April 8-9, 2006
A ride report by Kent Peterson
Photos by Kevin Humphreys, Will Roberts and Kent Peterson
"What do you call that saddle, the Perineum Falcon?" My witty riding
companion is Fred Mulder and we are cycling west on Highway 101 on the
Olympic Peninsula. Together with Will Roberts, Jon Muellner and Kevin
Humphreys, Fred and I make up a team of riders known as the Shiftless
Bums. We are riding the Flèche NW, an
annual exercise involving riding a lot of kilometers in 24 hours and
then eating a big brunch. Anyone who does not understand that
randonneuring is a fundamentally stupid activity is advised to study the
rules of the flèche. Of all the stupid rides we randonneurs
do, the flèche is by far the stupidest. The problem with the
flèche is that while you can't go too slow on the ride, you also
can't go too fast. Odd rules limiting the lengths of stops and making
certain that you must ride at least 25 kilometers between hours 22 and
24 mean that you almost always wind up having to burn time in some odd
place at some odd hour. You can try to plan out your route to minimize
such inconvenience, but the pace of a flèche is set by the rules
and not by the state of the riders. At some point on almost every
flèche each rider realizes the stupidity of the endeavor.
And yet year after year we ride the flèche. Perhaps a year is
enough time to make us forget the stupidity of the flèche. Or
perhaps we are not that bright.
Kevin Humphreys at least has the excuse of being new to this
flèche business, so naturally we make him design our course. I'd
suggested that we do something around 400 kilometers in length and Jon
Muellner, who lives in Port Townsend, suggested that we could do a loop
beginning and ending there. And even though the event already had a
huge set of rules, we added one more condition for our team. All our
bikes would be either single speed or fixed gear. Past incarnations of
the Shiftless Bums had all been on fixies but this year Jon, Fred and
Will are riding bikes with freewheels while Kevin and I are keeping the
fixed faith. After a bit of email discussion and few sessions with
Streets and Trips, Kevin finalized a 395
kilometer course running from Port Townsend out to La Push and
back. We settled on a start time of 7:00 AM on Saturday which would get
us back in Port Townsend with a bit of time to shower and change
clothes before the brunch.
Jon and his wife provided all us bums with a place to stay and good
food on Friday night. My wife Christine and I caught a ride with Kevin
and Fred and Will carpooled in as well. While the bums would ride on
Saturday, Christine would spend a relaxing day on the quiet beaches,
streets and shops of Port Townsend.
A bit before 7:00 AM we ride to Fort Worden State Park, find a friendly
stranger to take the pre-ride photo and at 7:00 AM we head south and
west out of town. As we ride, we talk and joke and discuss equipment.
Fred's bike has a bit of a schizophrenic air about it with it's classic
lugged steel frame, toe-clip equipped pedals and thoroughly modern
aerobars. Fred admits to mixed feelings about the aerobars but he
figures they will be worthwhile in the Race Across Oregon later
this summer, so he is trying to get used to them.
It's a cool, gray morning and the forecast is calling for rain. I'm
wearing a pair of Rainlegs,
a brilliant product that was obviously created by folks who value
function far above fashion. These are not only really nice in the rain,
they add a great wind-blocking layer on a cool morning like this one. I
find these to be far superior to any other kind of rain pant but they
do look rather odd. I comment to Will that these are not the kind of
things one wears to impress the coffee shop babes but he comments that
if one does find a woman who is impressed by such things that "by God,
that's the kind of woman you marry!" Of course, I managed to find such
a woman years ago and she is probably just now getting ready to head
out on her day's worth of adventure.
We bums turn onto US-101 and by the time we are in Sequim, we realize
that we are covering ground too quickly and we happen to be right in
front of a coffee shop. We all agree when Fred suggests the obvious
course of action.
At Port Angeles, we briefly consider another coffee shop but the
Safeway promises a far greater selection of portable foods so we stop
there and load up on both snacks for now and snacks for later. From
here until Forks, we know that there is very little in terms of
At the turn onto SR-112, we see one of the other fléche teams
heading east. Under the rules of the fléche, teams may start
their rides any time from 9:00 AM on Friday to 9:00 AM on Saturday and
while each team has a unique route, the finite number of roads in this
part of the world mean that it is not at all unusual to cross paths
with other teams. We are still near the start of our ride while Team F3
is nearly done with theirs.
