Sunday, April 19, 2009

24 Hours Of Painted Flèche

Well we made it!! Roughly 380km and 24 hours after starting, the "Painted Flèche" team rolled triumphantly into the parking lot of the Red Lion in Olympia at 6 PM on Saturday 4/18. Starting on Bainbridge Island, we took a round-about route to Olympia. A very out of the way route indeed.

But let's back up a bit, and start from the beginning.

4:10 PM - Rollout from Capitol Hill towards the ferry

I made sure to leave with enough time to catch our 4:40 ferry to Bainbridge Island, especially given my reputation for missing those boats and their silly schedules. On the way down Madison from The Hill, I was worried I might not make it, since a ton of traffic was in my way.. I guess it was the usual rush hour congestion, but I had no time for that. After a few slick moves onto the sidewalk, I freed myself from the gridlock and kept on heading down the hill.

Made it with plenty of time - and I'd also like to point out I was the first in our group to show up at the dock! Soon after Robert showed up, followed by Dan. Our other two team members, Greg & Joe, were waiting for us over at a cafe in Bainbridge.

There were lots of other cyclists getting on the ferry, mostly commuters. I noticed more than one strange look at our matching SiR jerseys and bags of luggage strapped to our bikes. Surely they could probably tell we were up to something silly. And we were certainly up to something silly, but in a rando kind of way. What rando doesn't dream of doing a 24 hour ride with friends?

6:00 PM 4/17 - Start!
After getting our control cards from the team captain, Greg, we rolled off north towards the Hood Canal bridge. Starting a long ride in the late afternoon is not something I've done before, and it's a different experience for sure.

Our route would head up to Hadlock, down through Quilcene on Highway 101 to the Mason Lake area, then out west to Cosmopolis (near the coast), then back east to Olympia. The thing about the a flèche is that multiple teams start in different locations, but they all end at the same spot. (Flèche is French for dart or arrow, although our route was more of a broken arrow shape)

A map of our route:

~8:30 PM - On The Way to Hadlock

After a scenic but somewhat sketchey ride across the Hood Canal bridge (photo above), we got on some excellent back roads into Hadlock. Sunset was upon us:

We all knew that we would be riding through most of the night, and were hopefully prepared for it. While it had been pretty warm in Seattle, out on the Peninsula it was a bit colder, and being out in the cold so long it starts to wear on you. And that wearing on me started quick, I was chilly unless pedaling.

Upon stopping in our control in Hadlock (a grocery store), we put on extra layers
and headed off into the night.

When packing for this ride I ended up with less space than planned, since I'd decided to carry a change of clothes (minus shoes) to the finish in Olympia. (We could have mailed stuff down there, but I was too lazy)

So that was a few inches of space taken up in my Ostrich handlebar bag, and meant that I decided not to carry leg warmers. That was a little mistake, as I had on knickers that left part of my leg exposed. But it wasn't too bad, and since we kept moving I was fine. (But if I'd brought the leg warmers, I would've worn them!) I was really glad I hadn't gone with the shorts I was initially planning to wear for this ride.. in the PNW, you got to err on the side of coldness, even if it seems warm during the day.

This stretch of road towards Highway 101 was pretty rough, but we saw very little traffic and the stars were out in full view. One of the great things about riding in secluded places at night is actually seeing the Milky Way. It's a shame that humanity's light pollution is making that harder and harder to see... one day we'll have to just show the kids pictures of what it looked like.

My front Honjo fender was kind of rattling, but I didn't want to hold up the group to fix it, much less somehow make it worse. I'm very tentative to "fix" anything that isn't completely broken once we're out on the road. Plus, Robert's fender seemed to have a similar issue, so I figured it wasn't only me with annoying sounds emanating from the bike. There are worse things, such as a bike that won't roll, so I think both of us just hoped nobody complained about it.

Quilcene & Highway 101
We met up with Highway 101 in Quilcene, which was totally dark and closed up. It was probably 10 or 11 PM at this point. We all knew what was ahead: Walker "pass", an ~800 foot climb that isn't steep, but if you aren't feeling good it could be a real beast.

And as it turned out, one of our team mates was not feeling good at this point. Robert, normally a very strong rider, was having stomach issues and needed to slow down. The way I saw it, we had 24 hours to waste out here, and if we didn't make it in time then it'd still be a good story.

