Rando Q&A with Joe Brown, D.C. and PA Randonneurs

This week brings another installment of the Rando Q&A. Today we head to Pennsylvania to talk with Joe Brown, who rides frequently with the D.C. Randonneurs as well as the randonneurs in Pennsylvania. Joe is a blast to ride with, a randonneur who always has a good (and often quite funny) story to tell. Thanks for being part of our Rando Q&A, Joe!

Joe at PBP 2011

1. When did you start randonneuring?

I started randonneuring in 2006. It was the first year gas prices spiked way up and to save a few dollars I started commuting to work 35 miles a day. At the end of the season found myself very fit and did a century or two.

Still wanting more long rides in that season and not finding any more centuries I found an Eastern PA 200K brevet. The control at 112 miles was at a bar, when the door opened 4 randonneurs were drinking beer. I knew then this sport was for me.

2. Why did you start?

Brevets are a great way to get out of your own back yard and travel a bit and see some new scenery. Brevets have shown me great new routes in Pennsylvania, routes within 60 miles of my house that I wouldn’t have found for myself. It’s also shown me Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and a bit of NY state.

3. What is your home club?

Technically its Berks County Bicycle Club in Pennsylvania but the people with whom I ride the most are a group veteran racers who meet at a local super market every Saturday and Sunday 3 miles from my house. I live on top of a ridge, the ride starts in a valley so it’s only about 10 minutes by bicycle. I started attending about 10 years ago.

They ride “nice and easy”. That’s what they always tell new riders. And it is nice and easy until they come to a hill. The average speed barely drops on an incline. More than once they’ve ridden me to my door after 60 miles leaving me more exhausted than a 200K effort.

Joe on the DC Randonneurs Urbana 200K

4. What is your favorite distance of the Super Randonneur series (200, 300, 400, 600K) and why?

The 600K is the most interesting because a lot of it ridden at night. Nothing is better than a dog chasing you in the black of night. Talk about fear.

5. Which distance do you find the most challenging of the SR series and why?

I dread the 400K. Most people probably agree. It’s 260 miles and its usually ridden without sleep. So the question is “Should I ride it hard to get it over with, or should I prolong the agony over time.

The best 400K on the planet is the DCR 400K. Smooth roads and a reasonable profile give the opportunity to complete it in daylight.

6. If you have done 1000Ks and 1200Ks, what do you like about them?

1000K’s and 1200K’s are the best because they take the element of trying to ride for a best time out the equation (for me). I treat them as a tour. However much time I gain on the road, I take back as sleep at night in a motel with pillows and a shower.

My favorite is the 1000K. It’s only three days. It’s “epic,” but at the same time it is lot easier to recover compared to a 1200K and it doesn’t take as much vacation time.

7. What is it that you love about randonneuring? That is, what keeps you coming back ride after ride?

That’s simple to answer. It’s the people, the camaraderie.

8. What constitutes a “good ride” in your view?

They’re all good. What makes a ride memorable is extremes: bad weather, hard terrain, or ridiculous situations like fixing a flat at 3:00 in the morning in a pouring rain. Dogs chasing you in the middle of the night that you can’t see.

A remember a time with Rick C. on a 600K. We’re in truck stop in the middle of the night on top of a mountain. I’m exhausted but Rick wants to push on. It’s an eight mile descent and my brakes aren’t working right. They shudder and nearly push me over the handlebars. Rick has good lights, mine stink. I’m scared to go down the hill.

I make an excuse that I’m too tired. He says he’s tired too, but looks down at the coffee creamers we’re using. They say “2X caffeine.” So he peels back the foil and drinks two of them like shots of whiskey. I look at him and say “Your’re %$#%crazy.” He went down the mountain and I went to sleep.

I’ll always regret not following. He probably descended singing country western songs that he made up as he went along. He’s good for things like that. Memories make a good ride.

Joe and Rick (c) Rick C.

9. What are the qualities you think a randonneur has to have to be successful?

I guess stubborn and compulsive would be qualities we all have but they sound too harsh. What we all share is a great love for cycling. Every time we get on the bike and press down on the pedals we enjoy it. That’s what pushes us. It’s fun. It’s just that simple.

10. How do you define successful?

My first and foremost objective on all rides be it commuting, training, or brevet is to do it without injury. Finishing a ride and damaging your knee is not a success.

Twenty-five years ago I finished a century with knee pain and then didn’t ride for two years. Two years ago I didn’t finish a 400K because of a knee problem but was back on the bike in a few months. (Thank you Ray for the ride)

Thanks again, Joe. Felkerino and I count ourselves lucky have been able to share some miles with you, and you are so right. Memories make a good ride.

DCR Flatbread 200K Brevet 2011: Sun, fun and our friend, Mr. Wind

A club record 79 riders signed up for this annual Eastern Shore jaunt that features flat roads from the Annapolis area eastward to the Atlantic Ocean shore and back.

Chip and his Severna Park Peloton compadres were out in their best SPP finery, ably assisted by Katie Adams and Sherrie Provenza, spouses to Chip and Clint Provenza, at the registration and finish check-in tables.

The weather promised clear skies and high temperatures in the 60s, but also a gusty southwest wind. The route is something of a squished triangle, with a middle section that runs south along the shore and a westerly section afterwards.

Flatbread Map

Those were the toughest miles, right into the wind. Once we made it to the third control, at mile 69, the route trended more toward the north and we got some much appreciated tailwinds.

MG and I started out with the field, then spent most of the first half in small groups. We stopped at the Dolce Bakery in Milford, Del. at mile 50 for some caffeine and sugar snacks. We had a nice visit with Janet and John Bodine and greeted other riders who decided to take advantage of this unofficial stop.

Dolce Bakery in Milford, Del.

MG and me in a rare appearance at a beach.

The trip in the winds through the control at Slaughter Beach and on to the lunch control town of Milton, at mile 69, was draining. We arrived famished and stressed. The town was designated as an open control, meaning any establishment was acceptable to get our cards signed as long as we got a receipt.

The first place we stopped, The Gallery Espresso, was staffed by just one employee who was not having a good day. I shed a tiny tear to walk away from any place with a real espresso machine.

We split and went around the corner to The Vintage Cafe, where we got a sandwich, some pretty good coffee and a much needed break from the wind.

MG and I had a better ride from there, and loved the tailwind sections that blew us and the group that formed along the way — Jack Nicholson, Bob Torres, David Ripton, Nigel Greene and Joe Kratovil — north along variously wooded and open sections.

Alec B. and MG in Bridgeville, Md.

Tailwinds = smiles.

The finish at 4:17 pm, or 9:17 overall, was a good one for us. This was our first 200K since PBP and we did not know how well our legs would respond. At just 1:20 off the bike, we were able to get back to the finish before sunset.

There are some good accounts of this ride. MG has posted a nice story about our ride and our other Veterans Day weekend outings at her blog, Chasing Mailboxes. She has also posted a combined set of photos we took at her Flickr page — click the gallery image below to see more.

Our Flatbread Photos

Read Nigel’s story at his Iron Rider blog and learn more about Joe at his Mellow Yellow blog. They were both riding fixed-gear bikes.

Joe — trackstanding — and Nigel await a traffic light.

First timer Lisa S. posted about her successful ride, with dreamy night miles to the finish, at her Rambling Rider blog. Congratulations Lisa!

It was a great fall event. Thanks to Chip and all the helpers, and to our fellow riders for sharing the journey. We’ll be back.

Here’s DC Randonneurs RBA Bill Beck’s summary report.

A record 79 riders started the Eastern Shore Flatbread 200K RUSA brevet yesterday, and all finished! The weather was beautiful with sunny skies and temperatures rising from the high-30s to the low-60s. But a brisk wind from the southwest made that flat course into a tough ride on the return from Slaughter Beach.

Special thanks to Chip Adams for again organizing this gorgeous ride. It was a big job with so many riders. A big thanks also to Katie Adams and Sherrie Provenza who helped register riders at the start and checked in riders at the finish, all while managing pizza orders – a big job with 79 riders!.

Congratulations to Earl Janssen for completing his R-12 award, Theresa Funari for her R-24, Clint Provenza for his R-36, and Tom Reeder for R-72! We think Tom’s streak is the longest for any rider east of the Mississippi.

There were also 8 riders who became official randonneurs by completing their first brevet. So congrats and welcome to Michael Caha, Jane Cross, Richard Downs, Alex McKeague, Jack Nicholson, Lisa Shiota, Jonathan Winkert, and Ping Xiang.

Preliminary results are posted at http://www.dcrand.org/dcr/results.php?page=display-results&year=2011.

My photos are posted at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wabeck/sets/72157627993903523/ and Mary Gersema’s are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/gersema/sets/72157628114335094/.

A GPS track of the route is at http://connect.garmin.com/activity/128517507.

Next up is the Woodbine Wallop 200K on December 10. This is a challenging ride with the second most feet of climbing per mile of all DCR routes. A nice contrast to the Flatbread! I like having it in December so you can keep cool while working up those hills.


