Lynn Ho and Steve Ashurst got married last year and celebrated their one-year anniversary by riding PBP on tandem. They were the lone DCR tandem team to make the start at PBP, and they didn’t disappoint. Read their story below.
Our PBP Pilgrimage
By Lynn Ho and Steve Ashurst
“Since 1931, thousands of randonneurs have tried their hand at the most famous brevet at “allure libre” (self paced rides), the 1200 km PBP, which must be completed in 90 hours, the present maximum time limit.
By entering this mythical ride, you will test your cycling agility and your human endurance. They will strive to obtain their Personal Best or they will try simply to rally the arrival… but they will always do their best to live this adventure while supporting each other and building friendships with those who participate in this endurance monument, which is much more than a simple hike. No place of honour, nor any podium, only the pleasure of the challenge alone will help them to overcome the suffering… and the magic moment of the arrival will obliterate the doubtful moments on the roads of Brittany or of Normandy.
They will not be alone : they will be in the company of entrants from all over the world. They will appreciate the charms of France and they will be united by the same goal: to rally BREST and return to PARIS. They will not be alone : many spectators – or rather admirers – will encourage them throughout their journey, indeed will support them in attaining the fixed goal. They will appreciate also the hundreds of volunteers who will help them throughout the journey.” (Source: PBP web site)
This was the picture perfect PBP, living up to everything we have imagined and more. The planning for our Pilgrimage started almost four years ago (winter of 2003) when Steve first started riding with Chuck and Crista (while I was away on a two week business trip overseas). The plan included converting Lynn from a couch potato into a randonneur, not a small feat at all. I started my first Chuck and Crista ride (King’s Gap) in June 2004, taking shorts cuts of course. By end of 2004, Steve and I had converted to riding a tandem in order to “balance” our speed.
We successfully completed our first brevet series in 2006, along with a 1000K in Ohio. For some reason, PBP felt so much harder than the 1000K. Perhaps the painful memory has faded, what I remembered from the 1000K was mostly pleasant thoughts.
The logistics of this trip were very stressful. It was not until we sat down at the boarding gate that the adrenaline let up. Steve was still recovering from a head cold he has caught about a week ago. We found out that Nick and Andrea also had the same cold. Luckily Steve recovered right before the ride.
The ride was a true test of our relationship as well as our physical and mental strength. Although there were no killer climbs, the wind and rain challenged us. We had no mechanical problems to slow us down, but stomach problems were difficult to repair. Steve and I have never started a ride at night (9pm start). I found myself unable to eat as my body was shutting down for the day. We were luckily to have packed Pepcid on the ride which we both used extensively.
I did not have much of an appetite the first couple of days, the food at the controls was less than desirable when coupled with the smelly, humid, and crowded conditions. At the first stop in Mortagne, while eating, I saw a rider puke on the grass outside, not exactly a pretty scene while dining. Despite all that, we ate mostly at the controls. This increased our off-the-bike time significantly.
We spent 58.5 hours on the bike, 8 hours sleeping, and the rest, 22 hrs eating or waiting. We also chose to stay at the control longer due to the rainy and cold conditions. We rode without raincoat to prevent overheating on the bike. However, we shivered when off the bike.
We also went out too fast (as Chuck, Matt, and others foretold). We got into a four tandem group and were flying though the course until the group missed a turn, which cost us 10km. We also lost time at the first couple of controls trying to find the sign-in location. In addition, at Villaines, we spent 30 minutes looking for our drop bag. We also spent too much time unpacking and packing. I found as the ride progressed and fatigue set in, my ability to make quick decisions declined.
When we saw Max come in at Loudeac at the overnight hotel, he wanted something to drink, and asked for “decaf water.” I asked if he wanted decaf coffee, but he insisted on “decaf water.” It took me a while to realize that he wanted tea.
Ron Tosh also had a delusional spell. He told me at some point in the ride, he thought he was going in circles (all the towns looked similar), so he proceeded to turn his bike around. As he saw other riders coming from the opposite direction, he thought to himself, “I wonder when they are going to realize that they are heading in the wrong direction!”
Riding in the rain at night was not much fun at all. The thought of quitting never crossed my mind, but I kept wondering why we spent so much energy and time just so that we could ride in the dark, cold, rainy night. Sarcastically, I asked Steve, “Are you having fun!? I hope you are enjoying every minute of this ride, don’t cheat yourself of this experience!” Steve shouted back, “Yes, this is SO MUCH FUN!”
We managed to engage in only two “tandem team meetings.” We couldn’t agree on stopping to put my shoe cover on (which Bob Sheldon graciously lent to me). There was another meeting, but the agenda is now forgotten. Although I couldn’t think of a good reason for having these tandem team meetings, it helped us make good time from Carhaix to Loudeac. We flew through this leg as we passed every single rider (or group), even on the uphills.
The highlight of the ride was seeing other DC Randonneurs on the ride. We had lunch with Andrea at Brest and breakfast with Bill Beck at Mortagne. We also bumped into Lothar Hennighausen a couple of times and were impressed by his upbeat spirit. It was also very exciting to see many DC Randonneurs coming into Brest as we were heading out. I was in awe of our DC Randonneurs. The amount of energy and determination they exhibited helped me to push on.
We were blessed to have no crashes. Steve was very focused on the road and did not fall asleep on the bike. I cannot say the same for me. There were a few times that I almost dozed off. I primarily hoped that Steve wasn’t doing the same, and secondly I hoped he wouldn’t notice me dozing off.
Capturing everything we experienced into this write-up would be impossible. While my sore butt and ankle may heal pretty quickly, there are many things that will be remembered. The pure mental determination and physical exhaustion as we pushed through to the finish can only be understood by another randonneur. The adrenaline at the start of the ride and the excitement and support of the volunteers in the towns are unforgettable. Lastly, I can also say the bathrooms at the controls will continue to haunt me for a long time to come.
Will we do it again? My vote will be to participate in fantasy PBP, tracking riders!
Who would have though that I was capable of completing such a feat a few years ago? We are very grateful for all the support we’ve received. Specifically:
• DC Rand cheerleaders at home for showing so much support before and during our adventure
• All PBP riders, including DC Rand and other groups for their wonderful company and companionship
• Bob Sheldon for lending me his shoe and glove covers
• Mike Murray for assisting with language barriers and lunch orders
• Ed Felker for making such a wonderful hotel recommendation, leading checkout rides, and providing useful information for the newbies
• Greg Conderacci for his upbeat, wonderful spirit and great sense of humor
• Chuck Wood and Crista Borras for making traveling with our tandem possible, loaning us luggage/drop bags and valuable advice. They made us pack our wool base layer, the most important piece of clothing on the ride.
• Matt Settle and brevet ride leaders for over-preparing us with regular brevets over hilly terrain
• Our families and friends for excusing us from many of the weekend gatherings and working around our ride schedules