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Fleche New England 2010

April 11, 2010

A month or so ago I strolled into Red Hen Baking for a tasty chocolate croissant. Dave Tremblay, Randy George, and Bob Dillon were all lounging around with Google maps on a laptop, clearly contemplating some long bike route. They asked if I wanted to join their Fleche team to ride from Warren, VT to Mystic, CT on April 10th. I had known about the date for months, but had considered April 10th too early in the Vermont riding season to provide for reasonable long distance training. Around here winter usually manages to keep its grip until the end of March, but not so this year. Apparently I find endurance peer pressure compelling, since two days later I had signed my registration form for the Fleche New England 2010.

By last year’s Fleche in the middle of May, I had ridden 1500 miles. This time round I had 1700 under my belt, and 5 weeks earlier, and including several rather long rides. I was feeling pretty good about my training, especially since the route seemed to be a notch less hilly than last year.

In the week before April 10th we checked and rechecked the weather forecast regularly. As we were going to go no matter what, it was really just in the hope that the forces of nature would align in a more or less pleasant fashion. After a slightly late night spent putting possible food stops on my GPS track, I awoke to falling wet snow.  Linnaea was displeased with the unspring-like weather and I had no luck convincing her that this was spring weather.

Loading up the bikes at Randy's house in Moretown.

Dave, Charles, and I met at Randy’s house in Moretown to load bikes onto various cars, and to cram five tray racks onto the roof of his minivan for the long post-ride drive.  After some minor rearrangements we were off, and Lexi and Linnaea were ready for a croissant party at Red Hen.

My Niner, ready for the long road, complete with frame bag, Carousel Design Works seat bag, fenders, Ay-Up lights etc.

Outside the Warren Town Hall we unloaded the bikes and sorted out the last details: putting cue sheets in place, putting on the shoe covers, and hooking up the lights.  I clicked my GPS into place, and was even lucky enough to avoid the dreaded “Clear Track Log” when resetting the unit’s computer mileage functions.  A blobby layer of snow covered the grass.  However, the snow had stopped falling, and the roads were just a little damp.  It didn’t take very many crossed fingers to figure that it would warm up nicely within a couple of hours.

The cockpit: Garmin HCx GPS, VDO C3 computer, Ay-Up light with the 9 hour Epic battery, Carbon Stryke aeros, a ziplock cue bag, and two of those super huge post office rubber bands.

Randy George, Charles Martley, Dave Blumenthal, Bob Dillon, and Dave Tremblay outside the Warren Store.

At 9am the guy in the Warren Store signed our control cards and we headed south.  Somehow the roads were just dry enough that we didn’t have any problems with road spray.  Having rested for a couple of days and put a fresh chain on my bike, it felt easy to make the Granville Gulf climb.  Of course, I was used to doing an extra 30 miles just to get to it.  Our group of five: Randy George (fearless captain), Dave Tremblay, Bob Dillon, Charles Martley, and me, were energized and chatty.  Apparently our conversation was so engrossing that less than two hours later we were startled to see that not only had the snow and general wetness disappeared, but that there was nary a puffy cloud in the deep blue sky.

Dave T, Randy, and myself. photo by Charles Martley

Dave Tremblay. photo by Charles Martley

Randy George. photo by Charles Martley

photo by Charles Martley

Strong tailwinds were the theme of Vermont.  It didn’t hurt that we were on smooth Rts 100 and 103, and that there was necessarily elevation to lose by the time we crossed the Connecticut River into New Hampshire.  Our Google-based route led us through Walpole, NH, not far from where I had worked for Jonathan Clowes back in 1995.  It was a bit odd to recognize the roads of my former Hinsdale-Walpole commute.  Our first sighting of the rail trail leading to Keene was none too inspiring…endless puddles blended with gooey quagmire, so we stuck to the main road.  The situation seemed to have improved a few miles later, so we jumped on and followed the smooth grade.  The rail trail was pretty dry, but there were some sandy bits to avoid, and hoards of sticks and twigs just itchin’ to jump into your spokes.

Riding the rail trail west of Keene, NH. photo by Randy George

In a couple of places the trail ran through cavernous cuts with poor drainage that turned into long swimming pools, much like abandoned quarries.  There the trail detoured singletrack style through the woods.  The mountain bikes of Team Dave were quite content, I’m not so sure how Bob’s carbon fiber road bike liked climbing egg sized rocks and descending rooty track.  Charles certainly didn’t appreciate it, so he and Bob shifted to the main road.  Fortunately I had repeatedly advertised “Elm City Brewing” more times than perhaps socially acceptable, so we all knew exactly where to converge when the rail trail gave out exactly one block from beer.  Amazingly enough our two groups arrived simultaneously.  With 110 miles done by 6:00pm, we had a few hours in the bank and sat down at a nice sunny outdoor table for a real dinner.  For me, that also meant a sampler: Peachy Keene Kolsch, Raspberry Wheat, Irish Potato Beer, and Pothole Porter.  The beers were fair, and the opinion of the standard brewpub food was decidedly a mixed bag.  I certainly filled myself with salmon on toast and a veggie burger with fries.

We swung back into our respective saddles at 7pm and after a short meandering through town, took a hard right onto yet another rail trail.  This one was even more persistently sandy than the last.  Dave handled it very well with narrow mountain/cx tires, and Randy plowed his skinnies through with skill honed on VAST trails.  My 30c rear end squirreled around a bunch, but I plugged on without a lot of issue.  We were certainly all grateful when the cue sheet directed us to a paved road.

