Coureur de Bois Ride Report by John Cumming

July 3-5, 2021

Coureur de Bois had been on my to-ride “bucket list” for a decade.  Fellow Huron randonneur Terry Payne rode Coureur de Bois in 2011, and his descriptions of a challenging ride with beautiful scenery, horrible roads, and ambiguous cues convinced me that I had to do it one day!  After doing my first 1,000 (Lake Ontario Lap) in 2015  and doing 1,200’s in 2018 and 2019, I realized that a 1,000 is actually much more challenging than a 1,200:  With top-notch support and organized controls, the Granite Anvil was a “picnic” compared to LOL!

In addition to Terry Payne’s yarns of Coureur de Bois, my motivation for doing the ride was fed by the romance of the fur trade and French Canadian history that was taught to all children in Canadian Schools in the 1960’s (before the realities of certain events and the treatment of indigenous peoples tainted our perspectives).  Perhaps more than a lot of English-speaking Ontarians, I had a fascination for rural Quebec which evolved while I was a summer student in the Gaspe in the mid-1970’s.   Bicycling along the shore of the St. Lawrence River on my CCM Gran Tourismo 10-speed during that wonderful summer was, in fact, the only real cycling I’d ever done in Quebec! 

Until a week before the Brevet, I expected that I might be the only rider signed up for Coureur de Bois 2021.  (If it had worked out that way, I am certain that my ride would have ended in dismal failure).  But on June 25, I was delighted to receive an email from Peter Grant indicating that he and JungAh Hong also intended to do the ride.  Peter explained the history of the CdeB route:

“The route has been used since about 2005 and has been updated after each ride with input from our riders as well as notes sent by Quebec riders.  There is a lot of Route Verte, particularly approaching and leaving Quebec City.  There is more than 20km of bike paths around the city of Quebec. 

   Some the paths on the south shore I have ridden before on a cross Canada ride.

  I remember that there were areas were bike paths were the only option for cycling, but that they could be confusing.  That was true of the area where we will cross the Chaudière River just after turning west bound and leaving Quebec.”

It was a relief to know that I would not be dealing with the ride alone!  I told Peter and JungAh that I would be arriving in Ottawa the day before the ride, and JungAh suggested we get together for lunch, to discuss last-minute logistics.  Peter, JungAh and I were joined for lunch on a sun-drenched roof-top patio by Vytas Janusauskas, who rode the inaugural CdeB in 2005.  We were cajoling Vytas to join us on the ride, which he said he would do if we paid a high enough fee!

After lunch, I headed to my Orleans Air BnB (from which I had intended to bike to ride-start the following morning).  Guy Quesnel, with his usual top-notch organization skills, had arranged for car parking close to the official start, so a pre-ride to the brevet starting point wasn’t necessary and getting prepared to ride became even easier. 

While “killing time” on Friday afternoon before ride day,  I received an email from Vytas informing us that he and his wife Colleen had decided to provide drop-bag and meal procurement support at the two planned overnight controls!  Only true randonneurs will fully appreciate what a significant commitment and “godsend” this offer presented.  Peter, JungAh and I had anticipated that we would be arriving at each overnight hotel after near-by restaurants were closed, facing a mere few hours of sleep on an empty stomach.  But with Vytas and Colleen procuring meals, ready and waiting in our hotel rooms on arrival, life would be good!  Even better, I could plant a few cans of beer in the drop bag for my favourite form of day-end “carb loading”!! 

Refueling, with Vytas standing by

From anticipating a “solo” ride with no support and unknown weather a week before, prospects for the ride, and the weather forecast, were definitely getting rosier!   

I arrived at the ride-start parking site about 4:15 am and began to get my bike ready.  There was another car at the far end of the parking lot, with what appeared to be another cyclist.  I was completely focused on my own tasks so I didn’t walk over to see who it was.  Guy Quesnel, and Peter and JungAh arrived a few minutes later.  Guy informed us that we would have a fourth registered rider, but I didn’t recognize the name when Guy pronounced it.  It was only when the “mystery rider” rolled under the light of the street lamp that I realized it was Serg Tsymbal, who I had ridden with on several brevets.  In classic “rando” style, Serg had driven down from Kitchener the evening before and slept in his car!