The Olympic Peninsula is a mix of hills, old growth timber, massive
stump fields, few houses and lovely views of the water and the
mountains. SR-112 is a quiet road winding up and down and gradually
westward. Over the years Jon has camped many places along the peninsula
and he's often used the Joyce General Store as a refuel point. Despite
our still relatively full snack stashes, we stop in Joyce to make sure
our water bottles are topped out. The general store is pretty much the
entire town of Joyce and while we are stopped fellow randonneurs Wayne
Methner and Bill Dussler pull in. Like the F3 riders we saw earlier,
Wayne and Bill are near the end of their ride. Shortly before we take
off, Mark Thomas and Peter McKay roll into Joyce as well. After all us
bums leave Joyce, we encounter Pete Liekkio the fifth member of
There are more hills and views between us and our next control, the
intersection of SR-112 and SR-113. There is very little at this
junction but our
control cards demand that we stop and note the prominent man-made
feature on this spot. We dutifully make notes, record the time and sign
each other's cards. We also take some photos and eat more snacks. Fred
comments that he now understands why the rest of us bought such a
large food stashes back in Port Angeles. "You were buying all that food
prophylacticly," he notes. He also comments that this is the first time
he's used the word prophylacticly in a cycling context. Between this
and his previous "Perineum Falcon" quip, I'm beginning to suspect that
Fred might be patterning his life off of Sartre's self-taught man and
perhaps he's currently up to the "P" volume of the Britannica..
As we turn south, we climb along SR-113 which is also known as Burnt
Mountain Road. Burnt Mountain Road seems to have a lot of up, a lot of
clear-cut stump fields and a rather substantial headwind. The wind is
not enough to be annoying, but it is enough to make Fred's stretch out
on his aerobars and pull ahead of the rest of us. At some point during
the day each of us has taken turns being the speedy guy off the front
and also being the sluggish guy off the back but in general we ride at
a similar pace. While riding over 240 miles in day sounds super-human
to many, when you do the math and consider the fact that we are all
rather experienced randonneurs, you see that our main problem
isn't one of keeping out bikes rolling at 10 miles per hour for 24
hours. We spend much of our time going faster and then figuring out
when and where to burn time.
Kevin adopts the time-honored technique for time-burning and manages to
puncture his rear tire on Burnt Mountain road. Fred is off ahead right
now and I know that Jon and Will are behind us, so I leave Kevin to his
repairs and chase down the speedy Mr. Mulder. I catch up with Fred and
we loop back in time to find Kevin, Jon and Will at the point where
they are discovering that while Kevin's bike has 700c wheels, he's been
carrying a 26" inner tube as a spare. We contemplate the elasticity of
butyl inner tubes and decide that it is probably best if Kevin borrows
one of Jon's several spare 700c tubes. Once the tube is replaced with
one of the proper size, we continue on to Forks.
This first stop in Forks is not really part of our route but rather
than run straight out to La Push, we opt to go into town for some more
food. We'll come back here later for a longer stop and the double miles
for this first run into Forks won't count toward our flèche
total. But we continue to burn time and food so we stop for sandwiches
and other food at the Forks Subway/Minimart before our final run out to
The road to La Push is another hilly affair. Dark clouds and large
waves are both rolling over the La Push beach but we stop long enough
to dip our wheels in the surf and take some pictures. I wind up
futzing too much with my camera while the others are dipping their bike
wheels and when I dash to the water's edge I quickly realize I've
miscalculated the reach of the waves. I turn my bike around to head
inland just as one of the larger waves overtakes me. Kevin manages to
capture this moment with his camera and the resulting shot makes it
appear that I have just cycled straight out of the ocean.
We get our control cards signed at the La Push store and purchase even
more snacks while I dump some of the water and sand out of my shoes. We
are now a couple of hundred kilometers from our starting point and less
than eleven hours into the ride. As we roll back toward Forks we
discuss food. Food is a major topic of conversation on these rides. We
all agree that a sit-down dinner is called for and Jon makes a
compelling case for any place that serves mashed potatoes. We also need
to get even more supplies for the long dark section of road between
Forks and Port Angeles so once we hit Forks we do a quick
prophylactic provision raid on the local Thriftway before selecting a
place called "The In Place" that promises homestyle cooking.
The In Place is the ideal place to stop. It's raining now but
mentioning that it's raining in Forks is like commenting that people
are speaking French in Paris. Forks gets so much rain that they measure
it in feet rather than inches but if there is one thing Seattle
Randonneurs know how to deal with it's rain. One good way to deal with
rain is to spend a couple of hours indoors in a warm homestyle
café eating dinners that include mashed potatoes and gravy while
watching the rain bounce off the windows. However the rules of the
flèche tell us that no stop can be longer than two hours and we
do have to be back in Port Townsend at 7:00 AM so around 9:00 PM we don
all wet-weather and reflective gear, turn on all our lights and head
out into the wind and rain.
I really can't make the ride to Port Angeles sound epic. The
temperature is in the upper forties, the wind is at our backs and our
rain gear is more persistent than the persistent rain. Apparently few
people other than randonneurs have any reason to travel from Forks to
Port Angeles on a Saturday night, so traffic is almost non-existent.
