Paris-Brest-Parisby Steve Royse
Johnny Bertrand, Steve Rice and I headed to the Gymnase de Droits de l’Homme at 8:15 PM Monday, August 18, to get lined up for our 10 PM start of Paris-Brest-Paris, the largest, oldest amateur randonnée with about 4000 riders. We certainly missed and were saddened by the absence of Steve Wyatt, who had suffered heat-related problems and had to fly home early.
After a long wait in line, and after signing in, groups of about 500 started out. Steve Rice and I headed out at 10:35 PM and Johnny closer to 11 PM. Despite the huge number of riders, we were able to proceed in a reasonably orderly fashion through the streets of San Quentin and on west toward Brest. The streets were lined with people applauding and yelling encouragement. As in 1999, I was impressed with the seemingly endless line of red taillights for miles into the distance. There is tremendous excitement in being part of this international crowd.
Unlike 1999, when I did not finish due to delays caused by dehydration (and getting lost), I carried plenty of water and had no real problems overall. Unlike Boston-Montreal-Boston last year when I had three, I had no flats.
Steve and I decided to ride 600 km to Brest before sleeping, and the hours passed quickly.
Johnny’s Kentucky brevets prepare one quite adequately for the hills of France, and there really aren’t any hills to compare to last year's Goff’s Corner to Annville and back on the 600 km brevet. On PBP I think I used the triple a couple of times, just from tiredness, not for steepness. I didn’t need it.
BCC and Cincinnati Cycle Club member Todd Williams rode fast, finishing in 55 hours and 58 minutes*. He left San Quentin in the 80-hour group at 8 PM Monday. We saw him in Carhaix, the last contrôle before Brest as he was on his return from Brest to Paris.
The route from Loudéac to Carhaix in the middle of the night was challenging because:
I had not been aware before that bike headlights tend to be triangular and it made quite an impression to see clusters of triangular lights through the dark as cyclists rode towards Carhaix as we headed to Brest.
At some point, Steve Rice brought out the Vivarin. I was impressed by how well it worked. I have long been a caffeine addict, but had pretty much been off caffeine for four months before PBP (I did take a cup of espresso with me and enjoyed it immensely before riding up Cobb Hill at 3 AM on 7/19/03 when Steve Rice and I did a 7 PM to 10 AM 178-mile trip to Irvine and back from Johnny’s house).
How pleasant to remember the smiling faces of applauding people in one town square, where some people were dancing around to the music of an accordion player. Around the bend and up the hill, a secret contrôle. Further along, an excellent roadside attraction — a French family was cooking sausages on a grill and serving them on baguettes, with coffee and wine or water.
It got colder as we approached Brest. I was pretty tired, and decided to rest by the side of the road outside of Sizun at the top of a hill. I thought Steve Rice had stopped, too, but realized that the rider of the bike with the Carradice bag who stopped in front of me was not Steve and did not speak English.
The grass was damp, so I looked around for a dry place to sleep, and found a gravel patch which was satisfactory; set the alarm for 30 minutes (5:05 AM).
When I wakened, I was so cold, I couldn’t stop shivering. I already had my leg and arm warmers on and my nylon Pearl Izumi jacket — I put on all three bike jerseys I had with me, and all three pairs of bike shorts plus bike underwear — and for extra warmth, lined my arms and chest with the freezer storage bags all my stuff was dumped out of (so much for my careful organizing for weeks before the trip) — and prepared for a long, long downhill ride to Brest. I was shivering so hard I could only go about 5 miles an hour for what seemed an eternity — but finally I warmed up. I found out later it had been 41 degrees.
What a thrill riding into Brest and seeing the ocean in the distance! Lovely morning. Down a big hill, across a pedestrian suspension bridge (wish I took more pictures). Arrived at the contrôle a bit after 8 AM — not a big crowd at the contrôle — I reserved a cot, searched for Steve Rice — he was not in the sleeping area (there were only 5 or 6 people in there). I found him out on the lawn in front of the contrôle, sound asleep. I had to go back into the contrôle to find a pen and paper to write him a note saying I was going to sleep until noon. I had breakfast, took a hot shower and finally reclined at 9 AM only to be awaked at 10:30 AM by water dripping on my forehead (by a smiling Steve Rice), and a photographer taking a flash photo of me being awakened! I had a good laugh.
Steve was always ready before me to depart. He headed on, and we met again in Carhaix. I greeted Johnny as he was heading toward Brest.
