. This would be the story for the rest of the day. I hate wind. It utterly demoralizes me. And this particular wind was particularly demoralizing; it just didn't let up. It was a struggle to maintain a speed greater than 12 mph. I began to obsess that we were not going to make it on time. That obsession would only get worse as the day progressed. From Waterloo we passed through Lebanon and on to the next control in Jefferson. There is a very nice market there, and Peg and Lesli bought jo-jos, which we all shared. I followed the jo-jos with a jelly bean chaser. My devotion to healthy food had dropped by the roadside somewhere on the outskirts of Waterloo. It was around this time that I stopped taking pictures - I was too tired to reach into my jersey pocket for my camera while riding, and we did not have time to stop.
In Aumsville, I decided that I REALLY REALLY REALLY needed to change my shorts. Earlier in the day, Peg had quoted a friend as describing some difficult rides as "death by a thousand cuts." Well, I was dying that death, and all thousand of those cuts were in one very specific, and very sensitive, place. The new shorts helped. About 15 minutes after I changed into the new shorts, the skies opened up and dumped a few hundred buckets of rain directly on me. Fortunately, we had seen the rain in the distance and put on our jackets, but our shorts and feet were soaked. I had spare socks and bootie in my pannier, though, and at the next control in Gervais I put them on, along with my leg warmers. After which, of course, the rain stopped and the temperature went back up.
It was around Gervais that I started losing the will to live. The wind continued to make forward progress difficult, time was ticking off, and I was convinced we were not going to make it. Lynne kept reassuring me we would be okay, but I was running on empty with 65-some miles to go. In Donald, I told the other three to go ahead without me; I'd try to catch up with them for the 22-hour control, but couldn't promise. As long as the three of them finished, they'd get credit. They were all riding more strongly than I was, and I didn't want to keep them back. They reluctantly agreed, but after that slowed down enough that I was able to keep up. I am not sure if it was intentional on their part, but I sure appreciated it.
The next 3 or 4 hours all sort of blurred together. I was in Bataan Death Ride mode; I just wanted it to be over. Lesli said I looked like I'd gotten a second wind. I told her no, it was merely sheer desperation to be done. We made it through our Wilsonville control, which involved a short stretch of travel on the shoulder of I-5 over the Willametter River. and headed toward our 22-hour control, which was supposed to be the Starbucks in a strip mall at the corner of Scholls Ferry Road and Murray Blvd. in Beaverton (or is it Scholls?). We were about 3 miles away from there when the 22-hour point hit, though, so our 22-hr point was a house on Roy Rogers Road, instead.
We still had to go to the Starbucks, however, because we needed the distance to ensure we'd get in 360 K by 9 PM. Sadly for my no-longer-working left leg, the 3 miles from where we were to the Starbucks was comprised of three very steep hills, separated by a couple not quite as steep hills. I gritted my teeth and powered through, even though I was still convinced we would fall short of our goal.
We were now on the home stretch, riding roads that Lynne and I have ridden dozens of times on Portland Velo rides. This was good, because I was officially on auto-pilot. The wind had turned very cold, and there was just a hint of drizzle in the air. At some point on Rood Bridge Road, or maybe it was Burkhalter, Lynne turned to me and said "Cecil, we did it. You can relax now." I started to cry. At the 24-hr mark, we stopped, noted our mileage and signed each other's cards. We were still five miles from the Grand Lodge, however, so we could not rest on our laurels quite yet. We limped on in to Forest Grove, finally arriving at the Lodge sometime around 9:30 PM. I checked in, showered, and headed straight for the bar. I wanted to enjoy a beer before I fell asleep, and I figured I had a window of about 45 minutes before I became comatose. Lesli, Peg, and Lynne arrived shortly thereafter, along with Lynne's husband, Fitz, and we ordered dinner. Tater tots. Lots of tots. Then it was time for me to go to bed. Normally I have trouble falling asleep. Not this time.
The next morning we all gathered for breakfast to share our stories and eat large quantities of starchy food. Another rider, Dave Read, had brought me a doughnut from Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland (one of his team's controls) and I enjoyed that as a pre-breakfast snack. Later we posed for a non-lycra clad team photo, and then I had a much-needed soak in the Japanese-style soaking pool before heading for home.
More of my pictures here
Lynne's write-up here
Total distance: 226-234 miles, depending on whose computer we looked at
Total ride time: 24 hours
Total saddle time: 19 hours, 8 minutes, 49 seconds
Average speed: 12.2 mph (damned wind!)
Total elevation gain: 5002 feet
Max altitude: 484 feet
Average climb: 2%
Max climb: 11 %