PBP 2003 in 59 hours and change
By Ken Carter
The 80 hour start had two waves of approximately 500 riders. I came out to the starting area one hour before the 8:00 pm start time and there were already 200 people lined up in the holding area. The weather was great for leg & arm warmers which could be worn through the night. After going through the neighborhoods for the first 14 kms, the road came out into a wide field & straight open road which allowed riders to pass in the oncoming lane. It was here that an accident had occurred with one injured rider sitting on the ground with a neck brace on and two emergency vehicles parked nearby. The riders now began spreading out into long pacelines and the memory of PBP 1999 returned while watching the taillights of hundreds of riders strung out for many kms ahead.
Mortagne Au Perche (141kms)
The experience of navigating through small streets and focusing on the outgoing (pink) arrows on a building or signpost kept our attention while entering the villages. Mortagne wasn't a control for getting cards signed, but support vehicles were allowed and were packed tightly in the village square. Extra lighting from the vehicles became evident as we quickly passed through.
Villaines La Juhel (223kms)
The route out from Mortagne to Villaines became rolling hills with a net loss of altitude. I began riding with a large group of 20 plus riders and found Ken Bonner and Eric Fergusson from the B.C. Randonneurs riding strong as usual. We chatted and Ken mentioned he had taken a drive out to Villaines before the ride and noticed it was mostly downhill. He then stated "there are a lot of hills remaining in this ride, I think I'll slow down." This wouldn't be the last time he says this, as we continue hanging with the group. As the group entered Villaines to get cards stamped and water bottles filled, each rider headed in different directions. I decided to use my usual liquid diet, but this time included a third bottle of food in addition to the camel back for water. It worked perfectly riding through the night with cool temperatures and 30 ounces of fluid. As I used up a bottle of food, I would fill it with water and continue riding without having to stop to eat until over 300kms into the ride.
It was mid morning when Eric and I reached Fougeres together and decided this would be our first sit down meal. A jambon et beurre sandwich, coca-cola, bottled water and pudding for desert. Our pace had been fast with all the group riding we participated in. Some of the groups appeared to be French cycling clubs with older riders acting as coaches. They would bark out words in French to the riders which would cause someone to either pickup the pace or rotate up to the front of the pack. It soon became necessary for those who rode with the pack to take their turn at leading the riders. This assured being allowed to continue riding with the group and amounted to very little time out front compared to the hours we tucked in behind with the main group. As a solo rider desiring a quick overall time, this was the only way to keep a high pace for the duration of the ride. Traffic had increased coming into the city, and as we headed out, the streets were beginning to get congested with more cars then we had seen since starting the ride. The sun was out so our leg and arm warmers came off for the first time. This was when I discovered that having a long sleeved wool jersey was not necessary in this weather. As we regrouped with other riders our pace picked up and I became hot with the heavy jersey. I decided that at Loudeac I would change out of the long sleeve jersey with knickers and into a short sleeve wool jersey with shorts. At this point, all my plans had worked for food and water, but for lessons learned, I could have gone with lighter clothing during the night. During a slow period of time on a quiet stretch of road, Eric another rider and I were passed by a compact car. Once it passed us, it slowed down and we soon realized that the driver was offering us a free draft from his car. For one kilometer, the three of us paced behind him. We must have gotten up to about 35kms and hour and then he honked, waved his hand and off he drove. About a hundred yards up the road he turned off into a driveway leading to, we presume, his farm. What a memorable experience, and a first one for Eric and I.