Getting ready to ride! Saturday 5 am

So four riders set off promptly at 5 am, with two days of “no rain but strong North East Winds” in the  forecast.  Peter stormed out of the gate, setting a brisk early pace as we weaved through the streets of Ottawa suburbs into the countryside.  I’m never very good at remembering specific details once the ride itself starts – geographic features, weather and road conditions, and hazards and highlights all blend together as the kilometres accumulate. 

It was apparent that both JungAh and Serg were excited to be approaching their first-ever visit to Quebec.  Serg wondered whether we’d be able to do a short detour to see “Montgomery Falls” (I explained it was “Montmorency”, and that I, for one, would not be joining him to see the falls!).  Aside from his jacket, Serg had brought no additional clothing, having anticipated that “Quebec is warm, right?!?  It’s not Manitoba!”  His plan was to catch a few hours of sleep on convenient park benches under the temperate Quebec night sky.  But with the brisk cool winds off the St. Lawrence River blowing in our faces, Serg readily accepted the offer to share the hotel rooms which I had booked for each night.  Serg continued to talk about “Montgomery Falls” being higher than Niagara, and I realized that his mis-pronouncement probably sounded no more absurd than my own efforts to pronounce place names, or menu items at control stops!  Montgomery Falls it is.

The Open Road

It was about 8:30 am when we crossed the bridge at Hawkesbury into La Belle Province!  Apprehensions that we would encounter legendary bad roads were not immediately realized.  (As Peter had indicated, much of the route in Quebec follows “La Route Verte”, which Vytas described as “roads dedicated to cycling because they are so bad that car driver’s wouldn’t want to use them!”).  While we eventually did encounter some pretty bad roads, we also encountered some wonderful new sections of pavement.  Overall, I won’t make an assessment on the state of roads in Quebec vs. Ontario, although JungAh, Serg, and Peter may have a strong opinion about it.  As for the drivers in Quebec, we experienced a full spectrum of behaviours ranging from ultra-polite to aggressive and hostile.  Unfortunately there was more of the latter, with a number of dangerous close encounters and verbal (unintelligible, to us) taunts.  This was a big surprise and disappointment for me, given all I had read about Quebec’s push to be a haven for safe cycling .

Morning Smiles

For the most part, we rode traditional randonneur “accordion style”, sometimes as a group but often separated.  Three of us were carrying Spot Trackers, which greatly facilitated Vytas and Colleen’s control support efforts.  So when we arrived at the Travelodge in Trois-Rivieres at 10:15 pm, the Pizza and Salad we had previously ordered (along with the aforementioned drop-bag of beer) was hand-delivered to our rooms by Vytas & Colleen!

After a few hours of sleep we were back on the road at 5 am, contemplating whether we might find any quick breakfast stop before the next control at St Stanislas.  Thinking the control closed at 07:28, I raced ahead of the others, only to note as I rounded the corner into the tiny hamlet that the control card said 07:48!  The others rode leisurely into town a few minutes later, ahead of the control close time.  Of course, the only gas station / variety in town was closed, and breakfast would be further down the road.

As we pushed on toward Quebec City, Serg and I gradually rode ahead of Peter and JungAh.  Having to stop at a traffic light part way up a >10%  incline, I was forced to dismount and walk.  Serg, with a much lighter load and superior biking skills, was able to keep riding and got ahead of me.  I had to work hard to catch back up to him as we wove through the streets of Quebec City.  An extremely steep descent towards the ferry terminal was an excellent test of new V-brakes recently installed on my ancient LiteSpeed.  Extensive reconstruction and detours on the bike path along the waterfront slowed us down – I expect this section will be wonderful for the next running of CdeB, after the construction is complete.

