I had been planning this trip to participate in Paris, Brest, Paris (PBP) since August of 2011, and back then, still buzzing from the experience of completing the full PBP route for the first time I had no idea of what would change for me before PBP 2015 would arrive and what I'd have to go through to get there. On the departure day for the trip, I found I was way behind in preparing despite ample time to get ready, and a mountain of good intentions to be ready. That left me feeling very stressed and uncomfortable.
Elaine Astrue had promised to do all the route finding for a pre-PBP shake down ride out to Rambouillet (a destination I hadn't visited on past trips, despite trying) once I arrived in France, and Jim Bradbury joined us for the day. That ride was fantastic. All the built up stress washed away and the route took me on entirely new-to-me roads and had the advantage of getting us out into rural landscape so much more quickly than does the official PBP route.
Despite that wonderful ride, plus another short ride over to Versailles (checking off another new experience) during the days leading up to PBP I felt off, so much so that I skipped joining the big group that rode out to Gambais along the official route on the Friday before the start. I had noticed some small bumps on my arms which at first I thought was poison oak or the French version of that and over the next few days those spread to my ankles and shins. I found out much later that there is no such French equivalent to poison oak, and at the time I did not directly connect this to my feeling "off". Mid-afternoon on Friday I finally roused myself from the torpor I was in and got out on the bike for my own short, Garmin directed recon of the first part of the course.
As in 2011, the bike check on Sunday was dramatically calmer than that the day before held for the 80 and 90 hour riders. The 84 hour riders are a much smaller group, and all the details of processing the riders had been worked out by then. I would spend the day resting, watching the day time starts for the 80 and 90 hour groups, eating a leisurely meal and then packing and getting a full night's sleep before my own 05:00 start on Monday. All the excitement of that Sunday was something I could watch and record but I was not compelled to participate, which was just fine with me.
I'm not really keen on the segment between Mortagne and Villaines la Juhel (seemingly busier, less rural roads) and I found I needed to work just a little harder to keep the pace but it wasn't above a level I couldn't manage. One thing on my mind was the anticipation of the food. On a particularly hard ride my body may burn up to 10,000 calories a day. Food, and tons of it, will be very important for the next several days on PBP. In 2011 I had arrived in Villaines with the memory of 2007 and expected not to find anything to my liking. In 2007 I had left there not having eaten enough by half and it made the rest of the ride harder. Well no, it made it impossible.
Eric and I left together after what was for me an 2+ hour stop and we picked up Elaine at the edge of town and we three kept more or less together till well past dark. Fougeres is a long way from the half way point and yet very quickly we 84 hour starters (frame plate groups X, Y and Z) began to pass a number of riders from the S and T groups which had started 9+ hours before us. There were quite a number of them and they all were wearing what must have been every garment they had with them. They did not acknowledge us as we passed. The 'Thousand yard stare' would have been an improvement over the expressions they carried on their faces. And yet they rode on, and we would see many more of them later as we put Brest in our rear view mirror the next day. By Tinténiac, the weather had cleared more completely and I stopped just short of the control to perform a costume adjustment and to don reflective gear, letting Eric and Elaine go on while I got picked up by Kris passing by moments later in the last kilometers before the control. Another meal, of slightly larger than modest proportion, and we kitted up for night riding and set off in twilight with a very slight crescent moon setting.
After nearly six hours off the bike I returned to the control just after dawn to see if I could find any familiar faces and Eric and Elaine were there and we left town as a group. I continued to use my arrival and departure times from 2011 as a yardstick of my progress and while I was leaving Loudeac a little later than in 2011, I felt confident that I'd make back all the extra time that I had spent sleeping. Perhaps the hardest leg on PBP is the segment between Loudeac to Carhaix in either direction, because the hills are more frequent and while never long using Bay Area standards, they are steep. Our group handled them well. In Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem we needed to stop as this was anot outbound secret control and I took the opportunity to have another Jambon. Finishing up business before departing I ran into Theo Rolfe who was on his return to Paris. Theo gave me an update on several other SIR riders that I knew and after wishing each other well we each went our own way.
