by John Ende
I became interested in Paris Brest Paris through casual examination of a
wall display at the Bicycle Inn
in Bakersville, NC.
I asked, "What's this?"
Michael Davis who rode PBP in 1995 and owner of the Inn answered, "That's PBP".
"Huh" I inquired, "750 miles?"
He then told me all about the ride and the supportive spectators.
He told me about pain and triumph and then he said something that peaked my interest.
"After finishing I was on a three month high."
That is what I need, a three month high.
I signed up for the brevet series in
This series is filled with rolling hills and run by Ann Mullins,
three-time finisher of PBP.
Each of the four events, 200, 300, 400 and 600km rides were the longest
of my cycling career up until that point. Each time upon finishing I
thought, "Can I come back in two weeks and add 60 or 120 more miles?"
Each time I did. I quickly learned that brevet riding is different from
my usual century riding. Brevet riders talk. The pace of course is
more casual. Brevet riders stop and eat, PIZZA, BURRITOS, and BIG MACS?
I was not used to this during a ride. Hey I kind of liked it. Also,
if someone in a group stopped, most everyone stopped. Brevet riders
ride funny bikes that I had never encountered. Steel lugged bikes with
names I never heard of. I wondered if the names on the frames were the
names of the riders or the manufacturers. Some had fenders and everyone
was carrying more gear than me. Some had retro upright handlebars
without drops. Some had BELLS? That's right BELLS, like jingle,
jingle, jingle. Many of the riders wore sandals, like Tevas. Anyway, I
liked it more than my usual century fare. After completing the 600km
ride I had to contemplate the possibility of riding another 600km. PBP
after all is 1200km. Could I do it? There was only one way to find
out. Fill out the application and send it.
I flew to Paris with my family arriving on Saturday August 16th. We
drove from CDG to the Novotel in St. Quentin in our Nissan Terrano.
This vehicle will hold one bike box (Trico Iron Case). We had actually
reserved a minivan called the Renault Scenic. Unfortunately for my family
of six (me, my wife Amy, our kids Clare, Patrick, Abbey and my bike)
Europcar did not have our minivan available, despite our reservation.
When they call something a MINI
-van in France, they MEAN IT!!!
There is NO WAY to fit a bike box into or onto a Renault Scenic. It would be
more likely to fit the Renault Scenic into a bike box. A Renault Espace
(Maxi-van?) likely will take a bike box. The ride was not bad, around
an hour. After 9 hrs on the plane with three kids, we had a weak moment
and stopped at McDonalds as we neared the hotel. I know, downright
appalling, and it wasn't even the only time that I would stop at
McDonalds during a weak moment on this trip. St. Quentin is a rather
sterile suburb of Paris, but it is bike friendly and highly enthusiastic
about PBP. I assembled my bike in less than 30 minutes and we stocked
up on supplies. The next day Amy and the kids drove to La Trinite
Porhoet where they provided support to riders along the course over the
next few days. We had rented a house for the week and I was planning on
two sleep stops, both with my family at our rented Breton longhouse
house in La Trinite Porhoet (425 km & 793 km).
I headed to bike inspection.
You really don't have to know what is going on or where you
need to go. All you do is walk out of your hotel and start following
other bicycles. This is exactly how I found my way to the bike
inspection. First they Ok'd my reflective jersey by writing on it "03"
with a small magic marker. Not quite the interrogation that I had
expected. How did he even know it was reflective? I mean we were
standing in broad daylight. Couldn't anyone of my three kids have
certified my vest with a counterfeit "03" using their arsenal of
traveling magic markers. Next there was a brief shakedown followed by a
Frenchman asking me in French appropriately, if I had spare bulbs, I
think. "Oui" was my response. Voila I had passed inspection. I parked
my bike on the Astroturf soccer field and headed inside for my rider
packet. All the various tables inside the gym have small flags and I
quickly found the American table. I think I signed a form certifying
mental instability, picked up my jerseys and a t-shirt and I was off.
The top 100 things about PBP are the people. The organizers,
participants, support crew, volunteers, riders and most of all the local
I rode the prologue with the oldest PBP participant, Jack Eason from the
Willsden cycling club outside London. Jack is mid 70s but I'm not sure
exactly how mid. Jack was riding an interesting machine. Four
sprockets with upright old timey handle bars. I later learned that he
fell asleep on his bike during the event and crashed out, but I did
see him looking just fine at the awards ceremony. He was carrying a
huge trophy and sporting an equally large smile. Willsden I understand
has often been awarded the highest international club finish rate for
After the prologue I rode back to a pâtisserie that I had spotted while
lost on my way to the prologue start. I had le dejeuner. Baguette avec
jambon et fromage, coke and a
The Paris Brest was so good that I had another. All in all I rode 90 km the day
before the ride. I then napped for three hours. That night I went to the
start of the 80 hr group. Of course I once again got lost and actually
witnessed the first 80-hour wave speeding trough a roundabout 1 km into
their ride. These guys looked like real riders. Was I in over my
head? Several of them carried large packs upon their backs. Did I need
a large pack on my back? I did make it almost to the start line to see
the second wave of 80 hr riders. It was quite exciting. The streets
were closed to traffic and lined with enthusiastic spectators. The
start line was wild, complete with some type of Moroccan music and kids
doing crazy stunts. One girl about 8 yrs old was riding a stationary
bike spinning hypnotic wheels. As I watched they spoke (pun here) to
me, "You are crazy, you are crazy, you are crazy." It was awesome. It
I rushed over for the pre ride dinner, ate, talked with
Jimmy Williams and headed back to the start. It was now nine and the
sun was beginning to set. I leaned over the railing to look at the
riders heading into the tunnel under the road and to my surprise saw
someone I knew. It was Ann Mullins (3rd PBP) and Will Martin (1st PBP).
