Flèche 2013

into_the_sunset

Last weekend we rode our 2013 Flèche Northwest. The Flèche is a wonderful event that combines much of what I love about randonneuring. You select your own route, you ride as a team, and you finish together.

Traditionally, the Flèche has had the goal to ride the maximum distance possible, but we’ve modified that goal to “the maximum distance possible on an interesting, challenging course.” So we mapped a course around the Olympic Peninsula that covers backroads almost exclusively, and which incidentally included a lot of climbing.

team

We met at 4 p.m. in downtown Seattle for a pre-ride meal. From left to right: Steve F., Hahn, Steve T., Ryan.

before_start

Our bikes have been honed through many years of long-distance riding. Three sported 650B wheels, and all had fenders and handlebar bags. Four were steel, one titanium. Having similar equipment is useful when riding in a group.

control_1

After taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island, we started our ride. We deliberately took it easy to avoid getting tired during these early kilometers, when we were excited to be on the road. Our first control was Port Gamble with its quaint store and museum.

intersection

From there, it was backroads for the next 90 km. Since the main road is shorter (and less hilly), we needed a few controls at intersections to show that we took the longer route and did the distance. Most of all, we enjoyed the ride toward the setting sun (photo at the top).

last_outpost

When we reached Port Angeles at 10:30, it was pitch dark . This brightly lit convenience store would be the last resupply until breakfast. It was the last outpost of a questionable civilization as we headed northwest, first toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then southwest to the Pacific coast. We took a slightly longer break here: 12 minutes exactly.

night_paceline

From then on, it was just us in the moonless night. Our Edelux headlights projected a narrow beam into the pitch-dark night. Above us were the stars – so many more than we ever see in the city.

There was little traffic – about a car every 30 minutes. Almost all of them gave us an encouraging little beep with their horns as they passed. It was nice to feel welcome out here, so far from home. Then traffic subsided, and for five hours, we did not see a single car. Our moderate pace during the early hours paid off, and nobody felt sleepy or had trouble keeping up.

After a quick stop in Forks – the only place with a 24-hour convenience store on this 200 km stretch – we saw the silver sliver of the moon rise above the Olympic rainforest. It was a magic sight toward the end of the long, dark night.

We reached the Pacific Ocean at dawn. We pulled into a parking lot on the cliff, climbed on a picnic table and looked over the waves. It’s always an incredible feeling to have ridden to the far end of the continent in just a single night.

lake_quinault

At 7:28, we reached Lake Quinault and its wonderful National Park lodge. The restaurant opened at 7:30, so we were the first guests. Perfect timing! Forty-five minutes and a sumptuous breakfast later, we started the new day refreshed and in good spirits.

hoquiam

We took another lovely backroad into Hoquiam, and for the next hour, we speculated whether we’d get the forecast tailwind on our ride along Willapa Bay.

willapa_bay

Willapa Bay was gorgeous as always, but the forecast turned out to be 180° incorrect. We battled stiff headwinds with nowhere to hide. Our pacelining skills came in handy here.

gravel_road

After a brief stop in Raymond, we headed into the Willapa Hills. The course included two gravel sections. Two years ago, we had been held up by a car rally that used these roads for a “special stage”. This year, we had made sure the rally was not on the same weekend, and all was calm.

pinch_flat

New gravel the size of railroad ballast had been spread in places. Where the cars had compacted two tracks, it was fine, but in other places, we had to ride through the deep gravel. We found that even a 42 mm tire can pinch-flat.

gravel_pass_1

Twenty-two hours into the ride, we stopped and signed each others’ route sheets at the mandatory “22-hour control”. We had ridden 512 km so far, and now just had to ride 25 km in the next two hours. However, on this gravel pass, our progress was slow. After 45 minutes, we had gone just 8 km. If we continued at this pace, we might not make it!

a_little_help

This is where the team came together. Helping hands were extended to those who needed them at various times.

24_smile

Finally, 24 hours elapsed in the middle of the last gravel descent. We checked the distance – 540.2 km. We had made it! In fact, we just had bettered the previous longest ride in the Flèche Northwest by about 6 km. Time for smiles…

24_enthusiasm

… and celebration. Another shared adventure has strengthened the bonds of our friendship.

In Olympia the next morning, all teams congregated and told their stories. We heard about beautiful roads, starry nights and wonderful teamwork. That is what the Flèche is all about. A special thanks to Josh Morse for organizing such a wonderful event. Maybe you’ll join us next year?

