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The fourth time is a charm?, PBP 2019 part 3

Anson and I leave Loudeac on Day 3 behind the other riders in our group and a little later than the 07:15 projection of the night before. As we depart, the control would be officially closed (07:37 for the last 84 hour wave), but in fact remain open to handle the steady stream of all the late arriving riders. Though the others are ahead, Anson and I each felt no sense of urgency. The experience of the previous two days taught us we'd absolutely reconnect with the others, somewhere up ahead. As on the morning of Day 2, the large breakfast I ate at the hotel was only part one of a Hobbit's Breakfast and nutritional insurance was purchased later that morning in Quédillac for 'second breakfast'. Anson and I were clearing the food purchasing area just as the Tandem Team was departing. As in 2015, as I was leaving this food stop I encountered a videographer documenting Paris, Brest, Paris but this time it was the other half of the team (but not Damon Peacock himself) and we spent a bit of time chatting before Anson and I rejoined  the ride. Day 3 was becoming a really nice day and it might be the warmest of the three days so far. Ahead of us was a climb up to the church in Bécherel and a descent from there toward Tinténiac. The pattern of town and village names has changed since the night before, as well as how they appeared on the signs at the edge of town. No longer were the towns listed in two languages, such as at Carhaix, and now many of the towns ended with a 'iac' or 'ec' (Bécherel notwithstanding).

Tinténiac was the next stop where we would present our cards to receive a stamp and, unlike in previous editions but just like outbound on this edition, I skipped the cafeteria and got food from the tent adjacent to the bike parking areas. Post ride, participants will often tally up the wounds and injuries suffered along the way, but I think little attention may be paid to the food related injuries that might afflict riders. It was two full weeks after PBP 2019 concluded before the corners of my mouth healed after the damage caused by the large number of baguettes I ate. It is hard for me to argue that I'd have wanted it any other way however, and one of the hardest elements of reintroduction to civilian life after PBP is the scarcity of a good baguette. I am being too harsh of course, but while there are in fact good baguettes to be had here, they just are not the same. 

Anson and I left Tinténiac behind the others, having arrived as they departed. Despite the third meal of the day already (or perhaps because of it?), I was just a little sluggish at first on this segment but soon that cleared. We traded turns pulling the other rider along before settling in to a side by side cycling style to better allow for conversation. Along this stretch we decided to up our game with handing out the SFR pins. Nearing yet another small town there was a family sitting in their driveway with what must have been both their own children and several more from the neighboring houses. Anson took one half of the group to hand out pins to and I got the other, there were so many. As we hand out the pins a familiar pattern is followed. At first the recipients are unsure of what we are handing them, then they get a closer look and without fail there follows the moment of realization of where we are from, with an enthusiastic 'Ah, San Francisco!' spoken. The smallest in the group of kids gets a pin from me, checks it out and then slips into Anson's line unnoticed by him collects a second pin, grinning at pulling that trick off.

Fougères comes next and we finally link up with Ed, Mary, Roy, and Brian. A long lunch break, a quick nap under the trees and then we roll out. The landscape is more open here and the vistas just a tiny bit broader. Up ahead is the crepe stop, in the little town of La Tanniere, where Paul Rogue serves crepes to passing riders, asking for  only a postcard mailed to him in return. For those counting, this is the fifth food stop of the day, and there will be more. Our group meets Metin here who chooses not to linger but does stop to say hello. The pace of a fixed gear rider won't be matching that of a tandem-led group especially with the hills up ahead. I am happy to stop of course, but I forgo the food and just rest.

Having rejoined the tandem team, we've also rejoined the swarm of less skilled riders that forms in the tandem's wake. On day three I don't have the reservoir of strength to spend any of it on staying out of trouble with riders on both sides of me as well as in front and behind. I dropped back to the tail of the group and  still could not find any relief. Finally I accept that I have to give up the company of all my friends here and ride my own ride. First order of business however is to grab a cat nap after saying my goodbyes. In the little town of Ambrières-les-Vallées there is a small park on the banks of the river, near the eastern edge of town. A perfect place to rest. I was off the bike for about 20 minutes, asleep for maybe 15 of those and when I got back on the bike the difference was stark: I was less tense, more alert and found a well of energy to use to tackle the big rollers and hills before Villaines.

Just as I was falling into rhythm, I caught up to Brian F. I had heard he had a tough time around Tinteniac outbound and was happy to see he was back on the road and had made great progress.  As we chat he tells me about reuniting with a local who had offered him help when he had to DNF in 2015.  Brian is upbeat and looks to be riding well. My nap has done wonders and on the next hill I decide to let that boost take me toward my own pace. In both 2011 and 2015 I knew what was ahead on this section: some long climbs, all steeper than most of the rest of the route but also like in 2011 and 2015 I was feeling great on this section. 2015 was perhaps my best PBP ride. I felt strong nearly the entire ride then, and right now I have that same feeling and it feels like I am crushing the climbs. My guess at this point is that I will arrive at the next control in civil twilight so I made a quick stop to put on my reflective vest and turn on lights. While I'm doing that someone in an ultra-light plane flies above the PBP riders, occasionally dipping down to buzz them. 

