Team Gorges Flechers – 380km in 25 hours

Having advertised some longer rides earlier this year, a few other randonneurs asked if I would like to join their “fleche” team. These rides are similar to brevets, in that there is a certain time limit, a particular distance, and controle stops along the way to prove that you followed the route. The difference with a fleche, is that you ride as a team of 3-5 randonneurs, for 24 hours, and must cover at least 360km in that time. Riders can stop as often as they need, but no stops can be over 2 hours long – presumably to ensure that they don’t just ride fast, sleep overnight, and finish in the morning. These rules necessitate that the ride will go through the night, which can be a great experience.
Our route had us going north between Skaneateles and Owasco Lakes, then east making a large loop around Oneida Lake, and then west headed to the finish in Ontario, NY (near Rochester). I left home around 9am, with plenty of time to spare to reach our 10am start at East Hill Plaza. I was leading the way towards Moravia, and pulled into a parking lot for a quick stop to refill water. We continued along on some great roads, and rolled our way along Skaneateles Lake, which is one of my favorite segments. We had to get our brevet cards signed in town, and while we only expected a short stop, my sugar kept dropping low, so I ordered a few more slices of pizza.

The quick break turned out to be a bit longer than planned, so Jim thought we should make up time. Not having ridden a fleche before, it seemed like a fine idea, so we rode rather quickly for the next section to Baldwinsville. Now about 67 miles in, we found a Dunkin Donuts, and I got a cold raspberry lemonade while Jim and Dan got some food.

After we got further along, I noticed some weird action with my rear derailleur. I could no longer shift onto the right side of the cassette in the small front ring, as I kept shifting around trying to find out why that was. Then Jim’s rear tire suddenly went flat and we found a shaded patch of trees to stop at. Apparently my derailleur was just sticking and not retracting normally, causing the loss of tension on the chain. I dumped chain lube on it, and moved it back and forth many times until it cooperated again. 80 miles down now, and a long way to go.

Again we powered on, rounding Oneida Lake and picking up the pace more than we needed, hoping to save some of the time that we had lost from extra stops. When we stopped, I realized that I had been taking short breaths all day, and my lungs were starting to slow me down. This was a much needed stop at a convenience store for about 25 minutes. After this point, I focused on my breathing much more, and was able to take deeper breaths over time which helped a lot and made me feel less tired.

The next two controls were very close, so we only stopped briefly at the first. The second was in Camden, at a Stewarts Shop, now about halfway into the ride. I took the opportunity to change my base layers, swap gloves, lose the silk tights (for sun protection) now that it was getting dark, and try to wipe off the sunscreen. I still didn’t buy any food, relying mostly on the food that I had packed that I still had more than enough of.

The route continues north for a while, meandering through maybe seven state forests, and was a great stretch of road. Now in the dark, Dan and I had our generator lights on, and Jim eventually turned on his battery lights when the sun was down. We approached Redfield, where the next control was, but were unable to find it easily. We went farther up the road and found the Inn, though it was dark and closed.

Next stop was Pulaski, where the minimart we stopped at had just closed, so we continued to another Dunkin Donuts. The guy mopping the floor had been there a year ago when some other teams came through, so he seemed happy to see this happening again. I got some real food this time – a bagel with ham and cheese. We took a longer stop here for about 45 minutes, since now that it’s dark out, we’re happy to spend a little less time on the bike. About 150 miles ridden now.

We continued directly to Mexico, which has a false turn in the route. The county road we were on veered right, but we needed to continue straight. Fortunately with 3 GPSs, we were easily able to see our route at all times and get back on track quickly. In Mexico, we stopped at a gas station with some interesting characters. One girl came in wearing a prom dress, and a few others that were clearly drunk came in for food. I snacked on my beef jerky, refilled the gatorade, and sat on the curb while we stopped.

The route during most of the night was very easy to follow with few turns, making it easy to cover enough ground and still allow for longer stops. Somewhere after Mexico, I was doing math in my head and calculated that we would still need to take several hours of stops to not finish too early and get disqualified. It was hard to be sure though, so even when we got to Walmart sometime around 1am, we didn’t stop for too long. I did get a chance to lay down and nap for a good 30 minutes though, and slowly prepare for more riding into the night.

