I’ve posted my PBP story. It’s long and includes many of you, my fellow randonneurs. You all helped me get through a soggy four days in good spirits despite the absence of my beloved MG. Comments welcome, and let me know if I made any goofs in remembering where I saw you along the way.
My PBP 2007
by Ed Felker
In the days leading up to PBP 2007, the question arose again and again: what’s your plan? When will you try to finish?
I said I’d like to come in somewhere in the 70-to-80 hour range, though the reality was that I was likely to finish somewhere in the low 80s, and that I would ride to get as much sleep as possible with the 84-hour limit I had chosen. I rode with the 84-hour group in 1999 and 2003 and it worked for me both times.
As we hung around St. Quentin en Yvelines before the start we all became convinced it would rain during PBP. The forecasts called for periods of rain throughout. I merrily walked around telling worried American friends, “it’s going to be fine! Maybe a little drizzle!” But we knew that for the first time since PBP 1987, we were looking at a full-on rainy PBP.
A group of us from the Auberge du Manet hotel strolled out to the course on Monday evening to see the 80-hour riders and then the first 90-hour riders. We called out to Randy Mouri and Steve Ashurst and Lynn Ho on tandem as they rolled past in light rain. Then it was back to bed to get a little nap before our own start. Tuesday morning Roger Hillas, me, Greg Conderacci and Bob Casciato rolled over to the start to get in line with Bill Beck, Max Prola and brothers Art and John Fuoco, also among us in
the 84-hour group.
The anticipation to get started was palpable, but with heavy clouds overhead, it was not a perfectly joyous moment. Finally the gun went off and the pack surged. We covered the initial kilometers as a group but gradually stretched out as bottlenecks let the fast starters scoot away.
Greg, Roger, Bob and Bill were gone and I sat up at a more leisurely pace, muttering to myself, “save it for tomorrow, save it for tomorrow,” in respect to the 280 miles ahead to Loudeac and then the hills that bite hard on the way to Brest and back on Day 2.
Big groups formed and I rolled with some and rolled through others, depending on their pace. I gradually fell in with Nancy and John Guth, who were keeping a steady pace despite all the bikes on the road. We missed a turn but an elderly Frenchman immediately pointed in the opposite direction, and we only went a kilometer or so before turning back. A massive group we had just passed was now ahead of us again, going slowly up a steep incline, and we had to negotiate them all over again.
Halfway to Mortagne au Perche, a steady drizzle was driven by stiff northwest winds into a piercing rain. Many of us stopped to don rain jackets. I was clad in leg warmers over knee warmers, light neoprene booties, wool undershirt, wool jersey, and wool arm warmers. I quickly warmed up a bit too much and constantly worked the zippers to get some ventilation.
The groups on the road plodded along in absolute silence, cowering under the rain. I reached Mortagne around 10:30 a.m. I contemplated riding past but realized I had not had much to eat.
I ran inside for a quick plate of pasta and a glass bowl of coffee — my favorite food group at PBP. The sun came out as I sat and I felt better about the day ahead! The first day is always daunting to me. I wondered, “Will my legs hold up?” It had been five weeks since my last really long ride of 200K or more, and I feared knee pain, Achilles pain, seat pain, and stomach troubles. I also feared the rain and wind would wipe out any sleep I hoped to get in Loudeac that night.
From Mortagne to Villaines La Juhel I generally felt pretty good, and slowed to visit with the Americans, including Lisa Butkus and Art Fuoco, I encountered along the way. I arrived at Villaines in mid-afternoon and downed a small meal and some more coffee. It helped to have ridden PBP before, so I knew where to get my control book stamped before dashing across the street to get fed.
Leaving Villaines, my memory told me the segment to Fougeres was not terribly hilly and that I should get there around dinnertime, and it worked out that way perfectly. I had the chance to catch up to Lew Meyer, a D.C. Randonnuer from New Jersey in his third PBP, this time in his 70s. He looked better than me, I thought; I want to ride that strongly in my 70s.
On the way into the control, I ran up to Bill Arcieri, who had started with the 90-hour group and was worried about making the coming controls. I encouraged him to keep going. He looked fit and alert, and I took those as good signs!