Chip Adams’ PBP2011: The Clock Never Stops

The Clock Never Stops
Paris-Brest-Paris 2011
By Chip Adams
Nov. 7, 2011

Day One: Back to Ride Again

A little over 4 years ago, maybe closer to 5 years, Clint Provenza went to work trying to convince me to do a 750-mile bike ride in 3 ½ days with him. They called it PBP. I told him, “no way.” If you know Clint, of course you know he never stops trying; and, of course, I eventually agreed to the absurdity. And in 2007, we rode it, along with Jim Levitt. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been thinking about and planning for the 2011 PBP pretty much since the 2007 PBP ended.

I couldn’t get it out of my head. I just couldn’t wait to go back for another go at it. So I was very excited to get going again. Unfortunately, Clint couldn’t make this one, nor would Jim. But Clif was in and as excited as I to ride this epic bike event.

Four years later, back again.

We got to Paris about a week before the ride and pretty much ate and rode our way around Paris. Bill Fischer, from NY, had also gotten in a few days earlier and he was an integral part of our group and the ride. So Monday, August 21, 3:45 am, we three met and headed over to the start, and lined up around the track with a few hundred of our newest riding mates.

I was excited and a little nervous, hoping that I hadn’t forgotten anything that I would need for this 84-hour, 760-mile, out to Brest and back, bike ride. I was hoping I had the right combination of clothing, etc., and wondering whether or not I got it all right in my drop bag bound for Loudeac.

It turned out that we forgot our waterproof cue sheets that Dave Provine had made for us, but then I remembered that in 2007 they did a very good job marking the course. Around us were some DC Rand folk — Roger Hillas and Joe Brown and a little farther back were Greg Conderacci and Andrea Matney.

We finally began to move through the control and got cards signed and ankle chips activated. But, we still weren’t ready to roll — more waiting out on the road. It was very exciting being there and feeling the energy of the riders and the crowd. A lot of riders’ families and friends, and many locals, came out to see the start.

I even saw a rider who was bringing his dog along. He had made a large basket attached to the handlebars so that his dog could see the road and the other riders. The dog appeared to be having a great time and the rider’s family was there to see them off. I assumed the dog would eventually be handed off to them.

And, we were off! It was a pretty fast start but we managed to keep together. We had some sprinkles and the forecast had showers and thunderstorms in it, but we never thought it would rain all day and night. The sprinkles didn’t hang around long, but the sky was threatening most of the morning.

Through about 40 miles we had a group of about 30 riders and our little group of 3 was still intact. We were within reach of the first stop in Mortagne Au Perche, about mile 90, and I was feeling pretty good. So, I decided to hang with a group going into Mortagne, but I pulled up short of the control to stop at a bakery.

I thought it would be a great start to eating. I waited for Bill and Clif for a few minutes and in we went. Wow, they had some fantastic looking pastries, but no coffee! I know, what bakery doesn’t have coffee, right? Well, it turns out that most, if not all, of the bakeries in France don’t have coffee. Go figure. Still not sure where you get it! Maybe it was just the bakeries we went in – which happened to be a lot! Anyway, we made short work of that and on to the control.

Clouds that would turn to rain.

It was raining as we came into the control. I found coffee – a bowl of it. Oh yes, and a baguette for the road. We lost Bill, but found Joe Brown, Ed and Mary, and Greg and Andrea, so we had a good-sized group of the DC Rand together. A little while later, Joe flatted and Clif and I stayed with him to help get him back on the road.

By the time we were back on the road, some very ominous storm clouds were on the horizon. Within the hour we were reaching for our raingear. The rain was heavy and stayed with us into early afternoon as we came into the control at Villaines, mile 137. This was the first time-stamp control and it was a badly needed stop.

Even though I was wearing my plastic rain shell, I was wet to the skin and feeling pretty low. Everything I had with me I was wearing, which didn’t provide any comforting thoughts about what might lie ahead if the temperature dropped during the night and the rain and storms continued. Bill found us, and we headed to the chow line. Now I was cold and shivering and it was really the very lowest moment of the whole ride. I dropped about $100 on a base layer and socks, which I never used.

As we were leaving, we noted the number of town folk that had come out to support the riders. It was a very good feeling to have the support. But I’d have to say the story line of the day was the rain. Though it had stopped, a thunderstorm quickly found us just after leaving the control. We rode out of that one into another one an hour or so later. The sun came out somewhere but was quickly swallowed up by another round of storms as we approached the control in Fougeres.

In spite of all the rain, we were enjoying the ride and moving quickly as we came into town. We didn’t waste any time in the control. We cleared out to find some dinner at, yes, another bakery. You’re probably starting to see a trend. Bakeries usually had ready-made sandwiches so they were pretty quick. We were now about 197 miles into the ride and still had another 85 -90 miles to go to Loudeac, our stopping point for the day. The rain had stopped and it was looking like it might stay away as we rolled on.

The next control, Tinteniac, was about 35 miles. However, about 10 miles from the control, the rain got us again. We pulled in around 9:00 pm in the midst of a good rain and an unexpectedly huge crowd. After checking in, we managed to make our way to the chow line and had a nice dinner. 235 miles down. As we were leaving, the lead riders were coming into the control.

They had already made it to Brest and were heading back to Paris, meaning they were 300 miles in front of us. Unbelievable! However, they did have a 13-hour advantage on us and likely every one of them was being supported on the road by friends and family. This meant they didn’t carry anything on the bike and ate at their support vehicle, etc. Still impressive, though!

Shortly after leaving the control, I starting noticing differences in the way my bike was handling and I suggested we stop to look at it. I couldn’t find anything wrong and Bill thought it might just be the rack on the back which was making the bike feel loose. Yeah, I thought that must be what it was too, so we pressed on. A little while later I was starting to get really sleepy and I proposed to Bill and Clif that they ride on; I would just take a 10-minute power nap and get back on the road.

We all decided to keep going. At some point Clif accelerated around a group of riders and I didn’t see him again until I checked in at the hotel a couple hours later. Bill and I rode together for a while until I came upon some nice people who had set up a table of coffee and cake, so I stopped while Bill kept going. It hit me as I was standing there taking in caffeine and calories: it was the middle of the night, in the middle of some small town in the middle of France. This is the kind of experience I was looking for. How good could it get!

Nighttime in another quaint French village.

Onward, and the rain came — again — and then . . . my light went out. It was really not going to be problem since I had another one — my good light, my IXON IQ. But, there was a problem. The rain had gotten in and all the light would do was flicker. I spent 15 or more minutes trying to dry it out and even tried new batteries, but got nothing more than flickers. I still had a helmet light, but that was a far cry from what I really needed.

Since it was only 15 more miles to the hotel I figured I could handle that. I was hoping this one didn’t go out. I would be up the creek for a couple of reasons. First, it was so dark and rainy I couldn’t see the road. And, if the light did go out and some ride official saw me, he would stop me and make me fix it before going on. He could even invoke some time penalty on me if he wanted to for a safety violation. However, none of that occurred and I continued toward the control.

The good part was that I was no longer sleepy, since the sheer concentration it took to see the rain soaked and unmarked road was enough to wake me up. Bill had made a wrong turn along the way, but figured it out and caught up to me with about 3 miles to the control. We rode in together and agreed to a 6:30 am departure. I got in the hotel around 2:30 am, about 20 minutes after Clif.

Day Two: A good ride to Brest, but the return is not so simple.

Three hours later the alarm clocks went off. I have to say that three hours of sleep is nowhere near the amount needed after a 280-mile bike ride, but it’s amazing how the body and mind work together on something of this magnitude. Clif and I were a little late hooking up with Bill, but we found him just before leaving town.

From here to Carhaix was about 50 miles and the terrain became really choppy with a fair amount of time out of the saddle. We ran into a few DC Rand people and rode with them for a few miles, but by then I knew we were closing in on the Carhaix control and I felt like putting the hammer down. We had a fast paceline of 5 or 6 riders into the control for a brief lunch. Bill left the control a little before we did and said he would soft-pedal. I don’t think he did. It took about 30 miles and we were closing in on Brest before we finally caught him. I’m not sure but he may have been trying to get away from us! Nice try, Bill!

Nearing the control at Brest.

It was great finally getting to Brest, but the ride took us on a circuitous route around the port area, and though it only added a few miles, it seemed like it took forever to get to the control. We rolled in at 3:45 pm Tuesday, the halfway point of the ride. Once there, though, we stayed for little over an hour. We all occupied our times in different ways. Clif got a quick nap on a real cot. I think Bill got a shower and some real food. I got my power nap sitting upright in a chair leaning against a wall.

I awoke to a guy with a big camera in my face. It was about 5:00 pm when we finally hit the street and put the control behind us. Now, what Clif and I needed was food. There was none at the control. Bill had found some a short walk from the control. We decided that we would keep our eyes open for something on the road.

Unfortunately, it was nearly 20 more miles later – another hour or so after leaving. We didn’t know it at the time, but not eating earlier had become a critical factor in how the rest of our ride would go. Though I was able to eat and take in needed calories, Clif could not.

