Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fall Classic 600: These are few of my favorite K

With PBP behind me, I had 10 days to tool around Europe, eat food, and ostensibly rest. The rest part didn't quite work out since there were so many nifty things to see. But I finally got back to minnesota on the 7th of September. The fall classic apple valley 600k was on the 10th.

Sure, my bike had been stuck in a box for two weeks, but I had done miles of walking so I should be in shape. More importantly, I had committed to doing this ride to help several new randonneurs have a better experience than I did on my first 600k (375 miles riding alone). I had also wanted to see if perhaps I could ride my trek Madone on a ride of this distance. It's set up as close as possible to the princess and my new seat pack from Distance Biker did not require a rack.

I still had jet lag going from France which meant that it seemed a few hours later than it actually was. Getting up for a 6 am start at 3:30 was a snap. IronK drove me to the start. I have an aversion to driving after a ride as long as a 600. The forecast was for sunny skies in the 70s with lows in the high 50s. I packed my drop sack sparingly. I'd learned a thing or two from France. In fact, I packed light enough that I worried I could not possibly have enough. Wrong! I had plenty of everything.

It really was a beautiful day to ride. Just a tiny chill in the air and almost no wind at all. Renee, Ed, and Phil were all at the start along with some out of town faces. There was Dave from Vancouver and Bob from Colorado. Also present was Marlin, from Iowa, who I had not seen since April. The 7 of us were to leap frog and for the most part ride together for the first 212 miles. There were about 19 people total on the ride.

So we started out. It's easy to go too fast out of Apple Valley and I was cautious to stick between 15 and 17 (hey, I was supposed to be setting a good example). As expected, Renee, Ed and myself along with Dave from BC wound up together. The leg to Cannon Falls was pleasant with many conversations going on. Dave wound up pacing through a good bit of this section. There was just the slightest amount of fog and a nice morning so the slight chill was actually welcome.

At Cannon Falls, I hustled the others through the control and we kept it to 20 minutes. Not bad for a larger group and there was time for a couple to eat sandwiches for the 40 mile trip to Lake City. As we pulled out, Phil pulled in. He'd had a flat tire and I was sure he would catch up. The rest of us went on. The larger rollers started up and this stretch was really pleasant. I had discarded everything but my knee warmers and it was already fixing to be a hot day. Still no wind.

Renee is the descent queen so the big hill down to Lake City was especially fun. We were still hopping with Dave and Colorado Bob. But all of us wound up together in Lake City along with Phil, who did catch up. Another 20-25 minute stop. Tht included a hot dog for me was welcomed before the hilliest section of the route. The Kwik Trip is brand new and has lots of amenities including a place to sit inside. No picnic table though.

I ditched the knee warmers and we hit the rollers well. Ed has a new titanium bike and it's really improved his climbing. I kept cautioning to not ride too hard early in the ride. It's great to see someone really get so much out of a new bike. He has great power on it.

By Plainview, the heat had started in earnest. It was now about 1:00 pm and with the sun at it's highest point and only a small headwind, the sweat was pouring off me. I still pushed us through the control in about 30 minutes. Lunch was waiting in Rushford, 40 miles away. W had to pause for a drink break in Utica and at this point, I realized we had lost Dave. He'd stopped to rest under a tree some miles back. The woman at the bar was supe rnice and filled bottles. Phil bought everyone a soda. There were now 5 of us including Marlin.

The next section is full of rollers and we spread out a bit. I talked to Phil about his adventures on the Arrowhead 135 (think brevet at 20 below). I may have to think about trying this. The final descent into Rushford put us into the control at about 5:30. There we were treated to the very best rando food ever. All freshly made by one of the randonneurs wise and served up by Charles, who makes a great host. That whip cream jello salad was awesome.
There were several other riders also aking a break.

We spent a little extra time here and left at about 6:15. Only 100k until we were back for more tasty food. By this time we were really wondering where Dave was, but continued on. The Root River trail was especially nice on this run. Late in the summer, there are always omits of brown eyed susans that line the trail in places. Of course, there are also lots of walnuts, sticks, leaves and other things that make it a bit tricky on the return too. Ti time, it was also thick with knats. My arms were black with dead bugs by the end of the trail.

We started seeing some of the faster riders returning from La Crescent after the trail. I think the fastest of the riders was probably 2-3 hours ahead of our group. Gary and his fabulous headlight (which he loaned me for PBP) passed us waving. The rapidly cooling temperatures favored faster paces at this point, but we had a little headwind as we turned north to the control. It was just getting dark at this point and we paused to turn on lights and vests. We rolled into the control just on 7 pm. Richard, whom I had ridden with on the previous 600k was there looking a little lonely. He rode with our group back to Rushford. I finally go the details of his accident at PBP. Fortunately, he wasn't severely hurt, but had been in the hospital in France. It's hard to see a sunset on this stretch, but I suspect it was spectacular. There has been quite a lot of smoke pollution due to an array of fires up north.

