Bikeless at Paris-Brest-Paris


 

          Our European trip of a lifetime was coming together nicely.  Four days in London with my wife Sherri and our two teenage daughters.  Then a 10-day Disney cruise from Barcelona to ports in Italy and France.  Fly to Paris on Saturday, August 18 and ride PBP Tuesday morning.  That was the plan.

 

“Wheeling” the bike in London, on the tube to Heathrow

 We arrived in London on British Airways (BA) August 4th to see beautiful, clear skies, great for sightseeing.  Our 8 checked bags and 6 carry-ons made it.

Sign in the London Underground for upcoming city ride

 Then on to Barcelona where I assembled my Trek to ride a few miles in Spain before the ship departed for Palermo, Sicily.  My new Navigon GPS weighs only 110g and is loaded with the European mapset and all 15 PBP controls in case I get lost.  I rolled the Trek off the boat to find some mountains to climb, marking my position on the dock to return later.  I met an Italian rider who spoke no English and we climbed a 1500’ hill together.  Using the GPS, I got back to the ship at 5:10pm, we’ll ahead of the ship’s 5:30 departure.

Palermo, Sicily

 In Sardinia, I rode 50 miles with a couple from Minnesota who rented bikes in Olbia.  I met them in the spin class at sea; we had lunch together overlooking a marina. 

Olbia, Sardinia

My third ride was in Marseilles where I met two French riders.  We climbed Magic Mountain and they took me on some hilly roads to Cassis, a town further away, returning via a different route. 

 near Cassis, France

 I was comfortable with the GPS, confident I could get back to the ship in time.  Back in town, they wanted to drop me at my hotel, but I had trouble telling them I was on a boat (bateaux). 

 Old Port of Marseilles, France

 So they dropped me off at a marina downtown.  GPS to the rescue: 6 miles through Marseilles traffic to terminal 4 and the Disney Magic.  Back with time to spare!

 When I wasn’t riding (tapering is more accurate), we were sightseeing in Rome, Florence, Pisa, Pompeii, Sorrento, and Capri.  The Mediterranean is beautiful.  I’m thinking: why not retire someday on a sailboat, with a bike rack?  Sail to all those great ports, then ride all over the place and see it all!  Ride to eat, eat to ride, all over Europe.

 Sherri and Clint in Capri

Okay, back to reality.  We arrive in Barcelona Saturday, relaxed and ready for Paris.  It’s a long day.  We take a bus from the ship to the airport, a flight to London, the tram, another flight to Paris, a train, then a taxi to the Novotel.  One problem, all 8 of our checked bags didn’t make the flight, including the bike and all my PBP gear.  No problem, less to lug to the hotel.  Surely they’ll arrive Sunday.  But they don’t.  BA tells us three bags will arrive Monday about noon.  Which three I ask?  Since I don’t know what tag number went on which bag, they don’t know either.  Do any of the bags coming LOOK like a black bike box?  That precious bit of data is not in the computer.

Luckily, they are letting us register for PBP on Sunday without a bike or an inspection due to the rain.  So I hitch a ride with Frank and Shelley to the gym to get my packet and a PBP jersey.  These kind folks have a minivan to provide support to three guys from Boston, who I would see later.  Little did I know that this one French PBP jersey would be the only item of mine I would have for the ride.

 Sunday afternoon while on a guided tour of Versailles, I called several friends back in the US to call BA (speaking in English) for help.  They are ALL on a bike ride in Lancaster, PA!  They suggest shipping my other bike from home to Paris overnight.  [I called FedEx and there is no next day delivery to Paris; 2nd day is $1,548.00 plus customs and that would be Tuesday after the 84-hour people have left.  My Trek actually arrived at the Novotel about 9:30pm Tuesday.   My gear bag arrived at BWI the following Tuesday.  Among other things, it contained the “extra” jerseys I bought to trade at the end of PBP.]

 On Monday, we decide to rent a car and get the 3 bags ourselves (which could be the bike and all my gear).  About 2pm we retrieve the kids’ 3 suitcases at the airport on the other side of Paris.  No bike, no clothes, helmet, shoes, raingear, lights, nothing.  Now I’m getting nervous.  The 90-hour people are suiting up and I don’t even have a bike yet. 

