When I first read of the new “Ontario Randonneurs O-12 Award” in the 2020 Award Dinner Blog, I thought that it was a worthy challenge. And set my mind to completing the O-12 with all rides in Ontario.
I was not completely naive about this goal. I had completed the Frosty 200 from Tillsonburg in January 2018, so I had some experience and confidence about completing mid-winter 200km rides.
Fortunate for me, Timothy Ormond had requested a Permanent, The Gentle Start 200, for the end of January. It would be great to have someone to ride with. Unfortunately, Tim had to bail out at the last minute due to family priority, but, undaunted, I set out from Oakville in late January on the first of my O-12 rides. It was below freezing, but the roads were dry. Two memories stand out. When I reached St. George, my toes were freezing cold even though I was wearing warm wool socks and neoprene booties. I recalled reading about wrapping toes in aluminum foil to preserve some heat. So when I stopped at a St. George sandwich shop, they obliged me with some aluminum foil which really did help. And my second memory of this ride was stopping at The Trail Eatery for a delicious, sugar loaded, slice of pecan pie that got me to the finish.
Tim and I got together to ride The Six Nations 200 Permanent in February. It was very cold, and we had to battle a very strong wind riding west to St. George. I had learned from my January experience about cold toes, so I had inserted some Toe Warmers in my cycling shoes. They made all the difference. And I had brought some extras with me that I was happy to give to Tim when his toes were going numb with cold. Still a bone chilling trek until we made it to St. George. We stopped into the re-named Tansley’s Coffee Emporium to get warmed up knowing that we would soon be turning around in Paris with the wind at our backs. We actually felt reasonably warm with bright sunshine and no longer fighting the wind heading back to Oakville. Don’t know that I would have completed this ride without Tim. We finished with broad smiles.
COVID-19 reared its ugly head in March, and the OCA imposed ride restrictions. I chose to ride the Grand River 200 as the route passed through Ancaster, where I live, on both the out bound and in bound legs. With permanents, we have the latitude to start/end anywhere along the route. So I started the ride in Ancaster and stopped again at my home mid-ride for food and drink avoiding stops anywhere else.
COVID-19 precluded any sanctioned rides in April and May, but I wanted to continue my string of monthly 200’s. In April I cycled 200km on my rollers. But I didn’t think that really qualified, as the rollers offer little resistance – I averaged 40km/h. Being hard headed, I did another 200km on my trainer. That was a worthy effort. And in May, I rode an unsanctioned 200km ride from my home on a route that I have proposed, The Grimsby Circle 200. The thing I remember about that ride was dense fog for about 30km in the early morning.
Finally in June, we could again resume sanctioned rides but with appropriate restrictions. I cycled the Niagara Plateau 200 out of Brantford. It’s a flat, out and back route to Port Colborne with no places to refuel on the route. Otherwise a nice ride, save for the extended, drenching rain on the last half of the return leg. Still, finished a happy cyclist.
July was my favourite ride of the year. And the hottest. A scorcher. Much Ado About Nothing out of London. I had ridden this route a couple of times before with the Huron Chapter to take in a play at the Stratford Festival. Good memories. I carried a picnic lunch that I enjoyed at the park surrounding the Festival Theatre in Stratford. Despite an early start, there was no avoiding the heat. The heat max’d out at 39C on my bike computer. Drank lots of fluids. Kept the pedals turning. And made it back to London before the late afternoon thunderstorms.
By mid-year, I determined that I did not want to repeat any routes on my quest for the O-12. August was Tour of the Valleys. For September, I chose St. Thomas-Paris-St. Thomas except that I started in Paris which is closer to home. I was almost completing a 200’s in under 8h’s, and set out with that objective in mind. Just kept rolling, except for the one and only flat I got on the way back to Paris. No mind, still finished in just over 7-1/2h’s. Best ever time. Surprised myself.
Rode another sub-8h permanent in October – Frosty 200. Normally starts in Tillsonburg but I began the ride in Port Dover which is closer to home. Nice riding in Norfolk & Oxford Counties and along the roads that skirt the Lake Erie shoreline back to Port Dover.
Only two left to go, but weather could start to become a real impediment to finishing. No bother, I was determined now to get the O-12 one way or another. Fortunate for some reasonable conditions for the Niagara Ramble in November. On the morning of the December ride, Castle 200, I wondered if I ought to postpone. There had been snow the previous day. And very strong winds were forecast, but at least the temperatures would be above freezing for most of the ride. And I knew that weather was likely to get worse later in the month. So I set off prepared for a long day in the saddle. I encountered some snow, slush and icy roads on the escarpment above Grimsby. Bike handling skills from trying out cyclocross in the last few years were put to use. And those winds – sustained at 40km/h with gusts up to 70. Felt like I was hardly moving at times going south to Port Colborne. Blown from there to Fort Erie, but then virtually no respite from the energy-sapping wind until the last northbound leg down back to Grimsby. Even got blown off the road once by a strong gust, but manage to stay upright. Otherwise, just a tough slog but happy to endure with the end of the O-12 at hand.
Did it! Set out to complete the O-12 with an All Ontario set of different routes. Never had in mind that all but one ride would be solo, but that’s how it worked out with COVID-19 restrictions. Keys to success: Determination. Perseverance. And most important, Love & Enjoyment of Cycling. Thanks to Randonneurs Ontario for setting this challenge. Great motivation in the year of COVID19.
Mes Amies! Erin and I are in France! It’s been a wild adventure getting to this point. Everyone expects the ‘red-eye’ to Europe to be challenging, but add on the stress of such a long bike ride and a transfer in Iceland and it’s a bit exhausting.
France When we arrived on the afternoon of the 16th, my bike didn’t show up. I was gutted. We waited around in the airport for a couple hours. Waiting, wishing, hoping. It didn’t come. Reports were filed and we got on the train for the two hour trip to Les Essarts-Le-Roi bike-less for a cycling event.
We spent the rest of the night on the phone and email trying to find my bike. Turns out there wasn’t even tracking on it. The airline and the airports didn’t even know where it was. Not even which country it was in. I finally got a hold of someone who told me they found my bike and it would be in Paris at 1300 in the 17th. I went to bed stressed, exhausted, and a little relieved.
In the morning I was trying to confirm my bike was Paris bound to land at 1300, when I found out that it was still in Canada. It wouldn’t make it to Paris for another 28 hours (time change / flight schedules / etc) and Paris is still a 5 hr round trip train ride. More panic. By this time I had slept, eaten, and had been watered. I was feeling gutted, but was trying to find a solution.
Dick, the man who’s done PBP and who rented the house here in Les Essarts, took to social media and texting friends. There were requests made for available bikes, rental bikes, no-longer-riding-the-PBP bikes. A few little leads but nothing fantastic. One of the texts was a note that four years ago, four people had their bikes stolen from their hotel and they had gone to a local bike shop and bought bikes to be returned after the event. With this information Erin and I headed to a nearby town with a bike shop.
I went in and started google-translating with the 22 year-old manning the repair stand. I tried to rent a bike. I showed him the text. Florian’s face wrinkled. We google-translated more.
He tried to explain that I could borrow the bike for a week and return it. No deposit. No payment. Just ride it and return it. I had no idea what to say.
He pulled a bike off the wall, asked if it would fit, and started setting it up for me. We were floored. My saddle and pedals went on. The derailleurs adjusted.
I ran around the store, buying cages and bottles and bags to carry my stuff. In an hour we were out the door. A Triban RC500. A full load of bikepacking bags and determination. I had a bike. A bike that fit! I was over the moon. So thankful for the people in that shop. So thankful for Florian.
I spent the evening packing and repacking the bike. I cut down to the minimum stuff needed to survive the next few days. It wasn’t that hard. I didn’t have most of my stuff. I had bought a raincoat. I had bought a helmet. I had my fingerless gloves. I had my knee warmers. I hoped that would be enough. Dick warned about low night time temperatures heading into Brest. I was determined.
I went for a test ride. Erin said I came back with the biggest smile on my face. I had a bike. I rode in France. The PBP was a possibility.
The next day I headed to Rambouillet for a tech inspection in the pouring rain. I needed to get my loaner bike through inspection. The bike was brand new, with brand new tires and brakes. I wasn’t worried about that. I had poor strap-on lights with a pocket full of extra batteries. This was my worry. The inspection man inspected the bike. He tested my brakes. Then he pointed to my lights. I turned them all on, trying to show they’d be bright enough for the event. Bright enough to ride 10 hours through the night. He looked at them and smiled. I had passed tech. More relief.
I had a few hours to ride back to the house, dry out, sleep, get changed, and then line up in Rambouillet at 1800.
I lay down for some rest that afternoon. For the first time since I landed in France I actually thought about the event. All my thoughts so far had been just trying to find a bike, just trying to ride. Getting through one obstacle then the next. It was now almost time to ride. Only 1200k to go.
The Ride The ride is a big ride. The first time it was held was in 1891 and it’s been occurring ever since. It’s now run every four years from the outskirts of Paris all the way to Brest on the Atlantic ocean. It’s 1200km long. It has over 11000m of climbing- Everest is less then 9000m. And if that wasn’t enough. You’ve only got 90 hours to complete it. Just under 4 days.
The 2019 edition of the PBP had about 7000 entrants. You can enter for three different time limits. 90 hours for the touristes, 84 hours for the randonneurs, and 80 hours for the vedettes. Having no idea what it would take to ride 1200km or 11000m of elevation or both, I entered the 90h group. It is by far the largest group.
Carey and I rode slowly to the start. We had a 14k ride through a few little villages to get to the Chateau and the start of the ride. The sun was shining. It was now a beautiful day and the weather over the next few days looked to be fantastic.
When we got to the start line there were so many people. The crowds were huge. There were ordinary bicycles. There were tandems. I saw fixed gears and even a fat bike. Everyone was cheering. I had never been involved in anything like it. Carey and I lined up in the “I” group and just watched in amazement at all the people.
My first stop was Chateauneuf-en-Thymerais. This is a little town before the first control. The sun was setting, I was already getting hungry, and the procession of cyclists was flying through. On the edge of town was a little tent. A grandfather was cheering the riders on and slowly pouring water into everyone’s water bottles from 3L jugs hauled from the house by the grandchildren. Bon route! Bon courage! The town had a couple stands set up. I bought a jambon-fromage and an ice tea and munched at the side of the road watching the event. It was great. I ran into Carey again and we took off into the evening.
