20-24 Aug 2007

"The Ronde Van Vlaanderen called... wants its weather back..."

(aka "The ACP took my toenail away" - in a nod to Ramones fans everywhere...)

did you run into me at some point on PBP? email me!

Some thoughts on 2003's "What I'd Do Differently, Next Time":

What I actually *ought* to do differently, in 2011

Now that the PBP yearbook has arrived, along with my brevet card, I can dork out on stats. The yearbook confirmed my hunch that there were more younger people and women at PBP this time around - dramatically more in the case of women. With my complete times and whatnot in hand, though, I can effectively compare this PBP against my ride in 2003. Doing so, I note some interesting differences:

Generally, though, I'm within 10 minutes of my dry, sunny 2003 times, on average. I slept 15 minutes less, and only finished 15 minutes off my 2003 time. On paper, even more so than in my own mental notes, I rode better overall this PBP, despite the nasty weather conditions. Once again, the more I reflect on this PBP, the happier I am with my performance.

09 Sep 2007 (revised 20 Dec 2007)

So, the more expanded version now...

PBP really starts, of course, with bike check-in the day before. This year, it was pretty much nonexistent, due to the "rain" (read: drizzle), which I thought was a bit silly, considering the weather potential - you'd think they'd want to be doubly sure you had lights and such, but the organization said they'd just check everything on the way out on Monday night. So it really boiled down to a simple trip to St Quentin to pick up number plates and paperwork.

Once there, I started running into people, of course - Peter Borzak, from Hungary, who had ridden in on his track bike (with front brake) from Budapest, and was planning to ride with his messenger bag full of gear. Rumor had it that if he finished, he might become the first Hungarian ever to ride PBP! (note: He finished. He's a freaking monster, and now he's hooked on PBP.) Also ran into Thien from Toronto, who had his fixie crack the day before, and was set up to ride on a borrowed MTB he'd never ridden before! Ballsy, that. (He also finished, and sounds like he'll be back in 2011) Hunted around for Pat and Cecilie from Philly, but no luck. Saw Jan Heine head into the staging area, but lost him, and couldn't find his bike. Ran around, looking at all the crazy bikes, chatting with their owners, kicking myself for having left my camera back in Paris. D'oh! More trikes than last year. Less recumbent trikes. One triplet, a massive German mountain bike. One front-to-back recumbent tandem that I still haven't wrapped my head around completely. Talked to a Brit (whose name I, shamefully, forget) with a Chunk 666 style recumbent, pieced together out of old bits of other frames. Overall, lots more vintage and modern steel than I saw in 2003. Also, lots more younger people, at least to my eyes. We'll see if the yearbook holds up that anecdotal evidence. Hung out for a good long while, just reveling in the atmosphere of it all, but eventually made myself head back into Paris.

some shots of me at check-in, from Dion Dyer (#4751)

Tried to stay up late and then sleep in on Monday, but that only ever works so well for me, and this day was no exception. I "slept in" until 10 am. Hung around being antsy until 2 or 3, and then headed to Montparnasse to catch the train and be in St Quentin nice and early for the pre-ride dinner, and hopefully, in time to run around and find some friends I hadn't run into yet. As luck would have it, along came Pat and Cecilie and their super-classy Bilenky coupled tandem. We sat around for a while, waiting for the 80-hour start people to finish their meal, and enjoying the comments of various people dorking out on our respective bikes. Even these days, a nice classic steel bike gets way more attention than the legions of carbon fiber and aluminum, even from people riding the latter two. Finally headed in, had the first of many cafeteria lunches, and put a good bit of filler in the tank, prepped for what was to come...

US METZ JOEL velo 4683

various shots of the space outside the restaurant before the depart

more outside the restaurant // Pat and Cecilie arrive // front end of the chunk-style recumbent

more chunkstyle recumbent // Pat and Cecilie, with Thien in the background // people outside the restaurant

more chunkstyle // my bike on top of Pat and Cecilie's sweet Bilenky tandem // the Brit with the 1920 Hirondelle retro-direct

closer shot of that Hirondelle // two shots of what it looks like from the back of the line for the start

lousy shot of the German front-to-back tandem recumbent // about halfway through the line // the rain starts, with the control tents in sight

Chatting in the lineup for the 90-hour start with Henrik Andersen (#4339). I think I look like I'm comparing my imaginary cell phone to his real one. Oh, and to anyone who questioned the reflectivity of my home-made reflective sash...

