If I count right, this was my fifth PA Flèche with Escargots Volants. I don’t know the route entirely by heart, but since each team member knows at least one section really well, we can get around the course without too many navigational issues. And the route checking that we did ahead this year precluded any surprises during the ride. We’ve gotten a little smarter over the years. There is enough to think about with the flèche; it’s best to feel pretty certain about the route and eliminate possible time delays due to unplanned detours.
From doing this event so many times, each time with a slightly different team, I’ve also learned that each edition has its own character. In my memory, members of the first team or two were truly “escargots,” which meant that we started with the assumption that we would not spend very much time off of the bike. During one of those years, it also drizzled most of the night so stopping was pointless–standing still in the cold and damp just made us feel miserable, so moving forward through the night toward the dawn was the only thing to do. Another year, we were faster than we expected to be (because we were so efficient at controls), so that we suddenly had the luxury of time to spare, and a bus shelter in which to rest. How amazing was that?
As the years have gone by, the team has changed, and returning members are more experienced and have expectations of going a bit faster. If we didn’t get a bit of time off the bike this year, we would have been disappointed in ourselves. We kind of expect that by the time we reach Princeton, we should be able to stop for an hour or so. It worked this year…with some judicious time management earlier in the day. Stories of other teams’ leisurely restaurant meals and long naps in heated park restrooms are still foreign to me although many of my fellow team members could enjoy such experiences if not for being on Team Escargots Volants. Still, we had time to buy food in the shiny new Princeton Wawa and eat it slowly in the new and heated bus/train shelter, all of which still feels pretty luxurious to me.
But to think about the defining character of this year’s ride? Part of it was certainly provided by the cold temperatures that had me wearing every bit of warm clothing that I’d carried in the bulging panniers of my trunk bag. Toe warmers, shoe covers, two hats and then a shower cap over my helmet kind of cold. Five layers on top including two jackets. At the breakfast stop, I could feel the layers of cold seeping out of my body, causing waves of shivers for at least twenty minutes.
Also defining this year’s ride was the PBP energy that is going to fuel every ride this year. PBP aspirants are looking to ride harder and get stronger in order to be ready for that preeminent randonneuring event. PBP years–occurring only once every four years–are exciting. So many hopes and dreams. So many plans. So many logistics to work out just to arrive on the start line with a bike! With so much on the line, every ride this year is about more than the ride itself…every ride is also a test of oneself and one’s equipment for the big ride.
So when I think back about the 2015 flèche, I’ll remember riding with old friends and new on a familiar route, through a pretty chilly night, at the pace of a flying escargot, toward the PBP start line.