Friday, April 30, 2010

Flèche NW Report

It was during the preride of the Birkie 200 last month when Ray Ogilvie mentioned Marcello Napolitano’s intention to organize a flèche team to ride from Hillsboro, OR to Olympia, WA in mid-April. “Sure. I’m interested,” I told Ray.

Cycling-wise, a flèche is a 24-hour randonneuring team event of at least 360 km. Each team designs its own route, and they all finish at a common end point (in this case, Olympia, WA). Most of the teams in this year’s Flèche NW came from Seattle. (There were a dozen, I believe.) There was one team from British Columbia, and Marcello’s team from Oregon. And there was a mighty fine brunch at the finish where all the teams got together to share their experiences.

Ray ended up not riding after all. But fortunately, Ed Groth and Theo Roffe did, making Marcello’s team a compatible foursome that left Marcello’s home in Hillsboro at 7:00 AM on Saturday, the 17th. I had ridden over from Beaverton earlier that morning, and found Ed and Theo already having breakfast. They had in fact ridden over the previous evening and stayed overnight with the Napolitanos. It wasn’t until Marcello handed us our brevet cards (while I was digesting biscuits and gravy) that I discovered our team name was “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.” A true meanderer’s motto, I thought, appreciating not having been involved in the naming process (with my recent move, work, training, tango, and all that).

ed and marcello
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
I was also not involved in route design, which suited me just fine. From Hillsboro, Marcello’s route headed to Forest Grove then continued on familiar Gales Creek and Timber Roads to Vernonia. The server at the rando-friendly Black Bear Café knew exactly what to do with our brevet cards without being asked.

The next section to Birkenfield went by unusually quickly.

headin' to astoria
Originally uploaded by tangobiker
From Birkenfield, Marcello initially intended to cross the Columbia River on the ferry between Clastskanie, OR and Kathlamet, WA. But because a lack of confidence in the Westport Ferry’s schedule and frequency this time of year, we instead rode West from Birkenfield over to Astoria.

Anyone who knows me knows I like good Northwest microbreweries. Well, there’s a reputable one in Astoria called Fort George.

a break in astoria
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

After some discussion with Marcello, Ed, and Theo along Highway 202 (and then figuring out its address and how to get there), we decided to do lunch at said Fort George Brewery. Even though Marcello isn’t into beer, he was happy to stop there, thereby potentially shortening the time we might have to spend in some small shut-down town in the middle of nowhere, WA at the 22-hour contrôle. Well, the beer was good … but the sausage that Marcello ordered, less so.

I was surprised how clean the 4-mile 2-lane Astoria-Megler Bridge was. Last time I traversed it (over 2 years prior in the other direction on the Clatskanie-Cape Disappointment 200k permanent), it was full of debris. Hubcaps and other miscellaneous stuff, mixed in with large caked-on tarry patches of gravel often pushed me out into the traffic lane. But this time ‘round, there were no issues. And boy is the mouth of the Columbia ever wide!

The Oregon portion of our journey was intermittently (and pleasantly) drizzly. But once we got to Naselle, (where Marcello flatted, then where lightness went away), the precipitation got more persistent. The next 30-some-odd miles up Highway 101 to Raymond seemed to go slowly, with lots of rollers, the tops of which offered glimpses of a thickly starry sky, and the bottoms of which descended into thick fog. The typical team scenario during this stretch was for Ed, Theo and me to pause at the top of a roller and wonder where Marcello was, only to have him speedily pass us on his recumbant trike during a number of wet descents into the fog.

Someday I might get to see Raymond and vicinity in the daylight. But not during last Spring’s SIR 600, and certainly not on this ride. But the shabby yet well-patronized Chevron convenience store provided a recognizable frame of reference, and served as our contrôle.

We continued Northwards to Montesanno (which I remember remarkably little about) then East towards Elma and McCleary. Elma’s a big town (relatively). McCleary is not. But McCleary’s the dimly-lit town where the highly-anticipated (or was it dreaded) 22-hour contrôle was. Absolutely nothing was open in McCleary at 5:00 AM. But we did find a credit union ATM that provided us with a receipt. We needn’t have worried about lingering there.

Of our quartet, Ed seemed the most determined to finish on time. Or at least he appeared to be willing his teammates onward by jumping ahead. I felt a bit elasticized between him and Theo and Marcello, who were behind me a bit.

finish in olympia
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

This was particularly the case on the 12-mile stretch of Highway 8 heading into Olympia. Once it became light, Ed’s determination really became evident after he flatted on Old Highway 410. I have never seen anyone change a flat so fast. Ever!

Once we found our way to the Red Lion Inn in Olympia, we were greeted by Susan France, Mark Thomas, Marcello’s wife Cathy, and my friend Amy. Ah blessed showers! But precious little time for a nap before the 9:00 brunch.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the brunch before all the teams told their stories. But before I did, Marcello gestured to me to be the spokesperson for our “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” team. Interestingly, we were preceded by the overachieving team that included fast boys Brian Ohlemeier and Jan Heine. ‘Twas interesting cuz I’d never seen nor met Jan before. Sure, I’ve read a few issues of Bicycle Quarterly, and have a friend in Portland who refers to him as “zero-percent-body-fat-Jan.” But to see him in person … well … he seemed a bit taller and leaner than I expected. And I started to wonder if his SIR jersey was really painted (or tattooed) on.

I introduced Marcello, Theo, and Ed to everyone … mentioned our stop at Ft. George Brewery in Astoria … and how long it took to get to Raymond … and how it was Ed’s, Theo’s and my first successful flèche. But on the trip home, and during much of the subsequent week, I rewrote that “speech” (for lack of a better word) many times.

The essence of what I wish I had said about our team but didn’t is:

“I don’t know what might constitute a typical Oregon flèche team, but I would consider our group to be as much a “Portland bike culture” team than a rando team. Take Ed, for instance. He lives bikes, doesn’t own a car, and fulfilled his offer to volunteer at the Birkie 200k last month by pedalling his cargo bike up to Vernonia with all his coffee-making equipment, then serving all the riders French press coffee in ceramic mugs at the first contrôle.

finishers' medal
Originally uploaded by tangobiker

Marcello could be considered a suburban proponent of Portland bike culture … multiple bikes for all family members in his garage … plus who else would serve fresh eggs to his teammates hatched from chickens in the back yard? Theo (to me) was the erudite, articulate, philosophic, wiser-than-his-young-looks kind of guy who can tell you anything you want to know about UC Davis bike culture.”

Perhaps Susan France said it best in a comment after Theo and I subsequently connected on Facebook, “After 24 hrs together you are friends.... that's a good sign ;-)”

The rest of my photos are here on Flickr.
Theo Roffe's pictures are on his Flickr site.

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