PBP: Art Fuoco’s Story

Art Fuoco, of Palm Bay, Fla., is brother to John Fuoco, who has ridden with the DC Randonneurs for years. Art arrived at PBP this year with his wrist in a cast and still finished in 80.5 hours. His story is worth reading. See it below.

Art Fuoco at PBPArt Fuoco, trying to make that cast blend in with the rest of his PBP wear. Nice try, Art!

For me PBP 2007 was different than I ever could have expected. Even so, it was a memorable experience in a memorable month.

Prologue

I was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Thursday, August 2 while trying to get in a few hours on the bike before work. I suffered injuries that put my participation in PBP in doubt: a fractured right wrist (the radius bone that connects on the thumb side of the hand), a dislocated finger, 15 stitches to the left knee, and assorted facial cuts and abrasions. Still, I planned to go to Paris if only to help the other American riders in whatever capacity I could.

Fortunately, the emergency room doctor’s diagnosis of the wrist X-rays turned out to be wrong when Doctor Valdivia, the orthopedic surgeon who had treated my broken femur in October 2005, examined them in his office the next day. Instead of needing surgery to pin a dislocated radius bone as I had been told in the ER, the bone was not displaced and I would only have to be in a cast for six weeks. Feeling relieved and thinking it might still be possible to ride PBP, I asked Dr Valdivia on my next visit if I had any chance of riding. PBP was only 19 days after the accident or two weeks from that visit.

I explained I would have medical support in France. My brother John is an MD, and if Dr V desired, I would arrange to have X-rays taken a day or two before the start. Dr V looked at me and said he assumed I had been planning on doing the ride for a long time. I said yes, a very long time. PBP was to have been my recovery ride from the broken femur. Not answering me directly, but looking at my knee, Dr V said he wanted to remove the stitches immediately. The knee and my entire left leg were swollen and painful. He instructed the nurse to remove the stitches and upon returning to the room said he assumed the ride was a long ride. I said yes, a very long ride. Again, Dr V didn’t comment but said he wanted to see me again the following week, just two days before my departure for France.

When I returned to his office on Tuesday, August 14, the antibiotics Dr. Valdivia prescribed had reduced the swelling in the knee and eliminated the fever that had at times exceeded 102º, and the radius fracture, although not healed, was knitting properly. After removing the cast and examining my wrist, Dr V instructed his nurse and assistant to form a waterproof cast that would allow me to retain full range of motion of my fingers and thumb while immobilizing the wrist. They minimized the number of wraps across my palm so I could comfortably grip the handlebar and operate the shift/brake levers while still providing structural support of the cast. My knee was examined, cleaned, and wrapped. Dr V cautioned me about the risk of infection, but the decision to ride would be left up to me.

Darkest before the Dawn

The evening I was injured, I was lying on the couch lamenting my bad fortune when a familiar song came on SIRIUS. Paul Simon’s American Tune is one of my favorite songs, but I hadn’t heard it in years. Providence must be smiling on me, I thought, for me to hear it now. To me, the lyrics speak of despair turning to hope, determination and resilience overcoming adversity to reach an unreachable goal, and recognizes that all that we have has been paid for by the strain and suffering of those that came before us.

Reflecting on the words, it made my complaints seem petty. I would be going to France in a few weeks, and there was a chance I might be able to participate in a bicycle ride. A historic and difficult bicycle ride to be sure, but still just a bicycle ride. If I couldn’t ride myself, I could help other riders, or take a few extra days to visit Paris and practice my resurrected high school French on the unsuspecting population. What could be wrong with that?

So Much for Plan A
I have to admit, my planning for PBP lacked the excruciating attention to detail and the planning time other riders had invested. Reading the PBP forums and RUSA newsletters, I couldn’t help but think that some of these folks would have made the planners of the Normandy invasion feel inadequate. In my experience, I’ve found that whatever plan I’d start with, circumstances would inevitably arise that would cause the plan to blow up or be altered beyond recognition.

