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Cycling Paris-Brest-Paris 2015: Une Grand’ E-Motion!
Ride dates: August 16-20, 2018

by E.W. (Wim) Kok

"And in his tight pants
he traveled to France
and with his cycling buddy Willi
they cycled themselves silly"

Erik T. Kok – one of the stanzas
in his 2015 Christmas poem.

   

Introduction

After completing PBP in 2003 and 2007, I ‘successfully’ bailed in 2011 at the turnaround in Brest. That decision, while a good one at that time, did leave some mixed emotions. Since then there have been a few other ultra-distance adventures that did not go quite as planned, so when PBP fever struck (again) in the lead-up to the 2015 edition, I was smitten. I set out to make PBP 2015 a Veni-Vidi-Vici experience, with the emphasis on “vici”. Here is my account of how that worked.

Laying the Foundation

During 2014 I completed a full series, which included the challenging Banff-Jasper-Banff 600 with the Alberta Randonneurs. That was all in preparation for the 2014 Brussels-Strasbourg-Brussels which I started and finished. Due to some missing links I did not officially complete it, but that’s another story (see:
http://www.randonneurs.bc.ca/newsletter/submissions_2014/116_bruxelles-strasbourg-bruxelles_wim-kok.html).
Late fall 2014 I started riding PBP on the rollers -- a rather boring experience -- which by the end of winter resulted in some 1,750 km going nowhere, the PBP distance and out again almost to Carhaix. This kept my legs loose. My partner-in-training-crime was Willi Fast, who did the same thing in his Edmonton basement. We kept each other informed of our progress, training lapses and other foibles. In addition, I skated hundreds of laps on our 400m indoor speed skating oval. If this sounds rather regimented, let me reassure you, it was not. There were times that I did take time off for travel and officiating speed skating events. Call that built-in recovery time, if you like.

Notwithstanding that, when the roads were ready, I polished off a couple of early brevets to qualify for PBP: Camrose 200; Peace 200 and Peace 300. Things were looking up until that ill-fated Peace 400, when excessive heat and exhaustion stalled my best laid plans. What next? Exploring options for alternate 400 and 600 km brevets led to the SIR Make-Up 400 in Washington State and the Kamloops 600. This happened on back to back weekends. The 400 was a great brevet around Mount Rainier with the SIR group. Enjoyed that one a lot. Finishing that mountain brevet in 21:00 hrs felt like a redemption. (Credit to the SIR riders: Christopher Heg, Jeff Loomis, Andy Speier, Noel Howes)

The Kamloops 600 from took 37 hours and change. This included a 6-hr sleep in Avola and a one-hour break in Rayleigh to see our grand-kids. What a luxury. With eight weeks to go to PBP the next challenge was to stay fit and focussed. Qualifying for PBP is one thing, what one does between the final qualifier and PBP is crucial. I rode two more 200 km brevets, five and three weeks out from PBP, and added specific speed workouts and hill climbing sessions. In terms of tapering I more or less followed Jeb Stewart’s “How to Peak for your Randonnee” as a guideline (http://www.azbrevet.com/how_to_peak.html). This is with the emphasis on less rather than more. After all, we know that the road to PBP is still paved with too many good intentions.

By the time I boarded the plane for France I had logged almost 4000 km on the road. I felt fit, with a slight nagging of being undertrained, but overall confident. The physical part was done, the focus now shifted to the mental. My mantra: “I have trained, I feel strong, I am ready to go”. I could not help but think about Yann Martel’s book Life of Pi, in which the hero survived 227 days in a lifeboat on the Pacific with Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger. He developed a strategy and mental toughness to keep the pussycat at bay. Any mistake – inadvertently or not -- would have been game over for him. For me this was the image of mentally preparing for PBP: grab and keep that tiger by its tail, but make sure not to get swallowed by the beast.