The sun set over rural france. We streamed through small village after small village and into the first control. Mortagne-au-Perche. There were hundreds of bikes with number plates on them. People going in every direction and the smell of grilled meat. I was hungry. I threw my bike aside and found a counter with a guy selling sandwiches. It was perfect. Over the past 120k I was starting to deal with my riding position on the Triban. This was expected and mostly ignored. I knew the bike wasn’t going to fit just right and I took the time to drop the saddle a touch and rode off into that dark.
This was my first night shift. The first time I realized how bad my lights were. The first time I realized just how much I was in the dark. I rode along only see a small dim spot in front of me and glad for the moonlight over top of me. There was no traffic. It was quiet with just the hum of bikes passing bikes. It was great. and dark.
One of the things that started to stand out to me that first night was how much the French people love cycling. I’d be riding along at 2 – 3 – 4 in the morning and I’d come up on a family standing at the side of the rode cheering us on. I’d see couples with the trunk of their car open and a pot of coffee or a case of water. I’d see kids, grandparents, clubs, and whole villages out cheering us on. It was incredible. I hit Villaines-La-Juhel just before first light. Control card. Water. Food. I don’t even remember what I ate, but I ate. and lots. The sun was about to rise, and I found new energy. I had 240k to ride before my first sleep and I had the warm sunlight to get me through.
Fougeres, 306km. Lasagna. Melon. Banana. Of course a croissant. Tinteniac. 360km. A man was playing a clarinet. A woman playing an accordion. I bought some fruit for the afternoon.
Finally. Loudeac. 440km. A night and a day. 24 hours of cycling. I’m tired. I found a dormitory, paid 5E, and asked the man to wake me at 10. He wrote 2200 down on a little board and asked me to confirm the correct time. He smiled and left. The dorm had clear panels in the ceiling and I was warned four years ago that it was hot and bright, and I’d have trouble sleeping. I was out moments after I got my shoes off.
10pm. Ready for the night shift. My second night. I knew it was going to be dark again. My lights would plague my night. Just as I was rolling out of town I spotted and RV with a big Canada flag on the hood. It was the other Huron Chapter Randonneurs. They had just bedded down. I ate half a cold pizza with a big smile of my face. The perfect fuel for a night shift in rural France!
La Harmoye. A party set up in the middle of the night under the tower of another church. Saint Nicolas-Du-Pelem. 488km. Carhaix 521km. People sleeping everywhere. It’s hard to navigate the controls for the bodies. Last stop before the Atlantic!
After Carhaix I was getting drowsy. It was 5am and I still needed to descend to Brest. In the dark. At 4’C. I was wobbling all over the road. I remembered my space blanket and found a little spot in the grass. I set the timer on my phone for 12 minutes. I was asleep instantly.
I woke. confused. I checked my phone. My timer didn’t go off. I had no idea how long I had been sleeping at the top of that hill. I rolled my blanket up. Lashed it to the side of my saddle bag and descended, shivering, to Sizun. Sizun was beautiful. The sky had started to lighten, and the village was full of cyclists. I spotted a cafe that was open, found a wall to rest my bike, and tried to warm up with a chocolat-chaud and a croissant and an apple treat. The waitress had a big smile on her face and kept bringing me wonderful things to eat. Merci, merci! I was almost in sight of the ocean. I had almost made it. I remember texting Erin. I was excited. Cold, but excited
I cycled on until I made it to the bridge at Brest. I couldn’t believe how emotional an arrival it was. I’m not, by nature, a terribly emotional person, but I was just floored at how far I had come and where I was standing. Brest. 610km. It was 9 in the morning. I had the day in front of me. I was on my way home! Sizun. Second time in only a few hours. This time, two pieces of pizza, a macaron the size of a canadian donut, and some saucisson-sec for later. Carhaix. 693km. This time I notice the bunting hanging across the road celebrating the PBP.
I knew tonight was going to be long. I wanted to get as far as I could to maximize my daylight and minimize my lightless night-time riding. I found a nice warm field in the sun and had a 20 minute snooze. I tested my timer first. It was a wonderful cat-nap.
Loudeac. 783km. My knees were in a fair amount of pain by this time. I raised my seat a touch. I found a couple of women at the side of the road. They were making crepes. Had coffee and water, and were cheering people on. Incredible hospitality.
I was shooting for Tinteniac. If I could sleep there, there was only 350km or so to go for the last day. I made it to Quedillac. There were lights on, and I saw a sign for food. I still had 25km to go to Tinteniac, but I was hungry. I go in. Ordered soup, bread, and who knows what else. Two dinners worth. That’s when I saw it. A sign for beds. I didn’t even know there was a dorm here. I asked the man if they had any beds left. They did. 4E later, I sunk into a six-inch block of foam to wake at 3am and the last day!
Tinteniac. 869km. Soup. Pork. Rice. Fruit. Coffee. Pie. A big smile on my face. My knees were feeling better after my sleep. Then I fell. Out of the blue. I wasn’t moving, I was in the bike lock-up area and all of a sudden I was on my side with my bike on top of me. Two guys ran over and helped pick both me and my bike up. I was fine. I had just landed on the grass. I had just lost my balance.
A family was trading coffee for postcards. Giving their address out on little pieces of paper.
Fougeres. 923km. Shortly after I ran into a guy I met my first time through Sizun. Pete and I rode together for a bit. We had started fifteen minutes apart, days ago. We had both realized that we were very close to breaking 80 hours. 80! We picked up speed.
At the side of the road a few families had got together and set up a stand with treats, coffee, water and fresh crepes. They were telling stories of previous PBPs and watching all the riders come through their little village.
We run into a man at the side of the road with a giant basket of plums. He had just picked them and was offering them to anyone who rode by. Merci monsieur!
Villaines-La-Juhel. 1012km. Picking up speed.
We pull into a man’s driveway. He has tables, chairs, and tents setup. My knees and ankles ache. I’m limping badly. He’s got some treats for us and gave me some drugs. I had never heard of it before, but Pete’s from the UK. They had that brand there. He said it they took it for headaches. I took the kind man’s medicine.
Shortly down the road I get a flat. I had some CO2 cartridges in my bag, but Pete had a pump. So I borrowed Pete’s pump and set to work in the early evening changing my flat. Before I knew it, I had an audience of five or six people and a dog. The one man kept helping me while the rest asked me about my ride, where I was from, how it was going. They invited me back to their place to use their floor pump instead of Pete’s little pump. Soon after, a man on a motorcycle and a woman with a camera show up and start taking pictures and notes. I wonder if my tube change made the local news?
Mortagne-Au-Perche 1097km. I’m hobbling now, and probably losing speed. I get my card signed, grabbed a sticky bun and headed back to the bike.
Dreux. 1174km. I’ve got 50km to go, and the sun was setting. These last 50 were the longest of the ride. The last 50 are always the longest. Pete was sore and falling asleep. I was in so much pain, every pedal stroke hurt. I actually found riding reasonable fast with a fast cadence was the most comfortable, but it was a speed I wasn’t strong enough to maintain. We were riding around in the dark trying hard to find Rambouillet.
With the chateau in sight, the end came soon. We congratulated each other. I realized that I wasn’t able to ride the 14km back to the house – I was in too much pain. The trains had also stopped running. I started asking around for a cab, a taxi. The first man I asked said that he could call a taxi, but it wouldn’t come. I looked at him and asked if I should then ride back to Les Essarts, and he told me that he didn’t recommend it. I found four other older Frenchmen at the bike lockup area. I asked them for a taxi, and the one man stuck up his finger and told me to follow him. We met a big, smokey man in an alley. He didn’t speak a word of English. I asked if mon velo et moi could get a ride to Les Essart and he nodded. In minutes I had said goodbye to Pete, pulled the front wheel off my bike, and was speeding down the highway in the back of a van.
When I made it back to the house, Erin was waiting and helped me out of the van. I soon collapsed into the couch at the house. I had done it and I was exhausted.
Exhausted. Broken. Unable to walk. 1224km. 11008m of climbing. 23 437 calories burned. 79 hours spent. About 7 of those sleep. I was ready for a break.
Even now the thing that stands out in my head is the generosity, friendliness and hospitality of the French people and their love of cycling. I have never felt so welcome standing in a strange town dressed in lycra and smelling a bit off. The food, the cheers, the encouragement and the smiles. The high-fives from the kids, and the constant calls of Bon Route! Bon Courage!
I now know why people keep riding the PBP.
Stories One of the fun parts of PBP is all the stories you hear. During the ride, after the ride, and years later when the stories get told over and over again. Some of them get shorter while some of them get longer!
One of my favourites I heard the day after the event was when a bunch of us got together for dinner.
Tiago was riding through the night when his light started wobbling. At first he didn’t think much of it. As he rode along it started getting worse. It wouldn’t stay focused and centered on the rode in front of him. He reached down and tried to straighten it. It kept wobbling. He tried again. Tried to straighten it. Tired to tweak it. Nothing. It just kept getting worse and worse. He was having a hard time seeing the road. All of a sudden it let go completely. His light shone straight down. There was a spot lighting up the road right underneath him and he couldn’t see anything in front of him. He caught up with a few other riders with bright lights and managed his way to the control and the bike shop to get his light fixed up.
They found the problem. He had lost a bolt out of this light mount. They dug through bins and searched the shelves. Finally it looked like they had found the bolt they needed. It threaded in, but it turned out to be too short. The girl that was working there suddenly had an idea. She said that she had that exact bolt in her knee. Her prosthetic knee had the bolt needed. Tiago couldn’t believe it. She was offering the bolt out of her knee to fix his headlight mount. He refused. He couldn’t take the bolt out of her knee. She said she had an extra. He refused again. They dug through the bins a few more times until they bodged the light mount back together.
A bolt out of her prosthetic knee. For the love of cycling.
There are countless other stories. Everyone has them. Carey crashed the day before the ride and broke both his wheel and his rib and still completed PBP in less then 89 hours. Incredible! If only I was half as strong.
My friend Pete was riding along and his knee kept getting bigger and bigger. The more he rode, the more swollen his knee got. He had stopped in a few clinics at the controls, and there was nothing they did that seemed to work. The pain kept getting worse as well. Sitting in one of the controls, this Japanese man came up to him and said “You don’t need French medicine, you need Japanese medicine.” Before Pete knew it, the man had pulled a metal can out of his pocket and was spraying something all over Pete’s knees. He didn’t even realize what was going on, and before he could say anything, the man had walked off. Shortly after, Pete looked down and realized he couldn’t feel his knees anymore, and the swelling was going down. Japanese medicine!