They looked ready. I turned around to find someone else that I knew.
Ian Flitcroft was sitting in the grass eating his last minute meal.
This was Ian's 3rd PBP and he was in no hurry to line up.
I did not stay for the 90 hr start as I was now worrying about
getting some sleep. I went back to the hotel and did some last minute
prep before tossing and turning for a few hours. Before I knew it, it
was time to get up, three o-clock. I think I may have slept 2 hrs. I
left the hotel and rode behind Susan Notorangelo and Lon Haldeman. I
figured if anyone could get me to the line these two could. Lon was on
his fixed gear with a big Route 66 sign on the back. Susan was on her
bike Friday and not riding the event. Check in was quick. Of all the
controls I most feared missing this one. If you don't check in by 5:00
you are out, or so I was told by anxious participants at my hotel the
night before. I lined up right behind Bob Coulter took a few pics and
we were off. We blasted through the desolate streets of the suburbs.
The roundabouts were super fun. Note: roundabouts very good for
cyclists. Riding down one wide stretch still in the main unbroken pack
I saw the sea of riders part in front of me to avoid a large pack
sliding along the road. It was amazing that no one went down. Five kms
into the ride and someone had lost their pack? Come on shakedown crew,
maybe you need a refresher course. I personally never saw a crash
although I heard of several later.
It is an exhilarating feeling to finally be on this ride. The pack is
huge. It is dark. It is fast. It is PBP. Exiting the suburbs, the
course descends down into relatively flat farmland. This is the
flattest part of the route, I would later learn. I was surprised at how
quickly we were into the countryside. Weren't we just in Paris? The
first hour was fabulous but intense. Such large packs in the dark make
attentive riding mandatory. Once the sun started to come up groups
started to form. I fell into a group of 30 riders, mostly Danes with
some French and 2 other Americans. The Americans were Johnny Delia and
Greg Schild. They are from Audax NYC and their jerseys said so. They
were riding in the front of our group while I was hanging at the back.
Next to me was a French rider who was already consuming massive caloric
quantities. Johnny and Greg bridged us up to another group as a few
riders went off the back. I thought the pace was brisk but I was not
working any more than I had planned. When Greg came to the back for a
bathroom break I told him that they needed to get off the front. He
agreed and wound up riding at the back with me for a while. I gave
Johnny a hard time about the baby wipes that were sticking out of his
jersey pocket. They didn't know that I had my own secret stash of baby
wipes. Even neophytes know that one must be fastidious when it comes to
personal hygiene. Eventually Johnny dropped a water bottle and Greg
went back to get it. Johnny stopped with him. I slowed down then we
all quickly rejoined our group. I liked these guys because they were
here to ride together and help each other. They even carried whistles
in case they got out of eyesight in a large group. They also were a
riot to be around.
We made good time to Mortagne-au-Perche despite
stiff climbing into the town. It was 9:50 so we had covered 141 km in 4
hr 50 min, or just over 28 km/hr. This was ahead of my projected pace
of 26 km/hr for the first day, ah but the day was young. I stopped for
water although this was not an official control for the out trip. This
stop would look very different to me almost 3 days later. I mixed up
some sustained energy and was on my way. I separated from Greg and
Johnny at the feed stop but made good time to Villaines-la-Juhel in a
pack made up of mostly French. All in all we covered the first 100
miles in 5:50. Now I know that this is nothing to write home about but
I thought that it wasn't bad considering that I was scheduled to
complete 6.5 MORE consecutive centuries now. I was 1/2 hr ahead of
schedule in Mortagne (141km), and then 20 minutes ahead of schedule at
Villaines-la-Juhel (221km). At this pace I thought that I could make la
Trinite Porhoet by 10 pm, climb into bed and sleep between 5-8 hr.
Plans and pace are funny things. They are dynamic things. Things
change. That is all you can count on.
The section after Villaines-la-Juhel became very hilly and in the heat of the day was
quite slow. By the time I reached Fougeres (300km), I was back on my
original schedule. Just before the control I stopped for deux baguettes
avec jambon et fromage, and some water. I saw a guy abandon just
outside the bakery. With baguettes sticking out of my jersey pockets I
saw no need to eat at the Fougeres control. I sent a pre paid post
card, which was provided at the control to Michael Davis at the Bicycle
Inn, drank a coke and was gone. The section from Fougeres to Tinteniac
(360km) was fast. I covered 60 km in 2:15. I rode first with a single
French rider who was really hammering. I pulled some but mainly
drafted. Next we joined a passing group. It was made up of French and
Danes. I rode mainly at the front with a different big French rider.
We traded pulls and stormed into Tinteniac like we were in some kind of
race or something. Anyway I thought it was fun and I congratulated the
French cyclist on his riding, "Vous etes fort aujourd'hui." He smiled
and sat down for a rest. I'm not certain if the smile was out of
contentment or in response to my North Carolina/French accent. One
rider that had not been in our group was lying on the ground with dry
heaves. I asked the medic to check him out but he had already crawled
back to his bike and was waiving assistance off. I bought another jambon
and headed out still in daylight for La Trinite Porhoet a mere 65 kms
away. I still had hopes of arriving at La Trinite just before eleven.
