What happens when the kooks take on 386 K in under 24hours?
By Gabe Ehlert, @olgrumpy
At its simplest definition, the Fléche is an annual ride requiring a team to cover a minimum distance of 360k within a 24-hour time period, ending at a predetermined destination and time. The Fléche is conceptually based on a spring ride that occurred on Easter weekend in France, where randonneurs from around France converged on St. Etienne to celebrate long distance self supported cycling, and it’s champion Paul de Vivie (aka Vélocio).
In Randonneur cyclist , riding brevets could be described as doing an individual self supported bike tour, time trial, or a really long alley cat; but condescend into a distinct and finite amount of time. Depending on the length of the brevet (200k, 300k, 400k, 600k, 1000k, 1200k), you have anywhere from 13.5 hours to complete a 200k to 96 hours for a 1200k. Carrying the analogy forward, the Fléche (pronounced flesh) could be described as taking a long haul road trip with friends, where you are all stuck in the back of the van together. When riding the Fléche you experience your own ride, but you also get to intimately experience each other’s ride as well. The shared highs and lows are primarily what keep bringing me back year after year to create a route and wade through the myriad murky rules, regulations, and cat herding of forming a team. At its simplest definition, the Fléche is an annual ride requiring a team to cover a minimum distance of 360k within a 24-hour time period, ending at a predetermined destination and time. The Fléche is conceptually based on a spring ride that occurred on Easter weekend in France, where randonneurs from around France converged on St. Etienne to celebrate long distance self supported cycling, and it’s champion Paul de Vivie (aka Vélocio).
This year five of us (Jason, Peter, Erik, Andrew, and myself), rode from Portland, Oregon to the official SIR (Seattle International Randonneurs) finish in Olympia, Washington. Our route’s distance was 386 kilometers, with 11,000 feet (plus or minus) of elevation. The general route took us over the West Hills from Portland, up the Banks-Vernonia Trail, over the Coast Range to Astoria, and then north into Washington along Willapa Bay. From there we cut north-east on logging roads towards the rural township of Brooklyn and it’s infamous logging tavern, then through Capitol Forest before our final push into Olympia.
Leaving Portland at 5pm on Friday, we summitted the West Hills and descended into the first warm and sunny weather of a long, wet, and cold winter. We saw snowy volcanoes peeking over the tops of the now easterly West Hills in the late day sun. We made up absurdist back-stories and expanded universes for historical plaques, and loudly sang chewing gum jingles (with accompanying guitar riffs) all as we rode through the pitch dark of northwestern Oregon. We got pleasantly blasted by warm air settling down through drainages and sinks while descending the Coast Range, where at the pass we were advised to install snow chains. We participated in the classic 4am dog sprint; I’m positive there was a dog right at my heels, though nobody else saw or heard it. Ghost dog. We suffered together and supported each other through the headwinds of the Columbia River basin and the dark and rolling introspective hours before dawn.
After a rest-less and hearty diner breakfast amongst locals and other randos we rode out into the rain and up to Brooklyn and it’s not yet open tavern, we were far too early, even for loggers. We basked in the sun-break climbing the fresh deep gravel out of Brooklyn, and relished in the rainy muddy swooping descent down to the Chehalis River. We endured torrential rains as we ground up the last long steep climb in the painfully vibrant greenness of Capitol Forest, and we ditch napped to the sound of recreational semi-automatic weapons. Then suddenly we were done. We ate all the food, drank all the milkshakes, and fell asleep in our beers at the hotel bar. The next morning, over cups of weak coffee and plates of scrambled eggs and potatoes we shared stories and routes with the other PNW teams that had ridden this year’s fléche. We drowsily returned to Seattle, still rando-drunk and already scheming about future rides together.
See the full #fridaynightflechelights route HERE
Find out more about Randoneur Cycling at https://rusa.org