Friday, July 22, 2011

PBP: Kind of Like the Tour de France for Old Slow Guys from Seattle

If you're riding in Paris-Brest-Paris and you haven't found your way to the PBP Wiki yet, you should definitely go take a look. It has some great information and tools that can help with your planning.

One section I found to be particularly interesting is the statistics on who from the U.S. is registered. They have a complete list of all U.S. riders along with a bit of demographic information about them. You can go there and see all the details for yourself, but I thought I'd pull out some of the highlights here just for fun. (Yes, I'm one of those nerds who think statistics are big fun. Woohoo!)

In total, 438 U.S. riders have registered for PBP. Not surprisingly, the vast majority are men.

Ages of the riders cover a wide range from 21 to 70. The average age is 50, and a sizable majority (about two thirds) fall between the ages of 45 and 60, clearly supporting the stereotype of randonneurs as a bunch of grumpy old men.

Notice the large anomalous spike in the chart at age 49? I wonder how many of those are people trying desperately to do something meaningful as they cross the half-century mark and begin the long decline into senior discounts and vacations on cruise ships. I suppose you could put me in that camp.

One of the things I've agonized over and still stress about is the choice of a start time. I'm now locked into the 80 hour start, so I might as well get used to it. Here's how the other U.S. riders are lined up for start times.

U.S. PBP riders will be coming from all over the country, but clearly a disproportionate number are from the west coast. California has the largest number of riders with a fifth of the total. Not too surprising since it's the most populous state and much of it has an excellent climate for cycling. But how about this? Washington State is a fairly close second with 12%. Almost every one of those Washington riders is a member of my club, Seattle International Randonneurs. Since the California riders are divided among several clubs, SIR has the largest number of riders by a landslide (64). The next closest club is San Francisco Randonneurs with 43 riders.

I was curious how disproportionate Washington's number of randonneurs is compared to other states, so I compared the number of registered riders in each state with the state's total population. Washington state has 9.37 randonneurs per 1,000,000 of total population (call it "Rando parts per million" or RPPM). That's the highest rate in the country by far. Next is DC (the other Washington) with a RPPM of 4.99. Impressively Alaska ranks third with 4.22 RPPM (but since that's based on only 3 riders total, I'm not sure it means much). Colorado, Montana, California, Oregon and Minnesota all have RPPMs of 2 or more. In the rest of the states, a PBP rider is literally one in a million or less. Ten states had no riders registered for PBP (Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming).

So what's going on in Seattle that makes randonneuring so popular compared to other parts of the country? I sit here in the middle of the Seattle Rando scene and honestly I have no idea. I mean, the club is fantastic. We have great leadership, volunteers and members. But why here in Seattle where it rains 367 days of the year? I have no theories...

Monday, July 18, 2011

PBP: Rain or Shine

As with all Randonneuring events, Paris-Brest-Paris is a rain or shine proposition. Past PBPs have experienced a wide range of weather. The last PBP in 2007 was probably one of the coldest and wettest on record with near constant rain and night time temperatures in the 40s. The 2003 event on the other hand was warm and dry with temperatures in the 60s to 80s.

Since the weather can be such a huge factor in randonneuring, I've started keeping an eye on what it's doing along the route. Of course, when it comes to weather you never really know what you're going to get until you're in the middle of it, but if Brittany is experiencing a particularly warmer/dryer or cooler/wetter weather pattern than usual over the next month, it may be a somewhat reliable predictor of what we'll encounter during PBP.

To that end, thanks to Weather Underground (, below you'll find "Weather Stickers" for each of the PBP contrôle towns. Click on one to go to a more detailed weather report and forecast. But don't blame me if you get rained on in France.

Click for Paris, France Forecast

Click for Villaines-la-Juhel, France Forecast

Click for Fougeres, France Forecast

Click for Combourg, France Forecast

Click for Loudeac, France Forecast

Click for Carhaix-Plouguer, France Forecast

Click for Brest, France Forecast

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yakima Heat Camp 400k: "Heat" is a Relative Term

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I would be riding a completely gratuitous 400k night start brevet. I say "completely gratuitous" because I've already ridden all of my necessary qualifying rides for PBP. This one was purely for the fun and educational value that comes with riding all night over mountain passes.

This ride was part of the Seattle Randonneur's "Heat Camp" which is a collection of rides all starting from a hotel in lovely Yakima. It's usually pretty warm in Eastern Washington this time of year, so the idea was to spend some time getting acclimated to riding in the heat. Nice idea, but as I descended from Blewett Pass at 3:30 am Saturday morning, shivering uncontrollably in the 37 degree wind, all I could think was, "h-h-h-heat c-c-camp my a-a-ass."

Twenty-some people showed up for heat camp, but only four of us chose to ride the 400k. On my drive into Yakima Friday afternoon, I followed the brevet route from Ellensburg to Yakima just to get familiar with it. It was a bit disconcerting since the wind was howling the whole way and I found that for about half the distance between Ellensburg and Yakima the road had just been covered with a brand new coat of chipseal. With fresh gravel a couple inches deep in places, riding the Yakima Canyon road would be about as much fun as riding your typical logging road.

The four of us (Me, Jeff, Dan and Matt) set off into the windy gravelly night at 10:00pm and rode together to take turns hiding from the wind. The trip from Yakima to Ellensburg turned out to be not nearly as bad as I had feared. The wind had died down a bit with the setting of the sun and the chipseal's bark was worse than its bite. We pulled into the first control in Ellensburg at about 12:30.

