Some stories from Paris-Brest-Paris 2015
From Martin Cooper:
I am writing this on the train from Carhaix to Paris after having abandoned PBP despite amazing weather, no major physical issues and what was for me up to that point a pretty good ride with considerable time in the bank. After having returned to Carhaix from Brest I had my card stamped at the control and then headed to the hotel for a shower and some much needed rest. I had only had 3 hours of sleep since starting out two days before. I arrived at the hotel at 8:00 PM and decided to play it safe so I didn’t shower and went straight for a 1 hour power nap, as if there was such a thing. I set my phone alarm for the wake up. I think I was dreaming of PBP when I woke in a daze and looked at the time. It was 3:05 AM. I immediately got dressed and decided I would go for it even though this was around the closing time of the control in Ludeac which was over 80 km away, involving probably, 4-5 hours of night time riding. I tried phoning the control in Ludeac to see if they would be sympathetic or even open when I got there. All I got was a voice mail so I left a message. I hurried down stairs to the lobby. It was dark and the front door was locked. My bike was in an adjacent garage. I ran out of the hotel to retrieve my bike but as I suspected the door was locked. I went back into the hotel. In an attempt to get the key I jumped over the service counter setting off the alarm. I decided it would be best to get out of there so I walked 2 km to the Carhaix control. It had already been taken down but there were still exhausted riders sleeping on the floor and about 30 bicycles in the rack outside, which I considered borrowing but I figured that in France it would be treated similar to horse theft. It was 4:30 AM, I was dehydrated and hungry. There was no food but there were all the usual control beverages, including a bottle of rosé and a couple dozen beers. I decided to crack open a Kronenberg, resigning myself to the fact that PBP 2015 wasn’t in the cards for me. I hung out at the control welcoming and consoling a steady stream of late arriving cyclists. At 6:30 AM I walked back to the hotel and returned to my room to take a shower. I stared at the unmade bed as if it was a crime scene. Opted instead for a hot bath thinking about the Ontario cyclists I had the distinct pleasure to ride with during PBP: Dave Thompson, Kathy Brouse, Peter Grant, Dick Felton, and Vytas Janusauskas, as they were wending their way towards Paris and who provided their sage advice on PBP and other long distance events.
After an excellent breakfast, which I didn’t realize was included with the room, I retrieved my bike and rode over to the train station where I bought a ticket to Paris. The station was filled with fellow cyclists who had abandoned for various reasons, the majority of which appear to have been gastrointestinal issues, although there were a few who had crashed. I believe that I was the only one that slept in. Many countries were represented among the walking wounded: USA ,Spain, China, Japan and Brazil
Despite the DNF, PBP is an amazing experience. Over 6,000 Randonneurs, long distance cyclists from all over the world with 55 counties represented, including about 100 Canadians.
All kinds and vintages of bicycles are involved. I rode into Brest with a man in his late 70s riding a 1950s Alex Singer rando bike. I was impressed by the vintage of both until he decided to drop me on one of the many hills characteristic of that stage.
The friendliness and generosity of Bretons is remarkable. You see multi generational families come out to cheer on the cyclists and offer encouragement of Bon courage and allez. I recall while riding through the second sleep deprived night at about 3:30 in the morning a family with tables set up outside of their farmhouse, serving coffee, hot chocolate and cookies. This helped get me through the rest of the early morning hours. What was really amazing was that I noticed cyclists coming out of their house. When I looked inside to see what was going on, there were about half a dozen exhausted cyclists lying on cots and sprawled across the floor.
The scenery is also spectacular as the hilly route winds its way through small villages with castles and medieval and Renaissance buildings that are still lived in. There is mile upon mile of scenic Breton farmland and on the way to Brest rugged landscape reminiscent of the Canadian Shield.
It is a feeling of immense accomplishment when you see the Atlantic Ocean while arriving in Best. Despite the DNF it was an amazing experience to be part of this historic and beautiful cycling event.
Complaints: don’t use Claus from Kansas City’s drop bag service. I wasted considerable time at controls looking for my drop bags which never showed up depriving me of clean kit, chamois cream and energy bars resulting in a lack of nutrition and the development of a nasty saddle/sore boil I imagine similar to the one Karl Marx developed in the British Museum while researching Das Kapital which made him remark that “the bourgeois will pay for this”. The lesson here is not to rely on third party support unless they are blood relatives.
