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Fleche: Success!

by on April 15, 2012

Recognizing that a detailed ride report is too much for some, a brief summary of Team Chain Reaction’s 2012 Flèche appears above the break.  You can click more for the detailed report.

Let me begin by affirming our team members.  Randy, Mike C, Mike B, Jack, and I were pretty well matched in temperament if not in general riding ability (well, truth be told, Randy is stronger than all of us put together).  That made the 24 hours in close proximity enjoyable.  We had great conditions.  It was in the low 40’s to start and reached the upper 70’s.  We had sun, high clouds, rain, & darkness.  All these are essential elements of a Flèche.  We planned our stops well.  We negotiated climbs and descents of at least 16%.  We had only one minor accident and only one “close call”.  Four of us set personal distance records.  (Randy fell short by about 2,750 miles.)  Thanks go also to Chris L who provided encouragement at a couple of the controls.

We finished strong.  We had no flats during our combined 1175 miles.

Friday saw quite a bit of time putting together my list of items, packing the bike, and generally preparing for the ride.  Three of us drove vehicles to the finish line to drop them for the return.  We also picked up Randy and brought him back for the start.  We stopped off at Gina’s Cantina for happy hour on the return from DC, a tradition that is now 2 years old.  Clint, Randy, Lori and I went out for supper together reliving stories and enjoying the “carbo-loading” meal.

Saturday wake up was 5:00.  Preparations went well, and by about 6:10 I was on the bike riding to the start.  In fact, most of the riders rode their bikes to the start of a 235-250 mile bike ride!  For me it was only about 2.25 miles.  Along the way, I met up with Jeff who is captain of another team.  We arrived safely at The Big Bean, and joined the crowd drinking coffee and ribbing one another.  (The Big Bean opened early just to accommodate us.  Thanks!)  One team was pushing off at 6:45, the other two teams, including Team Chain Reaction pushed off at 7:00 after photos and last minute bathroom breaks.

It was a chilly 42 degrees.  Most of our team members had dressed lightly.  Forecast highs were in the upper 70’s and Sunday morning lows were supposed to be no less than 55, so we figured we could suffer through an hour of bone chilling cold.  It was about 45 minutes before we noticed the temperature increase into the comfort zone.  We had a tough time managing proper separation from Team Four Guys and One Other Guy, but eventually lost sight of them at the Inner Harbor.  We had our first and only detour in South Baltimore.  Our route crossed train tracks, and a train was sitting blocking the road.  We made a quick U-turn and crossed ahead of the train, just as it began to move ahead and block that road also.

In Baltimore, we rode along places where homeless people had set up camp.  We rode through urban blight.  We rode through places that looked eerily like parts of town depicted in “The Wire”.  The roads were rough but the people out on the stoops and waiting for the bus were friendly and often waved or sent a greeting to these 5 guys on a bike all wearing bright matching jerseys.  We ground our way north through the city, climbing all the way.  Traffic was relatively light and we had no difficulty navigating in a safe manner.  Spirits were high, and we had the whole course ahead of us.

Once we passed the northern part of the beltway, Jack commented that we had crossed both the northern and southern reaches of the beltway, and we entered into the part of the course that only Mike B and I knew (from plotting it out).  Soon we were at our first control in Cockeysville.  We ate breakfast for the second time that morning, and spent more time in the control that was necessary.  Soon we were off, on course, and feeling good.  It was after the first control that we started some of the short steep climbs.  I was trying out a feature on my Garmin Edge 800 where I could see the upcoming elevation profile and using it to prepare.  I was also watching the grade readouts on the Garmin.  Randy would ask mid-way through the climb or at the top, “How much was that?”  There were quite a few 10% & 12% climbs in those early parts of the ride.

We crossed the Pennsylvania/Maryland border at about mile 55 and entered Stewartstown a few minutes later.  That  is when the accident happened.  Randy was following Mike B and taking in all the scenery.  Randy crossed wheels with Mike and went down hard.  Randy was not wearing gloves and tore the palm of his hand open.  We rode to the north end of town to a Rutter’s, thinking that Randy could wash up and repair the damage.  The Rutters had no restroom.  We bought a gallon of water to refill water bottles and irrigate the wound.  Then after a liberal wad of Neosporin, Randy packed the palm of his hand with a paper towel and then duct taped it all in place.  Long fingered gloves also held it all in place.  That was the one and only time when we used any of our bike “repair” equipment on the trip.

Before we got to our second control, we had some very fast and very fun descents.  My first fast descent was at 42 mph.  My Garmin recorded that one fine.  Every other fast descent after that, the Garmin just didn’t know what to do.  Over 42 mph it would go into the same pause mode it does when I’m stopped, then a few seconds later it would resume.  I wasn’t looking at the readout as I’m speeding down the hill.  Jack said he registered a 46 mph on one descent.  I was behind him and catching up to him.  I’m disappointed I don’t know my actual speed.  The Garmin registered an 85.8 maximum speed, so for now, I’m counting that.  Mike C held the speed in check.  He didn’t like high speeds the rest of us were achieving.

Soon enough, we were in Wrightsville for our second control.  We topped off water bottles, I grabbed a Snickers, we got the control cards signed, and we pressed on to our primary destination … Three Mile Island.

Along the way, we encountered a fun and very technical descent (We had to slow at the bottom to about 20 mph to make the curve.  I almost didn’t slow enough and the bike was a little hard to handle.)  We encountered also our first real hard climb.  This climb was 16% for quite some distance.  About 3/4 of the way up, my legs screaming, I bailed, got off, and walked.  I was embarrassed, but there was no way I was going to be able to make it up the hill.  My heart rate was spiked and I couldn’t turn the pedals quick enough to keep moving uphill.  As I think about this, I’m sure that a good part of this had to do with my recovery from surgery and just not having enough in these legs yet.  My team waited for me, and when I climbed back on, we still had more reasonable pitches of 8-10% before we reached the top.  It wasn’t until after we had made the climb, and descended back along the Susquehanna River that I realized that we could have avoided that climb completely.  Detours are permissible.  Mike and I had a route around that hill that turned into a dirt road.  We abandoned the dirt road in our planning because it would have been a mess if it was wet.  As it was, our conditions were dry, and the route would have been completely enjoyable.

After a few more miles, and even more climbing, we reached the “scenic overlook” where we spotted Three Mile Island.  We stopped for a “photo op”, then descended into the town of Etters for our lunch break (mid afternoon).  We ordered two large cheese pizzas and couldn’t finish them.  Randy bagged up two slices and carried them on the bike to Gettysburg where he ate them at our supper break.  This pizza place had two parrots in a large cage outside.  The staff was very friendly, if not completely amazed that we had ridden from Annapolis.

As we left Etters, we noted two things.  We were now headed into the wind as we traveled west to Carlisle.  The radar was showing a lot of rain to the west as far as Altoona, and it was moving our way.  The wind didn’t seem to affect us much.  We still had so much climbing that it blocked a lot of the wind.  Mike and I remembered one tough climb ahead.  We forgot about the other one that came shortly after.  One of these climbs was about 14-15%.  The second was another long 16%.  It was on these climbs that my legs started cramping, and bad.  I had a hamstring cramp in Etters during lunch.  These were cramps in my inner thighs, locking me up hard and making it impossible to continue pedaling.  Since Etters I was slamming E-Caps.  Randy gave me something else.  I continued with E-Caps, about 2 every half hour for a couple of hours.  Eventually the twinges went away.  Only Randy and Jack made it up all the climbs without resorting to some walking.

As the route flattened out coming into Carlisle, we caught more of the wind and a few light sprinkles.  As we hit Carlisle, I was feeling pretty good again and led the way to the hole-in-the-wall Control that I found when mapping the course.  Carlisle was also where we ticked over 200k distance on this ride.  At the control we were a novelty.  The clerk was extremely curious about my mirror attached to my goggles.  One woman asked if she could ride with us, but when she learned we were going more than a mile, she changed her mind.  Another young woman offered to take us to DC, because she was leaving right now to drive there.  We politely declined and spent the next 13 hours traveling to get there.

Leaving Carlisle, we prepared for darkness, making sure all the reflectors and lights were operating.  Sunset wasn’t far away.  There were a few light sprinkles in the air at times too.

Between Carlisle and Gettysburg we had a mountain to climb.  Over about 15 miles of constant climbing we were able to maintain a pretty steady pace.  Gaps would open between us as the climbs were “every man for himself”, but we would often wait at the top of a particularly steep pitch, rest, and then move to the next one.  Gettysburg seemed to take forever.  We were riding in the dark, with little clue as to where we were.  The last 10 miles to Gettysburg just seemed to drag on.  I think that was because we planned a longer stop and “supper”.