Aug 10 and 11, 2015: Travel, Trials and Tribulations

Traveling to Europe from Fort St. John involved not only some 20 hours of travel, it also has a 9-hr time difference. In athlete’s training plans, any such travel is considered a moderate training effort and must be incorporated in the plan. With that in mind I booked my flight for August 10. This would provide ample time to be fully recovered for PBP. With only a 2-hr layover in both Vancouver and Toronto, I asked the Fort St. John desk agent to put a priority tag on my luggage, so that it would arrive in Paris on the same flight. In Vancouver I met up with Willi. We boarded the flight to Toronto, one of Air Canada's Boeing 787 Dreamliners. A sense of excitement. Lucky man.

In Toronto we encountered a 2-hr delay. As I was ready to board the Paris flight my boarding pass appeared problematic. Strange, because the first two legs had been uneventful. Dutifully I stepped aside to see the other agent, who informed me that I needed a new boarding pass, because my ticket ………………had been upgraded to business class. No reason given. Was I surprised? Yes, and I gracefully accepted. Why argue with such an offer? Why not experience how the 1% flies. Not only was I molly-coddled with a three-course dinner, the necessary wine, beer and other spirits, I could also compose my own breakfast. Most importantly however, it allowed me a 5.5 hr sleep – horizontal in the pod. Wow. Once again, a very lucky man. More positive charges. Thanks Air Canada. I’m glad you had my number.

During the descent into CDG glimpses of the landscape revealed a mosaic of fields, hedgerows, and villages, so neatly marked on the surface of the earth. Rails, rivers, roads and roundabouts were all part of the transportation network. I was excited to get on the road. After de-planing we waited for an hour to get our bicycles. To get from CDG to Plaisir we used public transit. First, the RER to St. Michel, where we transferred only to discover that construction activities required an extra transfer. Oh well. We took it in stride, and as a result had to take a few extra strides.

In St. Quentin we exited the train station on the wrong side, which could have been a bit of hassle: buying tickets and manhandling the turnstiles with our luggage. A security guard noted our dilemma. He was more than helpful to get us through the maze of turnstiles, stairs and elevators. There were the big billboards announcing PBP 2015. We explained to him that we were here for that event. This made his day as much as he made ours by getting us to the bus stop of Line 10 to Plaisir. We appreciated his assistance. For him it must have been a welcome change from the daily security routine. Line 10 took us right to bus stop La Bataille, less than 100m from the Pavillion des Gatines. Public transit for about 18 Euros and four hours later. It is possible. We were back at the same hotel, where the staff greeted us. The same staff who over the years have become our hosts at PBP. Home away from home.

Wed – Thu Aug 12-13, 2015: Plaisir-Chartres (83 km) and Chartres-Plaisir (92 km)

After assembling the bicycles Willi and I cycled to Chartres to get rid of jetlag, to loosen our legs and do some sightseeing. We followed the outbound PBP route to get re-acquainted with the terrain. Nothing new on the course, of course. Just past Faverolles we turned off the beaten track and spun through tiny farm villages. In Maintenon we paused at Le Cameleon for a refreshment. We then followed the bicycle path along the Eure river, a delightful and picturesque stretch, which led us right into Chartres. With a bit of climbing we made it to the hotel and cathedral area. First, an outdoor supper under the sycamores. After that, an exploration of the cathedral and its surroundings. Inside the cathedral, a religious celebration and a small choir singing. Their vocals reverberated through the lofty space. Incredible acoustics and stunning stain glass windows.


Willi kneeling in front of the Cathedral in
Chartres taking a picture of the same

The next day we went back for another visit to the cathedral, climbed the tower and enjoyed a magnificent view of the French landscape. We then cycled back along the Eure. In Coulombs we stopped at Le Palais Breton for the best crepes outside Brittany. After a few wrong turns in adjacent Nogent le Roi, we made it easily up the hairpin, the one we would descend on the first PBP morning. Quite a few randonneurs were on the course for their pre-PBP spin. Just past Ergal we foraged and gorged extensively on sweet and juicy blackberries. Delicious is an understatement.

Fri-Sun Aug 14-16, 2015: Photo-Ops and Registration

Friday was an easy day: fiddling with the machines, chatting with fellow riders and getting last minute items for bike and body. PBP was getting closer. Saturday was the day for group pictures and an inside look at the new Velodrome. As we entered the Velodrome and watched the track in some awe, a gentleman in his mid 70’s struck up a conversation and recounted how just a few weeks ago he had cycled a personal best on this track: 36 km in one hour. Still grinning from ear to ear, he added that he had not been allowed to ride above the blue line because of the steep turns.