As genuine night fell, we gradually turned on our various lights and red blinkies.  My Ay-Ups again performed very well.  Last year I happily ran a 6hr battery for 7.5.  This time I ran the newer 9hr Epic battery on the Low setting and found it to be just fine.  My new 3/4″ PVC aero bar mount worked great, though I may refabricate it out of less brittle PEX.

Upon entering Massachusetts the pavement quality of the local road went from fair to mysteriously horrid.  It was a veritable moonscape for miles.  An enormous sign proclaimed that the road would “soon” be repaved, thanks to the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009.  The road was so bad, it seemed like a good use of tax dollars.

Dave and I took a couple minute walk through the dark woods detour to visit the season’s first geocache, a small box hidden beneath an enormous rock.  I grabbed a “Dozer Dave” coin and Dave a “Little John” action figure (ready for adventure and to defend forests).  The other guys were a little mystified as to what we had been doing.

Even in the middle of the night we got used to occasional traffic, most of which was polite and sober.  While riding next to a rail line we heard a distant train whistle.  The rumble rapidly rushed upon us, and while my rational mind knew that I was on a road and the train was on its tracks, it was vaguely disconcerting and surreal as our lights found the rushing train in the darkness.

Overnight the climbs were a bit harder and a bit slower, in part because we didn’t have good information about how long they really were.  Its a lot easier to steel one’s mind to a climbing challenge when you know exactly how large a beast lies in front.  Just shy of 10pm we came into Athol, MA and found a CVS where we could buy chips, Fig Newtons, drinks, and use the restroom.  Some part of my lower GI was a bit cranky, so I broke out the token Immodium I always carry in my repair kit.  Within a couple of hours it had worked its magic and I was 100% again.  Our pace was slow and the temperature was somewhere in the 30s, so I put on my Patagonia Nano Puff, which kept me plenty comfortable.

Sometime in the middle of the night we took a right turn onto a road signed “Ecumenical Conclave”, which raised all awake eyebrows.  We rode across some kind of estate and eventually amongst the buildings of the Spencer Abbey.  It was most peculiar.  I tried to ride as quietly as possible, though I’m not sure exactly what I was apprehensive about.  Shortly thereafter we crossed the main drag in Spencer and found a 24 hour McDonald’s.  Only the drive-thru was open for business, but Charles put on his best I’m-freezing-and-about-to-die-act (I’m not sure how much acting was required), and the manager opened the door for us to put our feet up, drink sweetened cocoa, and dry out our gonads under the air hand dryers.

At about 4am we crossed into Connecticut.  Our overnight pace had been slow, and I was getting progressively more nervous about the speed we’d need to keep up in the last few hours to finish at 9am.  As dawn broke we entered Putnam, CT, riding on broad city streets for a bit before turning onto a paved bike path.  We soon were halted as the bike path ended abruptly at a high fence signed “Authorized Personnel Only”.  Having cue sheets and no maps, we were in a bind.  My GPS saved the day, as I was able to zoom out and find us an alternate route that turned out to be a pretty trivial detour.  One point for the GPS, minus one point for Google bike routes.  About halfway up the detour hill, Charles decided to bail.  He was toast and the nearby 24 hour hospital waiting room was as good a place to hang out as could be found in a foreign land at 5:20am.

From there, Randy, Dave, Bob, and I made good time over quiet roads.  Spring was in full force here: forsythias exploded everywhere.  Pink tufted willow-like trees bobbed quietly in the mild breeze.  The thinnest sliver of moon peeked between clouds lit up by the earliest part of the sunrise.  Our 22 hour control point turned out to be yet another McDonald’s, this time in Lathrop, CT.  After years of not setting foot in a single McDonald’s (Montpelier, Vermont is known as the only state capitol without a McDonald’s), it felt a bit odd to visit two in quick succession.  It was also odd to see that the corporation has clearly changed their interior design thinking.  Scuzzy plastic seats have been replaced by upholstered chairs, fancy lighting, and large plasma screen TVs.  Of course, the quality of CNN doesn’t get better when enlarged.

We departed McDonald’s at 7am.  25 miles to ride in 2 hours.  Ordinarily that wouldn’t be very hard, but having been in the saddle a darn long time and gotten zero sleep changes things.  Dastardly rolling hills weren’t that long, but were brutally steep.  Maintaining our average speed was challenging when we turned onto a dirt road, which turned into a Class 4 rough road, which turned into a veritable hill climb interval of loose pebbles over Swantown Hill.  Just a couple of miles out from Mystic, were were still wondering when the final descent would come.

About a mile out of town we stopped some dog walkers to sign our 24 hour control card, and rolled the last bit to the Flood Tide Restaurant.  The AYCE brunch wasn’t to start until 11am, so we showered and snacked in Liza’s (Randy’s wife) room.  Upon laying down on the bed I immediately fell asleep for a half hour.  Brunch was good enough, but mostly I just wanted to sleep.  Its notable that last year my ass was painfully sore and deeply bruised.  This time, my Brooks Swift did the trick.  My butt was just fine, with zip chamois lube.

Ride stats:
243.5 miles
18:12 moving time
13.4 mph moving average
(the time rules of the event require an overall average of 10.0mph)

After brunch we visited a hardware store for some hose clamps to reinforce the structural integrity of the “rack”.  Five bikes on a rickety rack didn’t seem like a good thing to have when driving across three states.  We picked up Charles from the hospital, where the security guards were unsure if this biker vagrant was ever going to leave.  Three cheers for Liza, a gloriously cheerful chauffeur.  Thanks!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. ferdinand lauffer permalink
    April 20, 2010 3:44 PM

    Thanks, Dave, and continued good luck on your training runs for this summer.
    I’ll be doing the SR series out of Montreal for driving and $$ reasons. Looking forward to the Lake Ontario 1000k this July.
    Ferdinand

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