Cecilie, Pat and myself, around dinnertime Monday, from Dion Dyer

est parti le 20/08 à 22h50 de SAINT QUENTIN (0)

The start seemed rushed at first - I'd waited in the restaurant, eating with my friends Pat and Cecilie from Philly - they were riding on a nice Bilenky tandem - but had gotten to the start somewhat late to make the actual 21h30 90-hour start, so I got to stand in the line waiting for a later start as ominous clouds gathered, and little bits of rain started to fall. By the time my part of the line had made it halfway around the stadium, raingear had come out, as it was steadily sprinkling, and we had been reduced to half-hearted attempts at the wave. This year, start groups were going out every 20 minutes rather than every 15, and it was looking like this would provide for some late start groups indeed. Eventually, though, we got ourselves through, and stamped for the 22h50 start - and by that time, we were all pretty decently wet.

I tell you, though - those 20 minutes went by awfully slow, as we waited and waited, and then got called up to the start line, listened to the various reminders about obeying traffic laws and whatnot, and then were unleashed into the darkness by the loudest exploding skyrocket ever. The cheers of the crowd were, once again, completely astounding. That big central roundabout outside the Gymnasium in Saint Quentin was packed to the gills with people watching the start, and nearly every intersection we passed in the neutral first 15km or so had groups of people applauding and encouraging the passing cyclists. From there, it was the usual tear off into the darkness, with far less temptation this year to keep the pace the group was setting. I cruised along at a decent clip, but reminded myself that there was really no need to go that fast if I didn't want to... I could just sit back and enjoy that light show of snaking headlights and taillights that I so commonly cite in my excited descriptions of what makes PBP so great. Sometimes it was raining more than others, but it certainly was damp most of the night - I seem to remember that it broke about midway to Villanes, but wasn't raining too badly for most of that time, but again, my idea of "bad" rain is, well, "different".

About 02h00 on Tuesday morning we found it, rounded a corner to find that lovely bakery in Tremblay les Villages with the lit-up cyclist perched on their facade, handing out water to all comers... But we didn't stop for too long, as though we might be halfway to that first food stop in Mortagne au Perche, the first real checkpoint, in Villanes le Juhel, was quite a ways off yet. Later on, stopped for a a coffee in Chateauneuf en Thymerais (I think that was it), and at a bakery open late (early?) in Senonches. The rain started up again about an hour out of Mortagne, and came in harder, enough to have us pretty much soaked to the core by the time we got to that first refueling checkpoint, while it was still dark, probably somewhere around 05h00, I'm guessing. Early on, I was feeling good - "soaked but cheery", I wrote in my scribbled notes from this point.

Grabbed the usual pasta Bolognese and various sides there, and the typical bottle of local cider (which I proceeded not to drink, but to carry in my Carradice for the entire ride!). Chatted with Ross from Oxford while eating, and ran into him again at various points during the next 4 days... But headed out again somewhat quickly - I was attempting to keep my stops short, but they usually ended up being about an hour long, which is far too long for many, I'm sure.

The rain had broken somewhat by the time I left Mortagne, but I seem to remember it being intermittent at this point - though it could be said to have been "intermittent" for the entire ride. I can't say that I'm really sure where and when it rained the rest of the time, but I'm pretty sure it was intermittent. Paused for croissants in St-Remy-sur-Val, then stopped for coffee again (more a preemptive strike than anything else) in La Hutte, along with a host of others. Popped into a bar-tabac in Saint-Paul-le-Gaultier for an orange juice, getting closer to that first checkpoint. Outside St-Paul-le-Gaultier, I remember noticing some fantastic hedges, full of currants, elderberries, blackberries, hips and haws, and thinking what great jam it'd likely make. Got into Villanes just before 11am, "behind schedule" by my own guessing, but nothing to really worry about. Was still feeling great, though. Spent the usual hour in the control, and got rolling again...

riding into the night (center image links to short, boring video - rider in the near right corner, with the big pack on his back is Peter Borzak, from Budapest - reputedly one of the first Hungarians to finish PBP!)

more nighttime riding (outer images link to yet more dull video - the one on the right is perhaps as best I can do to convey the "long line of taillights off into the distance" image, which is what I was trying for. it's nowhere close to the image in reality, but you kinda had to be there...)

two shots of that glorious bakery in Tremblay, but not much better than last time... // the bakery in Senonches

inside the control at Mortagne // shots on the road to Villanes

more riding shots on the way to Villanes

one more riding shot // the control at Villanes

est passé le 21/08 à 10h56 à VILLAINES (2)

