PBP Stories -1999

BC Randonneurs Cycling Club

(More about the source of this text - Gerry's PBP99 info archive)

Date: Sat, 18 Sep 1999 22:57:12 +0200 (MET DST)
To: <randon@cyclery.com>
From: espi@dds.nl (Yvonne van den Hork)
Subject: finally a monstrously long (and boring?) report on PBP (pt.

Well, the 'opus' is finally finished. It is LOONG, but the main
reason why it took so much time was that I normally do a write-up in
English immediately and now I translated it from Dutch: big mistake!

Downhill to Brest
PBP: an extreme tour or a formula 1 race?

1. Preparation for PBP
For me and a lot of others it was quite evident: riding 1200 km
nonstop is for maniacs. This was at least my own opinion in 1995,
which I told Ivo Miesen, who had given me ample advice when buying
my first touring bike. Ivo went on to become the youngest Dutch
participant in PBP at the mature age of 27. Since then, Ivo has
fallen madly in love with the oldest of the long-distance rides in
the world. That I'd be particpating in the next edition myself, I'd
never have thought. But oh well, it just happens that you ride on
all night, just like when you would also continue working at night
to finish another bloody report.

And yes, one thing leads to the other, especially if you
have a bull-terrier like Ivo who keeps insisting that you should
ride weekend rides. Who calms you down when you come back from such
a ride in tears, because insensitive organizers suggest to do short
rides as I'm coming in last most of the time. However, that same
year, I made huge advances and have good results in two 24-hour
rides. In 1997 I unexpectedly succeed in finishing a 1400km
randonnee between Edinburgh and London, thanks to the wonderful
support from AUK's at the controls who lie to me about how tough the
southern section still is. (always lie to randonneurs about how
tough hills really are!).

And then it's 1999: PBP year! I started early by cycling on
Mallorca in February, starting out with the women (spouses) but
doing the long-distance rides of the fastest riders.

The first brevets were done without much effort, the first
80 km of the 400K ride was even done at an amazing pace of 27 km/hr
in the slipstream of other randonneurs. The remaining part of the
ride was done with Martijn, who had just fallen ill and hence has
just about the right speed for me. It's nice to be riding with
someone else for a change.

And then the crescendo movement is savagely interrupted.
After just about 200K into the 600K ride in France, which I do since
it leaves me an opportunity to try again, when this one woulnd't
work out, I'm hit from behind on a busy N-road. What every cyclist
is irrationally afraid for, happens to me. Fortunately the damage
seems small, though my right knee is bleeding, nothing seems wrong.
Seems, as when I can continue, with a delay of almost an hour
because of almost too much help, the ride becomes quite wobbly. Both
cranks have been bent by the incident. Fortunately I can continue
with a new set of Ofmega-cranks from the LBS who is still working at
7 pm on Saturday. Both knees start to throb however, and though I
know this is not really smart, I continue riding as I know this will
be my last chance to qualify for PBP as I rightly assume that the
knees won't have improved when the next 600K ride comes up. With
minutes to spare I struggle into the last stop, comfortably located
at the organiser's home. At least, I now don't need to think about
huge rides until August.

Instead of recovering, I manage to screw the healing by a
head-on collision into crossing Swedish concrete blocks. Fortunately
no permanent damage, although the helmet was now ripe for the dust
bin. Plus a stiff neck as a result of the impact, for about 2 weeks
after the incident. In the hospital where I'm kept for observation
for a full day, an official night-low rest rate is recorded of 33
bpm. In Russia I again manage to hurt my right knee again by
toppling over on a sand road, landing straight on the knee with my
full weight, plus that of the bike and luggage behind it. Strangely,
it's the left knee that hit the frame, which keeps giving most

Not a jolly situation with PBP in sight. Plus, I seem to be
buying all the wrong sandals. The Mephisto's have started to wear
out within 5000 K and all my new sandals are either too soft or
vibrating to be comfortable. No wonder the 'morale' is low: a mere
100K suddenly seems like a hell of a distance! Let alone 1200K non
stop. Luckily there's a guardian angel in the form of Betsy
Legtenberg, the woman who has done all brevets with her husband on a
tandem. Betsy helps me by leading me on a couple of training rides.
I'm getting more confident, but I keep saying "we'll see where the
ship will run ashore". Confidence is diminished again after a
disastrous ride towards the sun eclipse in an unfit car: the knee
pain is so bad that I can hardly walk for a day and can barely walk
the stairs for a couple of days!

Subject: To Paris (pt. 2)

To Paris

Preparations for Paris start getting more serious when the paperwork
arrives: the frame numberplate, the rules, the admission form, and
the cuesheets. I'm typing these into the computer and add data of my
own on the steepness of the hills according to the maps (amt. of
arrows), the stage distances, and 4 different time schedules, of
which I haven't the foggiest idea how realistic they are, but which
should help me to diminish time spent on control-points.

As an added safety-measure I highlight the entire route on Michelin
maps. Really necessary for those brilliant in getting lost!
Especially in that labyrinth of roads around St. Quentin.

A week in advance, I buy the necessary train ticket, but a
few days laters, Kieg Eichholz, that other Esperantist who has been
convinced by Ivo to participate, gives me a call. Kieg is from a
different league than I am. He has been doing triathlons of
different length and variety for quite some time. On the other hand,
he's even more chaotic than the 2 of us. A world-traveller too, who
has cycled in lands of scarcity like Pakistan, Kirgizia and other
tough countries. But his latest ride was in the land of plenty, a
trip in the US, which he roughs up by spending his nights in a
Greyhound bus and cycling in daytime on his Bike Friday.