This would allow me a luscious five-hour sleep break.
Thirty-five km out of Tinteniac on a relatively easy section it hit.
Stomach cramps!!!! What was this grumbling in my stomach? Was it the large
volume of sustained energy that I had consumed? Was it the water that I
had accepted form a kid on the side of the road? Was it mesenteric
ischemia, a life threatening condition that I thought may have been
reported in ultra athletes. Hey that's weird, am I an ultra athlete?
Every time I pedaled over 10 km/hr the cramping became so intense that
it sent me doubled over to the side of the road were I would stand over
my bike until the intense pain had stopped. I would continue a short
way and the pattern would repeat. It ultimately took me 3hrs to cover
the last 30km. At one point I was briefly confused by a mass of moving
lights heading toward me. I thought it was a truck or tractor but the
lights were moving independent of one another. Was this the end? Were
these the lights that I had heard described by people who have had near
death experiences? No! It was the lead pack, heading back to Paris. I
was jealous. The pack was around 20 riders at this point. After a
nanosecond of calculations, I resigned myself to the fact that I was not
going to catch those guys. The next closest riders were around 30
minutes back in smaller groups. Of course I missed the large glowing
sign that said JAKE, logging in 10 or so bonus kms before reaching the
house. I arrived at 12:30 and immediately headed for the bathroom. I
don't really wish to discuss all the details of my gastrointestinal
disturbance but lets just say if I did it would bring tears to your
eyes. Possibly out of pity for another human being or possibly out of
hysterical laughter. I spent most of the night evacuating my colon.
Brief moments of respite from my 5 hr bathroom break included Amy
feeding me in bed as mashed potatoes fell out of my mouth onto my pillow
and banging my shin firmly into something immoveable in the dark on my
way back to the bathroom.
Amy is a pediatrician. Although I had been
cursed, I was also provided with the saint to cure my ailment. If a
pediatrician can't cure diarrhea, who can? Not only is she a
pediatrician, we have three kids. Having three kids is equivalent to
doing a fellowship in diarrhea. In between bites of potatoes she fed me
bananas and pepto bismol. I actually could stand around 5:00am. I ate
a mashed potato omelet and Amy saw me off. No one else awoke. As I
walked out of the house Amy convinced me to take my leg warmers. That
single act saved my life. If someone has completed PBP without leg
warmers (or tights) they likely are blessed with walrus DNA and suffer
from peripheral neuropathy. It got amazingly cold the next night but
more on that later.
EDITOR'S NOTE: NO PICTURES FROM THE 2nd DAY DUE TO MY CONDITION
I rode slowly, but I was pleased that I was riding at all. Loudeac
(445km), the next control was only 20km away. I rolled in at 7:00am,
only ninety minutes before control closing. I had noticed some more cramping
on the way to Loudeac. I thought if the cramping continues, I'm not
going to be able to make the control cutoffs. After a brief visit to
the outdoor potty, I limped into the first aid station. "Parlez-vous
Anglais?" "Non" was the response of the two high school/college age
girls staffing the station. OK, I thought it is just my PBP life on the
line and now I am relying on my high school French to prolong my
existence. "Je suis mal", I began. "J'ai le diarrhea (pronounced by me
as "dee-ah-ree-ah"). Their muffled giggles led me to believe that I was
actually communicating my situation. One of the girls got some medicine
off the shelf and poured two pills in my hand. The other wrote in my
control book. It seems that the whole Audax Club Parisien would now be
informed of my bowel habits. I motioned that I wanted to see the
bottle. Now I am a doctor; however, I am a radiologist. I know nothing
about medicines. I did recognize one of the main ingredients in the
pills now in my hand, Chloral Hydrate. Hey isn't that a sedative
narcotic? Oh well, I needed something and the bottle did say
anti-diarrhitique. I took them and rolled out of Loudeac.
I was following two riders when we reached the next small town, Uzel (461km).
It was around 8am and the town was pretty quiet except for two young
boys holding a large arrow directing us down a large hill.
Unfortunately for us this was off course. Fortunately for me the other
two riders were not under the influence of narcotics and suspected foul
play within a few kms of our misdirection. We asked a couple standing
next to their motor home about the PBP course and they informed us that
we were now off of the course. We headed back up the hill into town
with thoughts of revenge. I wondered about the French customs when it
came to dealing with 9-year-old deviants. Alas there was no bloodshed.
The perpetrators had taken cover, likely awaiting our departure and the
next unsuspecting riders. Next up was our first secret control. I
think the place was called St. Martin. I'm not sure. I saw Lon
Haldeman coming out of the control. I was somewhat pleased to be with
him at this point even though he was riding his fixed gear and probably
sleeping 8 hrs per night. Eventually I made my way through the moderate
rolling section into Carhaix. In Carhaix after eating I was heading out
to get back on my bike when a massive wave of sleepiness came over me.
Well, I did just make this control before closing time, but I think I'll
just lie down here in the grass for a few minutes. Other riders were
sleeping right there in the grass. Their ZZZs had pulled me down. I
One hour later I woke up when someone stepped on me. Maybe
that is why riders chose to sleep in these very public places.
Eventually something is going to wake you up. I visited the WC before
leaving and passed by the first aid station. There were quite a few
riders inside, mainly with foot and knee problems. I felt for them. I
got going. I didn't know if I could make Brest before control closing.