So I tried to wait for Robert as much as possible, although I did end up slipping away from him on this climb. Greg had attacked long ago, and left us in the dust. We all waited at the top, then enjoyed a nice descent to the rollers that are the rest of 101 between Quilcene and Skokomish. Robert was still not feeling very hot on this section still, and the lights of Joe & Greg faded into the distance.

I kept thinking that if I was feeling like shit on a ride like this, I'd hope someone would stick back with me as well. When you've got someone next to you, it makes it that much harder to take a break and lose more time. Even if we were rolling at 16-20 km/h (10-12 mph) we were at least rolling.

Robert eventually puked on the side of the road at one point, but being the rando soldier he is it didn't sideline him. Which says a lot about the tenacity of riders who have decided to try a ride like this. For most, puking would spell the end of any ride, long or not. But perhaps he figured that it wouldn't make much sense to stop, given we were in the middle of nowhere, and the only thing that could get him out of "nowhere" at that point was his bike. So we continued.

Around this point I was starting to have thoughts about DNFing, purely based on the possibility that if Robert did it too we could find our way back together. At a few points I think I was even trying to hint at this to Robert, talking about "how warm the cabin was going to be" and "what are we doing out here?"

Luckily his will was strong enough that I too lost any thoughts of DNFing. It was too nice of a night, not even raining - so we continued. Why stop? Maybe randos are "too dumb to quit," as they say.

2:00 AM - Hoodsport Control

This was rumored to be a 24 hour grocery store, but alas we rolled up to it in a shuttered state. Lucky for us, they had a pallet of bottled water out front; we took some and left a $5 bill. (Thanks to whoever left the dough, by the way)

I put on some 3/4 rain pants I had, as my legs were starting to get a little chilly. It was probably 36F or so at this point, and like I said before, being outside for that long just makes it wear on you that much more. Sometimes I (try to) imagine what it would be like to be homeless, and have the night air be a part of your life daily. And with nowhere to go for shelter, one could lose hope all too easily..

But our similarities with the homeless were few however, since we were headed to a warm cabin on Mason Lake. Knowing you have somewhere warm to go was enough to keep us trudging along through the cold night.

(Greg had generously offered his cabin for us to use as a control. This meant we didn't have to sleep in a post office or any other weird spot.)

3:55 AM - The Cabin!

After what seemed like a long rough stretch of rough road through the Skokomish Indian Reservation, we took a right turn towards the cabin. Greg had warned of an impending climb, and sure enough we hit a short grade of about 16%. It made getting there feel that much better.

He'd stocked up some PB&J sandwiches, which really hit the spot at this point, as I hadn't had any real food since starting, save for a sandwich. Before too long we all found somewhere to lay down, I chose the couch. After what felt like 15 minutes of sleep (it had really been about 1.5 hours), alarms were going off and it was time to roll again.

The sun was coming up, and the clock was still ticking. We were about half-way done.

6:22 AM - Leaving the Cabin

The morning air wasn't a whole lot warmer, but at least it was light out now. We all bundled up just as much as we had at night, and started rolling again. My sit-bones were a little tender for about five minutes, but I quickly forgot about that. It was time for some form of breakfast!

Near Matlock we crossed paths with another team, heading the opposite direction. Mark Thomas, Vincent M., and some other hardy rando souls were on a similarly crazy adventure as us. It made us feel a little less crazy I suppose, to actually see another team out riding in the middle of nowhere, in the early morning.

Another team:

8:47 AM - Matlock Control

We were hoping to find some form of breakfast here, but alas this was the best I could do: (fake latte, pop tarts, and a "breakfast sandwich" that featured glistening, yet oddly transluscent, bacon):

Soon we had dispensed with what little food that store had to offer us, and were of course on the road again, and of course on some great NW backroads. Greg really knows how to put a route together!

On the way to Montesano:

Low-profile view of the road - and this wasn't even the worst of the chipseal we saw:

We saw a nuclear power plant on the way to Montesano. It was kind of like a Rorschach test - some may see the promise of never ending, clean, energy. Others see a lot of risk (and radioactive waste) to contend with.. On the way back this difference of interpretation sparked a little debate between me and Greg:

10:50 AM - Rolling into Montesano

Here we were promised the luxury of a sit down breakfast at the "BeeHive Inn" diner. But we were a little behind schedule, so Subway would have to do. I had a mini-pizza that really hit the spot.

After leaving Montesano, we got on some more great roads. Here's Dan on Blue Slough Road, heading to Cosmopolis:

12:13 PM - Cosmopolis!

