“As we remember it…” a conversation by Howard Rogers and Phil Mallette

Howard: My early recollection was that Jim Griffin and I went out for a meal to get ourselves stuffed up with lots of pasta and to get to the start pretty early. He returned to the hotel to prepare the bicycles at around about 11p.m. suppose, only to be told we couldn’t go into the courtyard where our bicycles were kept to get them ready. After 20 mtnutes of arguing we were contemplating all sorts of dastardly deeds to the poor bastard behind the desk. He didn’t seem to understand that it was exceedingly important for us to get our two bicycles and to get to the start of the event. He didn’t believe that we were really leaving the hotel at that hour. He didn’t believe that we were going to pay our bill. This man was the most suspicious man you’ve ever met in your life. The end result was that I was considering clambering over the desk and punching him, or at least holding him while Jim went and got the bikes. I was also considering punching the fire alarm and waking the entire hotel, including the slumbering patron, the person this twit feared most. He finally succumbed to the temptation to actually allow us to have our bicycles. A wise move, possibly just saving his life which, I think he realized, was in jeopardy. After having spent some time preparing the bikes and having a fitful rest, we were confronted at leaving time, with a torrential dowmpour. This naturally necessitated getting into the rain gear and heading to Reuil Malmaison for the 4am start. What better prospect than a cold and soggy 1200km ride!

Phil: I got to Reuil Malmaison on Saturday morning to see what the place was like so I wouldn’t get lost since I was riding from a hotel in Paris. My lights didn’t work. and I was checking everything over while I was there and just seeing who else was hanging around. It started to rain like hell, and this older gentleman from across the street came over and started a conversation and asked me if I wanted to fix ay bike in his garage. As it turned out he was Randonneur himself and a former racer, and I put my bike up on his rack and fixed the light which wasn’t grounded properly. Then he shoved me all of his racing memorabilia. He had been an amateur racer and had black and white pictures from the old cycling magazines. He showed se some pictures of him winning races, and as a randonneur, the badges from the rides he’d done. I saw him too the day we left. He was hanging out of his window upstairs and he gave me a big wave when we took off. For the dinner on the Saturday, there was a 2 1/2 hour line up. We got in to eat about 9:30 and the dinner menu was the beginning of the main menu of the next 4 days – slices of pork, green beans, roast beef, yogurt and bread. We weren’t getting that soup yet. Nothing exciting happened at the bike check. I showed him my complete life-time supply of light bulbs! I thought the start was incredible – the number of people, the motorcyclists and all the confusion and all those little red tall lights bouncing away down the road.

Howard: Disappearing into the night, snaking away, desperately trying to avoid contact with the nobblers around us.

Phil: And the flat tires! It seemed everyone had flat tres! Ian told us afterwards it had been pine needles.

Howard: But I didn’t meet any pine needles for the entire 1264 kms. (Note -1264kms – courtesy of a very accurate Avocet computer.) And carrying all those spares! I mean I carried enough gear to outfit about 3 bicycles. I actually used one tail light bulb in the entire event which goes to prove that if I hadn’t carried all the rest of the bloody gear, I’d have had all kinds of problems! But for me, the ride through the night was uneventful apart from somebody cascading past my ear, legs and head doing cartwheels through the air. He’d obviously hit a curbstone or something but it wasn’t anybody we knew so there wasn’t any real panic to jump off to make sure he was OK or see if there was anything we could do. I think he was French in which case…No comment. I was later of course to realize, much as I love France, that the French cyclos themselves appear to be terribly lazy. There was absolutely nobody, French or otherwise, that I could see, who was the slightest bit interested in getting on the front, let alone getting their tongues on their tires and their eyeballs out and you know, getting stuck in.

Phil: Well those guys just tucked In behind us and shook their heads when we asked if they wanted to take a turn.

Howard: They became known as baggage. Ken, I belleve, coined the rather apt
definition. Any baggage in tow? Yes. OK. Drop’em on the next hill. I think probably the whole ride consisted of us dropping Frenchmen on hills. Where were the French women when we needed them? That night was indeed a spectacle – following the line of red tall lights and passing the numerous repairers of poorly prepared equipment.