Lastly are the stories that involve hallucinations. It seemed that everyone had one, and they all seemed to be hilarious. One man had Gordon Lightfoot bring him in. Another saw the flags of the world along both sides of the road. Someone saw trees growing. One saw monkeys in the trees, on the bikes. Everywhere. I wasn’t so lucky to experience any of these, but I love to hear the stories.
Here are a few random thoughts and recollections from my
PBP. While there were over 6,000
participants from across the globe in this event, the experience is unique for
each rider (because of different start times, ride approaches, and
equipment). I should also point out that
my recollections are strongly affected by randonnesia,
a condition that affects randonneurs doing long brevets with very little
the ride …
flew to Paris with fellow randonneur Carey, arriving on the Wednesday morning
(My start time for PBP was 17:30 Sunday evening). This gave me several days to get adjusted to
the time zone change, get my bike assembled and gear organized, and to “test”
my bike in the surrounding countryside.
privileged to share a VRBO rental with a fine group of Ontario
Randonneurs, in the small town of Les Essarts-le-Roi (about
13 km from the PBP Start location in Rambouillet). The VRBO had been arranged by Dick Felton, a PBP ancien. Dick’s PBP knowledge, enthusiasm, and
encouragement were key to the success of several randonneurs over the coming
evening through Saturday, I bicycled over 150 km to explore Rambouillet, meet
up with other Randonneurs arriving for PBP, and to try out local restaurants.
Saturday (the day
before the ride start) was taken up with the official bike inspections and
pick-up of ride documents. This was the
only day of foul weather during my entire trip.
Carey and I pedalled into Rambouillet in pouring rain, and stood in long
queues of drenched cyclists.
(Unfortunately we missed the scheduled Team Canada photo, because we were chasing down a possible bike
rental for Matt, whose bicycle had been “lost” by Iceland Air!!). While cycling back to Les-Essarts-le-Roi,
Carey’s bike “slid out from under him” on a very “greasy” downhill, and he
landed hard on his side. Of course, he
was more concerned with the state of his bicycle than his own health, and after
a roadside repair in the pouring rain he was satisfied that he and his bike were
fit for the PBP ride.
The Ride Itself …
At 3:30 pm on
ride day, I rode to PBP start location with Dick. It was absolute chaos, with thousands of
cyclists trying to figure out how the ride start was to occur. I was in the “G” group, starting at
17:30. The “F” group, starting 15
minutes ahead of us, was composed of all the “specialty” bicycles – tandems,
recumbents, fat bikes, folding bikes, and velomobiles. It was quite a spectacle as they paraded in
front of us towards the starting arch.
(You can watch the departure of this group here)
pleased to run into Ben Schipper (from the Netherlands) and Matt Levy (from the
US) who I had ridden with on last year’s Mac
& Cheese 1200. They were also starting
in G group. (I would cross paths with
Ben several times during the ride)
After a few announcements
(unintelligible even to French riders I expect), we departed the cobblestone
entrance to Rambouillet castle and were on our way. With pleasant evening temperatures and
excellent roads, it was exciting to be finally riding in PBP. I quickly caught up to many of the “oddball”
cycles ahead of me, and was soon met by the waves of “fast” riders in groups H,
I, J, etc. As night fell, the long
string of red lights in front of me (and white lights in my rear view mirror)
was quite impressive.
fellow Ontario riders (Carey, Dick, Matt, Darcy, Tim, and Brenda) were starting
in groups 1 to 1.5 hours after mine.
While I had signed on with Carey, Darcy, and Tim & Brenda for a
Support Camper Van (driven by Brenda’s daughter Hanna and her boyfriend
Mathias), my earlier start limited my ability to make use of their great
support (and the van bed and shower) at the controls.
told there were significant cross-winds on the first day of the ride, which
impacted the ability of the fast riders to maintain peletons and apparently led
to many early “DNF’s”. I have absolutely
no recollection of being bothered by the wind.
A few comments about my bike and gear…
Early in the ride, I realized my
bike’s derailleur was not shifting down to the three lowest gears. I could have taken a few minutes to diagnose
the problem, or queued up to see a bike mechanic at one of the controls, but
being constrained to the upper gears didn’t seem to bother me. Although there are 12,000 metres of climbing
in PBP, it is all very gradual (I don’t think I ever saw more than a 7% incline
on my Garmin). Climbing without the low
gears felt good, and I think made me ride stronger throughout the whole
course. Aside from the derailleur
problem, I had some very minor issues with brakes (squeaking brake pads) and
headset (loosening and creaking). But
overall I was thrilled with how my y2k Litespeed held together, and delighted
to have no flats. I was amazed to see so
many riders stopped along the route, repairing flats or other mechanical
issues, especially in the first 200 km of the ride.
usual for me, my bike was heavily loaded (probably 5 kg or more above the
average bike weight). A base layer, rain
gear, change of jersey & shorts, went completely unused. Similarly an assortment of Clif Bars, Gels,
and M&M’s just came along for the ride.
Two USB Power Packs went largely unused, with my dynamo charging hub
handling lighting and Garmin-charging just fine. My ride would have been easier (and faster)
without so much baggage, but I’ll probably never learn to pack light!
Back to the ride …
rode steadily through Sunday night and following day (stopping only at
designated Controls and the occasional coffee stands set up by the locals). I arrived
at the Loudeac control (445 km) about 9 pm Monday evening. After a warm meal by the Camper Van, Tim
& Brenda, Carey, and Darcy decided they would sleep until about 1 am. I realized that if I joined them, I would be
in jeopardy of not making the Carhaix control (76 km away) before the 5:15 am (for
me) Closing time. So I pushed on into
the now-very-cold dark night. On this
stretch I was delighted to link up with Matt – he helped keep me awake, and my
lighting helped him navigate some descents (The lighting he had purchased for
the “loaner” bike he was riding was not great!). Matt and I pulled into Carhaix at 2:30 am,
and he wisely encouraged me to grab a few hours sleep. With all of the “beds” at the control already
filled, I pulled out my space blanket and “rando pillow” (i.e. inflatable plastic
bag from 4L Box Wine) and lay down on the grass beside a few snoring
randonneurs. (My buddy Terry Payne will
be delighted to know that I was able to fully experience the “true” nature of
awoke two hours later, drenched from condensation on the inside of my space
blanket and with the definite feeling that I was getting a cold. I was soon back on the bike, and heading for
Brest 90 km away.
only took a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful bridge and seascape in Brest,
before fuelling up at the Control and turning around to head back toward
Paris. The climb out of Brest was not as
bad as I feared when descending into Brest, and it was interesting to observe
the waves of cyclists now riding towards me (still on their way to Brest). I was delighted to see Dick, riding his
steady consistent pace, who gave his usual shout of encouragement.
of the rest of Tuesday was a “blur” – steady riding with occasional stops for
coffee, cake, plums, and other goodies offered by the friendly villagers along
the route. (I found it hard to “fly by”
people who were so enthusiastic and supportive – especially young kids looking
for a “high five”). I arrived back in
Loudeac Control (783 km) at 9 pm. After getting my Card stamped, I located the
Support van, had a warm plate of Chicken Shawarma served up by Hanna &
Mathias, and crawled into the back for a couple of hours sleep (My van buddies
were a couple of hours behind me, so I knew I’d be getting up and on the road
when they rolled in for their shower & sleep).
Back on the road after 2 hours
sleep on a real mattress. I think it was
Tinteniac control where I again met up with Ben from the Netherlands. He reported that his seat post had broken,
and he was forced to ride standing up for 30 km to the next control! He confessed that he was worried about our
being able to finish in time, noting that there seemed to be very few “G”
riders in our midst. (I would learn
later that a Florida randonneur acquaintance was forced to abandon because of a
broken seat post. The bicycle mechanic
at the Control didn’t have a right-size replacement!)
With the sun coming up as I rode
from Tinteniac towards Fougeres, I was amazed how good I felt physically. My legs were not complaining, and my butt was
perfectly comfortable in my Brooks leather saddle. Although I didn’t “feel” tired, I knew my
lack of sleep was messing with my consciousness. I kept having the strangest feeling of “déjà
vu”, wondering how it could be that everything was so familiar. (Had I been fully rested, I would have
realized that I was cycling the same roads I’d been on just 48 hours earlier,
and of course they should look familiar!).
The ride back into Villaines-la-Juhel
(1012 km) was one of my most amazing experiences in PBP: after hours of steady
climbs and descents under a hot August sun, I turned the corner to be greeted
by hundreds of cheering villagers as I rode through the Control welcome arch. The entire town was swept up in a festival
celebrating PBP – musicians, displays, beer tents, and constant cheering as riders
entered or departed the control (This video will give you
a sense of the celebration, and how “special” you feel as a cyclist being
involved in this). I truly regretted
that I could only enjoy this for a few minutes, before pushing on to finish the
final 200 km.
Riding into the darkness after
leaving Mortagne-au-Perche (1097 km), I was no longer trusting my navigating
skills (even worrying that somehow I had missed a Secret Control). I was only wearing one layer (plus my
reflective vest) and the temperature was down into single digits – I didn’t
dare stop and put on more clothing, for fear of losing sight of red lights
ahead. There seemed to be no discernable
features or landmarks, and I felt like we were riding around in circles.
Around 11 pm, I finally pulled over
at a poorly lit intersection and got off the bike. A randonneur from Bellingham Washington
stopped and said that I looked a bit wobbly.
He gave me one of his Espresso energy Gels (which thankfully “kicked in”
quickly), and reassured me that we were indeed on the right course for the
final Control (even opening my Control Card, to show that only one stamp was
missing before the finish). Keeping his
red rear light in my sights, I followed him through the pitch black into Dreux,
arriving just after midnight. Wolfing
down the fine Control food fare (sausage or pasta – I can’t remember which) and
a cold beer, I realized (for the first time really) that I now had plenty of
time “in the bank” to successfully complete the ride. I pulled out my space blanket and rando
pillow, and fell asleep beside some rolled-up carpet in a corner of the noisy
control building. Strangely, my son Dave
handed me a cup of hot coffee as I crawled under the space blanket (not my only
encounter with people and objects not really there, during the ride!)
I woke up (with the help of my smart phone
alarm) shortly before dawn, and set off to ride the final 45 km back to
Rambouillet. (There had, by the way,
been a last-minute change to the official route due to some road
construction. Although I had the revised
route loaded on my Garmin, I wasn’t trusting it. I would also find out later that friends back
home, following my progress on my Spotwalla
Page, were wondering if I was lost!)
With a beautiful sunrise ahead of
me, I rode the final kilometres into Rambouillet. The end of the ride was rather
Villaines-la-Juhel, there weren’t a lot of people around when I crossed the
finish line at 7:41 am. But the “pings” of congratulatory texts from family
members, thousands of kilometres away, who were staying up late to know that I
had finished, was wonderfully rewarding.