On September 11, 2001, I was getting my hair cut before driving to the airport to catch a flight to Kalispell, Montana and the Pac Tour’s Ridge of the Rockies ride when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. At first, my barber Jimmy and I thought we were watching a movie. It seemed surreal, but it was all too real. After spending four fruitless days trying to join the ride en route, my brother John drove south from Pennsylvania and I drove north from Florida to Asheville, NC and we did our own ride on the Blue Ridge. We had a great week of riding, but it was not what either of us had planned. Later that year, while visiting Ground Zero with my sons, I could fully appreciate that missing Pac Tour was nothing compared to the loss others had suffered.

In September, 2004, my family and I evacuated Central Florida for Tennessee to get out of the way of Hurricane Frances. I had to re-book a flight from Johnson City/Tri-County Airport to Kalispell, Montana to join the 2004 Ridge of the Rockies Tour. Fortunately for me, the Delta reservations agent’s parents lived in Kalispell, and he was determined to get me there. His determination and 50,000 frequent flyer miles did the trick. The ride itself was great fun and mostly uneventful except for the remnants of Hurricane Javier that dumped several inches of cold rain on us in New Mexico. But my return to Florida was delayed two days when Hurricane Jeanne tore through what was left of Central Florida.

What Can Brown Do For You?

The inaugural Cascade 1200 in June 2005 was my first, and before PBP, my only 1200k. I shipped my bike from the local UPS terminal, but it never arrived in Seattle. Instead, it spent three weeks in St. Louis. Terry Zmrhal loaned me his Surly Cross Check, a great touring bike, but more than a few pounds heavier than my carbon fiber Trek 5200. Still, it turned out to be a great experience for me reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and enjoying the magnificent scenery and hospitality of the Pacific Northwest.

So, there I was, the last weekend in July, having finished my last mega miles back-to-back-to-back training rides preparing for PBP, feeling stronger than ever, and I’m thinking “In three weeks I’ll be in Paris, rested, relaxed, and on my own bike. I’m going to fly across France.” Four days later, I’m in the emergency room, starring at the ceiling, listening to the ER doctor describe how many stitches it will take to close the cuts in my face and knee and the nurses are insisting my finger is broken. From there, it could only get better.

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m alright, I’m alright
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far a-way from home, so far away from home

Many Helping Hands
Although I initially estimated my chances to ride PBP were less than 20 percent, I wanted to be ready just in case. My bike had taken a beating just as severe as my body. I took it to the shop and asked Rod to give it a thorough going over. Rod found the frame was not damaged, but the front wheel and rear derailleur were toast. I had the original Rolf Pro aero wheel on the front, so that meant a new wheel set since the Rolf wheels are no longer available.

Ironically, my rear wheel was already in the shop and the parts had just come in to replace the worn out hub. I settled for the best wheels he had in the shop and Rod installed the tires, chain, freewheel and brake pads I brought with me. With so many new parts on the bike, I was uneasy about not being able to ride more than a few miles before having to pack the bike.

The next morning, my son John packed the bike for me. It was not an easy job, since there were multiple problems with the bike. But John preserved and got it packed, and my son Nick whose 19th birthday we celebrated the day before, loaded my bike and luggage into the car. I was off to the Miami Airport and then on to Paris, France.

When I arrived at the Campanile, my brother John and our friend Bob Sheldon helped me assemble the bike. Bob had ridden most of the Cascade 1200 with my twin brother Dan and I. John and I then took a quick ride to the local bike shop, about 25 miles round trip. I found I could ride safely with the cast, and I simulated a few panic stops to test the force the wrist would have to apply. Everything checked out, although the knee and the wrist were both tender. But I found my conditioning was far from ideal as I struggled to climb the gentle uphill sections.

The next day, Bob Sheldon broke his wrist in a freak accident less than a mile from the hotel. Being the generous person he is, Bob loaned his bike to another rider whose bike hadn’t arrived. So even though Bob didn’t get to do PBP 2007, Bob’s bike did.