Phil: I wiped out. There was an American cyclist who was staying in the same hotel Victor was at and he skidded on the arrows painted in the middle of the road with that thick rubber paint. I saw him go down and I knew I was going to hit him so I just tried to aim my bicycle where it would do the least damage to my own bike; so I rode over his legs and went down in a pile. Fortunately there was was nobody directly behind us. He got up and grabbed his head and started “Oh man, Oh man” and I looked behind us and I could see the headlights of a 1,000 bicycles coming down at us and I said “Get off the fucking road!”; and we got the bikes off the road and everyone went zipping by. Victor came back to check it out. The guy I rode over was shaken up and I was mad as hell. I checked my bike over, my handle bars were twisted around but everything else seemed to be alright. But when I went down, my feet in the toe clips had twisted the cleat around so that I was riding pigeon toed for a while until I could forcefully twist it around and straighten it out. Anyway that was the only thing that happened until breakfast.

Howard: Ah yea. The breakfast I’d not intended to have at David’s stopping point. Did you stop there? All I can remember is flailing along…somewhat erratically, because of the conditions. Not being able to see very well, staying well out in the middle of the road, in fact impeding traffic. I was asked a couple of times by the gendarme to move over but I felt that it was a lot safer being hit by a car than it was cascading over 14 cyclists who’d gone down. In fact, apart from the one poor guy going past me in the air, I only heard the clatter of falling bikes or saw people repairing tires at the roadside.

Phil: I was surprised we didn’t all pile into everyone. We’d all been warned of the ride out of the forest where the road narrows, but there was nothing going on there.

Howard: Well this was also a new experience from the point of view that I had no Idea if everyone was going to be able to stay together. My brother in law, whom I had never ridden with before, by some miracle, did manage to ride at almost exactly the same speed as Jim and myself. Various others, which included the guy from BC, whom we had met at the airport, came and went. We’d meet and have great conversations, then lose each other and meet again later. This went on all morning. Then after the wind picked up and the rain started again, I seem to recall, we plowed into Belleme which was the worst bloody disaster as far as I was concerned. Like a turkey I was thinking to myself, “Well these guys are going to be organized, we’ll get the card signed, we’ll go and stand in the line, we’ll get fed and off we go.” Fat Chance. An hour and a half standing in the driving rain and wind, and I was beginning to wonder what the hell I was doing on this thing and thinking to myself this cannot be serious. These guys have done this before, they can’t expect us to stand around like this at every checkpoint, it will take us three weeks to do this bloody event. Not to mention death from either malnutrition or pneumonia!

Phil: And after the two and a half hour line up of the opening meal on Sunday, I thought “oh shit there is a line up for this barbecue, you even get your omelette barbecued.” This line up was only forty five minutes. I’d been warned. Ian and Judy Watt warned me not to eat at this place even before l’d checked in at the control.

Howard: I wish someone had warned me in the same way. The time loss at Belleme made a significant difference to the way the event was to go.

Phil: I didn’t pay any attention to it

Howard: I saw people nipping off into town to look for something to eat. But me, being slightly retarded and reticent to leave the course or whatever, I thought no no no no, this is going to be fine. I ended up with virtually no food. What I did get was cold, and disgusting. So hungry, fairly dejected and soaking wet, got to the next control which was Villaines la Juhel. Ah, my favorite spot in the world although I didn’t realise that until I visited it on the way back. I can’t inagine what time that was.

Phil: I left Belleme with David Adam, John Alexander and Phil VanAlstyne.

Howard: Was Villaines the big barn? It was, wasn’t it?

Phil: Yes.

Howard: And the food suddenly took a turn for the better which was very misleading because you thought Belleme was an accident that shouldn’t have happened and that everything was going to be like Villanes la Juhel. Then came Fougeres which again was abominable. Ken decided he had a strange stomach and stood in the line up that was 15 or 20 minutes long and suddenly said to me, “Keep a place for me, I think I’m going to throw up.” I kept looking at Ken and wondering if he’s going to do this In the line or whether he’s going to leave the area. Finally he disappeared much to my relief. Then we moved into the restaurant area where I had, I think I had, 15 rice puddings, because there was nothing else on the menu that I could eat.
I remember thinking at that stage, that maybe this was a trip through hell rather than a ride through the French countryside. I didn’t realise how perceptive my feelings were. I was beginning to wonder if everything was going to be as sad as the Belleme/Fougeres experiences. Of course I hadn’t brightened up at this stage and said to myself, don’t eat at these bloody controls, buy food elsewhere and carry it. We left there late afternoon. This was becoming some event…What next!?