Also, bring a back up alarm.
Regrets? Only one – that I have to wait Four years for the next PBP.
Reflections on PBP 2015 from Kathy Brouse:
This was my first experience at Paris Brest Paris 1200. I could have gone last time in 2011, I did the qualifying rides, but I have always been nervous as I imagined the inherent difficulties of sharing the road with so many other riders; jockeying for a safe and comfortable piece of the road; not getting too close to someone in front of me, watching to the side and back to make sure riders aren’t getting too close, being on the alert for sleep deprived individuals who are not exhibiting the best of bike skills (honestly, I saw a few guys cycling with their eyes closed!), line ups everywhere – for food at the controls, to use the washrooms, finding a comfortable spot to rest my exhausted body during the night, remembering where I placed my bike in the dark amidst hundreds of other bikes, etc. And while I found all of these reasons for not going to PBP to be true – it was a constant fight for space and a constant line up for food and washrooms and always an exercise in self advocacy to get the very busy and overwhelmed person behind the cafe bar to make eye contact and take my order next for a coffee or baguette – there was also so much more to the whole PBP experience that made it profound and rewarding. Thank you to Dave Thompson and Arthur for convincing me to register and pushing me to have the unique experience that is PBP.
I was in the last group of riders to leave the Velodrome at 8pm on Sunday night. I left with Dave T and Jerry and had every intention of riding PBP with them, but I got ahead after 50 km and never saw them again on the ride. I rode the rest of PBP on my own, or as alone as you can be when you are sharing the road with close to 6000 other cyclists. Nothing terribly exciting happened to me over the course of three and a half days. I didn’t break any bones (Dick), nor damage an Achilles tendon (Jerry) nor oversleep at the hotel because they forgot to put in the wake up call (Marty), nor did I experience the sleep disorientation that so many others experienced by the third and fourth day. For me it was the usual mixture of intense suffering and pleasure that occur on a 1200 km ride. However, the pleasing stuff on this ride was new to me and specific to riding in France: the intoxicating smell of the horses and manure as we rode through all those rural villages and farms in the heat of the day, the smell of bread being baked before sunrise in the small villages and towns, the constant groups of French people beside the road clapping and shouting “Allez, allez, Madam, Courage!!”, French grandmothers in their French aprons stood shyly at the end of the driveway or at an open window smiling and waving to cyclists, small bars and taverns that were staying open during the night to provide coffee and hot chocolate. And I will always remember the thrill of feeling like a rock star as I rode into a control – Tenteniac, Villaines-la-Juhel, Loudeac and the bystanders cheering and clapping for me shouting “Bravo Madam, Bravo”. In particular, the control at Villaines-la-Juhel on the return stretch to Paris, was amazing, hundreds of people lining the streets clapping and shouting, music playing, bells ringing, even the local beauty queen was there to celebrate our arrival at the Villaines control!
I will always smile when I remember my experience in the medical tent at Villaines where I entered only to ask for something to ease the throbbing arthritic pain in my big toe and received not only the magic cream on my toe but also in that nether area where the saddle makes everything so very very sore, “No, no Madam, don’t mind, this is my job”. This treatment was finished off with a leg massage that was so delightful:-) I floated back to my bike.
Another memory unique to PBP is the assortment of bodies lying in fields and alongside the road on the 3rd and 4th day. Only randonneurs can sleep with such reckless abandon. I even saw a rider, sound asleep, whose body was on the grass while his head was resting on the road. He must have planted himself there in the dark and was not able to see the actual road, or he was beyond caring.
There was only one time on this ride where I felt I was truly riding alone and I was briefly terrified. It was after the control in Carhaix enroute to Brest, around 3am on the Tuesday morning. As I left the control I met up with and passed a group of riders but when I started climbing I was on my own and it was dark, black dark, no villages, no towns, no lights, no moon. It was the sort of dark that can feel oppressive when you wish you had the SPOT device on the bike so someone on the planet will know exactly where you were when the aliens descended and swooped you up in the spaceship. As I climbed I looked back occasionally searching for bike lights behind me, was I on the right road, was anyone else out there. The only company I experienced for about two hours was the occasional group of riders on the other side of the road zipping past headed towards Paris. And then, as the dawn broke, I saw an interesting spectacle. Dozens of riders rising off the grass and climbing onto their bikes, having been resting or sleeping beside the road. It was a strange phenomenon to me at the time, remember I had cycled through the night and was very tired, because it seemed as though these guys were rising inexplicably out of the earth, which they sort of were, in a way. And then in the full light of day I crossed the bridge amidst the mist and clouds and headed into the Brest control.
When I arrived back in Loudeac around 9pm on the Tues night I ate a simple sausage with mustard wrapped in a crepe which was sooooo delicious and headed to my hotel for a shower and a rest. In the early hours of the morning I said hi to an exhausted Vaune who pulled in as I was heading out and exchanged greetings with Dick who was eating breakfast at the time. I arrived in Mortagne au Perche just after 10pm and rested, homeless style, in the alcove of a building in the town square, knowing I would be cycling through the night and needed to get some sleep. The route out of Mortagne was through a forest and very dark and hilly. At the bottom of one of these hills I encountered a rider using a light to make the international sign of “help, I need some assistance”. I pulled over and the man asked me in French, “Do you speak French?” to which I shrugged and said “no”. He waved me on and kept making the sign with his light for other riders to stop. Turns out that Guy, who speaks French, stopped to assist this man who was totally disoriented and did not know where he was and why people were riding so many bikes on the road. It took Guy two hours to get the people from the Mortagne control to come out and collect this man who had somehow left his bike, perhaps at the control, and wandered how many kilometres in the dark up and down the hills in the forest. Kudos to Guy who has a kind and generous heart.
I arrived in Dreux, the second to last control at 5:50am and said hello to Henk who was also purchasing coffee and croissant. I greeted some friends whom I met this summer from Asheville, North Carolina and headed out for the last stage of the journey to Paris. What I had thought would be a measly 64 km, no problem, seemed to go on forever and ever, my bike was creaking and groaning and the gears were not shifting smoothly. I caught up to Marj from Saskatoon who had also cycled the route alone receiving support from her husband John at controls. It rained heavily the last two hours and I pulled into the Paris Velodrome before 9am, soaking wet and so glad the ride was over. Then it was another 8 km back to the hotel, to a delicious breakfast, hot shower and a very comfy bed. The ON Randonneur dinner celebration that night was fun and great to celebrate the ride, the highs and the lows with randonneur friends and family.
Thanks to my fellow randonneur friends at the Novotel, my constant breakfast and dinner companions – Vytas, Guy, David, Peter G, Marj and John, Dave T and Sandy, Marty, Carey and Donna and Dick. The unique camaraderie with fellow randonneur crazies is also a special memory and part of the PBP 2015 package. My last PBP mention is for Dick Felton, whom as most of you will know by now, finished the ride with two broken ribs and two broken bones in his hands. Because Dick obviously has a very high pain threshold and an indomitable will that motivates him to dig deep and deeper, he was able to meet his goal of finishing PBP. And, he even stood up and hosted the ON Rando dinner on Thurs evening, I swear if there had been music the man would have danced! I shared a taxi with him to the airport and he still wasn’t complaining. You’re something Dick, I salute you!
From Dick Felton:
Well I spent most of the day at the hospital finding out what I did to myself when I crashed into the ditch during PBP ride. I have a couple of cracked ribs, a broken little finger left hand, a broken thumb on my right hand, a concussion (but no cranial bleeding thank goodness) and a slightly deviated nose.
Following is my PBP ride report on how I got to this point!
My PBP 2015 #3
SO… here we are again 2007 (rain and my first 1200) – 2011 = nicer weather and better informed about 1200’s – so I really enjoyed it.
NOW….. 2015 and excited to be going back to France to ride the most prestigious amateur cycling event in the world – Paris Brest Paris.
I started cycling seriously in 2005, with my first 200 Brevet, and my first super randoneuring series = 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets. I was hooked. Love riding long distance!