The group of riders that I encountered on this leg of the route became anxious to pick out those who were willing to ride at a higher pace. The riders that kept together the most in this stretch were the Danish. And it was easy to sit back and ride with them because they would never rotate or change their pace. It was a pace to enjoy with a mixed group of riders from other countries. In this particular group, I found that there were four French riders who were always in front of the pack. These guys would move around in front and talk together and look back to see who was riding in the main group. I was anxious to stay with the group, so I decided to get up front and help out. So I moved ahead of the Danish and in with the French riders. One Frenchman was built more like a fullback with calves twice the size of a normal bike rider. This guy sat straight up and could ride out front even with a head wind and keep a good pace. Moving up front, they sat back behind me and urged me on. So off I went, away from the pack without my knowing it. Not until I looked back did I see that the Danish were way back, but the French were just a short ways behind. So I continued the pace and in a short time the French riders were back passing me and continued on at a slightly higher pace. This kept going until it was to fast to comfortably stay with them. So I dropped back down to a casual pace and soon was passed by the Danish who had been maintaining the same pace of around 25kms per hour. It must have been amusing to the Danish riders to see our group go out ahead of them, only to catch back up and pass this American rider while keeping the same pace. It was foolish to get caught up in a game of "who can ride at my pace." The route at this point passed near a village I had slept at in PBP 1999. I had always wanted to go back to the Bar/Restaurant and thank the owner who was so patient with this lonely and tired American rider. I noticed that the business was in Meneac and after seeing the name "Les Menhirs" on the building, decided to stop on my way back from Brest to visit with the owner.
Loudeac (452 kms)
The arrival time at Loudeac was 1:47pm, which was getting to be very warm. I rushed into the control room to get the card swiped as usual and then quickly went to the bag drop to get my change of clothes and food. The desire for more liquid food became more important since I had run out over a 100 kms back. Upon reaching my bag, I took out the food and quickly drank three cans before changing my clothes. I dropped off the Gortex jacket I had been carrying and filled the water bottles. Eric and I had continued to ride together and were enjoying each others company in this far off region of the world. It's always reassuring to be with company you have ridden with on brevets in the past. So I offered Eric a can of food and he quickly downed the can and we went inside to get more fluids. We met up with Michel Richard from the B.C. Randonneurs group at one of the tables and quickly caught up on how each was doing on the ride. Eric and Michel decided to sleep before riding on towards Brest, so I continued on my own keeping a leisure pace for the first time.
Carhaix-Plouguer (529 kms)
The route from Loudeac to Carhaix included some flat areas that were easy to keep a steady pace. Without having hills forcing riders to adjust their speed, the road was a welcome opportunity to ride solo and enjoy the countryside. There were now fewer riders on the course since many had dropped off at Loudeac to rest or eat. Of the groups of riders that I did come across, most were only two or three riders. It was here that I started leap frogging with small groups of riders. I would ride with a group for 10 or 20 minutes until another group came by going at a faster pace. Then I would jump in with the passing group and keep moving along at a comfortable speed. After awhile an individual went by and so I jumped on behind him and this lead to a brisk pace through a couple of villages. I witnessed for the first time a rate of speed in descending through villages that was at a mad pace. I would call it a mad European pace, since this guy appeared to be French. Most of the time I could stay behind him without standing up on the climbs. And he didn't appear to like this, so he started sprinting up the hills while spectators would be clapping and saying "Bon Courage". I do believe this guy had bigger gonads than I, so I let him ride away at a pace that I'm sure he couldn't keep all the way to Brest. There went my comfortable solo pace out to Brest.