BC Contingent at PBP 2015

We hung around in the centre of the Velodrome, where I chatted with author Jacques Seray and his wife. They were seated at a table promoting Jacques’ new book on the history of PBP: “Paris-Brest-Paris 120 ans, 1,200 kilometres”. Upon purchasing my copy, he autographed the book with:

“Pour Wim, qui connait parfaitement la route de Paris-Brest-Paris. Bien
chaleureusement. Jacques Seray. Au Velodrome de Saint Quentin en
Yvelines, le 16 août 2015."

As we were chatting another gentleman joined the conversation, and he was none other than the Belgian Herman de Munck, who ‘won’ PBP three times (and finishing in the top two on other occasions). Diminutive in stature, very affable, but one look in his eyes and you saw a champion. We chatted about PBPs past and his experiences in long distance cycling. This included his attempt to ride RAAM. An acute and serious medical condition however ended his dream prematurely. He mentioned that his trade as a floor installer required him to be on his knees a lot, which caused serious ankle-foot problems later in life. A surgeon suggested drastic measures to solve the issue, which would have ended his cycling adventures. None of that he mentioned. In his own and unconventional way, Herman overcame the issue, fixed it himself and continued cycling. A wonderful gentleman with a warm heart and a deep passion for PBP. The twinkle in his eyes told all.

For the Monday morning starters, Sunday was the bicycle check and document pick-up day. This was an easy process. We also needed to get some groceries for Monday’s breakfast and the first few hours of the ride. Surprise -- unpleasant that is, or should I say UnPlaisir -- because we had so miscalculated. Our mistake. Grocery stores were closed, because the French take their Sunday very serious, more so than we do in N. America. Good for them, not so good for us. Luckily for us, Decathalon was open, so we raided their supplies of crackers and energy bars. I also bought a simple handlebar bag, which came in very handy as my rolling supply cache. Later that evening our last supper for the moment of truth.

DAY 1: St. Quentin - Quedillac: 389 km

With a 5:00 am start, we were on the road by about 4. Our regular shortcut through the park was a no-go. The gate was locked. Someone had a solution and got us to the start via a myriad of detours. After check-in formalities we – the PBP 2015 generations X, Y and Z - were herded in our respective corals. Eagerly and not so nervously anymore -- we were anciens after all -- we awaited the start. After being moved to the start area, the countdown: “dix, neuf, huit, sept, six, cinque, quatre. trois, deux, un” ---and off we were.

Easy does it was the early morning motto. And easy certainly did it. Slowly the peloton set in motion. The streets of St. Quentin were deserted. Once in the countryside, the pace picked up. It was still dark. Elancourt, then Ergal from where it went all downhill under a canopy of sycamore trees. A beautiful sensation. Cycling at the back of the pack, it looked as if we were strung along like a serpentine of red lights. Wonderful sight. My legs felt good, lightly spinning. Just the way I liked it. As we approached the intersection at Le Cheval Mort, Willi and I had a good laugh, as it brought back fun memories of PBP 2011.

Like in previous editions, the initial plan was to sleep at Tinteniac (Km 364). We debated whether to push on to Loudeac (Km 449), however the extra distance, and the thought of arriving well after the wee hours of night one – when most normal people sleep -- reduced the appeal of a crowded Loudeac control. We zigzagged through Montfort, encountered a small Paris-Roubaix cobblestone section, and then grunted (a wee bit) our way up a longer incline at Montfort’s backside. When that was over, we veered off into the countryside. We settled in, tires softly humming, occasionally disrupted by the sound of clicking derailleurs shifting gears.

We sailed through the Bois de Rambouillet and down into Gambaiseuil, then another zigzag in Gambais and out in the open again. Hit a few buttes, up that is and then down through Faverolles, and before we knew it further down the Coulombs hairpin into Nogent- le-Roi, then through the city, up-and-out of town in no time. It felt as if the pavement effortless rolled away under our wheels. Riding in a group of 20-30 kept the pace higher than expected and planned. We rapidly traversed the many small villages. Amazing the number of people who were up and about that early. Earlier in the morning elderly ladies in peignoirs sitting on their front steps wishing the riders - that's us - bon courage, bon route, lots of allez’s and other French phrases. People in wheelchairs waving their canes. Parents with young children at small roadside stands, encouraging and inviting us to stop and sample their wares. What a heartwarming reception!