We left the restaurant in two very different mental and physical states: I had eaten and was ready to roll at the fastest speed possible, but Clif had eaten nothing, was in a calorie-deficit condition, and had a nagging stomach issue.

On the way back to Carhaix.

A couple of miles out of town, I could sense the two different mindsets as we thought about the road ahead. We agreed that I would go on at my pace and he would get to the next town and find a pharmacy for his ailment. He would evaluate his condition at that time, being mindful of the controls’ closing times. At Brest, we were a little over 4 hours ahead of closing, so it seemed he had some time to work with.

So, off I went, haunted about my decision – was it the right one? Should I have just slowed down a little and reevaluated everything? However, a decision had been made and it was too late to change it. The good part was that I was totally hooked up and riding at a pretty good pace. I couldn’t believe how strong I felt. A few riders hopped on my wheel, but none held it for long.

On Roc Trevezel, about a 6-7 mile ascent, I passed some rider who yelled up to me, asking what my secret was — how I was riding so easily? I told him I was eating and sleeping well. I don’t think he believed me because he just started laughing. Oh yeah, and I trained with the Severna Park Peloton!

All the way back to Carhaix my bike had been making really weird noises but now was fairly quiet, so I thought maybe everything would be OK, after all. I made it into Carhaix at 9:00 pm, just before dark on day two. I found a few familiar faces, but didn’t hang around to chit-chat very long. I remember thinking – the absurdity of it all. Why was I doing this? But, in the middle of something like this, you don’t want to think too much. Just ride!

So, I found some good things to eat, scarfed them down, and got out of there immediately before total darkness set in. There were only 50 miles back to Loudeac and if I kept the press on, I could get there around 2:00 am and get a few more hours of sleep! I wondered how Clif was doing.

I was still working with one bike light so I used my helmet light for as long as I could, which turned out to be not very long. I was making decent time, but I was starting to get into some pretty good rollers. My bike was chiming in again, a little more loudly than before, especially when I stood up on the cranks.

I made a note that I would stop by the mechanic’s tent in Loudeac before leaving in the morning. My thinking was that the bottom bracket had washed out from the rain on day 1, or maybe it was something simple and the mechanic could quiet it down a bit. I arrived back in Loudeac at 1:45 am on Wednesday, about 15 minutes earlier than expected. I had been really attacking the hills so the early arrival was rewarding.

I got to the room and received a note from Clif to take his bag to the bag pick-up point since he wouldn’t make it back in time. I packed everything and set a 6:00 am wake-up. Some more welcome news was that my good IXON IQ light was now dried out and appeared to be working correctly.

Day Three: A Discovery and A Rescue

The final wake-up! From here, I would ride according to my original plan, which was to ride back to Paris without any more sleep stops. All drop-bags needed to be in the pick-up area before 7:00 am. I pushed the heck out of the 7:00 am time limit, and on the way over to the control, I had a minor crash. Actually, I just sort of fell over.

I came around too sharp of a corner and because of my bag which was stretched over Clif’s, it just rolled off and could not get my foot off of the pedal in time. I think all the rain had washed out any lubrication and my foot would not twist out.

The good part is that everyone got to see it! That’s right. It was the kind of thing that if witnessing, you would ask yourself, “how did the knucklehead even make it this far?” The same sort of thing happened to me about 10 miles from the end while stopping at a light.

Anyway, I made the bag area in time, but missed Bill. The last time I saw him around Brest, we had agreed to 7:00 am out of Loudeac. But, I did stop at the mechanic’s tent as planned and here started the most crucial, potentially ride-ending, part of my PBP.

The source of all that noise.

I described the noise and what I was feeling and experiencing. They did a lot of different things: pulled wheels, lubed skewers, removed and lubed chain ring bolts, sprayed lube on all moving parts, tightened pedals. I was about to say, don’t worry about it, when they found the problem.

I was using a top tube bag that hung down and rested against the downtube. They unstrapped it and exposed a crack in the downtube that went nearly around. A cracked frame! I could only stare at it and wonder if I could make it back OK with the frame like that. I had tape, plastic ties…and, more tape.

I was motioning that I would just take the bike, but the mechanic was saying something to me that I couldn’t make out. Roger Hillas, who happened to be there, said it sounded like they might have a loaner bike.

One of the people explained that I could take it to their Paris bike shop after the completion of the ride. At first it didn’t sound like a good option, but the more they explained it, I just said let’s go with it.

Pascal Mace, the mechanic and shop owner, signaled for me to follow him. He, his helper and I jumped in his truck and drove to his bike shop. I had the big picture about what we were going to do and so did Pascal, but we needed some detail and, unfortunately, neither of us could speak the other’s language.

I needed an interpreter. I thought of Claus, our travel consultant, but couldn’t find his number, so I called Clif. I also needed to know how Clif was doing. He had Claus’s number, and I learned that Clif was on the road and making good time towards Loudeac. After explaining my situation to Claus I gave the phone to Pascal.

Five minutes later, we had it worked out. I would ride the bike to Paris and complete PBP, and the next day take it to Pascal’s Paris bike shop and give it to the folks there. My bike frame would be mailed to that location by Friday. It was now Wednesday morning and if all went according to plan, I would finish on Thursday well ahead of the 84-hour time. Perfect!

Unfortunately, the clock was still ticking. The Loudeac control closed at 7:00 am and though I had checked in 5 hours and 15 minutes earlier, I was now behind. However, my head was now totally around what was going on.

The Substitute awaits its rider.

Pascal measured all of the settings on my bike, one of his guys brought in a partial bike, and they rapidly started swapping my parts over to the loaner frame. My bike turned into a skeleton as my cranks, wheels, and seat went over.

What didn’t get swapped over was my stem. I can’t remember why exactly, but the impact would be later realized. Looking back at my bike, I could only stare at this crack that went around almost the entire circumference of the downtube. It could have been extremely bad had it actually broken while I was riding. I was feeling very lucky and blessed that it hadn’t broken somewhere on the road from Carhaix the previous night.

About 9:45 am, Wednesday, the bike was ready for a test ride. I rode around the parking lot and was happy with it. We swapped over my frame number and I was ready to roll. I tried to pay Pascal for the bike and his labor, but he wouldn’t allow me. I asked for directions back to the control, but he motioned for us all to get back in the vehicle. He would drive us back to the control.

Back at the control, Pascal spoke to an official at the control and explained my situation. I showed him my control card, which showed a check-in over 8 hours prior. This control was not a problem, but the upcoming controls could be. The official made a note and I assumed he was doing so in the event that time became an issue for me.

Pascal disappeared for a moment and came back with a bicycle, motioning me to follow him. We went out the back way from the control and were making a bunch of turns when I started seeing the familiar signs pointing me to Paris. I pulled up to Pascal as he was pointing me to the course. I thanked him and told him I would return his bike in Paris. He had probably just saved my PBP!

Unfortunately, I had just lost about 3 hours. And now the challenge was to ride the 53 miles to the next control in Tinteniac in the 3 hours left before it closed. Doable, but I would need to haul —! Or, as some would say, tap-it-out!

As I was riding along I was passing a few riders, feeling pretty good. I just couldn’t believe everything that had happened in the last few hours. I had met some great people who dedicated their time for me so that I could finish. I’ll never forget them or the experience.

About 10 miles later I had a bit of a scare. I came into a small town and my drivetrain bound up while downshifting around a corner. I thought I might have stretched the chain or cable, or both. I just couldn’t get it smoothly into any gear even after a little cable adjustment.

I began looking for a bike shop, but I finally figured it out. The problem was that we used my cranks (53/39) and my cog set (11-28), but we used the chain that was on the loaner bike. It was a little too short when I was in the 3 lowest gears. I learned to shift earlier into the right chain ring, but the whole affair cost me about 20 minutes and likely the next control cutoff.

I called Clif to see how he was doing; he was doing well, about 40-50 miles behind. I fretted a moment about possibly having made a wrong turn because I couldn’t see any more riders. I took the time to make a handlebar adjustment. I was beginning to wish I could have used my stem. Another rider went by. I wasn’t lost, after all.

A little later a rider came up to me and started talking to me in French, but I couldn’t understand. I realized he was a local rider, but not on PBP. He was on a high-end bike (Definitive), shaved legs, and was wearing, I learned later, his racing team kit.

David, looking clean in his team kit.

I gave him a RUSA pin and assumed he would ride on, but he was telling me something. I think I was telling him, OK, OK, merci, merci. Of course I didn’t know what he was saying until I turned into the secret control. I think that’s what he was telling me. He turned in with me. I’m not sure, but I may have gotten to this control after it closed.

I used some more time to make another adjustment. My transducer had been installed on the wrong fork so I switched it back and changed Miles to Kilometers on my computer to make it easier tracking distances between controls.

As I was preparing to leave, the guy I rode in with indicated that he would like to ride with me for a while. That was fine with me and sounded fun! I learned his name was David.

We had a great big tailwind and we just attacked the road. We kept trying conversation and some of my Rosetta Stone–French level 1 was starting to pay off. We rode together for the next 25-30 miles towards Tinteniac, taking turns on the front.