The road surface along the southern edge of Lake Crescent is rough
grooved pavement but the jarring "free butt massage" road surface
really just helps to keep us awake. A bit after 1:00 AM we roll onto
the dark wet streets of Port Angeles.
Of course we stop at the Safeway. Now is the time when we'd really
rather just be riding but once again we have to kill time. In the wee
hours of an April Sunday the only people in the Safeway are a few night
shift employees, a handful of drunks and 5 damp randonneurs. If we
continue riding we'll be too close to Port Townsend at the 22 hour
point so we have a few hours to waste here. We buy some food to
legitimize our stay and find a soft bench by some tables near the
closed Starbucks stand. Will falls asleep almost instantly and I
have time to reflect that my life is very odd. A couple of years ago I
was on a flèche team with Will at a Safeway in the early morning
hours. That time I got to watch Will fall asleep while sitting upright
in a chair so snoozing on a bench seems almost normal. Almost.
We burn two hours snacking and snoozing. Not all the bums share Will's
naptacular powers so this stop is not equally refreshing for the whole
team. We each have our own methods for keeping our minds going along
with our bodies. As we roll back into the damp
darkness Fred and I continue our ongoing discussion of things that piss
us off. We'd already covered lights that take three
batteries which are very annoying since batteries come in packs of
four and almost all battery chargers charge an even number of
batteries. We'd also extensively discussed the rules of the
flèche, which we believe are the product of bureaucratic
Bartlebys intent on making us do that which we'd prefer not to. As we
roll out of town, I launch into one of my favorite gripes -- my beef
with Steve Miller.
Fred has not heard my infamous critique of Mr. Miller, so I list off my
"First off," I explain, "time is not slippin, slippin, slippin into the
future. It slips into the past."
"Second, the man totally made up the word 'pompatus.' Pompatus
of Love my ass! Do a Google search on pompatus and all you come up with
is Steve Miller. The word doesn't exist."
"Finally, he rhymes 'love' with 'love.' Come on, that's just plain
lazy. He can toss out great lyrics like 'really love your peaches wanna
shake your tree,' but then stoops to rhyming 'love' with 'love'? Give
me a break!"
Fred takes my tirade in stride. I practically see him replaying
the lyrics in his head. "Oh man, you are so right. I never realized
what an A-hole Steve Miller is!"
Once Fred agrees with me, I've got no more rage to expend on Steve
Miller. "Don't get me wrong, I like his stuff and it's catchy. I just
think he cut a few corners he didn't have to. " Of course if he hadn't
popped the word pompatus into that song who knows what we'd be talking
about at 3-something AM?
We roll on through the dark rain absorbed in our own thought and paces
until the next topic of conversation surfaces.
This topic turns out to be "what's happened to Jon and Fred?"
Kevin, Will and I all notice at about the same time that two of the
bums are missing in action.. We look around for someplace warm and dry
to shelter us as we wait for our missing pals. A few kilometers down
the road we find a model home with a big porch. We pull over and wait.
After a bit we see an approaching bike headlight and I signal with my
helmet lamp. Fred joins us and reports that Jon flatted a while back.
Fred stayed with him long enough to make sure he had repairs well
underway and then continued on. A few minutes later, Jon joins us and
the full team rolls eastward.
It is now clear that we may in fact have burned a bit too much time.
The 22 hour mark is approaching and we are not just 25 kilometers from
the finish, we are more like 25 miles from the finish. We pull over at
the Seven Cedars Casino, which is completely closed up at this hour of
the morning, note the time (5:00 AM) and sign each other's cards.
Jon says something obvious like "I suggest we ride until we are done"
and this sounds like profound wisdom. We ride.
Covering 25 miles in two hours is not a real hard thing but when you
have ridden about 220 miles in the previous 22 hours and it is raining
and the road is hilly, it is not a real easy thing either. Fred is
starting to add distance by weaving back and forth in the road, so
Kevin introduces him to the wonders of a Starbucks Double Shot. This
canned mix of sugar, heavy cream and espresso is to a randonneur what
spinach is to Popeye and Fred quickly recovers his focus.
As we turn onto SR-20, I pull over to answer the call of nature. Kevin
asks if I'm waiting for the others and it's at that moment that I
realize that Jon and Will are no longer in sight behind us. I'm
thinking of the time and Jon's wise words advising us to "ride until we
are done." "Nope," I explain, "pee break. You guys go, I'll catch up."
