Flèche NE 2009 was a windy and wet affair. Our team of three departed City Market in Burlington on Saturday at 8am. We left with partly cloudy skies and a wind out of the south – southeast. That wind would never stop – and the partly cloudy would turn to full cloudy, then rain, then deluge, and finally cold wet monsoon.
Our route took us through Richmond, VT and we made use of the recently opened bike and pedestrian ferry. I’m fairly certain we are the only flèche team to include a boat ride. We rolled some familiar roads to Middlesex where we stopped at the wonderful Red Hen Bakery. One of the bakery owners was on one of the four teams from our great state – we chatted with his wife while enjoying second breakfast – and then fought the wind pretty much all the way to Warren. We rolled through Granville Gulf on Rt. 100 – a beautiful stretch of road that includes waterfalls, roaring creeks, prime moose habitat, and several ponds. Dropping down from Granville we opted for a lunch stop at the Rochester Cafe. Sitting outside with our bikes we answered a few questions of a bewildered local roadie.
The stretch from Rochester to Killington was tough for me. The wind picked up and we pace lined the best we could in rolling terrain. My stomach started shutting down – even water was hard to swallow. By the time we reached the climb up to River Rd. I was in distress – my teammates up the road (making it look easy) – and me crawling up the grade in a 32×29 and wishing I had something lower. I recovered a bit on the long descent into Bridgewater Corners as we had to pace line downhill into a really stiff breeze. I was feeling better but desperately needed a restroom – both gas stations had ‘out of order’ signs, and I was preparing to trek into the woods when Jim managed to find an open shop and was waving me across the road. Many thanks to the snowboarder / mountain biker / adventure dude with the electric motocross bikes shop for letting me make use of his facilities…
Feeling better we started rolling up towards Ludlow for dinner. The route took us along several lakes and was dotted with summer camps and cabins. We rolled into Ludlow only about 10 minutes behind schedule at 6:40pm. We had hoped to build up some bank time – I had thought we would have an hour or more in the bank by Ludlow – but the wind and weather took its toll early on. Tacos Tacos called out to Jim so we ordered up some grub at a hole in the wall Mexican place. We kept the stop short – and rolled out on 103 now 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Rt. 103 is a wide shouldered and moderately traveled road. After a short climb and quick 5% descent the road steadily drops toward the Connecticut River valley. At times we were cruising at 16-18 mph three up and chatting while safely tucked to the right of the 8 foot or larger shoulder. Due to a math error it took forever to get to our turn on Pleasant Valley Rd. A short burn on 103 turned into a bit of a panicked slog as I misread the cue and completely screwed the math while reviewing notes over our dinner. When we finally did reach our road we were running in full night gear – reflective vests and ankle bands, headlights, and blinkies and heading into some climbing in the rain. The road took us over some mild terrain – and the frogs were out singing a full symphony. It was an inspiring way to climb – mother nature soaking us in water and sound.
Pleasant Valley Road dropped us into Saxtons River for a post card control. We were now a full half hour ahead of schedule – but we had the toughest stretch of road ahead. We dropped the postcard at 8:51 and headed for Putney, VT via Westminster West. I’ve ridden this route dozens of times when I lived in Putney – I knew the road well enough to warn my teammates that it wouldn’t be easy. The skies opened up by the time the first 11% grade hit… and the conversation turned to ‘How far to the top?’, ‘When does it stop?’. The road is a series of climbs stepping up to a high point above town. We worked those miles in the dark, with frogs leaping across the road and a few cars passing us with care – as I’m sure we looked alien rolling up the road at 10 pm in the rain. The road eventually returned the effort of the climbs and we dropped directly into town and rolled to the West Hill Shop for the first of our 2 hour stops. At this point the photography essentially ends – wet, cold, hungry, focused on the task at hand.
Warm and relatively dry with full bike shop at our disposal we tweaked some cranky bikes, adjusted lights, repacked gear, changed clothes, snacked, and took a nap. The rain poured down on the metal roof. Websites were checked for weather. Phone calls made to wives and girlfriends. Stretching, coffee, and then dressing for and heading out into the weather. We rolled about 8 miles to the Dunkin Donuts in Brattleboro, thankful that the chain smoking workers were gainfully employed and the coffee hot. Answering their questions was fun… and the eggy cheesy bacony croissant was just what I needed to warm and perk up. We were now running well behind our ideal schedule – and we knew that our second planned ‘rest’ stop would have to be cut short.
Rolling through southern Vermont brought back many a memory – cruising through town brought back memories of after dark training rides as well as sessions at the local pub enjoying a good pour of single malt. We rolled through Brattleboro to blinking yellow lights and crossed into New Hampshire on Rt. 63. Our next stop was a friend’s garage in Northfield, MA for another ‘rest’. We worked hard trying to make time and arrived about an hour off our planned pace. Craig had the coffee ready to go – and staged the garage with air mattresses, warm sleeping bags and towels. I caught a half hour of sleep before my phone alarm went off. I made the mistake of taking off my wool jersey before I crawled into the warm bag – putting it on was not fun – cold socks, cold shoes, and now a cold jersey. We suited up in rain gear and took off for Amherst and our 22 hour control.
Rt. 63 was tough. We had over 180 miles in our legs and we’d been on the road for nearly 20 hours. The rolling climbs slowed us down and we struggled to stay warm and not overheat in our gear. As the sun came up we were still struggling with the terrain – what seemed like endless rollers – wondering if we would make it in time to pause for the 22 hour control. The 22 hour control is unique to the flèche – it requires all teams to stop and verify their location. As 6am drew near we went into pace line and time trial mode – we needed to find a convenience store, ATM, diner – any place that we could verify time and location with a receipt or business stamp. I crested a small roller and saw the glow of 2 ATM machines in the distance. 2 minutes to go and we pushed hard – and in the same little plaza a 24 hour Cumberland Farms! We warmed, ate, and waited in line behind a fellow checking and purchasing and checking and paying out hundreds of lotto tickets. 10 minutes later we were on the road again – heading into Amherst proper. Again in ‘get it done mode’. Two hours to go, and we needed another 20 miles.
Rolling through a college town on a Sunday morning was uneventful except for two gents who appeared to be doing the walk of shame home from some late night festivities. The sun was well up, the rain just starting to pour down, and the strength of our Edeluxe lights apparent by the blinding gestures and yelling they made in our general direction. Mumbled obscenities ensued, and we were in and out of town – heading into commercial road strip mall city just as the rain reached its peak flow – buckets fell from the sky as we made our way to Northampton. The road was covered in a wave of water. Potholes disappeared. Cracks swallowed wheels. Our speed dropped but we pressed on. Fenders were practically useless as there was so much water coming down it didn’t matter that we were in rain gear, fully fendered, and wearing wool base layers. We were now soaked to the bone wet, cold, and an hour away from reaching our goal. We poked through Northampton, Easthampton, and Southampton as the clock ticked away – and with 4 minutes to spare a likely 24 hour control appeared on the horizon – the glorious ‘All In One Store’ in Westfield, MA. We rolled in, picked up receipts, and breathed. Done. Finished. Epic.
226 miles, approximately 12k of climbing. 17 hours in the saddle. 1 1/2 hours of ‘sleep’.