I learned that he was on a race team and on a training ride. Occasionally, when he was on the front, he would ask, “ce bon (this good)?” I would just smile and say, “Oui, ce bon.” Again, Rosetta Stone! I also learned that he had done PBP in a prior year, possibly more than one.

As we got close to Tinteniac, he indicated he was going to turn around. He wished me well and handed me a couple of energy bars. Riding with David was one of the highlights of the day. I couldn’t believe how my day was going. First, a cracked frame and now covering about 30 miles in just over an hour. Maybe I could even make the control in time.

The control at Tinteniac closed at 1:04 pm and I got there at 1:17. I wasn’t quite sure how that was going to work out – whether I would be DQ’d or what. I ate with the volunteers, who all looked happy, probably because the control was closed and their work was almost done. At least somebody was happy the control was closed!

But I was late and getting later the longer I sat there. I crammed in calories and got back on the bike as soon as possible. However, shortly after leaving, my arms and neck really began hurting because the handlebar stem was too short and flat. I found that I had to keep switching arms or sitting up to relieve the stress on my neck, and knew I couldn’t keep doing that for 200+ miles.

I then remembered that there was a bike shop somewhere up ahead, although I couldn’t remember exactly where. Soon I came into the town of Dinge and found my bike shop. I picked out a longer stem that stretched me out farther and asked for as much spacer as the bike shop guy could find to lift me up a little bit, relieving the strain on my neck. 47 Euro and 45 minutes later, I was rolling again.

I stopped four or five more times for adjustments and finally I felt my bike may be just about as comfortable as I could make it. These would be my last adjustments, but total time combined since discovering my cracked frame had mounted up to over 4 hours.

At least now I was starting to find my rhythm. I believe if I hadn’t stopped to take photos of the fortress/castle in Fougeres, I would have made the control in time instead of being 4 minutes late, at 4:59 pm Wednesday. A bottle of water and a bowl of coffee and I was out of there. I was certain that that would be the last control that I would be late getting to.

Villaines La Juhel, the next control, was 60 miles ahead and I had a tailwind. I was in high gear and so was my confidence. Barring anything bad happening, I would make the control with time to spare. Though I didn’t eat anything at Fougeres, I was certain I’d find plenty to eat by stopping at the roadside tables that many of the locals had set up.

Snack Time!

I stopped once for a coffee, water bottle top-off and some cake and cookies. Sometime later I came across a pear tree hanging over a wall and helped myself to a few pears. They were fantastic and exactly what I needed.

Just before sunset, and within a couple of miles of Villaines, I stopped to call Clif. He had checked in at a hotel in Fougeres, about 60 miles behind me. He was feeling well, but needed some rest.

I arrived in Villaines at 9:30 pm as darkness was closing in amid what seemed like a town celebration. Finally, I had made up some real time and was ahead of the Control closing time by 1 hour and 43 minutes. It was very festive and people were applauding as riders came into town. I felt like a celebrity of sorts. Some riders were actually being interviewed.

After a big dinner, I went back out into the crowd and starting getting ready for my all-night ride. People were pointing and waving. It was a lot of fun and made all the riders feel great. It was an excellent way to ride out of town. There were 137 miles remaining and I hoped to get in by late morning.

Day Four: Back to Paris — literally!

I was feeling strong and my IXON light was shining brightly as I moved out into the countryside. I found myself riding in a fairly large group of riders, and that was OK for a while because I was starting to see fewer of the signs directing us back to Paris. I would just ride in the group for a while to make sure I didn’t make any wrong turns.

But as the night wore on the road got straighter, I began to see lights way up the road and decided to take the pace up a little. I was able to get a cup of coffee somewhere along the way, but the caffeine had no impact. So, when I started seeing things that weren’t there, I decided to stop.

I knew that I would probably have to get a power nap. I believe it was about 15 minutes, but I really don’t know. It could have lasted longer, but whatever it was, it was enough.

Back on the bike, I made it into Mortagne Au Perche sometime around 3:00 am. I think I was now about 3 hours ahead of the control close time. I saw a few familiar faces and found Bill Fischer. He had taken a 3-hour nap and was preparing to leave soon. I grabbed a little something to eat and filled water bottles.

In at Dreux.

Out on the road heading to Dreux, the terrain became very hilly, but I felt strong and somehow rested. Bill and I were passing everyone on the hills. I thought to myself, I love this compact crank. What a difference it makes in my climbing. I remembered how well I was climbing the night before as I was approaching Villaines.

It wasn’t until the ride was over that I realized it wasn’t a compact crank after all. The loaner bike had my drivetrain. Duh! Anyway, it was all working for me. At least for now.

At dawn on Thursday, the terrain had flattened and we were flying down the road. But, my eyes became very heavy – again — and I decided to pull over. I simply leaned back against a hedgerow and shut down. That’s right, another power nap. Felt great for a while and then someone was yelling at me from a car. I waved to him and just said I’m OK — PBP! He shook his head and wished me bon route.

Ten minutes was all I needed and back on the bike. Lucky thing the guy was yelling at me – I could have slept longer. About 70 miles to go to the finish; however, the next 10-15 miles were totally miserable. The road surface was extremely rough and flat.

I rolled into the Dreux control at 8:01, barely hanging on. The good part is that I was now 3 hrs, 30 minutes on the right side of the clock. Inside the control I could tell I wasn’t the only one just hanging on. Bodies were everywhere. I found Bill and after a quick breakfast, we moved back out on the road.

The last 10 miles seemed as if they took forever. We were trying to get into the final control before 12:00 pm, but a bunch of traffic lights slowed us down. I came around the last turn and saw the crowd gathered at the finish line. Then I heard a familiar voice calling, “Jip, Jip.” It was Pascal! I pulled over and hugged the guy for saving my PBP. He wanted to know if the bike did OK. It was great, I told him, and that without him I couldn’t have finished this PBP.

It was over! 79H 07M. 4 hours, 53 minutes before the cut-off. 40 minutes earlier than 2007.

I had one more piece of work to get done. I needed to find someone to trade PBP jerseys with. I wanted a German jersey and found someone willing, but he was XL and I was medium. I tried an Italian, but settled for a photo with him. I tried the Japanese guy. Nothing.

Jersey Swap!

Then I found him – from the Netherlands. Heck, he was even older than I. He wanted to know why I wanted his jersey. I told him it was tradition. He said this was his 4th PBP and he had never swapped jerseys with anyone. But then he said, “what the heck”, and we did the swap.

So, he’s got an American RUSA jersey and I have one from the Netherlands. I was in my jersey for 30 hours but couldn’t smell a thing. Sure smelled his, though! I wonder how he liked mine! We got back to the hotel and checked in. Time for a nap. Also time to wash my new jersey!


On Friday, I called the bike shop in Paris and arranged to deliver their frame and to get mine. I called a taxi and worked out a price for him to wait for us in Paris. It was lunch time when we arrived (1:40 pm) so we had to wait a little while for the mechanic to get back.

So long and thanks, faithful steed.

We went next door for a quick lunch and by the time we were finished and walked back over to the bike shop, he had my cranks out of the loaner bike and handed me all of my stuff. Again, there was no charge. I still cannot believe that nobody was charging me for anything. It was so amazing and so appreciated. The only cost was the trip into Paris.

On Friday night we had a great post-ride dinner at a small restaurant nearby. Le Resto. It was a perfect way to celebrate the end of this epic ride. We also learned that our flights to Dulles had been canceled because of hurricane Irene.

Though our flights had been canceled, the bus still pulled away from the hotel on schedule to go to the airport. Clif, Bob, Chris, and I stayed behind instead of dealing with endless time in airports here and in the US. We thought everybody would likely get stuck in airports in the US, but not make it to Dulles – it was closed.

Des Peres Travel arranged for a Monday departure, but Clif was the workhorse. He got us reservations out of Paris on Sunday. We spent Saturday hanging around the hotel eating cheese, bread, sausage, and tasting fine French wine.

On Sunday, after a 3-hour check-in, we were on our way back to DC.
My 2011 PBP is now an everlasting memory. It was, in fact, as epic as I thought it would be. I met some really wonderful people and had a lot of fun riding and eating my way around Paris. It was a blast to ride so many hours with Clif and Bill and to sample so many bakeries and bread shops.

My cracked frame, though at the time seemingly catastrophic, has left me with one of my fondest experiences and memories on a bike, thanks to Pascal in Loudeac and his desire to help me get back on the road. It is something I’ll never forget and I will forever be indebted to him.

In the end, though I had lost over 4 hours of time, there was no additional time provided to me by the ride officials. I had been on track for a 73-75 hour finish, but in light of what happened I’ll take the 79 hours and the memories that were provided and be thankful for the finish.

Regrets: that Clif finished after the cut-off. And, that my good friend Clint could not be there this year to ride it with us.
But, my biggest regret is that I left Katie here to deal with not only a hurricane, but also an earthquake! Wow, an earthquake! Who would have thought? That hurricane? That was just not fair. Talk about bad timing!

PBP 2015? Who’s in?