Serg and I arrived at the Ferry Terminal at 14:13 and easily found the kiosk for bike tickets.  We were delighted that the Ferry was just loading when we arrived.  Standing in the queue, I checked the “Follow Riders on the Road” on the Randonneurs Ontario website.  It looked like Peter and JungAh were close behind, but we could not see them as our Ferry left the dock.  Although Peter and JungAh were back only a few minutes, waiting for the next ferry (which was itself delayed!) put them further behind.  While JungAh and Peter waited on the north shore, Serge and I were being pushed southwest, along beautiful bike paths in Levis, by a strong tail wind under a hot afternoon sun!  We easily maintained a 25km/hr moving pace and arrived at the second hotel in Becancour (across the river from our first night stay) at 21:35!  Again the custom food order (2 subs apiece, along with my remaining beer) had been deposited by Colleen & Vytas in our hotel room fridge.  Aided by the sleep-inducing qualities of a cold tallboy, Serg crashed quickly.  I couldn’t “turn off”, and waited for JungAh and Peter to arrive more than an hour after us.  Unlike the hot sun and tail wind that Serg and I had enjoyed, JungAh and Peter had to deal with post-sunset cold temperatures and unhelpful still air.

662 done!

With much less sleep than Serg and I, Peter and JungAh were once again ready to ride at 5 am.  We covered the 72 km to Sorel by 8:06, conscious of the 8:44 control close time and 9:00 scheduled ferry departure.  Riding beside JungAh towards Sorel under the early morning sun,  I asked if she had any idea what “coureur de bois” was all about.  It surprised me that she had no idea what the name referred to – but then, in perspective, I realized I knew nothing of her South Korean history nor the folklore of Serg’s Ukrainian heritage.  I tried to explain the “Coureur de Bois” to JungAh.  I also tried to teach her a song which I understood to have been popular with the Coureur de Bois, helping them to pass the hours as they paddled along.  The song is “Mon père n’a plus qu’vingt-neuf poulets “, and it had been an “earworm” which I had been humming to myself for over 700 km!  

As I began to sing it out loud, JungAh took out her phone to capture my poor singing, which you can watch here.  Whether paddling a canoe or pedaling a bicycle, the song is a perfect anthem for Randonneuring …

Marchons au pas accéléré

Et allongeons la jambe

Et allongeons la jambe, la jambe

Car la route est longue!

(Very roughly translated,

 “Step up the pace,

and stretch out your leg,

because the route is long!”)

We arrived in Sorel with sufficient time to enjoy a “grande” A&W breakfast before racing to the ferry terminal.  Under bright sunshine, we enjoyed the crossing back to the north shore, and the ride south west toward Blainville.

When I had been sharing my plans for Coureur de Bois with family and friends in the days before the ride, a family member asked “don’t you have to tow a canoe full of beaver pelts, to make it a real Coureur de Bois ride?”  While my heavily-laden bike sometimes made it feel like I was towing a canoe, the one experience we got to share with original Coureur de Bois was the “portage” – We encountered several serious sink-hole-induced road closures, where we were obliged to carry the bikes over treacherous paths.  If I had been on my own, I probably wouldn’t have scouted out a way through these road blocks.  Input from Peter, JungAh and Serg “saved my bacon”.

A Coureur de Bois “Portage”

I should also mention my Garmin 1030.  A recent software upgrade, complete with enhanced map display and directional chevrons, was supposed to make navigation easier.  But on the bi-directional segments of the Coureur de Bois route, I still found the Garmin (or me interpreting the Garmin, or both) to be error-prone.  On more than one occasion, Serg kept me from heading back toward Montreal as I heeded my 1030’s prompts.  Whatever brand of bike GPS you use, you should spend as much time together as possible to be sure you understand each other’s limitations!

As my Garmin announced completion of each 100 km “lap”, I was pleased to see that Serg and I were more or less sticking to a 24 – 25 km/hr moving average.  Vytas and Colleen texted me, indicating that JungAh had encountered problems and was thinking she might dnf.  If they had to go back to pick up JungAh, they might not be at the finish to give us our drop bags (a trivial concern, as compared to retrieving a stranded rider).

