As random and arcane as randonneuring is, the flèche turns it up to 11. Not just a particular distance (at least 360 km) and time limit (24 hours), but you must use all of the time and you must ride at least 25 km in the last 2 hours. Despite this, or maybe because of it, many people profess that it is their favorite event of the year, since it is a team event. I’d done one previously, but never managed to write it up – some combination of Did I really do that? Too weird. Maybe it did actually happen. Wait, do I want to admit that I did that?! – and it hadn’t been the MostFunThingEver that others seemed to paint it as.
But, after a couple of intervening years, I got talked into trying it again. On a team with a first time captain, Jason AKA Pudu. (Spoiler alert: we all finished, and no one killed Jason. We didn’t even have to tell him to shut up too many times.) Captain Jason and Patrick decided to go fixie, Kris and I represented for the women, and Michael Svihura rounded out the team as token Canadian (and That Guy.)
Flèche means arrow in French, and part of the fun of the event is that all the teams have different routes and converge – like arrows on a target – at the finish location. To really fill the bill requires a point-to-point route, but I was the anchor that couldn’t get the day off Friday to travel to a remote start location. I told the others that if they really wanted to do a route requiring that I was fine with finding another team or not riding. They said it would be OK to do a route starting in the Bay Area. Subtitles: It’s your fault/we’ll give you crap about it if the route is lame. Which, Jason stole a route from Steve Haas, so it more ended up being more his (Steve’s) fault, even though he wasn’t even on out team so we were just giving him crap in absentia. The route started in the East Bay and looped south and back to the finish in San Francisco. The thought with going south was to cover some different territory from the usual SFR routes. It seemed like a good idea at the time. (no foreshadowing here …)
The start was at TheMostAmazingBakeryofAwesome. Well actually it was at Peet’s, but TMABoA was right next door, so of course I had to go. And couldn’t decide savory or sweet so did both. That seemed like an auspicious start. Then Jason realized he didn’t have our brevet cards. Erm… OK. Not so auspicious. Fortunately his house was on our way, so we stopped there to pick them up. Turned out they weren’t there either. He called Roland, the event coordinator, and got the OK to just ride, get our receipts and do our cards at the finish.
There was a bit of urban riding to get out of Oakland, then it faded to suburbia and we made our way over the ridge to Pleasanton. Occasional bits seemed vaguely familiarish from other rides, but much was new to me. For a while we overlapped with some club ride, of course Jason had to see if he could keep up.
It seemed a little early for lunch in Pleasanton, and I would have been fine with a short stop, since I still had food from the Bakery, but the guys wanted some sit down food, and then it took me an excursion to find a bathroom, so we were off the bikes for a while.
Finally got rolling again, and shortly outside of town Michael got his first flat. (First. Yes, there were more. Several more.) The stop did give Patrick a chance to remember he had Tim Tams. Oh S–t! Better eat these before they melt! We all helped with that. The eating of Tim Tams that was. The fixing the flat, not so much.
It was my first time riding Calaveras that direction. I was bringing up the rear, but Kris stayed back and kept me company, and the hillsides were beautiful green and the wildflowers had started blooming so it was hard to get in too bad of a mood. And, like any climb, it eventually ended.
We then got to do the descent that is always so tempting but NO DON’T DO IT on Devil Mountain Double. Ha! Now I know where it goes. Another first – control at a golf course! I thought they were kidding when we pulled in, but no, that was the control. 19th hole – it was time for a beer.
There was a bit more downhill that tool us back in to so-called civilization, expressway purgatory and … What’s that scraping sound? Hmn.. Ugh. I’d picked up a nail. Flat. Wanh Wah. Rolling again. City limits sprints. The fixie contingent had to stop and adjust chain tension. Jeez. Are we ever going to get anywhere?
Again there was a fade through suburbia and into the countryside, then along part of the Uvas brevet route, but the other (new to me) direction and then heading out to Hollister, which I couldn’t remember if I’d been to before. The magic light made the reach out Highway 25 seem rather scenic, and the tailwind made it pass quickly.
We hadn’t preselected a dinner spot, but stumbled on a nice place with a good beer list, where we were able to keep our eye on the bikes just outside. After eating and drinking it was time for warmer clothes and reflective gear. After we’d been back on the road for a while there was the OHNO, did we get a receipt? moment. Which, no one could remember, but it turned out someone had. And, I could say for sure that I’d been to Hollister.
Some of the roads from here Patrick had ridden on a Spring Classic route, but it was all new to me, and to the others as well. We passed through a mix of agriculture, ranchettes and undeveloped countryside as we angled over to Watsonville and then hit the coast. Somewhere in there Michael had another of his flats, the house we were stopped by looked abandoned and boarded up, but there was loud pounding music emanating from it.
Second dinner in Santa Cruz, at first we parked our bikes outside, but someone from one of the other teams that was already there noted that in a previous year bikes had been stolen, so it would be better to bring them inside. Although it might have been nice to have an excuse to stop riding, that probably wasn’t the best way to go about it, and fortunately the restaurant was OK with us biking up their entryway.
There was soup and pie to consume, and commiserating with the other teams, one of which was DNFing there. Jason was encouraged about how we were doing on time since one of the teams was on a route similar to what we were riding, but had had an earlier start time. He thought we might even be ahead of schedule. Or, maybe they are behind schedule.
Whichever way it was, we had to get back to San Francisco, so it was back on the bikes. North on Highway 1. Into a headwind. Apparently none of us had thought of that when we chose the let’s go south and see some new territory route. Yeah. Wind. Wind. and ohyeah. MoreWind. And rain. Leapfrogged with the team that was not DNFing. Another of Michael’s flats. Are we there yet? Really. Are we done yet?
Dark. Literally and figuratively.
There was nothing to do but keep turning the pedals over.
I wasn’t going to be any help cheering anyone else up, but I did my best to keep my foul mood to myself. The dark and rain was temporarily interrupted by a (first time for me – another first, yippee) trip through the devil’s slide tunnel, which, heading north turned out to be uphill. For some reason that seemed wrong to me, but not much I could do about it.
I was feeling the effects of pulling into the wind, and Patrick stayed back to keep me company. Turned out he’d also been a bit bonky, and was adamant about eating some real food at our 22-hour control in Linda Mar. There was no more Denny’s or whatever diner it was I’d seen pictures from previous years of long drawn out meals to use time so as not to get to the finish too early. No matter, we had no time to spare anyway.
The wind did not let up, but the rising sun lifted my spirits, giving me a mental boost even if I wasn’t going much faster. We dodged the sand drifts along the Great Highway and eventually turned east, out of the wind. The street tipped up a bit, but everyone was glad to trade the wind for climbing. We wended our way across the City. racing the clock, to arrive at Crepes on Cole, just behind the Italians, who had had a bushwhacking adventure from the north of the Google Maps says this road goes through variety.
We did our paperwork and ordered food. There were a number of other teams already finished, and more arrived as we ate. Seems like there’s easier ways to get breakfast. And yet … Everyone luxuriated in the company of like-minded adventurers as the randonesia started to set in.
Ride date: March 26 – 27, 2016