As we headed out of Ellensburg for Blewett pass, the wind picked up a bit and we were faced with a long slow slog uphill into a cold headwind. The moon had set and we were far from any artificial lights, so all I could see was the rectangle of road lit up by my head light, and about 10 gazillion stars overhead. With the darkness and the headwind, I couldn't really tell how steep it was, or if I was even going uphill at all. I only knew I was in a very low gear moving very slowly and that none of that seemed to change for a very long time. I didn't bother turning on my helmet light to check my speed or the time. I knew it would only depress me.

During the endless climb toward Blewett Pass I slowly pulled away from the other three riders. I slowed to wait for them at one point but I was getting so cold that I decided to keep moving for warmth. I wouldn't see any of them again until I was back in Yakima many hours later.

Eventually the wind started to die down and not long after I found myself on the summit of Blewett Pass. I flipped on my helmet light for a minute to note the time (3:29am), answer the "info control" question on the brevet card (Q: "What's the elevation of Blewett Pass?" A: 4102') and put on my wool gloves. Then I was off for 20 miles of downhill toward Leavenworth. If not for my violent shivering making it difficult to control the bike this section of the ride might have been a lot of fun.

As I approached Leavenworth with visions of a hot breakfast dancing in my head, the sky was beginning to show signs of life.


After a slow cruise through L-worth I had to temporarily give up on my hopes for a hot breakfast. Nothing was open. What kind of town doesn't have a 24 hour convenience store?? A Bavarian theme town, that's what kind. So, I pressed on knowing that there was a gas station another miles up the road at Cole's Corner that would be open by the time I got there.

The trip up Highway 2 toward Stevens pass was beautiful with the sun starting to light up the peaks around me. It was still early enough that the traffic was nearly non-existent.

At Cole's Corner, still a long, slow twenty miles away from Stevens Pass, I stopped for that overdue breakfast and to refill my water bottles. Now, I'm not that picky about what I eat when I'm randonneuring. I mean, even a foil wrapped sausage muffin sandwich from under the heatlamp is a very adequate breakfast as far as I'm concerned, still the Cole's Corner Shell station was a big disappointment.

With some "food" and hot beverage in my belly I pressed on for Stevens Pass, feeling quite good and happy to have survived the night.

The climb to Stevens Pass from the east isn't terribly steep but it does run on a bit. The day was in full swing and the Highway 2 traffic was starting to pick up by the time I finally made the summit, about 8:30. It was cold, but not nearly as bad as Blewett had been the night before. This was the turn-around point and halfway to the end of the ride, though I kept my celebrations pretty low-key since halfway still meant over 125 miles and another 4,000 ft. mountain pass.

The trip back down to Leavenworth was fast and fun, though I'm not terribly fond of Highway 2's lack of shoulder. Cars come flying by at 60 - 70 mph, not willing to give an inch to some crazy guy on a bike trying to find a safe haven between the crumbled shoulder and the speeding traffic.

After an honest-to-goodness sit down lunch in Leavenworth at the Subway with a tankard of their finest Mountain Dew it was time for Old Blewett Pass, the last big climb of the ride. The sun was finally above the hills and the day was starting to feel like July in Eastern Washington.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I've been looking forward to riding Old Blewett Pass for a while. It didn't disappoint me one bit. The road is barely wide enough for two cars and it winds around ridges and gullys as it climbs at a fairly consistent 5% - 6% through the trees. I was passed by maybe two or three cars the entire time I was on old road.

Paul and Noel, two SiR volunteers had set up a nice little rest stop at the top of the pass and offered me water (which I needed desperately), a bite to eat and a few minutes to sit without having to turn the cranks. But I didn't sit around for long. I knew from Old Blewett Pass the rest of the route was almost all downhill and I was anxious to get on to it.

After a long gentle downhill run, there's a little ridge that the highway climbs over before you get some more downhill into Leavenworth. The climb only lasts three miles, but it seems like a lot more after 200 miles and three mountain passes. And just to rub it in a bit, about halfway up, the Washington Dept. of Transportation remind you that you still have a good chunk of riding ahead before you'll be back in Yakima with a cold beer in hand.

On top of the ridge outside Ellensburg is one of those enormous wind farms that seem to be popping up like dandelions across eastern Washington. Of course, they put the wind mills there for a reason. As I topped the ridge, I was blasted by a warm wind. Luckily the road and the wind were both heading for Ellensburg so I was able to ride like a pro for the next 15 miles, easily averaging 30+ mph all the way into town.

After the penultimate control stop in Ellensburg, the wind continued to push me on through the freshly chipsealed Canyon Rd nearly all the way back to Yakima. I rolled into the finish at the Clarion Hotel at 5:49pm feeling darn fine all things considered.

Over the last few miles I thought a lot about my upcoming trip to France. This 400k was a good test of what the first part of PBP might be like. I rode through the night just like I'm planning to do in France on the first night. I maintained a pace of about 5 hours per 100k, which is what I'm shooting for in France. I finished feeling like I could probably maintain the same pace for another 200k if I had to, which I'll need to do to get to Brest. So, I think it bodes well for my PBP plans.

Thanks to Maggie and Eric for hosting the Yakima Heat (snicker, snicker) Camp! I had a fantastic time. And Thanks Paul and Noel for feeding and watering me on a mountain top in the middle of nowhere!