Wednesday, April 28, 2010
TEAM ITALIAN ICE (PA FLECHE)
Here is his story:
It started and ended in the rain, but what happened in between?
I want to start out by saying how great of a team we had this year. Last year we had Randy Mouri (Randaltini), Clint (Clintoni), and me(Chipolini). This year, we added Andrea Bassing-Matney (Andrealita) and Clif Dierking (Clifangelo) to our Italian Ice and what great team members they are. Unfortunately, at the last minute Andrea had to pull out due to an ankle injury attributed to too much riding. Goes to show the love and passion she has for cycling. That left the four remaining to ride it. For those who don't know the skinny on a Fleche, it is a 24 hour event that must be at least 360K in length, have up to 5 members or bikes, and at least 3 have to finish. It can start usually anytime between Thursday and Saturday, but the team has to finish together at the 24 hour mark. For us, we left at 8:00 am on Saturday 4/24 and finished right at 8:00 am on Sunday. Our route was actually 440K or 275 miles. One of the longer Fleches out there, but we knew it could be done based on two (2) other finishes on the same route. The ride started in Middletown, VA and ended in Quakertown, PA. It was a ride filled with more drama than any I've ever been on. Here's how it went down.
After working out all the travel arrangements, we decided to meet for a pre-ride dinner at Macaroni Grill in Fairfax. Randy and his wife Susie would accommodate all of us, once again, at their house in Fairfax and the next morning we'd travel to the ride start a little over an hour away. We had a great dinner and even though Andrea would not make the ride, she and her husband joined us. If you've been to Macaroni Grill, you know the honor rule by marking down the number of glasses of Chianti you've had. We left some marks on the table. We all went back to Randy and Susie's house for coffee and cookies later.
The morning came early with a 5:00 am wake-up. The forecast for the 24 hour period was rain and cold or at least a 60% chance of it. The forecast was dead-on. We dressed and packed accordingly each hoping we made the right decisions about what to wear and bring. It’s always a little stressful making those decisions and hoping it was the right call. I decided to wear the long sleeve base layer and it was the right call. I added rain pants, Assos Wind vest, Assos Jersey, and a plastic rain shell to my SPP jersey. The problem was how to keep the hands and feet dry and warm. Turns out that was impossible. We left a little later than we wanted to because we had to add additional bike racks to handle the journey. Susie drove us out and 24 hours later would meet us in Quakertown.
We were chasing the clock before we even started and it ended the same way. We quickly unloaded bikes and gear and got down to getting ready. All Control cards signed and we got out of there at 8:15 am.; a little late, but ready to ride for 24 hours. My dad and sister came by to wave us off. Earlier that morning at 5:00 am, from the same location, the Mother-of-all-300's Brevet riders departed. We chatted with the support members while we readied ourselves.
We rode in the rain for the first 16 miles through beautiful rolling terrain to our first stop - not a Control, but home of the best cinnamon donuts in the land at the Apple House in Linden - right off of I-66. We got a dozen and sat down with them and some coffee before heading back out. We got some plastic bags from the cashier to wrap our feet in thinking it would help keep them drier longer. We used some electrical tape to help seal the top. By design, the baggies were between sock and shoe. Clif brought rain covers for his feet - the only one making the right call on footwear. As we continued east, I could feel the sloshing water in my bagged feet, but it was no longer raining. The road still had a lot of water on it and didn't want to stop to remove the baggies. We passed the first Control in Marshall, Va, just a little off of the previous years' times but riding strong. We got into Purcellville, VA, 54 miles in and took a quick nature break. I used the time to pour water out of the baggies and wring my socks out. I tossed the baggies.
We hit the next Control at Knoxville, MD 70 miles at about 1:30 pm, about 30-45 minutes later than we thought, but riding a good pace and everyone felt good. I was actually battling a minor stomach issue, but I got over it. It was only a 30 minute lunch-stop. As we were finishing lunch, about 50 motorcyles pulled in and we chatted with them for a few minutes while we prepared to hit the road. They were on a charity ride, but we learned our ride was covering more miles. The rain was still holding off, but heavily overcast as we continued north around Frederick. We used a lot of the roads that the DC Rand uses on rides that leave Frederick. Temperatures were moderate around 60 degrees. As we cleared Frederick and bound for Thurmont, I finally felt we were getting back on track with time. It's amazing the extra steps and the amount of extra time it takes given to details when you ride in the elements. We made it into Gettysburg, our 2nd Control at 5:30 pm, 125 miles, but not quite halfway. We came into Gettysburg across parts of the battlefield and I am always in awe of the place and have read enough to understand what took place there. At the Control, I treated the stop as a dinner stop and got a couple of hotdogs. Clint got a huge rice treat (see photo from the album)! Not sure what everyone else did, but they glared through the window as I ate and talked to two year olds.