Kieg arrives at my flat at Thursday night with his van, and
I'm relieved I don't have to go by train as the amt. of junk I'm
carrying with me is astonishing. Much, much more than when I leave
for 6 months! Thanks to the maps I didn't forget, we get through
Belgium comfortably, and decide to stop just over the French border
and pitch our tents. No, not on a camp site, that's too much work.
It's almost 3 am when we finally can get asleep in a small green
park at the edge of a small town. Errr, quiet? Boy, am I glad to
have taken ear plugs along! Unbelievable, we seem to have hit the
busiest railroad track in France. Only 5 hours later we get up
again, I'm again feeling wobbly, as I managed another time to trip
over again, now both the right knee AND foot don't feel too well. Oh
well, not to worry, I've got loads of ibuprofen with me.

It's actually quite a surprise that Kieg is going to Paris
at all. Though he had finished all brevets successfully, he had
forgotten to send in the medical letter of approval. Though he sent
it in 2 days later, the people in Brussels were faster by sending
his application back, arriving when he had just left for the US.
But Kieg wouldn't be Kieg if he would try to participate after all,
if necessary, illegally. Eventually he managed to convince the
organizer mr. Lepertel into giving him a spare start number from one
of those unfortunates who weren't coming to Paris after all.Perhaps
it had to do with the fact that this young dog is already 68 years

Subject: Pre-ride joys and final problems (pt. 3)

Pre-ride joys and final problems

The thing I almost liked best about PBP was the pre-ride atmosphere.
We had arrived at a huge campsite in St. Quentin. Hundreds of
cyclists had come together with their special machines. The British
showing their extravagancy/originality with their fixed gear bikes,
recumbents, trikes (both bents and uprights) and even a classic
Pedersen bike (saddle = top tube). I had met quite a few of them on
the Edinburgh-London ride, among which the guy who had dried my hair
at one control. I also met Ozzie Matthew Rawnsley, the guy whom I
bumped into at Adelaide during my Ozzie trip.

Later I met the Americans, who were mostly staying in luxury
hotels, toghther with their luxury bikes. These bikes made poor
Griffon shrink because of a starting inferiority complex. Not only
his owner had surplus weight, but also poor Griffon was now
recognized as a 'heavy bike' whereas he had just been complimented
on his lightness in Russia! More than half of the American bikes
seemed to be made of titanium, carbon or at least aluminum. Even
some of the tandems were made of titanium. Lots of futuristic
designs too with free-floating saddles!

"But surely Griffon, they can't do fully-loaded tours, like we do!".
Not just the bikes were dazzling, the randonneurs too! Not just
their outfit, but their 'physique'. Almost all of them, and almost
especially the women seem fit enough to walk up the Mt. Everest with
a bike on their back!

On Sunday, all the bike need to be checked at the gymnasium.
Everybody had to pass the controllers with working lights, 3 spare
bulbs, the reflection vest on and the 'license plate number' tied to
the bike. The men at the control were very nice to me, and with all
the talking we do, they even pursue me to make sure whether they had
really given me the red 'oui' sticker. They had been impressed by my
2 generators: a Schmidt hub dynamo and a bottom-bracket Union
coupled with a narrow beamed Lumotec light and a wide beamed AXA-
light. It turned out that though I was probably the only Dutch rider
with a Schmidt, there were quite a few Americans, Brits and Germans
with this light. Apparently technical information travels faster in
these countries. Plus a few that were using the Lightspin bottle
dynamo, the unbelievable smooth 'simple' dynamo.

I had been worried whether the controllers would permit my
butterfly bars. The other day I was told by the Dutch PBP-
representant Cees van Dam that the Dutch NTFU had spent hours in a
special meeting, just on the topic whether these bars would be
permitted or not. A reporter from the Dutch magazine 'Fiets' was
riding with a heavy randonneur outfitted with exactly the same bars.
And the fools had sent a picture to Paris, and received a letter
back that these bars wouldn't be permitted. I was flabbergasted to
hear this, and after my astonishment rage grew. Why can't the people
from NTFU just mind their own business! But apparently, things look
different in day light as opposed to pics. But if the bars had been
banned, I'd have DNSed right away, as I can't ride with regular road
bars for more than 5 K without severe shoulder pain as a result of
RSI. I'd need to come back with a recumbent!

Something else is quite encouraging though! The huge amount
of women that is going to ride. In the Netherlands, we just have a
few women doing weekend rides, but here roughly 10% of participants
seems to be female. And not just regular females, NO! They seem to
be either super-athletic bodybuilders or light-weight frail ladies
who would fall just when you blow 3 times at them. Again, the
British women stand out, because they look so 'normal'. Probably the
secret British weapons: a good sense of humour and determination.
Now I hear that I'm not the only Dutch woman around, there is
superfast Wilma from Limburg and Danish Vera from Groningen. Our
age is the only thing we have in common, all of us are 36 years old:
must be a good year!

At the control, I meet Sybrand, a dutch randonneur who is
even better in 'roughing' it than we are as he usually sleeps in the
open air (though he used to have a titanium bike until it got
stolen). Kieg invites him to use his van for the night. The same
afternoon he repeats the invitation to one of the Russian
randonneurs who had come here by bike, without speaking any French
or English. Luckily Kieg is rather fluent in Russian! Later in the
evening, I decide to team up with a group of German randonneurs with
whom I've had little contact before. And spend dinner together at a
pizzeria. How different the Germans are: they all seem to be very
earnest and take PBP quite seriously.

At night I chat with other dutch randonneurs, who give me
ample advice and even addresses of lightweight bike builders. At
first, I'm convinced, but later I decided that when the British
succeed in finishing PBP with a weird bike, I should be able to do
the same with a 'common' steel bike. However, I decide to change my
gearing system into a conventional micro-drive system (44-32-22) in
combination with a conventional corncob set of 11-23 or 12-27 when
the going gets tough on holidays. This setup wears the cogs down
faster,but is lighter, easier to shift and better for my knees too.
Furthermore, this set up is more conventional and thus easier to
replace. The penny dropped REALLY late.