We had another 20 minute turnaround and a pretty fast trip back arriving at about 10:30 pm. This gave us about 5.5 hours until the control closed. I advised Renee and Ed to leave with at least an hour or two of time buffer. Phil really wanted to continue on sooner so we all chatted and decided to split our group in two for the next day. Renee, Ed, and Marlin would aim to leave around 3 while Phil and I would take a shorter sleep and leave at 12:30. This relieved me considerably; I had no desire to repeat the hot, windy afternoon of last year on the west-bound trip to Faribault. Besides, at 60 degrees and clear, it was to be a beautiful night to ride.

After more delicious food (casserole, jello salad, etc). Phil and I were out the door right on schedule. We gradually warmed up on the way to Peterson with one fairly dense fog patches. Teenagers were blasting radios in town which was strange, but they didn't harass us at all. A this point, the Peterson hill which I normally enjoy, was a little tougher. My Madone does not have a 32 tooth cassette as the princess does. So I was working harder on the hills than I am accustomed. Part of the experiment to see if this bike would work and what mitneed changes. My butt was hurting more than usual too, seat needs breaking in. We stopped to apply more chamois butter at the top.

Indeed, the night riding was simply gorgeous. Tinkling stars, no wind, beautiful near-full moon. All the best elements of a good ride. I had halfway expected the faster riders to start catching up by the Amish market, but a brief water stop yielded no one. We rolled into Eyota around 3:30 for food and a 10 minute snooze. Phil has the same napping ability asi do, which is really convenient. Though I asked, the kwik trip clerk eventually chased us out of our nap. He didn't favor nappers in the empty store, even ones that spent money. I ate as much as I could including a somewhat overdone hot dog.

The next leg to Zumbrota was a 40 mile stretch and fairly hilly. The nice weather continued to hold and we had another brief nap on the side of the road right at dawn. Charles and Dave, who had dnf'd due to heat, passed us in the van on their way back to apple valley, but we still had seen no one. The hills around Mazeppa seemed larger this time and we jadeite Zumbrota at about 7:30 after being treated to beautiful sunrise on the river.

We had a bit of a longer stop here with coffee and donuts tasting really good. Still very little wind blowing and Faribault only 38 miles away. I took off some clothes, but not all. Phil had a nap. By a little after 8, we were off.

My legs seemed to take forever to warm up and the wind had begun to start up by the time we hit Nerstrand. The pavement was also chewed up here which didn't do anyone's keister any good. The final few miles into Faribault did have the wind kicking up, but an 11:30 arrival was just fine. It was also heating up and at this point, I had an ice cream sandwich along with lots of water. All the clothes that good taste would allow were off at this point.
We continued on and fought the wind for the last small western stretch outside town. Only about 7 miles long, I was happy to have a tailwind when we turned north to Lonsdale.

Of course, the tailwind also ended the breeze and in the dead of the afternoon, this wound up being a very hot 24 miles. It's rolling on Dodd and my quads were starting to cramp up. Probably a combination of heat and a small cassette was at the root of the problem. I started eating pecans and cookies as we arrived in Lonsdale.

There, we had an electrolyte break. I ate all my pecans, a v8, and lots of water. Phil had another short nap and I started to perk up as we rode out. This was the last 28 miles. By the turn onto 280th, I was promising myself to change cassettes if I were ever to ride this bike again. The jet lag also started to get to me and I was suddenly tired (it was my bedtime in France). But we rolled along well enough finally arriving at about 4:45. Less than 35 hours.

Rob was at Old Chicago waiting for us and I was astonished that we only about 3-4 others had gotten in before us. Another rider had had a heat episode and had gotten a ride back to the finish 23 miles from the end. We convinced him to recover and get a ride back to his stopping place and finish the ride. This was Phil's first SR and many congratulations were in order. This was my 4th 600k of the year and only a couple weeks after PBP. I was pretty happy with the result. Though it was an hour longer than my last run on the course in the spring, the hour of difference was at the overnight and there was not 2 days of tail winds.

Renee, Ed, and Marlin all finished as well, but my asthma was kicking in and IronK drove me home. I had lost my steroid inhaler on PBP and not using it for 2 weeks had also really curbed my lung capacity. I used my emergency inhaler a lot on this ride. Amazing what correcting that problem does for me.

It was great riding with Phil and we will hopefully ride again together. He may yet persuade me to try my hand at the Arrowhead. All the camaraderie on this ride really put it into the favorite category among my rides this year. A great overnight, and thanks to Charles and the creator of the tasty food, along with great weather and good company are all elements that are sometimes missing. The miles seem less and the pleasure even greater at the finish.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Ride Part 2: Road Pixie in Wonderland

There are times in life when you have to consider all your past experiences and apply them to the present. In the Cascades, I had continued on ignoring the pain until it caused real damage. This time, I stopped the bike and tried to come up with a course of action. First, I dropped my seat a millimeter. Sounds like not much, but it may as well be a mile. This, I hoped, would take pressure off the muscle, although it wound up putting more on my butt. I also pulled out my leg warmers and tied them across my thigh for compression and took a handful of advil. I was still about 100 miles from Loudeac, but there were some options. Medical help would be available at Carhaix. I could also stop pushing so hard and opt for a sooner rest than a later one.

