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The fourth time is a charm? PBP 2019 part 2

RUSA #1349

For riders that take PBP in three parts, Loudeac is often the control that cleaves the route into those three parts: Part 1, start to Loudeac: ~275 miles; Part 2, Loudeac-Brest-Loudeac: ~210 miles; Part 3, Loudeac to the finish: ~275 miles. On paper Part 2 looks to be a cake walk with it being a big chunk shorter. Well. No. It isn't a cake walk. One reason is that this section just feels hillier. Way more hilly, and in fact just getting away from Loudeac requires climbing a series of big rollers. Ironically, Roc'h Trevezel, the major climb on the ride, the highest point on the ride, and the location that provides the greatest unobstructed vista is much easier than so many other, shorter climbs. But it is in Part 2 and a focal point of that part.

The band (Mary and Ed on the tandem, Jerry, Anson, Roy and Brian K.) are all together as we leave and negotiate those first big rollers. Overnight, fog and appeared and settled in the lower laying areas and the early hours after sunup are spent going into and out of that fog. Our group alternately splits and coalesces as we find our own rhythms. Because the foggy sections are punctuated with crisp and clear hilltop sections the weather really has to be placed on the positive side of the ledger. Either the headwind hasn't kicked up yet, or those sunny hilltops are blunting the force of the wind, adding yet another reward for climbing on this morning.

At one point Brian rolls on ahead of the group which is largely trying to match the pace of the tandem. This is familiar behavior to me. Brian is just a stronger rider and rolling a little faster affords him greater space on the road. A couple of the roads we ride at this point are a bit more busy at this time of the day. On the return we will have that section of the road to ourselves. Prior to Carhaix, the next control on our cards, I know there is the option of food at St. Nicholas du Pelem. Before I knew that it was a required (and secret) control I just knew I wished to stop there to eat and I'm pretty pleased that the tandem team felt the same way. Though I ate a fairly large breakfast, this is where I would keep from going into a nutritional deficit later in the day. The break is much longer than I expected, but I really didn't care. I was feeling good, I had the time to address what needed addressing without being rushed, and it was a really pleasant morning. An attempt was made to leave as a group, but I sensed the tandem wanted just a little bit of alone time and when we all split up in the rollers that followed I thought that was a good thing that was probably only temporary. I ended up riding with Jerry for a long stretch on the way into Carhaix and we chatted about the nature of the riders surrounding us. I had no clue ahead of time that we would still be in the middle of a huge number of 90 hour riders at this point. Two things about that: it really was not like this in 2015 with so many 90 hour riders encountered so early in the ride for us, and it would only become more so later on this day as we caught more and more 90 hour riders.

Even the public art finds the terrain hilly

Again upon leaving that next control, we are a group. Like Brian had earlier, I began to feel like I really needed more space all around me, front, back and to the sides and the pace of the tandem on these longer climbs makes the group bunch up a little tighter. After Carhaix, the route diverges from the main motorway heading west and instead takes a quieter road through a national park. This is one of my favorite segments of the PBP route. Unlike the less hilly, but still very rolling agricultural terrain of Day 1, with the repeated transits of small villages, this segment seems like one long climb through forested land. Spending so much time in the woods only adds to the sense of openness we'll experience at the to of Roc'h Trevezel.

I had only meant to gain a little space on the road when I slipped around the tandem, but the gap got big and kept growing and I felt really good riding at my pace on the climb. Leif B. from Montana passed me here, rolling along very strongly.  Before I knew it, the route made a right turn and the final leg of the 'major' climb began. It was here that our outbound route coincided again with the return route. For the longest time the stream of riders going down hill opposite me were riders I did not know. After quickly stopping at a discreet place to 'shift fluids' before the summit, and then regaining the road, I spot Irving across the road who has Ben and Dan with him now on their return. They look so happy that it is infectious. Around the huge traffic circle just below the summit I go and then I'm gaining speed downhill and yelling out to everyone I recognize on their way back. I puzzle only briefly at spotting Ian and then Carlin well back from the rest of the Boyz. They too look happy and call out in return.