Subject: Monday August 23: the last details (pt. 4)

Monday August 23: the last details

Back in the tent, a shock of horror runs down the spine. The
Petzl head light which had been doing so great just minutes before
dies out. Before I decide to buy a new one, I take it along to the
hotel where the bag drop service is supposed to take place. This
only takes place in the afternoon, but first I chum up with a couple
of Americans in the restaurant. After having been treated on a free
breakfast, they test the light and it is concluded that the problem
is in the circuit, not in the brand new LVR-system (Willie Hunt's
yes). So, it's time for a new Petzl. Luckily, my salary has arrived
(I'd been and the ATM now starts working, spews out the necessary
Ffs. I had been unable to get money from any ATM, so carbo-loading
had been impossible, on the contrary. I was similarly relieved that
there were still Petzls on sale, I had thought that the randonneurs
would have descended on St. Quentin like a plague of locusts to buy
EVERY single lighting system and all batteries on sale in all shops.
Wow, it works!

Much much later, I also succeed in dropping the bags for a
price of 40 US$ each. Alas, no more siesta (much needed as the
traffic invariously woke me up at 7.30 am each morning). The bag
drop service was meant for US randonneurs, but was offered to others
as well. Paying 40 dollar for a small bag seemed to be an offensive
amt. of money, and I almost decided to go without any assistance at
all. But I realized this would be insane, and when I started
calculating, I realised that it was at least a good deal cheaper
than arranging my own support. Plus, this is a commercial company
that at least wants to break even, has considerable costs because
the supporting crew is coming from the States as well and beeds to
rent expensive vans. But when I came over the steep price, I was
impressed by the fantastic idea which deserves to be copied by
national organisations in order to raise the suppot level for more
people and diminish the amt. of support crews at the same time. Now
you can serve an enormous amt. of people with just 2 vans at 4
strategic points along the route. These guys were doing a terrific
job. One of them, at Villaine even got so enthusiastic that he's
thinking to participate in PBP himself next time.

I wasn't the only one who used this service. As a matter of
fact, the bagdrop for loudeac was SO popular, it remained doubtful
until very late whether there would be enough space for my bag. An
immense amt. of randonneurs was queuing up for the service, which
gave a good opportunity to meet people from the randon-list, it just
resembled a family reunion.

When packing up in the afternoon, I made the decision to
take the heavy raincoat after all, as I had read in the newspaper
that it might rain all day in Bretagne, and perhaps en route too.
Kieg was even busier than me, he still needed to make some
adjustments to his bike. Kieg is really a chaotic guy, however one
with good legs and endurance. Something quite typical of him was his
penny-wise and pound-foolish behaviour. While he owned a Bike
Friday, he didn't want to spend good money on a professional-looking
rackpack at the back, so he just had tied a shopping basket to the
bike (he decided not to ride PBP with the BF though). On the basket
he had written "I do my shopping in Brest and Paris" as well as
"Esperanto is the bike among the languages". He was right in that,
his services as a translator would have been in high demand on PBP,
as there was a lingual abysma between the French and the English and
German-speaking participants. He also needed help on tightening his
sagging AXA-generator to the front fork. Finally I helped him out by
lending him the clamp for the Lightspin generator which I had
thought to swap with a right-sided one. "Even now, the Swiss are
doing this better than the stupid Hollanders!" he exclaimed when the
clamp worked fine.

Subject: The start of the 14th PBP (pt. 5)

The start of the 14th PBP

Meanwhile it was almost 8 pm when I leave for the pre-ride banquet,
so the queues have dwindled away when I arrive for dinner. The
restaurant is even almost abandoned, because most of the
participants probably prefer to see the start of our faster brethren
and sisters at 8 pm. I'd have wanted to do the same, besides I don't
feel much like eating anyway, except nibbling from the delicious
taboulé. Too impatient to peel an orange, I stuff it in the
rackpack, only to take it outside at the end of the ride, having
added a useless drag of 200 gram!

The queues were already quite long on the way to the
entrance of the gym. This ruined my plan to be among the first to
take off. "Would I, shall I, yes I will" and I firmly pushed my bike
underneath the ribbons and cheated by overtaking the crowd in the
queue. This is not a very becoming behaviour, but by now I have
memorized Ivo's rule: "If you're slow, try to start up front, so you
can still be within the group for a very long time". Once inside the
gym, I ask which rules to follow for the start. "There are no
rules". "So it's war?". "Oui!". So I push me and my bike gently
through the mob, and when this is unsuccessful, I take the grass
until I end up at a quieter queue. But how strange, these are
tandems and bents. Oops! Back to the grass! Quite typical, the
tandems are mostly ridden by Americans, while most other special
bikes are British property. Later I see a hand-cranked bike, ridden
by a Canadian. How courageous!

Shortly before 10 pm, our time is up and we are released in
groups of about 400-500 people at the same time to the roundabout in
front of the gymnasium de la Droite de l'Homme.

This is almost like f**king race! Never seen as many people, as many
police and blocked roads too! This is serious stuff. While I think
to be quite calm, my heart now slowlys starts beating faster. The
calm feeling is soon over right after the start. A lot of people
seem to think this IS a race, though it's impossible to ride fast
now. I try not to get involved, but nonetheless I start riding
faster too, as riding in such a huge crowd seems to go so smoothly.
Unbelievable, we never have to stop, we don't need to watch out for
arrows as there's police everywhere indicating the right direction,
we are being encouraged by immense crowds and most roads are blocked
to traffic. It's almost like a dream, a dream in which an incredible
amt. of red lights is floating over the roads. There is no need to
wonder which way to turn with such a massive amt. of forerunners. Or
whether we're going up or down.