The compression and advil did a pretty good job of making me feel better and at Carhaix there were long lines so I opted to go on instead of going to the medical tent. The big hill outside Brest seemed easier going east and the rain had indeed stopped as I got to the top. I ran into my roommate, Greg, and chatted until he pealed off to get food in one of the small towns. Ryan was nearby too and the slower pace let us chat a bit. Brest to Carhaix is very hilly and we also heard at this point that one of the American riders had been killed, but didnt get many details.

I got through the Carhaix control very quickly, running into George from the Cascades, who was thinking of quitting. I also saw Paul, another face from the Cascades, who was having a good ride as well. I knew I would need food before Loudeac, but the lines were long and I didnt want to have my muscles cool off too much so I continued on. The stretch to Loudeac had been a good one, I knew there was additional food, and I ran into Keith from San Fran who was having seat issues, but still a good ride. I stopped for food at a tiny bakery near a cathedral. The woman running it made me a sandwich in her own kitchen and an italian rider gave me his bread. At this point, I was only about 40 miles from Loudeac and it was about 7:00 pm. But my leg didn't feel right and I considered that stopping at St Nicholas mightr be an option too. After all, I normally go to sleep at 9 so it might make sense.

I was surprisingly strong out of my stop and within 40 minutes, I had suddenly covered the 13 miles to St Nicholas. That left only 26 miles to Loudeac. Cheered, I continued on, at this point alone. If I could make it to Loudeac and rest quickly, it would help me considerably. The R part of RICE ( rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is not to be underestimated. At Corlay, 18 miles out, I saw a big roadside stand full of spectators. It would be much better to eat early and not haver to deal with food lines at Loudeac. I pulled over at 8:45 and probably saved my ride.

This particular stand of spectators had a big overhang and was being run by a couple, Marie and Gilbert. Neither spoke any English, but they could not have been nicer. They had hot soup, cassoulet, yogurt, drinks. It was like a mini control. They lived next door and got e some ice for my leg. I elevated it while I ate and did some gentle massage, took more advil, and moved my leg warmer/compression bandage. Then they let me sleep in a quiet bed for 3 hours with a pillow under my knee. I can't imagine how gross I was after a day of riding in the rain, but they were awesome. The spectators make this ride, no doubt of it. I took their picture as I left, but my reflective gear messed it up. Bummer.

By this time, it was about midnight. I had 3 hours to make it to Loudeac where most of the crowds would already have passed. I made a mental map of how to get through fast. I still wanted to change clothes and get supplies from my drop sack. I was now riding very strong and at St Denis, I met Robert, from North Carolina. This was his first year of randonneuring. He was a super nice rider and had set of fans in St Denis that waved kisses as we left.

We made it to Loudeac quickly, only about 45 minutes. He was faster on the hills but I
would catch up. No sense tempting fate on my much improved leg. We managed to change clothes, do the control, eat a big meal and get going in only 40 minutes so we left Loudeac by 2:30. I also used my giant wet wipe to take a shower in the bike parking area using my rain legs as a shower curtain. This works really well by the way. As we left Loudeac, we ran into another rider from Pennsylvania, she had been riding with her husband but he had been forced to stop at Brest after a hand injury flared up. She couldn't imagine riding a 1200k other than PBP, for her the experience of having so many riders and spectators was paramount. I thought that was really interesting, having been on other 1200ks myself.

I lost Robert sometime later in the dark. There was a giant pack of french riders in the audax style with a support van behind them. I gather the French basically do what they want on this ride regardless of the rules. Still, it was interesting to watch. It was a nice night and I made good progress. Finally, I had to stop at the secret control (somewhere around Quedilliac). It was about 5 am and I resolved to get coffee and avoid needing a dawn nap. I got two cups and walked outside. With my two fisted coffee, I stood outside with lights streaming at my face as I hurriedly drank. Then I heard someone say my name. Okay, my name is french so it didnt occur they could be talking to me until a couple of seconds passed. I turned out to be Paul who I had seen some miles earlier. He was also having knee issues, but was handling them well and we decided to ride together at least through the night. Turned out to be the rest of the ride and the next 400k were to be my very favorite part of the ride.