This year I was serious about doing a good finishing time at PBP – it was my focus of training. I did a 1200 in Israel in October of 2014 (unique experience). I had trouble with my bike before this event and actually rode my single speed Surley – probably the hardest 1200 I have ever ridden. I followed this up with the Sunshine 1200 (with a steep curve of training) – Sunshine was also a unique experience because of the route and the excellent logistics laid out by David Thompson. I also did Devil’s Week out of Markham (probably the hardest routes I have ridden consecutively – Thanks Stephen Jones). Also during discussions of training for PBP, I had asked the board and Peter Grant to insert some really tough climbing rides on the last week end of July before PBP instead of the traditional 1000 km ride. It was great training – thanks Peter Grant for all your help and effort.
I arrived in France on the 14th of August (perhaps a little late to acclimatize) to get ready to ride for 7:45 PM on the 16th. My bike had been completely rebuilt and trialed during the Bancroft weekend, so I was pretty confident that all would be good with my mechanics (new tires, new chain , new 12 / 30 cassette, complete with new cables and housings for brakes and shifters. Andrea and Stephen Jones flew over on the same flight as I did with Air Transat and we shared a ride to the hotel – it was an early morning arrival so lots of time to put the bike together and check everything out = 35 km around the area just nice and easy to see where everything was, plus picked up some CO2 cartridges, just in case I needed them. That night a good sleep and a GREAT breakfast the next morning.
Saturday AM was package pick up and it was great to see so many cyclists from all over with whom I had met at all different events. Carey and I ate lunch in the middle of the town square close to the Velodrome – after lunch – 2:30 PM – the Canadian pictures were take – exciting stuff to ramp up the fever to the start of PBP 2015. By the way – pick up included a new shirt design with a full zipper , 2015 water bottle, a super randonneur medal and I bought a new 2015 T shirt. Dinner Saturday night with Carey’ Donna, Erika and her Friend was great
A good sleep Saturday night and leisure day Sunday was OK but sleep during the day did not come to help me be rested for my 7:45 PM start. I decided to go to the Velodrome early to take some pictures of the riders leaving. Every 15 minutes about 100+ riders left – exciting stuff – AND – now I am getting nervous. I go to line up (bathroom first) and then into S corral to start this adventure. Will I make it? Can I make it to the finish???
I am a coach and I tell everyone starting any race to take it easy to begin with and during most cycling events, I do start slower, however I felt good and started way too fast. I pedalled all night, without problems – strong and confident. Early morning brought mist and fog plus it brought on my fatigue. Kathy Brouse and Peter Grant were the first to catch up with me (they started 15 minutes behind me) and then as I approached 350 – 400 KM, Dave Thompson, and Jerry Christison caught up. I was planning to ride through to Brest at around 620 Km before stopping, but David told me that perhaps it was better to stop and rest in Loudeac, since Jerry had a double room with only him in it – so I took his advice and decided to regenerate since I was down to a crawl on the bike and really needed the rest!
I got to the Hotel du France before Jerry, so I asked for his room key. The proprietor told me that it was only a single room = really small = one bed and a bathroom. I waited for Jerry to make a decision and we decided that I could sleep on the floor between the bed and the door – how small do you ask – well when Jerry was leaving on the last morning in Loudeac, I had to get up so that he could open the door to get out – however I did get some much needed sleep and you could tell how much better I was pedalling the next morning
Loudeac to Brest and back – lots of climbing and lots of sunshine. I started out strong again and it was good to get to the half way point in Brest. Still pretty confident but not making a lot of headway in the time department.
BTW – the French have a new fitness test. They get you to ride your bike over 600 KM and then have you go down a set of stairs to use the bathroom – where with cycling shoes and cleats on, you hold a full squat for as long as necessary! Oh Yeah – the cleats and shoes are resting on porcelain!!!!! Quite the act – good thing the door was closed
Leaving Brest, the group of us stopped at a bakery / take out restaurant. We had 3 chickens cut into quarters, plus salad, bread etc., and then we pushed upward and onward back to Loudeac.
Tom, one of the group who we were at lunch with stayed back to ride with me – I had been a little slow because of the bathroom. He would climb faster than me and then wait from me to catch up. I pulled up beside him (a rider I thought was him) and ask “So what do you do for a living” This guy looks at me says “What?) Oh sorry I say, I thought you were my riding buddy. Well the guy tells me “If you’re interested, I will tell you. Sure, I say. This guy was from Ireland but previously had lived in Toronto where he worked for Litton Systems. He knew Mike Barry and asked if I knew another old timer named Jeff. He had ridden PBP once in the 90’s and was back for his second PBP at age 65. His name was Michael Maroney (if anyone knows him, please let me know) He belonged to Randonneur organization at the time – how is that for a coincidence.