I don’t remember much about the rest of the riding at night. I think my mind was mostly trying to calculate our moving pace, and how much time was left, and keeping an eye out for where we should sleep. A park would pass with some picnic tables, but we kept going. Finally I said to the others that we really needed to take another hour off, and shortly after that we saw lights on at an odd stop with an “Information” sign. I think one side was a gas station, and the other was a grungy drunken high school student kind of diner – perfect! We leaned the bikes on the wall, and stopped in for an early breakfast now that it was about 3am. I didn’t get any sleep, but being off the bike gave my eyes a break from the road. We left after an hour, and shortly after that the sky was beginning to light up again as the birds started singing. It was a perfectly timed break to kill some more night time before the light came up.

We followed another long straight section of road, until a turn to Sodus Point. We passed a convenience store I had marked on the GPS, which was the only place I had stopped near the lake before on a long ride from Ithaca last year. We reached a breakfast spot and I got some more sleep as we waited for it to open, and had 1.5 hours to kill. I can only imagine their confusion as to why 3 cyclists would show up at 7am, sleep for an hour on the picnic tables, and then come in for food. Bacon and hashbrowns hit the spot for breakfast #2.

The last stretch was the hardest to get started. I was at the point where my feet were too sore to stand and pedal, so I had to try to stay seated. But my butt was also hurting from a full day on the bike. I would try to lean forward more to ease the pressure, but my hands were starting to hurt now too. Once all 3 contact points on the bike get sore, there isn’t much to do but hope for the best. The terrain was a bit rolling to end, which made it difficult to just pedal along leisurely. Instead I found myself pushing harder up a hill, and resting on a thigh to coast down the other side. We took one last short break just a mile or two from the end, since it’s supposed to be 24 hours of riding. Then we wind through a development, and down a driveway/path to get to the ride’s end, at the organizers house.

24 hours and 45 minutes after I left home, I had covered 235.8 miles. This will likely be my longest ride for a while, since I’m finding that I need at least 2 weeks to fully recover to do another long ride, and the summer weekends are all filling up with other plans not necessarily involving time on a bike. The fleche organizer had some mattresses set up in the living room, so I took a nap for half an hour while the others ate and packed up bikes. It was only about a 2 hour drive home from the finish. I laid outside in the shade and slept for a few hours.

And now for the awards:

Most popular roadside trash: I’d call it a two-way tie between the single workgloves, and piles of fishing lures. Fortunately no one hit the lures…
Favorite food while riding: Bacon and hash browns was the best food stop. I think next time I’d go for a full meal somewhere on the ride though.
Best segment of riding: Camden to Pulaski was a great section with some mild climbing, and fun descending in the dark on smooth roads. Though VanOstrand was also some very pleasant riding near the beginning.
Angriest driver: I think the only honk I remember was from a few motorcycles, when we were kind of in the road before an upcoming turn. I waved and they waved back, so all was good in the end.

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5 Responses to Team Gorges Flechers – 380km in 25 hours

  1. Ruth Sherman says:

    Very impressive! Soon you’ll be doing a 600 K.

  2. Colin Bailey says:

    Awesome job! I thought I was jealous reading about it over the weekend, but now that I read the report, I think I chose well passing up a fleche this year.. You rock!

    • Andy says:

      It was much more about managing contact points than strength though. So long as you can sit for that long without your hands, feet, or bum falling off, covering 360km in 24 hours can be done by riding a reasonable speed and still having several hours off for breaks. Next time I would certainly want those breaks planned out ahead of time to make them as effective as possible (especially to get some sleep).

      • Colin Bailey says:

        That makes sense.. Biggest thing I keep finding is that those extended periods off the bike are harder to recover from. Not saying you don’t need them, just harder to recover from. Maybe next year. I like your course. I know some of the area. Went to school in Oswego, and spent alot of time up there. Congratulations!

  3. Harald says:

    As always, an impressive ride and a great report. Riding at night, on unknown roads, with a group of sleep-deprived riders sounds a little scary to me.

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