Newsletter - 2001 Archive

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Fleche 2000

Neil Jorgensen


It all seemed like such a good idea at the time. Larry asked me if I would like to be on a Fleche team with him. He was looking for an extra team member who could start on Friday. Rainy and Joe wanted to ride, but had to be back in Vancouver Sunday morning so they could run a marathon. Dave was going too, but the team needed one more person so that three could attend the Sunday breakfast. The advantage was that we would get to stay in a cabin at Harrison Hot Springs and use the pools and other facilities Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. In return we would help check in the other teams as they finished. Yes, it seemed like a good idea. And it was several weeks away.

The next step was to choose a route and submit an entry. After much measuring from maps and checking route sheets from other rides, we came up with a fairly flat 365 km course. Since none of us wanted to work too hard, this seemed about perfect. However, the route police decided that we only had 360 km, which left no margin for error. So we added a 4 km out and back to give us 368. Unfortunately it was over the top and down the other side of a nice little hill, and ditto on the way back. No big deal early in the ride but we would be doing it in the middle of the night, just before our sleep break.

On the big Friday morning the weather looks shaky but the forecast is for sunny breaks later in the day. As we drive to our start point in Harrison the weather gets worse. At Harrison we grab a quick meal and prepare to leave. It is raining and cold. Shivering begins as we organize our bicycles and get ready. This is the first time I've worn my big jacket for serious cycling. I also wear my rain pants, plastic bags on my feet, over mitts and wish I had more clothes with me. At last we begin, only a few minutes past our official start time of noon.

Riding is uneventful and wet. However, by the time we get to Hope, the rain has stopped and things are looking better. We have a good tail wind up to our first check point at Yale. After some hot soup, we head back to Hope, with our rain gear packed. The tail wind is now a head wind but it's not too bad. A quick stop in Hope, including a visit to a friendly gas station to get some lubricant for my squeaking chain, and we're off towards Chilliwack. The sun is shining, jackets have been shed and life is looking good. Even the wind has dropped.

The ride continues well. There is a time of concern as we watch the approach of a very dark cloud which is obviously carrying rain, but it passes to the north of us. We get hit with only a couple of minutes of light rain while we watch the sun return.

Next stop is the Pointa Vista Café. After a piece of pie and a drink, I'm feeling well and ready to start again. But in the few minutes it takes to get organized outside I start to shiver. I notice that I can see peoples breath steaming. The jacket goes back on and we head off. My teeth are chattering until we climb a small hill, which warms me up.

An uneventful ride to Mission follows. It gets dark but for the most part traveling is pleasant. We are surprised by a secret control. In fact we ride right by, waving at John as we go. He has to shout us down before we realize that we're supposed to stop. We avoid hazards on the road surface of the Mission bridge. Rainy doesn't have her good glasses with her, because they are in her van which is in the shop for seemingly endless repairs. So she finds it really hard to see on the dark bumpy roads we ride on to avoid a hill, but we all survive.

In Mission we stop at a restaurant with great hot chocolate. I am comfortable in the café, but the second I get outside I start to shiver. It must be a combination of damp clothes and fatigue. By the time we're ready to ride, I'm shivering uncontrollably. As we start off I find that my bike is shivering with me. I'm so cold that I can't hold it steady. There is no convenient hill to warm me up so I have to resort to plan B. I grab my brakes to add resistance and pedal hard to keep moving. My virtual hill works and the furnace cranks up again. I'm comfortable, can release my brakes and ride on. We head for Burnaby and a few hours sleep.

Fatigue and increasing cold are taking a toll. There are a lot of washroom breaks and Dave gets diarrhoea. We figure it's the beet juice he's drinking. And it's getting harder to find washrooms as the hour gets later. At one point our fearless leader Larry shouts out the warning "glass!" I look up, see a clear path through the glass and steer. Clink, psssshhh, obviously I did not choose wisely. Fortunately it is the front tire which is easy to change. Fortunately, we are right by a street light so I can see what I am doing. Unfortunately, my hands are numb with cold so I keep dropping my tire irons. However the change is successful, if not fast, and we get underway again. We'll be at our sleep stop soon!

I don't know about soon, but we do get there. Up the Barnett Highway, over the hill along Hastings Street to our check point, control cards signed, back up and over the hill, up the last short but disgustingly steep pitch to Larry's house and we're there. Pizza waiting for us in the oven, and hot showers and beds. We're too tired to eat but the shower is wonderful. I fall into bed about 3:15 AM, with my alarm set for 5:15. Oblivion comes quickly.