From Villanes out found the approach of some behind-the-knee pain - seems I'd managed to set my seat height too low when reassembling my bike in Paris, despite having marked the height with tape as I disassembled the bike in Portland. Oops. Didn't stop much this leg - just a coke and a coffee, and a chausson aux pommes in Le Ribay. Despite the knee pain, I was blazing along. At some point along the way, I found Joel from Via Bicycles in Philly - the only other rider on a Jack Taylor - and rode with him mostly into Fougeres. Passed the crepe spot in La Tanniere, only to have the guy who runs it yell out, as I looked back, wondering, "Au retour!", so I knew when to expect that tasty treat. Got into Fougeres, checked through, raised the seat back to where it ought to be, and spent my now-usual hour resting and eating.

the other Joel's Taylor

The official photos - first two are in Bel Air (km 237), and the third in Le Ribay (km 240). That stupid grin just won't go away...

est passé le 21/08 à 16h34 à FOUGERES (3)

This was followed by another nearly nonstop leg through to Tinteniac, interrupted merely by a stop for gallette saucisse in Feins, and a fine gallette saucisse it was. Quite welcome. The pain behind my knees had basically left, but I was undecided if it was the readjusted saddle height actually working, or just the ibuprofen. Regardless, the leg went by quickly, and I got into Tinteniac just on the tail of Pat and Cecilie leaving, and ran into Robin from SIR, who I'd run into on multiple occasions in 2003. The routine kept up with my arrival, and I quickly got myself out of there again, as I had designs on sleeping in Loudeac, despite the warnings about no room at the inn and whatnot. It wasn't looking like I would get much, but you take what you can...

couple shots of me on the way to Tinteniac (my guess), from Jack Holmgren (#4776). You can practically see the facial character building up in my beloved crow's-feet.

More official photos - these are in Dinge (km 355)

est passé le 21/08 à 20h32 à TINTENIAC (4)

Off into the dark it was, then, and still feeling good, and surprisingly un-tired. Stopped in Quedillac for pastry, and Medreac to finish off the rest of the snack that I'd packed away in my handlebar bag, or maybe it was the other way around. The darkness, of course, has confused my memories of times and places and orders of events. I do know that at around 01h00 Wednesday morning, the tell-tale lights of the lead 80-hour group appeared - though I must say they weren't nearly as crushing a vision as they were last time. By the time all was said and done in Loudeac, though, it was 03h00 on Wednesday, and time to get some sleep, what little there was time for... There's near-constant rumors of not enough beds in Loudeac, enough so that the organizers send out emails advising people to consider other options, but I've slept both ways in Loudeac on both my PBPs, with no problem whatsoever, so I'm sticking to it. So I paid for my cot, and set the "alarm" for 04h30...

shot of me from Ivo Miessen (#3452), probably somewhere just outside Tinteniac because the timestamp is 22h30 or so on the night of the 21st. I haven't the slightest idea what's going on here, but it's a fair bet I'm talking about *something*.

est passé le 22/08 à 02h11 à LOUDEAC (5)

This is the point at which the running notes end. I was pushing the edge of the time limits for the 09h30 start group (though this still left me with 1h20 of room, due to my 10h50 start group), and I didn't want to start chipping away at my bonus time until I absolutely had to. The hilly terrain from Loudeac to Carhaix is tricky enough, but with a mere 1.5 hours of sleep, they can be a handful. All the same, I tackled it well, was still feeling generally good, and even handled the hill leading into Carhaix and the control easily enough. Sadly, though, I ran into Pat and Cecilie on this stretch, looking quite unhappy, as due to some saddle issues, they were figuring on packing it in in Carhaix (but they'll be back to conquer together in 2011! Pat's already an ancien - 2003 - but Cecilie was pretty bummed about having to pack it). Joel from Philly also packed it here, I think - he was likely not as outside the time limits as he was guessing, but I think his will to continue was just gone.

est passé le 22/08 à 10h02 à CARHAIX (6)

Another hour in the cafeteria, and it was off to finish the first half of this ride. The not-really-as-daunting-as-it's-made-out-to-be-but-still-quite-annoying-to-have-to-climb Roc Trevezel lay ahead. Unfortunately, so also did some rather impressive headwinds - although watching the inbound riders flying up the climbs with the wind at their back did place some glorious visions of uphill tailwinds in our heads... Stopped in Sizun for a good long while to have a sit-down crepe complet, and admire the old Bretagne-style church steeple. It's a rather unique style, and one that the local jackdaws appeared to appreciate as much as I did. From there, it was a reasonably straightforward run into Brest, and the oh-so-welcome sight of that modern suspension bridge... Following quickly by the oh-so-unwelcome remembrance of the ever-increasing gradient of the climb up to the turnaround checkpoint in Brest. How very convenient to have forgotten about that awful thing. Sat down for a brief meal, chatted with various people, but wanted to get back on the road and headed east - I'd been leaving controls at just about their closing times, so it was somewhat imperative to keep moving.

