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Well, it's over, and I'm sitting here at home, going through croissant withdrawal. The main purpose of this excessively long ride report is to give me something to refer back to if randonesia sets in to the point where I'm considering doing this for a third time. Don't get me wrong- I had a great time (not to be confused with a fast time, which - for me- it also was). Most of this was more to do with pure luck and good on the spot decisions than planning. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
When I rode it in 2015, I made several mistakes which prevented my ride from being truly enjoyable, the worst of which was getting my seat height too low when assembling the bike, resulting in one very sore knee from the morning of day 2- or about 12 hours in. Another was not allowing sufficient time for a proper holiday in addition to the event. I hoped to rectify those issues on my 2019 attempt. If I got a faster time in the process, that was OK too. With that in mind, I had made up a card with my control time arrivals from 2015 (I had managed to get the same start time again), and pinned it to my handlebar bag to gauge my progress.
Susan and I arrived in France several days before the bike check day, and spent the first four nights in Versailles before moving to the tiny motel room I had booked in Coignieres. This time around, we used trains from the airport, which was challenging, but doable. We had met up with Russel Ogden in Calgary, and on arrival at CDG, had navigated the public transit with him until our paths diverged. The bike went together well, and the test ride revealed no issues. On the morning of the bike check, we went over to the Decathlon for some last minute shopping. While inside, the skies opened up in a big way- the raindrops were bouncing a foot off the pavement and the whole parking lot was flooded in minutes. After it let up, we took the train to Rambioullet for the bike check. It was raining again- or still, and Susan found shelter while I lined up with a few thousand other soggy people. Wet or not, everyone was in really good spirits. There were lots of familiar faces, from BC and around the globe. The bike check went well, and we managed to get group photos of most of the BC people (herding cats in the sheepfold? and how do you fold a sheep?).
We arrived early for my 5:30 PM start, and were able to watch the first few waves leave before it was time for me to get in the line up. This time around, I was near the front of the lineup, only one row back. Then it was go-time. And go we did, averaging over 30 kmh for the first couple of hours or so. Not long into the ride, I felt a bit of a tug on my Carradice bag. I didn't think too much of it, but then it became obvious- someone was holding my bag and getting a free ride! Talk about brass balls! When I turned to see, I found it was Russel, one of several BC riders who were in my start group. We had a good laugh, and continued on, sometimes together, sometimes not. At some point we came across Paul Van Wersch, who had not yet found his characteristic speed. I also spent some time riding with Adam Pearce, from Nova Scotia, and an Ontario rider whose name I have forgotten. There were some scary moments in the packs, with questionable riding practises- PLEASE, PEOPLE, wait until no one is around you before you fuck with your phone. No selfie is worth taking out the whole peloton! I had a very scary moment that was my own fault, a direct result of my North American riding habits. I pulled over onto the "shoulder" to let a car pass. Turned out to be a sidewalk' raised only about 1/2 inch above the roadway, and next thing I knew, my tires were scrubbing sideways along the edge of it. I was lucky. I heard of two others, who crashed doing exactly the same thing. As it got later in the evening, a voice behind me asked if she could ride with me for a while and talk to keep from falling asleep, and so I got to meet Kelly, and learn about the challenges of qualifying for PBP in Illinois, when brevets may be cancelled due to tornadoes! I made a mental note not to complain about having to do a last-minute re-route due to a simple road washout. I had wasted a bunch of time by stopping for food at Mortagne in 2015, so this time around I had packed a lot more food, only stopping for water and to put on arm warmers.
It was becoming obvious that I had missed a spot with the chamois cream, but I had gotten into a really good group and did not want to lose them, so I put off adding more much longer than I should have. I was lucky. My "slight discomfort" never got any worse for the duration of the ride, and actually was better on the third day than on the second. By the time I got to Villaines, 217 km in, I was pretty much right on my 2015 schedule. I rewarded my efforts with a brief sit down meal at the control, and continued on. Sometime in the hours around dawn, I managed to hook up with Paul again, and Mike Hagen. We enjoyed a Fleche team reunion breakfast in Fougeres (minus Dave, who had only just started his ride with the 84 hour group. We all had our own "happy speeds", so the group sort of fell apart, although I did see them both several more times during the day. I was now about 15 minutes behind 2015. I was finding the ride more difficult this time, and I think it was because of a persistent headwind. Or so I told myself. Onward, through Tinteniac, Loudeac, and to Carhaix, where I had the first of three Paris-Brests I would consume during the journey. Somewhere around the 300 km mark, my back up gps went a bit squirrely, saying I had done 750 km, at an average of 102 kmh- hard to do with a 56 kmh mazimum- so I shut it off. When I got home and plugged it in, I found I had been to Germany.