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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24 Responses to Flèche 2013

  1. Greg says:

    Very cool. That is 14 mph – for essentially 24 hours straight! Did you cycle home at the end, or…?
    I would be utterly spent.

    • At the end, two of us hitched a ride to Olympia, while the other three rode the 60 km to the hotel. We actually felt quite good. We didn’t ride the next day, but took the train home – unless you count the 10 miles from the train station to my house.

      Like most things, you work your way up to it. The first time I rode 150 km, I could not imagine riding further. Then I rode 200 miles in a day, and felt like I had set some world record – certainly nobody could ride further than that! Now riding 500 or even 600 km without stopping isn’t that big of a deal. Of course, we build up to it during the season, and we make sure we get plenty of rest the week before… Having a great bike that combines comfort and performance certainly helps, but it’s quite doable for most riders.

  2. Rasmus Teilmann says:

    Great report of a fantastic accomplishment – thanks for sharing!

  3. Rod Bruckdorfer says:

    Greg: The Randonneur Gods reside at Mt. Olympia. Regardless, two thumbs and well done.

  4. fosterrice says:

    Kind of a random question, but where do you source the jerseys for the Seattle Randonneurs? A couple of us are looking to get jerseys made for L’Eroica and we are looking for quality, and lightweight modern merino wool but with a vintage appearance. Your jerseys seem to fit that bill perfectly.

  5. chionanthus says:

    The difference between those wearing regulation reflective gear and those not is quite striking. How is that some riders were following protocol and others were not? Seems like bad form and downright unsafe.

    • All riders wore reflective gear. Two had vests, others used other reflective equipment that does not show int he photos. Also all wore had ankle bands.

      On the empty roads, we were plenty visible, and not once did a car approach us without moving to the other lane long before they reached us. So I’d argue with your judgment of “downright unsafe”.

      The whole issue of whether more reflective gear makes riders safer or creates risks through “target fixation” remains unclear. There is significant evidence that on empty roads with no light pollution, more reflective gear is actually less safe, because impaired drivers tend to veer toward significant (and especially flashing) light sources.

  6. Patrick Moore says:

    Great ride and great story and photos. Congratulations on the new record.

    • It was a nice ride, but I wouldn’t put much stock in the “record”.

      The record is only for the Flèche Northwest. Even the Vancouver, B.C., Flèche Pacifique has had numerous rides of 640 and more km. (I was on the first team to exceed 400 miles for that event, but our record lasted only a year.)

  7. Paul Glassen says:

    Ummm, who takes the pictures of all four of you? Is there a phantom fifth rider? I notice five cycles leaned up against the front of the Lake Quinault lodge.

  8. Paul Ahart says:

    I”ll join the chorus and give congratulations on a great ride, terrific photos and a good writeup. I liked it so much I put a link to it on my Facebook page. You guys are awesome. Hope i can do one of these in the next couple of years.

  9. Lovely write up! Looks like a great ride.

    One note — your photo of “Port Hadlock” looks a little more like Port Gamble to me!

  10. simonjhillier says:

    Wow !!! I rode a solo 170km yesterday in driving wind and rain with 8000 feet of vertical … This is three times what I did and probably harder climbing on harder roads, very well done.

    Looking at this it is hard to see how 1200 km is even possible but I learnt for the first time yesterday that food and drink make a big impact on how long the body can withstand the effort.

    Going to build up slowly from 200 to 600 and then see how I am for 2015 PBP.

  11. Allen says:

    Jan, I was wondering about your breaks. Did you include all of them in your write-up? Do you guys ever take quick 5-min stops to stretch your legs, or is it usually an actual rest? Do you take a few minutes at the controls to relax, or is it always as fast as can be done? What is the longest you ride nonstop?

    • We usually don’t stop much in between the “real” stops. During this ride, we stopped at km 165 (12 minutes), km 260 or so (10 minutes), km 365 (45 minutes), km 450 (10 minutes). During these stops, we sat down, ate and drank, and rested. The other controls were in-and-out, except where we needed to buy supplies.

  12. Jim Sayce says:

    Jan, I live in Seaview (south Pacific County) and I frequent Willapa Bay. Did you take the Smith Creek to Oakville (North River route) as part of your gravel riding experience?

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