Somewhere along the route, I had to stop for a brief nature break, which was a good thing, because the pace had been very high. It is easy to give into the adrenaline rush, one feels good, but also risky as there are so many kilometers to go yet. As someone so succinctly noted: the first part you ride with your head, the final part with your legs. After we resumed, the pace was much more manageable. We briefly considered bypassing the Mortagne au Perche (Km 139) food stop, but with Villaines la Juhel another 80+ km away, we did opt for the break. The control in Le Carré du Perche is very well laid-out, no line-ups, excellent food, friendly volunteers and quick service. Soup, pasta and lait de riz. In less than 20 minutes we were gone. Ah, the art of managing controls efficiently.

Our next stop Villaines la Juhel (Km 220 @ 13:36). The first 200 had gone faster than most 200 km brevets in my rando history. More than 25.5 kph. Felt good, ate and drank well; everything functioned as it should. Villaines is a very special place albeit that the set-up is (a bit of) a maze. One needs a clear plan on how to manage this control. Park the bicycle, take water bottles and essentials, trigger the electronic timing, get the passbook stamped and signed, exit the building to cross the road to the food hall, divert momentarily to the washroom, and then the bee-line for food: lots of choice – don’t overdo it. Once ordered and paid for, youth volunteers carry your food it to a table in yet another space, and they do it with a smile. Volunteerism and civic duty taught and practised at a young age. As a gesture of appreciation, I handed out a few stickers. Not expecting this I suppose, they responded with smiles; smiles so generous one never forgets. Thank you.

Onward to the next control. Near Tanniere, a woman and her 3 children had a small road side stand. For one reason of another this image was so touching that I had to stop. Almost choked up. As I pulled my wallet, their response: “non, non, pas de payer.” I only wanted to pull out a few stickers of my appreciation. Caught my breath and then chatted for a few minutes, while I sipped a cup of black coffee. Very much enjoyed the occasion. It made my day. I continued to Fougères (Km 310 @ 17:58 pm).

To reach that control one had to follow an almost never-ending circuit through the city. To save time at the control I cycled to the far end for check-in, then rolled back to the main building for food and refreshments. Walking takes up too much time. Food at this control was again very good. Willi had arrived a bit before me. We reminisced about Fougeres 2011. That’s when the skies opened in a way we had rarely seen before. It was “[s]ur nous le deluge" with due credit to Marquise de Pompadour who apparently exclaimed "Apres nous le deluge" during the French Revolution. We waited out the storm.

This time the weather was fine and before long we were on our way to Tinténiac (Km364 @ 20:46). It was still light when we arrived. In previous edition I arrived closer to midnight and decided to sleep then and there. With the evening still young, we decided to continue to Quedillac. Somewhere around Merdreac Willi and I got separated. I can neither recall nor reconstruct what happened, but at one of the roundabouts I nonchalantly followed the red lights ahead of me, caught up and passed them. Something was not right, for the number of riders dwindled rapidly. I stopped and checked with a few riders. We all thought we were ok, but then noted a road sign for the next town: one not on our route! Wrong road. Backtracked and then followed the small group back to the correct route. That was a bit of a wake-up call. Meanwhile, I had no idea where Willi was. We did however catch up at Quedillac (Km 389), where the local sport hall had ample space to sleep. No line-ups. After a timely shower I felt refreshed; I had trouble sleeping at first. It was a light snooze, too much adrenaline rushing through the veins. After a few hours horizontal on a very good matrass, it was time to move on. A small bite to eat, and back in the saddle by about 1:30 am. There was not a lot of time for sleeping. As one follower at home noted in an e-mail: “when we went to bed you were cycling; when we got up the next morning you were still cycling” (Liz Morrison, spouse of 2011 PBP finisher Jay Morrison).