At Fougeres I found Bill Alcorn and the State College group gathering to leave and I remarked that someday I’d get there with them rather than when they were leaving. Bill and I rode a whole day together at PBP ’99 and he got a good laugh out of my comment. I also greeted Jeff Bauer and Mary Crawley, which was great news to me as they are two of my favorite randonneurs, and they were on tandem so I could bug them simultaneously as we rode on into the evening.
I thought I might be overdoing it on the food and decided I better not have another big meal at Tinteniac, fearing I might never get to Loudeac. At each stop I had only used about 35 minutes and had not stopped in between controls, so overall I was making decent time.
The road to Tinteniac was also relatively flat and we made good time. I also found Roger Hillas along this stretch and spent some time with a group of French riders who were interviewed, while they rode, by a passing television crew who shot video out of the sunroof.
Mary, Jeff and I also had a weird encounter with a couple on tandem and tried to make conversation with them, but they appeared to be having a rolling “tandem team meeting” over their pace. He looked peeved, she looked drawn, and they were in no mood to talk.
They kept passing us before fading back again, for no apparent reason. Jeff, Mary and I decided finally to turn on the jets and get away from them. This was no time to hang around grumpy riders!
We rolled into to Tinteniac around 10 p.m. with streamers of lingering daylight highlighting the night sky. I stocked up at the outdoor cafe tent where the staff scrounged up some orange juice for my bottle, which I diluted to make a sports drink. I also had a jambon sandwich as a little calorie insurance before we lit out for Loudeac.
The ride to Loudeac seemed to take forever, because it is gradually ascending and the speed drops in the dark. The fact that we had already done nearly 400K and still had another 40 miles to go had nothing to do with it!
The towns were sparkling, however, especially St. Meen, where the town square was fully lit up. Here we rode with Jack Holmgren of Oakland, Calif., in high spirits as usual. He asked about Mary and me and wondered why she was not here, and generally kept us entertained with that Jack brand of loopy enthusiasm.
We made it to Loudeac around 2 a.m. and found a bustling control; riders were scurrying about getting showers, checking into the dorm, controlling and crowding the cafeteria. Claus Claussen appeared and he accompanied me on his mountain bike to the nearby Voyageurs Hotel. Inside I found Steve Ashurst and Lynn Ho, just up from their sleep and eating breakfast. They looked great. I said to myself, “a little sleep and a shower, and you, too, will hit the road, fresh and ready!”
DAY 2 LOUDEAC-BREST-LOUDEAC
At 5:30 the wake-up call came. I jumped up (ha, ha!) and looked outside from my little matchbox room to see clouds but no rain. Hooray! At breakfast I talked with Steve and Peggy Rex and we ultimately left town more or less together. I stopped briefly to slap a big second skin pad on my upper thigh where my shorts were chafing and rode on to catch them in time to rocket down a few big rollers in their draft. I burned a lot of calories hanging on with them, and I let go just before we headed into the woods.
I truly enjoyed this segment through St. Martin des Pres and the other towns to Carhaix, despite the increasing hills. I was finally out of the farm lands and on the way to Brest! I spied Clint Provenza, Jim Levitt and Chip Adams just before we were pulled off the road for the first secret control at the FFCT offices at Corlay. It was purely a swipe and run stop, and when I came out they were nowhere to be found. I spotted their bikes at a pharmacy on the way out of town and surmised someone had a medical issue on their hands.
This segment was harder than expected. We had sunny skies but a steady north breeze cut across our wheels. It was not a pure headwind but it was hindering nonetheless, and it took some Zen patience. I spoke with Allison Bailey of the Oregon Randonneurs, who was making good time on her Rivendell Romulus and was in good cheer.
At Carhaix I had a nice talk with a French gentleman in street clothes who wanted to know more about my Rivendell Bleriot 650B-wheeled bike. He was a member of the Confrerie des 650 (see: http://www.confreriedes650.org/eng-index.php ), which is a group of enthusiasts in France who have sought to preserve this traditional wheel size. I failed to get his name, but I think he found me on the web because my inbox included a copy of the group’s newsletter when I got to a computer after the ride! (Guy Chartier, if that
was you, send me an email care of his site.)