Coffeeneuring Challenge Met, and How Fun It Was

MG has a knack for creative, gently competitive contests. Her latest is the Coffeeneuring Challenge: seven trips by bike to coffee shops over six weekends, all outside of formal events such as a brevet. Read all about it here.

Coffeeneuring. Two great things.

Being married to MG means I had no reason not to know about this challenge, and the timing was fantastic. She proposed the event during our break from big weekend rides after a fun spring and summer undertaking brevets and a grand randonnee in Paris.

I managed to meet the challenge, though we had to make a special trip on the very last day, Oct. 30, to get in my final coffeeneuring stop. Whew!

Here are my results.

No. 1 Saturday Sept. 24 Illy Caffe, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC
Mileage: 65
Beverage: Espresso!
Observations: MG, Lane G and I went here before joining the Washington Area Bicyclist Association annual 50 States and 13 Colonies Ride from the Dupont Circle. It was technically coffeeneuring, as it came before an organized event.

Illy is really just a coffee bar connected to the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel with its own door to the street. The espresso is, as you’d expect by the Illy name, divine.
Rating: Five stars.

Lovely espresso cups at Illy Caffe

No 2 Sept. 25: Peregrine Espresso, Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.
Mileage: 6
Drink: Espresso!
This was an local Sunday afternoon ride with MG to get my new SimpleOne singlespeed bike out and about. Peregrine is a little stingy with the espresso but they take things seriously and you have to just savor that little cup, and then go back and get another one.
Rating: Four stars.

MG at Peregrine Espresso, with her new artisan mug.

No. 3 Oct 8: Boccato Espresso, Old Town Alexandria, Va.
Mileage: 20
Drink: Espresso _ and _ Cappucino.
MG and I went to the farmers market in Old Town to start and then went to Bocatto, which is a gelato joint but is trying to get people to also buy coffee drinks. Little did we know they were nearing the end of a morning coffee special of $1 for espresso and $2 for espresso beverages. They make wonderful espresso. We stayed awhile!
Rating: Five stars.

At Boccato in Alexandria. A very nice day to ride to coffee.

No 4 Oct. 9: Starbucks, Palisades, Washington, DC
Country tandem ride to Poolesville, Md.
Mileage: 75
Drink: Espresso!
MG and I met up with Lane G. and Eric P. to ride out to Potomac, Md. and Poolesville. We stopped at Starbucks to meet Eric and have a nice cup before continuing on with our ride. This is a pretty tony area and the drinks were better than your usual Starbucks.
Rating: Three stars.

Eric and friend at Starbucks.

No. 5 Oct. 15: Pound Coffee, Capitol Hill, Washington DC
Mileage: 25
Drink: Espresso!
Another town ride with MG. We had a spirited discussion about where to go and decided to try Pound on Capitol Hill. The espresso was very bitter and I put it down after the first sip. I was not in the mood to ask for another and we went on to Peregine and had a proper espresso, and I got another later at Boccato’s Arlington, Va. location. (I posted a note to Twitter about Pound and they offered me a free one next time I go there).
Rating: One star. I suppose it still counts, even if I didn’t finish it.

Pound Coffee on Capitol Hill. We then went to Peregrine and then Illy Caffe.

#6 Oct. 16 Sheetz, Thurmont, Md.
Mileage: 92
Beverage: Latte.
MG and I took the tandem up to Frederick, Md. to ride the Frederick-Fairfield-Frederick century route on a sunny warm fall day. The afternoon rest stop at Sheetz was very welcome. Sheetz’ coffee drinks land somewhere between 7-11 and Starbucks in taste, though they are a very good value. When there is no Starbucks or better in the vicinity, Sheetz does the job.
Rating: Two stars.

Sheetz espresso machine. An automatic, but still Italian.

#7 Oct. 30. Tryst, Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.
Mileage: 9
Beverage: Espresso!
We trucked out on our bikes on the very last evening of the last day of the Coffeeneuring Season after riding a century with our pals in southern Maryland. Tryst makes a very good espresso. The place is something of an arty 20s singles joint, with couches and candles and tables you share with other Macbook users. Oh, and grinding alt-rock. Being older than 30, nobody looked at me. Except MG. Thank you my love.
Rating: Four stars.

Did it. Final Coffeeneuring Stop with less than four hours to go.

Thanks for the challenge, MG, and congratulations to all the official coffeeneurs, as compiled by MG at her blog, Chasing Mailboxes.

PBP Rewind: Nick Bull’s PBP2011 Story

Today we start our next PBP story, told over four days by our own Nick Bull of the D.C. Randonneurs.

George Moore and Nick at Versailles.

Paris-Brest-Paris 2011: Fini, Finalement!
by Nicholas Bull

DC Randonneurs at PBP (courtesy Maile N.)

Leading up to PBP

This is my second PBP. The first was the somewhat-rainy 2007 PBP. For that one, I had left the U.S. with a cold, which turned to pneumonia during the ride, compounded by tearing a chest-wall muscle coughing too hard somewhere near Carhaix on the way out. Even so, I made it to Dreux, 40 miles from the end, but at that point decided to DNF when it became clear that I would arrive many hours after the time limit. Despite all that, I had a great time riding an event that is truly a peak life-experience. While the pneumonia and tough weather certainly slowed me down, my post-ride analysis said that if I had started the ride ten pounds lighter I could have finished in time. So this time I started ten pounds lighter, though that was somewhat offset by being four years older.

Thursday, Aug 18th, 2011

The first 24 hours of my PBP trip got me from Seattle to the Campanile, arriving mid-afternoon. On the first flight, I spent 11 hours sitting next to someone with a cold, giving me fearful memories of 2007, but fortunately as it turns out, I didn’t catch it. At the Campanile, assembling my bike under skies that threatened rain, I raced with a woman who was assembling a Ritchey breakaway. We both completed assembly within a minute of each other–which is an indirect way of saying she beat me!

I and George Moore (my training partner for much of the year) joined Maile Neel and some others for an Indian dinner. When the waiter brought out silverware he dropped my fork on the ground, picked it up, brushed it off, then tried to hand it to me. Not confidence inspiring. But the dinner was reasonably good and did not result in food poisoning.

Friday, Aug 19th

After 10 hrs of sleep, I ate breakfast with George, slept another 4 hrs, then we cycled out to Monfort L’Amaury and had an Orangina. On the way back, I stopped to true my wheel and discovered a bent spoke. Roger Hillas came by as we were stopped.

The cathedral in Monfort L'Amaury

We bought dinner at the Carrefour (following the example of Ed Felker and Mary Gersema). The Carrefour is like the biggest gourmet Safeway you’ve ever seen, combined with a Walmart. We had a rotisserie chicken, broccoli and carrots with hummus, some fresh currants that we didn’t like, creme brulee that we did like, and a bottle of port. 24 euros and no one dropped my fork on the ground.

Saturday, Aug 20th

Bike inspection became unexpectedly difficult when I discovered that I needed my “dossier”. My failure to heed instructions lead to a long wait on a bench in an official part of the gymnase building while I waited for “Gerard” to print my dossier. As Gerard walked by empty-handed for the umpteenth time, he patted my shoulder sympathetically. Eventually the precious dossier arrived and I ran and took my bike through inspection.

The DCR photo was somewhat chaotic. At a few minutes before ten, other groups were getting photos taken and the space in front of the sign was completely congested. All but a few DCR randos were milling within 20 yards of the sign, some looking like they might drift away unless we created a mass with enough gravitational pull. So we gathered everyone, assaulted the square, and pushed our way in to get the photo. Just as we finished, some MIA’s arrived so we took more photos. Then as those wound up, more DCR’s arrived so we regrouped for another set of photos. At least with that many photos, something should turn out!

After a trip to Versailles, with a long ride around the lake, we rode back and had an afternoon nap. Packed drop bags, then got dinner from the Carrefour–pate, baguette, shrimp, broccoli and hummus, apple, creme brullet, and chocolate mousse. We had planned to go somewhere for a beer but were too full.

George Moore and Nick at Versailles.

Had a very fitful sleep, unable to sleep at first while plagued by thoughts of what had been left undone (need to fill out the health info on my brevet card!), what might go wrong (that little squeak as I’m riding–bearing failure imminent?), and all the little and big things I’ve not done well in life. Then after finally drowsing off, wakened by a lightning storm and heavy rain. Eventually, I woke at 7:30 to a lovely, pastel dawn with wispy clouds.

Shown below is the ride plan. Distances in miles, climbing in feet. “Climb/C” is feet of climbing per hundred miles on the given leg. “BigClmb” is the total climbing on climbs over 400 feet in the given leg. “Slp” is Sleep. DropDead means you’d better speed up.

The best laid plans of mice and men...

Sunday, Aug 21st (day that PBP starts)

After breakfast, we napped fitfully before a mandatory noon checkout from the hotel. Discovered that everything is closed, so no dinner from the Carrefour today (nor could we cool down in the frozen food section when the afternoon temperature was in the low 90’s).

After checking out, George and I found a small grocery store that was open and bought some lunch. I was going to buy a water bottle since once we’re in line at the stadium we won’t be able to get any water. But I bumped into Chris Heg (who I rode the Seattle 1000Km with in Aug 2010) and he had an extra water bottle which he gave me.

