2017 Flèche NorCal: Team BnB

Somehow I got talked into doing the Flèche again this year. Slow learner, I suppose. Or hope springs eternal… with a promising route – a bit of a remote start even without taking the day off Friday, not too crazy climbing wise but not pancake flat either, and token mixed terrain Willow Creek goodness to boot – and a most excellent team: Captain EricW plus Carlos, Metin and Patrick, all super solid riders who I’ve spent many hours with on other rides with no ill effects. Well, at least for me.

So there we were on the train to Davis on Good Friday. It’s quite a pleasant way to get there, and goes surprisingly quickly. From the station we dispersed to our various hotels, but once I got in I was too tired to go out again. I figured no one would take it personally, since we were going to be spending an entire 24 hours together starting the next morning, and it would probably be better for me to get a bit more sleep.

We had an almost unrandoly 0900 start time, although we met before that for a yummy breakfast at Crepeville. Which, if one of us had been a bit more on the ball, we could have been the Crepe-to-Crepers, since the finish was also at a crepe restaurant. Not that I’ve ever actually partaken of the namesake food. In fact, we were Team BnB, which was, I think, for Bakeries-n-Beer, but could have been Bikes and either of the above, or Bacon, or Butter, or … so many good things begin with B!

Bellies full, and appropriately caffeinated, we headed out of Davis, not through the UC campus, as Eric had decided after a bit of a pre-ride we’d done a few weeks earlier. We were soon out into the agricultural landscape and on our way to Winters. It was pleasant weather and not too windy.

As we were leaving Winters we observed the stop sign before turning on to 128 to head west. The cross traffic does not have to stop, and there was some coming from either side. I might have gone if I was in a car, but probably not. I guess the guy who pulled up behind us in an SUV thought we should have – or maybe he was angry about something else, but he honked his horn. And kept honking. WTH? Really? After we turned I kept expecting him to buzz us, but apparently he was headed somewhere else in his great hurry. Or whatever it was. Whew.

The countryside was so green!! And the Glory Hole was still spilling. And, unlike our pre-ride, it was not raining! So much to like.

We wended our way over to the Napa valley, and as we neared St. Helena Metin got some serious bakery gravity. Once we arrived at the Model Bakery I could see why! HOW IS IT THAT I HAD NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE??? I mean really. Everything looked good, and everything I had was super tasty. The only sad thing was I did not have space to take a Bunny Bread with me. Although there had been mention of a BBQ place further along in Calistoga, we decided to have lunch at the Bakery.

From the Bakery we had to make another stop at a gas station for additional fluid redistribution. While we were waiting for everyone to take care of business we had a couple nice chats with other cyclists – not on bikes, but they saw ours and asked about our ride. When it was my turn in the little room I had a bonus deposit. Woohoo! don’t need to keep carrying that around. Ah, the little things in life…

Although a little trafficky, most of the next section had a good shoulder so we had a pleasant roll up the valley. It was nice having a flattish section for digesting lunch. Twomey? Wait, I thought that was on Westside. Hmn. As we passed through Calistoga I saw the BBQ place – it was super busy looking with motorcycle bikers, making the Bakery choice for lunch look that much better.

Alas, speaking of flats, I was perhaps somewhat remiss in pointing out a pothole and Got it! Eric nailed it. We pulled over in a vineyard with a splendid view of Mt. St. Helena. Well, there are worse places to get a flat. Eric quickly fixed the flat on the front but as we went to roll again realized the rear was flat too. Since we were waiting – and there hadn’t been beer at lunch – Patrick pulled out his flask. I took a sip. Breathing fire sound. Patrick told me I’m supposed to take a small drink. “I thought I did!” While we were stopped a tandem went by the opposite direction, the captain was wearing an SFR jersey but none of us recognized the riders, and they didn’t seem to be with a team.

Back on the road as we rolled north on 128 Metin very helpfully pointed out the sign for Chalk Hill Road to Santa Rosa. “Aren’t you tempted to go home?” Well so much for pretending that wasn’t there! It was getting a little warm so I started to think about stopping for a popsicle in Geyserville but then someone mentioned Plank in Cloverdale, which sounded like a much nicer option, so we pressed on.

As we got close to Cloverdale we saw a plane flying what seemed to be quite low. OHHEY! Skydivers! And no ball of flame from plane crash, so… ah, yes – we did pass a sign for the Cloverdale Airport. That must have been where the low flying plane was going.

We had some debate about where to turn to get to Plank. Everyone else thought Eric and I were going to end up on the Freeway, but we ended up beating them there. The woman at the counter asked Eric if his jersey (wool) was vintage – she seemed quite taken with it. Nope. But you could get one of your own next time there’s an order! I was feeling savory, fortunately they had a non-sweet scone option, and the shrub sounded intriguing. Yes, that’s a drink. It was quite refreshing. Eric wanted to get tubes but we had missed the bike shop on the way in. The others explained where it was, and Eric went out to make sure he got there before it closed.