The weather had taken a toll on the drivetrain so we all lubed up and after a quick nature break at the public coin operated laundramat around the corner, as directed by our 7-11Control host, we mounted our bikes and headed east toward Hanover, PA. It was a 20 mile quick tempo ride that got us through the town and onward to the next Control; however, here is where a large majority of the climbing started. It was still light outside, but since the sun never came out, it was getting darker pretty quickly. We were going down the other side of one of those previously mentioned climbs and Clint was in the front. I looked up in front to see an emergency vehicle crossways in the road - with flares. Clint blows right past the guy followed by me, Clif, and Randy while the guy is yelling something that sounded like, "you'll never make it through." So we kept going, wondering all the while what we might encounter. About a mile farther up, a tree had collapsed on the wires and was mostly across the road. A challenge for a car but not the Italian Ice Fleche team! We scooted around it and the emergency vehicle on the opposing end and thanked them for moving the cones as we came past.
It was now getting dark, so at the top of one of the climbs, we got our reflective gear on and lights on and descended into the increasingly darkening terrain. Still no rain, though. We rode through Glen Rock and then under I-83 at McSherrystown and into Stewartstown and was now completely dark. The traffic was pretty bad on the road and the roads didn't have a great surface. Visibility was almost nothing and we rode it hopeful that we wouldn't hit anything. In Stewartstown we were finally able to get out of traffic and onto back roads. It was amazingly dark as we descended and climbed our way towards the Control only 4 miles away. It was now a little after 9:00 pm and we were starting to get a few sprinkles. It was lightly raining as we came into the Control. We all had a real meal and targeted 10:00 -10:15pm as a departure time. However, we didn't leave until 10:35 because of the rain We decided to put all of the necessary rain gear on because we didn't want to get wet and cold and then maybe not being able to get warm later. We ended up riding out of there with all of our rain gear on. The roads were very wet but 2 minutes after we left, it was hardly raining. 30 minutes later we were all burning up so on some dark road in the middle of nowhere on the west side of the Susquehanna river, we took it all back off - only to put some of it back on 10 minutes later.
We crossed the Susquehanna and the rain increased and from that point, it didn't stop. Another unscheduled stop at mile 200 and we put the rest of our rain gear back on. I even used quartt-sized zip-tie baggies for my hands to try to keep them dry and warm. They were too cumbersome for shifting and braking and abandoned that idea later for finger movement. Colder and wetter the fingers became. The rain was also creating problems with our rear lights. Clint, Clif and I were using the Planet Bike Super Flash lights. The water was getting in and playing havoc. Either they would turn off or flash then turn on, but usually ended with OFF. Clint said he would take it up with Planet Bike when he got back. I'll be doing the same. They just weren't reliable when they needed to be. Clif put his under plastic his plastic rain shell and I did the same later when I had no lights back there. Clint's lights just totally failed and my back-up light was useless.
As we rode on, we were calculating arrival times and available time in Controls and we thought we would get into the 217 mile control around 1:30, giving us about 30 minutes to rest and eat. We didn't get in until a little after 2:00 am and that meant less rest time. We had just enough time to eat something and prepare ourselves. A person in the WaWa control actually remembered us from last year and mentioned she obviously had been working there far too long. I observed she was still on the midnight shift. She laughed and wished us a safe journey. I had one more layer of clothing remaining to put on and it was in a large plastic bag dry - but outside. When I went to get it, I almost froze. Then my mind started working on me. I didn't want to go back out in the rain for the next 5 hours. After final preparations we were finally ready to leave. Clint observed it was pressing 2:40 am and it would be a challenge to get to the 22-hour Control. We all agreed we had to keep this train moving. But right after we started, my helmet light came off, so a few more minutes to put it back together. It was raining hard as we came into a section with a lot of climbing. It seemed like it was all climbing, but the descents were very tricky trying to judge speed and how fast to let it go. This would slow our average speed even more. Clint had been keeping tabs on our average speed the entire ride. During the day it was 17.2 mph. When it started getting dark, it dropped to 14 mph and it just kept dropping. The 22-hour Control was only 33 miles away - and it was a MUST get there by 6:00 am, it took the whole 3 hours, meaning we were now averaging just 10 mph.