the steeple of the church in Sizun

est passé le 22/08 à 16h35 à BREST (7)

Brest back to Carhaix was, unsurprisingly, tough, although the climb just doesn't seem as bad going that way, somehow. Paused briefly in Sizun again, and then blazed up the Roc, and ran into John (from Yorkshire, I think?) who I ran into at about this same spot last time. Funny how that happens. Anyhow, we headed up at a good clip in the fading light, along with a Canadian whose name I forget at the moment, in time to catch the setting sun from the top of the climb. Made a quick stop somewhere after the long downhill, once the rollers had started again, for a glass of wine and some nice local dried sausage. You see what you're missing, 80-hour group? Kept it going, and rolled fairly smoothly into Carhaix.

the steeple in Sizun again, this time with jackdaws // sunset on the Roc Trevezel with John

in Carhaix with Robin Pieper, who I met on PBP in 2003. I've got a real gem of an expression on my face, eh? photo by Jon Muellner (#4679)

est passé le 22/08 à 22h50 à CARHAIX (8)

This leg is about as ragged as it got, and it wasn't even really all that bad, in reflection. My knee was hurting a little bit still, but really only as I left controls - it rapidly settled in to not really being noticeable at all. I was on the ibuprofen to regulate, but that was about it. Most of this was through the dark, though, so scrap just about anything of memory of it... Came in tired, but feeling good, to Loudeac for the second time, checked my times, and went straight to bed with only the sandwich scrap from my bag, and slept for a half hour. Woke up, had a bit of food in the cafeteria, and looked over my brevet card, making calculations the whole time, and figured that really, I had enough time to stretch my bonus time to the limit and get 3 more hours of sleep, leaving the control just as it was closing up. I could sprint the next leg and catch myself up. As it turned out, I woke up after 2 and a half hours of sleep, which was just perfect. packed things up quick, changed into a new chamois, and off I went. I should note, however, that at this point there was some pretty nasty chafing action going on, thanks to the wretched mind that thought putting just the tiniest hint of menthol into Assos chamois creme was a good idea. I mean, really. It's fantastic chamois creme, until you get the slightest tear in the nether regions, and then reapplying chamois creme is just salt in the wound. Needless to say, I'd given up on chamois creme at this point. Not a good plan, but on a short-term level, it beat self-inflicted pain.

est passé le 23/08 à 04h30 à LOUDEAC (9)

That sleep calculation was really one of the smartest bits this PBP. What it meant was that I would now be that much less tired come the Thursday all-nighter on the way to Mortagne, and that was gold. but more on that later. But for the moment, I figured I'd have things well in hand by the time I got to Tinteniac, if not Fougeres, and could get another nap in before night set in. Rode with a few different people through the hilly Loudeac-Tinteniac leg, and then took my now-signature solo tear into Tinteniac, to get myself in with 2 minutes to spare of my "bonus" time. I'd learned by this point that they were giving everyone an extra 2 hours at every control except the finish, as compensation of sorts for the rain, but I didn't want to start writing checks on that time, as I knew I would have to pay it back eventually - it was bad enough to be cutting into my "bonus" time, but further than that was a bad idea.

est passé le 23/08 à 13h38 à TINTENIAC (10)

This leg is a blur as well. I know I was moving fast, cause I wanted to make up enough time to allow another nap, but that's about it. Hit Fougeres back within my time range, and took an hour long nap in Fougeres, just to top off the tank before the all-nighter.

est passé le 23/08 à 17h32 à FOUGERES (11)

The highlight of the Fougeres-Villanes leg, of course, is Paul Rogue's near-legendary crepe station. Every PBP year, for something like the last 20 years, he and his family open up their garage and serve crepes to all comers. Last time around, I think it was on the outbound route, this time on the return. They had 3 cookers going, piles of crepes pushing the envelope of structural engineering, and lovely homemade plum jam (among a host of other toppings). All they request in return? A postcard with a picture of your home city. This stop, in and of itself, sums up nearly everything that makes PBP far, far more than a simple 1200k, or the oldest continuously organized cycling event in the world (as many Brits will tell you, the Catford Hillclimb has it beat on longevity - since 1888 - but it loses out thanks to wartime stoppage, and some rescheduling technicalities on PBP's part). It's more than I can ever possibly put into words, seriously. No amount of pictures, video, or writing will ever convey the true nature of this event - only the participants can really ever know that. Pulled into Villanes in the dark, ate quickly, and got back out there as "quickly" as I could, cause I remembered these last several legs as some of the hardest, psychologically speaking.

lovely, lovely crepes in La Tanniere

est passé le 24/08 à 00h57 à VILLAINES (12)