I feared the Roc Trévezel
as it would later be known is the
highest point on the ride and the only named climb on the course. The
out-and-back splits just before the Roc so I didn't have the steady
stream of riders heading back to ask about the distance to the Roc or
how hard it was. The only type of climbing that I was interested in at
this point was 'into a bed'. Hey we have climbed a fair bit on this
section. Is this the top of the Roc? My odometer was now off
considerably so I was having problems calculating my precise location.
Hey, now I'm going downhill. Am I descending off the Roc? No such
luck. "Ou est le Roc?" I shouted to a woman getting into her car.
"Sept kilometers" she pointed ahead. My heart sank. I wanted to go
back and ask her if that was to the base or the top but I couldn't think
of how to translate that question into French.
Eventually I did reach and climb the Roc.
It actually was not as hard as I had built it up to
be. It was beautiful at the top. The Roq is obviously the highest
point for hundreds of kms and that is how far the views reach in all
directions. There is one large TV or cell phone tower on the top but no
buildings. The descent off the backside of Le Roc
was just what the
doctor ordered, long and without the need to peddle. The first town
past the Roc is Sizun. As I rode through town I didn't see them,
possibly because I may have been sleep riding, but they saw me. Johnny
and Greg were sitting at a café sipping café noir. When they saw me
ride by with a dazed look on my face they headed out after me. They
quickly caught me and boy was I glad to see them. Here I was fighting
my way now through a stiff headwind as I expected, out toward Brest. I
wondered if I could make the control. Well they had the same cutoff
time but they chose to sit at a café for a coffee break.
"I like these guys," I thought.
They really helped me out toward Brest. I drafted
behind them the whole way out. The feeling of seeing that bridge is
overwhelming. I really hadn't thought about it this way. I didn't
expect any special emotion upon reaching the half way point. You cross
a body of water on the old bridge that now serves mainly pedestrians.
This parallels the New bridge which is a large expansion structure that
was VERY pleasing to our eyes. Maybe it is seeing the water. I don't
know for sure but I was real happy. Some fellow on roller blades
decided to race us across the pedestrian bridge after we had remounted
from our picture stop. He wound up in a heap in the middle of the road,
another PBP casualty. We passed the beach and then completed the one
last significant climb up through town to the control. The controls of
course are always at the top of a hill. A great weight was lifted as we
checked into the control at 4:30 pm (cut off was 6:30 pm).
Although we had 84 hrs to complete the whole ride, only 37 could be used for the ride
out to Brest while 47 were allowed for the ride back. They have been
doing this for a long time. That bonus time is mandatory for the trip
back. I noticed Johnny's rear wheel to be out of true just before
Brest. He diagnosed a broken spoke at the control. He gave his bike
and spare spoke to the official mechanic and his bike was repaired as we
ate. In Brest you get a free drink for your control stamp. I chose a
coke. Man was it good. Ice cold, fetched from the bottom of a
galvanized tub filled with ice water. My meal consisted of soup, pasta,
bread, and 2 more cokes. We headed back for Paris just before 6:00pm
but Johnny blew a flat leaving the control gate. His out of true tire
had caused a sidewall gash. The mechanic should have recognized this
but it really didn't matter. For that matter, anyone of us should have
recognized this, but given our state of mind we might not have
recognized if the mechanic had replaced Johnny's bike with a camel.
Johnny had the tire changed inside of 5 minutes. I was impressed. We
wanted to cheer the riders who had still not reached Brest, however;
this is the second loop portion of the course and riders heading in the
opposite directions cannot see one another. By the time we had rejoined
the course it was past 6:30, the latest cutoff for Brest. We did see
riders heading out to Brest and wondered what their stories were. Did
they have extra time due to an accident or were they simply riding
despite the fact that they would miss the closing time of the Brest
Our first stop on the way back was for a café noir in Sizun.
I noticed enhanced performance following the caffeine. Maybe it was
psychological although I am a coffee junkie. I read that Scott Dickson
stopped coffee 3 months prior to PBP so it would have maximum effect
upon him during the event. My modified version of the Scott Dickson
plan was to mix my regular coffee with half decaf for a week before PBP.
Of course I drank twice the volume during that week so I doubt I gained
any benefit. Our second stop was on top of Le Roc
to don our warmer
clothes. We debated about leg warmers and after a 100yrd trial, I
convinced the boys to put it all on. The sun was just setting and the
descent was fast and frigid. Just before Carhaix we went for American
comfort food, a trip through the McDonalds drive thru for four Le Big
Mac Deals. We all felt low on sodium. Ronald had us covered. We
checked in at Carhaix and quickly left for Loudeac. The section between
Carhaix and Loudeac is hilly and I was suffering. We were riding in a
group of about 10. Most of the riders wore the same jerseys. They had
an interesting style of riding. Two guys sat on the front the whole
time while everyone else drafted. One larger older rider in the rear
occasionally barked out an order or directions. We were traveling
rather slowly but were happy to stay with them because there is strength
in numbers particularly at night. Better visibility, for you to see the
road and for cars to see you, my dear. Multiple minds tend to stay on
course better than a solo into the night.
Once again I had been riding at or off the back.