For those that haven't done things all night long, the old saying that the darkest part of night is before dawn is true. Paul and I were treated to a really nice sunrise just outside of Titeniac and came in at around 7:30 am, good time to spare. There wasnt a line so we sat down and ate. I'm not sure beef stew is my favorite for breakfast, and it somehow didn't sit very well this time. We rolled out around 8:00 am. I started getting a really sour stomach and later stopped at a pharmacy for some French maalox. One of the bonuses of speaking French is being able to describe one's ills and the French have really good over the counter stomach remedies (think about the cuisine). I got a new toothbrush too; nothing like fuzzy teeth on a ride.

By about 11:00 we were riding into Fougeres. Paul was continuing to have trouble with his knee and a really nice lady offered to let us stay at her house which was right there. We didn't take her up on it, but it was another sign of what this ride really means to the people who live on it. I'm sure we smelled terrible. At Fougeres, we did a daring thing. We stopped to sightsee at the castle. "I've done this 7 times and never stopped at the castle" was Paul's statement. So we spent about half an hour taking pictures and looking around. Okay, we skipped the guided tour, but as 11th century castles go, this one is really worth looking at. It's much nicer than the ones I later saw in the Loire valley. It has a moat and everything.

After our stop, we made a quick stop at the control around 12:00. The climb out of Fougeres is long and Paul regaled me with stories of bygone PBPs. He knew all the worthwhile places to stop including a crepe stand whose owners make free crepes for all the riders in exchange for the promise of a postcard. They do this 24/7 for almost 4 days, apparently rain or shine. The town has also opened the cathedral during bad weathers and put up tents for riders to come out of the dampness. How cool is that?

No bad weather on this day, it was gorgeous with sun and rolling clouds in the mid 70s. We separated briefly with me going ahead. I stopped to talk to a guy playing music to riders. He had been collecting signatures on maps for years and was with his grandson who I gather was getting ready to take up the family tradition. They played me "Dixie".

Paul caught up again and we continued on. At Losssey les Chateaux, we stopped for pastries and I had the best mousse pastry I will ever eat. According to Paul, eating pastries is somewhat of a rite of passage and he was surprised that I had not tried any yet. He also did some moves on my quads to release them as I was sitting there and nearly all my leg stiffness and pain disappeared instantly. A few miles later, I raised my seat back up. My butt had started hurting and I no longer needed the tlc on my hamstring. That made climbing much easier. Other highlights in this section included the reine-claudes, small plum-like fruit that children were offering in baskets along the side of the road. I must have eaten about 10 of them on this ride. You could pop on in your mouth, chew around the pit and spit it out easily.

We rolled into Villianes at around 5:30. Here were had enough time in the bank to sit down with Ron and some of the BC randonneurs for omelet at a local stand. For only a few dollars, we got a freshly made omelet, croissants, and a cold coke, heaven. We even had time for a brief snooze. At this point, we only had about 130 miles to go and 19 hours to do it in. I was feeling pretty confident, but was warned that it included about 10,000 ft of climbing. Villianes was a circus, again, and Robert waved at me as we rode out of town.

The next hour, before the dark, was a gorgeous part of the ride. Beautiful vistas and fairly easy rollers made the time clip by quickly. It's hard to maintain speed in the dark so I was sad to see the light go. There was to be no moon and clouds moved in. It got very dark, very quickly as we came into a very hilly section in the miles before Mortagne. I got a little sleepy and with 35k to go, we paused in a small town where I put my head down and bought some waffle cookies (the inspiration for honey stinger waffles). With it being so dark, all you could see was the string of bike lights hanging in seeming mid-air. I couldn't tell how fast I was going since it was too dark to even see the side of the road. At one point, I thought I was hallucinating bridged overhead, but Paul assured me that it was not a hallucination. It was so dark that my brain was interpreting the trees overhead as bridge arches. Cant be a hallucination if 2 people see it.

I got ahead of Paul and found myself totally alone on the road just before the control. I was seized with a sudden fear: am I off course? I stopped in my tracks to dead silence and darkness. Perhaps it was the sleep and sensory deprivation together that suddenly had me thinking Alice in Wonderland. I sang White Rabbit out loud and my voice was raspy and cracked. Vocal quality must suffer after so much breathing. I was really relieved when Paul suddenly appeared behind me. I wasn't off track after all.

Mortange au Perche was very close and we rolled in a bit past midnight. People were laying everywhere in complete exhaustion. This is apparently a low point for many. We grabbed a quick croissant and cokes. I barely recognized it from 2 days previous. This, he told me, was the time and place to see the lowest of the low. People slept sitting up with food in front of them. I was feeling upbeat: I was certain I looked better than most.

We were pretty confident that the big hills were past, but we still had quite a few to go as we headed for Dreux. Up and down what was probably beautiful woods, but as it was, I just kept wondering where we were. It got very cold and we stopped for brief nap in a park after the hills were past and i put all my clothes on. It wasnt enough for my knees and they ached with the cold. There were about 10 or so of us together and we drove the seemingly endless path thorough the night. The sun just began to come up just as we got to the outskirts of Dreux. I wanted in and out as fast as possible. It was crowded with people, had giant lines and I hate crowds (it's actually a significant phobia for me). We were out in 15 minutes.