DAY 2: Quedillac - Brest – St. Nicholas de Pelem 344 km

We cycled into a dark and chilly night and made it to Loudeac (Km 454 @ 5:20). Time to feed the beast (again). After an early and great breakfast, we soon hit the road to the next stop: St. Nicholas de Pelem (Km 493 @ 08:40), which also functioned as a ‘secret’ control. Another breakfast – a late one this time - and soon we resumed the ride. In the mean time it had become quite a bit busier on the road. We were catching up with and passing many of the 90 hr start riders. In Carhaix (Km 525 @ 10:26) we had -- you guessed it -- another meal, this time an early lunch. It felt much like we developed a cadence of cycle, stop and forage. Repeat for the next four days.

The first 15 km out of Carhaix were decidedly warm and uphill. A bit of a tough section to wrestle through. After that however the road flattened out and went through a forested area. Very pleasant and shady with much cooler temperatures. As we approached Huelgoat, the grade increased again. I kept on spinning in small gear, easily passing others and leaving them behind with the ease of an accomplished grimpeur. Soon it was back on the major highway west to Sizun and Brest. Legs still fresh. The next challenge: Roc'h Trevezel, the highest point on the PBP route and according to Wikipedia "the second peak of the Breton part of the Armorican Massif in the Monts d'Arrée".

Is this a peak to be feared or is it overrated? In any case the climb started; I maintained my steady spin and made no effort to keep or catch up with faster riders: rode my own pace. At the summit we regrouped and started the long descent, once described by Willi in 2011 as the "most disappointing descent ever experienced." This on account of a stiff headwind. That was then. Down we went; not at great speeds, but steady and depending on the grade, some faster, some slower sections. Somehow the descent seemed much longer and slower this time.

Finally, Sizun, where I needed a quick ‘ravit’ in the form of Orangina, black coffee and chocolate cake. This as a pre-emptive strike to prevent a repeat of the 2011 disaster. At that time, I think, I did not eat enough and pushed the pace too hard on the incessant roller-coaster to Brest. This section is mentally one of the tougher sections in PBP. The result on arrival: very tired, unable to eat at the control - not that there was anything to eat anyway -- but it contributed to the decision to abandon. Not this time. Lesson learnt, eat and drink regularly, ride a manageable pace. So, I rode my own pace. Those snappy rollers were still there, the ones that really bite and sap your energy quickly. It seemed an eternity before we reached that bridge before Brest. Finally, there it was the milestone - or in localese: the menhir - if you understand what I mean. After all, we were in Armorica, the imagined community of Asterix and Obelix.

          

Arriving at the bridge always stirred up emotions, as it marked the midway point of PBP, more or less. Time for pictures and smiles on the Pont d’Albert Louppe, the windy link across the Bay to the turnaround control. Impressive as ever. We passed the 2003 and 2007 control with fond memories of free beer and charges for the towels. Arrived in Brest (Km 618 @ 15:24), some 34:24 after the start. Tired yes, yet very satisfied with the achievement thus far. Checked-in; showered, ate and drank. Felt very recovered and ready to tackle the way back.

First to Landerneau, then Sizun where I did a quick bottle refill before the ascent up the Roc'h. For one reason or another - I don't know which one—the ascent appeared very comfortable. Could not figure out what was wrong (with me). It felt easy, that's what was right (with me). Rode up the hill at a pace which at time approached 15 – 17 kph. There was a bit of tailwind. While the ascent - like the descent - was rather long, the summit was reached before long. Great view of the distant landscape with church steeples, identifying the locations of numerous Breton villages. At the summit Ron Stewart and I exchanged our experiences thus far. Also put on warm gear as the setting sun meant cooler temperatures. The rest of the stage to Carhaix had many downhill sections in it, which helped the maintain the overall average pace.

At the control in Carhaix- Plouguer (Km 703 km @ 20:20), we kept the stop brief so that we could take advantage of the last bit of the daylight. We decided to make it to St. Nicholas de Pelem (Km 733@ about 22:30). As I was enjoying a wonderful supper there, I noted Karl Weimann from Osterdorf in Nord-Bayern. He had had mishap, resulting in an injury, then delay and abandon. It would have been his 6th PBP. Understandably, Karl was distraught about his fate. Karl rode the RM 2003. He and his wife Heidi have been organizing fabulous brevets in Northern Bavaria for decades (see: http://www.randonneure.de/). Wonderful people with a deep passion for randonneuring.

