It started out innocently enough…what first was an inquiry from Mark Thomas’ about his team’s route, within a week became “We have room. Join us!” By 7PM on Friday the final team was assembled. The team name was “Circling the Hood”, to which I imagined more like “circling the drain”, thinking of past fleches…not to mention that I echo Kent Peterson’s statements each time with “This is stupid, I will never do this again”. Our team was Amy Pieper and Greg Cox on a tandem, Rick Haight, Tom Martin, Mark Thomas and Jon Muellner on single bikes. It was Tom’s first fleche and every one else had done a few, but it was a fairly odd group in that we all are generally pretty different in our riding pace and styles; enough that my wife Carrie thought the team name should be “Island of Misfit Toys”. I knew this was true when everyone there was on 700c tires and they looked at my 650b stated “you do have tubes for that thing, right?”
Having ridden nearly 100 miles in the past six months, I felt my preparation might be less than adequate, but I’ve done harder events with less riding before. Turns out Rick and Mark had similar base miles so we would suffer if need be. Amy softened the blow by handing us each a slice homemade banana bread at the start! This was soon followed by Tom’s realization that his light was dead, but that was sorted out and we were off.
Our route would take us from our start in Hadlock and out the smooth roads of Jefferson County across the Hood Canal Bridge and south on Hwy 3. The pace was energetic for the first couple hours, then reality set in as Tom lost his light (and found it) and Mark suffered the first flat in Gorst on the nasty highway there. He walked to where everyone was waiting and we did a nice group fix; i.e., everyone stands around and watches Mark battle with the tire and makes witty commentary amidst the occasional foul word. Another flat before the cabin was unsettling but with true grit he fixed it again and actually pulled the offending wire shard out with his teeth – now that’s the spirit!
A late night nap at Greg's cabin on Mason Lake was planned, so we rolled along Belfair Valley Rd. to East Trails End Rd. At this point we received the first shock of a serious climb and the group splintered. Actually, that was the general pattern of the whole ride, so it was not unanticipated, but as we’re all good sorts, we just did our thing and still remained a team.
At Greg’s cabin we all piled in and woke up his charming family, ate a few delicious muffins made by his daughter and sacked out for an hour. We were back on the road before 2AM and it was cold!! A nice clear night with a lemon wedge of a moon greeted us and we shivered until the blood started flowing again. We just had to stay awake for a few more hours until the sunrise and this event occupied our thoughts as we rode through Shelton and Kamilche to our furthest point in Montesano.
Most of the route was quiet and peaceful and the only sounds were Greg and Amy who never ceased talking for the entire ride. You would have thought they were sitting in a coffee shop rather than riding many miles in the cold dark. Tom was often off the front, speeding along while Rick hung with the tandem and Mark and I somewhere abaft.
We stopped at the Bee Hive Café and enjoyed some warmth, coffee and huge breakfasts, a perfect mid-ride break. By 7AM we were back on our bikes as the glorious sunshine poured down on us. We headed north from Brady and for nearly 50km enjoyed some of the best roads of the whole ride. Bodies were tired, but the warmth of real sunlight was enough to rejuvenate everyone as we headed for Hwy 101 and the final leg back north.
We all agreed to meet in Hoodsport at the café to regroup and enjoy a few pastries before starting the most hilly portion of the route. Amy and Greg decided to switch positions and have Amy captain the tandem so they did some quick adjustments. Mark headed out early for Brinnon, making sure he would be where there when everyone else was. Rick appeared unfazed by the lack of sleep or distance! Tom was soon gone and I moved out too. The team was getting a little stretched out as some got tired and others anxious. It would be about 80km till we were at our 22 hour point and it was just a lot of lumpy climbing until then.
Everyone made it to Brinnon and Mark and I arrived last. I only stayed for a moment and headed back out for Discovery Bay, knowing that even though we basically had time in the bank, the team had know spread out to absorb all of it. The Canal was beautiful with the sun glinting off the water and kingfishers swooping from tree to tree. Traffic was moderate this time of year, mainly thundering motorcycle groups came by, some of who waved as they passed. Mount Walker was fairly shady on the first part of the climb and wasn’t bad at all. Tom came by me and then Rick and I rode together. It was very warm and the headwinds after Quilcene were increasing. I began wondering how I had agreed that taking the most difficult way to PT was a good idea….
When we got to Discovery Bay at 4PM there was no Tom. We were going to meet at Fat Smitty’s (closed of course, and a surprise to the many people who also stopped to eat there). Amy and Greg arrived and then Mark, but still no Tom. I figured he was down at the little store, but then Mark figured he had gone further up to the turn on Discovery Rd. where we had mistakenly calculated would be a better 22 hour mark (it was not even close once we actually thought about it). Finally Mark found the number for the store and Tom had to return to where we were by 5PM. Here’s where the rules of the fleche get dicey. We all have to be here at 22 hours, and hoped he could get here in time!
At 4:55PM he rode in and we all signed cards. Mark informed us that he might not make it and that we should go without him. Turns out he was leaving bits of lunch along the way from Quilcene. Being the team we were, we totally voiced our disagreement with that decision and then promptly took off, leaving him to battle it alone. That’s the spirit!
I know these roads well, so I led Tom and Rick up the Hwy 20 climb (2 miles long) to Discovery Rd, then the climb up Cape George (1 mile +), then up a few more lumpy bits to my house as the final control. Within minutes everyone had made it! The Circling the Hood fleche team had successfully taken 5 very different riders, most lacking any miles, and transformed them into one cohesive cycling machine. Well, maybe that’s stretching it a bit, but we finished and everyone still likes each other!
A huge thanks to Greg’s lovely family for putting us up, the sun for making us feel good about living and my wife Carrie and friend Laura who shuttled vehicles at the start. It was a great team but maybe next year we should do the route in reverse?