We approached a well-lit area on the side of the
road. I first thought it might be another secret control. Instead it
was well staffed and organized support stand. It was around midnight
and there were kids running all over the place. They carried coffee,
lemon wedges, crepes, cookies, candies and nuts. I was feeling even
better after two more coffees. The temperature had really been
dropping. My monitor said 55 degrees. We quickly caught back to the
members of our group who had shown poor judgment in not stopping at that
support stand. I was quite cold but the coffee and hard riding had done
wonders for me. In the next town there was an open bar and it was
packed with riders all drinking coffee. Johnny and I had café noirs
while Greg discussed the fast food dining habits of Americans with a 50
something Frenchman out front. Greg was devouring an ice cold Big Mac
that he had stashed in a pocket in Carhaix while the Frenchman looked on
in disgust. The multiple coffee doses now combined with the narcotic
remnants of my antidiarritique to transform my nighttime riding. I was
wired and without inhibition. This was some of the best nighttime
descending that I have ever done. I was trying to stay with Greg. He
is a natural descender. I recall him blowing by many riders. Hey I was
too. Not my typical style. I also recall climbing into several towns
thinking that 'this one MUST BE Loudeac' only to learn it was not yet
We made it to Loudeac around 2 am. The cafeteria was like a
unit only all the doctors and nurses had been evacuated.
Bodies were everywhere. I couldn't find a place to sit down with my
tray. One guy was sleeping on a table flat on his back with his legs
crossed Indian style and his arms folded on his chest. Was he
stretching and sleeping at the same time, I thought. I really wanted a
bowl of coffee but I held off since my destination for the night was
only 20km away. I set out for La Trinite at 2:40am and there were still
red lights bobbing all along the road ahead of me in the distance. The
temperature was now in the upper 40s and I was frigid. This time I made
no wrong turns and rolled into the house at 4 am. Amy was overjoyed to
see me. She thought that I was probably out of the race somewhere.
"How are you doing", she asked?
"I'm fighting for my PBP life," came my weak response.
I was nearly 6 hrs behind schedule BUT I was still
making the control cutoffs. I took a hot shower and went straight to
bed. I elected not to eat since I had just had a meal in Loudeac. I
hit the bed at 4:30am. I started shivering out of control. Amy piled
multiple layers of clothes onto her shaking husband and eventually I
stopped shivering enough to fall asleep at 5:30am.
I was on my feet at seven and back on my bike at 8:00am Amy fixed me a
breakfast that consisted of peanut butter and chocolate crepe, pasta,
mashed potatoes and coke. Patrick(5yr) and Clare(7yr) woke up before I
left and Amy even got Abbey(2yr) up to see daddy. Amy thought our kids
would give me a mental boost and she was right. The kids wanted to tell
me all about handing out cokes and chocolate chip cookies to the riders.
I just wanted to sit down and listen to them for hours but I had to go.
I lubed my chain, which probably was unnecessary and left at 8:00am. It
was an emotional send off, particularly for me.
It was brisk but not cold. I felt quite good although I was very much
in la tourista
mode. Johnny and Greg were 20km behind me and were
supposed to be starting just before 8:00am. I stopped to take pictures.
I stopped at a bakery where I saw Terry Arnold (3rd PBP). I stopped
100yrd past the bakery to take pictures of riders I didn't know. An old
ivy wall provided the background. I couldn't resist - a very Old Europe
look. I then came to the second secret control. Others were eating but
I just checked in and kept going. I made my way to Tinteniac (858km)
and along the way chatted with Phil Creel. At the control I met up with
Johnny and Greg. I had a baguette avec jambon but Johnny couldn't
fathom more ham.
"What do the French have against the pig," he asked?
Trois amis were back together and storming toward Fougeres. It was
another beautiful day and I was feeling my best since the start of the
ride 3 days earlier. Of course what did I do? Did I take it easy? Did
I sit in? NOOOOOOO! I rode at or off the front like the possessed
neophyte that I was. I raced people in and out of the event. "Hey,
you, I know your only 12 and riding a single speed but don't try that
stuff around here, cause I'll smoke ya!" Greg tried to warn me but to
We came across Louise Rogers from the UK and an aussie rider.
They were talking about not wanting to ride with a group of Spaniard
anymore because they were drinking too much. I hadn't noticed any
Spaniards drinking but if a Brit and an Aussie thought so then I felt
that the Spanish were likely imbibing excessively. Louise had an
interesting story from the previous night. As the sun was setting she
was rammed from behind by a boy on a motor scooter who had been blinded
by the setting sun. They both wound up in the hospital. Fortunately
she was able to continue after some bike repairs. She had asked if she
could sit in for a while and we said no problem. Eventually Louise rode
to the front to inform us that the bloke up ahead on the horizon was her
cycling club's president. She asked that we all fall in behind her as
our train would shortly blow past her president. For extra effect, we
all were shouting "Slow down" as we rode by. Unfortunately the rider
was not her president. We all had a good laugh anyway and then refused
to let her off the front. Maybe we would have been kinder to her had we,
or she, known that she was riding with a couple of cracked vertebrae and
ribs. She found this out after returning to England. The French had
given her pain medication and this possibly contributed to the fact that
she was the happiest rider that I met during the event.
We all stopped at a bar before Fougeres but it was so hot and smoky that we just had
cokes and left. We did add a veteran Scottish rider to our group. He
tried to convince the boys and me to push onto Nogent (1161km) rather
than stopping in Mortagne (1077km) for the night. He felt that it might
be too far to ride on the last day, 141km, if we stopped in Mortagne
(1077km). I wondered if it had anything to do with the Norman invasion.
