Thursday, September 8, 2011

PBP Ride Report Part IV: Don't Confuse the Bridge with Brest

Gavin and I pulled into the Carhaix control at 5:20pm where I soon found a slightly frantic Kelly who was sure I had died or worse. We hung out far too long at the control eating and yacking and I slathered some of Kelly's secret formula butt salve on and then we eventually got back on the road. Gavin had decided to hang out at Carhaix and take a shower before continuing on into Brest so I said goodbye and thanked him for the moral support.

Although the weather started getting ugly and some rain started falling not long after leaving Carhaix, I was really feeling pretty good on this stretch. By "good" I mean emotionally. Physically, my butt was killing me. My feet were really hurting too, probably because I was spending a lot more time standing than usual. Still, I was enjoying the scenery and Kelly's company and I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. Of course, it helps that I was also a little delirious. We had been riding for well over 24 hours without any sleep and I was starting to feel it. I remember at one point cruising along watching the world go by, seeing a traffic sign in French and thinking, "Whoa, that's weird. That sign's not in English." Then I remembered I was in France and it all made a little more sense.

The climb up to Roc'h Trevezel was a long slow grind, but I found it much easier than the stretch before Carhaix since it never got too steep. And the view from the top was inspiring enough to make it well worth the trouble. After the summit I somehow got it into my mind that it would be just a quick downhill ride into the control in Brest. In fact the control was still more than 50 km away. Still I kept expecting to see the suspension bridge leading into Brest around every corner. After an hour and a half of that I started realizing that my mental calculations of how far we had to go were off a bit. Finally a little after dark we saw the Pont de l'Iroise and crossed the Celtic Sea into Brest.

But wait... Once again, I was a bit off on my calculations of how far we had yet to go. I was thinking that we'd cross the bridge and ride a few blocks and we'd be at the control, cold beer in hand. Instead we had to wind our way through another 10 km of roundabouts and rail crossings before finally reaching the control in downtown Brest.

I attribute my miscalculations about the last leg into Brest to being distracted by my backside, which was screaming at me every time it made contact with the saddle. It's hard to think straight with all that screaming.

When we pulled into the Brest control Sarah, Cody, Adam and my friend Dave were there whooping and clapping for us. It was 10:20pm, a little over 29 and a half hours since we had left St. Quentin. Everyday I'm aware of my love for my family on some level, but I don't think I've ever felt it more than I did when I came around the corner to see them there on the wet streets of Brest that evening. Kelly's family was there too all smiles and high-fives.

After getting brevet cards stamped, we sat down at the control with our families for a quick bite and a cold beer (a rarity in France). I told Kelly then that I didn't think I was going continue on from Brest. Between my butt and my feet I had been doing some serious suffering for the past several hours and I was having a hard time imagining enduring another 35 - 40 hours like that. Kelly was disappointed but I had no doubt that he could make it to the finish without me. Just to be sure, I told Kelly that I would get up early the next morning to see if I felt any different after a good night's sleep. But when we met at 4:30am in the hotel lobby the next morning I was even more sure that I had no interest in the suffering that I'd have to endure to continue the ride.

I spent a day in Brest seeing sights with my family and then we rode the TGV back to Paris. The train seats weren't a heck of a lot more comfortable than my bike seat had been, but I never had any doubt that abandoning in Brest was the right choice for me.

Of course, Kelly finished the ride still riding strong with a time of 74 hours 15 minutes. Congratulations, Kelly!

PBP Ride Report Part III: Trouble in Paradise

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.

PBP Ride Report Part II: Riding the River

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.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

PBP Ride Report Part I: Never Follow the Italians

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.