At first, I cling to the right side of the road as I'm such
a poor climber, but gradually I get annoyed by having to brake
downhill. After about 20 K I gradually move left for going downhill,
as I can just coast down at the left side which is almost traffic-
free, hence why not everybody rides at the left. Courage is being
rewarded by having a max of 68 km/hr for the first sections, which
is as long as many a day trip at 150K, averaging 22 K/hr on easy,
yet hilly terrain. On the flat sections, there is a slight, but
significant head wind, which makes me feel sorry to have been bold
enough to charge ahead from behind a group of guys riding in a
moderate pace. Immediately, I fall back and am unsuccessful in
keeping up with them when they go by.

The only thing which is really troubling me now, is the
enormous mucusproduction in my sinuses. If I had been little bit
more ladylike, I'd have spent a LOT of time using handkerchiefs. The
first stop in Mortagne au Perche is not really interesting, just a
feeding station, for which I don't want to queue up for, so after
some small-talk I leave after 15 mins at 5.30 am.
Subject: Riding in trance through the heat (pt. 6)

Riding in trance through the heat

The next stage to Villaine la Juhel is already a lot tougher, the
biggest excitement has gone away and the first signs of sleepyness
show up, as usual in the early morning after dawn. Downing caffein
helps only temporarily, but sooner or later you just want to nap.
And finally, I have the first flat, luckily on one of that rare
pieces of flat terrain. I'd been afraid for that, I'd seen so many
stranded already at night. Feeling quite helpless, I raise my hand,
once again it turns out to be almost impossible to remove the Conti
GranPrix's off the rim. Funny, mostly it's the other way round which
is difficult, but here the heel keeps slipping off the tire levers.
Three gentlemen from Alaska stop for me, but being in a hurry they
are a little bit careless in putting the tube around the rim. The
valve doesn't sit well, but I don't feel like deflating the tube
again. The checkpoint at Villaine is more than welcome, it's almost
10 am when I arrive. I'm SO relieved to get rid of the new Teva-
sandals. I had thought to find really good sandals now, but no,
these particular ones aren't stiff enough and my toes start hurting.
So, the worn-down Mephisto's are on again, even though I know I'll
get hot foot on these ones. The rain coat is ditched too, I'll be
perspiring too much anyway to profit from such a heavy coat, it's
better to get wet from outside than inside.

In Villaine, the phenomenon of 'formula 1' riding strikes my
eye. It had been evident that a few of us must have more support
than others as they carry so little gear. Now it's evident how they
are getting pampered by their support in fully equipped cars, some
even with real beds inside as I saw much later. Is this the real
randonneurs spirit? I already feel like a cheater as I make use of
the bagdrop support. But actually, this is not even such a
disadvantage, as it diminishes the queues at the conrols, but yet
these remain too long to take advantage of the restaurant service.
So, I get back on the bike again.

Gradually, it appears to be a stupid idea, to be cycling in
bike shorts of 3/4 length, as the temperature starts rising close to
30C. And it's humid too, sweat is soon dripping down all over my
body and it's just as well that the new helm has such good vents
that they even cool me down while riding. Nonetheless my face starts
getting redder and redder, not a nice view for the cameras that take
everybody's pic on a tough hill.

Landscape-wise, Mayenne is a nice department, however not
really as spectacular as I've seen in other parts of France. It's
nice though that the roads are so quiet. The third section towards
Foug res is not as easy as expected. While the Michelin map only
shows 1 single arrow, the terrain keeps undulating, and sometimes
there's a nasty hill too. Apparently the smallest roads aren't taken
into account by the mapmakers. Speed is also impeded by the
increased feelings of tiredness (18 km/hr) or is the terrain more
difficult than it looks? Or that I'm underfed and/or slightly
dehydrated? It's a pity that a Camelbak hurt my shoulders too much
as drinking while riding in the hills is a dificult skill (too
dangerous downhill, tough uphill). Perhaps you can put the Camelbak
somewhere else than just hanging down from your shoulders?

Shortly before the control in Foug res the bike gets out of
balance at the end of a short steep hill. A loud hisssss accompanies
the imbalance and yes, the tyre deflated. There are no less than 4
tiny holes, apparently the tube was caught up somewhere. As there
are no men around now, I have to do the job myself now and YES if
you really want to, a stubborn tyre can come off. Takes me 20 mins
to get the job properly done, just as long as when I got help
before. Boy, am I glad to have plenty of tubes with me. That had
been more difficult than expected, there are few thin MTB-tubes
around. In the past I had plenty of pinched tubes because of overlap
in the socalled combi-tubes (559/571 mm). The latest I bought from
these, from Conti wasn't really that bad. According to a bent rider,
24" tubes (540 mm) should do fine too! Just when I'm finished and
brush off the dirt, help arrives: two or three guys from the
organization, no the people who record everything. I'm complimented
for riding solo. However, I think that it takes more guts to ride in
a paceline. Strange, that there aren't more solo-riding women
around. However, considering my slow speed, riding in a paceline is
the least I need to worry about.

Again, I don't bother to wait for food in the queue at Foug
res, I just buy a bottle of minera lwater, which seems like a better
idea in this heat. The terrain to Tinteniac must be either easier,
or the lessened heat has something to do with the increased speed. I
simply do not remember whether there was a lot of climbing here.
After the initial disappointment on how the hills were not
represented well in the Michelin-maps I just enjoy the downhill
parts not caring about having to climb back up again later. Only
during the first hills there's a knot in the stomach as I fear
another flat when going downhill.

