2016 Fleche – Ottawa Wanderers

Ride report from David Hamilton:

Three Wanderers set out from Bells Corners at 6:00 pm on Friday for an anticipated 363 km ride to Kingston: me, Alan, and Vytas… two rookie fleche padawans and a Jedi Fleche Master.

The route itself was put together by Peter, so we knew there would be hills which at least two of us loathed, but in retrospect there were just enough to offer a good challenge without leaving anyone splayed against an outcrop crying for their mama.

The first leg to Clayton was uneventful. As we pulled into the general store to sign our cards, the bugs were in full feeding mode so we didn’t stop long at all. Now these bugs were not the kind you might find in your urban backyard while enjoying a barbecue: no, these are ravenous, savage, flesh-eating carnivorous brutes. A flat tire or broken chain in these parts would be certain death (I am imagining a randonneur, nothing but bones and few remaining body parts, hovered over a back wheel with a flat at the side of the road, covered by a swarm of flies). In fact, as we rode the next section down the Tatlock Road, we went through massive clouds of flies that got in our mouths, ears, noses and other unprotected orifices. Seems like I was picking bugs out of my hair for the rest of the ride. And sand.

Funny thing about flies, though, is that while they are most active around dusk, they do eventually retire for the night. So in fact we didn’t have a problem with them once the night came on completely.

The nearly full moon and mostly clear sky was beautiful. At one point along the South Lavant Road, the moonshine over quiet lakes was simply amazing. And very few cars helped us all with the seemingly relentless hills. At one point, Vytas’ chain got jammed so we stopped as he manhandled it back on. The whip-poor-wills were most active along this road and their alien song added to the mysterious rustling of animals that apparently stalked us from the bushes. I was grateful we didn’t have to stop long.

A little while later in the night, Alan’s chain also jumped off the cogs at the same time as a ferocious pack of wild dogs crashed through the woods towards us. Vytas and I, seemingly on the same page without saying a word, were prepared to sacrifice Alan to the dogs and kept pedaling until we realized they must have been chained. Only then did we circle back to make sure Alan’s bike was back in business. Sorry about that, Alan! Later, we mused about the fleche rules because, being only 3 on the team, we all had to finish. So the question became: does a body part count as a rider if one of us got chewed up by dogs or bears and the others had to bungee a remaining limb onto a rack or top tube? Ah, the questions of the randonneur…

Vytas asked at one point if I’d seen that deer along the road. At least, he thought it was a deer. I thought it was a sasquatch. What are the odds of seeing a sasquatch along the South Lavant Road? 50-50 of course. You either see one, or you don’t. This led to a discussion of statistical probabilities…

We rode into the Ompah control just after midnight and we put on extra clothing. There was a light haze in the sky that gave a surrealistic air to the moon and mars. This next section to Maberly was one of my favourite parts of the ride. Great roads, no traffic, and a Tim Hortons not too far away. We signed our cards again in Maberly just before crossing highway 7 for some more fun in the hills.

When we reached Hanna Road, Vytas was sure we should be going right (as per the Maberly 200 route), but Alan and I thought it was left. We took a 10 minute sleep break. As we continued on, Vytas wanted to talk about stuff to keep himself awake. He may not have noticed that both Alan and I are basically introverts counterpointing his extroversion, so this made conversation a little bit awkward. “Give me one of your lectures”, he’d say. “Mine are deadly boring and would definitely put you to sleep”, I’d say. Silence. And so it went.

But we did end up talking about different personality types and our motivations for doing these crazy long bike rides, and eventually found a pattern and a rhythm that helped us all stay awake and on the right track. We finally got out of the hills and sailed along a flat, traffic-less road into Perth. By this time, we all needed some real food (such as it is at Tims), and to get off the bikes for a few minutes. After refuelling, we pulled out of the Tims just before 5:00. The sky was starting to lighten, the worst of the hills were behind us, and Merrickville beckoned with the promise of a big breakfast.

The sunrise over the Rideau River was beautiful and free of charge, and the back roads through Kilmarnock were fantastic. We got to Merrickville in good time and started to think about managing the clock to make sure we wouldn’t be more than 2 hours at the penultimate control in Battersea. Turns out, we didn’t need to worry about going any slower thanks to more hills and headwinds!

After breakfast, we struck a good pace to North Augusta where we refilled our bottles, and then headed out towards Athens. But there was a mistake on the cue sheet so Vytas and Alan started heading out on the wrong road. My garmin was squealing at this point so I flagged them down and after a brief discussion, we backtracked and got on the right road. By this time the wind had picked up and that knocked us back a bit as it blew across the open farmland.

In Athens, we had a quick bite to eat and headed out again towards Battersea. And, of course, there were more hills to climb, some good and many not so good. But in the end, this was not a race and I for one didn’t mind them so much as long as I could climb at my own pace.

At Battersea, it was time for a well-deserved rest. Ice cream and drinks (Alan’s platypus nozzle hadn’t been working so he was parched), and a few minutes of sleep on a grassy knoll cum picnic area was most excellent and surprisingly refreshing. At 4:00 we began the final leg of our journey to Kingston. For me, this section went by very quickly. I mean, we didn’t ride any faster but it felt like time flew by. The road into Kingston was dangerously busy with traffic. I didn’t like that but it kept us on our toes. At the last hill just before the 401, Vytas asked who wanted to hammer up it for king of the hill bragging rights. There were no takers. Quel surprise.

When we got to the Denny’s, there were no other riders around, no one cheering us in, but the satisfaction of completing the ride was evident. Eventually, we all got cleaned up and changed and sat down for supper. Shortly thereafter, still no sign of the other teams, we all went our separate ways to crash. But we must have just missed the Huron gang who arrived a little while later.

A nice club breakfast the next morning sealed the fleche 2016. I had the pleasure of meeting many randonneurs and having breakfast with Dave and John from Team Huron. If I recall correctly, John and I also share an interest in another crazy hobby – amateur radio. For me, it was the most amazing riding experience I’ve had. A good route, great company, lots of beautiful scenery, no flat tires, and no hard rain a-fallin’!

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