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Photos: Mike Gottlieb
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Running Late: Flèche 2024
Ride Dates April 26-27, 2024
by Murray Tough

I watched the forecast for the Flèche all week hoping for an improvement in the outlook. But, no matter how many times I looked, the prognosis refused to change. We were in for a wet ride.

Ours was a bit of a last-minute entry. I was all set to ride on a Trace team when the organizer, Gary, told me that Jeff was putting together a Flèche team. “I’m all set, I’m riding the Trace on Deidre’s team.” I responded. “No!” Gary insisted. I had to switch to the Flèche so that we had more teams and more participants. Gary was, of course, right and teasing aside, I am very grateful for his hard work and his passion for this year’s Flèche.

It's Saturday morning, one week before the Flèche. I am riding the Lower Mainland 300. Jeff arrives minutes before the start, having had some issues with remembering his passport. “Do we have a third rider?” I ask. Jeff responds that he had hoped to do some recruiting before the start but his passport troubles put an end to that idea. The entry deadline is two days away and we need a minimum of three riders. But Jeff has signed up Mike so we have a team. I later learn that Mike was recruited that morning. As we set off on the 300, I can hear Jeff working the peloton to recruit additional riders. And that is how we got our team name, “Running Late”.

Jeff worked diligently and designed a fine route in time for the submission deadline. But, in the true spirit of our team name, he missed submitting his own registration and had to get the ride organizers to reopen registration so that we would have our team captain.


It’s ride day. Friday afternoon and it’s not raining! We set off in high spirits looking for whatever adventures await. Jeff had planned our route using the RWGPS global heatmaps feature to take us on different roads from the standard Randonneuring routes. It all worked out well as we meandered through Abbotsford on quiet residential streets in upscale neighbourhoods. We even enjoyed some evening sunshine as we made our way to the Aldergrove border crossing.

At the border crossing, Mike explained what we were doing to the customs officer. The officer’s only response was, “Don’t get run over by any rednecks.” The officer that was checking my credentials listened to Mike’s story and simply asked, “Same as him?” before sending me on my way.

   
(Be sure to click right image, above)

Our next stop was the Horseshoe Café in the heart of Bellingham for a late dinner. When we arrived, the streets of downtown Bellingham were buzzing with people. How do I describe the Horseshoe Cafe? It is proud to be a dive but it is so much more than that. It is part of Bellingham’s history. I learned that it first opened in 1886. It even has indoor bicycle parking in the dining room. While we ate, a group of “nurses” piled out of a car dressed in 1950’s uniforms complete with Florence Nightingale nursing caps. After dinner we were entertained by a percussionist performing on an array of paint cans, buckets and glass bottles. It was an outstanding street performance. I commented that this could end up being the highlight of the trip.


The weather continued to cooperate as we rode south on Chuckanut Drive. It was a magical ride. No wind and only a handful of cars. Before we knew it, we were at our control in Edison. From Edison we turned inland. A little hill climbing brought us to the Skagit Casino. Jeff was keen to hit the blackjack tables but we managed to keep riding towards Sedro-Wooley. We skirted around Sedro-Wooley to the Skagit River. The roads were wet from a passing shower but somehow it missed us.


The ride on the South Skagit Highway was another nighttime treat. We wound our way along the river on dry roads. We stopped in Day Creek just before 3:00 AM. We found a church with a huge, covered porch. It was big enough for us to stop and have a nap. That was when the rain arrived. For a time, it poured while we stayed dry under the porch. It wasn’t warm so out came the space blankets.

Despite the rain the ride to Concrete was pleasant. Along the way, we startled an owl that was standing on the side of the road. In truth, the owl wasn’t the only one startled! At Concrete, we crossed the river to return to Sedro-Wooley on the north side. The North Cascade Highway was much busier than the South Skagit Highway. Dawn was arriving and the early risers were in their trucks and ready to take on the day.


We had a brief respite from the rain in Sedro-Wooley. We stopped at Bonnie Jo’s for breakfast. We didn’t exactly fit in with the local clientele! MAMILs (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) aren’t really a thing in Sedro-Wooley. This is rural Washington after all. To be fair no-one is going to call Mike middle aged and I may be close to exiting that description at the other end.

A gentleman in the restaurant asked if we were from Canada. My jersey had a maple leaf on the sleeve. Yes, we’re from Canada. He proceeded to tell us that his girlfriend was from Canada and shared the details so that everyone in the restaurant could hear. I was pretty sure I had heard this same story on last year’s Flèche. When he left, he told us a story about how much he hated the National Parks Service. Yes, I believe I heard that story last year too.

Not long after Sedro-Wooley the rain returned. Mike was struggling with sleepiness but with the incessant rain, we couldn’t find anywhere to stop until we arrived in the village of Deming. I saw a place with a covered verandah and a picnic table. It was a tribal office but obviously closed. I didn’t think anyone would mind. I was clearly wrong. It didn’t take long for the police to arrive and make a lot more fuss than the situation required. It was a bit bizarre but, again, we are in rural Washington. We hightailed it out of town having failed to find rest. But now Mike was angry and that kept him awake!

My next big mistake was commenting that it just couldn’t get any wetter. Wrong again. By the time we reached the border crossing at Sumas the rain was torrential. We tried to let some of the water run-off in the vestibule of the customs office but the officials wanted us to keep moving. We left a trail of water on the customs office floor.

Our next stop was the Birchwood Dairy for lunch. Ice cream seemed like a good idea when we were planning the ride. Now hot soup and hot chocolate were the order of the day. Inside, the Birchwood Dairy has freezers full of ice cream down both sides. It was not very warm. I put on my down filled jacket but it wasn’t quite enough. Once again, we were leaving puddles of water everywhere we went. By the time we left I was as cold as the ice cream. The only way I was going to be warm was to get my heart rate back up, which isn’t that easy in late stages of a long ride. I took off like a frightened rabbit and rode as hard as I could until I reached the hill climb on Old Yale Road. Leaving your team behind is not really good etiquette on a Flèche but I had to get warm.


After the hill climb I was good and warm, we were a team once again. The rain even stopped. As we continued east, we were getting closer to the mountains. I casually mentioned to Jeff that I would blame him if we got wet again. And yes, we did get another good soaking. There was a 5 km section on Highway 1 that was miserable. The rain was pouring down, it was windy and cold and the spray from the heavy highway traffic was constant. It was only 5 km but, after riding for what seemed like ages, we came to the sign that said our exit was in 3000m. We’re not even halfway there!

But we made it to our exit and our control at the Roadhouse Restaurant by Bridal Falls. We were at 28 km to the finish, so this was our 22-hour control. We were about 20 minutes early so the rules required that we wait. The plan was to take a break at the restaurant but, it was closed! Instead, we had gas station food. For some inexplicable reason the door to the convenience store was propped open. It was just about as cold inside as it was out. For me it was the Birchwood Dairy all over again. As soon as our 20 minutes were up, I was pedaling as hard as I could. Across the highway and back through Rosedale. By the time I reached the Agassiz Bridge, I was warm again and stopped under the bridge to wait for Mike and Jeff. They weren’t far behind.

The last 20 km were quite pleasant. The rain let up. The roads were quiet, and the countryside was a pretty. A fine ending to a memorable ride.


 


Go to: 2024 Flèche/Trace Results
Go to: 2024 Flèche/Trace Photos

May 6, 2024