In Tinteniac, Kieg still hasn't caught up with me, however
the first fast guys/girls from the 84 hr group has caught up with
us. I can't understand why they do this, starting at 4 am isn't
appealing at all, it must have been next to impossible to catch some
sleep at night and riding at night with good lights and a full moon
brings you close to cycling paradise. What more could one wish?
Subject: Struggling towards Brest (pt. 7)

Struggling towards Brest

To my amazement, I see a familiar face after the Tinteniac
control, it's Ivo Miesen. "An upset stomach" While Ivo can stand
very low temps really well, he is more sensitive to the heat. He had
had to vomit and if one doesn't eat well, yer legs turn into jelly.
What a shame for someone who had looked forward to PBP so much and
had hoped to finish within 72 hrs! Ivo isn't the only one who's
abandoning. Little by little I hear rumours about huge numbers of
dropouts, especially among the fast riders. And it isn't even very
hot, in Finland we've had temperatures close to 40C, now THAT was

Slightly taken aback by this misfortune, I continue towards
Loudeac, enjoying the quietness of the night. Speed drops again,
I've been really daft not to eat. My heart rate hasn't gone above
145 bpm since Foug res, no it even hovers slightly above 125 bpm,
even when climbing big hills. This is a heart rate I'm mostly
recovering at from a long, hard ride. What's the matter with me? Am
I ill, or is it a sign that my heart is adapting to the long
distance?? Marius Legtenberg tells me later that he has maintained a
high heart rate until the end of the ride on tough hills.

Some people have reflection vests that really are good at
hypnotising others, just in front of me I find somebody riding with
loose reflection bands. They work like the swinging watch and the
ominous words "the next moment you will fall asleep!". It's amazing
to see how a compulsive chatter like me has little interest in
chatting with others in between controls, I'm getting simply too
tired. While I made liberal use of caffein-powder during the first
night (sachets of 50 mg, retrieved from the pharmacy), I decide to
do without them this night. The caffein makes me jittery and
nervous, and perhaps I've become too sensitive after 3 months of
near 100% abstination. In stead of using caffein I stop a few times
for some short road side naps. Luckily I'm not bothered like that
poor Brit who was waken up 3 to 4 times by worried passing cyclists.
Next time he considers to get further off the road. OTOH, that
German who DID go further off the road slept like a log for 8 hours!
I'm too nervous to fall asleep by accident, to get really rested.
This night I use all the lights, despite the full moon which just
can't reach down underneath the foliage to light up the curvy
descents. The combination of a headlamp, a narrow- AND a wide-beamed
light works like a dream and enables me to descend as fast (or slow)
as in daytime. Actually, I have less fear here than when riding on
most Dutch bike paths at night, which are much much more dangerous
to your health because of their unpredictability.

The stop in Loudeac is very welcome, now I finally take it
easy and take a looong break. Grabbing the bag from the bus, eat in
the restaurant and sleep on the grass outside. It's warm enough to
sleep for almost an hour without any other coverage than the jacket.
The alarm clock now comes in handy, it first wakes up someone else
who then wakes me up. Still tired but slightly refreshed I continue
riding at 4.30 am towards Carhaix. An unexpected stop gets thrown in
though at Corlay, where a fully equipped 'secret' control station is
put up.

Arrival time in Carhaix is 9.20 am, here I try again to get
a half an hour of sleep in the somewhat remote sleeping room.
Unfortunately, I forget to take the earplugs with me, so sleeping is
impossible, despite the quietness inside, because of the traffic
outside.What a pity! Now I finally meet Kieg, who's bitterly
complaining about the difficulty of the ride, apparently Ivo didn't
warn him enough, so Kieg thought it would be a fairly easy ride. He
also noticed the amt. of backup from family and friends. "I even had
an offer from a friend to coach me!" he moans. To give Kieg credit,
he did have major problems with shifting into the smallest
chainring. Later it appeared that he simply hadn't got accustomed to
the gentler shifting method.

To remain awake, I'm turning on the radio now. Stupid that I
hadn't thought of it before. How lucky am I, there's a really
interesting Breton broadcasting station here with lots of French and
foreign folk music. This is really fitting for the most beautiful
part of the ride, climbing the Roc Trevezel. Whereas I hadn't taken
many pics before, I now get off to take some: tourist-mode is
switched on! I wasn't the only one, it's here that I spot Sheila
Simpson on the other side of the road, taking pics from other riders
and waving at me. I wave back as enthusiastically as my tiredness
allows me.

Cycling in Bretagne is wonderful anyway, the Bretons show
their good will by standing at the side of the road to encourage us
with 'bon courage' (more than in other parts of the c.) and what's
more, with free mineral water which is a relief, even though I have
enough water left. It's almost as if it is an honour for them to
help you out! Cool!

Brest is a bit of a disappointment, while beautifully set at
Atlantic Ocean, esp. the bridge area, it is strenuous to ride in the
busy traffic. At the control I'm quite amazed to see so many people
around, even though the official time limit is just 35 minutes away.
I had originally planned to be here 4 hours earlier when riding
according to my slowest schedule. But due to the deviation, everyone
gets 1 hour extra. Would it e enough to get back to St. Quentin in

But first things first. Let's try to get some sleep here as well. To
my utter dismay they think that people don't want to sleep in broad
day light at 4 pm, so small children are chasing each other in the
'couchage' area. "Will I kill them or are you going to do it", I
speak sarcastically. Finally the little brats disappear.
Unfortunately, there's even more noise coming from the workers
who've decided that the beds are no longer needed and are clearing
the whole area with as much noise as they can possible make. Not
even burying the ear plugs inside the head is any use to me and I'm
too tired to think of sleeping outside. After 20 more sleepless
minutes I get up and leave, fuming with anger about lost sleep.
Dammit the 90 hr riders could still get in and the 84 hr riders even
had 3 more hours on their sleeve.
Subject: Do I have to ride all of this back again? (pt. 8)

Do I have to ride all of this back again?

