|Dad getting ready to head to the start Sunday afternoon|
Caution, LONG, very long, but hey it is about 1200km of riding. Sorry, many photos from previous posts.
For Paris Brest Paris, after qualifying for the event the first thing you need to do is decide what start group you want to go with. The 80 hour group leaves at 5pm on Sunday, the 90 hour group starts leaving at 6pm on Sunday and the 84 hour group starts to leave at 5am on Monday morning. I choose the 84 hour group since I did not want to spend al day waiting around and then ride through the first night. The groups start in waves of about 500 riders, I missed being in the first group by 2 bikes and so had to wait an additional 15 minutes, not too bad considering that people that showed up for the 90 hour start 2 hours early only made the 4th group meaning that they waited around 3 hours to start.
|My Waltworks prepped and mostly ready to go|
Conveniently it started to rain about 5 minutes before the start. Many folks started to rummage around in their bags for more clothing, myself among them. Things started off mellow enough with a car and motorcycle leading out the group, they were to stay on the front for about the first 15-20 km to get us out of town. The relaxed attitude did not last long however and within 5 minutes of starting, with the car still in front and roads still wet, riders started trying to force their way forward only to have to slam on their brakes once they got to the front. I managed to keep myself out of trouble and towards the front through the start and figured that things would settle down and sort themselves out once we were out of town and left to our own devices and they sort of did.
Once clear of the car and town a pretty big group moved off the front because of the rolling nature of the course. In hind sight I probably should not have stayed with this group but I did. Rather than riding at a steady effort level there were a few guys that really wanted to keep a certain pace, this meant riding extremely hard on the hills, soft peddling over the tops and coasting on the down hills. This of course leads to the group stringing out on the hills and collapsing on itself over the tops. I had read somewhere that if you qualify, make it to Paris and through the first 50km you are half way done with PBP. One rider in our group had a pretty bad crash in the opening 50km, I really only heard it to start with as it was behind me, but turned in time to see a riders skidding across the yellow line eventually getting his bar turned 90 degrees and flipping, it looked PAINFUL.
One side effect of the crash was a reduction in size of the front group that continued to work poorly together. Eventually I played the roll of “little sister” and needed to pull over, amazingly after 2 hours out nobody else did so even though I rode to the front of the group and asked along the way I pulled over alone to water some grass. Eventually the second group on the road caught up to me and I joined in to pull the group along with 3 or 4 others and a bunch of hangers on. I had added a 3rd water bottle cage to my bike so I could avoid using a camelback and I was glad to have it as the first food and water stop was 140km in and I just made it, I now think that for a brevet bike 3 cages is mandatory if they fit on the frame. Though with the location of the bottle and the spacing to the front wheel I have to stop and pour the water into one of the other bottles, which again lead to the group riding away from me, c’est la vie.
After the start things are mostly a blur until the Loudeac sleep stop, lots of rolling hills, agricultural land, sunflower and corn fields, some nice forested areas as well. I also made one of my worst mistakes during this stretch, I had stopped to get out my “rain kit” (a garbage bag with 3 holes to make a vest, latex gloves, newspaper bags for the legs and a shower cap all stuffed into a small sandwich bag) after putting on the shower cap and putting the rest in the handle bar bag so as to have quicker access to it I rode off without zipping up my seat bag. I lost all my chamois cream for the day, tums, several packets of gel and the dark lenses for my glasses before my spare tail light fell out exploding on the road alerting me to the open bag. I also came very close to wrecking in a wet round about, coming into it far too fast and having to bunny hop onto the side walk then again over some rocks back onto the street going the right direction, definitely got my heart racing. At the Loudeac stop I ate a hot meal and tried to find my dad, he had started in the 5th wave of 90 hour riders and was due to leave about an hour or so after I’d arrived. It had taken me just over 19 hours to complete the first 450km which I was pretty happy with. I checked for him again after eating and noticed that his drop bag was gone which would mean that he had it somewhere. After changing into a clean kit and restocking food, cream etc, I did not take a shower since it had been raining off and on all day and was continuing to do so into the night, I headed back out.