DAY 3: St Nicholas de Pelem – Mortagne (357 km)

Rested very well. Good food in the cafeteria section rather than the quick stop on the way out. It was pitch dark when Willi and I left the control. We had to keep our wits about the route, as some of the fleches were close to the ground in the grassy berms. Not long after our departure we were diverted from the route for a secret control. If I recall correctly this must have been around Corlay. We made it to Loudeac (Km 780 @ 04:45 am), where we had a relaxed breakfast. We were here almost 24 hrs ago. Before we resumed, we put some of our excess luggage in Willi’s drop bag. Physically and psychologically that felt a lot better.

After a few hours on our way to Tinteniac I felt sleepy and wondered about the safety of continuing to cycle. It is that same feeling one get’s when driving. Fighting it is one method, often not very successful and certainly not safe. Willi, who apparently suffered the same dilemma, suddenly called for a nap-en-route. Everyone knows what that means. Just find a place, stop, drop and sleep. We stopped and found ourselves in a stubble field, which of course is not the most attractive surface for a horizontal position. So, we tried the Harold Bridge – Ken Bonner method of standing astride across the bike and let oneself fall asleep. Did it work. It did not. Not only did we not fall, we did not sleep either. In summary, we could not fall asleep. The vertical position did not work, so we laid down on/in the stubble and closed our eyes for about 30 minutes on the nailbed. Woke up chilled – discovering that there was still no R-value in my cycling gear, but I knew that already from my 2005 LEL experience. After a 30 minutes break we began moving again. Initially it was sluggish, but then I found the groove again.

While tempted to blast past the Quedillac (Km 839) food stop, we decided to enjoy a few refreshments there and ended up chatting with Darren Inouye, who was riding his 4th PBP. After that break, I certainly felt a lot better. As we continued, we noted that the road was getting a lot busier with fellow randonneurs. We arrived at Tinteniac (Km 867 @09:52 am), then after one of the shortest of intermezzos made it to Fougeres (Km 921@12:36) by lunch time.

The stretch from Fougeres to Villaines is one of the longer stages on PBP. Things went along quite nicely, although I had to ride my own pace. Willi was slightly ahead, I did not want to push the pace to catch up. Conservation of energy and momentum was the key. At a roadside stop in Charchigne (Km 895) I stopped for some refreshments, including a black coffee. That felt good. The remainder to Villaines was a bit of a blur in that my senses did not record much.

We arrived in Villaines (Km1009 @ 18:17), a place with unforgettable and emotional moments. First, on all accounts one is tired; second, another control is reached. Another chunk of the elephant has been eaten. Finally, the incredible welcome. Standing on the large retaining wall, crowds watch, applaud and cheer as riders – we - arrive. When we leave, they shower us with allezs and bon courages. Of course, we are both re-energized and touched by this outpouring of support. An energetic MC keeps the crowds pumped as he enthusiastically welcomes and congratulates every rider on the achievement thus far. Yet, PBP was not finished yet. Given the atmosphere, it certainly felt like it. Music played. It was a very festive scene. One that touched an emotional nerve.

As I rode in and absorbed the scene, the sounds and sights, I waived to crowd as an expression of my gratitude. This wave motion got me all choked up. What a lucky man to experience this: a cyclist and to receive a welcome like this is heart rendering. As I entered the checkpoint, my traditional greeting ”bonjour” and the traditional reply “bonjour aussi”. I then asked the volunteer - who by now must have been at his post for hours - "et vous, comment ca va”? “Bon,” he replied, but the appreciative voice response and surprised look in his eyes showed that he had not expected riders asking him how he was doing.