Of all the bikes I encountered, I didn’t see any 650B bikes at PBP this time other than another Bleriot, though there might have been a tandem or two with them. The overwhelming majority of bikes around me were racing bikes with strap-on half-fenders or rear spray guards. If 650b is coming back, it’s not at PBP, yet.
The cafeteria line was short enough to justify another quick meal. I saw Chip, Clint and Jim come through as I sat with Mark from Colorado, who was having a miserable day after getting less sleep than he expected and falling behind schedule. He and I rode together for awhile to the control and I gave him the advice I needed myself — keep moving, sleep when you have to, stay focused on the next control.
Outside in the sun, I peeled off layers and applied sunscreen, and I (vainly) hoped we had left the brunt of the rain and clouds behind us. I talked with a group of Philadelphia riders that included Joel Flood and Patrick Gaffney, who rode our DCR 300K in April. One of them gave me a bottle of unneeded Hammer Gel, which would come in quite handy later when calories became critical.
Another hour, another long control stop, and I was back on the road to Brest.
This segment includes the gradual ascent to the Roc Travezel, the high point of the ride topped by a tall communications tower. I found lots of DCR riders in this segment. Bernd Kral appeared, and I stopped to exchange hugs (!) with Nick Bull and Tom Reeder, whom was I was tickled to see that after two days on the road and the turnaround in relative sight.
Nick was sick and sounded hoarse, but he and Tom looked sprightly. Goon Koch and I exchanged greetings and we compared his lovely red custom Rivendell road bike to my Bleriot. I envied his bike, it was among the prettiest on the road.
I summited RT and pointed my wheel toward Brest. The wind was howling but gravity made all well. I caught up to Matt Settle and we had a nice chat, and later I ran up to Clare Zecher, who was looking and sounding fresh and chipper as she exited the brush. Clare gets a gold star for riding solo without worrying, at least outwardly. Unlike many other PBP riders, she seemed content to stay focused on the next control whether she had a draft or not.
We turned on a highway side road and there stood our prize — the pedestrian bridge overlooking the harbor at Brest, cool winds and blue skies whipping off the fatigue and soreness. Picture time!
In a near replay of four years ago, I arrived at the hilltop control around 4 p.m. at Brest just ahead of Roger Hillas amidst a swirling mass of hot riders in bright sun. Bill Glass from Tennessee emerged from the humid, smelly control building looking a little down, and I gathered he was not having a fun time. “Hey Bill, how’s it going?” I gushed, to which Bill replied with something along the lines of, “could be better.” I felt the same but figured I better keep an outward image of contentment. At least the ride was halfway done.
A group of us DCR’s formed for the run out of town: Matt, Clare, Ron Tosh, and me. I moved up and joined a tall British couple who were motoring along, though I slowed along the way to chat with Thai Nguyen of Seattle, George Winkert, Max Prola and Justin Castillo. Further up the ascent of the Roc Travezel I found Maile Neel and Michael Murray of Michigan. A little nature break was turned into an embarrassing adventure by the gusty winds — I’ve just got to remember to stop before reaching the Roc next time.
We topped the summit at 8 p.m. and began the big, fun downhill stairstep return to Carhaix. (The summit area was teeming with illegal support, with at least one marked support car brazenly parked by the side of the road. I took a photo for evidence — Support Car 0945, you cheated!)
Tandems and fast pacelines shot past on the left as we hunkered down for the fast dips. By the time I arrived at Carhaix a big support crowd had gathered on the street near the control and I called out to Ruth Reeder before whooping it up as I entered the control. I was feeling good at this point: back in Carhaix with good legs and my bed in Loudeac within my sights.
The day’s sunlight was just about gone and a big line formed in the cafeteria. The cafe was much quieter and I bought some soup, a jambon sandwich, and had a minute to greet Carol Bell. She was prepping for a nap in some clean space behind the dinner tables. Chris Mento was nearby but I did not see him. The area there was quiet, clean and cool.
