A picture is worth a 1000 words, and since I have no pictures, guess what that means for you?! Story with the camera…it fell out of my bag just before Loudeac on the first day.
Now that I have that out of the way…PBP was great. It was something I will always remember. It was much more difficult than I thought (that’s after doing a 1200k in May). And, with a baby on the way, it will most likely be a long time before I get to do it again, if ever.
I was stressing about the ride. As some know, I was hit by a car in July (still need to get around to blogging about that). At first, I thought I had broken some ribs, but as it turned out, they were only bruised. This did keep me off a bike for the 4 weeks leading up to PBP, so that is where the nervousness comes in. And besides, it’s always a little daunting to take off from a place and know you have 775 miles until you return, especially in the dark.
Anyway, Papa Bear and I elected for the 90 hour free start. I had read enough about the group start to know I wouldn’t enjoy it. I will say, we showed up and there was maybe 200 people total for the free start. We were in the last group to start. And what we enjoyed were uncluttered controls and just enough people to keep you on course. It was undoubtedly the best start for us (although my father claims the 84 hour start with crew would be the best). Even when we ran into some familiar faces outbound from Brest while we were inbound, we were warned the controls would be crowded. We arrived in Brest to find that there was hardly anyone there. Of course, by the time we hit VLJ (~200km from the end), it was crowded, but nothing to complain about.
We left under a warm night, and I was complaining about the stupid vest we all had to conform to. It was stuffy. We started slow, and I am grateful we did. I didn’t want to blow up and struggle through the end. And it was dark, so we couldn’t really see anything besides the 10 feet in front of us where our lights shone. We sailed off into the night with what felt like downhill conditions. Of course, outside of Mortagne, it became hilly and I remember a town before to have a very steep hill which passed by a church.
We were very nervous about not having a cue sheet or a map, but everyone said it would be fine. And it was. There were bright arrows pointing the way. And kind French people standing outside at all hours of the night pointing as well. In fact, it was funny to see and hear all the people along the route at all hours of the night, clapping and cheering. It really was motivating to get all that support. We never did stop and get any tea, coffee or hot chocolate that they were offering, but it was always great to hear their cheers.
Unfortunately, it was almost 80 miles to the first stop in Mortagne, and I was getting hungry and running out of water. As we crested a hill leaving a town, there were some kind French people with some “eau fraiche.” We stopped to top off and went on our merry little way. It was hilly outside of Mortagne and little did we know that these hills would be the ones that would have us on knees begging for them to end some 600 miles later.
We finally made it into Mortagne and got something to eat (the first of many sandwich jambon avec buerre). We took a quick 15 minute snoozer on the floor and headed off. It was still dark, and we wanted to make it to the first control at Villaines some 200 kms in. We arrived just as the sun was rising and the boulangeries were opening. My father wanted some ice cream and he went into a market and came out with a 6 pack of pre-frozen ice cream cones. Wondering how he was going to keep them cold on the ride, my father said, “we each get 3”. And we each ate 3. Pistachio, in case you care. And they were delicious.
Outside of Fougeres, people from the 84 hour start were passing us (that should tell you how fast we were going). I had the only flat of the ride for the two of about 10 miles outside of Fougeres. It was fixed in about 9 minutes, and we were on our way.
Between Tinteniac and Loudeac, it began to rain (again). Everything we had was soaking wet. We could see the rain clouds blowing in and we thought we could out run the storm. Finally, we gave in to the weather and pulled over to put on the rain gear. Just as pulled back onto the road, a police officer was getting out of a car and he set out cones to block the road. We were all stopped, and more people were beginning to congregate. After a few minutes on the phone, directions on how to bypass the situation were given in French, and a fair distance away from my ears. Of course, we were with all the 84 hour riders, so they took off and we really hooved it to keep up. We added a couple of bonus kms and finally made our way into the town. Sadly, we found out later that it was an American who had died.
We pressed on and just as the sun was setting, I heard a pop on my bike and it was swerving all over the place. “Good,” I thought, “my bike is in the crapper and I can find a train back to Paris.” While the 1st full day was the toughest for me, and I did have this thought, my S&S coupler on the downtube had wiggled itself free. It snapped the cable to the front derailleur and the cable to rear derailleur held on to keep me from permanent damage to the frame. I removed the front derailleur cable with the intention of replacing it in Loudeac. Got out the special S&S coupler wrench and made sure they were nice and tight on both couplers. Turns out being on the small ring on my front cranks was where I needed to be for the rest of the ride and I didn’t ever replace the cable.