Villanes is the one checkpoint I don't have my arrival time for offhand. I figure it was likely around midnight or shortly thereafter, judging by 2003 times. Anyhoo, I got out as quick as I could, with the lure of another catnap in Mortagne pushing me on. Unlike 2003, though, I spent the entire leg wide awake. Actually helped some others stay awake, Including Emily O'Brien from Boston, who I'd met at the start - she was riding fixed, and seemed glad of the company for the sheer "talk and keep awake" factor. Conversation becomes incredibly valuable at the edge of sleep... Then there was the one older Italian (I think) guy who literally stopped me in the road, riding the wrong direction, spouting gibberish at me forcefully, and me with no idea what he was saying except it didn't sound like any language I had heard before, and I've heard quite a few. There was really nothing I could do for him, and nothing really seemed particularly wrong (except for that whole gibberish thing), so I got the hell out and kept moving, cause stopping on the midnight leg is doom. This leg, while not all that long, feels like one of the longest. Fortunately, though, it didn't have nearly the heavy truck traffic that I remember from 2003, and the straight-as-an-arrow chipseal section, while still straight, and still chipseal, didn't feel nearly as long as it did in 2003. May have had something to do with the fact that I wasn't attempting to fall asleep on my bike this time through. Nope, wide awake! Stopped for coffee in a bar in one of the small towns along the route here, and got a chuckle out of the young woman who declared to her companion as I walked in that she'd Rochambeau her for the brunette who just walked in (thus revealing that my French only works when I'm ordering food, or, potentially delirious). How a completely filthy American who would be of little use to them was worth Rochambeau-ing for, I don't know. Nevertheless, I was amused, and that was good enough for me. (For the record, I didn't stick around to see who "won") Continued on, and finished up this much-longer-than-it-actually-is leg just as the sun was coming up, and dashed straight into the cots.

a shot of me Thursday night, probably somewhere en route to Mortagne, taken by Greg Bleakney of SIR

est passé le 24/08 à 06h51 à MORTAGNE (13)

Ah the Mortagne-Dreux leg. I am still somewhat fixated on this one, and though I haven't bothered to go through and measure actual mileage somehow, I am convinced that mileage was longer than declared, on the ground that it took me an hour and a half to ride from either Brezolles ("24" km out) or Laons ("16" km out) to central Dreux - at an average speed of roughly 24km/hr. The math just doesn't work. Nevermind the guy at this one hard left turn onto a larger road (that for the life of me I can't find on the course maps, and I know I was following the course arrows strictly) who told us "3 more km!", which turned out to be 3 more km to the next turn, not the finish. And the guy at that next turn holding the sign that said "2.5 km", when there were clearly more like 6 or 7 that we rode from there to get to the control. Needless to say, I was livid. When you're running that close to your deadlines, these are not the kind of things you need to be hearing. But in the end, everything worked out, I got to Dreux within my standard time limits (i.e. without using any of the bonus 2 hours credit), and wound down at what was one of the best controls of the entire event. Fantastic job by Dreux on their first PBP. That leg just oozed false downhill, though, and it was a good piece of work to keep that mid-20s average speed. Oh, and the chipseal. Lovely, that. I would have killed for the nice pavement through any of the small towns on the route to have continued beyond the town limit sign.

another Greg Bleakney shot, this time me looking oh-so-perky while eating yet *another* gateaux Paris-Brest, in either Brezolles or Laons

est passé le 24/08 à 11h53 à DREUX (14) 

This final leg is a killer. It really is. First, you really, really want to be back in St. Quentin. Seriously, you want nothing more than to blink and be there. Second, you discover that all that terrain you blasted out over on Monday night is really way, way hillier than it looked in the dark, when you were surrounded, and being pulled along by, 500+ fellow PBP riders. Thirdly, and new for this year, is the super-twisty route out of Dreux. It doesn't look that way on paper, but let me tell you, you feel like you've turned back on your route completely, despite the fact that you're roughly pointed towards St. Quentin the entire time. Suburbs can be completely disorienting. It just drags, and you just want it to be over. To top it all off, my right big toe was really starting to hurt by this time, and kept reminding me of its state. Seems my shoes, which fit perfectly for all of my brevets, are just that much too small for a 1200k. It cost me my toenail. But for all the tortures of that last leg, It's such a relief to pull into St. Quentin, even during Friday rush hour, and even when the streets you have to ride in on are under construction. Everything, every tiny little bit of suffering, becomes worth it when you enter that big oval roundabout outside the Gymnasium, and there's all these cheering people urging you on to the finish, which is just down a little dirt path at this point. It's enough to bring you to tears, and it always does for me.

est arrivé le 24/08 à 16h37 à SAINT QUENTIN (15) 

I rolled into Saint Quentin with enough time to spare that I could lazily amble over to the control tables and get my card swiped. 89h47 - 30 minutes slower than 2003, but considering what the weather did to so many others, that's really not so bad, and as I wrote below, in reflection, I'm more than happy with my performance. I set out to ride PBP this year more comfortably, and I think I achieved that. I rode smoother, slept more intelligently, stopped more places, talked to more people. I still think that my time and speed are crippled by my own tendency to ride solo, but I'm not convinced I'm concerned about this yet. It's something to work on, and I'm sure it would bring my PBP times in line with my brevet times.

