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Thursday, April 12, 2012

First Fleche

This is my third year of randonneuring, yet I had never done a fleche. The opportunity to help form a NC team came up, and with the finish location at Nags Head, I felt reasonably confident of completing it within 24 hours (barring any spring hurricanes or other severe weather).

Three initial members met in late February to begin planning, and tentatively agreed to follow a course north of Raleigh. I volunteered to come up with a route based on NC Bike Route 4 (Northline Trace). This began several hours of work with a magnifying glass and an atlas of NC county maps, recording road names and numbers, and attempting to determine mileage between turns. The first edition of the course had us starting from Burlington, but when the total distance added up to around 320 miles I knew we had to shift the starting point further east. There are some randonneurs in NC who could easily cover that distance in 24 hours, but I'm not one of them. Desiring to retain the Northline Trace (BR 4) in our route, I settled on Oxford as a starting location. Providentially this turned out to be a good decision, as our team was far enough north to escape the rain showers that lingered into Friday morning (the three other teams that started on Thursday or Friday all had some rain to deal with).

I knew better than to trust a completely manually created route and cue sheet, so engaged the help of fellow randonneur Martin to give me some pointers on Trimble Outdoors. Using Trimble enabled me to get more accurate mileages than was possible using only an atlas. After a few iterations I had a draft cue sheet and spent an afternoon scouting out the course. My wife drove and I did the navigating, making notes on where stores were located. We turned back at Elizabeth City, as from that point on the course would simply follow US 158 to Nags Head.

There was still some work to do in determining controls, and after my initial attempts didn't quite meet ACP rules, Tony (RBA) gave some helpful suggestions. This led to a few more tweaks on the cue sheet and Trimble trip. By now the original team captain had to withdraw due to medical and family concerns, so I picked up the reins. Incidentally, our team was called "North State Navigators", not a real catchy title but it captured the essence of what we were doing. Ed of SC called a few days before our departure, looking for a team to join. Again, this was providential good fortune, as a second of the original team members had to pull out just a few hours before we were scheduled to start at 7 am Friday.

I left Graham in a heavy rain at 5:20 am for the drive up to Oxford. I had been monitoring weather maps all week and fully expected we would have some showers for a few hours. However, as I traveled north on I-85, the rain gradually diminished and had completely stopped when I arrived at the Just Save grocery parking lot. Ed was waiting and before long Keith rode up on his bike, inquiring if anyone was interested in a ride to the Outer Banks. The Just Save opened at 7, and after getting our cards signed we headed out under a mostly gray sky, but hoping the wind would keep rain clouds to the south.

The confidence that comes from scouting a route was a big advantage. We did miss one left turn in the dark that night, but at most I think this cost us only one bonus mile. The road was unmarked and the turn was oblique rather than 90 degrees. Our progress for the first 55 miles was not great (5 hours) due to having 3 controls and fighting some crosswinds and headwinds, but we built up a time bank as the day wore on. I was looking forward to a good meal at the 103 mile open control in Severn, but inquiring at the post office produced only the reply that "there's nothing in Severn." The lady at the counter was very helpful though, and refilled our bottles as well as stamping our cards. Murfreesboro was only 10 miles away and had a McD's.

At some point between Gatesville and Winfall, the lights and noise of Friday night drag racing (Northeast Dragway, Hertford) were visible and audible to our left. I think we were all dreading the possibility of having some spectators leave the racetrack in their cars, pumped up with adrenaline, and try to use the road as a track. Fortunately, there was maybe a half dozen vehicles towing trailers or race cars that passed without incident. About 20 miles after the open control in Winfall, we endured the bone rattling surface of Halstead Blvd in Elizabeth City (the entire top layer of asphalt had been removed in preparation for resurfacing). Ed's GPS was helpful in finding the IHOP, which was a welcome place to get some food around 11 pm. We took our time and didn't leave the IHOP until around 12:30 am, as we only had a little over 40 miles to cover to get to the 22 hour control. US 158 was pleasantly almost traffic free, which would be a plus after we left the 22 hour control and had to get across the Wright Memorial Bridge (about a 2 mile long dual span bridge crossing Currituck Sound). We were getting blown around a good bit, and I was thinking the barrier didn't look very high. It was a good feeling to reach the high point and know we were over half way across. With traffic very light at 5:30 am, I was just concentrating on staying in the right lane. A real white knuckle experience. Once we reached the Outer Banks, life was good as we cruised down 158 at 22-23 mph with a strong tailwind. Jerry was waiting at the Food Lion to greet us and sign cards, and we also saw the folks gathering for the 200K. Another fleche team arrived a couple hours later, and some of us hung around to enjoy a breakfast at Grits Grill after getting cleaned up.

Keith has a write up with some pictures here.