For any athletic endeavor it is good practice to do a trial run before the main event. It doesn’t have to be, and often shouldn’t be as big as the event you are building up for but it should confirm that you will be able to complete what you’re setting out to do.
That’s exactly the thinking that had me planning to ride my bike through the night to the Oregon coast and back last weekend. I’ll be traveling to northern California to participate in the San Francisco Randoneurs Flèche California on Friday to ride a mixed terrain route from Laytonville, CA to San Francisco with Max Poletto and Andrea Achilli.
The Flèche California is a 24 hour point to point ride of at least 360 km with the end point in the City of San Francisco - Flèche is the French word for arrow. Teams of participants travel one-way down a route of their choosing (as approved by the Flèche organizer) like arrows towards a central target.
A bit of history from the SF Randonneurs: Flèche California is modeled on the Flèche Vélocio. First held in 1947, Flèche Vélocio originated as a celebration and memorial to Paul De Vivie who published, and wrote for the French cycling magazine “Le Cycliste” under the pseudonym “Vélocio.” He also experimented with the use of the derailleur and multiple ratio gearing decades before the mechanism became widely used.
Vélocio resided in St. Etienne during the most influential period of his life. The distance between Paris and St. Etienne is approximately 360 km. Audax Club Parisien specified that the Flèche Vélocio be a team ride from Paris to St. Etienne to be completed in 24 hours. Teams develop routes that converge on St. Etienne in the south of France, timing their arrival so that they can enjoy some rest and relaxation before a group meal and social gathering on Easter Sunday. After the event, some immediately return home by train or other means; others may spend a few days on holiday before bicycling home.
For the Flèche California there is no designated start point, only the destination, so teams have created routes that are quite varied. Our group’s route was assembled by Max, who also organizes the SFR Adventure Series which is worth checking out if you like to ride a mix of pavement and dirt, and don’t mind unusually large amounts of climbing. Max knows the roads in Northern California as well as anyone, so I’m sure this ride is going to be doozy.
We will be starting at 8:30am and riding through the night to reach San Francisco by 8:30 the following morning. For my test run I didn’t need to ride for a full 24 hrs, but I did want to be certain I could successfully cycle through the the night to morning. Thus the decision to leave after work on a 200-mile trip to the coast and back.
Adding in some mixed terrain to make the ride similar to the route we’d be riding the following weekend was also imperative. I consulted Velodirt’s library of routes and decided to take Trask River Rd. on the way West, and Nestucca River Rd. on the return leg. It would be the connector I came up with between the two that made for the best story.
After a quick slice of pizza on my way out of town, I exited the city on what would be fairly busy roads during the day. Luckily traffic dies down pretty good after 8pm in Portland even on a Friday. After a little over 2 hours I was off the pavement and onto gravel and logging roads for the next 50, car-free miles.
I reached Tillamook around 4:30am, spent some time refueling at a 24hr convenience store chatting with the equally sleep deprived store clerk, and came up with a plan to find a diner to have an early breakfast. Denny’s might not have been what I was hoping for, but in these situations it is certainly a reliable option. After some food and bottomless coffee, I continued on my way.
This is where things unravelled a bit. My route had me pointed westward until I hit the coast, where I would then hang a left to make my way south towards the Nestucca River, and my return route to Portland. I hadn’t thoroughly checked the map before leaving town, and didn’t see that there was a small gap (½ mile) in the logging roads that I’d strung together. It was nothing that a half hour of dragging my bike through the swampy woods following elk tracks couldn’t fix, but it was by no means an efficient way to cover the distance.
After breakfast, and some cursing to myself for my poor route planning through my swampy slog I was fully awake and ready to take on the second half of the ride with a redemptive view of the Pacific. That’s when the headwinds from the south, and then the east when I made the turn back to Portland made themselves known. Luckily I had some company joining me at what promised to be an amazing little bakery on the Portland side of the Nestucca River Rd climb over the coast range.
With the headwinds and the endless hills rolling into town from the southwest, I was stoked to have Abby Watson along for the company, the conversation, and a chance to draft for a bit after 150 miles. Between the headwinds and the endless hills rolling into town from the southwest Abby and I were both pretty destroyed when we parted ways to head home.
It's fair to assume that long rides like this will not be easy. With all the adversity that can come your way on a ride like this - sleep deprivation, the possibility of equipment failure, the chance of unexpected weather (or terrain), and closed stores that you expected to be open - the best you can do is team up with good people and hope for the best knowing that there will be some good stories to tell when you get home.