This leg also included a secret control at Mael-Carhaix. It was a tiny village that was on a short and slightly steeper climb into the village square. Coming to the edge of the village, I noticed the village sign and thought it was the Carhaix control. This surprised me because I couldn't have ridden 77 kms from Loudeac so quickly. Once in the control building, I handed the control card to the person at the desk to be electronically swiped, she said no and handed it back to me. It was only the paper control card that needed to be stamped and the arrival time written in the Secret Control box. It was Carhaix-Plouguer that was the regular control which had an old grade school for PBP in 1999. I remember it was the first and only school building I had been in that had cobbles for hallway floors. It had been a tough walk in 1999 with the road shoes and cleats, used with Speedplay pedals. Thank god for mountain bike shoes and Frog cleats. This year, the control was in a school building similar to the size at Loudeac. After getting the card signed, I walked into the cafeteria and was amazed to see it was empty. I had never been to a control in PBP and have nobody to sit down next to and eat with. This was like heaven to have no line to walk through and get ICE COLD coke and ICE COLD bottled water. I just smiled as I walked up to the cashier and paid for my drinks
Brest (615 kms)
As the route headed out towards Brest on the only highway leading over the summit of Roc Trevezel, return riders began appearing. Between Carhaix and Brest the route did a figure eight which separated the outgoing riders headed to Brest from the returning riders who were headed back to Carhaix-Plouguer. Both the outgoing and returning riders rode on the highway leading to Carhaix for about 2 kms, then the route separated, with the outgoing riders turning onto a back road which winded up a heavily forested canyon at a grade of 2 to 3 percent. This road then came back onto the highway 12 kms before the summit where huge communication towers were located. Coming back onto the main highway which had a wide smooth shoulder, I started to see large pacelines of riders descending from the summit towards Carhaix. This was amazing to see so many riders this far into the course. They were at least 10 hours ahead which would put them into the 50 hour finishing time frame. This would put the leaders somewhere near Loudeac. The highway wasn't really busy with cars or trucks. So it was relatively quiet while climbing up the hill. The countryside began to widen out into broad fields that allowed a spectacular panoramic view on top. It was like ascending a large dome as we crested and could then see a church steeple in Landerneau on a ridge far below. Brest was now about 40 kms away, below a plateau that overlooked the harbor city. Descending became a much needed rest while cruising at 35 kms per hour. The farther down the hill it became forested again and the road straightened out. It was here I started seeing the small parks along the roadway which cars and bicyclists could use to stop and stretch out on the grass underneath the trees that shaded the road. I remembered seeing many riders here in 1999 because of how hot it was in the sunlight climbing this long grade. This years schedule had me coming out to Brest a day earlier and later in the evening. Shadows began forming on the highway while viewing the sun setting west beyond where Brest lay, and it required riders to quickly readjust our eyes to see the shoulder ahead.
At a turnaround on the highway just outside of Sizun, the route again separated the outgoing riders from those returning. While the outgoing riders had to do a wide loop south west of Brest, the returning riders had a more direct route straight away from Brest back onto highway D 764 to Carhaix-Plouguer. The outgoing route took us out onto a plateau which lead into the suburbs of Brest before crossing a bridge over the bay and finally into the city. Upon reaching the city it is always much anticipated to reach the control sooner than later. Since it is the halfway point in the ride, one is so focused on reaching the city that once you enter, you automatically expect to be at the control, which is definitely not the case here. So after crossing the bridge, a long climb was required up a busy city boulevard with no shoulder. The route then became a street that included many businesses that you would recognize as being in an older neighborhood of a big city. Finally, we were directed to ride over a ramp of soft sand onto a curb and pathway leading to a gymnasium to park our bicycles. Skinny road tires do not roll very easy in sand, and so after riding for 24 hours you can imagine the trepidation on being directed to ride through this sand. It became more of a hop than a roll and I had to mentally relax from the tension of this little exercise. The control was busier than Carhaix and I quickly had the card signed, purchased some water at a booth and then checked in for three hours of sleep. The plan was for a four hour layover here, and my arrival time of 9:45pm allowed me to stick to this 60 hour schedule. I would get up at 1:00am after three hours of sleep and for 30 minutes eat and drink before leaving at or before 2:00am. Upon reflection of my sleep time here, it became more of a physical requirement than a mental one. My adrenalin had built up for the ride for so long that I didn't really fall asleep at all. Part of the reason is the snoring by others in the gym and some guy who kept throwing up next to his cot. This led others to moan in disgust as this guy had multiple heaves onto the floor.
At 1:00am I was awaken by the attendant and went out to the busy hallway looking for the bathroom and more fluids to fill my bottles. After putting Chamois Butt'r on and eating a sandwich while drinking a grande bowl of coffee, I notice Ken Bonner at the water booth. I talked with him and we both decided to ride out together. He noticed I had on a short sleeve wool jersey with shorts and said it was awfully cold descending last night. So I decided to buy some leg and arm warmers at the bike booth outside. We both climbed out of Brest slowly while discussing where other riders we knew were located on the route. As we rode together, other riders started gathering together for a much anticipated long quiet climb. The arrows on the return route now became blue with a white reflective tip. The last I heard from Ken was the line I heard before, "there are a lot of hills remaining in the ride, so I think I'll slow down."