About 10 miles out from the next Control, we encountered our real first crossroad of the day. The road we needed was closed. The sign said the bridge was out - there was a detour. We knew standing there that we were already pressing the heck out of the time for the next Control. We would be lucky to reach that one, but nobody stated the obvious because it was too obvious. Clint looked at his GPS for alternative routes, but collectively we agreed to head down and check it out for ourselves. Randy observed that every bridge that said "Closed" always had a way over it. That made us all feel better about our decision to try it! It was only a mile and a half to the bridge, but it was all uphill. We got there and sure 'nuff, Randy was right. The approaches were under construction, but the bridge surface was new. We got mounted on the other side and off we went, happy with our decision. We talked about mentioning it to the RBA, if necessary, if we couldn't make our time to the control. We just rode as hard as we could while keeping tabs on time and distance. We had another quick stop to get Clint's GPS up and running. The battery back up had died and the GPS was down. At dinner, the night before, Andrea gave each of us 1 AAA battery so that we all didn't have to carry multiple batteries. I threw mine in my top-tube bag that night. Clint grabbed his and asked who brought their "Andrealita battery?" I gave him mine and it was back up and running. (Thanks, again Andrea. That's teamwork). We also discovered that the cue sheet had a couple of mileage errors and was saying we had only 6 miles to go when in fact there were at least 9 miles. It doesn't seem like a lot, but it is huge when the clock is running and it looks like you barely have enough time for 6 miles. Clint recalled this detail from his first Fleche when he was sitting in the police station thawing out. I realized he was right and also knew it was 5:25 am with 9 miles to go and a 200-300 ft climb to get over. We raced through downtown Pottstown and flipping cue sheets in the pouring rain and cold. When I flipped my cue sheet, it disintegrated in my hands. I asked Clint to check GPS for the crossroad to Charlotte street. From there I had all the rest of the turns in my head. Both Randy and Clint provided the name of the road. Hands and feet were totally numb at this point.
We made it through town and as we reached midway through Randy mentioned that he was starting to get very cold. Clint offered him a jacket, but he was in survival mode and just focused on getting in. The extra time, he said, to get the jacket could be the difference between arriving in time and being late. He was right. I rode up to Clint and asked how he was doing and he said he was hanging in there, but on the edge. We were all cold, wet, but focused. Clif said he was hanging in there and glad to be a part of it. We all were, but on the edge.
The top of the climb was a false summit followed by more of them, but we finally raced down the other side and reached the Control, another WaWa. I looked at the clock as we entered and it was 5:54 am. We had made it. The guy behind the counter also remembered us from the last time. We got our cards signed and the required receipt and headed for the coffee pot. I believe Randy won that race. After getting supplies we all needed a few minutes to collect ourselves, all the while the clock was ticking. We were at mile 250 and still had 25 miles to go. You would think that 25 miles is easy to do in 2 hours, but it was fast approaching 6:15 am and those 25 miles were mostly uphill. The drama that I thought would end at the 22 hour control, would continue for the next 2 hours. We finally walked outside into the 45 degree pouring rain. Randy had no more layers and while in the WaWa had gotten a large trash bag and wrapped it around himself under his outer layers just to stay warm. As we got ready to get on the bikes, I see everyone diving for the trash can and bringing out newspaper. A lot of it was wet, but the dry paper got stuffed under jackets for additional warmth. I may be the only one that didn't add newspaper, but only because I didn't feel like changing the balance of things. I was marginally OK when I came in, so I was going to trust it over the next 25 miles. I also wanted a photo of 3 men in a trash can, but settled for the memory since I was totally buttoned up and couldn't get to my camera fast enough. Just picture it if you can.
Over the next 25 miles, we added a lot to our total altitude climbed and all the while wondering if we would make it. I'd talk to Clint, Clif, and Randy as we rode up next to each other. The standard question was, "what do you think" and the standard answer was, and we all agreed, "it will be close." That's as far as we could go with it. When we reached the edge of town at 7:34. I calculated that we were going to make it and announced my revelation. Concern had been replaced with relief. The next 6 miles would have to be at a good pace, but we would make it. We got to the Youth Hostel - the finish line at 7:57:30 according to Clint's watch. DONE!!! Randy's wife Susie was just behind us in the van as we got in The RBA, Tom Rosenbauer, announced that his over-achievers had finally arrived. The feeling of relief and knowing that a hot shower was only moments away. The reward. There's always a reward at the end.
Just before heading for the showers, 2 other Fleche teams arrived and equally happy to be off the bike. We grabbed some hot food and coffee from the buffet Tom prepared and then loaded up the bikes for a long journey home. Susie had an early morning which started at 3:45 am to come pick us up and then 45 minutes later turn around and head back with 4 members of the Italian Ice Fleche team - Clifangelo, Clintoni, Randaltini, and Chipolini - sacked out by the time we reached the Quakertown City Limit sign. What would have made it better would be to have our 5th Fleche rider, Andrealita along with us.
Tom, thanks for another Fleche Season. Thanks to you and Rick Carpenter for your support while at the Youth Hostel. Susie and Randy, thanks for all of your hospitality. Susie, a special thanks for all the driving you did taking us out and coming back to get us. You probably had doubts about the 2nd part, though! Andrea, you were missed, but thanks for being part of it. Next year, hopefully. Thanks for our certificate! Thanks to my Italian Ice team mates for making it great!