We now had 7 hours to complete only 42 miles. After stopping to take in a gorgeous sunrise we ran into Matthew, who was in the same hotel as I was back at the start. He gave me some skittles as I felt a bit dizzy and the 3 of us rode back most of the way. At this point, we slowed a bit, stopped to eat at a small grocery and to shed clothes as another beautiful day started. Paul wanted to finish by noon, about 2 hours before the official time. I really enjoyed this section. We met up with Ron and the BC randos and finally a big group from Seattle. The last hill though the Rambouillet was steep, but I was feeling pretty strong and the warm temps helped my knees. It was actually getting hot!

As we came into Paris, I didnt want the ride to end. I suspect that the same was true for many because our group seemed to slow ever so slightly. Of course, we had to start stopping at traffic lights too. Being in a big group at the end did help with traffic concerns.

Paul and I crossed the finish at almost the exact same time. I had tears in my eyes. "savor this moment," was his advice, the advice of a true ancien, "you'll never feel this way again in your entire life".

I still don't really know what my exact time was. It was sometime around 11:30 when we rolled in, but honestly, I found I didn't care. I was elated in a way I never have been. I spent a couple of hours at the finish and eventually ran into one other person from minnesota on the way out. I had a half hour nap and met Paul for a celebratory dinner. For some reason, I felt nothing but great after this ride.

Looking back, there isn't anything I would change. Had one thing been different, I might not have met up with Paul and seen and heard so many wonderful stories. The second half of the ride had a magic that I cant even come close to describing. Ever pedal stroke was a new record and ever mile was a blur of colors, scents and people. That is probably part of why people come back to this ride so many times. It's the king of the 1200ks.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Ride Part 1: Brest or Bust

The first ing about starting the ride was that it started 3 times. The first thought for the 90 hour start had been to be in the first wave of riders, but the 90 degree temperatures in the afternoon made the thought of waiting in line for the hottest part unappealing. So I waited and was in one of the last waves. This led to much of the faster food being gone at controls later in the ride, so I might not do it again if I have the choice.

In any case, first there is a long line to get into the stadium to line up for the start. That is followed by waiting for your group to get brevet cards signed and line up at the starting line. Then there is a wait to actually cross the start line itself. I kept taking pictures thinking "this is it". At last, I crossed the line and looked at my watch. My official time start time was 7:40 pm. That would determine when all my control cut offs were. I had an unofficial desire to always have at least 2 hours in the bank to give myself maximum flexibility. Lots can happen in 1230k.

I had heard that the start can be treacherous with a high incidence of crashing. But for the most part it was pretty tame. The streets were closed to traffic so the first 20k or so went very quickly. But after that we passed out of St Quetin en. Yvelines and out into the countryside into the setting sun. This part was really beautiful with many wheat fields some old churches and towns like Gambier, which have been around for hundreds of years. Riding in France is different from riding in the US. In France, cycling is a national sport. Spectators lined the streets cheering Bon Courage and Bon Chance. These were cheers that would be present for the entire ride.

We passed through the Rambouillet forest just at dusk and I anted how easy it was to pedal at 17 mph. A clear indicator of a slight trend downhill and without much wind, progress was very easy. I worked hard to back things off. No need to start working hard yet, 1200k is a long way. The Rambouillet was beautiful with huge old trees draping over the road. I found it extremely difficult to imagine that Paris was only about 30 miles away. Every 10 miles or so would be a small town with narrow streets and medival buildings...and flowers. The French must love their flowers because they were everywhere on this ride. On the streets, in pots on walls, in window sills, in gardens. All in the full bloom that comes with summer.

The night came on gradually and with so many riders, it was easy to slip on and off pace lines making good time without much effort. France has very nice roads and favors traffic circles to stop signs. I got very good at cornering during the ride. This part besides being somewhat downhill was also slightly rolling. There were a couple of steep climbs in the forest but nothing to bad and I was pleased to roll into the food stop at mortagne au perche sometime around 1:00 am. Here I made a mistake, though I can honestly say, I didnt consider it one until days after the ride was over. I stopped here for food when I should have filled bottles and gotten out as fast as possible. Stopping cost me over an hour of time. I actually had to wait in line for a sit down meal. Though it was tasty at the time and it's vital to eat, I had plenty of on-bike food and I didn't absolutely need it. One guy in front of me in line passed out which further delayed things. Note to self: next time, listen to martin, dont stop at this particular food stop. After this food stop and a bit before it, the terrain also changed from slightly rolling to heavier rollers with some longer tempo climbing as well.

In any case, I left and made my way another 50 miles to Villianes at daybreak, the first real control. I also spent way to much time here. The control is huge and sprawling and by the time I got my card signed and got food and water, I'd walked a long way in cleats which turned out to be something that aggravates my hamstrings (should have thought of that and brought cheap, light flip flops for the controls). But the control is next to a huge, very interesting church and the town itself went all out. I was so impressed with the level of organization and the dedication of all those that volunteered. It was particularly impressive
at this control.