Somewhat less rewarding was the morning meal offered to the returning
cycling gods …
Knowing my Ontario buddies were a couple of hours from
finishing, and craving a shower, I got back on my bike and rode the 15 km back
to Les-Essarts-le-Roi. Although I
couldn’t recall a single bone in my body complaining during the PBP ride, my
shoulder muscles tightened up severely during the short ride back to the
After the Ride …
after a shower and a nap, I joined other Ontario Randonneurs for a celebratory
dinner in St. Quentin en Yvelines (a much better meal than at the start of the
one more relaxing night in Les-Essarts-le-Roi to celebrate fellow randonneur
Tim’s birthday, Carey and I packed up our bikes, and relocated to a hotel in
Cachan, just south of Paris.
Post-Script (and a few stats)
day after flying back to Ontario, Carey texted to tell me that he’d gone to the
hospital for an x-ray, and had in fact broken a rib on the day of the bike
members of our Ontario Group did not finish PBP. Dick Felton, who has successfully completed
several previous PBP’s (including 2015, where he finished the ride with several
broken ribs and fingers after falling asleep on his bicycle in the last few
hundred km’s!) realized his pace was too slow, and abandoned after the return
to Carhaix (close to 700 km). Tim
encountered derailleur/shifter problems, and abandoned his second PBP attempt
after Fougeres (923 km). In spite of
their disappointment, both Dick and Tim remained positive and supportive of
their fellow riders, and immediately began talking about PBP 2023! Darcy, Brenda, Matt & I were of course
ecstatic (and I think somewhat humbled) to have been successful in our first
PBP attempt, and Carey, completing his fifth PBP, declared it was “the best
unofficial results: of 107 Canadian riders, 25 DNF’d ( “Did Not Finish”), and 6
finished over time limit. Although
actual time is meaningless (i.e. doesn’t matter how much faster you finish as
long as you finish in time) my time was 53rd out of the 76 successful
take my GoPro on the ride, and have some “hand held” video that I will try to
edit. I will also receive the official
DVD, that I will pass on to anyone who would like to watch. On YouTube,
you will find a number of videos posted by both successful and unsuccessful
participants. One of my favourites is
from Adam Watkins, a rider from Bristol England, who rode PBP on a
“Fixie”! Adam started 45 minutes after
me, and finished in 87.5 hours ( ~ 2.4 hours after me), so his ride (and the
droll observations he makes in his YouTube video) were
somewhat similar to my own. An even more
professional short video that really captures the event is this one by
Ryan Hamilton. And the Jan
Heine blog article gives a great summary by several seasoned PBP anciens. Another great ride report was
posted by fellow Ontario Randonneur Martin Cooper
conclusion, I’d like to thank everyone (especially my long-sufferring “better
half” Jane), for all the support and encouragement along the way. This truly was a once-in-a-lifetime “bucket
list” item for me, and I’m sincerely grateful to have been able to experience
it. It really is not possible to
describe the warm reception you receive as a PBP cyclist, nor to fully explain
the unique personal challenge that is Paris-Brest-Paris!
I’d first heard about PBP way back in 2011 or thereabouts, but didn’t complete my first brevet until 2015… I tried to do a whole series that year and thought if I could do that I’d try PBP then. I had to abandon my first 600K in 2015 due to poor fit causing leg issues. This probably turned out to be a good thing since I would go on to finish a 600K in 2016, and then I did the Ontario 1200K (The Granite Anvil). In 2018 I did the Ottawa Devil’s Week (kinda hilly!) and went on to try the Cascades 1200 in Washington State but I had to DNF as I thought I’d hurt my Achilles tendon.
In 2019 I started Devil’s week but chose to skip the 400K
since it was similar to the 300K and had just as miserable weather. Then I
DNF’d my first 600K due to some painful saddle sores that had started from
riding in the rain and afterward I was thinking about abandoning my
registration and skipping this whole thing… it turned out that it had been a
bit of a rocky road to get to PBP 2019 but I managed to finish a different 600K.
I decided to do an additional 600K and a 1000K brevet in early August before
going to PBP. Thankfully the DNF earlier in the season probably helped build my
resolve and strength. I felt confident in my training and had worked out all my
issues with bike fit and saddle sores. I bought a nice pair of castelli rain
pants to avoid riding with wet shorts… so naturally I didn’t get any rain on
I booked a direct flight on Air Transat and put my bike in a
plastic bag since I didn’t have any place to store a bike box and I was
thinking of riding right from the airport across Paris. When I landed it was
overcast so I unpacked my bike and took a train into central France and rode
the 35km to my hotel, passing the Louvre and the Eifel tower along the way. I also
rode through Versailles and saw the palace but didn’t stop to see anything
else. I was surprised at how hilly it was getting to my hotel in Montigny-le-Bretonneux.
My hotel was a 20 minute walk from a huge grocery store in the town of
Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, otherwise there was nothing else around. There were
other cyclists staying there, including a fellow Ontario rider!
The start for PBP had been at the French National velodrome
in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines but they moved it farther out of the Paris Metro
area to a place called Rambouillet which is the home of the national sheep
farm. This town was also part of the Tour de France this year so they left all
the bike decorations up for us! Thankfully this was the last town on the
suburban trains coming from Paris so it was easy to get to. I remember people
online saying the trains would be overflowing but there was plenty of room for
The bike check/registration happened on the Saturday before
the ride start (three possible time choices: 90, 84 & 80h) The 90/80 hour
groups all started on Sunday evening and 84h groups left on Monday morning. 84h
bike check/reg was also on Sunday. Saturday was really rainy so I chose to take
the train to the bike check instead of riding as I’d originally planned… I
still ended up standing around in the rain for an hour or so as it chaotic
despite having signed up for a bike check time. I missed the Canadian/Ontario
riders photo so I just got my packet and left town after dropping off my bags
for a drop bag service that would provide me clean clothes along the route
instead of having to carry all my changes of clothes. I also threw a bunch of
granola bars in the dropbags so I could have something besides baguettes to eat
on the route. I had worried about finding enough vegan stuff to eat as French
food is very meat-centric.
Unlike most brevets, this one doesn’t require the use of a
GPS track or a cue sheet since the route is well signed in most places. I had
the tracks loaded as I found them useful at night time to alert me to turns and
to figure out how far the next control was. They were also useful for riding in
the heavy fog we encountered during the first two nights as I could at least
have an idea of which way the roads were turning, visibility was probably only
50m or so. I remember feeling really alone during the second night/third
morning when the fog was thickest for me.
The weather on the ride was favourable, though I had been training in hotter weather so I found the cold a bit much, I had enough gear with me to be able to adapt to the range of 3-30C temperatures that we encountered. The fog that we rode through was really thick so it soaked every surface with water. There was a headwind on the way out to Brest, thankfully it was not a strong one but it was constant so it did grind me down a little more than I’d have liked. It was almost a perfect westerly wind so the route offered little relief from it. The weather on the return leg was even better without any real winds, rain, or fog on the last night it made for very pleasant riding.
Many people commented that it was a mistake to do a 1000K only two weeks before but I didn’t really notice any problems from it and it allowed me to completely test my bike setup as well as make sure the new cables and stuff all worked perfectly. I had no flats or any other bike troubles to speak of… I did have to turn the barrel adjusters on my front shifter a few times but otherwise it the bike was mechanically flawless. Every control also had a professional mechanic on duty 24h a day which is comforting to know. Tubes, tires and other stuff is for sale at the controls.
Nutrition along the route is available at the controls,
which are typically in schools or other community centres. Each control is run
by a local cycling club so the food varied a little bit but I could count on
plain pasta, baguettes, coke, fruit, coffee, veggies, and sometimes other
treats. Vegetarians would have an easier time since there is basically butter
or eggs in every French baked good. They sold beer and wine at the controls as
well yogourts and other things. Many times there were fruit cups or apple
sauce. Some controls had veggie sauce but a lot of times it had meat in it or
there was a heavy cream sauce. Others told me the sauces were a bit bland but I
think that’s probably on purpose so folks don’t get too much tummy trouble from
spices and whatnot. I worried too much about finding food and could have relied
almost completely on baguettes but the granola bars I packed were a nice change
of pace. Next time I go I’ll make a point of stopping at the grocery stores to
get some vegan cheese since that’s a thing in France too.
The control points also have a gymnasium or other room full
of cots or mats for sleeping. There is small fee charged for this service and
they don’t provide ear plugs or anything. I hadn’t had good experiences trying
to sleep in a similar setup in 2018 so I reserved an airbnb in Loudeac for two
nights so I could have my own shower and bed. I didn’t get great sleep either
night but it was nice to be clean and rest in the quiet for a few hours each
night. I had figured if I needed more sleep on the third night I would be tired
enough to sleep at a control and I did so in Mortagne-au-Perche where I got the
best 90 minutes of sleep I had during the entire ride.
Many riders bring “space blankets” and just sleep
on the side of the road but that doesn’t appeal to me… though I did stop and
sleep on a nice wooden bench for 20 minutes a few hours after I left Loudeac on
the return leg as I was feeling really tired and wasn’t making much progress. I
saw many riders weaving and bobbing as they had long past the point of
exhaustion… I didn’t want to crash or get too wobbly so it was time. The
difference I felt after the 20 minute nap was remarkable and I was able to ride
above a 20km/h after this where before I was struggling to keep a 15km/h going.
The countryside in Brittany is pretty hilly, though the
grades are pretty gentle and the climbs tend to be long so it isn’t difficult
climbing but I required discipline to keep the intensity in check. I also took
advantage of my hefty stature to enjoy fast descents that usually followed
every climb. At night one would reach the top of a climb and turn a corner only
to see a long line of taillights slowly snaking up the next climb a few km
away! The only real sections of flatter terrain were the ~100km close to the
start/finish, especially the last leg from Dreux to Rambouillet seemed
especially flat to me.
The diversity of riders on this ride cannot be compared to anything I’ve ever seen before… people from all over the world come to this ride and this year was the biggest field they’ve ever had. I had the pleasure of riding with people from many different countries and on all sorts of bikes. I saw fat bikes, tandems, recumbents, velo-mobiles, folding bikes and plenty of very sweet road bikes. There were fixed gear riders and folks on classic rigs from all time periods. Some people were riding the bikes on hybrids and carrying knap-sacks. I know people finished on all kinds of bikes so pretty much anything human-powered with a transmission can used for randonneuring. In 2015 there was one dude that finished PBP on a kickbike.