This is not a pretty experience: not having slept and still having
to ride all these bloody hills all the way to Paris. Though Kieg had
said that I'm mistaken and Paris and Brest are about at the same
height, but after all these looooong descent, the climbs back again
must be huge.

Another disappointment is the inferior quality of the arrows
pointing back to Paris: while the arrows pointing towards Brest were
at least pink on a blue background with a reflecting point, they now
have just an ordinary white colour. Any Dutch cycling club has
better arrows for their organized club rides! Because of the last-
minute deviations, I can't rely on the cuesheets and maps either.
This may very well mean that I'll get lost automatically. :-(

The worst part however, is the pain in my ... err well
feminine parts. The saddle seems to have changed position and its'
nose somehow points down less than I remember. No wonder sitting
upright had been that easy during the first night among the crowds.
The ointment I received in Brest has no effect at all and I have to
resort to upright riding, which really slows me down. Desillusioned
I get off the bike in Landerneau and devour a delicious tuna-filled

Should I continue? By riding upright I get too slow and even get a
painful knee and back. Shit, holy shit! What should I do? I'm
feeling sleepy as well, I can't just go on like this. Ride until
Carhaix and then pack? OK, that's what I'm gonna do. But, as soon as
I make up my mind, I don't feel like cycling any longer. So, I raise
the big thumb and tell a couple of passing cyclists that I quit.
'Banana-man' is among the passers-by, who's slowly and comfortably
at the back of the pack.

A Breton with a small van stops for me and we get the bike
in the back of the car. I'm realizing that I'm missing the best part
of the ride in this way. I also seem to have ended up with a maniac.
Just because he lives here, this guy thinks he can afford to ride
fast. Though he gives the cyclists plenty of space, he seems to
imagine that there never is any traffic (cyclists/cars) after the
top of the next hill. He drops me off at about 20K before Carhaix
and I finish the section cycling at ease together with an American
physician who DNFed since he got lost in the first section of the
ride as he had started in the last group at Monday night. Most of
the people had left by then and some arrows had been missing. He
wasn't the only one, I heard from a German cyclist that they had
cycled 28K more than was indicated in that section. Though
disqualified, the American just felt like cycling and had continued
towards Brest at his own pace and back again to Carhaix, just to
enjoy the scenery.

At the control in Carhaix I tell one of the 'responsables'
that I want to quit. This is the start of a loooong conversation,
even in French, amazingly without any difficulties from my part in
expressing myself or understanding the other person. And this after
48 hrs of just 1 hr sleep! It's amazing, but one of the controllers
just says "why don't you just sleep on it?" even though they know
I've hitch-hiked 30K of this section! Is this the French way of
doing things? But what about the knee problem? How stupid I forgot
to question that guy thoroughly about whether it would be stupid to
continue or not. We just had briefly touched the subject, and he had
agreed it was a good idea, but we hadn't discussed in detail what
kind of pain I was experiencing.

About an hour later, my decision is definite, the speed is
really getting to low now and my knee pain can get worse, I've been
giving that knee too much trouble anyway. Amazing tht the left knee
hasn't given any trouble yet as it did in the past month. No wonder,
as I've been spinnin mostly above 90 pm, and even had few sections
below 70 rpm when going uphill. I'm quite relieved to be able to
sleep, really sleep, after having waited for Kieg to wake up to have
a final chat with him.

Subject: Going back to Paris as a spectator (pt. 9)

Going back to Paris as a spectator

Next morning I'm feeling much, much better after only 6 hrs of sleep
and the knee pain seems to have gone too! At 8 am I'm heading out
for Loudeac with my thumbs up. It takes a while but finally with the
help of people living near the roundabout, who provide cardboard and
a pen, I get a ride from a Frenchman heading for Villaines in his
Ford Escort. "Can I put the bike in your trunk?" "I'm afraid not,
it's full". I'm thinking, "why the heck is he stopping then?", but
then the miracle happens. He unfolds the roof of the convertible and
we gently put the bike into the back of the car. It just happens
that Gerard even made a small detour to pick me up as he had seen me
before when going into town. He is not going to Loudeac, but to
Villaine la Juhel, 2 controls after Loudeac in order to provide
support to his friend. Yes, he's driving a 'voiture d'assistance' as

While I had been scared before because of too reckless
driving, I'm now afraid Gerard might pass out as he's having health
problems: emphysema and heart problems, so he can't even walk 20 m
without getting tired. Let's just hope I don't need to reanimate
during or after the ride. It's funny to see how serious Gerard takes
his responsibility as a Frenchman. He thinks it's his civil duty to
help foreigners. How charming! I really start to grin when he
inhales the country odours with glee (meaning cow's dung), relieved
as he is to have his sense of smell back after he quit smoking. I'm
way less romantic, since I'm a farmer girl and used to smell that
air way too often.

In Villaine we have to wait a long time for that French
friend, so I have ample time to watch more than a thousand
randonneurs passing by. I now also meet Robert Leduc who is
grumbling at me because I quit. "You had already gone back as far as
Carhaix, meaning that the worst part is over. Besides, pain at the
back of your knee is not permanent". How would I know, if they don't
know this at the control? To my disappointment, Kieg has given up
too, he had entered Loudeac three hours late. Too much sleep or too
much knee pain?

Since there is a real threat of rain, I decide to switch to
another 'voiture' and now continue with the British support van from
Willesden. Ivo had been teaming up with them too. He's now fully
recovered and decides to ride back from Villaine to St. Quentin as a
'bus-driver' (or gruppetto-leader) . The Brits stay until their last
man/woman has entered the control, they support nu less than 13
randonneurs from just the Wilesden club and these aren't even all of
the participating club members. There are even 400 Brits randonneurs
around! And just a meagre 80 from the Netherlands, whereas SEVENTY
Ozzies have come from 'Down Under'. Actually, this is something to
be ashamed about if you claim to be a 'cycling nation'!

