When I got to Carhaix, the last checkpoint before Brest, I had been awake for 29 hours. I had never been awake that long before, much less ridden 300+ miles at the same time. In spite of latching onto a tandem I was still having a pretty miserable time. At that point I would have told anyone thinking of doing this ride to run screaming and never think of it again. Various scenarios were running through my head, and they all involved abandoning and catching a train back to Paris or cutting the ride short. Can I just turn around here? carry on to Brest and catch a TGV back to Paris from there?
I ate some food at the school cafeteria and decided to get some sleep. I’d figure out how to best bail out when I woke up.
Sleeping at PBP is really organized. As I have explained, the checkpoints are all at schools, and there are sleeping areas at most of the checkpoints. Either there are cots set up in the gym, or gym mats on the floor in classrooms. You follow the signs for “dormir” and come to a table staffed by a handful of locals. Though I speak very little french, it was obvious to me that there was an age requirement to be a Dormir staffer – you had to be at least 60 years old, preferably older. Anyways, you can rent a cot or mat and army surplus type wool blanket for 3 or 4 euro. You sign your name and frame number and tell the staff what time you want to be woken up. Then you grab your gear, take off your cleats (so as not to wake the other sleepers) and with a tiny flashlight one of the old guys leads you to a numbered spot where you can get a few hours shut eye.
At least that’s how it is supposed to work. At Carhaix I had a head full of ideas about how best to quit – not exactly soothing thoughts to drift off with. Pile on a neighbor who could stand on the podium in the volume contest at the snoring olympics, and it was impossible to sleep. I tried for an hour and a half, but it just wasn’t happening. After some food and rest everything looked better though, and I made up my mind to go on.
I got up, ate again, put on dry clothes and headed out for Brest. It was about 11pm when I left. Though the previous night had been dark, it was nothing compared to the second night. It was a pleasant night with a slight tailwind, and warmer than before, but it was cloudy, and I was pretty much alone. With the clouds it was pitch black. I quickly caught and passed two riders and then couldn’t see anyone. Periodically I would see headlights of other riders coming at me but there were long stretches where I just rode, hoping I was going the right way. I could tell that I was climbing steadily and had been for a long time, I was on something bigger than a hill but smaller than a mountain.
The climb turned out to be Roc Trezevel, a 1250 foot climb, and the last obstacle before Brest. I didn’t see many returning riders because the out and back sections of the course separate at this area. It keeps the roads a little less crowded during the day when there are many, many more riders, and traffic too. I only saw about 10 cars in the couple hours that it took to crest Trezevel. Eventually a group of three other riders caught me, led by (who else?) a strong Italian rider. With my new friend doing about 80% of the work for all of us we made it into Brest about 3:30 in the morning.
At Brest I ate again, had a delicious beer, and was finally able to get some sleep. After 35 hours awake and about 345 miles, I went out like the proverbial light bulb. When I was gently shaken awake at 8AM the sun was shining brightly – finally. I ate again (they had a great liver(?) pate, chock full-o-fat and salt) and took off. My legs were getting weary, but I was heading for home. Things were really looking up.