Ride Report: Fleche, Everybody Loves Raymond

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On Saturday and Sunday I rode Seattle Rando's 24 hour "Fleche Velocio" event. For this event, as a team, you have to ride for 24 hours and cover at least 360km. You're not allowed to take any breaks longer than two hours, and you have to ride at least 25km after hour 22. In short, you're basically supposed to ride the whole time.

Part of the reason I want to write about this event is that I want to elaborate on what I like and don't like about "Randonneuring". I love the spirit of pushing yourself to the limit, taking on challenges that you're not sure you can take. I also really love that you wind up getting yourself into kind of sketchy situations. The best brevets feel like true adventures (this one included). What I don't love is the ethos of individualism. At least at Oregon Randonneurs events, most people ride the event solo. They may stick with one person or another for fifteen minutes or so, but in general the attitude is that each person is on their own ride. Flat tire? Bye bye. Hit a section that doesn't play to your strengths and you get dropped.

And so I find that ORR events wind up really sucking if you haven't brought along somebody you know will stick with you. So this Fleche event appealed to me because it's specifically a team event. At least three riders have to finish in order for the team to get credit. Each team has to write their own route, design in checkpoints (usually a convenience store with a receipt acting as the control), and come up with a schedule they think they can handle.

Team Tasty Randos consisted of me and my buddies Chris, David, and Michael. My response to Chris after he agreed to do the event, "you will regret this."

Things started off well at 7am in Hillsboro. I wanted to start at 8am but the other guys insisted. Usually I hate the Banks-Vernonia trail - it's super flat, and boring, and crowded. But this early it was nice and empty, and lack of traffic meant it was a nice chance to chat and catch up.

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We got to our first control in Vernonia well ahead of schedule, which felt good. Michael, a very experienced randonneur, helped keep us from taking lengthy breaks. "You can eat and ride" he admonished, "c'mon, back on the bikes". It was only later in the ride that I came to truly appreciate the value of not stopping for too long...

I brought a bunch of rice balls, and a muffin to eat. The muffin was a bit tricky, but I managed to get it down on the way to Clatskanie. As we rolled through clear cuts on steep rollers, it dawned on me that our route mostly went through logging areas. There is something rough about a clear cut, very rough. On the other hand, I can't deny that freshly cut Douglas Fir smells amazing. It felt good to know that our impact on the natural world today would be fairly minimal.

Next came Longview, via the Lewis and Clark Bridge. If you look up that bridge on the interwebs, you will encounter ominous warnings, "ride at your own risk". I am here to say, no. It's fine. The Lewis and Clark Bridge is not sketchy. There's a wide shoulder, cars don't move that fast. It's just really high, and seems kind of rickety, and there's a lot of logging debris; but truly, it's nothing to be afraid of.

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Longview is weird. I dont' know how to explain in what way, but it's weird. Leaving Longview we hit a huge headwind. It was crushing. It took us over an hour to go ten miles. Chris got a flat on the way. Finally, we hit the turn that would take us to the gravel section. Now would be the fun part.

We turned straight into a 26.5% grade. We tried to pedal up it, but even with my triple chainring I couldn't stay upright. Luckily, the grade mellowed out after a bit, and we were able to ride again.

Michael was concerned that the gravel section might be too rough to traverse, so he flagged down a car to see if they could tell us. She seemed unsure exactly where we were going, but thought that it was paved all the way. That was a good sign. Though the gravel would be fun, pavement would be easier. On second thought though, she wasn't sure if the paved road led to Pe Ell (our next control) or not. There was one way to find out.

"No Trespassing" said the sign next to the gate, "Property of Sierra Pacific Logging Company". Now we were in trouble. On the one hand, it was Saturday and there probably wouldn't be any active logging going on. On the other hand, getting caught could mean a hefty fine. We debated a bit. I wanted to risk it, but David and Michael were concerned about getting caught. But passing on this section would mean a pretty sizeable detour. Instead of going through Pe Ell, we would have to ride along the Columbia River to the coast, and then going north to Raymond, the next control. And it would mean going back into that same terrible headwind we fought on the way from Longview.

We decided to take the detour. After about ten minutes fighting into the headwind, David decided he just wasn't having fun and turned around for Longview. On a ride like this it's really important to gauge how you're feeling before it's too late to turn back. David is also a very experienced randonneur (he completed Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015) so we trusted his judgement and didn't try to insist that he stick with us.

This section of the ride was truly a slog. Around 6:30 we passed a little restaurant, and Michael suggested we stop for a hot meal, a last meal before all the sit down establishments closed. After some well deserved fries, we hopped back on the bikes and rode into the sunset. Things were about to get much much darker.