Carhaix-Plouguer (696 kms)
The most memorable sights I had returning from Brest were the number of riders from the 90 and 84 hour groups headed out to Brest. There was a constant stream of people as the early morning sun came up as Carhaix got closer. One of the most beautiful roads was lined with a six foot berm on both sides with trees planted along the top. This hid the open fields from view while riding on the road, except for the driveways that were created to allow tractors to pull farm equipment out in to the fields. These peek-a-boo views allowed people to stop and nap in the early hours and take the necessary natures call while remaining next to the road. Upon reaching the Carhaix control, I had my first sight of an overwhelming number of people using the hallways to sleep in. The route to the cafeteria became a winding course in an otherwise straight hallway. And then the cafeteria, once deserted on the way out, was now completely full with most of the people napping with their heads down on the table. I quickly got a tray full of Poulet with pureed potatoes and multiple choices of fluids and sat down. Just as quickly, I noticed Todd Teachout from the Davis Bike club seated next to me and we discussed the various training rides Seattle has versus California's Triple Crown series. California has fantastic training for future randonneurs to use while supplementing the brevet series. I mentioned that we don't have many century rides with "fast tempo pacelines" at short, century distances, which he nodded in agreement. I found out later that Todd was riding with about ten other Davis riders for the duration of this event. I came across this group in Loudeac, and then later rode with him and his group between Tinteniac and Fougeres.
Loudeac (773 kms)
It is now far enough into the ride that the number of riders still heading out to Brest has dwindled down to a handful. The control is almost empty except for those on the return route. This makes it easy to quickly find the bag at the RUSA bag drop and fill up the bottles with food and the Camel back with water and put on the sun screen. Still riding solo, I slowly rode out of town and reached Meneac where I find the bar/restaurant I slept at in 1999. I stopped and walked into "Les Menhirs" and was greeted by five or six people who recognized me as a PBP rider. I pulled out a letter I had penned and translated into French which thanked the business owner for allowing me to sleep here and handed it to a woman who appeared to be the owner. She read it and said something in French to a gentleman who then asked me something that I didn't understand. So I communicate back using gestures and pointing to some words in the letter and then pointing upstairs that I slept here. And she then responded in so many words that four years ago she was living in Notre Dame and I soon realize that she is now the new owner of this business. I thank them and walk back outside to my bike. It has been four years that I have been thinking of returning to this location and thanking the owner, but too much time had gone by, but I was now at ease for at least trying to close out a long memory of appreciation.
Tinteniac (859 kms)
The midday heat is now reaching its highest and I have plenty of liquid food, so there is no need to stop here. Outside of Tinteniac along a stretch of open road, I am directed by a flag person to turn down a long driveway to a building hidden by tall trees and a large lawn. It appears to be a secret control on the return leg to St. Quentin. I walk in and hand my card over to the control desk and am quickly handed a key chain by a small child. I thank her and have her put it in my Camel back pocket and walk back outside. I now witness a huge group of riders that are half from California and the rest I learn are from France and Italy. They pulled in just as I was leaving and so I waited for them to enjoy their company and rest from the long solo effort from Brest. Todd is among the group as well as Craig who I borrowed some tools from at the hotel while building up my bike. Craig is also the guy who trued my wheel at the California Gold Rush Randonnee back in 2001. I don't know if he ever remembered the incident, but he was a savior then, and I'm glad to see him again. We ride out and I later meet Barley, Jim and Bill while talking with Craig in the middle of the pack. As the pace picks up I am passed by Todd and he jokingly yells, "Jump onto the tempo paceline." As I slide into the back of the line, I notice that everybody is about six foot tall, lean and slender. Using this observation while looking at my computer, I determine that I'm not going to last very long with these guys. Bill, who I hadn't met yet, was wearing a Furnace Creek 508 jersey and was pulling the group at 30 to 35 kms per hour. Luckily, we were on a busy highway and had to turn off onto another quiet country road where the pace dropped back down to around 25 kms per hour.