I rolled out of Villianes feeling really upbeat. I had made it thorugh the night with no caffeine and only one 15 minute nap. The hills really started in earnest at this point with big rollers up and down. I ran into Ron from Seattle, yet another familiar face. At this point, I was well over 200k into the ride and feeling great. I continued to keep eating on the bike. It seemed like during this ride ,I was either just finishing eating something, eating, or getting ready to eat something else. The number of calories I was burning must have been in the many thousands. This morning was overcast and seeing the many towns in the light was nice. Castles, flowers, shops and cheering people where nearly everywhere I looked. By this point, I could still see other riders, but not nearly so many. The day was cloudy wi th temps in the 60s; cool but not cold. Though rain had been in the forecast, I could see it just to the south moving slowly along. A major relief not to have a nasty amount of rain and even better, the winds had shifted to the east: a tailwind.

My luck didn't hold forever and the rain did start up just outside Fougeres. Since a really impressive chateau was on the route for the first time in years, I'd wanted to see it. As it was, I made it to the control, saw the food line out the door and hastened to the control. There, I managed to snag the very last ham sandwich. This was a major bonus. Then hardest rain was during my brief stray in the control and it was down to light rain again as I left. Coming in to the control at this point were some of the other minnesota randonneurs and I was surprised to see them; they are normally much faster riders. They looked a little wet and beleaguered and I warned them that the fast food was gone.

It was raining in earnest as I passed the quick downhill near the castle and I barely snapped a photo at 20 mph. But the rain gradually lifted and by the time I got to the outskirts of town, it was gone. Another RUSA member named John got on my wheel for awhile as he was having a low spot and the road actually was a little downhill for a while. It was also very pretty with lots of farms and horses about. I think my speed increased too as the rain was replaced by sun again. I met up with some guys from Austrailia for awhile and led a line for about 10 miles, "you can have my back wheel anytime, mate" was my reward. It isn't every day someone offers me their back wheel. We also passed a nun in the full habit riding her bike and waving. Another picture I meant to take but didn't.

After a couple of particularly pastoral scenery, I pulled into the Titeniac control. By this time it was after 3 and I was hungry. I spent too much time at this control as well, but th beef stew was at least tasty and I bought some supplementary french energy bars: Overstims is what they are called. Overstims are pretty good, but the tomato flavored sports drink is disgusting. Stick with the sweet stuff when doing bike food.

After Titeniac, it was hilly all the way to Loudeac. I stopped for a 7 minute nap next to some garbage cans. Okay, it seemed like a good place at the time. Normally, I'd go for more scenic, but weaving is weaving and it isn't good on a bike. Back up and refreshed, my next stop was the secret control at Quedilliac. Aything for 5,000 isn't really going to be very secret and I am told that this place is always the secret control. I wasted no time here at all, though I filled a bottle from a pitcher on the way out.

There was a long shallow hill outside the secret control and near the top someone told me to turn around. I was shocked to see a line of out 50 people pacing off of me going up. I wish I had a picture of that too. The rest of the afternoon went nicely and I pulled into Loudeac at about 8:00 pm. Almost exactly 24 hours to go 275 miles. The sky was somewhat odd looking and many riders were pushing on to St nicholas, the next sleep stop, but I wanted to stop. I had a drop sack here anyways.

Loudiac is a circus and I wound up wasting lots of time before getting to sleep. First the control, then I got interviewed on french national television. Okay, that was fun and I would waste time doing it again. No one ever sees me on tv. I paid for a useless shower instead of using my fast shower in a bag. It took forever to get food though the bratwurst and galettes I got were delicious, salty and most important, fattening. As I headed to the sleep area, the sky opened and it started storming. Sure the cot was uncomfortable and everyone around my sounded like they had raccoons living in their throats, but at least I wasnt out in a storm.

I got up in 3 hours and was on the road at 1:30 am. I had wanted to be about 3 hours faster, but made the most of it. It wasnt raining and I made the mistake of overdressing. Just ouside the main square, I stopped, checked for others and seeing no one, stripped off my top to remove my undershirt. Getting everything back together, I turned slowly realizing that standing behind me was ... a family of spectators. "Turn this way," they said, "we didn't catch you from this angle". Good thing this ride was in France.

The ride to Carhaix was one of my best stretches. It's very hilly and there were a ton of people riding. The streets were still wet and I kept at the very head of a long pace line for nearly the whole way. Note, this was defensive, if the person in front of you doesn't have fenders on wet roads, don't ride directly behind them in a place where manure is used for fertilizer-enough said. We passed a large number of wind turbines which were almost spectral in the dark with only their slowly flashing lights visible. Stars began appearing as we sped through tiny villages at high speed. This was the most technical riding I did. I passed a truck with a crashed bike folded underneath; 2 people are said to have died on this ride, I hope that wasn't one of them.