Late at night, we drive to Mortagne au Perche really, really
carefully over the many hills (were there really THAT many steep
hills en route?) Mortagne is only 80 km further on, but it takes us
2 hours to get there. Despite the low speed of Ian Why, I'm not
entirely sure this is a safe ride. Perhaps Ian ends up too tired to
forget riding at the right side of the road. In short, I wished I'd
stayed on the bike!

In Mortagne it seems that the whole field of riders is
grouped together, it's insanely busy here. Quite different from what
I had expected. Inside the control, the floor seems like a death
zone at war, there are 'body bags' everywhere, that is, people
wrapped in alufoil are spread all over the room, all sound asleep as
if nobody is bothered by the noise going on above their heads.
Almost everybody seems to have trouble walking, strange how people
hardly can walk, but yet are able to ride their bikes. Now the doubt
really creeps up. If I REALLY had wanted to finish, I probably would
have made it. You're a stupid wussy girl, I tell myself.

It's amazing to see how much the Willesden support crew is
developing here. They are not only preparing huge amts. of food for
their randonneurs, but also pitch an awning behind which 4-5 riders
at the time can go asleep for a few hours. They really need it, as
it's visible that almost every ride hasn't been asleep for almost 3
nights. The support crew of 4 hasn't had much opportunity to sleep
either. I'd never have noticed all of this when I'd have continued

Then a Scotsman comes up to me, his name is Ian Jackson.
Whether I'd be so kind to lend my bike to him? Why? His bike has
broken down. Ian's riding on a fixed gear and the dropouts have come
loose and disappeared during the ride. He hitched a ride to Mortagne
and is allowed to finish if he's able to find another bike. So, I
tell him how everything works on the bike. Luckily his front brake
is at the right side too. With mixed feelings I see him disappear
into the night, at one hand glad to have helped someone else, OTOH
worried for Griffon. In the meantime the time limit is almost up and
yet people are still arriving trickle-wise, encouraged by cries from
a fair amt. of spectators who've been up all night till the morning
as well.

One of the advantages of not riding anymore is that I
finally have time to wander around at the controls and just SEE how
much work is being done behind the screens. People who prepare huge
amts. of meals throughout the ride. Or the mechanic that works
around the clock to make small and bigger repairs. Even the children
have done their share by making beautiful drawings.What's remarkable
too, is the gigantic amount of ditched batteries, probably not even
used to the last bit. I'm starting to feel more and more sympathy
for using this voltage regulator, that squeezes out the batteries
like a lemon.

As Ian left with MY bike, I feel obliged to take care of HIS
and take it back to paris. But the mechanic has disappeared. To his
shop? After having walked back and forth two times, we meet him and
he says he never saw the bike back. It now dawns on me that Ian
didn't belong to the Willesden club and may have had his own support
crew around who has taken the bike along.

We arrive in St. Quentin around noon, and from that moment
on we spend our time cheering on the last finishers and talking to
those who have finished before. Some of the finishers really are
close to exhaustion as they stagger when they ride over the ramp
towards the gymnasium. Banana-man hasn't given up either. It's true,
you may be slower on a recumbent, but it is surely a more
comfortable ride like bent-people are always saying. Ian Jackson has
arrived too, he has not been too uncomfortable on the bike, but he
hadn't experimented with the bars that much.

In front of the gym I meet the famous Pamela Blalock,
outfitted with an elegant cowboy hat. The first thing that strikes
me, is her youth. I hadn't thought that a PBP-veteran as she is by
now, would be that young. It's a brief, but cordial meeting.

Once inside, I hear that no less than 20% of all
participants DNFed, a quite high percentage. Among the Dutch, it's
even worse, 1 in 4 participants DNFed. It seems though that the 2
other ladies have been succesfull though. Wilma has finished quite
fast after 72 hours. There were sad stories too. Ruud ended up in
hospital with a broken vertebra after going downhill near Brest.
Someone else forgot his wallet and left it in his helmet when he
took a pee-break in a pub. When he came back, the wallet had been
stolen. The worst part was, that he organisation had been informed
about this incident by the police, and had prevented him from
leaving until the time limit was up. And lent him money AFTER this
to get back to Paris. This is really SICK as the guy would have been
perfectly capable of finishing, especially now they DID borrow money
to him, which he paid back anyway. And then the story about poor
Sybrand, who had got lost, asked for directions for Paris (without
speaking or understanding any French) and then ended up in central
Paris instead of in St. Quentin. As he had started at 8 pm, he
arrived back in St. Quentin too late to finish in time.

