D.C. Randonneur George Moore put in a valiant effort at Paris-Brest-Paris this year, fighting off sleep deprivation until it got the better of him on the way back from Brest. George wisely put safety first and got in a long sleep at Carhaix that put him out the running for a medal, but he then put in two more days of riding to Villaines, all off the clock, before taking the train back to Paris.
George’s story reminds us that it’s OK to go for it, even if we’re not always guaranteed the outcome we expect. Sometimes, that’s when the magic happens. Thanks for a great story George!
Well, as you probably know, I didn’t finish PBP. Several of you have asked for some report of what happened. Here it is.
If you never try things you might fail at, life would be more boring. I wish I had finished PBP, but at least I had fun trying , And I did finish 650 miles out of 750 miles (86%).
The part of the ride to Brest and back to Carhaix-Plouguer (when I was still within time limits) was fun. PBP has a carnival atmosphere with loads of riders, and people beside the road shouting support.
I enjoyed much of this and I’m glad I experienced it. But I was also uncomfortable with so many riders around. I worry about a collision with another bike, and don’t like big crowds. The second night was also very dark, with hours of rain and fog in the morning — both limited visibility and slowed progress.
I was particularly concerned about a bike collision in the rain, when brakes aren’t functioning well and visibility is poor. Still, I mostly enjoyed this part of the ride.
I had some minor stomach issues around Carhaix going out. I think I ate too fast, not chewing enough and my body didn’t like that. You don’t want more details, but it only lasted about 15 minutes.
A long ride like PBP with its time limit always turns around managing sleep deprivation (unless you are a faster rider than most). I had failed to finish a 1000K ride earlier, mostly because of lack of sleep, but succeeded on a second attempt.
Sleep on PBP was hard to manage because of the night start — you don’t begin fresh. Because of that the American club (RUSA) recommended not sleeping until the second night. I tried this strategy, more or less, and it didn’t work for me.
By the time I got to Brest, I had tried to sleep by the side of the road at least 4 times that I can count, but they were all too short to give me real rest (1 hour each). None were comfortable enough to provide peaceful sleep. So, by the time I got to Brest, I was having real trouble staying awake and/or analyzing what to do.
I did get 90 minutes of good sleep at Brest. By the time I got back to Carhaix, I just wanted sleep, and I slept 12 hours. This disqualified me.
I got up the next day with the sun, and really enjoyed riding the next two days with no time limits. I knew I was disqualified, so now I was just riding for fun. I lost a spoke on the first section, but was able to repair it faster than a flat. I was nice to see this section of land during the day.
It was much less hilly than it had seemed at night. At Loudéac the control volunteers were having a cookout and gave the riders coming through a warm welcome, gallete suacisse (spicy Breton sausage wrapped in a buckwheat crepe — great), wine, and lots of encouragement to keep going.
I also met Clif Dierking from my DC Randonneurs club. We exchanged stories and a few supplies. It raised my spirits to see Clif. There were also still supporters beside the road. I came by one farmhouse about 6 AM, short of water.
The window opened, and I held up my water bottle. Several family members came out to help me fill up my bottles. Other families had left food by their driveways. Three teenage siblings offered orange juice and pastries. People were great.
By Tinténiac, the volunteers just wanted to go home. I rode from Tinténiac to Villaines-la-Juhel with Dave Fairweather from Australia; with an overnight at a hotel in Fougères, getting another 7-8 hours of great sleep.
We reached Fougères about midday, almost the end of my ride. I could have ridden to the finish, but I wanted to get back in time to collect my drop-bags and get packed for my flight to the UK. I was feeling time pressure again, and not enjoying that.
So in Villaines, I had a big meal, and rode off-course to the train station in Alençon (navigating with my GPS). When I boarded the train I had finished 650 miles, approximately within the PBP time limits. Not the 750 I had started to do, but not totally shabby either. I enjoyed both parts of the ride in different ways.
I took the train from Alençon to Le Mans to Versailles, and rode the bike from Versailles back to the hotel (another 5-6 miles).
My bike, a Boulder Bike All-Road, treated me really well on the ride. I had purchased it around the first of the year for its comfort (wide tires, front bag, full fenders, etc.). I finished the ride without any significant hand or foot numbness, or bottom abrasions — a new experience. I had only two minor mechanical problems.
I failed to tighten a brake cable adequately when I put the bike back together. I had to repair this in Fougères. There is a clip of me doing this from French TV that Joan Oppel found.
And the broken spoke, which was easily repaired on the road.
When I got back to Paris, I found that one of our club members, Thai Pham — a quiet, determined, steady rider — was tragically killed by a truck about 7 PM on the 22nd. There is very little information about what happened. I met his lovely close-knit family back in Falls Church, Va., after I returned.
There is so little one can do to help. As far as I know, there were no other significant injuries on the ride, with involved roughly 5,000 riders, and something like 350,000 miles of riding.
Before I left for France, I had accepted that I might not finish the ride, but that I would have fun either way. Maybe that was a bad Idea (in terms of finishing), but I did have fun. I’ll worry about another try at a 1200K later! Today, I’ve got to get my equipment sorted out; and think about Thai, his family and the wonderful people I met in France.
Ride pictures are at:
Pictures from my trip to the UK are at: