PBP 2003

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.

Table of contents

I signed up for the brevet series in Spartanburg.

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

Decision Time
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 spectators.


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 PBP.

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 Paris Brest. Tres delicieux!! 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 was festive.

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

Hypno-girl at the start
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

Will Martin & Ann Mullins await 90hr start
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

Scooter Champ from Finland.  YES, he finished!
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.



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 was gone.

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. Le Roc 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 control?

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 Loudeac.

We made it to Loudeac around 2 am. The cafeteria was like a M*A*S*H 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 no avail.

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 his head.

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.

Le Triplett

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 don't."

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:
  1. Wait 5-10 minutes for a bed, or
  2. 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