After being worn down by some bad roads, ferry delays, and what she experienced as hostile treatment by Quebec drivers and some people she encountered at controls, JungAh had a flat at 893 kilometres, and discovered that her pump was malfunctioning.  In her own words: 

“This was my first time in Quebec except Gatineau, and I was surprised to receive such poor treatment for speaking English. I love the little chats with locals during my ride which didn’t happen during this ride. As soon as I started talking in English, their face just changed. Now I know better what to expect. I better start learning French …I just laughed at myself how I never get flats on the road but it somehow happened during my biggest ride just 100km from the finish. I guess my pump got too much rain over the years. It was rusted inside and leaking air.”

 Unfortunately, Serg described his first impression about Quebec as being very close to JungAh’s.

Vytas and Colleen were able to rescue JungAh and drive back to the ride finish shortly before Serg and I arrived.  We pedaled into the parking lot at 11 pm, ahead of threatened rain, to enthusiastic smiles and clapping from JungAh, Vytas and Colleen, and Guy.  Peter was still out on the road, dealing with darkness and a short cloudburst.  He would successfully complete Coureur de Bois exactly three hours after our arrival.

Riders who have completed PBP will tell you about the incredible range of emotions encountered as you approach the finish.  For me, the Coureur de Bois finish also produced a complex emotional reaction: pride, of course, in completing a challenging course. And a sense of awe in travelling though the history of a country I love.  But also a feeling of sadness, that two relatively recent immigrants (and randonneurs extraordinaires!) had a less-than-positive experience.

For me, this ride would have ended very poorly without Vytas & Colleen’s support, Guy’s coordination, Peter’s insights, and the enthusiasm and support of three fellow riders.  I hope that JungAh gets back to Quebec soon (with a working pump) to experience good folk and French Canadian joie de vivre, and I hope that Serg one day gets to see the beauty of Montgomery Falls.

John Cumming

July 2021

Ride Report by Fred Chagnon: You can dampen my map and my phone, but not my spirit!

Ride Start: London, ON

It was still dark, and already raining when Kim and I set off for the departure point; my bike strapped to the hitch rack of the SUV, and all my gear in the back. I couldn’t help but think that I should have done this yesterday when the weather was cool but dry. This was not just a casual bike ride that I could decide to do another day, however. When you register a ride through a club like Randonneurs Ontario, the date is logged and there’s insurance involved. And besides, battling through discomfort is a core tenet of the randonneur.

Kim steered us through the drive through where I picked up two farmer wraps; one of which I ate immediately, and the other I stowed away for later. I thank her for the ride and told her that if I could maintain a pace of about 20kph, I’d be about 10 hours. She initialed my brevet card, we said our farewells, and I set off just before 8AM.

My trusty Trek Chechpoint AL3

The Long Road to St. Mary’s (0 – 40km)

It was only about 500m up the road that I hit my first snag: I wasn’t getting any audio cues from my mobile device. I pulled over and pulled my phone out of my pocket. The marked route was there, as planned, but it seemed the data I downloaded to my device in advance of the ride failed to include audio cues. This meant that I would have to keep my phone mounted on the handlebars in front of me, which presented two issues: extra battery drain, and exposure to the elements. 

The first issue I was prepared for — I had a spare battery pack that I could use to charge the phone, so I could sustain the extra drain that would result from having the screen on. The issue of rain, well, it was supposed to stop around noon anyway, so we’d just have to see how that went. 

About 90 minutes into the ride, I had just passed through Prospect Hill, well north of London. The audiobook I was listening to was interrupted by the robotic ramblings of something else on my phone. At first I thought that my navigation app had decided to start using audio cues, but that delight was quickly dashed. The rain had soaked through the buff I was using as its makeshift rain-cover, and the water had activated talkback mode – the accessibility option for the visually impaired. After struggling to disable this feature for several minutes I finally screamed “Turn Off Talkback” to the Google Assistant. Decades of experience working with technology, and it was proving to be my undoing today. 

