When I first heard that NJ Randonneurs was sponsoring its first ever "arrow" event, I knew I had to assemble a team. Like an ACP "fleche," (fleche is actually the French word for arrow), this event would require that teams of 3-5 cyclists ride together for a minimum of 360 kilometers in 24 hours over a course of their own design to a predetermined finish location. All teams would start at 10:00 am on July 9 and finish at 10:00 am on July 10. The rest was up to us. Luckily, I was able to pull together a team of seasoned randonneurs with whom I've very much enjoyed riding over the years.
One of the first challenges of an arrow is that the team (through the team captain) is responsible for designing the route it will follow from a starting location of its own choice to the finish. Like "arrows" homing in on a target, the idea is that each team arrives at the precise same place and the precise same time, yet having come from a very different starting point. While I've ridden in several fleche events, this would be my first time serving as team captain. In addition, NJ Rando elected to host this event as a fundraiser so there would be money to raise as well.
Route design proved to be about as challenging as I expected it to be, which is to say significant. The catch is that unlike standard brevets, which typically follow circuitous routes, we would be riding in a linear (point-to-point) fashion with the added challenge of getting 200 miles back to the cars and belongings we left at the start. With two riders on the team from New England, I knew that we should try to start as far north as possible. Another challenge I faced was mapping the unfamiliar roads in the southern third of the route after crossing out of New York and into New Jersey. I discovered that my first attempt was a disaster when I drove the southern section and realized that there were no safe shoulders on a considerable stretch of road. As a result, I reached out to Joe K., the NJ Rando RBA, and he shared a RUSA-Approved permanent route with us that solved our problems perfectly leaving a gap of only several miles between our familiar northern route and the finish.
The forecast for the weekend was both favorable and unfavorable. The incessant heat was scheduled to break and when we clipped in temperatures were in the upper 60s (whereas they had been hovering in the 90s for days). The downside of this change was that we would encounter unstable weather with showers pretty much inevitably at some point in the day and/or night. Luckily, we only encountered two real rain storms and neither was as bad as we feared. Luckier still, the most serious storm took place just a few yards from a convenience store as we were cycling through some pretty remote countryside. While we stayed a bit longer than five minutes (see photo above), it did not take too much time out of our budget. Wet, gritty roads often lead to tire trouble and this event was no exception. As a team, we tallied four flats in 24 hours and while this slowed us down quite a bit, it did not present any challenges we could not handle.
A critical component of route design on events such as this involves identifying suitable 24-hour establishments where teams can find food, water, and a place to catch a few hours of shut-eye. Our first two checkpoints were outstanding. Tivoli, NY provided both a lovely bakery and a general store where each of us was able to procure a baguette sandwich (some with ham, some with salmon) that had the effect of connecting me instantly with the food of Brittany I enjoyed so much at PBP last summer. Our next checkpoint was located in New Paltz at The Main Course, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner. The following checkpoint, at a McDonald's in Port Jervis, was more of a necessary evil, but the staff was welcoming and the furniture comfortable. Trouble came around 3:00 am when we arrived at a 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts with a plan to sleep for 60-90 minutes before sunrise. Little did we know that only the DRIVE-THRU window was open for 24 hours and we would need to push on in search of a safe, dry place to catch a few winks.
Luckily, we would soon be entering towns from my childhood and I was confident that we'd find something suitable before too long. As we rolled into Peapack-Gladstone and passed the school from which I graduated, I remembered a covered gazebo in the park at the town's center. Not only was it dark, but it was quiet, dry and empty when we arrived at 3:45 am. Setting my alarm for 4:45 am, we could get an hour's rest and still be off before the sun rose and no one would be any the wiser. Dawn brought new energy to our legs and bodies as it always does and we pedaled our way to the penultimate checkpoint where all of the other teams would meet before the final push to the finish.
The fundraising aspect of the event added excitement and purpose. While I normally ride for the selfish pleasures that spending hours on my bike affords, on this event, we would be riding to raise money for Hunterdon Youth Services, a wonderful community organization that sponsors programs for young men in need of a helping hand. What started out as a modest effort to raise a few dollars resulted in the collection of far more money than I would have anticipated. As a result of the generosity of friends, family, and fellow riders, we raised $1000 shattering my initial goal of $500.