We went to the McDonalds to have a cool place to sit, but no AC so it was warm. We ate a snack and then tried to snooze on the bench seats for an hour. But you couldn’t roll over without waking yourself up, and besides there was someone playing a computer game that involved repeated police sirens every few minutes. Eventually we got annoyed enough that we decided to go to the gymnase to try to find a place to sleep. Our plan was to find a spot in the shade in the grounds of the gymnase and then try to sleep until 8pm and only then go get in line to ride. By waiting until the last groups of 90-hour riders, we figured we could avoid standing in line for hours.

We got there at about 3pm and lay down in the shade in the field where the safety inspection had taken place. With earplugs and black eyeshade, I could almost trick myself into snoozing, but it was a very fitful sleep and it seemed as though I never slept for more than five minutes before popping awake again. Eventually after a couple of hours of this I decided to see what was happening in the gymnase, and the “specials” (tandems and recumbents) were leaving and I got to wave to John Mazur and Cindy Piotrowski.

As I walked back to sleep in the field some more, I noticed a line of bikes filing in through a gap in the fence, where a PBP official was checking cards, so I asked someone what was going on and he said it was the 6pm start group. Since people were getting in the line from both directions, I ran back to our field, woke George up, and then we ran back down with our bikes, joined the line, and ten minutes later we were standing next to the soccer field, inside the gymnase along with hundreds of other cyclists in the hot, hot sun. Amazingly, Carol Bell was there, too. Meanwhile, I still had a 700-page novel stuffed in my handlebar bag, along with a CD I had bought for Tom Reeder’s wife, Ruth, and her friend Marcia. Needless to say, I was not enthusiastic about carrying these to Loudeac where Ruth would have my drop bag. So I frantically tried to phone them to try to figure out where they could intercept me and get the book and CD, while simultaneously trying to roll forward in line and stay with George, only to discover that the signal had cut out as we rolled forward so now I had to have George hold (and roll) my bike while I ran up to the fence, a few feet higher. Ay carumba!

Ride Start: George (foreground) and Carol Bell (middle-right).

By 5:42 we had filed outside the stadium and it was clear that I wasn’t going to find Ruth in time so I put the book and CD at the base of a lamppost and called Ruth to tell her where it was. George and I were near the back of the 6pm starting group, so when they made a “separation” between our group and the next one behind, we moved back to the very back of our start group to try to avoid accidents. After an interminable few minutes, we were off, George and I together.

On our way, Nick and George (Courtesy E. Felker).

We cruised through the outer suburbs–Ed and Mary were at a roundabout taking photos–and for the first some miles we were waved through all the intersections, but by Elancourt we were on our own. It was nice to be starting in the daytime so we could see the villages and wave to all the villagers who were cheering us on.

Who are these people drafting me? (photo Maindru)

Elancourt, a couple of days before PBP.

Soon the sun was setting and it was a beautiful, long sunset. But then we were all waved to stop by PBP officials who told us sternly to put on our vests. Good thing, because in the excitement (and heat) we had forgotten to.

Sunset, with George in the foreground.

It got dark and we rode on and on. George’s plan was to eat at Mortagne and my plan was to continue through and live off my Sustained Energy protein/maltodextrin drink and homemade maltodextrin “Kiwigel”. So at some stage, George surged ahead to make time to eat, but after a little while I caught back up with him somehow, and then we got split up again but now I was a little ahead. After I came in to Mortagne, I saw George come in, but he didn’t see me in the dark, and by the time I had finished making up a bottle of Sustained Energy, I couldn’t find him. As usual, the one thing that every rider needs — water — was not immediately obvious. Only after finding a “Translator” was I able to get the attention of the barman, who grudgingly filled my bottle.

Monday, August 22nd

After eighteen minutes at Mortagne, I left at 00:37, three minutes ahead of schedule. It was still pretty warm out, so I was still in shorts and short-sleeved shirt. Rolling out of Mortagne, I was by myself for quite awhile, but then eventually riders started coming up. I rode in the tandem vortex of John and Cindi for quite awhile, but then Ron and Barb Anderson of New Jersey came up on their tandem and I rode with them for awhile. Eventually it got chilly so I stopped to put on more clothes, refill the Sustained Energy, and move some bottles of Kiwigel from the Carradice saddlebag to the Gilles Berthoud handlebar bag. To my disgust, the Kiwigel bottles had come open (probably with the pressure changes on the plane) and had leaked everywhere, and the plastic bag they were in was open and partially upside down, so the Kiwigel was stuck all over inside the Carradice. Fortunately, everything else was in plastic bags, but it meant that everything was a gooey disgusting mess. I cleaned it up somewhat with water bottles, but there’s only so much you can do. Meanwhile, I had noticed that a tandem had stopped behind me. It was Ron and Barb, who had also stopped to get some warm clothes on and because Ron was feeling a little nauseous. I rolled out again into the dark and eventually finished my first 200Km in about 9h26m and continued on by myself into Villaines, arriving at 4:39 about 12 minutes behind schedule.

Me at night (photo Maindru).

At Villaines, I found that the bike “racks” couldn’t handle my 650Bx38 tires, so had to squeeze in to find something to lean the bike on. Then I couldn’t find the control itself, so wasted some time wandering around trying to find it. At least I found water while I was wandering–it was outdoors, sort of a “water manifold” supplied by a rubber hose. When I got back to my bike, I realized that it’d be smart to get all the Kiwigel cleaned up, so I took all the gooey plastic bags out of my Carradice and schlepped them back up to the manifold and cleaned it all up. At least Kiwigel washes off easily! Despite all of this wandering, I was only a couple of minutes longer than planned at the control, so set out only a few minutes late, just before 5:00 am.

After Villaines, I was starting to feel the hard pace we’d been riding and my legs were feeling dead. I was surprised at just how hard the terrain was, it seemed like endless ups and downs. A few minutes before dawn, just after riding through Charchigne, I was feeling just the slightest bit drowsy. So I decided to go for a ten minute nap, figuring it would clear the cobwebs and then the sun would wake me up for the day. After 11 minutes of stoppage time, I rolled into the new dawn feeling refreshed and energetic. It didn’t take long for the energetic part to wear off, but I still kept a fairly decent pace and finished my first 300Km in 15h3m.

Somewhere along the way, George Moore had come up so we were riding together some of the time. He would accelerate ahead every so often, but I didn’t have the energy to keep up so I let him go, but then not too long after he’d be soft pedaling or I’d see him by the side of the road. So we came in to Fougeres together at about 9:30, half an hour behind schedule. I decided I’d better abandon my plan for an all-Sustained Energy/Kiwigel diet and eat a real meal, a big bowl of soup, some ham and a mound of mashed potatoes. So that pushed the stop even longer and we left just under an hour late.

Fougeres castle.

But the megabreakfast did the trick, and I felt great heading toward Tinteniac. George and I were drafting other riders some of the time, and leading pacelines some of the time, and then Jim Logan came up and the three of us were rotating at the front of a paceline that grew. But then we hit hills, and Jim and I were at the front and kept up the pace, and lost George and the rest of the paceline. Eventually I told Jim I was going to let him go, and eased off until George came up. Our moving average pace on this leg was just under 15mph, so we made up a little time.

But we still came in to Tinteniac nearly an hour late and the cafeteria line was long so we decided to ride on and find somewhere to eat. But then we saw a jambon baguette stand on the way out of the control, so we grabbed one of those. George can’t eat while riding so we sat and ate, and then rolled out. But in only a few hundred yards, we decided we needed to eat more, so we found a bakery. With all the stoppage, we were now an hour and twenty minutes behind schedule. The secret control in Quedillac seems to have stopped us for twenty minutes, God only knows what we were doing. Nonetheless, we passed the 400Km point at 21h46m, which is not a bad pace. It was drizzling just slightly at times.

Definitely not the Arlington, Va. Town Hall.

By the time we came in to Loudeac at about 6:30, we were nearly 1h40m behind schedule. It was very nice to see Ruth and Marcia. We did not control fast. We ate, which meant a long line. Then George went to his drop bag while I went to the bathroom, which meant a trip all the way across the parking lot. Then I went back to the other side and got my drop bag and transferred food and supplies for the next 400Km. I got my clean clothes, which meant another trip across the parking lot to the bathroom to change, being very careful not to touch anything in the bathroom. So by the time we left Loudeac, we were now 2-1/2 hours late. And we were heading toward the toughest terrain of the ride, between Loudeac and Brest.

I think our plan was to try to push on to the new sleep stop at Saint Nicolas du Pelem or even all the way to Carhaix. But five miles after Loudeac, George was sleepy, and since it was dusk I figured that this was as good a time to sleep as any, so we pulled over in Treve and spread out our space-blanket bivouac sacs on a nice little berm next to the side of the road and a line of bushes and trees. It was warm, so I slept on top of my bivy until it started drizzling, so I got inside, and it was very peaceful with the raindrops pitter-pattering on my bag. But then I noticed thunder in the distance and the thunder was moving toward us. Finally, I woke up enough to realize that an aluminized plastic bag was not the place to be in a lightning storm so I woke George up and we skedaddled. Somehow it seemed to be safer riding our bikes in the lightning than lying in an aluminized bag!

