A Classic Low Point
By Mark Thomas
In a 1200 km brevet such as Paris-Brest-Paris, a rider can usually count on having some highs and some lows during the ride. The highs were plentiful for me on PBP 2003 - the glorious "red snake" of taillights stretching off into the Normandy distance the first night, the crepes/postcard guy outside Fougeres, the scenic climb and fun descent of the Roc Trevezel, the sight of so many SIR members riding so well and having the time of their lives, the town party celebrating my arrival in Grace-Uzel, the roadside cafe stops, the carload of smiling young French women informing me that "they could use a man that can do Paris-Brest", the steady companionship of Peter McKay and Greg Zaborac through all the days and nights of the ride, the "bon courage" called out by many an elderly French woman, the seeing of old friends, the making of new friends, the joy of finishing my tenth ride of 1000km or more, etc., etc.
Funny thing, though - my lasting memory of the 2003 PBP may be the classic low point that I passed through in the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning between the Mortagne au Perche and Nogent le Roi controls. I was riding, as I had for nearly every kilometer of the ride, with Peter McKay and Greg Zaborac. (Greg is a randonneuring friend from Illinois. We met on London-Edinburgh-London in 2001 and have now cycled together on LEL, Rocky Mountain 1200, Boston-Montreal-Boston, and PBP.) The three of us had more or less intended to ride through Thursday night and press on to the finish. We had managed at most a catnap in Mortagne - not more than an hour and probably less.
A few hours out from Mortagne, crabby from lack of sleep and wondering where my cycling legs had gone, I pull off onto a side road, announcing without any explanation that I had to stop. With dramatic flair, I toss myself into the grass by the side of the road. With drama taking the place of good sense, I neglected to clip out of my pedal on one side, which made the whole maneuver somewhat painful. Not so painful as the discovery that the "grass" was, in reality, a thicket of blackberry vines (or roses, or something - I didn't bother to examine too closely). Ad hoc nighttime acupuncture was not on my list of not-to-miss PBP experiences, so I began to pick myself up. With my wool jersey and wool arm & leg warmers, this was a bit like unpeeling Velcro, but soon I was free.
Meanwhile, a solicitous Peter McKay is trying to help me sort through my options at that point. He points out that there is a patch of real grass just ahead and that he would be happy to walk my bike over there. A short nap, he points out, might be just the thing to rejuvenate me. He and Greg would be happy to wait for me at the control in Nogent. Dispiritedly, I mutter that if I go to sleep, "I may never wake up!" I'm sure that what I meant was that I might sleep right through the closing time of the next control. In my state, however, it sounds more like Peter's riding companion should now be on suicide watch.
I refuse to allow Peter to walk my bike, choosing instead to ride around the corner to the rest spot. As it turns out, the tough moment is already passing, and I don't stop. In fact, I start cursing my own stupidity and riding like a man possessed. (At that point in the ride, this probably meant that I was riding at 11mph instead of 9, but I felt like Tyler Hamilton holding off the peloton). The next town provided a coffee & croissant stop. After the stop, the sky was light and the remainder of the ride was great, glorious fun.
PBP Stories - 2003