At the bottom of the hill I'm surprised to catch up to Metin who was stopped at the edge of Sizun at an impromptu roadside stand. Metin is riding fixed and riding it strongly. He had found himself behind his 2015 pace to this point, but there is little surprise here given the headwinds we've all faced. A regroup in Sizun forms and as we work our way toward the left turn that will again split us off from the return route we get stuck behind a truck with a large, slow load. The left turn off this roadway is busy, but it brings immediate relief. We have more of the roadway to ourselves on this quieter road and that feels better.  Brest is by far the biggest city we enter on the entire route and there is a much, much longer segment of residential terrain we pass through on our way to the crossing of L'Elorn river on the Pont Albert Louppe. Reaching this point has brought me to the place I had been focusing on for much of the ride up to then. Among all the many items I had packed on the bike and carried with me was essentially a promise I had made.

RUSA #1349 is who got me into long distance riding, and who brought me on my first randonneuring event, and who supported me in many ways when I became RBA for the CA: San Francisco region of Randonneurs USA. Bruce Berg had passed the previous December, and on this ride I carried a small container of his ashes. The crossing of this river, with it's view of the Pont de l'Iroise is a milestone for PBP riders, most of whom stop to take photos here. The cable-stayed bridge here is iconic. Bruce was an architect and it seemed doubly so the right place to release his ashes. The wind was not my friend, blowing directly back at me where I had stopped so I leaned over the railing, held the container below the cement siding and then poured the ashes out of the wind. As they fell a gust from below caught them and formed a ghost of the finer particles which rose up as the heavier ash fell. No doubt I am projecting, but that struck me as a kind of freedom, for his soul and for mine.

Over the last two editions of PBP, 2011 and 2015, I had come to the conclusion that food and facility wise the Brest control was the low point, which stood in contrast to it's meaning as a turning point on the ride for the participants. My arrival there was toward the very end of my allotted time and as in 2011, the restaurant portion of the control had run out of food and was closed. What was left was the 'quick' option of baguette sandwiches, soup and drinks. No matter, I was with friends and I had a sense of accomplishment that 24 hours earlier I had worried I would not achieve.

As we left Brest and its busy streets, I made a traffic light while the rest of the group with the tandem had to stop. I chose to ride on knowing I would be gathered up by the group later, but not expecting that 'later' would not be until arrival at Carhaix many miles ahead. On the way there, I was catching and passing many riders. My legs felt good and it was pleasing to open up and roll hard for a while. I knew I'd back off before I dug a hole for myself. One rider I passed decided to hang with me. Eduardo had been riding solo, and as a 90 hour rider he was quite a bit behind schedule and no doubt looking to regain some of the time he had lost. Neither of us spoke much French, I knew zero Portuguese but Eduardo was able to use some English and led the conversation. It was clear he wanted some company and the barrier of language would not stop him. He was from Brazil and managed to convey not just the city where he was from but also the unique provenance of that town (settled by Germans). When he asked me my name he had trouble figuring it out and 'Rob' somehow became 'Rafe'. I tried to correct him and he tried to figure it out. Finally, he said "No. Not your name. New Name!"

We reached Carhaix before sunset which put me a tiny bit ahead of my 2011 pace, but well behind that of 2015. No matter. By now the certainty that I would complete the route had taken hold. Even what was to follow could not undermine that. Our group had reformed for the departure from Carhaix, with Eduardo there hoping to join us, and off we all went. On the approach to Carhaix there were still many riders heading out toward Brest. I could not figure out how any of them would ever finish within the time limits, and the riders already returning from Brest were quite spaced out.

Leaving Carhaix though it was much different and large groups were forming to ride into the darkness toward Loudeac. As mentioned earlier, most of these by far were 90 hour riders all needing some form of minor miracle to get back on schedule. The appearance of a tandem coming up from behind must have seemed an answer to silent prayers. To them maybe. For our group, it was the end of our riding partnership. Overly tired riders drifted laterally, with some staying to the far left directly in the path of any oncoming traffic. They were scaring the crap out of me. Ed and Mary called one time out under the pretext that they needed to stop to add a layer but it was solely to split us off from the crazy pack. That worked only briefly and one by one we all figured out we needed to jump way ahead or fall off to get away from the danger. The tension of riding in this pack just drained me, so I chose to fall off and ride solo. As expected, despite approaching Loudeac separately I did spot most of the others at the control and the hotel and we made plans for a morning regroup and departure. A 07:00 departure was the agreement, but Anson was quite happy with my request for a 07:15 time. More stuffing of the pie hole with food and then more blessed sleep to end part 2 of the ride.

Click here to go to part 3.



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