Thursday, March 26, 2009

PBP 2007, Part 5: Daylight, hills and yet more rain

The town of Villaines-la-Juhel has been a control on Paris, Brest et retour since 1979. The enthusiasm the town exhibits for this event may have been dampened somewhat by the rain, but it was clear to me that PBP was a special event there and special enough that I expect it will be part of PBP for years to come. Climbing out of town on my departure some time around 8am, I had put behind me more than 220 kilometers. The hills on the early part of the course were gradual, but from this point that would be much less the case. Beginning my cycling life in Southeastern Michigan, hills and long climbs became defined a certain way. Moving to Maryland, hills became something a bit more serious as steepness and length both increased, forcing my notion of climbing on a ride to expand. Changing coasts and landing in the Bay Area, the notion of elevation gain for the length of a ride was much more of a factor, and no two 100 mile rides could now be considered equal. Given the many opportunities for sustained climbing though, most of the routes for the qualifiying brevets in Northern California were designed to mimic the elevation gain on PBP so that there were no killer climbs where riders would work for 30 to 40 minutes to reach the crest, but instead there would be a relentless succession of smaller climbs.

Even though the sun had long been up, and my world was more than the short distance ahead that bicycle lights would illuminate, it still felt as if the rain and clouds were limiting what I might otherwise be able to see. Given a rare break from that a few hours after dawn, I finished one of the many short but certainly noticeable climbs and could see a longer way off to the north where the hills gradually rose a little higher, each hill only slightly taller than the one before it. This was one of the very few instances where I could see for some distance, and I noticed that none of the other riders were paying it much attention. The rain had ceased for a short time but these breaks were never long enough to ever begin drying out, and the one-two punch of energy loss due to chill from long soaked riding gear and the now continuous succession of hills made my progress seem like slow motion.

Through out the ride so far I had made an effort to keep eating, but having skipped something more substantial while in Villaines I had reached the point in the ride where I needed to eat more frequently or I would just need to stop. So I stopped and ate. Several times. After the first stop I could feel my energy level spike and I made up ground lost while stopped. The nature of a spike though, is that a drop in energy would follow and another stop would be needed. Some times, I'd see no other riders pass by while I rested, other times many riders would roll by and I'd catch the eye of some riders who made the effort to look away from the spot where they would be after 10 more meters. Those riders would no doubt be checking to see if I was more or less ok, and I was. More or less. Despite the long total of kilometers for this ride, stopping to look around and take in more than the roadway is important, and yet so hard to do. I'm hoping that with more experience at the longer distances, I can overcome the urge to keep rolling which comes from being uncertain I can finish. On this part of the course, as with all of the course, there were many towns and villages to pass through. Here they were spaced between 4 and 12 kilometers apart. Before I reached the next control however the distances between towns would increase to nearly 20 km. As during the night before, one town on this segment stood out in particular. The road surface, shops, homes and garage buildings in Lassay Les Chateaux all seemed to be incredibly well kept and the town affluent. In reading about the town long after returning home, I found out there was a castle or castles there but I never saw them. I do remember a lift in spirits just riding through this beautiful town, and of course the look on the faces of the men and women as I called out a 'Bon jour' as I rode by. They all looked at me as if I were nuts. I knew I couldn't argue the point then or now.

As I approached Gorron about 25 km later on this leg, it seemed a good place and time to stop and rest longer than the time it took to down a Clif Bar. My pockets were a disorganized mess and it was difficult to ride along one handed and sift with the other hand through all the clutter in each pocket, searching for the small bag of cashews I knew was in there, or the appricots that really go well just then. Gorron seemed to be very much different than all the other towns so far, but it may be that our route didn't take us into and really through the town. Gorron seemed much more spread out, and the buildings much more recent. I passed by a supermarché and pulled over and crossed back to the parking lot, stepping over a couple of curbs to do this. The store offered several advantages at the moment: food, a large overhang to escape the rain and lots of space underneath to spread out gear and repack. One reason for stopping was that I was certain I was nearly out of water and would need a refill before reaching Fougers, the next control. Inside the store, the aisles were empty of shoppers and the shelves and displays were mostly full of produce or canned goods, neither of which would help me but I found all I needed, bananas, water and a juice and made my way to the counter. The exchanges at checkout would all entail me looking closely at the register for the total and listening closely for the spoken words that should match that number, and a smile as I would hand over my change. Once outside I began the process of inventorying my gear and beginning to eat. Having bought two liters of bottled water to refill my camelbak, I now found the camelbak full, and I still had one full water bottle and second bottle only half empty. So much for being sure I was nearly out of fluids!