Riding through Huelgoat, I looked to see if I could spot the B&B that Susan and I had booked for one night of our travels after the ride, but it was well off the main road. My knees were feeling good, but the hiIls and headwinds had taken a toll on my quads- they felt as though they had been beaten on with a baseball bat. Despite that, Roc Trevezel seemed short and easy. I briefly reconnected with Adam, but he pulled off to go to a hotel he had booked in the last village before Brest. It was obvious I was not going to repeat my sunset crossing of the bridge into Brest. I crossed in the dark, and once in Brest had a terrible time spotting the arrows. Suddenly I found myself in a group of riders, and we were shepherded into the control by a pair of the ANEC motos. I was losing about 10 to 15 minutes per control, and was now more than an hour behind 2015. I hopedI would soon claw some of that back, as last time around I had wasted a lot of time in Brest, but my legs were done, and I found the two steps down from the toilet building to be all but impossible. John and Malou found me while I was eating. I told them I had just taken an industrial-strength muscle relaxant in preparation for a sleep, and asked them if they thought it would be hazardous to chase that with a beer. They seemed reluctant to commit to an answer, so I said " Beer is 2 Euros. If I have a 2 Euro coin in my bag, it's obvious that the universe wants me to have a beer." I did, so I did, and apparently I survived. Also, Paris-Brest #2! Instead of wasting time in the dortoir, I had a two hour sleep in a boil-in-the-bag bivvy sack on the grass outside the control. Much quieter. I made several good decisions here: #1- I did not put on my fresh, dry clothes- including my favourite wool Icebreaker jersey- until AFTER my sleep. I emerged from the bivvy soggy, and would have been frozen. #2- I remembered the carnage at Carhaix on the return, with eastbound and westbound riders both converging like swarms of locusts. I bought an extra sandwich and some cheese to avoid the lines I knew would be there. My legs felt as though they might work, and by the time I left Brest I was a couple of hours ahead of 2015.
As had been the case in 2015, the pre-dawn approach to Carhaix was misty, to the point of water dripping off the front of my helmet, and DAMN COLD!!! I was meeting several oncoming riders in the dark where I should not have been meeting them- they had not taken the turnoff where the westbound route goes through Huelgoat, but eastbound does not. I found myself wondering how much easier or shorter that had made the route, and hoped that nobody had done it deliberately. Carhaix was even worse than I had remembered, so I got my control card dealt with, and avoided the crowds. Luckily, there was a stand outside the control selling coffee, and no lines. Leaving the control, I was passed by an ambulance, lights and siren going, and hoped it was not for one of the riders, but based on the time and location, I think it may have been for Bob Couperthwaite. It was becoming obvious that two hours had not been enough sleep. I briefly saw Meaghan in Tinteniac- she did not even look tired. In 2015 I had been having a really low moment when I met Alan Parkinson, from London, and we had ridden into Fougeres together hoping to get there to get photos of the castle before we lost the light. It seems I'm destined to ride into Fougeres with a Londoner- this time Jamie Oliver (no, not that one). Jamie is actually from Victoria BC, but now lives in London. And this time, the sun was brightly shining on the castle. My efficiency at controls was paying off, but I was getting sleepy. Jamie was planning to sleep at Fougeres, but I decided to ride on to Villaines, thinking 200 km on the last day looked better than 300. I got into a good group, with a local French rider, and one from Germany. Soon, the local boy says " There's a crepe stand in the next village". La Tanniere? Already? Wow! After the required crepe, I continued on my own, but fatigue was catching up with me. I stopped for a brief nap in a bus shelter, but woke up frozen. There was a cafe open in Ambrieres-les-Vallees, so I decided to stop. The coffee was great, but even better, they offered a bed in the nice, quiet, warm dining room. An hour on an air mattress did me a world of good- for a while.
And there I was in Villaines, with just over 200 km to go. Sleep? Seemed like good idea, but it was noisy in the control, and food and coffee woke me up, sorta. Onward to Mortagne. Once again, the early morning was cold and damp, and I was falling asleep again. The surroundings looked totally unfamiliar, as I had ridden this bit in the dark on the way out. Another bus shelter nap, and I made it into Mamers, where the local bike club had big tents with soup and coffee. I tried to have a table nap, but the nice lady kept trying to get me to go to the sleeping area, so I left. I stopped for ? at the top of the next big climb, and John and Malou went by. I felt a bit of a boost and made it into Mortagne. Another big feed, more coffee, and roll out. Now I was feeling dangerously sleepy, and it seemed to be all uphill. I tried to have a roadside nap, but was too tired to sleep. I kept myself awake by continually stuffing food into my face. Finally, I came upon a roadside stand with coffee, cake, and dark chocolate. Starting to feel a bit more alert, I saw John and Malou, and Paul go by. Finished my coffee, and sprinted to try to catch them. It didn't happen, but sprinting did wake me up. AHA! Interval training all the way into Dreux!
John and Malou were just leaving Dreux when I got there, and Paul had already left. Not stopping was not an option, as I was completely out of food. I had a good feast, ( including Paris-Brest #3) and bought some to take with me. Only fortyish km to go! Back to doing intervals. I recalled the flat farmland sections from 2015, when I had actually gotten off and walked because my knee was so sore. This time, no problem. Just had to stay awake. Then, my sprinting caught me up with Friedrich, a German rider with a son who lives in Montreal. He clearly wanted company, and riding at a conversational pace was a much more pleasant way to stay awake than sprinting. We rolled across the finish line together, welcomed by Susan. Étienne and Jacquetta were also there. Étienne had had a fantastic ride, and Jacquetta had ended her ride in Brest and taken the train back. I was pretty stupid and needed a lot of guidance to get to where we were to get our final stamps, and our finishers meal. I had told Susan I would finish in 72 hours, at 5:30 PM, so I was pretty happy with my 71:39- just over 3 hours faster than 2015. Actually, not faster, just more efficient. As Roger Holt says, you can give the illusion of being fast by being super efficient at controls.
Do it again in four years? Highly unlikely (I've finally learned to say "highly unlikely" instead of "never again"). When I finished in 2015, I made a list of things I would do different in 2019, and managed to do all but one- get more sleep. Everything else went better than I had any right to expect, and I see no way to improve on this year's ride. I have a limited budget for overseas rides, and there are other rides I would like to try. That said, if money were no object, I would be there again in four years. Excuse me now, I need to go buy a lottery ticket....
Go to: Bob's photos (65 Images, flickr)
Go to: BC Randonneurs PBP Results
September 9, 2019