I think it was Joe who put the question out there in January or February: “Fleche, anyone?” Uh, huh…everything sounds good in February when getting a safe 5-10 mile ride in on some days can be a victory. “Yeah, I don’t know, ” was my first response. But after checking with Jayne, “Even if I don’t ride, you all can use our house as the start for the Escargots Volants again.” So who was riding? Joe for sure. Katie was in. Chris said, “Sure. Why not?” Was I joining? Did Laurent want to join? Nigel said he was interested. It was starting to look like we potentially had two teams, as you can have up to five on a team, which is a lot, but you don’t really want a team of three because then there is no room for error or issue, as Katie and I learned a few years ago. I said ‘yes’ before Laurent, but pretty soon we were up to seven, then eight. So two teams, one with a different name technically (I never did get their team name right), but we all ordered Escargots Volants jerseys, and we agreed to start at our house with the teams starting one hour apart.
We did an amazing job, I think of organizing ourselves for this event, given that there were eight of us involved. The all-guy team–Joe, Mike, Nigel and Chris–agreed to start at 9am, and the team really riding under the name Escargots Volants–Katie, Chris, Laurent and I–agreed to start at 10am. Jayne and I agreed to provide waffles for all before the start of the ride, and everyone worked out their own transportation and sleeping arrangements.
Unlike last year, when Escargots Volants had to pull out of the event after a few hours due to torrential storms that made continuing a rather dangerous prospect, we had really good weather. After waffles and photos, and an hour of cooling our heels following the start of the A Team, we walked to the bottom of our driveway and headed right, up Fredericksville to the first turn onto Schweitz Rd. The first 15 miles out to and through Oley Valley is a real treat, beautiful and relatively peaceful. This is the best part of the ride for me. We made quick work of the first controle at Island Pizza in Birdsboro and continued on. (Our faster brothers left us a message on one of the picnic tables outside the restaurant; scrawled on a scrap of newsprint, it read, “Escargots Rule!”)
We didn’t really stop again until we reached the Manyunk Diner so we were pretty hungry by the time we got there. Since we had maintained a good pace (for Escargots) we enjoyed a leisurely lunch. I forget whether Laurent ordered a pastrami sandwich or not, but apparently someone on another ride had been astonished that he could eat something so heavy during a brevet. Laurent always has a good appetite on brevets, but then he almost always finishes, too. Maybe there is something to his method?
From Manyunk, there’s a bit of delicate navigation through Philadelphia, over the Ben Franklin Bridge, through a corner of Camden and then through Haddonfield. This whole section is quite busy: lots of people and lots of cars, so we needed to pay close attention to what we were doing. Meanwhile, we were making good progress and when we got to the Wawa Controle at Mile 93, we ran into the Mangy Old Dogs (I think that is what they were calling themselves). We were all surprised because we didn’t expect to see them at all…except maybe in Riegelsville before they headed up the hill after breakfast. Wow! That was a confidence booster for us. They told stories of flat tires and I can’t remember what else….
Laurent accused me of running a time trial from this controle to the next one in Tabernacle, but I wanted to get there in time to be able to use the general store as the controle rather than the bar, so I guess I did set a brisk pace for a few miles. I paid for it a bit later though. I learned that night (again) that I can maintain a pace of 13 to 15 miles per hour, but above that, I can ride faster for a while, but then I blow out…start feeling sick and drained. Good to learn these things.
When we got to Allentown, we took a brief rest on the sidewalk outside a bar that was still marginally open. Evidence of the A Team having been there was to be found on a couple of tables on the patio. Glasses from drinks were still out there and when one of the servers came out to clean up, he made a remark about the other group of cyclists that had passed through recently. It was not a real surprise then to run into the guys in Princeton at the all-night Wawa full of Princeton students with the munchies. They were finishing up their meal and rest and turned over the bus shelter that they had been occupying to us. Katie and I stretched out on the bench inside the shelter and Laurent and Chris hung out on the grass outside. I managed to eat and drink something and eventually my lightheadedness subsided and I felt ready to ride again.
From Princeton, there is really only 60 to 70 miles to go, so we set a smart but moderate pace and rode through the night hours, stopping at Titusville to send yet another postcard, and then slowly made our way through Lambertville, Frenchtown, and eventually just as it was getting light, to Riegelsville, the penultimate controle.
Quite a party was already in progress at Muellers Too, as all five teams (I think 5) participating this year were using this as their breakfast stop. Tom even came by to see how we were all doing. We had just over an hour to kill there, so we had breakfast, much coffee, catnaps sitting up in our bar stools, and then with two hours to finish the last 15 miles or so, we headed up Route 412 toward Quakertown.
We finished with about 20 minutes to spare, about the same as the last time we had completed this event. I couldn’t have picked a better team. We did a great job of riding efficiently, taking care of each other (Some of those middle of the night stretches can make one feel that the eyes are going to close no matter what! Laurent sang to us in French through some of that time…it was great…) and trying to have a good time. I also really enjoyed seeing the guys, not only because it made me feel like we were doing ok, but because it was really nice to be sharing this experience with them, to know that they were out there, too, just a little ahead of us.
The fleche comes early in the season so it’s hard, not so much because of the distance but because we’re typically not really fit yet, and the weather can be really unpredictable. This year, we had a kind of perfect coalescence of things: good team, good weather, and some decent preparation ahead of time due to the mild winter. I believe I almost really enjoyed this event. I have my team-mates to thank for that…all 7 of them.