Bill Arcieri made the most of his first PBP attempt, and while he had to get back to Paris by train, he covered a lot of miles and made some new friends.
Paris Brest Paris Post Mortem
Bill Arcieri, 8/26/07
Diane and I are back from France, arriving at home Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. Our return trip was uneventful.
Regarding Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), I started my PBP attempt at 11:10 p.m. Monday, August 20th. Groups of ~500 riders were sent out in about 15 minute intervals. As the weather was rainy and cold (temperatures in the mid-50’s), I decided (at the suggestion of other DC club riders) to start in the last group for safety reasons (there were rumors about accidents because of the wet conditions). The weather remained wet and cold throughout the ride.
The ride to the first control at Villaines-La-Juhel was long (137 miles) and I arrived in about 12 hours from the start. It was raining heavily and there were headwinds. I had good raingear and stayed relatively dry although, for some reason, my right foot got very wet and made me somewhat uncomfortable. I proceeded to Fougeres and Tinteniac in on and off rain conditions with relatively high headwinds (I’m guessing 20 to 30 mph, particularly at the top of hills). I had backed off on pace somewhat because I thought I missed the control time for Tinteniac. It turned out that I wasn’t for reasons that are still unclear to me. I arrived at Tinteniac at about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, took a brief nap (1 hr) and moved on to Loudeac where again I thought I missed the time window and didn’t. I then went on to Carhaix-Plougher and Brest, fighting headwinds and hills all the way. I made Brest within the time limit on Wednesday at about 8:30 p.m. (I was the last one before the control was closed).
I decided to have a hamburger and fries in Brest and contemplate my situation. At this point, I was starting my third sleepless night, except for a couple of 15 minute naps along the side of the road and the one hour snooze in Tinteniac. I wasn’t thinking of stopping – actually, I felt good. I was sitting in a bus stop when another rider by the name of Clyde from California came by and wanted to ride together through the night. So, we started together.
Along the way, Clyde and I stopped and chatted with a French family who were outside their home cheering the riders on. They invited us in for coffee and cookies which we decided to accept. We talked for about a half-hour (in broken French and English), took pictures and left with them wishing us “Bon Courage.”
Clyde and I rode on. After a while, a woman from Japan rode with us. In my opinion, she needed to stop for sleep because she was having difficulty keeping the bike up as she was falling asleep on the bike. Keep in mind that we were in rural France and there are
no lights and it is easy to fall asleep on a bike in these conditions. I was succumbing to the sleep monster myself and stopped twice (or maybe 3 times) for short naps on the side of the road. Clyde rode on while I was napping. After my last nap, I caught up with Clyde and we stopped in a patisserie (bakery) for croissants and coffee at about 7:30 on Thursday morning. We talked to a French rider for a while (broken French and English) and then pushed on to Carhaix-Plougher.
At this point, Clyde was having problems with severe chafing on his posterior. It was wet and once chafing starts under wet conditions, it is almost impossible to reverse. Clyde reminded himself that Lon Halderman, a well-known long-distance rider, said that you ride on even if you are in pain if the cause of the pain will heal in two weeks. We went on. Outside of Loudeac, PBP officials stopped us. We explained that Clyde was having problems (I was OK) and we went on for a while. Clyde then decided that he needed to slow down and sent me on.
As I approached Loudeac, I saw the officials again and they said that I should go to Tinteniac (the next control), which I did. I saw other riders who were saying that the control was closed, but went on anyway. I arrived in Tinteniac at about 6:00 p.m. on
Thursday (8/23) and couldn’t find the control (either I missed it or the signage identified the control location was removed – I suspect the latter because other people didn’t find it).
At this point, I felt that I had a decision to make. Do I go on to the end which is 225 miles from Tinteniac? It would have probably taken me another 24 hours to get there and I might be outside the 90 hour limit (through a 4th sleepless night under wet conditions). Do I ride to Rennes and get the train back to Paris? If I rode back, I would have arrived at about 7:00 p.m. on Friday and would have had to get ready for departure by early the next morning (Saturday). I decided that Rennes was the way to go, although I might have gone for it if we were leaving on Sunday just to say I did it. So, I went on to Rennes. I called my wife to say that I was going to Rennes and would call her when I got there. In retrospect, this decision was a mistake – I should have gone on to the end – there was really no reason not to.
At this point, I had ridden 525 miles basically straight through in wet and windy conditions through three days and nights. My total riding time with stops was about 67 hours. Interesting, I felt pretty good. I wasn’t particularly sore anywhere on my body
and I felt alert. However, as I rode towards Rennes (another 25 miles), the events of the last 67 hours started to catch up to me and I started to droop somewhat. I got lost, asked for directions at a house in Brittany (they drew me a map) and I was walking up a relatively steep hill (the first time I walked up anything at PBP) when a young couple in a car stopped me and asked where I was going. I told them that I was going to Rennes and they reiterated how to get there. I got back on the bike and was riding down the hill when the same couple stopped me and insisted that I get in the car and drove me and my bike to a hotel in Rennes.
In the hotel, I got a room (they gave me a 10 euro discount for being in PBP), took a shower and cleaned up and then went to the hotel restaurant to get something to eat. The hotel desk clerk who was also the bartender told a young man at the bar that I was a PBP refugee and he came up to me, told me what a great event PBP is and bought me a beer. We talked for a while (again the French-English mix). I gave him and the bartender some Randonneur-USA pins that I had brought for occasions such as this and went back to my room to sleep.
The next day, I bought train tickets to Paris and then called my wife who I had forgotten to call the night before. She and the friends we were visiting were worried that something had happened to me, sufficiently worried that they called the police in three
French jurisdictions to see if there were any reports of a deranged red-headed PBP rider with a frame plate number of 3372 wandering around France. I assured her that I was fine. I then took the train back to Paris where I was met by my wife and friends.
What do I think of PBP? On the surface, it is a long and hilly bike ride. However, the interest of the French people who stand along the side of the road to cheer on the riders despite the weather is there. I rode through a hundred small towns along the way where they always locate the town cathedral at the top of the hill. The respect of the French to anyone who does PBP (even unsuccessfully) is there judging from the young couple who gave me a ride, the young man at the bar, the family who gave Clyde and me coffee and cookies, and the score of people who stopped me to talk about it.
In retrospect, I feel that I made a good attempt. However, I also feel that I made a number of “rookie” errors that cost me the “game.” The decision to not go on from Tinteniac was a big mistake – I feel that I should have gone on even if I was outside of
the time controls. I felt good and there was no need to stop. I also need to keep track of time better during rides like this. Another error is that I took too much stuff both on the bike and in a drop bag which, in retrospect, was unnecessary. I did not use most of this stuff and dealing with all of that stuff slowed me down. I also need to learn how to handle head winds better — I hate riding into the wind and need to overcome that. I also should have started in an early group because I tend to pace myself on other people who are in the distance (maybe I need a cycling metronome).
Also, I would have been better off starting earlier rather than standing around waiting in the rain for the last group to go. Will I do it again? Ask me in four years, but there is a good chance that I’ll go for a rematch.
As some of you may know, I get very hungry after a long bike ride so I think I’ll go get something to eat.