The Lost City of Petrolia (Fleche weekend part 1)

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Eric fixing a nearly broken chain

Moving frequently means always being the new guy in the club. The fleche has always been my favorite type of randonneuring ride, but as it requires having a team of 3-5 bicycles, I had to be proactive about finding the right people to ride with. So at the start of an SFR ride, I mentioned the fleche to Eric and he told me about his idea to ride on the Lost Coast prior to the fleche. This sounded rather daunting to me, but it made sense that if we were driving that far north, we may as well keep going and ride among some even more beautiful scenery. He had ridden a similar route last year, so I felt that this was worth going for.

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Fancy meeting you here!

On Thursday afternoon, we drove all the way up to Arcata. Luck had it that all the hotels were booked solid for some college parent thing, but we eventually found a place. Tim stayed somewhere nearby and joined us at the start on Friday morning. I think our start time was 8am, but we didn’t actually get rolling until half an hour later. Eric had to stop after a few miles due to a chain issue, and he replaced a breaking link. Not far after Eureka, I looked back to see two riders wearing recognizable reflective vest colors, indicating that they were likely to be randonneurs. A minute later, Roy and Max caught up, and we learned about their similar plan to ride the Lost Coast (although on more dirt roads for a slightly shorter distance, not for RUSA credit).

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IMG_0829As the Google terrain map shows, the Petrolia sign is the end of flat ground for a long time. We ascended for quite a while, but kept a reasonable pace knowing that the day would be long, and only the beginning of our weekend adventure. The road was empty. There is literally nothing to get to out there, so there is no traffic. The road is also in poor condition, but it was easy to see far enough ahead to safely use the entire road to avoid holes when needed. We all stopped a few times for pictures, as it was just too gorgeous not to.

IMG_0830We had three main stops – really at the only places there was to stop. I did just fine on two water bottles, but if it were a hot day this would be tougher with limited services. At the final store, Roy and Max headed for a dirt climb, despite the locals thinking they were nuts, saying things like “even we don’t drive up there” or “watch out for cars cutting every corner”. Our climb was still steep enough, and offered a grand view right at the 5 mile mark. The grade drops, but it’s still a climb past the view. The descent was scary – badly paved, twisty curves, although just a few cars. It was tough to let go, since a sudden bump was very jarring, and the switchbacks were requiring significant slowing.

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Our paths split here

Once at the bottom, the road became flat and smoothly paved. We entered into the Avenue of the Giants. The road literally weaves through the forest, abutted with giant trees. I remember it being about 6:15pm, although it was mostly looking dark because of the canopy above – sunset would still be an hour away. Tim took a long pull, upping the pace to just the right level to make good time without taking from tomorrow’s reserves. We made it to Garberville after about 12 hours on the bike, making this the longest 200km I may ever do. The 10,000+ feet of climbing really eats up a lot of time.

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Top of the 5 mile climb

We met up with one additional teammate for the fleche (Ryan), and prepped bikes for the following day. A fresh set of clothes, and a box to mail home the dirty kits, were waiting for us at the hotel. I slept hard that night!

Stay tuned for part 2 of the fleche weekend!

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