In the parking lot I found Jeff and Mary, and Lisa Butkus, and I joined them for the initial blast to Loudeac. We were chugging along in the darkness when I felt my rear tire starting to go squishy. Jeff gave me his CO2 inflator and I pulled over in a driveway to change the tube. (The culprit? A leaky valve. Grrrr.)
Flat fixed, I lit out solo, right into the next rainfall. Oh well. It started out lightly enough and with the slight tailwind I ignored it. But it turned into a steady fall just as I was flying through the woods with a group of Americans, including Dale Brigham of Columbia, Mo. who I had ridden with four years ago.
We all pulled over to put on our rain jackets and I rode hard to catch back on, but didn’t find them until I stopped at the roadside cafe at St. Martin des Pres around 12:30 a.m. Here I sat with Peter Beeson of Seattle and Cascade 1200 fame, and his tandem partner Max Maxson, and Lisa B., trying to dry out, warm up, or both. Art Fuoco showed up for a spell, no worse the wear for riding with his right wrist in a cast.
I rationalized this stop on the grounds that I would not have to eat before going to bed when I got to the hotel. Really, I wanted a break before another hour’s ride to Loudeac, and hoped the rain would stop. Around 1:20 the rain was still coming down and realized I better leave if I was to get any sleep, and so I got on the bike and left.
Riders were dragging themselves in ones and twos through the little roads up to Loudeac but I found one rider with strong legs, Theresa Lynch of the San Francisco Randonneurs, who traded turns with me punching up and down the hills. The rain subsided within a few miles and we rode hard, using all the lighting we had at our disposal and the taillights of the riders ahead for guides.
We lost each other on the run into Loudeac, where I again arrived around 2:15 a.m. After a dash through the control, I pedaled to the hotel on quiet, wet streets. There I found Steve and Lynn up and dressed for the ride ahead, again in their usual good spirits. Well, Steve was not thrilled about the rain, but they were in great shape with three more hours sleep and a positive attitude.
DAY 3 LOUDEAC TO MORTAGNE
Back at Breakfast, I sat again with Steve and Peggy Rex and some other Americans at our hotel. While the majority of the kilometers were behind us, the hardest part of the ride lay ahead. Sleep deprivation and sore muscles and bottoms were starting to take their toll. I pondered riding into Paris with naps rather than stop for a sleep break at Villaines or Mortagne. I wouldn’t know until that evening how I would feel, though I had the feeling the weather would not help.
Back at the control, I dropped off my bag in steady rain around 7 a.m. with the skies nearly nighttime dark, despite dawn due in less than 30 minutes. With a big exhale, I mounted up and pedaled off toward Paris.
Today would mark my worst start. I felt toxic inside and pedaled without much enthusiasm. The kilometers dragged.
In Meneac I pulled over to get a coffee and pastry and just didn’t have the energy to go into a cafe. I contented myself with a few Clif Shot blocks, those gummy sucrose squares, and looked around for something to do. For fun I cut down an outbound route sign for a souvenir, and lashed it to the top of my Carradice bag. I recalled they are tough to find near the finish, if at all!
The rain subsided and I felt better at the secret control, where I had a snack and coffee. The control was full of riders sleeping on the floor. I took a photo of Clare Zecher, (still smiling!), a couple of the riders sacked out at the control, and started out again with renewed interest.
Just as I was toodling along, a British fellow pulled alongside and said, in a grave tone, “You better get rid of that sign. Local charity groups sell them and you can get disqualified for removing it.” But, I protested, it’s an outbound sign! Those are alright, yes? “No, it’s in the rules,” he replied.
“Well, maybe you’re right. I better think about this,” I said.
“Better give it to me,” he said, and then he burst out laughing! I knew I’d been fooled with aplomb. “Actually, I wish I had thought of it myself,” he added, with a broad grin.
Tinteniac magically appeared and I didn’t do much there other than get another jambon sandwich and my new favorite drink, a half-coffee-half-hot chocolate. It took a minute to explain but the helpful lady at the cafe table seemed impressed with this little culinary invention — or abomination. Whatever. I got tremendous boosts from these drinks.
I’m a little foggy about the ride to Fougeres. It was damp and cool and I started feeling soreness creep into my legs.