I did not make it far, I have been trying to break in a new saddle for a few weeks and have not gotten completely used to it. I actually did not even make it back out to the road before turning around and rolling back to change my saddle, yes I brought a second. While doing this I noticed my dad’s bike and his drop bag still missing so after changing my saddle I looked around again and finally asked to check the sleep area for him since I had seen people that he rode in with leaving. The guy at the sleep area found him pretty quickly and a check of his sleep request showed that he wanted to be awoken at 1am to get back on the road, at this point it was 2:30am, OUCH, lost time is a killer. I finally headed back out into the rain to see how far I could make it without sleep as my dad got ready.
|Sleeping on the tables|
I was pretty groggy at this point and besides the rain and this being probably that hardest part of the course, two things of note happened during the next 40km to a food and sleep stop (but not a checkpoint). First is, I pulled onto a side road to take a leak and did not notice how much lower the side road was than the main road. When I tried to get back on and ride I did not push hard enough to make it back up onto the road and teetered into the tall wet grass on the side of the road, definitely time to get some sleep. The second was much more serious, though I did not think much of it at the time. There was a gas truck in the ditch on the side of the road and a couple of emergency vehicles at the bottom of a roller. It turns out that an american named Thai from the DC Rando group was killed during the night, probably not long before I went by, though I don’t know the exact circumstances. Really sad.
|Dad crossing the bridge in Brest|
|Dad and I together at the Brest control|
When I made it to the next stop I tried to just put my head down on the table without success and eventually went and got a bed in the gym. I had made it 490km in the first 24 hours. I woke about 30 minutes before I’d asked to be so just got dressed and on the road. The only thing I really remember from the morning is being hungry on the first bit headed out to Carhaix. After some food I perked up and started on the last leg out to Brest. Up until this point, besides the rain we had been really lucky with the weather. It was cool, foggy and the generally west wind had been from the northeast, meaning a cross tailwind, along with the rain. On this last stretch the prevailing west wind picked back up which made for a long grind, it did not help that there is something like a 25km gradual climb as well. Of course the start of the climb really did not seem like it was uphill until you noticed the riders going the opposite direction coasting and not slowing down. This is followed by an equally long downhill into Brest, a few rollers and it is across the bridge. Next you have to fight a never ending series of roundabouts along the coast and back up into town and the control. Thought there were several bands out play at intersections that helped get your mind off the repeated slowing and accelerating through the roundabouts. I arrived at about 3pm, it had taken just under 34 hours to make the outward bound journey.
I quickly made my way in and checked in and as I was headed to fill my bottles I ran into my dad again. He had passed me while I was “sleeping”. We decided to try and stay together for a bit and planned on stopping at a Creperie in a small town not too far out of Brest. In the town where the Creperie is we ran into Irene T. from Boulder and Deb who she was riding with and is planning on moving to Boulder. They had actually been riding with my dad off and on a bit and after convincing them that they had a bit more time than they thought to make the next check point they joined us for a nice light meal. After eating the long climb was a breeze, not to mention the west wind pushing us along. We made it into Carhaix in pretty good time and pressed onto Loudeac and another short night of rest.
|Waiting for our crepes|
|Rider sleeping on the side of the road, very common by the 3rd day|
I again woke on my own before I had asked to be and just got ready to go. The whole 3rd and into the 4th day were kind of surreal. All sorts of things that you would never see in the US. Whole towns would be out with tents set up to feed and fuel the riders. Families, baby to grandma/pa, would be out on the street to cheer ALL the riders as they passed. There was a row of high school aged kids on a bridge making a ton of noise as you approached and did the wave as you passed (in the US you would be more likely to get stones thrown at you by such a group). Families would have tables out with water, soda, juice, beer and wine for the passing riders, they would even just leave the stuff out at night for passing riders. On top of that you have riders that can barely control their bikes weaving all over the place. Silver burritos laying on the side of the road next to bikes (you have to take an emergency blanket, not a rule but everyone does) and sleeping riders on park benches and in phone booths. Many of these riders had literally ridden until they fell over and just wrapped themselves up where they lay.
One thing that I had missed on the way out was the food at Tinteniac. I had not stopped to eat there since the hot food was upstairs and who wants to have to walk up stairs in the middle of a 1230km bike ride? However, in the morning I had not eaten at Loudeac before leaving and was starved by the time I made it to Tinteniac and so forced myself to walk up the stairs to the food which turned out to be the best hot food I had at a control. They had well marbled prime rib that was very tender with a mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes, which the sauce improved. Most of the hot food options at the controls were relatively bland which is good for the stomach but eventually you need something with more flavor. Rice, pasta and mashed potatoes where supplemented by boiled chicken, fish or pork and a mild sauce. Another thing was the drink choices, of course there was water, regular and carbonated, then there were the sodas and juices last there was the beer and wine, an unbelievable amount of which was consumed by riders during the event.