Most of the scenery on the ride was very pretty though it
was a bit repetitive at times… every town seemed to have a church on a
hilltop and some winding roads going to it. There were lots of beautiful roads
though and unlike southern Ontario very few of them went in straight lines for
very long. Fields of corn and bales of hay were common sights outside of the
cities. My favourite part of the ride for scenery is between Carhaix and Brest,
where there is climbing up to the Roc’h Trevezel, one of the higher points in Brittany.
The climb wasn’t steep in places but it was fairly similar to climbing up
Hockley Valley in Ontario; though it was a bit longer and climbed higher, the
grades were never extreme. The views were more expansive than Ontario too; it
wasn’t very humid so visibility was good.
My ride started at 18:45 and we got our stamps and were out
of the gates going like bats out of hell. The excitement and adrenaline of the
mass starts as well as the strong groups made it difficult not to ride a bit on
the hard side during the first 100km as everyone bounced and jostled between
the big groups. Things settled down after the sun went down and the first stop at
Mortagne-au-Perche, 117km into the ride. This wasn’t an official control so one
didn’t need to stop but I chose to stop and eat something since I was hungry
and wasn’t going to make the next ~100km on granola bars alone. Cokes, pasta
and some bread filled me up and there was some fruit salad and other goodies I
ate here. I hadn’t expected to find any food or water before this point but did
snag a baguette from some people selling pop and sandwiches in a village.
The first official control, at Villaines-la-Juhel was busy
as many people were eating and sleeping. I didn’t know there was a separate
cafeteria at this control so I ate at the quick-food line and had some baguettes,
a bol de cafe and coca (Slang for coca-cola in France). I was kind of tired so
I spent a bit more time than I’d have liked at this stop but given the 90h time
limit I wasn’t worried about the control times at this point in the ride… next
time I might try and build up a bigger cushion for sleeping now that I’ve done
this once. This control also had enough rental toilets so there wasn’t a wait
to use them.
The next control, at 306km, was Fougères and I had a drop
bag at this stop. I needed to stop and get my change of clothes to carry with
me to my airbnb in Loudeac. I had rode passed the drop bag stop and thus had to
backtrack a few km to find it. I probably wasted an hour screwing around here
and in hindsight it might have been better to just have one drop in Loudeac but
I’d heard too many bad reviews about the American company that ran that
service. Other countries seem to run their own drop-bag service but that
requires a lot effort as well renting a truck and having a driver so I can’t
see anyone doing it for the 50 Canadians that might use it.
Loudeac was at ~450km and I spent a lot longer getting there
than I’d hoped but I made it to my airbnb by 9pm, and even had time before that
to stop and get a vegan pizza at dominos. Across the street from the control
was a brasserie that I walked into since I though the sign also said
restaurant, but the bartender said they didn’t have food and he was the one
that pointed me in the direction of the pizza. Another patron at the bar saw
the Canadian flag and bought me a “demi” of 1664 and they chatted
with me, asking about the ride and what I thought of France so far… the
bartender complimented my French and the guy that bought my pint quipped that
my French was better than his English and everyone got a good chuckle out of
that. I had so many little encounters like this one along the way, speaking
enough French to converse with people really helped me at controls and being
able to chat with folks was such a boost to my spirits!
My interactions with the French people in the controls, at
stores and along the route were definitely the highlights of the ride for me. I
had planned to stop and enjoy the roadside offerings whenever I could and I
ended up spending a lot of time chatting with people along the way. My French
isn’t that great since I’ve been out of school for over 20 years but it started
to come back and I could have basic conversations about where I was from and
how much people’s support meant to me. I have some postcards to send now as
some folks wouldn’t take money or donations and only asked for a postcard in
return for the coffee and treats offered.
In Loudeac I slept, showered and went back to the control
for more food for “breakfast” at 3am and ended up running into Dick
Felton who started at the same time I did. He was cold and had been riding
through the night… pretty sure he needed the breakfast as much if not more
than me! We parted ways after that and unfortunately he would later abandon the
ride… I’m sad he abandoned as he was a great encouragement for me to get to
Paris as we did two 600K rides together… but I was also glad, in a way, he
chose to abandon; in 2015 he fell asleep on the bike and broke some ribs…
still finished the ride but was really lucky he didn’t have worse injuries!
The ride from Loudeac to Carhaix was probably the lowest
point for my morale, the thick fog had appeared and I was soaked from
condensation. My jacket was no longer water resistant in way whatsoever. My average speed was dropping like a rock and
I was starting to shiver as well… I thought about quitting here but there’s
not really any place to go except the next control or the previous one… due
to the sleep stop, extra time spent eating, and the slow pace leaving Loudeac I
was worried about the next control’s closing time and decided the only way to
get warm was to work harder. I started going much harder (but still relatively
slow) up the hills and would pedal through the descents instead of just tucking
and coasting as I had been. An hour or so of this I was starting to feel
warmer. I had made up most of the lost time, though I was still a bit late
coming into what turned out to be a secret control (it was listed as a food
stop) so I got some quick food and used the can, and set off for Carhaix trying
to make up more time. The twilight of dawn had started to appear and I was
getting quite close to Carhaix so I would be okay for closing time but I didn’t
let up the pace as it was still quite cold. I know Canadians are supposed to be
used to the cold but I spent most of the summer anticipating a 35-40° heatwave
and did a lot of riding in the heat. The lowest temperature I saw on this
stretch was around 4C, much chillier than forecast on the French weather
service, but they only gave temperatures for the larger towns so of course the
countryside would be a bit cooler… the clear skies meant that cold air from
higher altitudes just fell right to the ground at night and would only start
rising again once the sun had been out for a while. As has been my experience
on other overnight rides, the appearance of the sun really drives away the
sleepiness and I would soon awaken completely and feel generally quite good as
long there was some sunshine.
When I left Carhaix I ended up riding with a group from
Southern France, Cyclo Club Mornac Seudre. I had a hard time understanding
their French as their accent was a bit different than the standard Parisien one
they taught us in school (Why we didn’t learn in a more Québecois accent is beyond
me) . They weren’t riding in a very tight group or rotated in a paceline, but
it was a bit more organized than most of the “blobs” I encountered on
the road so I stuck with them until Brest. They had some strong riders and I
did some turns at the front too. I think they appreciated that I tried to talk
to them in French and that I helped out a bit, especially on the descents…
there was another big guy in their group that was taller than me so we’d lead
the charge on the downhills.
Coming into Brest the ride goes over the older bridge beside
the highway bridge, and it’s a cable-stayed bridge so it’s kind of scenic. I
stopped for some photos here and lost the guys from Mornac Seudre. The streets
in Brest were busy as it’s a bigger city and a busy industrial port as well.
The route doesn’t quite get down to sea level but it was pretty close!
On the way back out of Brest I’d run into two riders from Ottawa
and we rode together back up the Roc’h Trevezel, with JungAh leading the
charge… she’s a very strong rider and was pulling not only me and Peter but
sometimes a few others up the hill. I helped out a bit when I could and told
her to hang on once we reached the top but she couldn’t keep up the 70k/h I was
probably going down the big descents, and Peter was starting to feel sick at
this point… when we reached the control in Carhaix we ended up splitting up
at this point but would continue bumping into each other on the way back to
I ended up bouncing around between groups and solo riding on
the way back to Loudeac and my airbnb. This time I didn’t get any pizza but I
had a bunch of food with me so I quickly got a stamp and headed off to my
airbnb. Unfortunately I got a bit lost trying to find it and wasted a bit of
time riding around town. I got another 3 hours of low quality sleep but I
appreciated the warm shower almost as much as the quiet. I returned to the
control for some warm breakfast before leaving town.
The next official stop was a food/support control at 843km
called Quédillac. I didn’t stop here on the way out but since it was another
cold morning and I was feeling sluggish I decided to stop and get some warm
food. I had a tough slog getting there and even made a wrong turn and did 1.5km
of bonus work. Another rider followed me and I managed to communicate the fact
we were off-course to him despite no common language. Another rider blew past
us going the wrong way and ignored both of us yelling in whatever languages we
knew… they’d realize eventually after a few km of not seeing any riders…hopefully.
I was very close to the cutoff time getting into Tinténiac
but I didn’t care… my attitude was to keep riding and they could take my
control card from me if I was heading into hors delais territory. I don’t think
they do take people’s card unless you are clearly incapacitated or do something
so outrageous that you’re DQ’d on the spot. I don’t remember much of the ride
to Tinténiac but it was morning on the 21st and warming up nicely. There were
sometimes palm trees growing in the towns and people’s front yards… I’d seen
them on the way out and meant to stop and take pictures but I didn’t want to
slow my roll. Also along this stretch
was a village set up with massive grills cooking sausage gallettes which did
kind of smell good and gross at the same time. I did convince them to hook me
up with a baguette and coffee though, I explained I couldn’t eat greasy foods
on the ride and they understood. I told the guy I’d get enough fat after the
ride and he seemed pleased at that approach to recovery.
Fougères was the next stop at 923km and I was starting to
feel that finishing under 90 hours was a real possibility. I felt strong at
this point and was loving the ride. I’d been leapfrogging some of the other
Huron Chapter riders for the entire ride but they’d started 45 minutes ahead of
me so it was usually just arriving at a control as they were leaving but we
hooked up in Fougères. They had a registered support vehicle and I sat with
them on the roadside for a bit, shared a beer with them and then set off for my
dropbag. I decided to get some food from the grocery store before leaving town
as I wanted something a bit different and got lucky and found some vegan cheese
slices. They were top-notch stuff and made the baguettes at the next control very
Leaving Fougères there was a nice long climb and the
afternoon was getting quite warm, probably around 28C. I do like the heat and
was feeling great going up this hill. I hooked back up with Brenda from Windsor
as we rode together toward Villaines-la-Juhel. It was along this stretch that
her husband told her he was going to abandon as the sleep deprivation and a
mechanical were just too much to handle. It’s tough to have your partner
abandon but Brenda is a strong rider and I wasn’t worried that she wouldn’t
finish, I’d just hoped to be able to ride with her for a bit longer.
It was along this stretch that I also met up with Bob
Kassel, the guy I rode the granite anvil 1200K with. We did that together since
it was the pre-ride and we were the only ones. Needless to say we get along
well and had a lot of fun trading jokes and barbs as well as catching up and
chatting. I had done a fair bit of solo riding during this ride so it was
really nice to have people to talk to! I think my jaw was a bit sore from
flapping my mouth for so long!