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
but it’s alright, it’s alright
for we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the
road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what has gone wrong

Somewhere Over the Rainbow
When we started PBP with the 84-hour group on Tuesday, August 21 at 5:00 AM local time, I was apprehensive about the pounding the wrist would take, but I was more concerned about the knee. I had calculated it would have to withstand over 250,000 pedal strokes to travel the 1225 kilometers. Once the knee was warmed, it responded well on the bike. But after each stop, I had to take time to elevate my legs to reduce the swelling in the calf and ankle before getting back on the bike and then start off slow and easy to get the circulation going again.

Lisa Butkus and I started the ride together and we stayed together through most of the first day. We regrouped later at the end of the second day in St. Martin and for part of the third day as well. Lisa is a strong and steady rider from Orlando, Florida whose company I’d enjoyed on some of our qualifying brevets. She’s someone I knew I could count on to keep us out of trouble during the hectic start and who would be smiling and remain upbeat and positive throughout the ride regardless of the conditions.

Just a few hours into the ride, Lisa noticed a full arching rainbow that spread across the road ahead. We took it as a sign of good things to come. But it signaled the start of a series of day-time showers and steady night-time rain that stayed with us virtually to Paris.

Riding with Lisa on Day 1 before the Rain

Companions on the Journey
The best thing about long distance cycling is the time it gives us to spend with other people whose brains are bent like our own. Normal people don’t think riding 1200 kilometers, with little or no sleep, as being even remotely fun. But we must, or why would we do it?

On PBP I had the good fortune of meeting for the first time and then riding with John and Nancy Guth. My brothers John and Dan rode with the Guths on many occasions and John Guth told me he could now say he had ridden with all three Fuoco brothers. Not to burst his bubble, John told him we have an older brother Tom, who is more active than any of us and also rides.

I chatted briefly with Rieks Koning from the Netherlands en route to the control and then met his lovely wife Molly in Villaines. Rieks rode and Molly crewed on the 2004 Ridge of the Rockies tour. John and I remember Molly hanging out the window and cheering everyone on as the support van passed riders struggling up some of the long climbs on that tour.

Lisa and I met up with Peter Beeson, riding a tandem with Max at the barbeque in St. Martin. Peter and Rieks had ridden with my brother Dan on the PacTour Elite tour this past June. Peter, Rieks, and Dan all completed the tour and were RAAM qualified.

I met and rode with other riders from across the world. Vitus from Ottawa, Canada who ships his bike wrapped in plastic. Vitus claims he’s never had so much as a scratch. The baggage handlers can see it’s a bike and give it special treatment. I rode with four Danish women who spoke very little English, and the English gent who explained how he had to adjust to riding on the wrong side of the road. I rode with Rani and Brenda from Texas (say, isn’t George Bush from Texas?) who graciously let me tag along with them on the stage from Villaines-to-Montagne when I was having problems with both the front and rear derailleurs and dropped the chain twice.

The support and companionship of other riders, the fantastic PBP volunteers, the mechanics (‘les mécaniciens’) and the countless number of people cheering us on and offering food and water along the way, kept my spirits up, my bike humming, and me thinking anything was possible.

Turn and Burn
Although I never felt I was near the limit or felt I couldn’t continue, the first half of PBP was the tougher part for me. I had to make adjustments because of my injuries and simple things like getting food at the controls, and even getting into and out of the controls, seemed to take twice the time and energy. But, I felt I was getting stronger with each stage. I slept at least three hours each night, showered and changed every day, and I made sure I ate well.

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul ROSE unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying

When I left Brest and started back toward Paris early Wednesday evening, my body and spirit were rejuvenated. The stage from Brest-to-Carhaix was my strongest stage in PBP. Maybe it was the realization that I was heading toward the finish, maybe it was because the sun was shining and the rolling hills out of Brest were tailor made to my riding style, or maybe I was just riding back into shape after almost a month off the bike. Whatever the reason, I felt I had jets.

