Last year’s (2010) NW Flèche with Marcelo Napolitano, Ed Groth, and Theo Roffe was fun, so much so, in fact, that when it came time to decide whether or not to do the event this year, there was a lot of interest. However, the 2011 version was scheduled the weekend before Oregon’s PBP-qualifying 600k, which thwarted some enthusiasm (unless the route was gonna be really flat and not a kilometer over the minimum 360).
A bigger challenge, though, would be designing a route. On my previous two flèches, I more-or-less tagged along on teams that Joshua Bryant or Marcelo had put together. But this time ‘round, it appeared to be my turn at route construction. I happened to be in Seattle in February when Ralph Nussbaum conducted a pre-flèche informational meeting. But I really didn’t get the impetus to design a route until hearing about Ed’s and Theo’s train ride home from the Three Capes 300k brevet in late March, during which they laughed themselves silly coming up with team names.
The deadline to register and submit a route was April 1st. I talked with Ralph and managed to get a few days extension, then burned some midnight oil designing a route from Beaverton, OR to Olympia, WA. I thought it would be interesting to go inland (as we had gone to the coast doing the Astoria/Raymond thing last year). By inland, I was thinking east of I-5. Ed and Theo seemed to concur. So I put together a route that headed up into rugged hills northeast of Vancouver and Camas, WA, and then later wound through unmarked roads in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. (By unmarked, I mean the Google Maps showed their existence, but didn’t name them.)
Fortunately, I did two all-night reconnaissance drives that resulted in major route revisions. On the first, I found the roads in the rugged hills NE of Camas passable (before they descended to Yacolt), but they were gravelly and steep … probably not the best combination for riding at night towards Olympia. On the second drive (on which Ed accompanied me), we nearly got stuck on snow-banked fire, logging and 4WD roads northeast of Cougar, WA. Again, not good terrain for spending the nocturnal hours of a long bicycle ride together. Several miles and hours later, we figured out that roughly paralleling I-5 between Woodland and Castle Rock would be unavoidable.
In the meantime, our team had grown to a quintet with the addition of riders Asta Chastain and David Parsons. In fact, Asta became our namesake. We would be called “Asta y la Vistas.”
Our next stop was at the Safeway in Battle Ground, WA, where we stocked up on enough supplies to weather a few hours of nocturnal riding. Yacolt was buttoned up by our midnight arrival time, so we took photos in front of the local barbershop to document our having been there.
After Woodland, there was the predictably steep Green Mountain Road, a portion of which I walked. Ed’s and my homework made our early AM passage through Kelso relatively efficient. Then about 6 miles later, we hit Headquarters Rd…four miles of relentless uphill…on which I began to falter, and worry about making it to Olympia on time. It was on this road that Ed ended up pushing me quite a bit, thus increasing my speed from 4-5 mph to closer to 8. We were quite the two-barreled huffing-puffing machine. I was simultaneously humbled, and impressed by Ed’s gallant show of team-man-ship.
It was light by this time, but the five of us broke up a bit on the descent towards Toutle. After reconvening at that contrôle, we continued to the small town of Ethel, then headed northwest to Chehalis and the back roads of Centralia. After a stretching/food stop in Bucoda, we hit the Tenino-Yelm Rails-to-Trails bike path, upon which we were greeted by Carol Nussbaum and Amy Pieper, the roving secret contrôle operators.
We arrived at the 22-hour contrôle in Yelm with a luxurious 45 minutes to kill, which got promptly eaten up by the most inefficient excuse for a restaurant I have ever encountered. But at 3:10 PM, we were back on the road again, with what we thought was plenty of time for our arrival in Olympia.
Unfortunately, our Google-Maps-influenced route took us on many segments of a “Woodland Trail” in and around Lacey. We took just enough wrong turns and were confused enough to make our arrival at the Red Lion Inn really tight! The take away from the last two hours: “Know your end game.” (or pre-ride that section).
After a difficult final ascent to the hotel from Olympia proper, we were greeted by Robin Pieper, quite a few other randonneurs, and plenty of beer!
Brunch was served to the eleven teams the next morning. We saw maps of everyone’s route, listened to everyone’s stories, and were grateful that our route didn’t encounter a disorderly car rally on remote rural gravel roads. We ended up getting a couple awards, including “Lowball” (shortest distance closest to 360k), 2nd place “Drunkard” (most circuitous), 2nd “Youngest” (average age), and 2nd “Largest Spread” (I’m 31 years older than Asta). We also managed to compress the 3rd most elevation gain in our Lowball distance.
The four of us rode about 9 miles to the Olympia/Lacey Amtrak station after brunch on Sunday, and reminisced on the excellent event on the train ride home.
‘Twas lot of work to put the route together; a lot of work to ride those hills; and a lot of work for the Nussbaums to organize. But it was worth it. Excellent camaraderie, not only within our team, but with the other participants as well.
My photos of the flèche are here on Flickr.