Okay, here's one way to look at it... I just rode the most amazing 600 kilometer ride of my life. I crossed the French countryside, passing through beautiful little centuries-old villages and quaint farms with French families along the road cheering me along. I rode with a strong and entertaining riding partner and met and rode with a bunch of other great folks along the way. I ate well at the controls and finished the ride in good spirits. Never mind that the ride was supposed to have been 1200 kilometers... a minor technical detail. Anyway, here's part I of my 600k Paris-Brest (I'm going to break this into at least a couple installments since I know I have a tendency to blather on once I get going on these things).
My first PBP lesson was learned the day before the ride. On Saturday I had to get myself and bike from our hotel in Versailles to the start in St. Quentin-en-Yvelines for the mandatory bike safety check and to get my packet with the brevet card, frame number, etc. Out in front of our hotel I met two guys from Milan who were heading to the same place. I had directions and a map printed out to get me to the start, but since the two Italians said they knew how to get there I figured I'd just tag along. It was a beautiful day as we rode together through Versailles and on along the Rue de la Division Leclerc that took us toward St. Quentin.
About 20 minutes into the ride we passed the turn-off that I had marked on my map, but the Italians kept going straight. I asked if they were sure they knew the way and they laughed and said "naturalmente" and kept riding. About 5 kilometers later I was sure we were way past St. Quentin and I shared my thoughts with my two new Italian friends. They were still convinced they knew where they were going so I bid them arrivederci and did a quick U-turn. After back-tracking for a while I found my way back to St. Quentin and eventually to the start. At the start I ran into some Seattle Rando friends and told them about how I hadn't even started PBP yet and already I had gotten myself lost. From two different people I heard the exact same advice. "Never follow the Italians." Okay, lesson one for PBP could be checked off.