Sunday, April 17, 2011

Images from an unfinished fleche

The fleche invitation came by email and with a warning that proved prophetic:

 "... the weather typically sucks. I've ridden in both snow and rain. The one year I skipped, it was beautiful but this year, because I'm riding, it's pretty much guaranteed to be crap again."

Fleche is French for arrow. The idea of the event is that teams of riders will start at different locations and take different routes to arrive at the same destination, like arrows converging on a target. The teams are 3-5 riders. At least three riders must arrive at the destination together for a successful finish.
A fleche is a 24-hour ride. No stop can be longer than 2 hours. You cannot ride the last 25K until the 22nd hour. The rules guarantee you will ride at least 360K and ride pretty much all night with little to no sleep. I agreed immediately. I would be the newbie on a team of experienced Randonneurs.

Our route looked like the path of a boomerang more than an arrow. It started near Lyons, PA, just 30 miles from the finish before following an approximately 230 mile course through Philadelphia, into New Jersey, and then back to Quakertown for the finish.
As the date approached, the weather forecast predicted a major storm for the Saturday we were scheduled to start. A day or two prior, our team exchanged emails about the forecast and whether we would go forward. Everyone was still in.

We met for a pancake breakfast prior to our 10:00 start. The forecast had not improved. If anything, the predictions were worse, calling for thunderstorms, road flooding and high winds.
We started under overcast skies with a forecast of ever worsening weather

East into the wind.

Storm clouds in the distance

Heading into the wind.

 Heavy mist became a light shower

Showers turned to rain.

What do rain and traffic and wind have in common?
They can all be driving


We checked the forecast. It called for more and worse. The team voted for discretion over valor and ended the ride.

We ended the ride at the Philadelphia Art Museum, 62 miles into the event. All of us rain soaked. Our pace slowed by hours of riding into gusting headwinds. The museum was a short ride from two of our homes. In fact, it's on my bike commute, so I rode home on the route I have ridden so often after a day at work. I was disappointed. I expected to ride until the weather or the roads or my own limitations stopped me, or until it was over. Instead, the more experienced Randonneurs made a reasonable decision in the midst of an unreasonable event. The forecast predicted widespread severe thunderstorms, flooded roads and high gusting winds. Turns out, they made a wise decision.

Three hours later. Our route would have been dead center of the yellow. I listened to the lightning, thunder and reports of flooded roads from the safety of my home.          (Thanks to Pa Randonneurs for the image)


  1. good call.
    sometimes it's good to be agg and epic.
    sometimes agg and epic is stupid.
    good call and good for banging out 100K!

  2. I looked at the PA Randonneurs site to check the Fleche results. So, naturally I check your blog immediately after. On that day you all were riding, as the rain was pouring down, I was thinking that I was glad I did not sign up for a Fleche (ya know, unpredictable April weather). I am sorry you all were not able to complete the ambitious ride, but you can't fight Mother Nature.


    I am not typically a blog follower, but I really love reading you blogs, and always look forward to your new installments. I don't know if you are a writer by profession, but if you are not, you should be. It is a rare talent to be able to leave your readers with the sense that they have experienced the subtle or minor details that you have just gone through. You portray things in such a way that, as I am reading your writings, I can feel, smell, and sense the surroundings. Even though we ride a lot of the same rides, I am able to enjoy the post experience much more by reading your insights and experiences.


    Don J.