I met up with Vytas J on the way into Loudeac (cannot remember exactly where) and we rode in together. We agreed when we parted that we would meet at the exit to the control at 4 AM. I went to the Hotel and decided to eat before going up to bed since that would also give Jerry some more sleep time without me disturbing him. Kathy Brouse came down at 2 AM and efficiently hand something to eat and filled her water bottles and left – let me tell you – this girl was on fire – she was worried about her ride before starting nut the confidence was evident in her approach. So I finally go up to the room and lay down to sleep for 50 minutes before I needed to get up to meet Vytas. Jerry got up and woke me so that he could get out the door and I must have laid back down – I awoke with a start at 4:50 AM!!!! I got out the door and went to where I was supposed to meet Vytas who was gone = thank goodness. I started to pedal (really really) hard to make up for the late start. There was a sleep / food stop at Quedillac where I had a sausage and took one last look around to see if Vytas was there – found him just going to lay down to have a short sleep – he said “thanks a lot” for leaving him waiting – I did apologize profusely. The next stop, Tinteniac was a control so card signed , something to eat, and off again to Fougeres.
How quickly something can change, because about 5 KM along the way to Fougeres, my eyes closed momentarily and I was going head first into a clay ditch. I hit hard on the right side of my head and ending up with the handle bars going into my ribs and grass and dirt in the shifters and my helmet. Luckily there were course officials right behind me tending to some guy who went down and broke his arm. I asked the official to lift the bike off me and he was helping me up when a nurse / medic came along. I said I was OK but she told me Fougeres NO. She actually took my card but I quickly got it back. Satisfied that I would lay down, as instructed, they took me back to a private house and the couple owning the house laid a blanket on the ground for me to lie down. You have got to know how bad I was because I did not even check my bike – they wheeled it back to the house for me and leaned it against the fence. I laid down and slept for over an hour. When I pulled myself out of the ditch, I had a bloody nose and was sure my bell was rung in some way. When I awoke and tried to get up, I knew how hard I must have gone into the ditch – BUT – I did not come all the way to France to quit – so – clearing the grass out of the shifter and putting them back into position, I started pedalling down the road, amazed at how good the bike actually survived. Not more than 5 minutes after restarting Dave Thompson pulled up beside me and asked me how I was doing. He was very kind to stay just behind me to make sure I was OK and advised me to take off some heavy clothes, since I still had my overnight garb on and the sun was heating things up – good advice for sure. The worst part of everything that happened was the handle bars had dug into my ribs and I really know that when I tried to stand – no go. Breathing deep was even a problem. I made it to Fougeres and figured, perhaps a visit to the Doctor was in order (yes I was hurting that bad)
The Doctor told me that I might have a couple or 3 cracked or bruised ribs and that my little finger, on the left hand was probably fractured. I asked him to tape my ribs (hoping that it would allow me to stand) but his interest was in my hands stating that perhaps an x-ray was in order. I put my hands behind my back and said “what hands” he got the idea and said to me – you are going ride aren’t you – I told him yes and after I promised to stop if anything got worse and to get the hand looked at after the ride – he went and found some tape and tapped my ribs and actually put some tape on my hands to stabilize any fracture, if there.
Back out on the road, I met up with Vytas again and we rode together again. Vytas is a nice guy – easy to be with and he has a really dry sense of humour. He would be out in front sometimes and at other times, I would be. We seemed to find each other instinctively when ready to leave a control. We rode into Villaines La Juhel where we had a great meal and then left for Mortagne Au Perche – this seemed like a long stretch with lots of climbing, especially with tired legs and a broken body.