I got to Carhaix in just 4 hours arriving at 5:30. I then screwed up again and spent an hour at the control. At this point, I realized that I was spending so much time at controls, I wasn't ever seeing the towns I eas passing through. More importantly, I'd blown thorough almost $120 and my cash was almost gone. I realized that I was passing up lots of free food from all those spectators. This idea stayed in the back of my head for some time.

At this point, it was cloudy, cool and misty. I had to lay down outside Carhaix for 15 minutes and my stomach was unsettled. The cafeteria food I'd been eating was taking a toll. At Brest, I would treat myself to something better. This was a very hilly section and while quite pretty, it was damp as well. The greens seemed very green indeed as I wound my way up towards the big hill. I also had the pleasure of running into Ryan, from Arizona. I'd ridden with him a few times and he was having a low point. The conversation picked me up considerably and we wound up going all the way to Brest and then some. He wasnt certain about the others, and had slept very little. There was a headwind for the last 15 miles or so into Brest and I pulled most of the way. I was concerned about time. I'd wanted to be an hour or so quicker.

The only really massive climb is outside Brest. I was also under a cloud so it somehow seemed steeper than i think it was. I had to put my undershirt on going down from the dampness. This time, I only flashed cows and other riders, no spectators.

We descended into Brest at about 11:30 and paused for pictures at the bridge which is the biggest landmark. It would have been my brother's 38th birthday (he passed away unexpectedly in 2009); the sailboats in the harbor really reminded me of him. I took a picture of them.
Brest itself was pretty industrial. We wound through the port, lots of traffic, and mor egret skies before we climbed up to the control. I got stamped in at exactly 12:00 pm. The control closed for me at 3:00 pm so I had an hour to spare to maintain my 2 hour time buffer.

I quickly left the control, still with Ryan and we stopped at a cafe for crepes. Brittany is famous for crepes and sure having a 3 course meal during PBP is daring, but heck, I'd wasted 1
hour for far worse fair. They were really good and hot. We got a weather update on the ay put that was positive. The rain should end after getting out of Brest.

Just outside Brest, my hamstring started aching. A deep, bony kind of ache that I last had in at the Cascades. I immediately went into internal panic, though I tried very hard not to show it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

PBP Prelude: The Troubles of Others are the Humor of Tomorrow

Since this post is technically about the ride, I will spend but a minute on the other spectacle that was the pre-ride.  This included getting to France, getting checked in, figuring out where everything was and generally avoiding trouble.

Trouble came in spades for many people during the 2 days before this ride.   Since everything worked out okay for those in question, I personally found the trouble to humorous as only real trouble can possibly be. 

First, trouble came to my one night roommate, Greg, whom Lufthansa charged $375 for putting a bike on a plane between Berlin and Paris.  Road Pixie has added this airline to the no-fly list along with Aeroflot (which I rode 20 years ago and emerged from feeling as though I had dive bombed Kabul).  To make matters worse, the bike emerged from the box with the cranks locked.  After much yanking, we eventually got them to the grating stage which was enough to ride the bike to the starting control mechanic.  In a stroke of luck, I waited in the mechanic line, while Greg waited in the paperwork line.  Thus, it was my smiling, innocent female face that handed the bike over to the French mechanic who sternly lectured me for bringing such a severe problem to France, but said he would fix it "because there are so few women and you are very jolie (cute) and it would be a shame that you could not ride".  I followed up with "vous avez sauve ma vie, monsieur, je donnerai votre nom a mon premier fils" (you have saved my ride and I will name my first born son after you).  This elicited a big smile and no charge.  While not a perfect repair, the cranks at least made it through the ride.  Martin, who was with us, was on his own for his bad shifting, he got the "how could you show up with worn out cables for this ride" lecture.

Next spot of trouble was waiting at the hotel.  SpinBob's wallet had been stolen right out of his hotel room.  Really, he has horrible luck, his wallet got stolen on his last trip to France as well.  What better way to spend an afternoon than translating at the police station?  Happily, there was no monetary loss, just hassle.  And the police detectives at the police station where HOT (capitals included on purpose here).  They all had guns and managed to make them conform to their hips to make them look even better.  Really, the actresses on american television don't look half as good.  The only one not packing heat was the superintendent (the only guy), I missed the picture of the trip by not taking his picture with his compatriots (think French Charlie's Angels here).

All my fussing and bother really paid off here.  I read in the RUSA book that you should go over your bike with a fine tooth comb and changed the cassette, big chain ring, tires, tubes, cables, and chain 1-2 weeks before the ride and pre-tested everything.  My only issue wound up being a bad battery in my cyclocompter and that was an easy on site fix.  I didn't even have a flat tire on this ride.  Hats off to Carly and Andy at Eriks in St Louis Park - they went the extra mile to put my bike in perfect working order.