For what seemed to me to be the only time on the entire ride it began to warm up a bit as the fog of the morning began to clear. Carhaix, the next control, was another chance to eat which we took and our group left town and passed the point where the outbound and inbound routes separated. Though hillier, this portion of the route was a big (and welcome) change from the agricultural landscape we had traveled through before. From Carhaix we went northwest toward and through Huelgoat which passes park land along the way. Elaine challenged me to pronounce the name Huelgoat, but I knew better than to even try. Chris Selby Smith from the UK, who had joined us earlier came through though and nailed the pronunciation. The route would later rejoin the inbound leg as the outbound leg began the modest climb up to Le Roc Trevezal in the Monts d'Arrée. Earlier in the day I had finally noticed the return of the spark in my riding and I decided to let it fly on the climb and then descent into Sizun. On the climb and descent is where the 84 hour riders can catch a glimpse and yell hello to friends doing the 90 hour start. I saw quite a number along here including Lois Springsteen, Peg Miller, Kitty, Gabe and Ian riding together, and several others whose jersey I could spot but I wouldn't make the connection until comparing notes long after the finish.
Pont de l'Iroise to our right was a kick but there was still more miles to ride before I could stop. In 2011 I was pretty disappointed with the control set up in Brest, and even though this was a new location (I think actually a return to a location used in the past) it was a lackluster dining experience. The food was the most expensive at this control, and by far the least appealing (though keep in mind I did say I was a fussy eater). I found Kris and Barry there, just ahead of me in the food line and Eric, Elaine and Chris S.S. came in just a bit later. The latter three and I left the control as a group and climbed back out of town together. After a few miles though it was clear we weren't climbing at the same rate so I let my legs find their comfort zone and I pushed ahead. I had a motive for doing so. In 2011, riding with Ed Yu, I had stopped in the town of Sizun and had a beer at the Cafe. I had arrived in town with that one thought which baffled me then but it turned out to be the perfect thing. This time, I was unsure I could convince any of my fellow riders to stop for beer so going ahead allowed me to zip in, down a glass and hopefully exit in time to catch them for the climb up Le Roc. Chris and Elaine managed to get by as I stopped but Eric was outside when I came out of the cafe. He wasn't quite ready to drop into the rolling pace so I went ahead to catch the others. By the time I reached Elaine though I had a good head of steam going and I just kept at it. The climb was just as easy this year as in 2011, but this time I knew where the summit was whereas in 2011 the ease of the climb was a surprise.
Going into Carhaix I finally caught Chris S.S.. We rolled into the control together and then exchanged intel on the other riders we had spotted that we both knew. Chris decided he really wasn't hungry and took off and Kris, Barry and I later rolled out together to ride across a landscape painted in the light of the golden hour. Four years before it was full on dark when I left this control so I had regained time those extra hours I spent sleeping the night before. The stretch ahead was the reverse portion of what many consider the hardest section, which would be made harder by it being dark. I was still feeling really good and after a time our group spread out and lost contact with each other, first as we caught other packs of riders, then as our respective paces became out of synch. As the rollers hit and then got bigger I left behind a number of packs and for a while I'd be concerned that the groups behind were using my tail light to inform them of the route while I myself was only 80% sure I was going the correct way, so I had to pay much more strict attention to the route markers. After a while I bridged the gap between the large clumps of riders and could then follow their lights. There became so many riders that it was slow going trying to pass. In the dark tired riders began to let their guards down, too much in my estimation. Very often, I'd see a rider far to the left, well over the center of the road and invariably they'd turn out to be from the UK, Japan, Australia or some other country that drives on that side of the road. Perhaps in their weariness they sought comfort in that placement on the roadway, forgetting they were no longer home. Other riders, too tired to think properly, would just stop in the middle of the road and become the boulder in the middle of a stream as the current of moving riders flowed around them.