Phil: We arrived at Tintineac at 2 in the morning.

Howard: Pit-ineac perhaps would be better! The food was marginally worse than at Belleme which was very difficult to do.

Phil: It was the absolute worst. There was even a sandwich lineup!

Howard: This is where we didn’t eat. This is where things started to get exciting. We’d all (Ken, Phil, Jim, and myself) had a fair old trot into Tintineac and we decided this was going to be a sleeping point. That was when we found out concrete wasn’t that comfortable, but then what the hell, it was better than nothing. I had to go back to my bicycle at one stage to get something and I found a 50 franc note floating around on the grass. Nobody was at hand that might have dropped it, so I quickly pocketed it and actually it came in very handy for breakfast the next morning. We left after a 2 1/2 hour sleep which vas probably a four hour stop by the time we’d finished piddling around trying to find somewhere to sleep. Incidentally, though bloody noisy, those silver foil space blankets actually keep you warm – one of the nicer revelations of this pioneering event!

Phil: That was the place where everyone was sleeping under the cafeteria tables and in the stairways. They were everywhere. One of the staff in the cafeteria whispered in my ear and showed me this dark stairwell and there wasn’t anybody in it and I went to try and find you guys. I could only find Jim who thought it was time to go when I woke him up. When we woke up the place was packed. I think Howard Chan vas there, and every stair had somebody sleeping on it. At the far end of the cafeteria there were all these French cyclists sitting there smoking and drinking beer and wine and having a wonderful time and under the tables everybody was trying to sleep. With the lights glaring, it was like a Dominion store at rush hour.

Howard: Mind you, I’ve never seen anyone sleeping at a Dominion store on stone cold floor, but I actually did manage to do it for two and a half hours. I got up and wandered about and remember thinking to myself, Ah, it’s been a while since I cleaned my teeth. So I walked downstairs and went into the bathroom. Well I decided I wasn’t going to clean my teeth for the rest of the ride! This was my first realization that the bathrooms were not all they were cracked up to be. Didn’t I read somewhere that there were adequate facilities for one’s ablutions?

Phil: They were just cracked up.

Howard: I was fairly appalled by the facilities generally, but then we are going into another whole political area about this whole event because we discovered of course the food was no good, the sleeping arrangements were fairly inadequate, the facilities were no good, I was beginning to wonder what they were trying to do to the people on their bicycles. Could it be chat there was an attempt to make it harder than need be I began to ask of myself?

Phil: I wondered about the sleeping arrangements. They weren’t particularly good at any stop although I don’t think it was really a high priority. If you wanted to sleep there was always some place to sleep but maybe they assumed it’s a randonneur ride and it’s up to your own wits. They’ll give you facilities but you’re going to be so tired anyway it doesn’t matter where you sleep and this is what happened. If I’d been sleeping in a normal cot with blankets on top of me, I might never have woken up! So be thankful that they were as bad as they were.

Howard: We left at about six, I believe. Certainly realizing that not having eaten everyone would start to flag rather, and thinking that we were making good time, which was a another farce, we came across a Breton creperie! Now this place was basically open to sell toast and croissant and coffee, so we sat down and actually talked the manager into opening the creperie, which wasn’t supposed to open for an hour or so, but they said under the circumstances… And we ordered the most expensive and highly packed crepe that the man could possibly create. It was magic. In fact it was so magic that we had another of everything, plus two pails of coffee (cafe au lait), and some tea. We also had a conversation or two. Ken knew an English guy at the place. The end result of this was that we felt pretty well. I think the best we’d felt for some time. The coffee was actually perfect, and the whole thing didn’t cost a great deal. We got on the bicycles only to discover after riding about 10 or 15 kms that we didn’t exactly have a lot of spare time to get to the next control. Now this factor was enhanced by the fact that the wind was against us and there wasn’t a flat bit of terrain to be seen. Consequently the miles we were trying to achieve in the time alloted was going to be rather difficult. So we started digging in a bit and we started passing group after group after group after group after group of people who managed to stay with us on the downhills, but couldn’t stay with us on the hills, let alone do a pull. Quite warming from our point of view. Chuff, chuff. As time went along ve realized that our strategy wasn’t working and a plan was devised to go into a pace line and spend 30 seconds or so on the front and drag the others, then whip to the back so no one got absolutely exhausted. We picked up a 65 year old French man and we dragged him for miles. He wouldn’t get on the front either! He told us how old he was, not obviously realising how old Jim and I are! Well the end result was that with approx. 5 ainutes to spare we came upon Carhaix, no? Wherever! Loudeac? We ended up coming into the town going like the very clappers, about the speed of the traffic. Then we came to a traffic signal which took an interminable time to change. There was a huge truck in front of us and nothing coming the other way, so we decided to overtake the truck, much to the driver’s chagrin and after a certain amount of kerfuffling, we went on in front of the truck. We then sprinted into the home stretch making a right turn up to the Loudeac Control, actually getting our card stamped with 5 minutes to go. Phew! That didn’t do my underwear any good at all, what with the noose of disqualification hanging over our heads – little did we know!