Cloverdale was our northernmost point – from there we headed south and west. Ah, there is a Twomey here also, I wasn’t imagining that. There was a marvelous sundog. We joked about shortcutting to Guerneville on Sweetwater. Oh but that would overshoot our control. And Westside is such a nice road, especially the part after Wohler Bridge.

We got to Stumptown in the last of the twilight, it was open but they’d already locked the gate to the beer garden. They kindly let us roll our bikes through the bar though. I quite enjoyed soup, sliders and beer. No air hockey this time though. I got a little chilly as we sat, and I knew it wasn’t going to get any warmer for a while, plus time for the reflective gear. I went to freshen up and get situated and when I got out of the bathroom everyone was gone! What, really? No, just gone out of the back porch area, they hadn’t completely left the building. Whew.

We continued on River Road, and I was just starting to get warmed up to the being back on the bike again when we went through a big puddle. After coming out there was the sad sound which wasn’t just water on the tires. Metin’s turn for a flat.

Although we were headed toward the coast on an often notoriously headwindy road, it was not bad. Perhaps there is something to that dying down after sunset thing. Weirdly I got a stich in side though. WTH? I wasn’t running! It was more an annoyance than a show-stopper, but it certainly was annoying. Eventually, much further down the road it did sort itself out.

From the Coast we headed up Willow Creek, our token dirt. It was the first time for Carlos! We all agreed he’d have to come back and do it again during daylight! It was moist, and there were only a few stars, but it was magical as usual – the highlight of the ride.

After we got back on pavement and were at Coleman Valley Road Patrick was looking like he wanted to go left. Erm, don’t you have a magic widget to tell you where to go? We stopped in Bodega for water, finding a spigot after a bit of searching. The hillside cemetery on the outskirts of town was dappled with LED candles at all the gravestones. Not sure if it was special for Easter or if they are always there. Hmn, have I gone by there before at night?

Then the somewhat disjointed ride further into the night, punctuated by MOON!!! at the top of Middle Road. An owl gliding overhead. Weird flashing lights in one of the fields where I usually see sheep when I ride by in the day. In Tomales I saw my breath but pretended it wasn’t really that cold.

As we headed toward Petaluma I wanted to eat some of the burrito I’d been packing, but wasn’t feeling coordinated enough to take it out and unwrap it to a state where I could get just it – and not the bag it was in – down the hatch, so I settled for a bar. Ah, speaking of food, I remembered last year’s late night bonk and checked with Patrick about the eating thing – he’d been keeping up on that but admitted he was feeling a bit sleepy. He said he had taken some caffeine and then we chatted for a bit, which I think helped us both. At least it helped me.

Even though it was late when we got to Petaluma I don’t like riding on the Boulevard if I don’t have to, so the others humored me and we cut through behind the auto row to Denny’s RandoOasis! There were two, maybe three other teams already there enjoying the comforts of inside and food. I wanted a grilled cheese sandwich, which I couldn’t find, but the waitress said was a standard non-menu item and let me order one. After eating and relaxing a bit we started doing the math for the rest of the route and, uh yeah we should get going.

Although it was the path of least resistance – Bike Route 5 through Marin – none of us were getting any faster, so it was good we left when we did. Coming into Novato we saw the Easter Bunny! OK OK, it was a standard issue jackrabbit in the median. But it was, at that point, Easter Sunday. The donut store was open, and Eric admitted he needed a pick-me-up. When we got back on the road he said, “I’m not sure that was a good idea.” Donut and Pepsi. Yeah, I’m not sure that’s ever a good idea!

Going through Terra Linda it was Patrick’s turn to flat. That made it seem like a bit of time trial but get to our 22-hour control but we made it with 15 minutes to spare. And wow, I got to leave behind more that I didn’t need to carry over the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh, maybe that’s TMI. But you know how sometimes you just feel so much lighter after? Like you’re just going to float away? So good you just want to tell everyone about it!

But anyway. It was a beautiful sunrise, which I don’t think anyone will mind hearing about! On the bike path Eric did a hot lap of the roundabout. Patrick and I followed him, Patrick said, “one of the reasons why I love this man.” Yep. Closer to Sausalito Andrea’s team passed us. When was their start time? Are we going to be early to the finish? We decided to get over the bridge first and then see what time it was. We saw BrianC, Ryan and Mary just before the bridge, I then expected to see them at the finish but apparently they had a ways to go south before returning to the finish.

We did end up having a little “extra” time so had some bonus dirt in the Park going through the Rabbit Hole and then a Steffan lap by the Conservatory of Flowers (Eric had been on a team with Steffan as Captain and he’d made them ride around to be EXACTLY on time to the finish) then headed over to Crepes on Carl, where we handed over our bikes to the lovely volunteers, filled out our cards and went inside to get some vittles and swap stories with ALLTHERANDOS!

All in all, third time’s the charm, although I’m still not convinced this Flèche thing is all it’s cracked up to be. Although I still haven’t done the travel somewhere far(ish) away and do a true arrow route thing. Anyway, big thanks to Captain Eric, Patrick, Carlos and Metin for being an awesome team, Roland for coordinating the event and all the other volunteers at the finish.

more pictures

Ride date: April 15-16, 2017

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