“Did you have a nice time in France?” my friend asked. “No!” I replied. How is it
possible to spend two weeks in France and not have a good time? I’ll tell you. Try the PBP!
I arrived at the hotel in Reuill-Malmaison on Saturday morning, to be greeted by a doe-eyed, coffee slurping manager who directed me to the most disagreeable room in the entire establishment. After assembling my bicycle, I decided to check out the stadium from which the ride was to commence, and discovered to my chagrin that it was at the top of an extremely steep hill. This was to be a small taste of what was to come. After a sleepless night listening to the sound of traffic whizzing by, I changed hotels where the accommodation was (a) closer to the starting line, and (b) the staff was very helpful and considerate. My pre-announced strategy for doing the PBP involved reaching certain towns by no later than 11:00 P.M. each night, and sleeping at pre-arranged hotels until 3 or 4:00 in the morning. To meet this schedule required maintaining an average speed of 21 km/hr, which I thought would be easy, if one avoided lengthy stops.
The start of the ride proceeded innocently enough, especially considering that the first few km were downhill, my best mode, in fact, I was feeling rather good and on some of the descents picked up quite a lot of speed, as I was to learn the next morning when I was able to read my bicycle computer which indicated I had hit a maximum speed of 70 km/hr during the night. According to the noted sage Mike Miller, the terrain between Paris and Tinteniac is essentially flat or slightly undulating. According to me, the terrain is anything but flat, and there seems to be a steady succession of hills, some of which are quite bit nastier than anything around Toronto. I found it very difficult to get motivated, and although I was making reasonably good time, having sucked the wheel of a tandem for the better part of the afternoon, my morale hit a real low when at about 6:00 P.M. I realized that I was not going to be able to put my head down on a pillow until I had travelled the equivalent of going between Toronto and Orillia. I was also beginning to feel that as a middle-aged gentleman, I had done enough exercise for the day. Nevertheless, I tried to persevere, and despite thinking all kinds of treasonous thoughts, I was pulled into Tinteniac by some kindly Toronto randonneurs who did not allow me to do what I really wanted to do which was to sleep in the ditch. The bed in Tinteniac was the greatest bed I have ever encountered in my life, but unfortunately I did not reach Tinteniac until 1:30 A.M. and it was 2:00 A.M. before I got into bed. At 4:30 A.M., Mike Buyers knocked on my door, saying “We’re leaving. If you want to come with us, be down here in two minutes!” Dear reader, this is not my idea of a holiday in France. Instead of croissants and coffee at breakfast, I was treated to a slug of the vile carbo-powder-water mixture which allegedly fueled some of the RAAM riders. I departed Tinteniac at about 5:00 A.M., and somewhat to my surprise there was a steady stream of riders (I thought I was probably last by now). I was a bit surprised to find walking somewhat difficult, which usually is the case when one’s knees do not bend properly. After an hour on the road, my knees began to ache. I knew that it is always darkest before the dawn, and that one’s spirits always are lifted with the sun, but both I and my knees did not wish to be there. We wanted to be back in Paris, where the food is wonderful, it is possible to drink wine to excess, and where one can sleep peaceably as long as one likes. I sat down on a park bench to contemplate the remaining 800 km ahead, when Satan, in the form of a bus driver, saw me and offered to take me to Rennes. A student of the geography of France, I was well aware that Rennes is on the rail line between Brest and Paris, and that high speed trains travel frequently. between those two localities, I found my brain directing me to continue the ordeal, but my legs, having mutinied, refused to take any instructions from the brain, began transporting my body and machine toward the bus. In seconds the bicycle was aboard the bus and I was sitting in a very comfortable seat, feeling guilty, but not sufficiently guilty to wish to continue. About 3 hours later, I was in Paris safely installed in a pleasant hotel on the Left Bank.
After about a day, my knees began to relent and I was able once again to walk normally, and on occasion, even to run to escape maniacal Parisian drivers. Although I was having a nice time the feelings of guilt intensified as the weather began to turn ugly. I thought of all of the Toronto Randonneurs slugging it out on the road. and especially in the icy, inky blackness of rural France at night. Fortunately, I discovered that a nice bottle of red wine and a full tummy tends to dispel all feelings of guilt!
No, I did not have a nice vacation in France, and no, I will never again contemplate a multi-day ordeal like the PBP. On the other hand, the next PBP will be its 100th anniversary…….