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.

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