How I spent my summer vacation by Dan Bereskin

“Did you have a nice time in France?” my friend asked. “No!” I replied. How is it
possible to spend two weeks in France and not have a good time? I’ll tell you. Try the PBP!

I arrived at the hotel in Reuill-Malmaison on Saturday morning, to be greeted by a doe-eyed, coffee slurping manager who directed me to the most disagreeable room in the entire establishment. After assembling my bicycle, I decided to check out the stadium from which the ride was to commence, and discovered to my chagrin that it was at the top of an extremely steep hill. This was to be a small taste of what was to come. After a sleepless night listening to the sound of traffic whizzing by, I changed hotels where the accommodation was (a) closer to the starting line, and (b) the staff was very helpful and considerate. My pre-announced strategy for doing the PBP involved reaching certain towns by no later than 11:00 P.M. each night, and sleeping at pre-arranged hotels until 3 or 4:00 in the morning. To meet this schedule required maintaining an average speed of 21 km/hr, which I thought would be easy, if one avoided lengthy stops.

The start of the ride proceeded innocently enough, especially considering that the first few km were downhill, my best mode, in fact, I was feeling rather good and on some of the descents picked up quite a lot of speed, as I was to learn the next morning when I was able to read my bicycle computer which indicated I had hit a maximum speed of 70 km/hr during the night. According to the noted sage Mike Miller, the terrain between Paris and Tinteniac is essentially flat or slightly undulating. According to me, the terrain is anything but flat, and there seems to be a steady succession of hills, some of which are quite bit nastier than anything around Toronto. I found it very difficult to get motivated, and although I was making reasonably good time, having sucked the wheel of a tandem for the better part of the afternoon, my morale hit a real low when at about 6:00 P.M. I realized that I was not going to be able to put my head down on a pillow until I had travelled the equivalent of going between Toronto and Orillia. I was also beginning to feel that as a middle-aged gentleman, I had done enough exercise for the day. Nevertheless, I tried to persevere, and despite thinking all kinds of treasonous thoughts, I was pulled into Tinteniac by some kindly Toronto randonneurs who did not allow me to do what I really wanted to do which was to sleep in the ditch. The bed in Tinteniac was the greatest bed I have ever encountered in my life, but unfortunately I did not reach Tinteniac until 1:30 A.M. and it was 2:00 A.M. before I got into bed. At 4:30 A.M., Mike Buyers knocked on my door, saying “We’re leaving. If you want to come with us, be down here in two minutes!” Dear reader, this is not my idea of a holiday in France. Instead of croissants and coffee at breakfast, I was treated to a slug of the vile carbo-powder-water mixture which allegedly fueled some of the RAAM riders. I departed Tinteniac at about 5:00 A.M., and somewhat to my surprise there was a steady stream of riders (I thought I was probably last by now). I was a bit surprised to find walking somewhat difficult, which usually is the case when one’s knees do not bend properly. After an hour on the road, my knees began to ache. I knew that it is always darkest before the dawn, and that one’s spirits always are lifted with the sun, but both I and my knees did not wish to be there. We wanted to be back in Paris, where the food is wonderful, it is possible to drink wine to excess, and where one can sleep peaceably as long as one likes. I sat down on a park bench to contemplate the remaining 800 km ahead, when Satan, in the form of a bus driver, saw me and offered to take me to Rennes. A student of the geography of France, I was well aware that Rennes is on the rail line between Brest and Paris, and that high speed trains travel frequently. between those two localities, I found my brain directing me to continue the ordeal, but my legs, having mutinied, refused to take any instructions from the brain, began transporting my body and machine toward the bus. In seconds the bicycle was aboard the bus and I was sitting in a very comfortable seat, feeling guilty, but not sufficiently guilty to wish to continue. About 3 hours later, I was in Paris safely installed in a pleasant hotel on the Left Bank.