While stopped here, though I had the chance to speak with another rider, a rider from Sweden and like so many other riders from that part of the world, he spoke English as well as his native tongue. Like me, the lure of a well stocked store and a convenient place to get out of the rain was too much of a lure. We spoke about the distance to the next control, and a little about his having ridden PBP in 2003. He left though and I finished my repacking job and followed a few minutes later. The terrain here seemed to be much flatter than what I had crossed recently, but flatter wasn't flat entirely. Instead, it seemed that the roadway was on a very slight incline. Along this section I passed through another small village and on the approach there was a family with a table set with coffee and cups. A rider was stopped there and I really couldn't tell if this stand was set up by a family waiting for their rider. I didn't want to stop, thinking they were there for any rider that came along, and then be wrong. I regret not taking more opportunities to interact. It is my nature both to be too timid to take these opportunities and to regret later caving into that first reaction.

To this day, I really don't have a good sense for how the approach to Fougeres plays out. My memory is of taking a course that would appear to be a spiral into and out of the town, and at one point, the only place where I went off course, I left an (unusually busy) traffic circle too early when the correct course would have had me come 300+ degrees around from my original direction. Of course, at that very moment the rain doubled, then tripled in intensity. On the edge of town I had stopped to eat once more, even knowing I was possibly minutes away from the control, and just let the pouring rain soak me. I wasn't defeated by this, but instead I knew it didn't matter, didn't change anything from an hour ago, or an hour from now. At Fougeres, the layout of the control is such that the dining hall is near the entry way, but the actual control is held in a building that was a bike ride, not a walk, away. I first stopped to figure out where to go and then made my way to the control to present my card. The hall had a feel that suggested to me that the rush had come and gone. Bill Bryant, from Santa Cruz was there and wanting badly to talk to someone I knew I asked him how far behind the crowds I was. I was pretty stunned to find out that the real swell of riders had yet to arrive. Bill had other duties to attend to, and I needed to get something to eat. In the bike lot near the dining hall I found another Dave Yates bike, though not quite like mine. I very much wanted to change out of my sodden clothes, thinking that the change would both warm me up and improve my mindset. With the rain coming down in buckets at the moment, where I was standing was not the place to pull that off. The dining hall had a long covered walkway leading to another building and while that seemed packed with bikes already, I went looking to see if there was space for just one more. There was, at the far end, and I used that space to change and decide if I wanted to eat here or later on the road. While the food lines looked to be 60 minutes long, it was still a bad decision to leave and eat later. This is a bad decision I always seem to repeat, and I should learn, but again, I left without sitting down to a meal using the break in the rain that had appeared as the reason for departing.

(All photos except the one below are from: http://pbpvillaines.free.fr/Pages/Page_Photos/pbp2007web/)

2 comments:

Fatmex said...

Nice to read more of this. I was beginning to wonder but I didn't want to nag.

I have been a little depressed reading that ACP will limit the riders by some convoluted formula. But, if I understand it correctly, I should still qualify according to what I had planned. That was to ride as much of an SR series of BRM next year (and this year) in prep for 2011 when we all have to ride the SR. But, ACP may go to a lottery system if there are more riders who qualify then they had intended.

What say you? Have you been following the discussion at all?

rob hawks said...

Fatmex,

I've sent you a reply off-line, but wanted some of my reply to be here too. No worries about nagging me about posting entries. Here's the thing. I'm RBA for the San Francisco Randonneurs, and we had our 400km last saturday, and will have our Fleche this weekend, and well, there are a bunch of other family related things to attend to. I'm not giving up on the write up at all, just having a hard time fitting in the time to complete it at the level I want.

As for the proposed limitations on enrollment for PBP, having done this ride I saw first hand the huge numbers of riders. They are clearly at their limit and it's a good thing ACP sees this and is addressing it. They are trying to be very fair. That's my take. As for how this plays out Stateside, I think it can be good for RUSA/Randonneuring and all the local clubs.