Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Have Tasted Flèche, and It was Good

This is the second attempt at this post. The first attempt was posted and public for a while, but apparently the whole Blogger system went down. That post was a casualty. Blogger repeatedly reported that all posts have been restored "except for a very few" so I'm guessing mine was one of those few. Since I lost most of the content and had to recreate it, I just lost some gumption along the way. What follows is my second but paler attempt to capture the essence of what was a satisfying introduction into team randonneuring.

I completed the Seattle International Randonneurs 2011 Flèche last weekend, and the Flèche is a wild event. The rules do not correlate with any other ride or experience I've had, but if you want to explore the details of what constitutes a Flèche, check out this page from the Randonneurs USA website.

The essence of the Flèche is that it is a team event with a number of teams originating in different places all riding toward one central ending location--in our case: Olympia, WA--and each team must continue riding for 24 hours straight. From there, it gets very specific and detailed. But this collective nature, of forming teams, is the allure of the Flèche.

My teammates, Dan, Narayan, and Jeff, pictured left to right above at our first controle, were all pretty experienced at both randonneuring and Flèching. We made a good team, and we stuck together even when the weather conspired against us in the dead of the night.

One of the beauties of the Flèche is that typically the team gets to stop and eat pretty frequently. We experienced that only once, here in the Denny's in Issaquah.

The picture above is our more typical eating style: on the curb shoving calories down our gullets.

This indoor shot was from the Post Office in Orting. Narayan was pretty cold, heck we all were, but he declared him self so, so we took a break there and Dan gave Narayan a fresh pair of dryer gloves as Narayan's were soaked and his hands were frozen.

The rains hit us pretty hard and worse we hit the foothills and the cold chilled our wet bodies. Coincidentally, we rode through Friday night, and Saturday at dawn was the opening of lake fishing season. Dozens of fishers huddled around bonfires in the dead of the loneliest part of the night from 2am till dawn. Boy, did I want to jump off the bike and warm up next to a fire and talk fishin'. Only problem was that our constant companion through most of the ride was being time crunched.

Above, Jeff Loomis, our Flèche captain for William Tell's Riders, our team name, climbs a hill. He and Dan Jensen led Narayan Krishamoorthy and me up and down many hills. Actually, Narayan is a fierce descender and often jumped ahead on the descents. But Narayan and I struggled up the hills that Jeff and Dan trotted right up. They were very patient, and I'm grateful they invited me onto the team knowing I'd slow them down.

But most of all I want to apologize to my teammates for my end-of-the-ride stumble that could have cost us our finishers' medals. As it became clear that we needed to hustle and stay as a unit near the end to finish on time, Jeff gave us clear instructions about holding ourselves into a pack. And so we did until, following Narayan, I saw him slow down for a minute and peel back. I now had the lead, and instead of keeping a solid pace that was good for the collective I started to pick up the pace. It was so uncharacteristic of my pace throughout the previous 23 hours where I often brought up the rear, but there I was zooming ahead.

Worse, I had flipped over my cue sheet prematurely and I raced straight ahead instead of turning as was called for. Captain Jeff sent Dan speeding ahead to reel me in, and we rejoined our brethren and made it fine. But what was I thinking?!?! Good question. I still don't know. I think it was a combination of addled brain from riding so long and suddenly feeling my oats for the first time possibly due to the two large handsful of chocolate-covered Espresso beans I had eaten at the 22:00 mark.

No excuses no matter what the reason, I'd put our group at risk right on the edge of victory. I hereby apologize publicly to my Flèche brothers.

And that I think does give a sense of what a Flèche fundamentally is: a ride where each cyclist contributes to the whole and so has individual and collective responsibilities. I think I did pretty well on some counts. I came properly prepared. I had plenty of my own food (some wouldn't call Perpetuem and Gels food, but I like them). I wasn't fast, but I had moved past my recent injuries and sinus gunk to be healthy and hale for the event.

DartreDame came to Olympia and met me just after I finished--a surprise move. It was great because the next day was warm and sunny (we have had the wettest and coldest Spring in many a year here so that even Seattleites feel entitled to complain for what it's worth). We strolled around the water and plunked down on a sunny patch of lawn where she kneaded my sore muscles. Now this was the perfect cycling recovery.

Keep it teamed up,