PBP – my best excuse ever

Leaving Brest the weather was great. Bright sunshine, about 70 degrees, a little tailwind. Although the first stretch out of Brest is uphill, back over Roc Trezevel, I was feeling a lot better about riding back to Paris than I had been the day before. Aside from the weather, there were plenty of fellow riders on the road, a big change from the night before. It seemed like my luck had changed, and I even started wondering if I should stop and get some sunscreen. Unfortunately, the weather only held for few hours.

I got back to Carhaix, feeling good, and on schedule, and was eating lunch at the control there. I looked out the window and it was raining. CRAP! I jumped up and ran out to cover my saddle. In spite of all the rain I had managed to keep the Brooks dry thus far. The rain was over by the time I was done eating, but there were spotty showers all the rest of the day. After the steady rain of the day before, spotty showers were not a real burden. Stopping to pull my rain jacket on and off was a small price for the relatively dry stretches.

I was still feeling fairly good, all things considered. My speed was dipping just under 15mph average but I knew I would make it. I got to the next checkpoint, Loudeac, ate and left about 7pm. I planned on sleeping at one of the checkpoints that night, but had not decided which one – I would just play it by ear and stop when I got really tired.

On I plowed. The wind started to pick up a little, a headwind/crosswind which slowed my down. There were not as many people on the road now, and I was getting picked off by little groups. It was a little demoralizing but I was well into the homeward stretch now so I wasn’t worried.

I haven’t mentioned enough that the French truly take an interest in this (and I assume other) rides. There were still people on sidewalks and in driveways shouting “Bon Courage!”, and lots of little ad hoc rest stops. A family would set up a table with drinks, cookies, fruit and sandwiches, and just give them away. At dusk I stopped at a little table run by 4 girls, about 12 years old. I had cookies and STRONG coffee, which were very welcome. I also noticed that they had a little bar set up at the end of the table. No beer or wine, just three bottles of spirits. I still have no idea how you can have a stiff drink and set off into the sunset after 490 miles without getting even sleepier.

The wind was picking up a little more and I was slowing down even more, when a 34 year old Belgian named Christophe rode up and asked if I wanted to work with him. Does the Pope wear a funny hat?? Of course I would work with him. He was quite obviously stronger than I was, but he told me that he only wanted someone who could pull a little bit to give him short breaks. With Cristophe doing about 75% of the work, we took off into the evening.

Of course it started to rain, and hard. We were getting pelted, but I stuck with Christophe. True to his word, he pulled me a majority of the time, only taking short breaks. We were only going 16 or 17 but it felt like we were flying. We were picking off little groups steadily, and sometimes a rider or two would try to get on with us, but our blazing speed apparently didn’t allow it. Both of us would have welcomed more horsepower for our little break, but Christophe didn’t want to slow down, and I didn’t want to lose my ticket back to Paris.

There is a control at Tinteniac, we ate and struck out for Fougeres. It was raining hard still, and pitch black. Even with the terrible weather I didn’t feel too bad. We were making great time, but the pace was starting to take its toll. When we got to the outskirts of Fougere I told Christophe to go ahead, as I was planning on sleeping, but he slowed down and stuck with me.

At Fougeres I ate and showered then went to the Dormir to get some sleep. The spaces were all occupied, so I had to wait a few minutes for someone to vacate a spot. When one opened up, I told the volunteers that I wanted to get up at 6AM. They marked the time on a post-it, stuck it to my assigned spot on the grid, then I took off my shoes and tip-toed to a gym mat in a classroom.

When I woke up I felt pretty good, until I saw the clock on the classroom wall. 11:00!!!! WTF! The volunteers had not woken me up! I was alone in the room. I got it together, packed up and started riding. But after a few K I turned around. According to my control booklet I only had til 1pm to ride the next 80k. There was no way I could make that and I knew it, but I planned on finishing the ride, even if I was outside the time limit. If I went fast I might be able to finish at about 4 am.

I got a little ways out of town and thought “this is nuts. I’m on vacation. I have to catch a train at 7 tomorrow morning”. I turned around and went back to town.

Eventually I found a travel agency, and got a train ticket back to Paris. I still had to ride 78k to get to Laval, where I could catch a train.

It took til 10 to get back to Paris, but at least I had time to clean up, break down my bike, and sleep. Though I could have ridden all the way, I doubt I would have made the 7am train, I probably would have still smelled, and it would have been pretty awful for my wife to travel the next few days with me while I caught up on sleep.

That is my best race excuse ever. It wasn’t the rain, or the flat tire, and I wasn’t too drunk to sprint. I slept through PBP. I may be back in four years.

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