As we reached the secret control somewhere before Loudeac, The first riders were on their way back. “Good for them!” I thought to myself. It was cold and we were wet. We quickly stopped at the secret control and took off into the dark. We felt like we were fighting an uphill and we slowly moved along. Heading into Loudeac was the pits and I felt like we climbed forever. It was demoralizing and I hated every second of it. We were starting to fall asleep and we finally limped into Loudeac to grab a shower and couple of hours of sleep.
A Frenchman woke me up and was very insistent that I get moving. I tried to go back to sleep, but he kept coming back and waking me up. It was very kind of him. We set off in the dark into some real hills, not the faux hills we thought we were going through in Loudeac. With the sun finally rising and being about 20 miles away from Carhaix, we found ourselves extremely tired. We stopped at a pharmacy and I tried to explain our problem. Outside of Red Bull shots, they gave us some other things to suck on and put in our water bottles. They seemed to do the trick.
We limped into Carhaix, and started off towards the turn around in Brest. We rolled into a town outside of Brest and found some familiar faces. It was good to talk and see what the road ahead held for us. We were warned we wouldn’t be getting very much sleep.
I most certainly hated the town of Brest. While very beautiful, the traffic was horrible and there was a lot of climbing. We turned the control around pretty quickly and got going. My father continued his quest for a McDonald’s, but his search came up empty. We left Brest hearing that if you wanted to bail, Brest was the best place to catch a train back to the start. But, I was feeling good now, especially after my “inspection of the corn field” on the way back to Carhaix.
We slowly made headway back to Loudeac, where we slept for a couple of hours. Papa bear opted for the no shower option, while I thought a shower sounded great. We were on cots this time, and I was freezing and couldn’t get warm. We awoke, got our things together and shoved off. I ran into Houston RBA Bob Riggs, who had misread his timetable and now was a little behind. Bob took off, we grabbed something to eat and worked our way down the road. The sun was rising and it showed that the road into Loudeac was very flat. We laughed as we thought we were climbing uphill the entire time.
As we made our way to Villaines, we ran into some tough hills. We were beginning to see more and more traffic, as we were mixed in with people who had done the group start. Many people were on the side of the road sleeping. We even opted for a 20 minute snoozer where I slept on my back with my knees in the air, near my chest. My knees were killing me, and keeping them elevated helped tremendously.
Villaines was extremely crowded. We now understood what people meant by crowded controls. We grabbed something to eat and faced the facts that we weren’t going to get any sleep. The sun was setting as we pedaled out of Villianes, and a French guy from Marseilles told us 20 km on each side of Mortagne were hilly. We dug in and pressed on.
We found the hills going into Mortagne to be less strenuous than leaving towards Paris. My father told me to go ahead and I checked into the busy control, grabbed some boudin (BIG mistake) and slept on the floor. I awoke freezing with my father next to me. A kind person put their space blanket across me and I felt the instant heat. We left an almost desolate control, signaling, we were behind the pack. I passed the kindness of the space blanket forward, as an Asian woman had fallen asleep in the spot my father was about 30 seconds after he got up. I draped the blanket over the lady and we left. All in all, I think we slept about 3 hours in Mortagne.
The hills leaving Mortagne were brutal, and mix that with the Boudin I wanted to throw up. We slowly worked our way up and down, finally reaching the end of the hills just as the sun was coming up. We were again fighting fatigue and falling asleep. I had one last Red Bull that we split and that barely got us into the next town. We stopped in a town to get some breakfast and I picked up some candies to eat on the way. The candies kept us awake as we slowly pedaled into Dreux.
At Dreux, some 40 miles from the end, people were against the clock and we could see them running in. My father wanted a massage, and I passed out on the gym floor. He woke me up after his massage, moved to the cots and we slept for another 40 minutes or so. While I really wanted to get on the road, it was time well spent.
The ride into the finish was pleasant. It was sunny, bright and relatively flat. I enjoyed working my way through the towns. The only unpleasant part was stopping at every traffic light in Guyancourt. But, such is life.
We arrived at the finish hoping to find our wives cheering for us. But, it seemed everyone was there but them. We did our paperwork, turned in our cards and rode to our Hotel in Versailles.
How else could one spend 87 hours and 43 minutes in Europe? I certainly can’t think of another way….