Unfortunately, Bob Sheldon crashed on a warm-up ride Saturday and broke his arm.  His bike now needs a rider, and I need a machine. 

Off we go to the Campanile to see what he has.  Meantime, Sherri and Chip make a list of what I might need and begin accepting donations of necessities at the Novotel.  Bob’s front wheel needs truing, Jane gets it done.  I run to Go Sport to buy size 10 shoes and a helmet.  Jim transfers Bob’s Shimano cleats to the new shoes.  It’s nearly 4pm and I have the Claus tags but no drop bags to put them on.  Chip is counting down the minutes until the last pickup at Campanile.  I’m stuffing dry socks, bib shorts, jerseys, toothbrush, Perpetuem, Hammer Gel, and inner tubes in the two drop bags, trying to remember all the stuff I put in my drop bags which are in the lost luggage.  Where are my E-caps, stomach medicine, daily aspirin, Motrin, Ambien, Lantiseptic, and Optygen?  I should be napping before going to dinner with my family before the ride starts.

            Things are coming together, but not before 10:30pm when my head hits the pillow, alarm set for 3am.  I bought bananas, milk, cereal, and juice for Chip, Jim and me for breakfast.  I’m exhausted as I wish my 13/14-year-old daughter, Nicole, happy birthday Tuesday morning at 4am.  Off we go on our bikes to the gym.  We check in and roll at 5am for Loudeac.  Sherri and the girls spend one day in Paris before flying home on Wednesday.

 Jim, Chip, Clint at the 5am, 84-hour start Tuesday

Once on the road, things settle down.  All I have is what there is, if only I knew where I put it!  A partial list of what I don’t have includes the charger for my cell phone, which is now dead; the charger for my GPS, which is also dead; the charger for my headlights which I don’t have anyway; the charger for my razor which is dead; the charger for my camera, which is dead (so no pictures of PBP); and the voltage converter we use for most everything that’s in the lost baggage!  Oh well, less to carry - I must be an optimist.  It’s amazing how much you don’t really need.

             Soon the sun rises and there are many happy riders all around us and they are awake, speaking in various languages.  Everything I have is borrowed, one thing new.  I know that’s not exactly what the brides chant, but it’s close. 

150 miles done, only 600 to go!

How far is 750 miles? 

About the same distance as riding from Severna Park, MD to Jacksonville, FL.

             Our plan was to ride 282 miles to Loudeac by midnight and be on the road to Brest at 5am Wed (100 mi).  An easy double (200mi) on day 2 will get us back to Loudeac for dinner.  By early afternoon, we began catching the 90-hour riders, wondering how they will get to their controls in time.  Some are sleeping on benches!

 Chip, Jim, and I stop at a restaurant to ponder this and take some pictures:

 This is it guys, we are living the dream.  All the brevets and training rides, over 10,000 miles on the bike in all kinds of weather this past year to get here for this event, the oldest ride in the history of cycling.

 

             Everyone on the ride knows the French love cycling and PBP.  They line the roads to wish us well, give us coffee and water, and want to shake our hand.  This is the best part of PBP, the people: those riding from 31 countries and those watching us ride.

             We clear the controls and arrive at Loudeac at 1am.  Around midnight Tuesday we see the lead group already returning from Brest on their way back to Paris.  What an impressive sight.  We find our drop bags, eat in the cafeteria full of sleeping riders, lube our chains, and hit the bed after 2am.  Jim is on the floor.  Getting up at 4am to leave at 5am doesn’t seem possible so we “sleep in” until 6:30 to get 4 hours of sleep.

             Wednesday we meet other riders at breakfast and head to Brest.  At some point, I suggest we jump on the wheel of a tandem but Chip declines.  I agree to stop at a Pharmacia to get us Neosporin and more Motrin.  The skies were clear at the bridge to Brest. 


I arrived at the control (20 miles further) about 4pm.  Since the mechanical support queue was short, I got in line instead of swiping in first.  A mechanic adjusted the shifting after replacing the first spacer of the cassette.  Got stamped in about 4:40pm and saw Jim arriving.  I was heading out, not knowing Chip had arrived at the Brest control about the same time as me.   