Brenda decided to try and get a bit of sleep in
Villaines-la-Juhel, 1012km into the ride, and I ate in the quick-food section
but was still hungry so I wandered outside and ran into Carey from the Huron
Chapter. We decided to get some food together and found our way to the
restaurant section. This is the control that has young children volunteering to
carry your tray to the table for you so that’s pretty cool. I also had some
more beer here… I usually don’t drink but this was a sign in French for
“local draught beer” so I had to try it… dunno what kind it was but it was a
lot better than 1664 or Heineken that they were selling in cans. I ate a ton of
food here and they had a full veggie meal that included real ratatouille as
well as some other veggies and pasta. I also had another “bière locale” before
Evening was coming as we set out to Mortagne-au-Perche at
1097km. We had a good couple hours riding with some other folks and ran into a
really nice rider from the San Fran area and we stuck together for a long
while. Unfortunately I lost Brenda and Stacy before making it to
Mortagne-au-Perche, as the climbs and cold were starting to take a bit of a
toll on me and my useless jacket. I knew that I would need to sleep if I wanted
to finish the ride so I found the sleeping area after getting my stamp, some
food, and using the can at the control point. For 3 euro I got a mat in a dark
gym and an old wool blanket. I had a bag of dirty kit from changing in
Villaines-la-Juhel so that made a fine pillow and I was able to let my other useless
jacket dry out a bunch while I got 90 minutes of amazingly deep sleep. I had
brought earplugs with me which was great as there was a giant man snoring
beside me that was as loud as a chainsaw. I kept pushing the earplugs in until
I couldn’t hear him and wasn’t more than a few minutes drifting off.
The ride from Mortagne-au-Perche to the last control of
Dreux wasn’t too bad, the hills were starting to flatten out a little bit and
we’d descend more than we’d climb along this stretch. The sunrise was welcome
during this time and I once again felt alive basking in its warmth. Most riders
were half zombie by this point and it was dangerous to follow too closely…
many people couldn’t hold a line and people would just stop in the middle of
the road too. Big blobs of riders would coalesce behind anyone doing a decent
pace so I ended up with a few followers but no one wanted to work together so I
just did my best to stay away from others.
In Crécy-Couve, on the way to Dreux, I got surrounded by a
“blob” as we entered town and there was street furniture along the
edge of the road. I tried to signal those behind to move over to the centre but
one guy whipped around the first flower box and then rode straight into the
next one. He looked like he landed right on his head and I was worried for him
but he insisted he was fine and got back up and rode on. He ended up passing me
a few km later as I stopped to get out of the giant blob after that crash. It
wasn’t much farther along this stretch that I came upon a couple ambulances,
the gendarmerie, paramedics, and
some other people were attending to a rider lying in the ditch. I have to say I
became a bit emotional seeing this, realizing it could have easily been me. I
don’t know if a car hit him or what happened, since there was a car parked
askew on the road. I didn’t stop to gawk or take photos (that’s a trashy thing
to do), and didn’t want to pester the emergency workers with questions so I
The control in Dreux was mostly empty and also running low
on food! I waited for some baguettes to be baked and got some cokes and coffee.
I was only 30 minutes or so at this control but I did run into Guy from Ottawa
here and he was worried about finishing but I tried to be encouraging and told
him he was a strong rider and shouldn’t have any problems… plus it was mostly
There was a big climb leaving Dreux but after that the ride felt
pancake flat after all the hills I’d climbed by this point. I had until 12:45
to finish in under 90h and I left the control around 9:45 so I had three hours
to cover 43km or so. The last leg had been changed a few days before the start
due to unexpected construction so many people didn’t have a GPS track but the
arrows along this stretch and the long line of riders made it easy to find the
way. Dave Thompson had shared a gps track with turn-by-turns of this new
section so I was prepared for this and didn’t have to worry about getting lost.
I was feeling so good at this point since I knew I’d make it to the end under
the time limit. I used this positive energy and set a decent pace for the last
leg, averaging close to 25km/h, which was pretty quick for having ~1170km in
the legs… I passed many people and heard one guy say to his buddy that nobody
should have form that good after riding that far!
Getting into Rambouillet we came a slightly different way than we left so it was all new scenery except the last 3km. Most of the route went through some forests, including the “Domaine de la Butte Ronde” like a child I snickered, even though I know butte just means hill, not bum. I was taking the laughs any way I could get them! The last bit of the course before the finish line included a section of cobblestones and being on a bike made for Paris-Roubaix I hit them at speed and shuddered like a jackhammer across them. After that it was into the national sheep farm and through a mess of people, camper vans, and whatnot to get to the official timing matts and the tent where I could get my stamp, surrender my control card and pick up my medal.
The first draft of this report was written while still
basking in the glow of making it to the end and feeling so strong at the last
bit was really encouraging. I made a lot of good choices during the ride and
felt like I’d trained properly and planned a good ride. The drop bags and the
airbnb were good choices, though I could tweak that aspect of the ride and make
it more efficient in the future. I would like to try and do an 84h start so
that I can get more daytime riding as well as a good night’s sleep before-hand
but there’s a lot less company on the roads so who knows! It was an amazing experience and I don’t think
there’s anything that compares for an amateur cyclist! I didn’t take as many
pictures on this ride as I usually do since I was worried about time but I
think I captured enough to give the reader an idea of how it is.
Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is the oldest
continuous bicycle event in the world, having been first run in 1891. It is 1230
km in length and involves over 11,000 metres of climbing. PBP begins just west
of Paris and extends west through Brittany to the port city of Brest and then
continues back to Paris.
Paris-Brest-Paris was originally conceived by Pierre Giffard, the editor of the newspaper Le Petit Journal who believed that an extreme bicycle race would pique the interest of readers and help to sell papers. In 1891 the newly developed Peugeot automobile was set to follow behind the 1891 PBP to determine if it could cover the distance of the race, which would make it the longest distance completed by a gas powered engine. The Peugeot prototype was successful but arrived in Paris six days after PBP winner Charles Terront.
Due to the magnitude of the undertaking,
PBP was only held every 10 years. The
second PBP in 1901 was so successful that a rival newspaper, l’Auto, created the Tour de France in
1903. PBP continued as a professional
race with a cyclotourist component
(including women) until 1951, when few professional cyclists were interested in
racing that distance. However, it continues on as an amateur event, now held
every four years.
It is an important cultural event in
Brittany with multi-generational families lining the roadside to cheer on the
riders with shouts of allez, bon courage and champion. Many families set
up tables along the road where they provide the riders with water, coffee,
cakes and crepes — a Breton specialty. Farmhouses along the route are open for
tired riders to catch short naps. At the controls the Breton flag, accordion
and traditional Breton bagpipes welcome in the riders. There is a celebrated
French pastry that commemorates the event called a Paris Brest, which is made
in the shape of a bicycle wheel. PBP is indeed a festive four-day celebration of
The rules of PBP have remained virtually
unchanged since the beginning. A participant must qualify by riding a series of
200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets by the end of June on the year of the ride. These qualifying rides are organized by cycling
clubs worldwide that are affiliated with the organizing body in France, the
Audax Club Parisien (ACP) and Randonneurs Mondiaux (RM). In Ontario, Randonneurs Ontario, founded in
1983, is sanctioned by ACP and RM to offer brevets throughout the cycling
season. We even stage our own 1,200 km
grand brevet every four years, the Granite Anvil that attracts riders from all
over North America.
I completed the qualifying rides by the end
of May but had to continue riding long distances to maintain fitness. I rode
several well-spaced 200 km brevets during the intervening months and two weeks
before PBP I did a 1,000 km brevet, the Manitoulin 1000, which starts on
Manitoulin Island and goes around Georgian Bay ending in Tobermory. When I arrived in France I had already ridden
close to 9,000 km in 2019, including my commute to work, a daily 40 km round
The route must be followed exactly, and in
order to verify this there are controls along the route where a brevet card has
to be stamped with a time signature. Unlike most other brevets, navigation for
PBP is not a problem as the route is signed and there are a lot of other
cyclists, hopefully going in the right direction. Controls are also the only place
where cyclists can be offered assistance, if they so wish. For the most part
riders are self supported, which means you have to look after your own
physical, nutritional and mechanical requirements. PBP has to be done within a
90-hour time limit. Any type of self-powered vehicle can be entered, including all
manner and vintage of bicycles — recumbents, tricycles, velomobiles, tandems
PBP 2019 started in Rambouillet west of Versailles in the Bergerie National or National sheepfold. Due to limited accommodation in Rambouillet I stayed about 25 km from the start in Maurepas. Arriving on Friday, two days before the start I assembled my bicycle and then headed to Rambouillet to stretch my legs and familiarize myself with Rambouillet. Near the start location I ran into Larry Optis from Ontario who was entered in Group A and for whom PBP is a race. We rode around together taking in the ambience of this charming town with its pavé (cobblestone) main street lined with cafes and bistros overflowing with PBP participants. This edition would have close to 7,000 participants from 66 different countries. Larry would be the first rider to reach Brest and ended up finishing in just over 55 hours.
I returned the next day to Rambouillet in
the pouring rain for my bike inspection, which was scheduled at 10:00 AM followed
by the pick up of my registration package. At 2:00 PM the 100 or so Canadian
participants were to gather for the traditional group photograph followed by a
photo of the Ontario contingent, which numbered just over 30. As I had time
between the bike inspection and the photo, and it was raining non-stop, I
visited the Concours des Machines,
which was an exhibition of specially hand built bicycles, all of which would be
ridden in PBP. The constructeurs, mostly French, were on hand to discuss their designs
and explain all the features that they incorporated into their bicycles.
I headed back to my hotel in the rain to try
to get a good night’s sleep as I was starting PBP at 8:00 PM the following
evening. Fortunately the rain stopped by
noon on race day and by the time I arrived at the start at 6:00 PM the weather
had cleared. I had dinner with Vytas Janusauskas from Ottawa, who was
attempting his 5th PBP and
ran into Gerry Schilling from Detroit,
who I had ridden several brevets within Michigan.
Around 7:00 I made my way to the start and
joined my group ‘R’, waiting with great excitement and anticipation to start
this epic event. My plan was to ride through the night and all of the next day,
arriving at the control in Loudeac at 450 km.
There I had booked a hotel close to the control where I would able to
shower, wash my kit and sleep for 3-4 hours. I was planning to return to this
hotel on the way back at 780 km for my third night where I would retrieve the
clothes that I had washed and get some sleep.
