First Fleche Team: Barnum Bombers do 400K in MN

The blog has been late these last few weeks and with everything going on it's a miracle I get to write at all.  But time to fill in the spots.

After thinking for awhile that brevets would be few and far between and cancelling the Cascades (due to them coinciding with the start of IronK's chemo), I still had the spring fleche to do.  Ahi, Paul, Rick and I had been planning it for months and since it was a week after the first major surgery, the timing worked out.

A fleche (which is French for arrow) is a ride of 24 hours duration//minimum 360 km, usually in  straight line, to a pre-set destination, in this case RBA Mike Aeling's house in Winona, MN.  It is ridden as a team with 3-5 members and at least 3 must finish together.  No stop can be more than 2 hours and the team must be at least 30 km from the end at 22 hours.

So began the adventures of the Barnum Bombers.  Somehow, we managed to design a route with 40 extra kilometers so we had a 400k.  There were 3 other teams as well, but as it turned out, ours was the longest route.  We decided at the time that our strategy would be "no heroics" and that speed would not be an issue.  We decided on a slower, steady pace with shorter, less frequent stops.  So early in the season, we all felt like this would be a better approach. 

So on May 15th at 9:00 am, Ahi's girlfriend, Laurie, dropped the 4 of us off in Barnum, MN.  After a quick gear check, we road down Main Street to find the Willard Munger Trail which would lead us 37 miles to Hinckley.  Unfortunately, even with 4 maps and a GPS, we got lost in the first mile and had to back track.  How embarrassing!  We looked all over and finally found it by tracking down Highway 61 (which it parallels).  The Munger is a really nice, paved trail and though it is next to a major state highway, it still has plenty of lakes, forest and wildlife to make it a really nice ride.  It was actually markedly earlier in the season up in Barnum then in the Twin Cities with the trees only just budding.  We trucked along at about 17-18 mph, switching back and forth on the front.  A small south wind was blowing that would wind up blowing all day, not strong, but noticeable.

At Hinckley, we paused to grab a snack and were quickly off to Pine City.  For this section, we wound around some country roads to avoid a bridge that was out and headed south on MN 61 to Pine City.  By this time, it was about 12:30 and we stopped at A&W Root Beer for burgers and a soda.  This was only about 50 miles in and at 4 hours, we were comfortable with our time. 

The next few hours were pretty uneventful as we pedaled south.  Ahi had a brief bonk, corrected  by Clif Shots and gummy bears.  We exited 61 for the road to Sunrise, MN, home of Richard Widmark (famous film noir actor).  By this time, it was closing on 5:00 pm and we passed the century mark.  The next major stop, Stillwater, came at about 7:00 pm.  Just outside the town, a mother wood duck and her babies crossed teh road right in front of us - there's something you don't see every day.  In Stillwater,  we paused again to pick up snacks.  At this point, we started getting slightly worried about time, we had about a 2 hour cushion.

An hour later in Afton, we stopped for a burgers at the Catfish Saloon.  A big sign said "Welcome BIkers", but they didn't exactly have us in mind.  At this point, it began to get dark and all the reflective gear went on.  This also marked the beginning of the hilly section of the course.

The next hour and a half to Hastings was interesting.  It started with just hills, but as we turned onto Highway 10, just outside of town, we rode thorugh some of the dirtiest pavement ever ridden by road bikes.  It also turned out to be full of glass (which would haunt us some hours later).  The trip across the Hastings bridge over the Mississippi, was, what Paul called "possibly the stupidest thing I have ever done on a bike".  It turned out that this weekend was the fishing opener and heavy traffic, semis, no bike lane and a really old bridge contributed to a real nail biter of a crossing.  We were all relieved to still be alive at the end.

The next section was amoung my favorites.   After a few dark miles outside Hastings, we turned onto a dirt road for several miles and peddled our way through a really nice forest.  The overhanging trees and a crescent moon made it really something that a werewolf movie could be set in.  After this section, we headed to the Cannon Valley trail for another forest tunnel to Red Wing.  At this point, it was about midnight and we actually passed another rider on the trail.  Hard to say who was more surprised to see others in the middle of the night.  At this point, Rick and I screwed up and accidentally dropped Ahi and Paul, who had a flat.  By the time we realized our error, we decided to simply wait.  We were on the verge of going back when lights appeared.  They had fixed the flat, but couldn't find the cause.  We headed on to Perkins in Red Wing.  By this time, it was about 40 degrees and we were all cold and hungry.

I think the staff at Perkins really felt sorry for us.  We must have looked a little rough around the edges.  Unfortunately, no soup, but I had some pancakes and something else that I don't remember.  Someone actually sat outside and guarded our bikes (how nice).  There were quite a few teenagers around having unmentionable teenage problems - I am really glad to be a crazy bicyclist hanging out in the dead of night at Perkins instead of being a teenager hanging out in the dead of night at Perkins. 

As we got ready to leave, we discovered to our great chagrin that Paul's tire was flat again.  We pulled it off and took it inside Perkins where it was much easier and warmer to change.  I found the tiny piece of glass.  Rejoicing, we got ready to leave, only to discover that Ahi's tire was also flat.  So back into Perkins for another tire change (they must have been really happy to see us go).  It was an hour and a half total at the stop, including tires.

The next 3 1/2 hours were great.  At first, we were worried that we were behind.  We still had about 50 miles to Alma, our 22 hour control and a few big climbs on Lake Pepin.  But we were nearly the only ones on Highway 35!  An amazing time to be riding on an otherwise busy road.  The sun started coming up just outside Alma - really beautiful to look up the river and see the peach sky.

We got to Alma around 5:30 am, half an hour before the Pier 4 Cafe opened.  We opted to pass the time at the Kwik Trip across the street where we lounged comfortably in the freezer section.  I can say that after riding all night that almost anywhere feels really nice.   At 6, we moved to the Cafe to discover that decorations had not changed since about 1940, complete with bare wooden benches.  I had oatmeal and a nap sitting up on the bench.  The greatest 15 minutes I have ever slept.  We had about 27 miles to go.

At almost exactly 7:00AM we rolled out and finally made our way on the home stretch to Winona.  At this point, we spread out a bit with Paul out front, then me a few yards back and Rick and Ahi aways farther.  We all met up at the Winona bridge and rode the last 3-4 miles together arriving at almost exactly 9:00 AM.  Right on time.

I have to say that this was one of my favorite rides.  We had a great time and I would do it again in a heartbeat (though I might opt to shave a few km off and have a sleep stop).  It's really an accomplishment to ride for 24 hours and one that I am very pleased to add to my belt.  I can't think of better companions - I hope to ride with all of them again in the future.  
Great Lakes 400K (with a Possible Twist)
New Reasons to Ride

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