Thursday, June 28, 2007

5/5/2007 to 5/6/2007 -- Fleche Ouragan

Generally, randonneuring is a pretty straightforward exercise. Get from here to there in less than this much time. But then, there's the fleche. Leave it to the French to introduce a little wackiness.

Fleche is French for "arrow", and it is also the name of ACP's team randonneuring event. The idea is that you come up with your own route, file it with your RBA, and assemble a team to ride it. The event happens on a fleche weekend, and typically it involves several teams who all finish at the same place, converging towards as arrows to a target. When you're done, you all have brunch together. Not highly wacky, but charming. Brunch is charming.

The craziness comes in some of the other rules. ACP certified fleches must be scheduled within a certain time period around Easter. (Okay, brunch, Easter. I get it.) No rest stop may be longer than 2 hours. (Huh. Uh, okay.) Teams must finish together, and a team must cover at least 25 km in the last 2 hours of the event. (Wait, wha?) The event lasts for 24 hours and at least 360 km. (It's an all-nighter.)

As Sam Huffman put it, the rules seem to be calculated to generate maximum schadenfreude.

Well, being the glutton for punishment that I am, I clearly had to do this ride. So I sent out an email to the Oregon Randonneurs email list to see if there were any others with a similar yen who wanted to join me. I got a good response: the aforementioned Mr. Huffman and Ed Felker from Virginia were both game. Mark Thomas (current RUSA president) threw his helmet into the ring, too, once sanity prevailed and I took some ridiculous and unnecessary miles off the route (more on that in a minute.)

To come up with a route, I just looked at the roads that I wanted to explore this summer, and strung 'em all together. The result was a loop that started and finished at the Grand Lodge, and made pretty much a complete circuit around the nubbin that forms the northwestern corner of Oregon. My initial idea for a route had us coming within a whisker of the ocean but never really seeing it, so I added a section that went over the Three Capes. This was the section I later removed because as dumb as it was to go all that way and not quite get to the ocean, going over the Three Capes at midnight would have been even more retarded.

Fleche teams have names. This is another charming part of the fleche event. It can also be wacky. Given the ramshackle process by which I put together my team, I could have just called it "Pot Luck", but team names usually involve some pun on the word "fleche". So we called ourselves "The Spirit is Willing".

The four of us gathered Saturday morning at the McMennamin's Grand Lodge, and soon set off down the familiar highway 8 along Gales Creek. I'll not give a blow-by-blow recounting of the route, suffice it to say that the roads were uniformly quiet, and featured spectacular scenery. At one point Mark ironically told me that next time I should find some roads without so many cars. The country was all forested hillsides, lush green valleys, and the occasional panoramic vista.

High points for me included Apiary Road, which we had all to ourselves and which gently climbed up the coast range to a forested summit; Alston-Mayger Road, which featured amazing views of the lower Columbia; a fun climb between Clatskanie and Mist; and the pastoral splendour of Fishhawk Highway between Jewell and Elsie. Even roads that I knew well provided exceptional riding -- in particular, the Miami River Road in the gloaming twilight was a real treat. The only lousy road was the 12 miles we spent on Highway 26.

Sam and I pretty much paired up and rabbited off for much of the ride, with Ed and Mark keeping each other company, though all of us kept each other's company at some point in the ride. Sam and I acted as the "human cue sheet", waiting at major turns for the others. This was not particularly a burden, as there were only 14 turns on the whole 400k route. It also kept the team together nicely, and emphasized that aspect of the event. We took extended breaks at Black Bear Coffee in Vernonia, Humps in Clatskanie, and Subway in Tillamook together, too.

The last break let us strategically time our night riding. We left Tillamook at midnight for the climax of our expedition: 55 miles on the Nestucca River Road over the coast range. Riding the Nestucca at night was the crown jewel of the weekend. The road was remote, quiet, and dark, with no lights from cars or even houses to blind and dazzle us as we pedaled along. I've ridden through the night before in similar conditions, on SIR's fall 600k, and it was terrifying. The difference this time was that I was in the company of 3 good friends, and that was all the difference in the world. With those guys as my lifeline, riding through the night was a primal yet peaceful, zen experience. When we emerged from the woods and rounded McKay Reservoir with the lights from Willamette Valley towns glittering like jewels beneath us, it was like we had pushed through to another world. The first light of dawn graced our descent, and we reached Carlton right at 5 am, just like we'd hoped to do. We took a quick rest in Carlton's post office lobby, and then finished off the last 30k to Forest Grove, tired but happy.

I would love to do another fleche next year, and I would ride with Sam, Ed, and Mark any time.

Photo by Ed Felker


Blogger Mark said...

It was a great team. I'd do it again too.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

What program or web site are you using to create your nice topo maps on your site?


2:02 PM  
Blogger Michael said...


Most of the maps on this site are just made with the Google Maps pedometer. But, credit where due, the topo map for this post was made by my fleche teammate, Mark Thomas. I've added a link to his blog in the sidebar.

10:16 AM  

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