While it seemed as though everyone was suffering, I had gone through that on the first day, fighting cramps for well over 200km. I felt great on the 3rd day, not that I could get up and sprint up a hill, but I could grind out high steady speed and never seemed to get tired. Anyone who has ridden a truly long event with me knows that this is never the case and I usually fade big time so I wanted to milk the good feelings as long as I could. I actually had people telling me that if I slowed down and let them draft the whole way they would keep me company??? I on the other hand could already smell the finish which was still over 300km away. I was still getting passed on the hills by people that would sprint up them but then they were so tired that they could not get on when I would go by on the flats or downhill. Riding out of Villaines de Juhel I spent some time riding with a 17 year old local kid who was out for a quick training ride and was probably going to head back to the control to help out afterwards.
|Just follow the signs|
The next control is Montagne au Perche which was just a food stop on the way out. This was a pretty well stocked control and I was able to check on dad’s status with their internet connection which was nice. Again the whole town is out checking out the different bikes and helping to support the riders. It was at this point that I really started to beef up my caffein intake. I switched from 2 vitamin I’s to 1 and an Excedrine, from Orangina to Coke and from solids on the bike to caffeinated gel packs. On the bike I never felt tired but when I sat down to eat at the controls I would fade quickly. There were several big climbs out of Montague that slowed me down and by this time it was dark again so you just had to follow the bobbing lights. Of course the further I got from the control, there would be fewer and fewer lights on the road in front of me and more lights sleeping on the side of the road. This bit has several very long sections where you stay on the same road so there are not many route markers and I started to get nervous that maybe I had gotten off route. Every once in awhile I would catch another rider but there were no groups. Eventually 2 support motor bikes went by and that was a huge relief since it meant that I was indeed on the right road. Shortly after lots more riders started popping up in front of me. Apparently I had ridden through kind of a “dead” zone where people that would have been there had all stopped because of the time that they were at the previous control, or were already sleeping on the side of the road.
|Pre-ride with the David's Salon girls|
I pulled into the final control at Dreux at about 3:30am. They had some amazing chocolate croissants from a local bakery which I naturally had a few of along with coffee mixed with hot chocolate. The last bit started off flat and fast through farm land before entering some rollers and finally a hill of two in a wooded area. Eventually I popped out into the small local villages that surround the starting town of Saint Quentin en Yvelines (SQY). This was a section that dad and I had ridden prior to the start with the Dave’s Salon team, so I knew where to go and did not have any navigational worries. Arriving back at the start I finally rode round the dirt track to get to the line, before the event I had walked when on the dirt (you don’t want to have to deal with a flat before you even start), and into the arms of a waiting volunteer who thankfully helped me get my bike down the steep ramp to the track. I final grovel up the very large steps to the gymnasium and the finishing control by which point I’d gone from completely awake while on the bike to ready to fall over of exhaustion. I had finished right at 7am on Thursday morning finishing off a 24 hour 450km push from Loudeac back to SQY.
|My tired packing job|
After finishing I had to wait for dad. Having passed him at Tinteniac with 360km or more to go I did not really know when to expect him. I had been able to check on his progress at times when the controls had internet but one of the magnetic chip readers was not working so I kind of lost track of him since it did not record and update his position when he arrived at that control. Anyway, I had plenty to do with getting food in me and trying to check back into the hotel and being told I had to wait till at least noon. Then I decided to take apart and pack my bike which in my drained state took only 4 hours. Eventually one of the ladies from the David’s Salon group headed to the finish to await some members of their group and keep an eye out for my dad as well. We got a call back at the hotel at 4pm that my dad had finished, 92hours 44minute. Once he was back at the hotel I walked back into town, should not have taken the bike apart, to get some food which we inhaled before crashing out for a much needed full night of sleep.
I really had no real expectations other than finishing, experiencing the event and seeing how my body reacted. In the future I think having a clear plan of going fast or taking my time would be better. Having finished with more than 10 hours to spare on the 84 hour time I obviously could have gotten quite a bit more sleep. Though I slept twice and woke up on my own both times so I’m not even sure how much more I’d be able to sleep if I tried. It is tempting to try the ride during the day method, where you do the first 450km to Loudeac then 330km to Brest and back, 310km from Loudeac to Montagne au Perche and a final 140km to finish, each day after the first starting at first light and hopefully finishing before dark. Though I don’t know how my legs would react to the long rests at night or if I would even be able to sleep through the night to make it worth while. The other option is to convince a couple of suckers (friends) to go with me and stay committed to staying together and working finish as quickly as possible.