Day two and the lonely road
Not long after leaving Fougeres the sun came up to signal the beginning of what I knew would be a very long day of riding. I think it was also somewhere between Fougeres and Tinteniac that I started noticing my deriere feeling a little like I had been sitting on a brick for past 14 hours. My backside rarely feels great after 14 hours in the saddle, but this was far worse than usual. With a full day ahead of me before I'd even get to the halfway point, I decided to do my best to ignore it ride on.
We got to Tinteniac at around 8:40am and while we were having some breakfast, Ryan Hamilton arrived at the control. I was surprised to see Ryan behind us since he's such a strong rider, but it turns out he had been suffering through some of the same problems I had had early on with cramps probably due to dehydration. Ryan said the cramps had forced him to ride "painfully slow" which explained why he was traveling about the same pace as me and Kelly.
Between Tinteniac and Loudeac we were passed by a big group of maybe 30 riders, mostly Italians. They were moving just a little faster than us so it made sense to hop on and take advantage of their draft (Obviously I was a little too tired at this point to remember my first PBP lesson). We hung with the Italian group for an hour or so, and I have to admit it was highly entertaining if not a bit nerve-racking. The group rode as a constantly churning blob of riders taking up both lanes of the two lane road. Every once in a while a car or semi would come in the opposite direction and there would be a bunch of shouting and bumping of wheels and elbows as the churning blob would squeeze down from two lanes into one just in time to avoid getting a few riders stuck on the grill of the on-coming semi. As soon as the truck was past us, the blob oozed outward to take over the entire road again. As this was going on, I hung off the back of the pack where I could just watch as if it were an Italian sitcom.
At the Loudeac control we saw Ryan again, still traveling painfully slow which also happened to be the same pace Kelly and I were riding (though what Ryan referred to as "painfully slow" we were calling "making good time"). I also ran into Ken Carter who I was very surprised to hear had just abandoned due to a saddle sore. Ken is another extremely strong rider, so I was starting to get a bad feeling between seeing two riders, much stronger than me struggling and with my own backside getting to be more painful by the minute.
After Loudeac the route does a fair amount of climbing, some of it pretty steep. The climbing came during the hottest part of the day so I was taking it slow. Even at my best Kelly is a much stronger climber than I am so he pulled ahead and eventually disappeared over the horizon. While I rode on alone I was overtaken by a guy named Gavin from Pennsylvania. He saw my name on the RUSA tag on my saddle as he approached and said, "Steve Frey! Randonoodler! Hey, I read your blog." Who knew that someone other than my mother reads my blog? So Gavin and I rode together for the next hour or so into Carhaix talking about bikes, raw backsides and the like. Gavin was suffering undercarriage problems not unlike my own and told me that he thought he'd probably abandon in Brest. He talked about abandoning in such an easy care free way and had such a great attitude about the whole ride--how even if he abandoned, he still will have experienced this fantastic ride across France with all the hoopla--that without knowing it, he gave me permission to actually consider abandoning for the first time.
In three years of randonneuring, three SR series, 30-some brevets and permanents, I had never DNF'd a ride (DNF = Did Not Finish). I never even considered the possibility that I would DNF a ride. But right then and there Gavin's great attitude about the whole thing helped me get over myself and realize that it's just a bike ride and the point is to have fun. I didn't decide to abandon there on the road with Gavin, but for the first time in my randonneuring career, I allowed myself to consider it as a possibility.