Aside from my anecdotal observations about helmets and vintage steel, I noticed this time around that people seemed better equipped with lights, and were less nervous about descending, even in the dark. That being said, I still think that I was substantially less skittish about descending in the dark and/or rain than most. It's good to trust your lights, brakes, and reflexes.

I spent a good several hours at the gymnasium, chatting with new friends and old, watching stragglers come in, eating a bit of food... Skipped out on the awards ceremony this year, cause I was just zonkered, and needed to get home, and get out of the horrible stench of the clothes I was wearing. Headed to the train station, popped out of the tunnel, and ran into Dave, Grant and Lee from NYC, who I'd ridden with for a while at some point on the return voyage, and ?, who used to ride and dispatch at Quicksilver in SF way back when. Messengers. They turn up everywhere... We piled into one of the bike cars on the train, and stunk it up something awful. At this point, we pretty much looked like hell, and here's the proof. Made it back to Montparnasse, and endured the painful ride home, only to stay up til 10pm because I'd set the crazy Euro washer to "Extended rinse". Oops. But I needed clean clothes for the morning...

The inevitable "What to do differently next time?" question. Um, not get rained on? Er... Honestly, I think about all I'm willing to ask of myself at this point is to improve my journaling methods. I'm still missing big bits of information about the ride. I could've taken a hell of a lot more photos. I just get so wrapped up in riding that I forget that part of things, and it'd be nice to have that documentation. I'd love to have some better record of who the hell I spent time riding and talking with, something beyond my own faulty memory for names. It's embarrassing to not remember the names of the people I ought to remember.

swollen feet, again

Some PBP blogs/photo pages from people I met along the way or afterwards, and from the ORRando crew...

John Kramer (#4830) // Matt Ruscigno (#4660) // David Kamp (#6893) // Eric Ahlvin (#4784) // Phillipe Andre (#3420)

Sal Ortega (#4866) // Thien Tran (#3549) // Thien Tran photo set #2 (#3549) // Emily O'Brien (#3374) // Jake Kassen (#3373)

Lee Azzarello (#6606) // Jon Muellner (#4679)

03 Sep 2007

PBP this year was brutal for many people, thanks to 20 hours of the 90 spent in the rain for many of us. An epic 30% abandon rate shows you how hard it hit people. I've been musing over how hard it must have hit me to set me back 30 minutes from 2003 despite my faster brevet times (on average, about 1 hour faster per 200k) and more suitable bike - but the more I think about it, the better I think I took it.

Seriously, though, if I consider that despite the first rain on PBP in 20 years, and getting a half-hour less sleep than in 2003, I managed to NOT bonk, NOT start falling asleep on my bike, and have a big ol grin on my face pretty much the entire time, could I have really been all that bad? I had none of the overextension or sleep-dep issues I had in 2003, I stopped more often, talked to more people, and slept more intelligently. I rode pretty damn solid pretty much all the way through, notwithstanding some basic "jeez are we there yet?" questions on the final leg back to St Quentin, and some serious questions about the mileage numbers on the way into Dreux.

The rain hit everyone hard, despite it really not being all that bad, in the scheme of things (you have to remember, I'm used to riding all day in the rain, all winter long - my idea of "bad" is much worse than most people's). Most of us in the 90-hour start stood around in it for at least some time before our start, and I'd say we in the 10:50 start went out slower than I remember departing in 2003.

In the end, I have to admit that I was really on top of things. I kept myself well-fueled, I never really showed an inkling of the exhaustion that hit me so hard at points in 2003. Even in the depths of Thursday night, which brought me hallucinations last time, I was awake and alert. Personally, in reflection, despite my 30 extra minutes on the course, I think I killed it.

14 Jul 2007

PBP 2007 is a go!