Riding in the storm, there was a lot of lightning in all directions, but none of it was very close. But it was raining so hard that we were definitely slowed down quite a bit. It was hard to see the edges of the road and this section was quite hilly so we had to creep along on the descents. A couple of miles after Corlay, around midnight, I got a flat tire and fixed it on the front steps of an abandoned building. I used the old trick of just swapping in a brand new innertube and tire, rather than taking time to figure out what caused the flat (and as I write this in early October, I still haven’t got around to inspecting that tire!).

Day Two: Tuesday, August 23rd

We continued on into the rain, and the next section of the ride had quite a bit of climbing and George seemed a little more energetic, since he’d scoot on ahead on the climbs but then I’d catch him awhile later. There were quite a few other riders around, and we passed them several times but then either George or I had to stop for some reason and they’d catch us.

But they were descending pretty cautiously so we’d catch them again. It was very claustrophobic feeling riding in the dark in the rain with other riders a little too close for comfort.

Finally we arrived at Carhaix a little after 2 am, many hours behind schedule (but having had a bit of sleep earlier than planned). We rolled out about an hour late, just before 3 am. By now we were only about 15 minutes ahead of our “Drop Dead Departure Time” — the time at which we would need to ride faster than expected for the rest of the ride if we were going to have any hope of sleeping after that. But at least it had stopped raining.

Ten miles after Carhaix, we had been doing a lot of climbing and were tired and decided we needed a short nap. Just after crossing L’aulne river, we pulled over onto a little gravel cul-de-sac where we spent forty minutes having a snooze. I just lay on the gravel, since my clothes were damper than the ground. We hadn’t noticed that as we crossed the river, the GPS had beeped to say that we were starting the 860′ climb up the Roc Trevezel!

After we started again, it was a little misty out and at some stage George zoomed on ahead up a hill. But a few minutes later he was standing by the road and I asked if he was OK and if it was OK to keep soft-pedaling. He said something that didn’t seem like “No” or “Wait”, so I kept going because I just didn’t have the energy to stop and start again, and I figured I’d see him soon.

As I climbed, the mist turned into dense fog. I remembered from 2007 that there was a lot of “approach” climbing before the “real” climb up the Roc, and I thought I was on the approach climb but I was surprised how long it was, and worried how much more difficult the Roc would be. I talked with other fog-shrouded cyclists as they passed me or I passed them. And then my GPS lit up and displayed the message “Top of Roc.” That explains it!

Coming off the top, I now had to ride the brakes pretty hard at times because of the fog. After about four miles of descending my hands were sore and I was starting to feel drowsy as I came into a little town (Commana), so I decided on a snooze. As I pulled over next to a wall, there was a woman walking her dog across the street and she waved and I waved back as I lay down.

I took a little nap under a willow and then I was woken up by a car driving through the gate in “my” wall and the driver waved and said I should go back to sleep, no need to get up. But it was time to go, I had had my 11m40s nap!

I rode on into the mist but by the time I arrived in Sizun, five miles later, I was feeling quite sleepy again and decided I had better have a longer stop. Fortunately, I saw a Credit Agricole ATM foyer and it was not totally full up, with three randonneurs sleeping on the floor. Just as I was getting settled with my earplugs and black eyemask another randonneur started to come in only this guy was trying to get his bike in with him and was making a clatter. I waved to him not to bring his bike in but he insisted on it, so … whatever!

I took my nap and slept for about half an hour and then rolled out of town, by now somewhat desperate to pee. After leaving town I stopped in a field and when I came back out, there was George Moore by my bike. It turns out, he had taken a nap where I last saw him.

We rode on together but after about ten minutes, George said he had to stop for another nap. I said “See you in Brest” and continued along. An hour later, as I came into a village I recognized the steeple and remembered from 2007 that there was a little bathroom “chateau” on the left. An elderly woman waved to me as I came up and said the bathroom was closed, but I stopped anyway and when the door opened, she gave me a very Gallic shrug.

By now it was 8:20 in the morning and I was still about 15 miles out of Brest. This was a section that in 2007 had seemed interminable and I had really bogged down, but this time it was OK. Still a long ride in to Brest, but soon enough I was crossing the bridge in the heavy mist.

Bridge to Brest in fog

The route this time continued down by the waterfront but we couldn’t really see much, and it started drizzling. I was riding with some Canadian randonneurs. There was light traffic on the roads, but not too bad. After a long time by the waterfront we turned right and rode up the Rue du Chateau past some old fortifications. I sort of knew what was coming but hoped it wasn’t, but, yes, we had to climb a mile, and what seemed like a very big climb but actually is only 230 feet.

Chilly and damp, down by the waterfront.

But finally, the magnificent Brest control, arriving about 2-1/2 hours late, still this was a 38h27m pace for a 600Km. Not great, but not too bad, and well ahead of where I was in 2007. I discovered that I had lost my bifocal bicycle glasses somewhere along the way, which made it difficult to read my Blackberry, but otherwise not really a problem.

After controlling in one building, we had to go to another building to get water, then still another to get food (where I ate briefly with Maile and John and Cindy), and finally a fourth building to go to the bathroom.

There was a long line for the bathroom, because with 5,000 randonneurs you just couldn’t possibly need more than two stalls. So I decided to continue on and find a bathroom further down the road. Despite all this wandering around between buildings, I controlled a little faster than expected and started making up some time, leaving at about 10am.

After a stop at a bakery that didn’t have a bathroom, I found a bar, which I figured would have to have one, and it was a traditional French “stand on the inverted feet and squat” toilet. Nothing to hold on to, which I think might be challenging at the best of times, but after 39 hours on the bike and in slippery mountain bike shoes it was highly non-trivial.

Coming back out of town, I rode back up the Roc with an English randonneur and we had a nice chat and stayed together on the descent for quite a while. But he was a faster rider so soon I was by myself again.

Top of the Roc Trevezel, on the return, still in fog.

Somewhere along the way, I had an insight about the previous day — that after I had eaten all the salty food at Fougeres that I had ridden really strongly on the next section. It occurred to me that I needed to eat more electrolytes, not just when I was feeling crampy, but more regularly to avoid cramps. This was probably a ride-saving realization, because afterwards I no longer was having problems feeling like my legs were dead, and started to pick up time.

By midafternoon it got quite warm, but not too bad in my wool jersey and shorts. I was making good time on my new regimen of eating an Endurolyte about every hour, drinking Sustained Energy and Kiwigel, and at every other control stopping for a real meal. By Carhaix, I had made up ten minutes.

Still, I noticed quite often that I’d find myself halfway between controls wishing I were at the control and then I’d wonder why. It’s not that I was uncomfortable, sleepy, or anything else — just basically a certain level of anxiety about whether something was going to happen before the control and that would be it, the end of my ride. So I had to keep reminding myself to just enjoy the moment.

Somewhere before Saint Nicolas du Pelem, Cindy and John caught me and I hopped in to their tandem vortex. At Saint Nicolas, I called Jan to say hello, and she mentioned that an American rider had apparently been killed in an accident. Depressing news. She also said that George had stopped with a broken spoke, which seemed a little confusing since normally that would not be a big issue.

After we left Saint Nicolas, I stayed with John and Cindy and we arrived at Loudeac around dusk, now only an hour and forty minutes behind schedule. Ruth and Marcia were supposed to be meeting me at Loudeac with my drop bag, but they weren’t there and I couldn’t reach them on my cell phone. Quite worrisome, but I had enough food left over to make it to Tinteniac and I figured we’d meet up there, text-messaging Ruth to try to make arrangements.

I stood around and waited for John and Cindy to do their drop bag, since we had agreed to stay together for safety during the night riding. Just as we were about to leave, I happened to look up the long row of bikes, and noticed a bag under a bench that looked very much like my drop bag. Yes indeed, there it was, along with a little note with my name on it! John and Cindy were very nice and waited for me.

Since I now was under pressure to get my drop bag stuff done, everything seemed to take forever. I discovered that the new batch of Kiwigel bottles had also leaked, and John was nice enough to take them somewhere and wash them while I changed into clean shorts. Meanwhile Cindy sent a text on my phone to let Ruth know I’d found the drop bag–and discovered a text from Ruth that said the drop bag was there. Hmm, maybe next time I’ll bring a spare pair of reading glasses. I decided to keep the wool jersey on for warmth overnight, and since the forecast was for temps in the low 70’s the next day.

All this faffing around just burned time, so it took 101 minutes to control and by the time we left, I was back to my 2-1/2 hour time deficit. And now with enough food to last the final 280 miles, my bike was very heavy and very overstuffed. But John and Cindy agreed not to sprint up hills so that I’d have the chance to catch them at the top and get back into the tandem vortex before the descent.