Johnny and Greg had a hotel already booked in Mortagne and I really
didn't feel like riding through the night. Just before Fougeres our
noses stopped us. A bar had set up an outdoor grill and was grilling
sausages. These of course were served on baguettes. We had a side of
fries and 8 cokes to complete the feed stop.
Tinteniac to Fougeres is only 60 km and relatively flat.
It had been my fastest section on the ride out.
Fougeres to Villaines-la-Juhel is another story.
It is 79 km and extremely hilly.
It was tough going out and even harder coming back.
I remembered on the ride out thinking for the first time,
"That section was tough."
To say that I suffered is like saying that Nepal is hilly.
Every 3rd hill or so I found Greg and Johnny waiting for me.
I felt bad for holding them up but they refused to leave me. After
meeting back up with them on one occasion I nearly caused Johnny to
crash. I abruptly pulled off the road at the bottom of a descent to
follow Johnny. Only it wasn't Johnny. Johnny was screeching to a halt
in the gravel behind me trying to determine what on earth I was doing.
I tried to explain that I thought that I was following him. At this
point I pointed to the unknown rider who was now relieving himself. He
gave me a strange "go away voyeur" look but I couldn't have cared less.
I took the opportunity to relieve myself as Johnny rolled away shaking
A short while back we had been worried about Johnny. He had
informed us that he was feeling very sleepy. He talked about lying down
in a field for a while. The suggestion didn't sound all that bad to me
so I took a precautionary Vivarin. Now it was clear that I was the
weakest link. Finally 10km outside Villaines-la-Juhel they rode away
from me. They would need some extra time at their drop bags. So many
riders were passing me. I visually kept checking my tires but no flats
were found to explain my snail like pace. I finally passed someone on
the way into Villaines-la-Juhel. He was tres grand and possibly not
even in the event but I mentally counted this as a victory and a signal
that I may have something left.
It was a beautiful sight to crest the hill into Villaines-la-Juhel.
There is a large church on the right and just past this on the left were
50 or so school kids. The kids had been positioned to wildly cheer each
rider as they struggled into the control. The control was like a
festival. The whole town was there. One gentleman helped me off my
bike. Another helped me find a spot to park. They showed me where I
parked my bike three times. I think I looked bad. Many people pointed
me to the official control and then to the restaurant across the street.
I knew that I needed food, mass quantities. As I approached the
restaurant my heart sank. The line stretched 50 yards out side. I
thought about my choices: 1. Wait in line or 2. Die on road. OK, I'll
get in line. As I approached the end of the line people started pushing
me forward. I thought that I would have time to weave my headlamp into
my helmet but now I was fumbling with a helmet, headlamp and a tray.
All of the people in line were townspeople, volunteers and support crew.
Anytime a rider approached they were sent directly toward the front of
the line. Let me tell you, they know how to eat in Villaines-la-Juhel.
I first ordered an omelet from the man cooking over an open flame. I
think it contained around 8 eggs, a hefty helping of fromage and the
ubiquitous jambon. I also got soup, pasta, yogurt, coke and water. I
started to pick up my tray when someone grabbed my arm and said, "Non."
Then he signaled for a junior high aged kid to come help me. The kid
picked up my tray and followed me down a ramp into the gymnasium
converted into a large dining hall for this occasion.
I felt a little guilty to have someone carrying my tray but I wasn't
arguing. After I sat down I was happy to see Johnny being followed down
the ramp by his boy helper. Greg followed but was carrying his own
tray. I guess Greg looked pretty good. We chowed down.
I decided to leave Villaines-la-Juhel before Johnny and Greg. I was
riding significantly slower than they were so I felt that a head start
was in order. As I trudged up the hills outside Villaines-la-Juhel I
saw a rider pulled over by the light police. The light police had
deemed his taillight too dim. They suggested he change his batteries.
The light police went on their way, as did the rider without further
modification to his taillight. He told me that his light would be
brighter once the conditions became darker. You can see how slow I was
riding as I took this encounter fully in without stopping. After 20 km
Johnny and Greg did in fact capture my breakaway.
Almost at the same time the triple that was riding caught us.
The triple caught us at a most opportune moment, for me.
We were cresting a hill and thus they
slowed enough for me to jump on. Unfortunately for the rest of our
group, no one else had a chance to jump on before we rapidly disappeared
into the downhill darkness. Man we were cooking. We were blowing by
riders like they were standing still. I was afraid to look at my
speedometer but on most downhills we were traveling near 70 km/hr (max
speed that night 78.8 km/hr). I thought that I'd enjoy this unique
drafting situation as long as I could. First, this is the only time
that I have ever seen three guys on one bike. They were in an almost
upright posture which made drafting ideal. They all were from England.
Nigel in the front with Superman shirt. Drew in the middle, and Stephen
in the rear. These guys were some riders. Stephen I would later learn
was the points champion for the UK in 1997, setting an all time high
score. He often competes in 24 hour time trials and has finished PBP on
a fixed gear after riding a 24hr time trial the weekend before. Lets
just say they were a little out of my league. But right now I was
hanging onto their rear wheel like a dog onto a bone. The speed really
didn't scare me. I just knew that the kms were passing rapidly. At
first we exchanged casual hellos but as I refused to get off their
wheel, Stephen began talking to me more. We had full introductions. I
asked if they rode the triple often. "No" they said in unison. They
had only completed 30miles on the triple before entering. All had
qualified for PBP on single bikes. Stephen often had his head
completely turned around talking to me but I found it difficult to hold
eye contact at the speeds we were traveling. I suggested that Nigel
must have nerves of steel as he served as captain of their rig. Stephen
and Drew immediately countered that it was THEY who had the nerves of
steel as they couldn't see a blasted thing about where they we going.