Later, I found a Pharmacia that was open and purchased the French version of Neosporin and more Ibuprofin.  It must have been amusing to see me explaining why I needed the ointment.  “Rouge derrière” was all the French I could muster.  Saw the Boston trio and rode with them to the next control.  They feed me pasta and we are off into the night.  As we head to Loudeac, it’s getting dark and rainy.  Halka got a flat just after the coffee stop around midnight and he noticed his rear brake pads were completely worn.  We all stopped to assist and then keep each other awake to Loudeac.  They took showers in our room since there were none available in their minivan.  I found some newspaper for the wet bike shoes and left some Motrin and Neosporin on the bed.  Chip arrives later, but no sign of Jim. 

Jim’s picture of the Brest bridge

 

 About 6:25am Thursday there’s a knock on our door.  The Boston boys are ready to roll, but we aren’t.  It think we got up a little later with 3 hrs sleep. and we were rolling by 8.  Jim must have pressed on into the night. Thursday’s weather was better, so Chip and I are having some great runs catching lots of pacelines.  He wonders out loud, “do all those people ride so slow?”  We stop to get out the rain gear, leaning the bike against a(n electric) fence.  What a shocker: I yell when zapped. 

A cow comes over to see what the fuss is about.  From then on I get my barn yard animals confused.  Must have been the electro-shock therapy.  The pig in the yard, Chip tells me is a sheep.  Wish I had my glasses, which are in the lost baggage. 

 Then this cute little cow is actually a goat, according to Chip.  He suggests a remedial animal recognition class from … Rosetta Stone.

 

  

“Hey guys, I tried to warn you about leaning your

metal bike against my electric fence.”

 

 For lunch we have pizza at a sidewalk café.  I tripped on the table leg (left picture) looking for more food and spill a few sodas.  We watch many riders zipping by as we dine (right). 

 Later, we hunt for a crepe shop in several towns, to no avail.  We settle for baked goods and coffee down the street.  We are dripping wet, but it’s dry inside.  We arrive in Villaines after dark, get our drop bags and head to the hotel.  They tell us we MUST leave the bikes outside under an umbrella.  I get us two glasses of wine after a filling dinner at the control.  We hit the beds at 10:30 with the alarm set for 1am.  We want to be rolling at 2am to arrive in Paris between 12 and 1pm (143 miles remain).  We want a sub-80 hour finish.

  By 2:20am Friday, we are done breakfast, drop bags on the truck, heading toward Paris.  It’s still dark.  We have an “oh my gosh” moment when there are no more arrows or tail lights in view.  Are we lost?  Does anyone have a dry cue sheet handy?  Eventually we decide to press on.  We see tail lights ahead.  We can’t all be off course, can we?  We’re good.  I settle into a conversation with a woman riding alone from Minnesota who sells mukluks online.  We talk for 10 miles as Chip rolls off into the night.  She thanks me for keeping her awake.  I hope she made it.

 At one of the last controls we realize what those yellow post boxes are for.  You can mail a commemorative, stamped envelope home with a PBP post card.  So we do.  I grab a local French newspaper with a big spread about PBP.  The worst weather in many years, many abandons (nearly 1500).  People are weaving, walking, and sleeping anywhere as the sun rises on the last day.  Later on a narrow bike trail, I get my only flat and must abandon another great pace line to fix it.

 On the outskirts of Paris just a few miles from the finish, Chip rolls up behind me at a stop light.  What a joy to finish with Chip.  Wish Jim was here, too.  We swipe in just minutes before 1pm, just under 80 hours.  Mission accomplished.

 What’s so great about PBP?  You might have to ride it to understand. 

·        The French fans, countryside, and volunteers

·        The challenge

·        The chance to test and discover your strengths (and weaknesses)

·        The opportunity to meet and get to know others

·        The good feeling you get helping others achieve a common goal

·        The exhilaration from achieving something really BIG 

Acknowledgments

 Significant achievements are rarely accomplished by yourself.  Therefore, I wish to thank: 

·        DC Randonneurs – for organizing all the qualifying brevets and training rides and providing invaluable information from past PBPs

·        Bob Sheldon – who graciously loaned me his bike and lots of equipment the day before the ride

·        Several Novotel-based randonneurs – for last minute equipment donations

·        Chip Adams, Jim and Jane Levitt of SPP – who helped me get it all together the afternoon before the ride

·        My family – for their encouragement and patience when I ride. 

Without their combined support, PBP would have remained an unfulfilled dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

              The Severna Park Peloton Trio at the finish