Kieg is in the building too, half and half I had expected
that he'd be continuing the ride. "I've been a stupid dog" he
exclaims. Kieg can beat homself up, since he wasted so much time in
the beginning, thinking it was an exaggerated tourist ride. He spent
nearly 5 hours wandering around in interesting French villages. I do
recognize the behaviour, that's why I started working with time
schedules. Yet, I'm amazed that a fairly experienced guy like Kieg
is STILL wasting so much time. "I need a coach who uses the whip!"
This sounds so funny from someone as anarchistic as Kieg, that I
nearly roll over laughing. However, I could have needed an
encouraging coach as well. Though I haven't lost THAT much time
queuing for food, but I did loose time chatting with other
randonneurs outside controls, which must have cost more than an
hour. A coach might have said to just ride on and simply readjust
the saddle so that it would be in the original position again and
not to worry about the knees too much. Now I only heard this in
Villaine from Robert, when it was too late. Kieg gives a good
example how useful a coach can be by telling about 2 of his
triathlons he participated in. The first time he had a coach, who
instead of drying him thoroughly after the swimming section, just
sent him off to his bike, by saying that he would get warm by
cycling. The second time he didn't have a coach and was lovingly
wrapped in a blanket for an hour by a nurse to get warm again.
Wrong, totally wrong! Kieg was now the source of wisdom, so I
listened on. "Riding in these synthetic cycling clothes in this heat
is not good at all. In the heat, there is nothing better but plain
cotton. It's not bad to get sweaty and wet clothes on top, you
should have seen those guys who asked to be showered with their
clothes on. If it's cold at night, then wearing synthetics like
fleece is a good idea, I use it myself too." Mmm, this does make
sense... if I do the same, I don't need to wear those shiny bike
clothes but can simply ride along anonymously in cotton... "And
instead of a lighter bike Yvonne, you'd better visit a good
fysiotherapist and readjust those SPD-cleats or just take toeclips."
Mmm, perhaps it's just as well that Ian left his own toeclips on the
bike, as he wanted to use his own system. I could try to get used to
them. We both agree that in 4 years time, we will take a WHOLE
different approach. 1. a lighter bike, perhaps not so much the
frame, but less luggage and a lighter rider 2. better legs 3. better
support and 4. a mobile phone to find out where our support is
located and to ask for advice if necessary. It is certain, we WILL
come back.

It seems, we are not the only ones questioning their current
approach. Other dutch randonneurs also complain about the
individualistic approach and praise the national approach from the
Danish and the British randonneurs, who have huge buses on the road.
The Americans on the other hand, can support an enormous amt. of
people with their bag drop service. If we could just work together
too? But this probably won't happen, those who can afford it, will
still prefer their private support. They may not care less about
others who can't afford having their own support or just don't know
enough people who would want to do this for them.Of course, some
just won't need support, though I think even these people would be
grateful for the opportunity to change clothes and grab some food or
Subject: Back to the Netherlands on a bargain / Remorse (pt. 10)

Back to the Netherlands on a bargain

Next morning I'm still desperately trying to arrange for a ride back
to the Netherlands as Kieg is staying to canoe in Normandy. I'm just
not prepared to struggle in and out of trains which may or may not
be accessible for cyclists. I'm unsuccessful with the Dutch at the
campsite, most of them have crammed cars. Then I just happen to
strike a conversation with Kurt from Stuttgart, who thus is going
straight to the east instead of for e.g. Hamburg (NE). Stuttgart is
hardly in te right direction, but it would at least get me out of
the Parisian labyrinth, so I can resume hitc-hiking further east.
During our ride, the penny drops: of course, it's Saturday, so I can
use the cheap weekend ticket in Germany, which enables me to get
home cheaper from southern Germany than from let's say Belgium.

Kurt is a really nice man and we get along well, his
companion Bernd is not talkative at all. It also doesn't sit well
with Bernd that I interfere with the orienteering. Men like to keep
this to themselves. However, I have better maps!

"If you had cycled with me", Kurt says, "you would not have
abandoned!" Kurt says cheerily. Good grief no, but Kurt finished in
80 hours and was the one who slept 8 hours on end at the verge of
the road. Kurt found a third way of doing PBP: unsupported and yet
not depending on the food at controls or restaurants. He had taken
along 25 Powerbars, and ate one every 2 hours. Every food ingredient
you need for long rides is included, you just need water. Perhaps
he's right and I should try that next year when I hope to do the
Canadian Rocky Mts. randonnee.

Travelling back was from now on easy as I took the train in
Karlsruhe on Sunday morning after having spent the night illegally
in a building under construction in a remote area out of town (yes,
DO remain adventurous). Of course cycling in Germany is an anti-
climax, with bike paths on the side walk. I just didn't feel like
behaving that dangerously. I suddenly realised that cycling sleepily
in France is still a lot safer than riding wide awake on quite a few
Dutch or German wobble-paths. I now really feel rebellious and will
refuse to ride on a bloody apartheid path just because the law says
so, while this is actually LESS safe. What are the conditions for
someone willing to work in France as a librarian??


This is perhaps something all DNFers have in common, but one
question still remains ringing in my head. "What if I had not
abandoned?" With the information I have now, I probably would have
continued. I would have readjusted the saddle and perhaps the pain
would have eventually gone away. Yes, the sleepiness would have
remained, and I may have indeed be wise not to want to risk a crash.
But who really knows? I did fine in LEL, didn't I? The adrenalin
still kept rushing on descents, didn't it? And if it really had
become too bad, I could have taken another roadside nap.

In any case, I've started a web search for a vibrating
watch. I'll order one and then I can perhaps go asleep without
worrying not to wake up in time, anywhere and anytime. Try to use
that method next year too...

When I met Pamela, she said something that struck me. Whether I
wouldn't be better off by just holiday-touring? Mmm, is she right or
not? If she'd been someone else, I might have become angry, as so
many have said it before. But I do think about it sometimes too.
OTOH, I am encouraged by the fact that quite a lot of other
randonneurs rode less efficient than I did. Besides, I've heard from
people like Helen Deborah Vecht that they hardly ever DNF, even
though they are slow. But where was Helen?? I'd really like to hear
her secret and that of other slow snails. People who average between
18 and 20 km/hr. For the record, my snail-speeds going to Brest
were: 21.8/20.2 (Mortagne) - 19.2/15.1 (Villaine) - 18.1/13.9 (Foug
res) - 20.6/15.2 (Tinteniac) - 18.3/11.2 (Loudeac) - 18.1/13.6
(Carhaix) and 17.7/12.7 km/hr (Brest)

Yvonne van den Hork

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