I rolled through the starting gate and
descended down a steep cobble stone path to the road where in the last hour of
daylight I headed out into a light headwind at a steady pace towards Brest. I knew it would be a long night of riding as
the first control was over 200 km down the road, which translates for me as 10
hours of steady nighttime cycling. There was an intermediate food stop at which
I planned to spend very little time. I arrived at the first control at
Villaines-La Juhel at about 5:45 AM, some 9.5 hours after I had started. Even though the forecasted low was 12C the
temperature had dipped to 6C around dawn. Fortunately, I had brought just
enough extra clothing to keep the chill out.
I spent as little time as possible at the control, had my card stamped refilled my bottles and avoided the long line-up for food and water. I would be able to find food along the route. The day was clear, although the headwind coming from the west had been picking up to 20km per hour. For a short time I rode with a group to get out of the wind but decided I would rather look at the scenery than the rear end of the person in front of me. Also, as the ride progressed I didn’t want to be close to sleep-deprived cyclists of unknown skill. I would ride this one on my own. Later on in the ride a cyclist riding in my draft crashed because he didn’t realize that the white line along the edge of road was actually a raised stone border.
I arrived at the Fougeres control at 10:30
AM. Fougeres, which means fern in French,
is one of my favourite PBP villages with its large 12th century
castle, Chateau Fougeres, which is surrounded by a moat. All along the route flowers are in bloom,
especially in the villages, including hedges of purple and red hydrangea.
After some 22 hours of cycling (at around
6:30 PM), I arrived in Loudeac where I had my brevet card stamped and then rode
over to the hotel for a much-anticipated rest. As I headed out of the control
to the hotel, a volunteer told me I was going the wrong way. I told him that I was going to the Hotel Le France
for some sleep. He said: “Make sure you don’t sleep in.” I checked in and the
proprietor Jean Francois told me that I was the second cyclist to arrive, which
made me feel pretty good but I am not sure why as I didn’t know when the others
started or even who they were. I said to him, you know it’s not a race. He asked me if he could get me anything and I
told him a cold beer would be great, “and, oh yea, I have two alarms set but if
I am not down by 11:30 PM please wake me up.” I showered, washed my kit, and
slept for a solid 3-4 hours.
The hotel was serving breakfast starting at 10:00 PM, so I had a great breakfast at midnight, grabbed some food for the road and headed out into the night. I felt rested and excited to be heading for Brest in the wee hours of the morning. Towards dawn the temperature went down to a chilly 3C, although the head wind had diminished considerably. I was anticipating a tail wind after the turn around at Brest that would propel me all the back to Paris.
Crossing the famous Plougastel Bridge going into Brest, I stopped for the obligatory photo. It had turned into a glorious morning and I arrived at the control in Brest at 10:00 in the morning. On my way in I noticed that I was having trouble shifting out of my large chain ring, which would become a major problem climbing out of Brest. I took my bike over to the mechanic who said it would take a half hour to look at. So I wandered over to the control restaurant where I enjoyed a good lunch. I also ran into Ben Schipper from the Netherlands. I had ridden a 1200km brevet with him in Michigan and Wisconsin. Ben was enjoying the ride, but said this was likely to be his last. Surprised, I asked why and he told me that he was 76 and that the next PBP he would be 80. I had thought he was around the same age as me. I returned to retrieve my bike. As it turned out the problem was caused by my derailleur cable being pinched by my decaleur, which is special device that secures my handlebar bag, which with all the gear, food and clothing probably weighed 15 lbs. I also carried a rear seat bag that held my rain gear, insulated vest and a spare tire.
The ride out of Brest involves one of the
longest climbs of PBP but rewards with a spectacular view of the surrounding
countryside. I stopped in a small café filled with cyclists and ordered a
pizza, half of which I ate and the rest I had wrapped up to eat later. As I made
my way back to Paris, I tried to console myself that, despite the distance, there
would no longer be a headwind. The more I rode, however, the more it appeared that
the wind had changed direction and was now coming from the east. At least it
had diminished considerably. I arrived
back at Loudeac at 780km around 10:00 PM and went to the hotel where Jean
Francois had a cold Leffe waiting for me and told that I was the third cyclist to
arrive. I showered, slept for about 3-4 hours, put on my clean and dry kit, ate
breakfast, and headed out into the darkness around 3:00 AM. Again the temperature went down to 3C, and in
addition to my hub generator powered lights, I used the Garmin computer on my
bicycle to help anticipate turns in the road as well as gentle climbs and
descents. Sometimes on a gentle climb in
the dark it is difficult to tell whether you are going up hill or down or if
your legs are tired.
I continued riding through the dark
arriving at the Tinteneac control at 7:00 AM.
There I had my first control meal as the field of riders had become
strung out resulting in fewer riders and no more line ups for food. I quickly
ate what I thought was an excellent beef bourgogne. As the control was not heated I left as soon
as I was finished eating.
I had booked a hotel at around 1,000 km for
my final overnight in Villaines-La Juhel but when I arrived there at 6:00 PM. I
felt good and didn’t want to waste daylight hours by sleeping. At this control there were hundreds of people
lining the street cheering, bands playing and you had the feeling that you were
almost done. I ran into Dave Thompson from Ontario and Jerry Christiensen from
Wisconsin who had been riding together from the start. I have done many long rides with Dave and the
three of us rode together on the Granite Anvil 1200 in 2017. They told me they were heading to the next
control where they were planning to get some rest. I decided to join them and
ride with them to the finish. We arrived
at the next control in Mortagne-Au-Perche at 10:00 PM. We had something to eat and I found a spot on
the cafeteria floor, rolled up my vest for a pillow, covered my eyes with my windbreaker,
and slept the sleep of the dead for a solid 1.5 hours. Feeling refreshed, we left the control at
around 1:00 AM, immediately launching into a precarious and chilling descent
and ending up in a little village where we stopped to get some breakfast and
more importantly, coffee. Shortly after dawn we arrived at Dreux, the last
control before the end. The day was
glorious as we covered the last leg into Rambouillet arriving at around10:30
AM, 86 hours, 39 minutes after I started. We were presented with our medals and then
led to a tent where the victory meal was being served. Later in the evening I joined the Ontario
group for dinner where we recounted the trials, tribulations, glory and beauty
of the preceding of PBP.
PBP is indeed an amazing event, and the ultimate cycling festival, but make no mistake, it is also a beast of a ride with its extreme distance, climbing, limited support and time limit. Approximately 25% of the participants don’t finish or don’t finish within the time limit. To finish PBP is to be part of cycling history – your name is inscribed in the official record book of this legendary event and feel that you have truly earned the designation Ancien.
Ride report by Marty Cooper, Photos by Marty Cooper and Tiago Varella-Cid
Eleven riders, Eric, Erin, Jocelyn, Ken, Marco, Paul, Regis, Simon, Tiago, Uli and myself braved cool, single digit temperatures and incessant rain for Toronto Chapter’s first brevet of the season, the Hills of Hockley 200km. Ken, Paul and Uli were riding their first brevet. Unfortunately, Simon dropped out early in the ride with a broken spoke.
The perennial first brevet of the season, Gentle Start 200 was cancelled the previous week due to freezing rain. While the Gentle Start is far from gentle, the Hills of Hockley is true to its name and features the most climbing of any Toronto Chapter 200k.
The ride began in Vaughan and headed in a northwesterly direction towards the Forks of the Credit and the first control at 85km in Belfountain. We rode north into a 20k/hr NE headwind that stayed pretty constant through out the day, at times becoming a tailwind.
The rain too was constant, starting out as drizzle and building to rain and then driving rain. Like the Inuit who have multiple names for snow, I spent the day creating my own rain vocabulary, the names of which were preceded by various unprintable expletives. Despite all the protection offered by the best quality rainwear (Showers Pass and Gore) and full fenders, within a couple of hours I was completely soaked. Fortunately the combination of sustained effort, i.e. climbing and a heavy wool jersey and baselayer kept me reasonably warm.
On Forks of the Credit Road approaching Belfountain we passed under the tramway that once ferried pink and purple sandstone from the quarry to the railhead, where in the late 19thCentury they were transported to Toronto to be used in the construction of Old City Hall and the Ontario Legislature building at Queen’s Park. Just pass this location we experienced steep but short stretches of climbing (approx. 12%). This area is among the most scenic in Ontario. The only advantage the rain and the early season brought was little vehicular traffic. The Credit River and its small tributaries were gorged with rainwater and many were overflowing their banks. There were also large amounts of water pooling on the road.
The first control was Higher Ground Coffee Company and it did not disappoint. Tiago and Jocelyn had arrived in advance and reserved a very nice seating area with a couch that no one dared sit on for fear of not being able to get up. I left the control with Marco in a driving rain as we pushed on towards the next control at Hockley Valley some 40km distance. Ironically, cold drenching rain with wind forced us to increase the pace in order to generate heat. Despite the ordeal, I enjoyed pedaling past the colorful, eroding red and yellow Queenston shales of the Cheltenham Badlands that my mother-in-law used to call kishkas, which is Yiddish for intestines.
The second control was the Hockley General store and when we arrived a fire was blazing in their wood-burning stove. Soon it was covered in and surrounded by wet and steaming cycling clothing and soggy cyclists. Hot, hearty food was available to help to restore the spirit. Reluctantly we donned our wet but warm clothing and headed out on the last leg of the journey. Eventually tailwinds and a partial leveling of the terrain brought us through Bradford into the Holland Marsh, where the rain finally subsided and towards the south a thin blue line of sky was opening. The end was near and the memories of the day were already being seen through rose-colored Oakleys.
To borrow from Arthur Reinstein’s paraphrasing of Shakespeare’s Henry V:
“And randonneurs in Ontario now a-bed Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That rode with us upon the Hills of Hockley.”
Chapeau to all for persevering a challenging and rewarding randonee. Special thanks to Erin for doing a great job organizing this truly epic event.
Huron Chapter’s Entertainment Series officially started this past week-end with the Mini-Putt Competition happening at Colasnati’s Control 76km into the Erie Oh! 300km Brevet.
John Cumming was close … right to the end … but missing the fairway on the ninth hole … cost him! A Double Bogey!
Tim O’Callahan was able to get his second Birdy and TIE for the Lead!
Congrats to Tim O’Callahan and Brenda Wiechers-Maxwell for finishing FIRST! Yes they TIED! Brenda had taken the lead with Birdies on the 4th and 6th holes but Tim simply stayed focussed completing two birdies in his last two holes for the tie! They both will be aggressive in the Creemore Classic Bowling Championship and the Go-Cart Championship to set themselves up for 2019’s Entertainment Series Title!