Fougeres (915 kms)
Upon reaching Fougeres, the Davis club riders decided to stop and have a sit down meal. They were planning on doing a 65 hour ride, so I continued on with my solo effort. The city traffic here was now extremely busy, and I didn't like it at all. Cars were passing the riders on the road constantly and the worst was the big eighteen wheeler tanker trucks carrying what appeared to be fuel. These trucks were continually going by and would pump their brakes letting the riders know that they were waiting for an opportunity to pass us. There became a greater number of riders on the road as we came into and out of the controls.
Villaines La Juhel (1002 kms)
It was late afternoon when I came into Villaines and was greeted by the local villagers who were having a celebration. The street out front of the control building was full of people and many clapped as each rider came to park their bikes and went into the building. It was wonderful to have people recognizing the riders, but once you got off your bike it was very difficult to walk through the crowd. Once you started walking around, the crowd forgot about you and the people became traffic jams for the riders to maneuver through. After checking in, I walked over and got a full meal and took the tray down a long ramp into an adjoining building where a few other riders were eating along side many of the villagers who had brought their own food. I sat next to a rider I noticed had been riding with the California guys and we had discussion in English. This guy was 5 feet tall and had on a bright pink and yellow jersey. He lived on the outskirts of Paris and had a support person helping him during the ride. He then offered some wine to me and I had to say no half a dozen times. Finally I told him we have over 200 kms to go and alcohol was the last fluid I wanted to drink before finishing the ride.
Leaving Villaines, I remember looking back over my shoulder to see a beautiful glowing sunset as the route lead out through wide open fields with intermittent farm houses standing alone in the fields. This was the terrain Ken Bonner had stated would be a long climb to reach Mortagne Au Perche, the next control on the route. And it did turn out to be a steady climb on a country road that paralleled a highway stretching for tens of kms due East. There was a considerably long climb I remember doing in the dark with moderate headwinds. Once I reached what appeared to be near the ridge top, I found a table outside a home that had jumbo size bottled water. This was common throughout the ride whether it was daytime or nighttime. Continuing on I came into a village and was approached from behind by four riders speaking in French. One individual came up next to me and stated in clear English, "It's a lonely ride to be riding alone, were trying to finish in under 60 hours, would you like to join us?" I couldn't help but laugh after riding alone for several hours and then hearing perfect English spoken. It was apparent these riders wanted somebody to help them do a brisk ride for the next 125 kms back to St. Quentin. I chatted with each rider as we kept a comfortable pace, two riders lagging out of sight behind us and one Frenchman who always rode out of sight ahead of us. The two lagging riders rotating with the rider next to me discussing all the touring and brevets they had done together. I found that Christopher who first spoke to me was from London and had just finished touring with the Tour De France. He had done many bike tours and probably had two or three times the number of kms of training than I. It was during this hilly portion of the route that I discovered one of the benefits of the supporting motorcycles which appeared throughout the ride. During the many nighttime descents through these villages, the motorcycles would ride ahead a short distance from a group of bicyclists and use their lights for us to follow. This allowed us to descend much faster and also gave us direction at crucial turns on the narrow streets. This helped considerably and I believe gave the motorcyclists just as much excitement as it did for us.
