Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sins of the Flèche

Gather two wheeled ones and listen afresh
to the Quest for the Cup and Sins of the Flèche

Though this adventure deserves a proper ballad, time is a cruel master, so this brief story must suffice. The end I will tell at the start: The flèche was accomplished. Though I needed to complete a flèchein order to get my RUSA cup, the true conclusion is much richer, so read on.
Fresh start. Photo- Keith A. Spangler, Nikon V-1
Victor and I are not true randonneurs. We do not enjoy riding 24 hours or more without sleep, through the night, often in foul weather, sometimes alone. True randos can do all of these things, and do them over and over again. We do like riding our bikes for long periods of time, seeing large parts of the countryside and the “treasure hunt” type of adventure randonneuring offers. In order to be a part of the rando tribe, we have discovered some work arounds and employed strategies that reduce the unpleasantness. However, the rules of the flèche make such efforts impotent. So, if I was to have my cup, we had to come to terms with the truth.
We dropped the guy with the beard. 
"When you have your cookies on display like that you should expect some interest." Nigel Green (photo Nigel Green)
The French are very serious about their rules. There are 15 Articles and the list prints out on two pages. The flèche is a team event, and the team has to all finish together. Everyone has to ride at least 234 miles in 24 hours. You have to have checkpoints to verify your time and route, and you cannot stay at any one place longer than two hours at a time. Finally, the last 16 miles have to be ridden in the last two hours of the event. Ordinarily, Victor and I would attempt to ride the miles in daylight, get a room and sleep for the night, wake up and finish in the morning. Most randos don’t do that, so we are almost always on our own.
Photo- Chris Newman

It was my first lead as captain, and I was lucky to have a great team. I discovered that when herding cats, especially rando cats, it helps to offer them cookies. That, and a little banana bread kept everyone purring nicely. Well, I did have to break up a few little spats between Christine and Patrick, but they didn’t throw anything hard at each other. Victor did have his heart set on going to the Rathskeller before closing time, which was nixed in favor of sitting in the diner for an extra hour, because Patrick likes to sit in diners for hours, which resulted in everything being closed after that, so I did have to strip down in a Frenchtown alley and pee on the gravel like a common cur, but I really can’t complain.

Yes, Patrick, we have to go now, it's time- Photo Chris Newman.
I know there were doubts about Victor’s and my abilities to adjust our speed and timing to the needs of a group. In spite of our differences, (size and age of equipment etc.) we worked together really well. Victor and I had spent some time calculating times and distances to come up with a realistic plan. This group hung on right behind us like a trail of ducklings. We rode a steady, strong pace making short breaks in the daylight and longer breaks in the night. The plan called for early daytime averages of 14 and 15. We built up a cushion early on with a 17 average moving speed, but used it right up with a couple of flat tire changing sessions. So, it all worked out and we were able to get good sleeps and eats in the middle of the night and avoided riding much in the cold.
Heading back out in the cold. 

Randos in the night- Photo Chris Newman

Final breakfast stop

We made it to our 22 hour control at 21 hours, had a great meal and got to spend some time talking to Tom, his lovely daughter and other teams as they came in. The last 16 miles, mostly uphill, were a challenge, but the inner strength of the randos, deep and wide, proved strong enough. The afterparty was also great, with good food and talk at the rando clubhouse. I thought it would be fun to hang out with all these fine people, sleep and ride back to NY the next day in true French style. And, I realized- that's what it's really all about. Victor and I don't often get to experience the camaraderie that develops during such an event. I had wondered why randos seem to enjoy riding through the night, schmoozing in diners and riding slow. A memory sifted in to my sleepy brain: sometime in the wee dark hours, Patrick and Christine started singing, and the others joined in...I can still remember how - that music used to make me smile - and I knew if I had the chance - that I could make those people dance - and maybe they’d be happy for a while...

Many thanks to my Sins of the Flèche team- Victor, Christine, Patrick, Nigel and Keith, and also the original Sinners and all the volunteers especially Andrew and Tom. Next up- 300km.
Photos by Kate Marshall, Nigel Green, Chris Newman and Keith Spangler


jbithaca said...

Great write-up. You captured the essence of what the Fleche is about.

jbithaca said...

Your write-up captures the essence of the fleche and why I like riding them.