Lining up for the 80 hour start
It was hot and humid for the start on Sunday. Or at least it was hot and humid for this Seattle boy who hadn't seen the thermometer go much above 80 degrees all summer. I met my riding partner Kelly at about 2:30. While waiting for the start I ran into some other Seattle Randos (Ken Carter, Ryan Hamilton and Jan Heine) who were also doing the 80 hour start. We were all hanging back so we could stay in the shade for as long as possible. That put us all in the third wave which finally took off at about 4:40pm.
Kelly and friends chilling before the start
I had heard horror stories about sketchy riding and lots of crashes early on in the 80 hour start as everyone is scrambling to stay with the lead group. But back in the third wave it was all calm and civil, although it was a little like being swept away by a fast moving river. The river flowed smoothly through the Paris suburbs and I think I was probably 25 km into the ride before I even noticed I was pedaling. I'm sure it was just adrenaline, but I could have sworn the first hour was all down hill.
After a couple of hours we were out of the 'burbs and into the country and the peloton had started to thin out a bit. I started coming down from my adrenaline high and settled into the task at hand, that being to ride a hell of a long distance. Also about that time I started realizing that with the heat, humidity and excitement of the start, I had let myself get dehydrated. 50 km into a 1200 km ride and I was already getting cramps and feeling nauseous, telltale signs of dehydration. So I told Kelly I needed to back off on speed some and do my best to get caught up on fluids and look forward to the setting of the sun and the cooler temperatures the night would bring.
Kelly and I arrived at the Mortagne-au-Perche food stop, about 140 km in, just after the sun had gone down. I was still feeling pretty crappy at that point, but taking a couple minutes to down a Coke helped a lot. Not long after we left Mortagne-au-Perche I started feeling better.
The night was a blur. Riding at night is always a blurry affair for me. The darkness becomes a tunnel surrounding me and the patch of road that's illuminated by my trusty B&M IQ Cyo headlight. When there's nothing else around for reference, that illuminated patch of road could be in France, Washington or on the moon (except that I'm pretty sure there are no paved roads on the moon). It all looks the same. But every once in a while we'd roll through a small village looking like it had been in suspended animation for three or four hundred years. No Circle Ks or 24 hour Safeways. Nope, we were definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. And amazingly, no matter what time it was (2:00am? Sure! 4:00am? Why not!) there would be someone cheering us on from the front door of their house. "Bonne Route!" "Allez, Allez!" they'd say, as if they had nothing better to do. Don't they have late night TV in France?
At 1:26am we arrived at the first control in Villaines-la-Juhel, about 222 km into the ride. I think we were there for about 30 minutes, but as I mentioned before, the night was a very blurry affair for me so I'm really sure. I remember thinking that I was feeling a little more beat up than I normally do after 200 km, but generally all systems were go, so after some food and coffee we pressed on.
It was still dark, but the sky was beginning to blush when we arrived at the Fougeres control around 5:30am and 310 km into the ride. At Fougeres we met Kelly's friend, Dave who had started with the first wave. Dave had tried to stay with the lead group as long as possible which turned out to be for the first two hours before he was spit out like like a wad a gum with all the flavor gone. Dave was in good spirits none-the-less and seemed to be getting his flavor back. Based on the stories Dave told of riding with the lead pack, I would have been dropped before most of the other lead riders had broken a sweat.