When we arrived at the Friendly’s Chris L met us.  He joined us for a huge vanilla milkshake.  The milkshake was our appetizer and it sure went down fast and hit the spot.  We ordered food, and I even salted my fries in addition to what they had on them as a way to keep my electrolytes up.  We lingered at Friendly’s for at least 1.5 hours, if not closer to 2 by the time we pushed off.  I know that I cracked the whip on Randy and Jack telling them that if we didn’t leave soon, we might be disqualified.  That got them moving.  Ah, the joys of being the Captain.

The best part of the stop in Gettysburg for me was changing into clean socks, and base layer.  Getting out of salt encrusted clothing just felt good.  Rain was moving in, but as we prepared to push off, none of us wanted to concede that we might get wet.  We did not put on rain gear, deciding instead that if it was needed, we would stop and do that.

The rain held off for less than 10 miles.  We stopped, donned rain gear in the drive way of a farm home, and then steadily slogged on toward Frederick.  The route from Gettysburg to Frederick was a real joy.  There were few hills to climb and it was generally downhill.  It was in a light steady rain, but all that meant was that those dry clean socks were no longer dry.  We attempted to make up some time because we wanted a full 2 hour stop in Gaithersburg, but the dark and rain held our speed in check.  Our lights just didn’t illuminate wet roadways very well.

In Frederick, we recognized that if all went well we could still get about an hour and a half in Gaithersburg.  People quizzed me about the terrain, and I recalled some real climbs.  Jack had driven the route from Frederick to Gaithersburg, and recalled a few rollers.  As we pulled out after a short stop, it started raining again a little harder.

It was everything we could do to not complain about the terrain between Frederick and Gaithersburg.  We would descend into a valley, then climb up out of it in the granny gear.  Over and over and over again this happened.  I think it was about a dozen of those steep climbs.  But when I look at the elevation profile now, they aren’t there.  There are just a few.  I know all my team members will claim about a dozen long slow climbs in that stretch.  Yet no one whined or complained.

Eventually, we made it, and pulled in with about 1.5 hours of time before our 5:00 am departure.  It was a Flèche party.  At least 3 teams were there.  They were short staffed.  It took an hour for us to get our food delivered to the table.  We snarfed it down quickly, paid, got our control cards signed, and were back on the road about 5:05.  Next stop … the finish by way of my family.

You see, Lori, my daughter and her husband were in northern Bethesda waiting to cheer us on.  They had three cowbells, great lungs, and a camera.  As we sped by, all were in active use.  It was good to see them.  That was about mile 227 on the day.

Randy had clarified the rules, and was ready to ride fast and hard to the finish.  We had been on the bike long enough.  Coming down Wisconsin Ave, especially from the National Cathedral, we let the bikes fly.  It was not unusual to see 28 – 30 mph on the Garmin over very rough roads.  No one fell, and soon we were pulling into the finish at the Key Bridge Marriott.  We rode through the entry overhang, then as a team, took a victory lap.   We were the only team we saw that took the extra lap.  The time was 6:30 am.  We greeted other riders as they arrived.  We changed into real shoes and dry clothes.  (The rain had stopped by Gaithersburg.)  We ate a hearty breakfast.  We all looked like death warmed over … joyous at the same time.

When we mapped the route, Ride With GPS pegged our climbing at 9,870′.  My Garmin reads 15,843 and Mike B’s reads 13,808.  I’ll believe the Garmin.  Let’s call it 14,000 feet of climbing.  That’s a mile more than anticipated.

What a great time!  I’ll do it again in a heartbeat.  What an accomplishment for the team.

There were 9 teams riding from DC Randonneurs and all finished.  It was a record number of participants, and certainly Severna Park Peloton’s 15 riders helped.

We were able to get a little pre-ride publicity from Severna Park Patch.

More photos later?

This Ride, counting the ride to the start: 237.75 miles
Month: 446.6 miles
2012: 1377.8 miles
Total since 1/1/2010: 15231.5 miles

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From → Cycling, Flèche

3 Comments
  1. Atta Boy Earl , Top Shelf Report , sorry to hear of Randy ‘s early mishap ….. OUCH
    I myself have Never done a Fleche , and it is rare that anyone but Ping rides with me
    by choice , for any real distance , and she only does it because we are on the same bike
    Lucky You Are ….. REV RIDER ……. Ya did Good

  2. Wow, what a ride! Congratulations on an incredible accomplishment and thanks for the great report so soon after the event. I suspect I would still be comatose on Sunday, assuming I could even finish the ride at all. Your descriptions of the rollers left me tired just reading them – I can only imagine the tedium. Again, well done!

  3. Congrats to all of you. Nice job on a tough route. Enjoyed the report as well

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