Congrats to Tim O’Callahan and Brenda Wiechers-Maxwell for finishing FIRST! Yes they TIED! Brenda had taken the lead with Birdies on the 4th and 6th holes but Tim simply stayed focussed completing two birdies in his last two holes for the tie! They both will be aggressive in the Creemore Classic Bowling Championship and the Go-Cart Championship to set themselves up for 2019’s Entertainment Series Title!
ERIE OH! 15 Randonneurs showed up for 2019’s Erie Oh! 300km Brevet. Congrats to Carey Chappelle, John Cumming, Jerzy Dziadon, Dick Felton, Chris Greig, Charles Horslin, Bill Lattuca, Gordon Ley, Tim O’Callahan, Tiago Varella-Cid and Brenda Wiechers-Maxwell for successfully completing this 300!
The ride started at 7am Saturday, Weather Forecast … second to none! 15’C and SUNSHINE for 12hrs! To top that off, a strong tailwind existed from the start for approximately 190km! At one point Chappy pedalled by Charles Horslin at 42km/hr with no hands on his bike! Tim and Brenda played the Team Leaders for this group. We had six Randonneurs who stayed together from beginning to end. SECOND TO NONE! Tim would drop from front to back to encourage our team mates and Brenda would set our pace based on what it would take to keep us together! In tail winds Tim had us pacing at 47km / hr! Head winds were where we appreciated having a Team … averaging 22km / hr! Arriving at the Erieau Brew Pub Control, everyone enjoyed lunch and had a good laugh after Charles scratched his ear and found the misplaced Mini-Putt Golf Pencil!
Chappy wasn’t successful convincing Charles to get on his bike and return the pencil to the Colasnati’s Mini-Putt Golf Course. Everyone else suggested Charles simply return it next year, finish lunch and continue on rather then DNF’ing!
The initial portion of the route was off road, but gorgeous towards Chatham! Eventually the tail wind turned into a head wind and pedalling together was an enormous benefit!
Arriving in Chatham at the Tim Horton’s Control, Dr. O’Callahan suggested Brenda SNORT ALEVE to reduce the pain she was feeling …
The group of six arrived at the Lighthouse Cove Control noticing how the wind was dropping steadily. Scenery along Lake St.Clair BREATHTAKING to say the least! Sun was going down, still Warm and Very little Traffic!
I get goosebumps writing this story, FRIENDSHIPS, RANDONNEURING, SCENERY … SECOND TO NONE! ! On Sunday, those Randonneurs who stayed the night, met at The Twisted Apron, Little Italy in Windsor for breakfast. Fantastic meal AND Even Better … Dick Felton’s Daughter – Christine and Grandaughter – Lauren joined us!
Now, after waking up this morning … thought I would take a look out the window and see what the weather looks like here …
Imperial Rouge is a new populaire route for the Toronto Chapter. It is Imperial because it is 100 miles (an imperial century) and it is Rouge because it starts at Rouge Hill GO Station. I created this route with the collaboration of Stephen Jones, Erin Marchak, Bob McLeod, Peter Leiss, and Dave Thompson. Erin can take credit for the great name. A big thanks to them for their input, knowhow, and help.
My purpose in designing this route was to offer a shorter non-brevet route to RO newcomers so that they can build up to the 200km distance by testing their abilities on a 100 mile or 161km ride. Who knows? Maybe it can serve as a conduit for attracting new people: 100 miles is a major goal for a lot of cyclists. And since it is a populaire, there is no time limit and there are no controls. You can go as fast as you are able or as slow as you want. The ride start is located in Toronto’s east end and is easily accessible by car and by public transit.
I wanted to make sure I put together a good route before unveiling it to the club, so on 6 April 2019 I did the Imperial Rouge as a permanent. Below follows my ride report. Hopefully it will inspire more people to ride it this season. I’d like to ride it again. Maybe we can ride it together.
IMPERIAL ROUGE / PERMANENT OF 6 APRIL 2019 – RIDE REPORT
Imperial Rouge heads north over the Oak Ridges Moraine and then dips into the marshes just to the south of Lake Simcoe. It then makes its way back over the Moraine via Uxbridge and then descends to the shore of Lake Ontario.
The route finds a safe way to cross the 401. The trade-off is some confusing cues on RWGPS when you cross the Rouge River, so study the map at the beginning and ending of the route. To me, it seems worth a little confusion if that means crossing the 401 without worrying about traffic, especially at the end of the ride when traffic will be heavier and members will be tired.
The route goes north and comes pretty close to Stouffville. You can easily peel off the route and go into town, which is what I did. On 6 April it was chilly. I rode into Red Bulb, a popular destination for cyclists, to warm my hands and toes.
If you don’t want to stop in Stouffville, another great place to stop for a break is in Goodwood at Annina’s Bakeshop. When the weather is nice, Annina’s is ideal because she has rows of picnic tables and lots of racks for hanging bicycles. It is another cyclist friendly stop and can be very busy.
After Goodwood, the route follows quiet back roads all the way up to Zephyr where there are limited supplies. After that, it carries on to Udora, a well-used control location on some of our brevets. There is nothing between Zephyr and Udora in terms of stops for food and water, so plan ahead.
At the 98km mark, the route dips into Uxbridge. The perfect place to stop for lunch. Lots of options. I had my lunch at Nexus Café on Brock. Handmade gelato… yes, it was good, despite the cold weather.
After Uxbridge, Imperial Rouge just gets more and more fun. It follows the long, gentle descent down the Marsh Hill and Ashburn Roads towards Lake Ontario. On the day I rode, I also happened to have a tail wind. It made for some fast and easy riding.
Unfortunately, this route has one significant hazard. It is a 400m stretch at the 126km mark – it begins at the intersection of Lake Ridge and Columbus Roads. Lake Ridge Road feeds onto the 407 and can be very busy. It also has barely any shoulder. 400m is not very long, but please exercise caution. When designing the route, I found it was difficult to come this way without using Lake Ridge Road. The concessions just don’t line up, running east and west. Many of them are dirt too. Columbus seems to me the best way, but if someone finds something better, by all means, let’s improve this part of the route.
Eventually you will make your way onto Whitevale Road, which is quiet (on weekends) because a part of it is closed to cars for construction. I suspect it is very busy with large construction vehicles on weekdays so Imperial Rouge might not be suitable for a weekday permanent. Also, there is a physical barrier just before entering the village of Whitevale. Cars can’t get past it, but cyclists can walk their bikes around it.
From there the route retraces its steps all the way back to Rouge Hill.
In all, it’s a great route. The roads have one or two bumpy sections, but generally they have a very good surface quality. Other than the 400m stretch on Lake Ridge Road, the roads are fairly quiet.
If anyone wants to try this as a permanent and has any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment here or contact me via the RO Facebook group. I will probably do it as a permanent again and I will advertise it when I set a date.
The Huron Chapter Hosted the Big Bay 200 this past Saturday. How was the Turnout for a 200 this time of year? … better than EXPECTED! 13 Randonneurs participated and were successful completing this Brevet. Congrats to Burke Adams, Brian Belanger, Jerzy Dziadon, Dick Felton, Mike Fox, Charles Horslin, Ken Jobba, John Maccio, Matt McFarlane, Cameron Ogilvie, Terry Payne, Sergii Tsymbal and of course myself … Chappy, for enjoying friendships and this ride!
We noticed some other friends on route that were as impressed with us as we were with them!
For many, this was their first time experiencing the Big Bay 200. Sergii let me know after the ride that the Big Bay 200 is now his FAVORITE!
Scenic to Say the Least!
Cameron and Burke skipped lunch at the Casero Kitchen Table in Owen Sound (half way point), found the Control in Sauble Beach closed, so they took a photo, signed their Control Cards and sprinted to the Finish. For Cameron … this was a PR finishing in 8hrs 30mins! Congrats Cameron!
The ride through Walter’s Falls was, as always, … Drop Dead Gorgeous! Charles shared some photos he took before passing through.
Reaching Owen Sound, the majority stopped at the Casero Kitchen Table enjoying lunch and a beverage or two!
Leaving Owen Sound, the “climbing” was basically done. Scenery along Georgian Bay and Lake Huron … gorgeous, especially seeing the snow and ice still out on the lake!
Heading from Southampton to Port Elgin, along the shores of Lake Huron, a few of us Randonneurs wished we were doing a 300 … because before we knew it the 200km Brevet was complete, so a few of us headed back to my place for dinner and stories, everyone letting know how much they loved this year’s Big Bay 200!
Special Thanks to Donna (Chappy’s Wife), Erin (Matt’s Wife) and Lori (John’s Wife) for putting together an INCREDIBLE Dinner! Special Thanks to Charles (yes one of the Randonneurs) for INCREDIBLE Deserts (two pies) he made himself and brought with him to the Brevet!
Capsule summary: Well organized and supported, friendly people !!, moderate difficulty, nice scenery but nothing breathtaking, recognizable culture but different enough to add to the interest level, polite drivers, good road surfaces, quiet roads for the most part but a few busy sections, different flora and fauna – (you won’t see kangaroos anywhere else !) — bottom line, well worth doing but then again I say that about most, if not all, of these rides.
From a weather perspective, three of the days were tough – 1,2,&4 – due to headwinds. Day 3 featured tailwinds but became difficult for some riders since late starters that day encountered more rain and cold and produced a number of DNF’s. Speaking of which, the finish rate was around 50%, which is low. Much of that was due to cold at night, e.g. 8C, which isn’t extreme but you have to be prepared for it. I only experienced a couple of hours of rain late on Day 3. Others weren’t so lucky.
The kilometer breakdown was fairly typical – (in round numbers) – 375, 325, 300, 200. The 5am start on the first day meant a later finish that day, but at least it was “only” 375k.
Climbing ? – the first 275 kms of Day 1 to Nanup was almost flat, which of course made the headwinds that much more noticeable. 2500 meters of climbing that day was heavily weighted to the last 100k. On the other hand, 3600 meters on Day 2 to Albany, over a shorter distance, made that the highest climbing day. About 2300 meters on Day 3 and 1200 on Day 4 brought the total to a fairly typical 10-11,000 meters. Grades were mostly moderate, 8% being pretty much the max.
Accommodation featured mats on days 1 & 3 and individual dorm rooms on day 2 in Albany. Food was provided at the overnights and a couple of other Controls. A choice of good comfort food for dinner plus eggs for breakfast made for pure luxury.
The ride was well staffed by volunteers, some 2 dozen. Wayne Hickman, the ride organizer, lamented that he didn’t have as many as the last edition which meant that he couldn’t staff all the Controls but for a newbie rider on this event, the combination of overnight staffing, great food and open Controls was as much as I could have asked for.