"Who set that alarm for this unholy hour!" Oh it was me. Time to get up (I really don't want to). Upstairs, as we grab a slice of pizza for breakfast, I study the weather from the kitchen window. It rained hard over night, but the weather is breaking to the west. I almost leave my rain pants behind to save weight. At the last moment sanity prevails and I pack them. At 6:00 we head off. Next stop Mission.

Yes it looked like the weather was breaking up to the west. Unfortunately, we are going east. We catch up with the storm on the Barnett Highway. By the time we get to the Pitt River Bridge, I am getting very wet. I wheel off into a gas station and use their covered area as a dressing room. The rest keep going and I'm not sure I'll see them again. On go the foot bags (my feet are SO cold), the rain pants, the mitts and anything else I can find. Then it's back on the road again. I knew I didn't want to get up this morning.

Did I say it was raining at the start yesterday? I was wrong, that was just a light drizzle. This is rain, good Wet Coast rain. I can't decide whether I would be better off trying to see through my water soaked glasses or go with bare eyes blinded by raindrops. I decide to wear the glasses as my helmet visor keeps a narrow strip at the top dry. I hunker down and keep pedalling. This is supposed to be fun?

I see something ahead that looks like it might be a wet cyclist. As I ride on wondering if I will catch up with him, I notice how fast the water is rushing along in the ditch. It must be raining somewhere.

It is a cyclist. It's Larry, who got me into this in the first place. Maybe I'll run over him! But I'm feeling too miserable to make the effort. Rainy and Joe have stopped into a convenience store for a break - I can't understand why - and my buddy is waiting for me. Dave is nowhere to be seen, he's probably already in Mission. Larry and I carry on leaving the people in the warm and dry to catch up later. Team solidarity is breaking down. And it rains.

Will we never reach Mission? I'm getting genuinely hungry! I have some food in my jersey pocket but it's out of reach under my jacket. Even if I could get to it, it would be hard to unwrap a granola bar while wearing mitts. I don't want to stop and open my jacket in the rain, and I certainly don't want to take off my mitts. So I ride on feeling sorry for myself.

Finally, we reach Mission. We are together again as we go in to our favorite restaurant. Here we discover that angels do exist and the owner is one of them. He takes pity on our sodden selves, opens up an extra room and moves a big table over next to the fireplace. Wonderful heat is well appreciated. Hot chocolates served in large mugs warm hands wrapped around them. Cheerful servers bring us breakfast quickly. I have the large French toast breakfast which includes two eggs, French toast, bacon and hash browns. When I'm finished I figure that I should have ordered a side of toast as well. But time is getting short.

Energized by the food and warmth we prepare to leave. The café owner asks us if there is anything else he can do for us. Someone asks if he can keep our hands dry. As it turns out he can. He gives us each a pair of latex gloves from the kitchen, which protect our hands from our soaked cycling gloves. Thank You!

The rain has almost stopped as we head off on the final leg. Maybe that good weather that I saw earlier is catching up with us. Down the road I see a person beside an open backed van waving to us. I figure he is selling fruit or seafood and thinks we may be good prospects. As we get closer we all realize that it is another secret control and we have to stop and get our cards signed. We're so late that he calls this stop our 22 hour control and we don't have to stop at Lake Erock as planned. Good, we need all the help we can get.

On we go. People are stopping to take off rain gear as the weather gets better. My jacket and mitts come off as the sun appears and I feel much more optimistic. Now it's labour up the last hill and fly down the other side.

We need to average at least 25 km/h over the last 10 km. The pace is set. As we ride along Dave says that we should slow down to keep the group together. A few minutes later, Dave looks at his watch and mentions that we are going to have to speed up if we are going to make it on time. So it is sprint (?) to the finish, 6 km away. As we come into Harrison we are greeted, appropriately, by a hail storm. That stuff stings even through clothes. But we are on time. My watch says exactly noon, Larry's reads 11:59. We decide that 11:59 looks better and go with it.

But wait - Joe is missing. Oh there he is, running through the hail, pushing his bike. The flat tire demon bit him a couple of blocks from the finish and he had to make a run for it.

With our control cards signed, we part company. Rainy and Joe head back to Vancouver and the rest of us head for the cabin. A hot shower and soak in the hot pool feel marvelous. Then it's time for lunch, a nap, supper and sleep. Now that we've finished, the weather is lovely.

Sunday morning we get ready to greet the other teams. They are cold but upbeat. Later at the buffet breakfast, we applaud each other as we get our pins, and tell tales of mechanical failures and getting lost. There were only a couple of people who did not finish and the mood is one of happy congratulation. It's a beautiful day when we get back to Vancouver. It's warm, the sun is shining and it looks like summer. It would be a great day for a bicycle ride.