The next morning I dropped off my bag and rolled out of town feeling pretty good. I mis-played a couple things with my Garmin and had to restart it once more (restart in Brest because I thought I had very little power left but in fact had 82% charge, and a reset in Loudeac when I hit the stop button in error and could not remember how to back out of that). I passed Kris and Barry along the way and heard they had gone off course the night before adding 9 miles to their total. Our paces were not a great fit so I rode on. Early in the day I came across Yaroslav, the Ukrainian rider from the day before. He was looking very forlorn and was convinced he would not make the finish. We spoke for a while and I offered him a caffeine pill which at first he declined and then realized it was silly to pass on that. Within about 15 minutes I could tell he was a different rider. In a short while were were hopping on to pace lines and he had much more spark in his riding. We stopped at the food stop in Quédillac and while topping of the tanks we were interviewed by Damon Peacock, again this year making a video of PBP. He recalled my name as a Facebook friend and we spent some time chatting. A short while after leaving the control we were passed by him on motorcycle filming along the way.
Yaroslav and I parted company after the Tinteneac control and from there on I would ride solo though I'd see other SFR riders along the way. I had hoped to have a meal with someone at Fougeres but no luck, and took a quick nap on the berm between the bike parking and driveway outside the cafeteria. This need for a nap happened much earlier than in 2011, but I felt it would do me good. I recall from 2011 having a huge burst of energy leaving Fougeres and charging up the hills as the route leaves town. It took a bit longer but that same fire came back this time too. I looked forward to the unofficial crepe/postcard control up ahead, and even though I wasn't hungry it was a chance to mingle and interact. A crowd of riders were there and I convinced Andy Stockman and Elaine to stop and enjoy it. I found the SFR postcard I had sent years before among the other US postcards. That was sort of a kick spotting that.
Jenny Oh and trying not to scratch my arms and legs. This control was packed and there was a line for cots and simply no space on the floor in the cafeteria or hallways to lay down. I did two circuits of the entire indoors before I finally found a spot at all and it really turned out that it was perfect: no light and enough space for me to lay down and still be well out of the way of foot traffic. I got a fairly long nap and that plus all the food was plenty to get me to the next control. I recall being pretty hammered upon arriving in Dreux in 2011, as well as having an extremely tender behind. This time though I was far more alert and energetic relatively speaking and I had no saddle issues, just this maddening rash and welts to deal with. That was beginning to get the better of me, and is what prompted me to ride on with out eating (I wasn't hungry at all but wasn't turned off by food). I had bought two big cans of Orangina, but only drank one and gave the other back. I returned to my bike and left Dreux before daybreak and got outside of town before it became light enough and just outside of town I was up high enough to spot a weather cell chasing us. I could tell it was rain and wanted so badly to outrun it but that didn't happen. The drops were minimal at first and took a long time to build but build they did.
Just before Gambais I came up on a group of SFR riders, including Jenny, Eric Larsen, Metin, Theresa and perhaps someone else. My skin and the rashes were ruining my mood and if I stayed with them the only thing I'd talk about would be the rash and who the hell would want to listen to that so I sped around and decided to try to reach the medical tent at the finish as soon as I could, thinking that might provide relief. I met Jon Beckham along the way and we briefly chatted before I rolled on again. The closer to the finish I got, the more it began to rain and the more we'd go through villages with cobbles and traffic islands and other hazards so I slowed down a bit to better and more safely traverse those sections. At one traffic circle I had caught up with a group and knowing full well they were going off course I still followed them as if I were linked to them, but with just a little uncertainty that I might be wrong. Nope, they were, and my impulse was right. They all turned around when they saw me do so but I never saw them again after I regained the route. Out once more in open fields on straight roads I noticed the motorists passing the other way would wave and salute the riders they knew were so close to the finish of a very long ride.
Days later, the welts are healing and I only had a few marks to show for that small misery, but all the good memories of my riding companions over the days and even more so all the people I interacted with along the way will last a lot longer. Seeing the kids out there supporting the riders was a huge boost. I loved that. I also got a big charge out of waving hello to *all* the spectators along the way.
I posted on Facebook that I think I'm cured, cured of wanting to do PBP again. Nobody bought that then, and less than a week later I was pretty sure I'll be back for at least one more go at it. Today, I'm certain of it.
|This banner absolutely worked! (photo by Jenny Oh Hatfield)|