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Now came the endless quest for the city of Raymond. Feeling the clock at our backs, we hadn't really stopped to figure out how far away it was. At this point, there were no other options. As darkness fell, we found ourselves stopping at half hour intervals to put layers back on, and things started to feel far less friendly. Near Naselle we got harassed by some guys in a truck. Should we stop for a coffee? "No, I insisted, lets keep riding. I don't want to lose my momentum."

Finally, we hit 101 and turned north, away from the headwind. The headwind was replaced by a climb. It was dark now, with almost no traffic. A sign said Raymond was 35 miles away. "Okay," I thought, "that's like three hours at 12mph." That was the longest three hours of the entire ride.

At this point, all my layers were on, and I still had to keep up the pace to avoid losing feeling in my hands. If I lost feeling in my hands I knew I'd be in trouble. Somewhere in there I caught a glimpse of silver light reflected on ocean waves. I heard a melancholy tune, and knew it was the Rando Moon. Then, Michael pulled up along side me and said he was in bad shape, falling asleep. He needed to nap badly. Raymond couldn't be much farther, could it?

An hour later, and we were all feeling pretty rough. Michael threw a hitching thumb up at any passing traffic, but nobody wanted to take a chance on us weirdos. Luckily, we knew there would a McDonalds in Raymond where we could probably nap. Michael was sure he had napped there on a 400k a while back. \

As we pulled into Raymond our hearts sank. The McDonalds was dark inside. A sign on a nearby buiding said 35 degrees. Things were looking bleak. We had space blankets, but even with them a nap outside woiuld be pretty difficult. The alternative was to keep riding despite the risk of dozing off and crashing into a ditch (or worse).

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Salvation came in the form of an all-night Chevron station. The attendant was the hero of this ride. He let us chill for over an hour. It was a weird hour. As we napped in front of the freezer boxes, I can only imagine what the passing drunk partiers, truck drivers, night shift workers, and weary travelers must have been thinking about us. At one point, I went out to the Port-A-Potty and some dude asked me "You gotta shit, buddy?" and then he kind of rubbed my tummy. It was *weird*. We drank coffee and ate cheap snacks. As we were leaving Michael got the idea to stuff space blankets into his pants for extra warmth. It was around 2am when we left Raymond.

We rode endless rollers for hours. My memory of this part grows fuzzy. I remember that I started taking the descents really fast, reasoning that I would try to get them over quickly, before sleep would have a chance to sneak up on me. We played games to stay awake: name all the states, name all the Canadian provinces, important historical dates. We tried to sing some songs. It was a battle.

After about three hours, we hit Montesano and turned back east. What luck, an espresso stand already open for the morning! She asked me how my "morning" was going. That was a relief, it was now "morning". I downed a double shot and a juice, and passed out for a few minutes. It was a sleepy fifteen minutes of riding until the caffeine kicked in. To my relief I noticed the horizon turning blue: it would be light out soon

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Around 5am I took a picture of this gas station as a replacement for our 22:00 hour control. It was doubtful that we'd make it to Olympia in time, but I thought it might be nice just in case.

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We didn't make it in time. At 7am we were still about 30 miles out. We knew we would not be getting "credit" for the ride, but we could still make it in time for brunch! You see, part of the event is a mandatory brunch get together. It had been a running joke along the ride that the whole point of the ride was to get brunch. This goal, now became a serious motivation. I mean, we had paid for that brunch, what a waste if we didn't make it in time!

Our pace quickened as we sensed that the end of the ride. Unfortunately there was a little bit more trouble to come. Just past McCleary on state road 8 Michael flagged us to pull over, he was going to be sick. What had poisoned him? It was the hot chocolate he suggested. Beware of gas station hot chocolate at 2am. Michael we be sick the rest of the day, and the next day.

As we pulled into Olympia, we found a few familiar faces milling around and made our way to the River's Edge country club. I don't think we quite looked like we belonged at a country club at that moment. Most of the other teams had done a night start 12 hours before we did, so they were all showered, rested and fresh. We resembled four day old pastries.

I sat down and had two full plates of potatoes. Somebody offered to bring me a coffee, what hospitality! As we sat down to look at our mileage, we realized that we actually had gone about 400k. For me, this was great consolation for the fact that we didn't get credit for the ride. It was the longest distance Chris or I had ever ridden! Twice what Chris had ever done before. And I was still feeling pretty damn good, all things considered.

The ride organizer, the illustrious Theo, then announced that we would all be standing up in front of the room and telling the story of our ride. Here's a fun idea: public speaking, after riding for 26 hours straight? For fuck's sake, these guys are crazy!

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