After about a day, my knees began to relent and I was able once again to walk normally, and on occasion, even to run to escape maniacal Parisian drivers. Although I was having a nice time the feelings of guilt intensified as the weather began to turn ugly. I thought of all of the Toronto Randonneurs slugging it out on the road. and especially in the icy, inky blackness of rural France at night. Fortunately, I discovered that a nice bottle of red wine and a full tummy tends to dispel all feelings of guilt!

No, I did not have a nice vacation in France, and no, I will never again contemplate a multi-day ordeal like the PBP. On the other hand, the next PBP will be its 100th anniversary…….

Letter to Paris – PBP 87 Newsletter

M. Lepertel’s requested our ‘memoires’ – this is what we sent:

“Allez, allez!” “Bon Courage!” “Allez bien les filles!” “Bon Courage!”

For myself and the other 25 members of the Toronto Randonneurs who took part in the celebration of the 1987 PBP, these cheering words of encouragement remain one of our warmest memories. To see so many people, day and night, smiling, waving, wishing one well and offering coffee all along the route, lightened our hearts and gave energy to progressively tiring bodies. This is the inspiration for our returning to France in 1991!

We enjoyed the ride! the company! the countryside! the route! the kindness of the many volunteers! the food (sometimes)! The lack of sleep and time to appreciate the countryside, the driving or drizzling rain, the headwinds that ranged from frolicsome breeze to heavy clout, the continually hilly countryside, the aches and pains, and the unremitting race against time, naturally were merely wee nagging leitmotivs – like ants at a picnic.

Some of our best memories: the buoyant anticipation as we waited in the light drizzle of Monday morning with hundreds of spirited cyclists from so many countries; stopping wearily in the middle of the night in the ghostly circle of the street lights to joke each other awake; steaming hot coffee gulped thankfully at friendly family roadside tables at 2:00 am; growing discouragement and doubt as we plodded nearer to Brest, and sudden lifting of spirits on starting back; clear cool star-filled night air as we climbed dreamily towards the red beacon of Roc Trevizel; hungrily slurping coffee in the medieval-like halls at Carhaix; sleeping deep in the straw-filled dorm at Villanes la Juhel to the accompaniment of a slumber sonata of snoring cyclists; our capacity to eat so such pasta, rice pudding and fromage blanc and our wonder at the abilities of French cyclists after a bottle of wine; the amazing comfort of sleeping between two pieces of cardboard; the perception that the soup resembled something out of a cement truck; the continual enjoyment of meeting new people and admiration of the capacities of the disabled; the really marvelous countryside! And of course – we were all “on vacation”!!

For myself, the ride passed in a strange mixture of an incredible immediacy of sharp memories of places and sensations – smells, sounds, sights, an overwhelming dictatorial chronology, but all floating hazily in a long meandering timeless time of alternating light and dark.

We all agree that the 1987 PBP was the best organized and most encouraging of events we have ridden. We thank M. Lepertel and his organizers and are already training for 1991!

Introduction – PBP 87 Newsletter

The 1987 Paris-Brest-Paris saw 26 members of the Toronto Randonneurs Long Distance Cycling Association starting out at 4:00 am, Monday August 24, 1987.

It was lightly drizzling but the roads gleamed in golden hues from the light of the street lamps. Spirits were lively. Thursday August 27 welcomed 24 of the Randonneurs at the final control by the 10:00 pm closing. Jubilance mingled with relief; celebration with fatigue.

Here are exerpts from some of the stories written by members of the Toronto Randonneurs. They recollect the many people, variety of events, vagaries of weather, doubts and strength – and insane humour.

A few of the photos people managed to snatch on their way are alto included. Although many had cameras, and seemingly took many pictures, none felt they had captured the sublime – and definitely not the ridiculous.