I decided to stow my phone in my rear trunk bag to keep it dry. After another 15 minutes of riding however, I had a nagging feeling that it wasn’t going to record the ride that way. Not wanting to lose the digital proof of the ride’s existence I pulled over to confirm. Sure enough, when I unlocked the screen, the navigation app had not yet resumed recording, as a result it cut off a small corner of my route. “Please let that not be the difference between 199 and 200kms” was all I could think. I confirmed the nav was running properly and put the phone in my inside pocket instead.  

St. Mary’s to Millbank (40 – 95km)

Pictures never quite capture fall beauty…

The ride from St. Mary’s had me pretty settled in. I had music, my phone was charging, and the fall colours were beautiful. But the rain was constant. In fact anytime I thought it was settling down Mother Nature would betray me with a gust of strong spray. Eventually I turned south into a strong, cold headwind. I was averaging only 15 kph until I could finally turn back north-east toward Milverton. It was only a few short kilometers, but that battle was draining. On this route, checkpoint 1 was Anna Mae’s Bakery & Restaurant. It was just a few kilometers ahead, but every time I looked at my nav screen it felt like it was getting further and further away. To keep my mind occupied, I began to list the things I needed to do at this checkpoint: eat, drink, pee, change sock, picture, brevet card stamp. 

I let my find conjure up images of the apple fritters I’d heard the bakery was famous for, and maybe something warm to drink, oh and a butter tart for the road of course!

When I finally pulled up to the bakery I wasted no time snapping a selfie. I’d logged 94.6km, and declared victory on reaching CP1. 

Anna Mae’s Checkpoint 1, 94.6km

I removed my helmet and my wet gloves. I fished my brevet card out of my inside jacket pocket and found it was sopping wet, and completely useless. So too was my paper cuesheet. If this were a real brevet event, that would have been grounds for disqualification! I cursed myself for not thinking to pack these articles in the map protector I own for adventure racing events. Nevertheless, I donned my mask and proceeded to the restaurant entrance. 

It was closed. There wasn’t a soul in sight. It was a Sunday afterall, and Google confirmed that the restaurant doesn’t open on Sundays. Why I failed to work that detail into my plan is another thing I’ll chalk up to rookie mistake.

I walked my bike around the side of the restaurant and leaned it up against a bench. I pulled out the farmer wrap I’d bought earlier and ate it while I considered my options. I had food, and plenty of water. I’d taken note of my arrival time at CP1, and the fact that I had no witnesses was likely a non-issue, given the situation. Honestly the only problem I needed to solve was that I needed a washroom.

I removed my shoes and my wet socks. I used a buff to dry the insides of my shoes as much as possible before putting on some dry socks and replacing my footwear. So involved was I in this costume change that I failed to notice the patrol roll up next to me. The officer had clearly been watching me for awhile. 

“You picked a hell of a day for a bike ride” the officer said. 

“No bad weather, just bad gear, right?” I said, unconvincingly.  

“Where are you coming from?” he asked. 

“London” I replied. 

“London?!? That’s a long way back” he said. 

“Should be about 200 kilometers by the time I’m done” I told him. 

“Well you probably do this all time time”, he said, “But if you’re going back through Stratford, try to avoid highway 7, it’s pretty busy today.” I nodded in agreement. I knew my route didn’t touch the highway. “I bet you were hoping for a hot coffee and a pie, eh?” he laughed. 

“Actually, it was their little boys room that had me most excited” I told him.

“There should be a port-a-potty behind the building” he said. He wished me well, and he was gone. I packed up and mounted my bike. I looped around the building, and although there was evidence of a construction operation, there was no port-a-potty. This is normally an issue I could solve with a little discretion, but cycling bibs make that discretion more difficult. My spirits were lifted as I resume my ride. Despite my full bladder, I was fed, I was rested, and my feet were dry. On to CP2.  