I also had the pleasure of running into Ken from Louisville and doing the warm up ride with him.  The big pre-ride is known for lots of wrecks but we managed to get lost enough to wind up avoiding the crowds for a lovely pre-ride "did I put this bike together right" jaunt.  We also had a nice walk in Paris too along with SpinBob.  Must go back to Louisville and ride again!

Other than that, I bought some very nice, cheap French leg warmers for the ride which later made an excellent splint for my hamstring.  It's the highest point of fashion to get multiple uses out of a single object.  My French friends in grad school turned garbage bags into mock leather to dress as hookers for Halloween and looked awesome doing it.  While not as chic, my leg warmers served me well.


I debated for a long time what to name this post.  I finally decided that the name just says it all.  PBP is pretty much the Olympics of Randonneuring.  I'd venture to say that it may be on every randonneur's bucket list and there may be 1200ks with more hills, less hills, longer distances, weirder weather or poisonous animals, but having done it, I can say that none will have the same magic that this ride does: nowhere else will there be 5,000 randonneurs on the road at the same time with a legion of locals cheering you on.  On PBP, there is no cue sheet because none is required; I can't think of another 1200k that could make that boast.

My opinion of PBP will always be colored by the fact that I knew about it long before most people I rode with did.  I first heard about PBP at the tender age of 8 years old, long before RUSA had even been founded.  How did that happen?  Well, at age 8, I started a lifelong study of French (the pinacle of which is an actual degree in French Literature).  In the late 70s and early 80s, language teaching was changing with more emphasis being put on grammar in the context of culture.  And believe me, cycling is big in French culture.  PBP is the oldest ride in France (12 years before the Tour) and is open to women (which the tour is not).  That made the PBP notation stick in my little cyclist head (yes, I was also doing long distance cycling at 8 too).  This ride, I vowed to do when I grew up.

Sure, it took 34 more years to get there, but Road Pixie is very patient and persistent.  Sometimes all things have a place and time.  This turned out to be the year to do it.  However, I had two major concerns that I thought could derail this ride: first, my hamstring  or other body part could give out on me, as was the case in the Cascades, and second, I could have issues with sleep.  I spent a year rebuilding my hamstring and to really get a grip on the sleep thing, I did not one, but 3 600ks before this ride two of which were on back-to-back weekends.  As a result, I knew going in that for every 24 hours of riding, I needed 3 hours of sleep to continue effectively.  Any less was going to cause problems.  In each of my 600ks, I tried a different amount, more works, less made it far harder to continue on and with 4 days, continuing was a requirement.  I think Coach Gary says it best: 3 hours is just about perfect - 90 minutes for your body and 90 minutes for your mind.

SpinBob and I agreed to ride together as well; though this eventually did not turn out at all as I had planned.  I now can say with certainty that if one is planning on doing PBP, don't plan on sticking with someone no matter how well you know them.  There are so many things on this ride to experience that neither will be satisfied without the implicit understanding that separating at any time is absolutely okay.  Having done another 1200k elsewhere, I would say something different for those, with fewer people it's different.  But for PBP, the different food, roads and carnival-like atmosphere are an experience that is deeply personal to each person.  I had not considered before that being able to speak French opened a part of this ride that was extrordinary and it was something that simply could not be shared, even with a friend.  An understanding of French culture also turned this into a completely different ride for me than I think others might have had.  Sometimes it was very small things that looking back, I should have spoken up about.  Like the fact that a Tabac is NOT a tobacco store - it's a conveniance store full of food and supplies.  I remember hearing "well we won't be stopping at a tobacco store" at least once. 

The other thing that really made this ride something was the number of people that I knew when I arrived.  I had no idea that so many people read this blog!  My many rides out of state in places like Seattle, Arizona, Kentucky, and Wisconsin also had introduced me to so many American riders that I felt like I had just shown up to a meeting of old friends.  That really made this ride something special that I hadn't counted on.  This was really the first time I felt like I was part of the entire randonneuring community; after PBP I have a far greater appreciation of the randonneuring community as a whole in the US.  Something that I know will made future 1200ks much easier. 

My friend, Paul, whom I had the honor of riding with for his 7th PBP, said it best:  I keep coming back to this ride because it is like a moving party.  It really is just that, 90 hours to be savored and enjoyed like you would one of the finest French wines.  He also told me to savor the feeling of finishing both my first 1200k and my first PBP, there would never be another moment like it in my life.   There was never a low point in this ride for me at all so I think it will always retain a special place in my long list of experiences; the kind of sense you get when all your planning goes perfectly well and every difficulty you have is one you have planned for and can overcome. 

The next 2 posts will be about the ride itself.  The 2 halves were so starkly different that it almost seems like they were not the same ride.  I wouldn't trade a minute of either one, though in hindsight, I liked thet last half a little better than the first.  But they both had their charms.