PBP Stories - 1995

BC Randonneurs Cycling Club

This story originally appeared in our newsletter, 'BC Randonneur', February 1996.

A Heaping Plate of Harcourts (PBP 1995)
by Roger Street

Nineteen ninety-five is over, finished and substantially all but wasted in the effort to complete Paris-Brest-Paris. Led like lambs by a vague idea that it would be fun, we began carefree training and easily knocked off the 200 and 300. The 400 provided a feeling of accomplishment as McDonald's Golden Arches hove into view after 20 hours of Whidbey Island and return. My Clydesdale size meant saddle sores, no easy hills, extra food, and extra water, compensated for only slightly by the pull of gravity on the down slopes. The first 600 was a Rubicon and, once crossed, the PBP preparations began in earnest, with airline and van bookings made, PBP applications, hotel reservations, and the wait until June, July and August dragged by.

After the air travel, the pre-event days of pleasantries and plans with the BC group, the constant advice, the Pizza Hut salad bar, thick crust pizza specials, and the thieving gypsy kids, the start of the Paris-Brest-Paris at 10 pm on Monday night was spectacular. Within the second wave of 750 riders, we were soon centred in a rolling, unending snake of lights stretching over both horizons. Perfect temperature, a wind from the side, adrenalin on the ups, and gravity on the downs made it a magical night unlikely to be repeated. Helmet lights made it easy to keep track of riding companions and camaraderie made it easy to put a big dent in the first stretch of miles.

The first control stop was welcomed as an opportunity to get water and sample the cuisine. This, the only long line up of the ride, was capped with a heaping plate of mashed potatoes and haricot vert (green beans) christened then and now forever known as Harcourts. The sweet little old "Lady of the Legion" tracked me down in the dining room to give me my Harcourts, fresh from the kitchen.

Not all the controls were great but all were memorable and the organization was superb. How else that out of nowhere, on a gentle bend in the road through a quaint village at 3 am, the lights of an open café beckoned (and were answered)? Neither was a hilltop church left unvisited, nor a weather vane on its spire unsighted. How else the 20 kph tailwind on the final morning when shoulders and neck would no longer accept cycling "on the drops"? How else to explain no mechanical failures and no flat tires? How else was the ride into Brest fearsomely uphill and down dale and ride out so smooth and easy? And it was no doubt planned that the first control had the best soup in the world on Monday and worst on Friday - incentive to finish? But maybe some consideration could be given to making power bars edible, making the last 10 km before a control stop not require 30 km of effort, and to making my hands, feet and backside regain normality before Christmas.

It hurt at the time, but with an overall climb of about 8,500 metres, we can claim an Everest equivalent in under four days. It was worth the PBP effort just to sight Gord, the rolling zombie. Or Gord, the lawyer, desperately trying to get the better of the unstoppable judge Bill.

Our plan was rides or 420, 360, 300 and 120 kilometres. We stopped at dark each night and started again at about 2 am. That downwind finale was Heavenly and the finish line was emotionally wonderful. Throughout the event, our paces quickened to the continuous calls of "Bon Route!" "Bon Courage!" and "Allez, Allez!" There were chocolate croissants and baguette sandwiches and we rode on the route of the Tour de France. And three days and 6000 servings later, the little old Lady of the Legion recognized me and brought me more Harcourts!

© Copyright 1995, Roger Street