Millbank to Stratford (95 – 140km) – Toil and trouble in the Bard’s backyard

My elevated mood was well timed because the afternoon was filled with a series of climbs and descents. I always tell myself that climbs are the price we pay to ride the descents — but today the descents were equally unwelcome. The hard rain just hits harder and cuts deeper as you pick up speed. And so the combination of effortful climbs with grueling descents forced me back into a game of mental endurance. “Embrace the suck”, my aikido sensei would say. And so I did. 

At around 130kms, the Bluetooth earbud I’d been wearing finally started alerting that it’s battery was low, so I pulled over. The earbud’s case stored a little bit of energy, allowing them to recharge when stored. I swapped the dying ear bug for it’s fully charged partner. While stopped I checked my phone and saw my battery was at 35% so I decided to charge it from my portable battery pack. When I plugged it in, nothing happened. I removed the cable and tried again – still nothing. I checked to see if the battery was capable of charging my headlight and confirmed that it was indeed issuing power. Tried the phone again, and this time I saw a warning message that told me the USB port had been disabled because it detected water or debris. Not good, but not something I could deal with by the side of the road in the pouring rain either. I was still 10km outside of Stratford so I resolved to evaluate my options over a pint, which would only happen after I used their washroom (yes, even now this was still a going concern). 

Bad news

The route in Stratford was brilliantly mapped: a picturesque cruise along Victoria Lake that took you right through the theatre district. I imagine on a day that wasn’t pissing it down, where I wasn’t suffering from extreme battery drain anxiety, and worried my bladder was going to burst, I might have even stopped for a picture to take it all in. It was 4:30 in the afternoon by the time I arrived at the 2nd checkpoint. CP2 was marked at the Boar’s Head pub, a British style pub noted for it’s bicycle friendly patio. I pulled into the patio and parked my bike beside two others clearly packed for touring. I hoped I’d be able to swap stories with these individuals, whoever they were. 

Control 2, Stratford — The Boar’s Head 140km

I made a beeline for the washroom. I took a free stall and removed my soaking wet clothing. Once I was relieved, I just stood in place with my eyes closed for several minutes. It might have been five minutes before I finally began to re-assemble myself. I went to the bar to make my order.
“Can I make an order for the patio?” I asked. 

“Oh, hon, the patio’s closed. It’s raining outside”. she replied. 

You don’t say? I supposed I earned that. Honestly this is just an issue I have leaving my bike unattended. I accepted that I’d be eating inside so I sat at a table where I could see my bike parked. I ordered a cider and a bowl of chili. As I waited for the order to arrive, I tried to charge my phone again. Still nothing. The battery was at 10%. 

The waitress arrived with the cider. I took a long swig and sighed deeply. Then I called Kim. 

“Where are you?” she asked, after we greeted. 

“I’m in Stratford, at the second checkpoint” I said. 

“That’s amazing! What time do you think you’ll be back in London?” she asked. 

“I think I need to call it here. Can you come pick me up?”. I explained the issue I was having with my phone, and that I had no cuesheet to fall back on. Also, I really didn’t like the idea of having no means of contact in case of emergency. 

I used what was left of my battery to stop my trip recorder in RideWithGPS, which triggered an upload to the Strava social network, followed by a quick update to Facebook to report on my accomplishments of the day. 

I had one realization that dawned on me while I waited in the parking lot for my rescue ride. For all the challenges I had with technology this day my bike was absolutely perfect. Not once did it skip a shift, make an odd noise, or even an unwelcome grind. I reflected on how much of a mental load it can be for a day like today if you’re not completely confident in your ride, and bike-related mechanicals were the furthest thing from my mind. Someone must take very good care of that thing. (You bet I do!)An hour later Kim arrived. She’d brought a dry change of clothes for me to change into. As we drove home and I related to her my highs and lows of the day I couldn’t help but think about the endurance it would have taken to spend another few hours pushing through the rain, especially as daylight started to recede. A dryer day would have seen completion of the route, I have no doubt, but I have no regrets about knowing when to admit that enough is enough. It’s critical to have a lifeline for events like this, and I was thankful for the rescue.