Mortagne Au Perche (1084 kms)
We rode into Mortagne together and I engaged in conversation with one of the four riders as we stood next to the bar serving both liquor and espresso. One of the four riders who I don't remember was asking how soon I would like to finish. And I mentioned doing it around 60 hours would be fine. He then boasted quite loudly, "Hell I want to be there around 8:00am in the morning." That would be about a 57 or 58 hour cumulative finish time. This was to much bravado for me at 1:00am so I started a conversation with the barista for a grande cup of coffee. He kept pointing to a 12 oz cup of coffee and said that if I drank two of these, I wouldn't be able to sleep. And I said, okay give me a third so I can be sure to keep awake. We both laughed and I slowly drank the coffee while the other four riders went over and sat down to eat. About 30 minutes later we all left together and continued at a comfortable pace out onto the open road. Somewhere between Mortagne and Nogent Le Roi the road flattened out completely and you could see huge fields on either side with no lights in sight. While riding along, two Danish riders briskly came up behind us and the rider next to me jumped on to form a paceline. I jumped on as well and we rode for one or two kms before my partner dropped off while I continued riding with the two Danish guys. About 5 kms later, the lead rider who was doing between 35 and 38 kms per hour yelled back, "Hans, are you there?" The second rider yelled back, "Ya, I'm here!" This was the only conversation for the next 20 minutes as we raced along a perfectly smooth road towards Nogent Le Roi. This lead rider must have been a former time trialist, since he never moved from his hips up to his head. He had a tight tuck with his upper body rolled up and hunched over his handle bars. Soon the road turned into a large boulevard as we entered a small village and came upon an intersection. It was here that a decision had to be made which each rider knew would happen. Would there be an arrow pointing to the right or left? If either direction, our pace would not accommodate a safe turn. At the last moment, the lead rider quickly turned left and the second rider and myself had to slam on the brakes causing the tires to skid. I decided this was an unsafe pace and immediately dropped away from the two riders. I finished riding into Nogent Le Roi alone and came across the two Danish riders as they were coming back outside the control to mount back up on their bikes. I walked up and thanked the lead rider for the fast ride and he started explaining to me that they had already done 1200kms as indicated on his odometer. Evidently they had gotten lost and were now desperately trying to make it back to St. Quentin in under 60 hours. I said good luck and walked into the gymnasium to sign in and get something to eat.
Nogent Le Roi (1167 kms)
I realized that eating something would be crucial to sustain any fast pace from here on into the finish in St. Quentin. So I quickly ate some rice pudding, a coke and sports bar. There was only a small group of six riders who were seated in the gymnasium and I asked one of the riders if I could ride with them. He didn't understand any word I said, but he kept shaking his head as if to say no to what I was saying. I couldn't let this dissuade me from riding with them, so I quickly downed my food and followed them outside to grab our bicycles. As we were leaving, the four riders who had earlier invited me to ride with them came into the parking lot and walked into the gym. They must have been surprised to see absolutely no riders in the building. From the control to the finish line this group rode in a pace line. At times it broke apart as we increased the pace. Then it would regroup when we came to an intersection without any arrows directing us toward St. Quentin. It became frustrating several times when no arrows were found, but eventually we got close enough to St. Quentin that we started recognizing the buildings and streets. The closer we got, the more impatient we became with the traffic and lights. But once we reached the Gymnase Droits de l'Homme, we ran inside trying to beat the 60 hour time limit. Our times were 8:14 with seconds adding on. Since the times are rounded to the nearest minute, we each came in at 8:15 with a couple of riders clocking in at 8:16. This put my time at 60 hours for the duration of the ride with 3 hours sleeping and approximately 5 hours downtime for registering, eating, filling water bottles etc. This was a fantastic ride that has many lasting memories of the French villages to the wonderful people who we passed along the route. There were also many riders who I met formally and informally from various randonneuring clubs around the US and other countries. I hope to return to France to participate in PBP 2007 and continue to experience a bicycle ride like no other.
3 hrs - sleeping
5 hrs - registering, eating, filling water bottles
60 hrs - total
Liquid Food - 3 water bottles at the start, 6 water bottles available at Loudeac
Clothing - good choice of clothing with plenty for inclement weather
80 hr start group - the only way
Electrolytes / Sodium - E-Caps and ?
Rough time schedule; Kept it Simple
Training - comfortable 1000k
Areas to improve:
Food - pre-filled food bottles, possible 2nd bag drop
Sleep - don't
Downtime - to much
Group riding - organize riders for sub 60 hr ride
Training - more 100 - 200 mile rides
Misc - forgot large tube of Chamois Butt'r, carry more E-Caps, sports bars
PBP Stories - 2003