Nigel responded with, "Well, we either get around the curve or we
As we had now covered around 20 of the remaining 60 kms to
Mortagne, I told them that they must have been sent as an answer to my
mother's prayers. Nigel said that they actually had been killed in the
last PBP and were now commanded to patrol this section of road as ghost
riders helping struggling randonnerurs throughout the night. At one
point they apologized for not calling out a pothole but I couldn't have
cared less. I told them that they could do whatever they wanted as long
as they allowed me to draft. I said that I didn't even mind their
"gas", as in flatus. This brought a round of laughs followed by a
lively discussion of the effects of gas on the various seating positions
of the triple. When it comes to gassing we all agreed that Stephen in
the rear was the ultimate team player. The triple stopped on a hill for
a pee break and I stopped with them. I actually stopped 50 yards ahead
of them because I knew why they were stopping and I wanted to give them
a little privacy. After they relieved themselves it was time for a
snack. They called me back to their bike and provided me with
honey-roasted peanuts. Mental note, honey roasted peanuts rule.
When we started rolling again we quickly passed the few riders that stopped
during our break. I congratulated myself for stopping with the triple
because when they are going slow as on a restart is the only time that
you can catch their wheel. We continued on through the night. Whenever
we passed through a town we would hear shouts for the triple. "Le
Triplett" was the most common shout. As we passed one group of
onlookers there were shouts for the triple along with one cheer directed
at me. Stephen quickly looked around and said, "What is this, now you're
even getting some of our cheers!" It was a magical moment every time
someone cheered on the triple. Stephen would look directly toward the
supporters and flash the biggest smile that you have ever seen. He
would wave and shout back. I felt like I was riding with celebrity,
actually I was. Forty km into my massive wheel sucking session I began
to fizzle on an uphill. They really were amazing because you realize
how fast a tandem or triple can go downhill, but these guys were
constantly passing riders on climbs also. Anyway I felt them slipping
away and I shouted thanks for the ride and I'd see them in Mortagne. Do
you know what they did? They sat up and let me back on. That my
friends is the spirit of PBP. A national champion and his two equally
strong riding friends sitting up to wait on a struggling neophyte. When
we finally rolled into Mortagne I could have kissed them. I had beaten
my projected time of arrival by more than an hour.
The organization and
number of volunteers at Villaines-la-Juhel and Mortagne was unbelievably
impressive. When I walked into the control in Mortagne I was greeted by
a large friendly Frenchman. I tried to ask about sleeping arrangements
in French and he responded with, "Why don't you try it in English?"
He spoke impeccable English and was equally beyond expectation friendly.
"Where do they get these people," I thought?
He showed me to the gymnasium next door.
The gym had three hundred single mattresses on the floor separated by
six inches each. As I was determining availability, Johnny and Greg arrived,
twenty-five minutes after the triple and myself.
"Did you ride that wheel all the way to Mortagne," Johnny asked incredulously?
Greg promptly threw up in the floor of the restaurant demonstrating how hard
they had been riding trying to catch the triple and me. I left them in
the restaurant and checked into the Mortagne gymnasium. I was informed
that there currently were no available beds. I had two choices:
- Wait 5-10 minutes for a bed, or
- Go in and sleep in the floor now.
I chose the floor. They asked for my wake up time. I told them 4:30. They
pinned a number to my leg and led me into the gym. It was wild.
Imagine three hundred exhausted people sleeping in a dark single room.
Everyone was snoring. One person snoring in a room is annoying. Three
hundred snoring in a room is soothing. It reminded me of being in the
woods listening to frogs and crickets.
Anyway I was out within ten seconds.
An hour and a half later I was awoken by, "Monsieur, quatre heure et demi."
"Je me leve,"
I impressively responded, thanking Michel Thomas
for his reflexive verb session that I had been listening to in my car
for the week prior too leaving for France. I gathered up my things and
headed for the restaurant. There was a girl trying to explain something
to the control officials. She was very emotional and when I left was
crying inconsolably. I had seen several riders abandon but this was the
saddest site of the ride. I wanted to ask if I could help but I knew
that I couldn't. I ate breakfast in the restaurant and left at 5:05 am.
Johnny and Greg were supposed to meet me by five but I knew that they
would catch me on the course. I saw Ann Mullins and Nick Dobey. Ann
was coughing so I gave her a few hits off my inhaler. Amazingly I had
not needed it at all during PBP. I need it almost always on long rides
at home. I'm sure this has to do with air quality. It was a cold dark
descent out of Mortagne. I saw no crashes but heard about several later.
When Johnny and Greg caught me they told me of an older rider lying in
a pool of blood as they passed only a few minutes behind me. Johnny and
Greg caught me on a hill not far out of Mortagne. I was struggling when
I felt a much needed push from behind. Greg had grabbed my saddle and
was pushing me uphill.
It was beautiful watching the sunrise as we headed toward Paris. The
sun came up along with everyone's spirits. The end was in sight and
barring truly extraordinary circumstances we would make it. We began
riding along at a leisurely pace. I was riding with Johnny in the front
and riders began attaching to the back. Soon we had twenty or so riders.
I remember looking back and thinking, "These guys must really be hurting to
draft off of me." Most of them were French. The one that I spoke to the
most was Patrick from Orleans. He is a police officer and told me of
his extensive highway patrolman hat collection. He said that he has
collected all fifty states.