Fred and Kevin hit the first big hill on SR-20 with a burst of
espresso-fueled enthusiasm while I take care of business and grab a
Cappuccino Powerbar from my snack pack. I still don't see any sign of
Jon and Will and I'm wondering if they fell victim to another
Time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin into the past and I have to
ride until I am done. I hit the hill with somewhat less enthusiasm than
my fully caffeinated colleagues but I keep the pedals turning. I keep
glancing in my rear-view mirror for any signs of Will and Jon but I see
no sign of them. And I also see no sign of Kevin and Fred. I look at
the clock and I look at my odometer. Kevin and Fred should make it to
Fort Worden in time but the flèche requires that three of us
complete the distance within the 24 hours. God only knows what has
happened to Jon and Will, so it is up to me to make it to the end..
(Astute readers will note that this isn't strictly true. As long as you
complete 25 kilometers of your course in the last two hours and you've
covered the minimal distance, your flèche will count . But that
is not what is going through my head in the last kilometers of the
So with heroic thoughts in my head and a Cappuccino Powerbar in my
bloodstream I ride until... I run over a nail. Probably the only damn
nail on all of SR-20 and I run smack over it. It punches a tiny perfect
hole in my rear tire and tube. I pull over and change the flat in the
rain while time keeps on slippin, slippin, slippin into the past.
Jon and Will roll by just as I'm fitting in the replacement tube. "You
punctured also?" "Yes," I reply, instantly grasping the explanation
inherent in Will's remark. "Keep going, I'm almost done here." My
fellow bums roll northward and a few minutes later I follow.
Jon, Will and I reconnect at Fort Worden and the timing is as close as
it can be. 6:59 AM and we are back at the coffee shop where we started
23 hours and 59 minutes ago. And we have no idea where Kevin and Fred
We are baffled, but we are a quorum. Three riders done within the time
limit. We have ridden until we are done. We speculate, we theorize. We
picture some missed turn in the final navigation or something more
gruesome. We are too tired to figure it out. We sign each others cards
and head for Jon's place.
As we ride back towards Jon's, Mark Thomas drives up. Mark says
something odd like "we were wondering where you guys were" and I say
something odder like "We've lost Will." My statement makes no sense
considering that Will is riding right next to me but part of my brain
knows that I meant to say something more coherent like "we've lost
Kevin and Fred." It turns out that the SIR club booked a cabin in Fort
Worden and Kevin and Fred rolled in there about ten minutes ahead of
the rest of us. Somehow the cabin equals finish line part of this
exercise hadn't been conveyed to the rest of us and we'd equated the
finish line with the Fort Worden coffee shop.
We have a few hours to shower and change clothes and nap for a bit
before the brunch. At the brunch all the teams get up and tell lies
about what a fun ride the flèche is. I am elected to tell the
story of our group and when it is time for the Shiftless Bums to
recount their tale I begin my remarks with the words "I'd like to
correct a few misconceptions. First off, I'd like to state that this is
the stupidest ride we do..."
I ended with my annual vow. "This is the last flèche I'm riding.
It's a stupid ride."
Every year I say this. Every year I believe it. But in the end, we
didn't lose will. With all the stupid rules, the flèche manages
to cram about a season's worth of riding into one twenty-four hour
period. Any of us could devise a better ride, a ride that would make
more sense. But would that ride impress itself on our senses, the way
this stupid flèche does? I don't know. Some things are stupid
and make no sense and yet we can't leave them behind. Perhaps the
flèche is one of those things. Perhaps it is the pompatus of
love, something too stupid to forget. But time still slips into the
past. I know that for sure.
And when another year has slipped into the past, will I once again be
doing something I know is stupid? It's possible. I'm not that bright.
The Shiftless Bums: Kevin Humphreys,
Jon Muellner, Will Roberts, Fred Mulder and Kent Peterson
Jon on Hwy 20
The bums turn onto Hwy 101
Jon and Kevin coming into Sequim
Will and Kevin coming into Sequim
Stopping to refuel at the Hurricane
Fred on his aerobars
Jon and Kevin (the over the shoulder
Fred, Kevin and Will at Joyce
The Joyce General Store. This is
pretty much the entire town of Joyce.
Fred at Joyce
Bill Dussler and Wayne Methner roll
Bums on a hill.
Will, Fred and Kent
Kevin and Fred
Jon by the Strait
Jon looks out at Vancouver Island.
Kent by the Strait.
The 112/113 corner.
Filling out the control cards.
Fred and Jon.
The bums first Forks stop.
Jon and Will at La Push.
Fred and Will head for the water.
3 Beach Bums.
That's some mighty big driftwood on
Contrary to appearances, Kent did not
just cycle in from Japan.
The bikes at La Push.
Kevin leaving La Push.
Leaving La Push.
Jon waits for a bus. Unfortunately the
rest of the bums arrived before the bus.
Will at Forks.
Jon is happy to be in Forks.
Will sleeps in the Port Angeles
Will at the finish line Coffee Shop.
Jon is done.
Kent and Jon at the final Coffee Shop.