Monday, April 14, 2008

Fleche Fun

A recent thread on the randon mailing list pondered the question of whether randonneuring is "fun" or not. Can an endeavor with lots of struggling and striving be fun? Does the pursuit of "fun" lead to a casual attitude that makes DNFs more likely? Or maybe spending a day (or more) on a bicycle without a non-cycling care embodies the very essence of fun.

Twenty four hours of SIR's Fleche NW last weekend provided plenty of opportunity to consider this question. Out of shape and more than six months past my last ride over 150 miles, I struggled mightily with the hills and distance. With too few prior miles on the saddle, my backside hurt. After only cool NW riding this year, my system was surprised by temperatures nudging the 80s. True to form, I whined a lot. And I had fun. Lots of fun. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. Randonneuring contains multitudes.

A diverse team met in Port Hadlock for the start of our fleche route. Greg Cox, with whom I've done 3 PBPs and countless other rides, joined Amy Pieper on the Piepers' big yellow tandem. Rick Haight, who towed me in on the 2005 Cascade 1200, looked strong and more than ready for the first randonneur event of his seventh decade. Tom Martin, ER doc, swift cyclist, and second year randonneur, came armed with a supply of patience to ride with a slower team. Jon Muellner, with whom I've shared many miles including riding and begging for water together on the 2002 Rocky Mountain 1200, arrived from Port Townsend with his beautiful new Pereira bicycle sporting, among other deft touches, an integrated bell mount.

Our route took us across the Hood Canal bridge, where a bump dislodged one of my tailights directly under a tire of a following car, to the Kitsap Peninsula, where I had two flats (a mystery rear flat and a wire-induced front flat). We fixed my first flat and Tom's broken headlight near Bremerton and my second flat not long after. Happily those were all the mechanical issues for the ride, and they were all in the first 50 miles.

The pain and pleasure started in earnest after Bremerton. The old Belfair Valley Road offered up its usual great riding, interrupted only briefly by my second flat. Out of Belfair we rode along the Hood Canal as we have many times before, but this time we turned left and up for the climb to Mason Lake. A beautiful clear starry night and Tom's encouraging company offset the pain of the steep climb. As the temperature dropped, we arrived at Greg's cabin on the lake. A warm cabin, freshly baked muffins, and the cheerful presence of Mary and Megan (Greg's wife and daugther) warmed us right up.

Barely refreshed by an hour's nap, we headed back into the cold beautiful night. Coffee warmed cold fingers at the 24 hour convenience store/control in Shelton. We rode on to breakfast in Montesano. Along the way, as we crossed the hill between Kamilche and McCleary, the pre-dawn air warmed up by 10 degrees, a welcome auspice of a great weather day ahead.

The Beehive diner in Montesano served up a breakfast as warm and tasty as the dinner I had there on the 2007 fleche. A diner breakfast after 100+ miles of riding counts as fun. Slogging up the valley to Matlock after six months of too many good meals and not enough good miles might not be fun. Neither was feeling the need to inform my teammates that they might want to head on without me. Of course, my teammates would hear nothing of this. Emphasizing the team nature of the fleche and demonstrating the camaraderie that we randonneurs love to extol, Greg tells me that we're a team and will go on together. I think his exact words were "Don't be such a wuss. Let's go."

Abuse from Greg has been a constant of my randonneuring experience for a decade. To be fair, I try to repay this gift in kind as much as possible. With Greg's great storytelling and wicked humor along for the ride, I've spent many a mile in the saddle laughing like an idiot.

I've headed up 101 along the west side of the Hood Canal on my bike so often, I could probably do it in my sleep. Stoked by espresso from the Hoodsport Coffee Company, however, I didn't have to find out. Endless miserable hills with beautiful views along the canal preceded the Walker Pass climb, on which I felt great. Watching Greg & Amy descend the other side (with Amy now in front) was like watching a rocket take off. (I had to ask Robin later whether he had neglected to show his wife how to work the brakes.)

The relatively gentle section from Quilcene to Discovery Bay marked the low point of the day for me, but before long I found my teammates at Fat Smitty's in Discovery Bay. All but Tom, who had continued up the road. Happily we found him via cellphone in time for him to ride back over a big hill to meet us before the 22hour point of our ride.

The scenery and views on a beautiful day along Discovery Bay and Cape George to Port Townsend are nothing short of spectacular. Gratuitous climbs tempered the fun a bit, as did anticipating the abuse I'd get for choosing the hilliest route back into town. Finishing - at Jon's house - was all the more fun for the challenge of last 15 miles.

At Lanza's for dinner, we met Wayne's team and the Nussbaums' team for great food and more tall tales of this and other rides. As with so many of these adventures, the 2008 fleche was even more fun in retrospect. At brunch on Sunday, we heard the other teams' tales - fun was had by all.

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