This worked well and we stayed together riding through the night and chatting. A “light sucker” latched on to us –someone whose primary illumination seemed to be several fireflies in a bottle, so he was using our lights to see by. It’s very disconcerting at night to know that there is someone right on your wheel but you can’t see them–you don’t even know which side he’s on if you have to have an emergency stop. I tried to drop him on the descents but he just hung right in there.

I was starting to feel a little drowsy and announced I was going to stop, pulled over, and firefly man pulled over as well and started to go lie down. That was enough to wake me up, I didn’t want him to wait for me and latch on again, so I hopped back on my bike and sprinted back to John and Cindy while the light-sucker snoozed.

Day Three: Wednesday, Aug 24th

We rode on and on into the night, up and down hills, past midnight, and eventually I started to get so drowsy that I decided to ride up next to them and chat. But soon I realized that I was starting to drift off while talking with John, which did not seem like a very safe thing, so I decided I had better take a nap even though we were only about twelve miles out of Tinteniac.

I stopped in the next little town, Medreac, and slept next to a building for fifteen minutes, which was all I needed to feel refreshed. Soon I arrived in Tinteniac, at 2 in the morning, about 2h20m behind schedule. While I was in line for food, I checked my blackberry, which I could just barely read because I’d lost my glasses. But I could read just enough to find out that the American rider who had died in the accident was Thai Pham, one of the new riders in our club who was a quiet, sweet man. Very sad. Way beyond very sad.

John and Cindy were surprised to see me so soon and we had a nice chat while we wolfed down some dinner. They asked if I knew how other riders were and I relayed the news about George’s spoke, but did not have the heart to tell them about Thai. They finished just a bit before me and I saw them just as they got checked in to the “dortoir” (dormitory) but by the time I got to the front of the line they said I would have to wait until 3 for a cot.

I decided to just go sleep on the floor, so I went back up to the cafeteria, lay down with my earplugs and mask, and despite my sadness about the news of Thai, fell quickly asleep. I set my little alarm clock but was worried that I wouldn’t hear it with the earplugs, but I figured someone else would and they’d come kick me. The floor was very hard, so I rolled over and over, thinking about Thai each time I woke up. Someone was snoring loudly so I rotated the other direction and crawled away a little bit. I slept for three hours and felt pretty refreshed so decided to roll on, leaving about two hours behind schedule and rolling out alone into the night.

Dawn of the third day.

French village at dawn.

I felt fairly sluggish to start with and was riding with a Brit and we had a nice chat. But at some stage I concluded that my saddle rails must have bent slightly because my saddle was feeling weird and it felt like it was tilted back, so I stopped and adjusted the angle a degree forward. That made me roll forward off my sitbones a little if I took my hands off the bars, but it still felt better.

I continued on, riding strong and arriving at Fougeres only an hour and a half behind schedule. Somewhere along the way I realized that my left hand was going numb, so I stopped and titled the saddle back a degree to where it had been to start with. It felt great that way and I realized that I had yet again made the classic rookie mistake of adjusting things that didn’t need to be adjusted on the ride!

Eventually I got to Villaines, now only 47 minutes behind schedule, controlling fast and leaving only 21 minutes behind schedule. At that stage, I was 140-some miles out of Paris, and thought there was a possibility I could get there in twelve hours if I could do it without sleeping.

Fougeres castle on the way back.

By mid-afternoon, it was quite hot and twenty miles down the road the heat was making me feel drowzy and the road had quite a bit of traffic so I decided to stop and take a ten-minute nap in a little roadside rest stop. Then somewhere in the next few miles, there was a very long hill, very exposed to the sun, and very hot, and at the top I stopped at a roadside stand to water up and eat a little pastry.

There was a British fellow there, who asked me how I liked my wool shirt in the heat. Hmm, I’d forgotten that I was wearing wool! His comment explained much.

Fields in Bretagne.

Villaines and a velomobile.

Big sky country in Bretagne.

PBP vests--highly visible, day or night.

I continued on, riding strong, but about two miles out of Mortagne I was overcome with drowsiness. Just two miles and I could barely keep my eyes open. I forced myself to press on and stay awake, singing ninety-nine bottles and using every trick I could think of to stay awake for ten minutes! I arrived at Mortagne almost half an hour ahead of schedule. I ate as big a dinner as I could stuff down, it took a long time to eat it, and then I paid for a cot and went to sleep, asking to be woken up in three hours. After a couple of hours I woke up and went for a pee and when I came back my blanket was gone. I got another blanket but then I couldn’t get back to sleep. I lay there for a bit and then looked up at a noise and saw that there was a woman two cots away standing there bottomless in the dim light, as she changed into clean shorts. I think it wasn’t as dark in there as she thought!

I rolled over and tried to sleep, but then it occurred to me that since the organizers had taken my blanket away, they’d probably recorded me as having already left, so they wouldn’t come wake me up. So I got up and rolled out before midnight, now an hour and a half ahead of schedule.

More fields in Bretagne.

Day Four: Thursday, August 25th

Riding in the dark, on nearly empty roads, the temperature was very pleasant and I was feeling pretty good. I drafted a group of mostly-Swedish and a few other randonneurs for quite a while until the Swedes stopped for a pee, and then I drafted behind the “other” randonneurs until I started to get chilly and stopped to put more clothes on.

Now I rode by myself for awhile, passing some and being passed by others, as I started to feel a little more drowzy. As I stopped in a little square in Brezolles to take a nap, I heard Pam Wright of Texas ride by, saying that her GPS had just come back on all by itself.

After a ten-minute nap, I was rejuvenated, and rode the last sixteen miles in to Dreux very hard. I was having a great time, singing to myself and enjoying the ride and the loose camaraderie of all the randonneurs riding through the night. An Italian started drafting me and we tried to chat a little bit, but he spoke almost no English and I speak no Italian and couldn’t seem to guess the Latinate words from my little knowledge of Spanish and French.

Eventually I got to Dreux at around 4am, an hour and twenty minutes ahead of schedule. I ate and said hi to Pam and went out to my bike and thought about just riding on, as called for in the ride plan. But I had plenty of time, and thoughts of Thai’s fate chastened me so I went back in to the control and found a place to lie down, set my alarm clock, and slept for an hour and forty minutes. I got up and ate a creme brulee and a pastry and headed out, now only four minutes ahead of schedule.

Leaving Dreux was emotional because that is where I DNF’d in 2007. Fortunately, someone had warned me about the big climb out of town, so I was prepared and just took it slow and easy. By this time my butt was feeling a little bruised from four days of pounding. My legs were feeling alright, but I just didn’t feel like riding hard, partly because it was a beautiful dawn and I was enjoying this part of the ride at my pokey little 12.5 miles an hour and I’d get to Paris all in good time as long as I kept on pedaling. I chatted with a Brit for awhile, he has been unemployed for three years and can’t find a job, poor guy.

Riders on the uplands past Dreux, dawn of the last day.

Dawn of the last day.

Soon I was riding by myself again, and the hills that had been barely noticeable on the first day were very noticeable now, but I just took them at an easy pace and no matter how long each took, eventually it was done and I was that much closer. I stopped in Elancourt as the day was warming and took off the arm and leg warmers. Then I was riding with Aussies again as we rode in the last few miles to Paris. I was feeling very good at this stage and was sprinting hard to make green lights, but then I’d get caught by a light and the Aussies would catch up.

In no time at all, it seemed, we were on the last road to the stadium and then we were coming in to the stadium and people were cheering. I had expected this to be a very emotional moment, but it wasn’t really, just a little bit flat because it was over and I was feeling so good that I’d have liked to have kept on going. I chatted with Pam Wright for a bit, and then went and controlled and walked to the beverage tent and got my free beer, and then saw Jim Logan on the way back to my bike, so we chatted for awhile.

I got some photos of myself with my bike and soon I was riding back to the hotel. George Moore called, he was on a train, having ridden on for a couple of days after abandoning back at Carhaix owing to sleep deprivation. I went to the Carrefour and bought lots of desserts, including a Paris-Brest pastry, and ate them all.


On Friday, I took my bike apart and got packed and then re-arranged flights to avoid the hurricane that was coming in to the East Coast on Saturday. Saturday, I had a long and very uncomfortable flight to Minneapolis and then after to DC, and then I was home again with the love of my life, Jan.

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley (Burns, To a Mouse, 1785)

With untold thanks to all those who helped me finish PBP — my wife Jan (from whom I learned much about more efficient cycling while riding the tandem together), my daughter Ellen (who said after PBP in 07, “You have to try again, Dad”), my son Simon (who can walk my legs off, so at least I can remain competitive in some realm), George Moore (who helped so much in training for this PBP), George Winkert (who helped so much in training for the last one, and who was along for the ride this time, even if he didn’t know it), Crista Borras and Lynn Kristianson (for putting together such great training rides), Bill Beck (for being such a great RBA), Ruth Reeder and Marcia (for being so encouraging and having my life-saving drop bag there when I needed it), Tom Reeder (who introduced me to randonneuring by saying “Would you be interested in being on our fleche team?”), Chris Heg (who was such a good companion on the SIR 1000Km last year, my “come back” ride), countless others from whom I have learned much, and the numerous and generous French countryfolk who are so unbelievably encouraging.