I controlled through at Fougeres and got in the cafeteria line. I had a nice talk with Greg from Australia about his marathon flight itinerary to France, and met a couple enthusiastic fellows from Germany. They read Lothar Hennighausen’s story of his 1000K and made the connection that I was also from Lothar’s home club here in Washington.
Around the corner I found Chris and Carol. She was taking another power nap in a nearby chair with a mask over her eyes. Chris looked as fresh as ever. Leaving town I had the chance to see Branson Kimball and Bob Olsen, two more riders who rode with the DCRs this spring.
Back on the road to Villaines, I started planning for a nighttime sleep stop of some kind. It wasn’t worth it to me to crash in the ditch overnight just to finish three hours earlier, if I was not in trouble with the control closings.
The road was clogged with riders and I made the acquaintance of Bill Roberts from London, who rode similarly to me. We chatted about AUK brevets and our PBP experiences and had a nice talk. I also rode up to Thai Nguyen and discovered he had torn off his derailleur when he dropped his chain and tried to pedal it back onto the big ring.
With the help of another rider, they shortened it and found a suitable cog to turn the bike into a single speed bike. Thai was witness to a bad hit-and-run accident during the Cascade 1200 last summer. Here he was again, pushing through more bad luck with a smile and calm attitude. Thai, you are my hero!
Chip and Clint appeared again on this segment, but without Jim Levitt. They were unsure of his whereabouts, not knowing he had stopped at Tinteniac with an inflamed Achilles tendon.
I arrived at Villaines around 8 p.m. and ate a jambon sandwich and drank more choco-coffee. I spoke with Peggy and Steve Rex and they looked a little down so I left them and remounted. Just as I clicked in to leave town I noticed the Des Peres Travel bag drop and I stopped to ask if Steve and Lynn had taken their bag — they had, but they had not returned it. I thought it might be nice to ride with them to Mortagne, but after 30 minutes of hanging around the bag drop, I realized they were taking more time to sleep and I had to face the rain alone.
A big group of Danes rolled up behind me and I sensed good things to come. Little did I know it would be like Halloween on the road — scary! The Danes rolled fast and a relatively large group convened quickly. My eyes were glued to the riders ahead and my hands were locked on the brake levers as we corkscrewed downward out of town. I heard someone speak in English next to me, and struck up a nervous conversation with my fellow rider. I dared not look sideways for fear of plowing into the group. He was British, and said he lived in London, and I said, stupidly, “Do you know Bill Roberts?”
Of course, it was Bill himself, who dryly replied, “Hi Ed,” and, again, I had to laugh at myself. I saw Theresa Lynch ahead and called to her to come into our little follow group, and we did what we could to hold back the horde behind us from integrating the Danes, who were riding perfectly spaced apart in the steady rain and road spray.
Our plan didn’t last long. We swept past a couple of guys who jumped on their pedals and shoved their way into the gap between us and the Danes. A Danish female momentarily slowed to avoid an overlap and one of these rabbits swerved right across her front wheel to move up. She then veered hard left, directly into Theresa’s right side side.
Miraculously, they balanced each other for a few hair-raising moments, shoulder to shoulder, and managed to stay upright! My danger alarm went off at the sight of this spectacle and I bid Bill farewell. I pulled over to take off my jacket and take a nature break. The rain stopped and a few stars twinkled in a patch of clear sky. This was the first time other than in Brest I stopped to just look around and take stock of the adventure underway.
I stopped in the next town at midnight and took a half-hour coffee and sandwich break at a cafe. I watched again for Steve and Lynn but they would not come by for another couple of hours, I learned later. I was wide awake but still hoping for a sleep break and when I couldn’t put it off any longer, rode on to Mortagne. I enjoyed this segment. For once the road was not badly clogged and I could carry some speed.
I made it into the Mortagne control after 2 a.m. I decided to take a shower and get a nap in the dorm if there was no line. Surprisingly, the dorm was not full and they ushered me right in. I took a cold shower, for free. They explained the shower fee was waived due to the lack of hot water!
I put on dry shorts, socks and a wool undershirt from my Carradice bag and fell into my cot for two-and-a-half hours of warm and dry sleep. I fell asleep not to the sounds of crickets and birds, but to a steady refrain of farting, snoring, and rustling.
DAY FOUR — MORTAGNE TO PARIS
At 6 a.m. they shook my foot and I hauled myself back to the dining hall and immediately saw Maile, Michael, Jeff, Mary, and other familiar faces. Maile exclaimed, “Oh my God,” when she saw me. I guess I still had on my Halloween mask! We all looked like a little, well, unlike ourselves at that point.
Jeff and Mary had overcome some mechanical problems since I had seen them two evenings before, and were in good shape, but tired. We talked about leaving at 7 a.m., which resulted in us getting up from the table at 7:05 a.m., and we rolled out at 7:15 a.m.
The road descended away from the control and we stayed together initially, but some big rollers cropped up and I pedaled away from Jeff and Mary for good, it turned out. I kept expecting them to sweep me on a downhill but they would take it easy and were in no mood for a big effort.
The riders at this point were on the ends of the spectrum between sharply focused and those barely awake, dangerously riding the center line as they wove. The only safe method to pass was to take a wide arc in the oncoming traffic lane. I negotiated a sweeping left-hand bend to see a rider covered in a space blanket on the left side of the road after crashing — the ambulance would come soon. It was sad.
Up a hill I saw Maile and Michael stopped while he fixed a flat. She waved me on but sounded upset. A few minutes later Maile galloped up to me alone, dejected that she had to leave Michael in order to make the next control.
We worked through her control closing time based on her start wave and it seemed she and Michael would make it with more than enough time, but still she worried about Michael. “He wouldn’t want both of you to arrive late because of him,” I said. “He will get an adrenaline rush when he remounts and you’ll both make it to Dreux just fine.”
A speedy group swept past with some folks familiar to Maile, and she jumped in and was gone. She and Michael would, indeed, arrive at the control well inside the limit, their partnership well intact.
Dreux took forever to arrive. I dragged in at 10:30 a.m., feeling exhausted. Still, with more than six hours to finish I felt in control of my situation. I ate what I could and had coffee and chatted with John and Nancy Guth, who should have been hours ahead of me, but found the going slow with all the riders and the time at the controls.
I left and rolled up to Matt Settle briefly before going forward. My progress didn’t last long, however, as the dreaded sleep monster got me and I had to stop for my first roadside nap of the entire ride.
I took 15 minutes sleep in a covered church entryway and awoke refreshed enough to move out again. Matt was on the road ahead and I came alongside him. “Matt, you’ll be proud of me. I took a nap!” I crowed, knowing him to be the master of the power nap.
I rode past Clare in this segment, still smiling. “Fake it ’til you make it,” she said in one of our earlier meetings, and she was making it. I marveled at how the right attitude and determination can overcome the many challenges of PBP.
I tend to get introspective at the end of 1200s and this one was no different. I rode by myself mostly, mulling over big thoughts. I shrugged off the shower that swept across the course as we came into the outskirts of St. Quentin. I was ready to finish, and I had enough of the rain jacket stops. My DCR wool jersey kept me warm.
After all the red lights, we made the turn into the circle at the finish! Hoooooooray! I thrust my arms into the sky. The finish at PBP is always sweet, and this one was nearly perfect. The only thing missing was MG. Mark Thomas of Seattle called out to me, a nice moment that someone I knew saw me finish.
I entered the control around 2:55 and was finally swiped in a 3:02 p.m. for an 82:02 finish. That put me just a half-hour beyond my 2003 time. Not bad!
This PBP was all about staying comfortable and using mental energy carefully. I was so glad to have a rain-capable bike and a big saddlebag to carry rain gear and dry clothing. I can’t say enough good things about my Bleriot and the wide 650b Grand Bois tires, and my Brooks B-17 saddle. (Oh, and let’s not forget second skin pads. I applied a couple more in strategic places along the way!) I was sore but not damaged like I was after other 1200s.
This PBP I finished with pride, not for covering the distance, but using my head to stay safe and get home without taking huge risks. To all who participated in this PBP, including those who did not finish, I say BRAVO!