My applications in, my new passport has arrived, plane tickets purchased (I'll be arriving in Paris the morning of August 16, and leaving midday August 29 - certainly the most expensive plane tickets I've ever bought!), and my train ticket to Bordeaux is in hand. The remainder of parts are coming together... Pretty stoked about things, and antsy for the trip to Paris as well! Been thinking a lot about what I'm taking in comparison to the absurd load I carried in 2003... Here's how it's looking so far (list omits clothing worn at departure):

I'm laminating my cue sheets again this year, though not laminating every single bit of information, and I've reformatted them to fit my handlebar bag. I rarely if ever used the cue sheets in 2003, and I anticipate a repeat of that, but it'd be unwise to not carry them.

27 Jun 2007

Careening down the path, not past the point of no return, but getting there...

Expedited passport renewal is in, PBP entry form submitted, racks are going in for powdercoat, pulling the last few bits of parts and equipment together - next week is plane ticket time (and train ticket - I'm doing a short side trip to Bordeaux the Sunday after PBP). I've got a pro hard case lined up for the bike (I'm super-paranoid about the Taylor getting damaged in flight...), and crash space covered at least two ways.

11 Jun 2007

It's just a matter of getting the paperwork done now!

Rode my 600k this weekend, and chopped 2 hours off my 2003 time. Now it's just a matter of finishing up the paperwork, and getting my butt in gear with the passport thing, buying a plane ticket, and sorting out the final trip bits! PBP here I come!

28 May 2007

Going strong, but doubting hard...

Last weekend, I rode my 400k, and rocked it - went below my "goal" time of 24 hours, and below (though only barely) my "stoked" time of 22 hours. 2 more weekends and its time for the 600k. I've sorted out my eating and drinking, mostly - the nice thing about spending long chunks of time anywhere is that it's easier to take in a ton of food to hold you for the next leg - which is something the eat-and-run life of a messenger affords you the stomach to do... On the other hand, though, I'm looking at ticket prices and whatnot and starting to panic - it's likely to cost me $1500 to get over there and back, once you count in the fee for the bike, plus $160 for entry, and then pocket money for the trip itself... yikes. With all the projects around the house this year, it's been tough to save money, and I'm honestly nowhere near where I should be with 3 months to go. So I'm a bit panicked, you might say... Cause I certainly don't want to miss this PBP, especially after having sworn to do it every year until I just couldn't...

16 Apr 2007

Gaining momentum...

I've been flying, by my standards. Knocked out my 200k in just over 10 hours, and my 300k in just over 15. Fast checkpoint run-throughs (for me - that means sub-30 minutes! :) ) but still stopping on the road, or at least knowing I'd have time to. The bike has been *awesome*, just pushing me to go faster and faster. I'm still not eating quite as much as I ought to to keep up with my new faster pace, but we'll work on that. The important thing now is that I'm bringing my pace up enough to be able to afford me the time I'd like to have to spare for PBP. We'll see if I can keep up the 20km/h pace I've been throwing down once I get to the 400k in another month. Looking at 2003's numbers, I managed 20km/h in the big pack at PBP for the first 200k, but dropped off fast. I'm still not planning on rushing through checkpoints and trying to keep up, but if I can keep my speed in that area while I'm on the bike I'll be happy. I figure I've still got almost 20 years before I'm really in my prime PBP years, so why go fast now?

16 Mar 2007

Alive and kicking!

First populaire of the year last weekend, and I felt great. I've been seriously worried that I'm out of shape or something, and it seems I'm not as bad off as I figured. Managed a respectable pace for the 100k while I was actually riding, and comfortably had time to sit around the controls and eat and chat with people, which is a big portion of my entire objective for PBP this year. If it means I can stop and rest/eat a bit more often (recovery has never been an issue with me), it'll work well to push things just a little bit harder while riding. The switch to the 48t front chainwheel was a great one - the 51t that I used simply because it was what I had was just *not* working.

07 May 2006

One more populaire down, and lights and racks are figured out. Again, nothing but love for this bike. Eventually it'll get another Schmidt E6 down on the fork tip, but all in due time.

In other news, I'm starting to work on something I've thought about since PBP 2003 - organizing fellow bike messengers around the world to ride PBP 2007. The messenger-randonneur crossover is an obvious one to me, and I intend to encourage it as fully as I can! So if you're a current or former bike messenger, check here for more info.

04 Apr 2006

One populaire and one brevet into the new bike, and I'm loving it. I set it up on gut feeling, really, putting the stem and seat where I thought they ought to be, etc - and everything turned out exactly right. The stem I just happened to luck out on is exactly the length it needs to be, and TA pedals are worth every cent spent on them.

