Not to Ride PBP
My hopes of finishing somewhere near the front of the 80 hour group were dashed at the start as I found about 600 cyclists strung out in a long line ahead of me, moving at breakneck speed. For over two hours I went all out, advancing slowly along the line, bridging gaps that opened as cyclists dropped off the pace. Occasionally, I would look at my cyclometer and shake my head as the digits flashed 50 km/h. This pace was unsustainable. I knew that I would pay for it, but still I pressed on, determined to get to the front of the pack. I succeeded, but at a heavy cost. I spent some memorable moments in the lead though, alone with the pace car, cruising through the little villages. It had to end sometime though. Eventually, I was pulled back in. I had told Joe and Silia (my support crew) that we were unlikely to make the first checkpoint in less than 4 ½ hours. However, we swept through in a great wave before 4 hours had elapsed. As I stopped to exchange water bottles, cyclists flew by. I lost ground and was despairing of ever seeing the leaders again when I was overtaken by a couple of Americans on a tandem. These guys were motoring! I later learned that the captain of this dynamic duo was Pete Penseyres, two-time winner of the Race Across America. I floored it, tucked in behind the tandem and hung on desperately as they rocketed down the hills. In short order we had rejoined the group. I eased up, but they sailed right through the crowd intent on catching the real leaders. As it turned out, there was a small group consisting of two singles and a tandem somewhere ahead of our group of 25 or so. We pulled into the next checkpoint, 221 km into the ride after 6 ½ hours. By this time we were well into the hills. I lost my group again coming out of the checkpoint and had to persevere alone to regain the lost ground. The pace had slackened enough by this time that I was able to catch up, although my legs were gradually dying. I was only able to stay with them for about an hour longer before they dropped me while climbing a hill. From that point on I was on my own. I checked in at the 300 km point after 9 hours 42 minutes, about 15 minutes behind the rest of the group.
We had been cycling through the night. The day dawned bright and sunny. The temperature rose throughout the day reaching a high of about 33° C. Sometime in the afternoon, I felt myself starting to nod off on the bike, so I pulled off the road into a field and lay down for a short nap. I made the mistake of staying in the sun. When I awoke and tried to mount my bike, I slipped and fell. I must have gone briefly into shock because my heart started to beat so wildly that I feared my ride was over. Fortunately, it settled down after a few minutes and I was soon on my way again. After losing contact with the other cyclists my pace had slowed considerably. It wasn't until late in the afternoon that things began to pick up. I made Brest in about 24 hours. All things considered that was not bad. As always, Joe and Silia were there to meet me.
This is where I made my second big mistake (my first was not arriving at the start early enough to get in the front line), I should have slept for a couple of hours. Instead, I climbed on my bike and headed out with the sun setting at my back and the wind in my face. A strong wind it was, too. It was slow going, alone, battling a brisk breeze, climbing continuously in the darkening dusk. As night fell, I encountered an unbroken chain of oncoming cyclists, a thousand incandescent dots strung along an invisible thread (not to be confused with George Bush's points of light). My brain decided it was time to close up shop. Sensory information was coming in, but it began to be ignored. The road would come in and out of focus. It would disappear and then reappear. The images became too infrequent to navigate. I stopped and lay down in the thorny grass for a while. I don't know how long I slept. This scenario repeated itself a half dozen times or more throughout the night and the next day. I may have slept for 15 minutes, or half and hour or an hour-I didn't keep track. For the most part I soldiered on alone. Occasionally, I would be overtaken or I would overtake another solitary cyclist or a pair or trio. And always, Joe and Silia and later, Ken (who joined them on the return trip) were waiting at the checkpoints with words of encouragement. They watched us trickle in and out, road ragged and wind weary.
I developed a mild case of diarrhea the second day, probably as the result of the action of the heat of the previous day on the contents of my water bottles which contained a high carbohydrate drink. I frequently had to duck behind the nearest hedge to relieve myself. On the third night, upon waking up after dozing for an indeterminate interval at a roadside bus stop, I was overtaken by a small group (a trio or a quartet, I can't recall now). We joined forces, but the pace fluctuated so much as we exchanged front line duties that eventually three of us forged ahead to challenge the head wind on our own. The simple presence of another set of wheels, of another rider shifting position in the saddle was enough of a novel stimulus to keep my brain from tuning out. After several hours though, I was struggling again. Now there were only two of us. I had to concentrate on every pedal stroke. As the world disappeared, I would shake my head and jolt my body in a vain effort to make it reappear. With a Herculean effort of will I managed to keep the sensory channels minimally engaged over the last 10 km to the checkpoint. There I slept for a couple of hours in preparation for the final push to Paris. I didn't stop again. Even after missing a turn and losing about an hour before getting back on track, I pressed on steadily into the wind. As Paris approached I attacked the wind with renewed vigor. Scott Dickson (the winner, who had breezed in some 20 hours earlier) was out for a joyride as I hit the homestretch. I didn't recognize him at the time, but I was aware that another cyclist had tucked in behind me as I sprinted through the traffic lights. Then he was gone. I pulled up at the finish line, having ridden about 1250 km in 64 hours 11 minutes. A few minutes later Scott Dickson appeared, suitably impressed by my strong finish.
I learned later that I finished first among Canadians (there were over 80 of us) and set a new Canadian record in the process. Overall, I think that I finished somewhere in the top 150, although I have yet to see the official results. I'm already planning my strategy for the next PBP. I'm convinced that it's possible to master this course in under 50 hours.
© Copyright 1991, Ted Milner