Caught up with Willi again. Then off across the road for more……food. After all, what is not new at PBP: ride and eat, eat and ride. We joined Jim Runkel, Graham Fishlock and Phil Lennox. Not for long though, because after the meal, you guessed it, time for more sedentary activity of a different kind: we ride again. We left Villaines la Juhel at a good time – of course encouraged by the many well wishers -- to ensure that we would make it to Mortagne before midnight. That worked. This section has lot of ups-and-downs in it, although the first half once up tend to have more downs, while the second half is the opposite - once down it tends to have more ups, especially the up around Mamers and the last few kilometers before the control in Mortagne.

When we arrived in Mortagne (Km 1090 @ 22:30), I was ready for more food. The last 15 km or so had been a bit of slog, quite a slog to be more precise. It was one of those sections that was (a) never ending and (b) uphill for some vague reason. Fortunately, Mortagne never disappoints the hungry. While munching away, the question was to continue or go for a sleep. Around us Barry, Henk and Ross were nodding off at the table. Should I? No, that would not quite do it yet. Feeling recovered and wide awake, I wanted to continue. Before departing I purchased a Perche memento and slipped it in my pannier. Ahead of us one more night and 140 clicks to the finish.

Day 4: Mortagne au Perche to St Quentin-en-Yvelines (127 km)

Back in the saddle onward to Dreux, some 75 km down the road. The first 25 km were rather undulating. To clarify: very up and down. A lot more up, at least that’s how it felt. In addition, the night felt very empty, the world around me felt deserted. Longny-au-Perche was dimly lit, shrouded in a mist, creating a somewhat eerie, sombre and Tolkienesque atmosphere. This for those who have read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

Some time after midnight I had trouble staying awake. When it became too dangerous to continue, I stopped, got off the bicycle, and sat down, somewhat uncomfortably against a fence post and dozed off. Quite a few riders had done the same. Many were wrapped in space blankets, very much resembling a bowl of baked potatoes, wrapped in foil. Many may have felt baked or half-baked as well. While it was rather chilly and not very conducive for a nap, the half hour reprieve was worth every minute of it. Back on the road I latched on to passing riders. Maintained a good pace as the legs felt much better.

When we approached Senonches, quite a few riders hooked off for a quick snack. I was not ready for it yet. Getting through Senonches was a challenge. What had been an easy-passing-through-town on the way out a few days ago, was now a puzzle. Fleches were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly I was alone with one other rider who insisted that he knew exactly where he was going. Well, after madly chasing around the same blocks a few times and back tracking the same number, it was obvious that he did not. I asked him if he was using a GPS. No, he was not. Was he using a map? No, he was not. Was he using the route sheet: No, he was not. But he knew where he was going. Not. In all fairness, the route sheet info was inconclusive and not helpful. Actually: info absent.

It was essentially a wild goose chase; doing a midnight criterium in Senonches and a clear recipe for disaster: getting lost in a hurry. Go figure. We were indeed riding by the seat of our pants, literally and figuratively. Upon retracing the route once more, we saw other riders and our problem was solved. Phew! The problem was a labyrinth of one-way-streets where out- and inbound routes had been separated. After this unplanned intermezzo – rather funny in retrospect -- back en route to the next control. Back to a normal and uneventful rhythm. We cruised along at speeds between 25 and 30 kph, despite carrying a heavy load of fatigue. Finally, lights in the distance: Dreux, the second last control.

Arrived in Dreux (Km 1165 @ 4:12 am). The control was packed with hundreds of weary cyclists. Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion or not at all. Fatigued, subdued, little emotion. Messy impression, although it was not quite a battlefield. Never a place to disappoint though, because Dreux offered awesome food. And what a choice there was. Food was well presented and plentiful. I spotted Willi who was solving issues with his contact lenses.

We kept the stop brief and went back on the backroads with construction ruts and other obstacles, a few bumps here and there (but no bruises). Finally, back on the main road. Down the hairpin on the D929, which was over far too soon, then into the countryside, across the Eure, that placid little Monet like stream, tree covered banks with always that urge to write poetry. Leave that for later, for now the focus is to finish the ride.