The energized feeling I got after the nap helped me almost catch the tandem-led group at Villaines and I'm only slightly behind as I join them in the cafeteria to eat (yet again). At this control, a great many of the locals eat at the PBP restaurant, but riders not only get to jump the queue, we also get one of the school kids to carry our tray while they practice their English. My French is on par with my tray-carrying companion's English, which is to say neither of us are exactly good at the other's language, but nevertheless we have a conversation of sorts. Just that interaction gives me a boost though. Somehow, we lost Brian K. in the jumble of the bike parking area and Jerry and the tandem team leave as a group. I ride out with Anson and Roy and on the climb, there are riders climbing at all different paces. During the points where a group forms around Anson and  Roy, I drop to the back of that group to keep the stress low which works very well. Just like the time after sunset on Day 2, this stretch will end up being a very tough stretch for me, and I know I'm not alone in this assessment. Early on though I feel good. Certainly this is not the case, but it feels as if the entire leg from Villaines-la-Juhel to the next control at Mortagne-au-Perche is uphill and that is what will wear me down.

Twice I needed to stop to pull something from my handlebar bag. Both times I urge Anson and Roy to roll on, and the second time they listen to me. I'm still riding the boost I got from that earlier nap and the party atmosphere at the last control, and just like in 2015 I felt I could let riding companions roll ahead when I stopped and I could catch them. Ironically, though I do catch Anson and Roy no sooner does that happen then I have to stop to pee! This time, when I catch them again they had stopped to take some on some caffeine to help with alertness. A short time later, it was Roy's turn to need to stop when an issue arises with his gps device. I could tell Anson would do better if he kept moving, so I stopped with Roy and told Anson to keep going. Far from any other light sources, it becomes clear that a) Roy's equipment issues won't be solved quickly, and b) they really weren't show-stoppers in terms of riding progress, so Roy agrees to work on the problem when we next find adequate light. 

Bob Cauthorn had organized a group purchase of reflective vests from a vendor other than the one that supplied the ACP with vests given to all riders. A dividend of that different source was that the SFR vests used a different pattern for the reflective material, one that could easily be spotted from a long distance. Additionally, the SFR logo was on the back in a big white oval. I was scanning for this as Roy and I caught and passed riders once we were moving again. In short order we catch a rider with the SFR vest that I automatically assumed was Anson, and I begin explaining what Roy and I had worked out about his Garmin device. No response. Hmmm. I rolled up closer and then discover that it is not Anson at all, but Arnel D. It takes a bit to get a response from him. He is suffering mightily with alertness and I ask him when was the last time he had taken any caffeine. In his weary state it turns out he had forgotten he even had any with him. I guided him to an open spot on the side of the road out of the way of the riders going past and he sets about digging out his pills.

There are a few villages we pass through, most closed up for the night but we still hear locals cheering us on as we pass through town. For the first time I stopped at the tents set up in the center of Mamers and Ed, Mary and Jerry are already there. Inside, exhausted riders spill over from their chairs onto the tables in front of them, some trying to find ways to warm themselves up. Our break is short and after a few cookies and for some a hot beverage, we roll on. Mortagne-au-Perche never seems to arrive, and the climbing never seems to let up. This is the section that takes the most out of me. Conversation seems to have ceased and each of us has retreated to that space inside our heads for the duration of this leg. Anson has gone quiet, Roy remains quiet. At various points along the way I've wondered if Roy was enjoying his ride, glad he made the trip, whether he was cruising or struggling. In the dark or in daylight, Roy just kept riding along with the expression of the Sphinx. I guess I'll have to wait for his write up to know, as he wasn't sharing thoughts yet.

One thing I notice along here is the vast amount of newly paved roads, and the super smooth surface mitigates against the ongoing climbing we do. Finally, at long last we reach another town and while we don't see the city we want listed on the sign at the edge of town, it seems we all know we are very close. Upon arrival, the control is abuzz with activity, and a few riders are showing that hang-dog posture of the Shermer's Neck sufferer. Our group gathers at a table for yet another meal but this will be the last time the full group is together. Ed and Mary and I think Jerry all decide to sleep for multiple hours here. Knowing that there are no cots available I convince Anson and Roy to join the dozens of other riders here in just grabbing floor space in the cafeteria and napping here. It ain't pretty, but it works.

Click here to go to part 4.


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