Johnny, completing his fifth PBP, had a great ride visiting with old friends — comfortable conversing in French or German. Everyone seemed to know him.
That night it was chilly again. Riding out of Loudéac, Steve saved me by giving me his space blanket — he said he didn’t want or need it — he suggested that I cut it up and use it for padding, but I draped it on like a poncho, and it was (too) warm. I later tore it into pieces and padded my jacket with it — I suspect this may have appalled him.
The next rest area was in Tinténéac — we arrived at 2:34 AM and there were no beds available. I was told to check again in 25 minutes. Steve took a shower, and I got food and when I returned, there were accommodations. It was a dorm-type room with two beds and a private shower (unfortunately the water was a bit cooler than tepid). I was soon joined by a French rider, Alain, who (no surprise) knew Johnny and had worked in Lexington at Lexmark in the past. Got up at 7 AM in a pitch- black room and had no idea where I was. I couldn’t find the light switch, and I didn’t want to wake Alain up, so I fumbled around and finally found the door, discovering on opening it that I was alone in the room.
Steve wanted a Paris-Brest pastry and we stopped at every bakery after Tinténéac to find one, finally finding one in Villaines.
I enjoyed Villaines — there was a carnival-like atmosphere — large crowds of spectators. There was loud music over loudspeakers, and around the block a small stage with singing groups. I wish I had had more time to enjoy their music. The food wasn’t great, but there was a massage area. I remembered that Gay Williams had said that in 1987 on PBP she had had an experience not to be missed — they had rubbed something on her legs that felt great and “restorative,” so I wanted that, too. My leg massage which was great and inquired about Gay’s salve — a British masseuse told me that was an “embrocation” and they didn’t have it. Steve had two massage therapists — he said one leg massage was good, but the other felt like the masseuse was “petting a dog.”
Steve found a Paris-Brest around the corner from the contrôle. We met a charming British woman who had lived in Villaines for eight years, and she asked for details about our trip. We talked about Mars being so big in the night sky — there is practically no light pollution in rural France — great views of the stars. I had to laugh when I remembered the previous night, Steve had asked me, “What is THAT!?” pointing off at a celestial object I was glad I knew was the moon. The waning crescent moon was magnified on the horizon — big, tilted, two tones of gold. Steve also said he had hallucinated an El Camino with Gremlins in it — but I didn’t believe him.
We headed back from Fougeres with a tail wind; a lovely ride up and down gentle hills in the afternoon sun, climbing the hill into Mortagne-au-Perche. Visited with Bill Bryant who was waiting for his wife Lois. Had a lunch in the bleachers of an athletic park with a great view. Lost my Butt-pad! Don’t ask.
Headed out at twilight — again with Team Loudéac, which I admired, but there was really very limited communication. After many hills, the road flattens out.
About 2:00 AM, we stopped to rest in a public park in a small town and slept (?) for an hour before getting to Nogent-le-Roi. Again very chilly. I was glad for the shredded space blanket padding.
More roadside rest stops with water and instant lukewarm Nescafé coffee — Heartburn City.
Got stopped by the Police for running a red light — they looked like teenagers. I asked, “Am I going the wrong way?” They realized the futility and signaled me on.
I was pooped at this point — less than 20 miles from the finish, I missed my butt pad. I was beginning to get a bit sore, but made a satisfactory pad out of my hand towel. I began to note a bit of numbness in the thumb, index, and middle finger tips of my left hand. I felt like I was really poking along on the way back to San Quentin. Once we arrived, there were six or so miles of loops through subdivisions and finally we arrived at the Gymnasium at 7:05 AM (80 hours). There were no cheering throngs to greet us — just a couple a people in bus stops who looked at us funny.
We signed in and went back to the Hotel Gril Campanile. Visited with Gay Williams, who had followed our progress on a computer near the hotel. Steve had been wise to reserve a room for the previous night and he went to shower. As my room would not be ready until noon, Steve let me shower in his room while he went to breakfast. I did laundry and finally was able to crash in my room, exhausted.
I’m looking forward to 2007!
* Final results are not posted, yet. Preliminary results show Todd was 111th out of the 4100. Probably the 5th American out of 489 — one of the first riders without a support crew. His time puts him in La Societe Charly Miller. There are only 22 people in that elite group.
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web posted: 2 January 2004
last updated: 3 January 2004