On towards Conde sur Vesgre, the place where the PBP out- and inbound routes converged. Wondered if there was connection between the name and the convergence. Silly mind! We were on familiar terrain now. A sharp left hook got us out of Conde only to be followed by a right and left hook in Gambais - if that sounds like a boxing match, rest assured it was not -- to end up on the Grand d’Allee de Gambais. For whatever reason the route appeared to deviate from the outbound - or was that my imagination - as it took a slightly different course to get to Montfort. With a few 'bitches' of climbs – of course they had to be in there. We arrived in, and past through memorable Montfort-l’Amoury in no time. Fewer than 25 kms to go. We crossed the D19 at Le Cheval Mort, followed by a short uphill, no problem peddling up that one. Light rain began falling as we entered the home stretch. Early morning traffic was light as we wound our way through the ‘burbs’ of St Quentin. We cycled on avenues, so eloquently named after historic figures like Andre Malraux and Salvador Allende, before we ended up in the Base de Loisir de St Quentin. We could smell the finish. With literally less than 100 meters we shook hands on our accomplishment. A job well done. We did it. We clocked in one second apart: fini, finished: 75:12, timewise my best one ever PBP. Goal achieved. Vici!!

I must say that the emotions at the finish line in the Velodrome (Km 1230) @ 8:12 am were rather mixed, if not conflicting and certainly anti-climactic. On the one hand the enormous joy of finishing – “clinically elated’ might be a better term, since fatigue and sleep deprivation dampened the impact of the enormity of the achievement.

Then the slow walk to the control to hand in our chip and control book. We did it!! Parked our machines and walked trough the catacombs of the Velodrome. We received a meal - pasta - and a refreshment. As we sat down, who greeted us, much to my pleasant surprise? Rosslyn – Ross Nichol’s partner. She and I have been colleagues for decades as we both taught geography in the BC College system. Very good to see her again. Meanwhile, I was looking for wine glasses to celebrate our success and to express my appreciation for Willi’s support before and during PBP. Out of my pannier came the memento, the bottle of Cidre de Perche, which 140 km ago I bought at the Mortagne control. Opened it to celebrate the joint effort. Toasting at the finish: Ein Prosit, Sante et Merci. This was (for me) the appropriate thing to do.

We did not stick around too long. Everyone was tired and moving in slow motion. Time to head back to the hotel in Plaisir for shower and sleep.

(Friday) Morning after and beyond:

Around 7:10 am the next morning, I woke up and heard voices outside. They sounded Dutch. For the uninitiated, I am still sensitive to my mother tongue. It was none other than my brother Anton who with a friend had driven all night from the Netherlands to Paris to surprise me. And what a surprise it was. How sweet! Lots to talk about.

     

Later that afternoon Jan and Anton drove us to downtown Paris. Willi kept saying in disbelief what a surprise it was to be driven around in downtown Paris. We found a terrace close to one of the Seine bridges. There was a musician playing his guitar and singing these incredible songs. Dropped a few coins in his guitar case and remarked to him: "Vous me rappelez de Bob Marley", at which point he promptly started to play “No Woman, No Cry.” Talk about shivers running up the spine. It was so amazingly beautiful, that I could not help but think that we were witnessing the second coming of the great Bob Marley himself. Great sound, great rhythm, great ambience. We thoroughly enjoyed the music, a great lunch and a beer. Wow.

Next, we went to Montparnasse, where we were elevated to the top a 56-story building, the highest point in Paris with a stunning view of the city. Famous landmarks stood scattered around us. Below us the Gare de Montparnasse with its maze of intertwining tracks and switches. Equally amazing the arriving and departing trains, silently slithering like snakes in and out of the station.

During the next few days it began to sink in, that the 2015 Paris adventure was over. It was reduced to a memory (almost). All that was left was the packing, then homeward bound. No business class across the Atlantic this time. There was a PBP reminder as one of the inflight movies "The Bélier Family" had numerous scenes in it from Lassey-les-Chateaux, the area we just cycled through.

PBP 2015 was an amazing experience with many people: riders, volunteers and the French communities along the route, who made it possible: their welcome, their heart- warming hospitality. Thank you - merci. À bientôt. Last, but not least hugs for Ricky, my wife for her unwavering support. Thank you.




Go to: BC Randonneurs Stories from 2015
Go to: BC Randonneurs Photos from 2015

 

January 6, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

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