Vytas got ahead of me since I had slowed down considerably but I passed him lying in the ditch sleeping ( along with many other riders – especially Asian riders) Vytas said that he figured that the Japanese had done a study to get the right ration of riding to sleeping in the ditch for efficiency purposes
I got a sleep spot in Mortagne because I did not want to fall asleep again but the hardest part, now with my ribs aching and body stiffening up was getting down on the floor. They showed me to my spot and I stood there trying to figure out how to get down without going into full spasm. Finally just dropped everything in my hands on the floor and basically collapsed onto a blanket and mat. Turns out it was the wrong spot because when my wake up came they could not find me – luckily I was awake and trying to get up by then. I walked outside and told them to mark me as gone and I walked towards my bike – guess who was 20 metres away getting ready to leave – my new riding partner Vytas
So now, you must know that the riding slow etc. is taking its toll on out time and we were leaving Mortagne 1.5 hours after the control closed – so we have to hustle – and I do mean hustle. I pulled climbing out of Mortagne probably riding harder than I ever have before. Both Vytas and I missed the cut off in Dreux however I checked with officials and they said No Problem – just go and if you finish before 90 hours you will be fine – however we did not leave right away – we ate – I got my bike fixed (shifters seemed extra hard but found out after that it was just my left hand getting sore and weaker!) Vytas put air in his back tire.
One and a half hours again in deficit and since I pulled so hard leaving Mortagne, I had nothing left – 14 km/h was not going to do it. I told Vytas to latch onto someone else and finish on time – I would simply finish = no matter what the time. I spend the next hour pedalling along trying to convince myself that one bad 1200 out of 13 of them was not bad and I could handle the disappointment of a lost PBP. The more I pedalled I started to pick up speed (recovery I guess). Calculating again, I figured I could make this happen and what better time to rush than now rather than just before the finishing stretch. I saw support cars changing bikes for riders (lighter bike for a fast finish) and they were giving support – actually made me angry = a good thing. I started some real hustle on the way in. I was climbing some of the last hills at 16 – 22 km/h and over 36 km/h on some flats – I can do this, I thought – I do NOT have to settle for using my fall as an excuse for not finishing on time!
I have to tell you that it is one good feeling to grab back my finish from defeat. I am one lucky guy and for more reasons that you might think:
A momentary lapse of attention (actually sleep but lets not go there) put me in an accident – really lucky it was the ditch and not into traffic – – should not have let myself get to that point -DUMB on my part.
My bike was basically not affected by the crash – almost a miracle considering the force at which I landed – guess you could call that lucky
Luckily I did not look at my helmet at the time, or it would have scared me since it is cracked right through on the right side – there are lots of arguments, especially from the Brits that statistics say helmets are not necessary. Me, without a helmet in this case would mean that you would not be readying this write up since I would have been toast either for the rest of my life or actually gone.
I am also lucky that my decision to continue turned out not to be the “DUMBER” part of the equation. Some people have said to me that my actions were so great as a Randonneur however, I do not feel that way – it was a personal decision, it could have just as easily turned out ugly (glad it didn’t).
My training for this event allowed me to hang on and actually step it up in the end AND I just had a 70th birthday on July 31st – I am so blessed to be able to do what I do.
Someone asked me at the ACP meeting that I went to on Friday about how many more PBPs I felt I have in me – interesting question:
One more for sure (2019), two more (2023) if I stay healthy and lucky and maybe even a 6th PBP (2027) at 82 years old – with support.
My wife Nuala asked me why I keep going back to France to do this ride. My answer is that PBP is a BIG deal – in sheer numbers for sure but even more so in what it means to people. Vytas saw a gentleman check in after finishing who was told that he was over time at 92 hours – he broke down. Many other people go to very dark places because of a DNF, especially at PBP.
That’s my story. PBP2015 will stand out in my mind for sure. I now know specific thing I need to conquer before the next one. I can only hope that I can be in as good of shape and by some stretch, I need to address the sleep issue, perhaps being there a couple of days sooner and actually getting extra sleep before the ride (even if by chemical means)
Oh yes – one other mention – I usually take NO DRUGS however because I took off the taping, and had no support, I was constantly in spasm. Kathy Brouse was kind enough to give me some of her ALEAVE -they have allowed me to travel at least without winching at every turn. Kathy will enjoy this – our driver this AM dropped us at terminal 2A – and it was my fault for not checking my paperwork but Air Transat was in terminal 3 – let me tell you long walk plus up and down sometimes dragging the bike box.
From Sam Ehlers (Manitoba Randonneurs):
From Mark Beaver (Nova Scotia Randonneurs):