My first 200k was also the threshing-out ride for the new handlebar bag rack, and that worked out nicely as well. I had my housemate Ira make me a small rack that combines elements of Taylor, Herse and TA racks, for my Sologne bag, and it worked great. I think the only thing I'll change is to move the stem-mount portion slightly to raise the bag a little, so that it doesn't sag onto the headlight over the edges. By next populaire, lighting should be set up, and the matching saddlebag support should be finished, and then it'll be off to the powdercoater with the lot of them.

My 200k time was on par with previous fast 200k times, which is about right, being as I'm out of shape, and was both riding faster and stopping more often to eat, which fits in perfectly with my planned approach to PBP - ride faster to rest more. The handlebar bag also facilitates in-flight eating, which is good, as I do have a tendency to just keep riding until I bonk or come to a control to eat, regardless of how much food I'm carrying. This, however, will not be much of a problem on PBP - I seriously think that there's almost no reason to carry food on PBP, cause there's food everywhere.

But man, if I wasn't happy enough with this bike already just staring at it, riding it pushed me over the edge. I'm so in love. There's something to be said for setting up a bike with your favorite bars, brake levers, saddle and pedals (or what would've previously been my favorite pedals if I'd had any before - they're certainly my favorite pedals now)...

05 Mar 2006

Yeah, I'm starting early.

Really, though, I started planning for PBP 2007 moments after I scanned my card at the final control in San Quentin en Yvelines on Friday afternoon, August 22nd 2003.

Actually, it was somewhere in that blur of 1200km, in between the rotating ankle/knee/butt pain and the sleep dep, that some little voice deep inside me said "I am going to do this every four years FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.". At that point, my body decided "well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em...", and the deal was struck.

A few things are going to change this time. For one, I'm going to carry less stuff - I look at my pictures from 2003, and wonder "what the hell was I thinking?" Tent and sleeping bag are out (heck, they would've been out about one day into PBP, but for my need for penance or something like that). I'll be two-bagging it, a nice Sologne handlebar bag and my trusty Carradice Nelson Longflap - the latter more cause I can't bear to leave it behind (and because hey, I might find something neat at a rummage sale on the route!) than out of need for the space, though I do prefer to carry clothing there rather than in the bar bag. That's for food, maps, and other more immediate needs.

The big change is the new bike. I proved my point (whatever it was) to myself by finishing PBP on the work bike in 2003. This time round, I'll be on something slightly more appropriate - my Jack Taylor pseudo-randonneuse. It'll make for a more comfortable ride, and a faster one. No, I'm not planning on shaving chunks off my finishing time. Honestly, I couldn't give a rat's ass about improving my finishing time. Riding faster, to me, means more time for extra stops, chatting with people, eating in cafes, taking pictures, keeping a journal, resting, and just enjoying the ride more. Not that I didn't enjoy it last time, but hey, I could always enjoy it more. Sure, my time will likely be faster, but that's just a lucky side effect, as far as I'm concerned.

Between the smaller load and the faster, smoother bike, I should be able to give myself what I was most lacking in 2003 - spare time. I think I ought to be able to keep closer to my "original" 2003 plan of riding PBP as a 400k, followed by a pair of 300ks, and then finished with a 200k, spaced out with more sleep in between the riding. I like my stopping points from 2003 - Loudeac both outbound and inbound, and Mortagne au Perche on the way back in - but I need to be able to ensure my recovery (time-wise) from the time lost sleeping. Whether this occurs as a result of riding a bike thats not such a dog over the long haul, or by sprinting into and out of my sleep controls, I need to make more time for myself both out on the road and in the sack. Coming into Loudeac (outbound) in 2003, I managed to gain back 2.5 hours because I felt good coming out of Tinteneac. 2 and a half hours in 86km, in the black of night, with 26 hours of riding under my belt. Crunching the numbers, I'm just discovering that now, 2 years later - and realizing the importance of that sprint in light of my later time-to-spare at controls (~3.5h the first day, ~2h the second, and ~30m the third and fourth!) - without it, my PBP most likely would have been shot.

If I can shave a good couple hours off of my qualifying brevet times in the next year and a half, I'll be in good hands, I think. They say your second PBP is much easier than your first, and that bodes well. Working in Portland now, I don't get nearly the work mileage that I did in SF (~30-50 miles/day, 3 days/week vs ~50-70 miles/day, 4 days/week), but good, challenging riding is always close by, and I'm looking forward to hitting the roads this spring with the Oregon Randonneurs and doing additional riding on my own and with friends.

Yes, PBP 2007, I'm coming for you. We're gonna spend some quality time together, putting back boules of cidre and homemade crêpes; evaluating micro-regional differences in the ornamentation of chausson aux pommes; sipping more wine and beer than those fast-moving sissies in the 80-hour group; chasing wild herds of croissants across the Breton countryside. Oh yeah, and there'll be some bike riding too.

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