Note 1: A well planned trip tends to be less eventful, as this was. This may be a bit dry.
Note 2: In February Team Chain Reaction (TCR) had 7 members
Note 3: Every year, the weekend before fleche, TCR calls all its controls to ensure they plan to be open during fleche.
During the week before fleche the weather forecast was horrible. 5 inches of snow was predicted for most of TCR’s route on Saturday 7 April, which would have been unrideable. After some discussions within the team and with fleche organizer Bill Beck, we discovered we had the minimum number of riders allowed for fleche (3 – Clint, Margaret, and Jack) available for a Friday start and a finish Saturday before the snow started. But doing so meant that Earl and Pat could not start with us. Previously both Mike and David had moved to Dan’s team because they were shorthanded, and Earl hopped over when we changed our start date, completing the reduction of team size from 7 to 3. After a little while it dawned on us that not starting on Saturday meant we no longer had to start at 7AM because there was no longer any 7AM Sunday arrival for breakfast. Since we had spouses picking up in Arlington at the end of the ride, we gave them a bit of a break on getting up early on a weekend morning by delaying our start/finish to 8AM.
We were quite surprised/moved by the number of people who showed up for our start – we must have been outnumbered 5 to 1. Margaret was on her first fleche, and received much ribbing about not having the flexibility of abandoning the ride without DQ’ing the team.
We rolled out of the Big Bean at 8AM sharp under overcast skies and cool temperatures, and had an uneventful first leg. One thing we hadn’t realized about a Friday start was rush hour traffic – something fleche usually doesn’t encounter – but it was mild and it was over by the time we left Benfield Blvd. We rode past Jack’s childhood house (only TCR members know where it is) and hit our first control at a brand new Royal Farms in Largo MD at mile 31. For this year's flèche Jack eliminated all controls that didn’t have both seating and restrooms (bye-bye 7-Elevens).
We continued through the rest of Maryland, finishing with one of the high points of the route: a very nice ride along the Potomac River at National Harbor, then crossing the Wilson Bridge, then riding along the Potomac in Virginia towards Mount Vernon. We stopped in Fort Hunt to shed a layer as the sun came out and warmed us. Perfect riding weather – warm with soft sunlight filtered by thin, high clouds. Headwinds were predicted, but were light at this point.
We pulled into our second control in Lorton VA at mile 65 for lunch – Paisano’s Pizza. The young guy behind the counter asked Jack “Hey, are you the guy that called last weekend about a group of bike riders stopping here?” – the first time that happened in 8 TCR fleches. There were many food options at this shopping center, so Jack and Margaret got burritos at Chipotle and ate them at Paisano’s with drinks from Paisanos just to be fair. On the way out the employee asked the usual questions about how long the ride was, expressed the usual disbelief at the answer, and made a comment about how his best riding years were behind him (at about 30 years of age). Jack assured him his best years were ahead of him.
We continued into Virginia, taking on the big climb of the day (climbing out of the Occoquan River valley) with little difficulty. Traffic in Dale City was worse than previous fleches because of the weekday, so for the first time in many years of riding this route the team exercised the option of riding the bike paths that run along the route. This route was planned many years ago to use roads with bike paths running alongside (just in case), but because Saturday traffic is lighter we had not exercised the bike path option until this year. As we rode through Dale City the predicted headwinds arrived, and started to become a bit onerous. Clint spent more than his share of his time at the front.
Following our next control at the Woodbine Winot Stop (a BIG improvement over Aden Grocery, a tiny bait shop with a porta-potty) at mile 81 on the edge of civilization, we headed into the Virginia countryside. Headwinds were now challenging, particularly for Margaret who was experiencing leg fatigue and a stabbing shoulder pain but keeping thoughts of quitting to herself at this point, but still better than 5” of snow would have been. The biggest issue on Fleetwood Drive, which is a quiet 2-lane country road on a Saturday, was a continuous line of afternoon rush-hour traffic that made no sense for that location. As best we could figure, this was traffic heading southbound out of Manassas bypassing I-95 by going behind Quantico, and was flowing with us. Safety concerns led Jack to move to the back and blast this line of traffic with his very bright Dinotte tail light. At one point we pulled off the road, and could not get back on because there was no break in the traffic. We eventually forced our way back in by pulling in front of a car to force it to stop.
Because of the headwind and because this was our longest stretch between controls (45 miles), we made an unscheduled stop at a Subway in Elkwood, the only such service other than Aden grocery along this stretch. On the way out Clint’s Boa shoe closure broke, which was quickly repaired with some of Jack’s duct tape which had been in his tool kit unused since LEL.
After a quick dinner at Subway in Culpeper at mile 126,
we had finished riding southwest and headed towards Purcellville which was 61 miles to the north. The headwind had become a (lighter) tailwind, it was dark, and the terrain is particularly lumpy along this stretch. Along the way we hit our Warrenton control along the way at mile 151,
and rode down Main Street Middleburg. We had close encounters with herds of deer, and some of the dark descents on roads without lines to mark the edges were a bit scary. To entertain us on this long stretch Clint played some Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes from his phone. We hit our control at the Purcellville McDonalds at mile 186 around 1:30AM, then hopped on the W&OD trail to head for the finish. At this point the wind was now from the north, and it was cold.
We arrived at our 22 hour control, the Amphora Diner in Herndon at 4:02, giving us nearly the entire 2 hour maximum time to stop in one location. Each of us ordered what we wanted and napped on our own booth benches, which were large and comfortable. When we came out at 6:00 it was cold and it was sprinkling, and we headed for the finish.
With just a couple miles ago we found our fan – a guy Jack works with clapping for us on the side of the trail who knew we’d be in the area.
With 27 minutes and about 1.5 miles to go we passed a Giant, the first open business we had seen for miles:
Clint: I gotta go! (departing the trail)
Jack: We’re a mile and a half from the finish – can’t you hold it?
Clint: I’ve been holding it for 5 miles!
So Jack and Margaret stopped and waited. And waited. And started to freak out (thinking about recent fleche riders who had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the final few miles of fleche). Finally, after almost 10 minutes Clint rejoined the team and off we went.
A couple of blocks from the finish, the trail was blocked by a construction barricade. Afer a moment of panic, we rode the wrong way down a street parallel to the trail, then realized that we were actually on a walled off section of that street that was set as a temporary trail. In the final block the normal trail reappeared and we hopped onto it and into the parking lot off the finish, the Key Bridge Marriott.
TCR traditionally takes a victory lap around the parking lot, but not this year. We needed a receipt from the hotel before 8 AM, and we weren’t sure how (normally, for the Sunday finish, the fleche organizer sees you finish and nothing else is required). We quickly parked our bikes, ran into the lobby and looked for a source of a receipt. Spotting a Starbucks, we ran into there, only to find a long line. We asked those at the front of the line for their receipts, explaining our just-completed ride, but all viewed us with suspicion. While the cashier fumbled with the register to try to get us a receipt, Clint ran out to the concierge desk to ask him. He wanted to gererate a receipt, but was told by his supervisor not to do it. Instead, he signed a business card and wrote the time on it . On the second try he got the time right – AM, not PM. By then the Starbucks cashier, with some help, produced a suitable receipt: 7:47AM.
Clint’s wife and Margaret’s husband arrived and drove us home.
Riding time: 17:29
Max speed: 34 mph (Kellys Ford)