He also keeps up with around twenty-five pen pals all over the world.
There were no discussions of politics. Patrick did go
out of his way to inform me that Americans are most welcome in his country.
He also coined the term Le Pipolette
I don't know if this is the correct spelling but it translates into chatterbox.
You see Greg is extremely Greg-arious and definitely has a gift with conversation.
Patrick was poking fun at him by referring to him as Le Pipolette
Every time he said this the whole group would shout and laugh and chime
in with their own two-cents. At one point as Patrick was teasing Greg
we were riding through a town and at a right arrow Patrick went left
taking the whole group with him except for me who had seen that the
arrow went right. When I shouted "a la droit" the peloton switched
direction and now began teasing Patrick about his navigational skills.
Greg was at this point relieved of being Le Pipolette
We rolled into Nogent le Roi, the last control before the finish. Everyone was
smiling. People were walking better. It had amazed me to see riders,
who were barely able to walk,
mount their bicycles and take off with perfect riding form.
It was like the body had been de-conditioned for everything except riding a bicycle.
We ate a huge breakfast. I had the best apple jelly donut of my life.
It was a side to my breakfast lasagna, cantaloupe, bananas, cokes, oringinas and baguette.
Johnny was nervous about the bees (he has a serious allergy) and also of the extra
time that we were taking.
He wanted to make it to Paris before 80 hrs but I didn't see that happening.
I was enjoying the ride now more than ever and I didn't want to see it end.
We eventually agreed to enjoy our last few kms.
We talked and laughed and basically were on top of the world.
I wasn't even the least bit miffed when one of my lights shook
off going over a section of cobbles smashing in the street below.
Greg stopped and picked up the pieces, handing them to me when he returned to the group.
The only unenjoyable part of this last section were the
numerous stoplights that we had to wait at as we neared the finish.
Finally the finish line.
There was a small group of people cheering riders on at the finish line.
A make shift three-foot wide wooden plank led us up and over a side walk close to the Gymnasium de Droits de L'homme.
I wondered how many riders had taken a spill there.
This final check-in picture was snapped by Susan Notorangelo who was
there meeting her husband Lon Haldeman.
They are two of the greatest amateur cyclists of all time.
Susan was not riding PBP but was supporting Lon along the course.
Lon rides PBP on a fixed gear so he
can enjoy the event with the rest of us. Lon could ride the event much
faster than he does but he has nothing to prove and is extremely wise.
We milled about. Johnny and Greg were disappointed to find out that we
didn't actually get to sign "the Great Book". We ate. I had a couple
of Heinekens, sorry no Guinness for those of you who know me. We
watched the final finishers come in.
I saw Ann Mullins, Nick Dobey and Bob Coulter.
I talked with Jimmy Williams, Steven Andreus Tris
Glanville and a most interesting English fellow named Martyn. Martyn
had finished quite sometime earlier but was here checking out the final
finishers on the last day. Martyn had ridden with the lead pack to
Brest. He finished in 52 hrs. That is FAST. Martyn told us of the
dynamics up front. It was fascinating. It is the only way that I will
ever experience the lead pack. He said that most riders in that group
were supported although he was not. Being supported however has its
disadvantages as well. He told us of one group of riders not finding
their support crew at one of the controls. They continued on without
the needed supplies. The crew had in fact been waiting but at a
different than expected location. When the riders never showed up well
past their expected times, the crew left and headed back to Paris
assuming that they had either crashed or abandoned. They did later
abandon since they had not planned on riding unsupported. The supported
riders had a crew handling their bikes, refilling their water bottles
and stuffing food in their pockets at the controls. Martyn said that
the lead group would ride easily out of the controls and reform into a
sizable pack. Once everyone was happy that everyone that should be
there was there, the pack would start hammering. He said that 6 French
rabbits had led most of the way out to Brest where they abandoned. I
asked him if he had suffered because to us he seemed like superman. He
replied, "Yes." He said that his "saddle area" was raw from riding a
straight 52 hrs. We took his word for it.
PBP is a wonderful experience. It is very difficult. It is at least as
difficult mentally as physically. There were many hills where I simply
repeated my kids' names over and over until I found myself at the crest.
I have never done anything as hard as PBP. I will never do anything as
hard as PBP. I'm just a regular guy. I shouldn't do anything harder,
if it even exists. I guess you could turn around and ride it again like
one group did once. Well I wont be riding it consecutively in that
sense, but I will be back in four years. It is just too special to
miss. I believe it is a metaphor for life. There are constant ups and
downs. It is not easy but the rewards are great. Hard work and
preparation pay dividends. You may choose to "race" through with a time
goal as your reward to enjoy in the future, or you may choose to enjoy
the ride in the present, so to speak. Hopefully next time I wont have
to struggle so much, although there is something to be said for riding
at the back. There are characters back there. I mentioned to Johnny
and Greg that we had the bonus perspective of actually fearing missing a
control cutoff. The uneasiness associated with this feeling is not
pleasant but the reward of making the time cutoff is extraordinary. I
will have a few things in my favor next time. I will be riding a
distance that I have already conquered and I am no longer a neophyte.
The official translated PBP information documents state:
"The Paris Brest Paris roads are hilly; the neophytes will realize this."
You will only realize this if you choose to become a neophyte.
Remember, everyone in the great book was first listed as a neophyte.
Bon Courage. John Ende, PBP Ancien 2003