And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

Something to Think About
On long bicycle rides, I’ve found it helps to have something positive to think about to occupy the mind. Otherwise, we tend to dwell on what hurts, or we get anxious about how many miles we have left to ride, or we worry about something else we have no control over. Riding solo late in the afternoon on the first day, I thought about my grandmother, Rose McGee, and how American Tune was about her.

My grandmother came to the United States from Ireland in the late 1890’s accompanying her sister, Catherine, my mother’s namesake, who we knew as Aunt Kitty. She was 12 and her sister was 16. My grandmother never returned to Ireland, but instead made America home for herself and her descendants. I could only imagine how the world had changed during her lifetime. She was born in1888, three years before the first Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race, and lived to see a man walk on the moon. She was a feisty and independent woman, who loved people and was full of life and energy well into her ‘90’s.

I remember the warning I would get from my cousins on baking day when her kitchen was off limits to everyone and we had better not enter, even to pass through to get to the back yard. I found it hard to imagine how scary and difficult it must have been for her to leave her home and start a new life at such a young age.

I thought about my dad, and how he loved to ride. More than that, I remembered how he always made time to be there for me and my brothers and sister. Dad would have been there to cheer on John and me, and I knew he was riding along with us. My sister Mary, who played tennis and other sports in high school and college, once remarked how dad never once asked her if she won, but instead he would always ask her if she played well and if she had a good time. Dad’s attitude about sports and competing was a refreshing contrast to the winning-is-everything mentality that dominates youth and amateur sports today.

I thought about my son Nick who plays baseball with a passion few people could ever match. Nick broke the hamate bone in his left hand last fall and missed his first year of college baseball. But he worked hard at rehab and getting back onto the playing field and came back stronger than ever. Nick was among the league leaders in home runs, batting average, and slugging percentage in the Boise Summer League this past summer.

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hours
and sing an American tune

And in the End
We were at the St. Martin barbeque Wednesday night, waiting for the rain to let up and enjoying the French onion soup and frites, and discussing how we planned to finish PBP. Max said she thought that she and Peter would ride through to Paris and finish about 5 AM Friday morning. I thought about that, and said if I could, I would like to ride a more leisurely pace, stopping to sleep in Loudeac Wednesday night and then in Villaines Thursday night, and try to finish in the early afternoon with the sun shining. Lo and behold, for once I got my wish. Not that I didn’t experience a few potholes along the way, including a self-inflicted ego trip, but for once my plan and reality were in sync.

Riding the final stage from Dreux-to-St. Quentin, I realized I had a chance to finish in less than 80 hours. Not that 80 hours was anything special, just finishing was my goal when we started, but I still let myself get caught up in the faster-is-better thinking. No sooner had I calculated the odds though, the cobblestone pavement jolted my wrist and exacerbated the soreness and swelling in my leg. So about 15 miles from the finish, I spotted a split rail fence along the side of the road and took the opportunity to elevate my legs and massage my fingers and forearms while lying back and enjoying the warm sunshine. I wanted to be relaxed and enjoy the final miles to the finish.

Traffic was heavy as we approached St. Quentin. I took a wrong turn at the traffic circle, but a volunteer waving frantically a couple hundred yards up the road caught my attention and got me back on course. We hit every red light coming in, but I was happy to sit up and take in the spectacle. The boulevard was lined with people on both sides, and I heard several shouts of American as we approached the finish. When I saw my brother John, Tim Bol, Mark Thomas, and others at the entrance to the stadium, I felt relieved that it was finally over. I accepted their congratulations and posed for pictures, and then thanked God for delivering me safely to the finish.

Epilogue
I’m relaxing at home this Labor Day Weekend after surviving a catch-up week at work. I’m back to being dad to daughter Randie, whose birthday we celebrated on Sunday, the day I returned home and sons John and Nick. I’m back to being Pop-Pop to Anthony, Isaac, and Angelina. I couldn’t ask for a better job.

My injuries are healing well with no ill effects from PBP. Dr Valdivia and staff examined my wrist and knee and changed the cast last Tuesday. It comes off for good on September 11. I feel I’ve come full circle.

Oh, but it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s gonna’ be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

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