The Pacer (with Ostrich handlebar bag):

We rode into Cosmopolis, or "Cosi" as the locals apparently call it. Not much going on there, though granted we were only on the edge of town. I think we were all really excited to be "on the home stretch" at this point, with about only 60km left. Joe reminded us that this was just the distance of the Lake Wa loop (north half).. which was true, but if someone had asked me if I wanted to do that loop at that point, I probably would have said "no."

But given that we were very far from home, the only real option was again to pedal our asses back to civilization. It's really good we don't have support cars following us on these rides, becaus I'd probably never finish! It's not that I don't like riding, but sometimes you're just ready for the ride to be over. And I was there at this point.

But at least we were riding on a clear day, we had zero rain. It was a little colder than I might have liked, and I tried to sport the short sleeves but the arms weren't having it.

On the next stretch I made a huge mistake by changing socks, of all things. You'd think "how much can go wrong from that?!", and I did too. Basically as soon as I changed into (clean) socks, my right knee starting hurting on the downstrokes, hurting bad. I don't generally have to deal with joint pains, so I knew something wasn't right.

My theory as to what happend is that the socks I put on were much thinner than the thick wool socks I'd been wearing. And my seat must be positioned a tad too high, so the thinner sock (a 1-2mm of fit difference) really pointed this out.

It was scary, because generally I can "push through" any kind of muscle pain, but this was a needle-like sensation I couldn't ignore. For part of the stretch to Kamilche, I was going easy on my right leg, pedaling mosty with my left leg.

Eventually I lowered my seat a bit and the pain wore off. We had a nice downhill stretch and I decided to give it my all, for some reason. So I rode away from the group, knowing I'd see them at the control anyway.

Of course, they weren't going slow exactly, so they weren't far behind me, and eventually caught up. We rolled into our "22-hour" control, Kamilche, more or less on schedule.

3:52 PM - 22 Hour Control in Kamilche

This was a sprawling gas station/casino/mini mart. I got a slice of pizza (that tasted similar to wood), and before I knew it it was time to roll again. We were getting close to Olympia, the finish.

The next stretch put us on Highway 101 towards Olympia, which isn't winning any awards from Bicycling Mag any time soon, but it's good enough for us randos. We'll ride on anything!

Highway 101 - just don't ride on the rumble strips:

Getting closer and closer to Oly, I'm sure we were all itching to be done. On the way into town, on a little climb, we ended up behind two locals with Olympia Brewery (or something) jerseys on. It wasn't that I wanted to prove anything to them, but we (Dan & I) passed them on the climb, luggage and all.

Out of the two, the guy apparently jumped on our wheel and tried to pace. I wonder if he knew what kind of riding we'd been doing up to that point? From the wattage we were (somehow) putting out on that hill, 23 hours into the ride, I suppose it was hard to tell. We dropped him like a hot potato! And who says randos are slow?

Mud Bay:

5:17 PM - Taco Bell Control

Now in Oly proper, we had a control about 3 kms from the end, due to another crazy rule about the fleche. Worked for me, I had time (barely) to order a cheese quesadilla and stuff it in my Ostrich bag for later. At this point, I was delirious enough to take a photo of just about anything, including this poor soul stuck at Taco Bell on a sunny day:

Nasty Oly road:

6 PM - Roll Into The Red Lion!

We rolled up to the smiles & claps of Joe's family & Dan's girlfriend. What a (24-hour) "day" of cycling!

The "Painted Fleche" team, from left to right: Dan "climbs like the wind" Box, Robert "the navigator" Higdon, Greg "so I attacked" Cox, Matt "not ready yet" Mikul (that's me), and Joe "the firehose" Platzner. What a team!

At the finish I had a room reserved, and was planning to stay overnight for the banquet the next day (some teams were still out riding). But once I got there, I'd decided that 24 hours was a long enough event for me, and that I wanted Sunday back. So I called Kira, begged for an early ride home, and she obliged. (Thanks, baby!)

In the end I paid $93 to sit in the hotel room for a few hours, but the shower was worth it!!

Big thanks to SiR & the Nussbaum's for organizing this year's ride!

I put up a bunch of other photos on flickr, and Robert wrote an excellent report of the same ride here.

Found another ride report from the "Amy et Amis" team, on Geoff's blog.


Anonymous said...

We bad.

Dan O said...

Great story and pictures. Enjoyed reading it all.

Nice job and nice ride.