The first night was the best thing about PBP. Although I didn’t see any French countryside, I couldn’t really see the hills coming, and at least the first night it did not rain. For me, the first night was the best part of the whole ride - flat tire and chasing aside. Like everybody else I was full of adrenaline and sheer excitement. The weather was good too. At about 55 degrees it was perfect kneewarmer/armwarmer/wool jersey weather.
The first checkpoint on the way out was just a food stop. I hit it about 2 AM and had a ham sandwich and coffee. They were selling beer and wine, which wasn’t a huge surprise. What shocked me…
was the amount of guys drinking beer at 2 AM. I was getting a little bleary, and here are a bunch of Euros knocking back a fortifying beer before jumping back onto their bikes to head off into the pitch black French countryside.
Most of the ride is rural, the only town of more than 20,000 inhabitants is Brest, at the turnaround. In rural France at night there is no light. Houses don’t have yard lights, but they do have shutters, and they use them. It is pitch black. This makes it a little easier to ride than in the suburbs here at home, where my eyes are constantly trying to adjust to varying light. You can get by with a much less powerful light, assuming that you trust there are no potholes. If there were I didn’t find them.
The second checkpoint was about 220k into it. I got there about 5, the sky was just beginning to turn grey, and there was a lot of moisture in the air. I got off and my neck was just killing me (I had borrowed a camelback because I was worried about running out of water on the first night. Not only did I not use it enough to get my neck used to it, but I didn’t take a single swig from it. It wasn’t hot enough to worry about getting thirsty). I packed away the camelback and went in to stand in line for food and to get my control card stamped. I was getting pretty sleepy and weary by this point, but knew that I would perk up with daylight.
It was getting light when I came out, and I did perk up. Then the rain started.
I know some guys who went over to race in France, and they tell me that rain showers are really common. These weren’t showers, they were all day rain with short breaks where it only drizzled. Even with a rain jacket, you get wet in an all day rain. It was cold too. I was wearing 2 pairs of shorts, arm and knee warmers, 2 jerseys (one wool) and a rain jacket. As long as I was moving I was fine, but I started to shiver as soon as I stopped. At least the ride has gotten big enough that the control points (they have pretty good food too) are all in schools. You can go in and get out of the rain to eat and warm up a little. Up until the ’90s the ride was much smaller, and controls were sometimes a big tent in a field, riders were much more on their own for food too.
With the cold and rain PBP was getting more like a forced march and less like a ride. After hours in the saddle and hours in wet shorts, my nether regions were irritated, to put it politely. There was nothing to do but keep going though. I had only recognized one other rider, a guy I rode about 15 miles with when I did my 600k brevet. Just like on that ride, he dropped me, only faster. I didn’t have a phone, not that it would have helped, since my wife was in London.
On I rode, and eventually got in a group and started to make some time. I realized that I hadn’t eaten enough through the night, and started hoovering food at the checkpoints. By 7 pm the rain had stopped, and even though it was still overcast I started to feel better. The 24 hour mark passed and I had managed 304 miles. After the checkpoint at Loudeac (2nd to last on the way out to Brest) I hooked onto a tandem with some other guys and we got a nice pull into Tinteniac.