Live to ride another day, whenever that day may be. 

Scugog Circle 200k Permanent — Ride Report

This ride took place on 8 June 2021.

bright and early with sombre skies at the Rouge Hill GO Station

I tend to like starting my rides very early. Even for a 200km route I will book a 5am start. The roads are quiet, the sun is coming up, and often, but not always, the winds are weaker.

For this ride I knew I was going to have to deal with rain, but I also knew that it would be rather hot (a high of around 30°C), so I didn’t bother bringing any rain gear. I counted on being wet and warm. This turned out to be true. It rained heavily from about 6am to 8am as I rode between Markham and Leaskdale. It was quite enjoyable and refreshing, though on the downside I spent the rest of the day in wet shoes and shorts.

The wind was projected to be moderate, but constant, coming from the NW. That meant I could only count on a tale wind from Zephyr to Lindsay (roughly 50km). Most of the rest of the ride would be with a crosswind or headwind. The wind must have been fairly weak because I don’t remember it being a particular help or hindrance at any time.

I brought a half loaf of bread so that I could avoid making stops for food. It was heavy pumpernickel. I sprinkled it with coarse salt. It was crunchy. I learned this culinary delight from my travels in Russia. It was a hot day; I needed the sodium. COVID-19 restrictions were still in effect; I also needed simplicity. Black bread with salt in Lindsay and then again in Blackstock. I can’t confirm that I gained any performance benefits from the salty pumpernickel. All I can say is that I never felt hungry.

snappity snap
on the road to Lindsay is Corn Country. No passport required…

I saw two snapping turtles, the first at Pefferlaw River and the second on River Road on the south shore of Lake Scugog. I saw an Osprey as I passed a place called Osprey Farms

the blue camel. Every time I do Scugog Circle (and this was my 8th edition) I take a photo of this guy

The most memorable part of this ride was the struggle. I knew I could finish it, but I wasn’t sure how close I would get to the 13.5 hr cut-off. I am not really at my normal level of fitness. I did a fair amount of running in the winter, but then that stopped (basically because of depression) and I was sedentary for at least two months. I did a lot of reading, writing and drawing to cope, but physically I had become quite diminished. My legs were not very happy to be pushed into a 200km commitment. But I persevered and finished it in 11hours and 50minutes.


The Great Ontario Adventure of Karl Kron, October, 1883.

Karl Kron (1846-1911), American Bicycling Maven of the Nineteenth Century

If the sport had existed, Karl Kron probably would have been a pretty spectacular randonneur. His book, Ten-Thousand Miles on a Bicycle, reveals that he would have fit into our club very well: like us, he wanted to ride his bicycle far, and, like us, he enjoyed cycling in Ontario. Not that he rode all his 10,000 miles here. Over an approximately six-year period, he toured all over the eastern US, from Kentucky to Illinois, and from Maine to Virginia. He even took his bike to Bermuda. He got around. That he did it all on a penny-farthing bicycle makes it even more impressive. In 1883, he made two rides in Canada. The first, in August, took him through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The second, in October, took him across southern Ontario.

An entirely fictitious illustration of Karl Kron. (Copyright T. Ormond, 2021)

Kron self-published his Ten-Thousand Miles on a Bicycle in 1887, and it is an indispensable primary source for anyone interested in the early days of cycling in North America. In it he recounts all his travels around the United States and Canada. He also describes related matters, like the purchase of his bicycle, the emergence and growth of the first American cycling clubs, bicycle maintenance, and early riding methods, clothing and equipment. Throughout the entire book, Kron discusses the quality of roads in the era before cars (spoiler alert – they were very bad). At over 900 pages in length, Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle feels very authoritative. There is no question that Kron was an experienced and knowledgeable cyclist.

Karl Kron, Bicycling “Crank”

But another thing that emerges, very quickly, is that Kron is an eccentric. He is an unapologetic one, and often descends quite steeply into the ridiculous. First of all, his real name was Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg. He created the pseudonym Karl Kron out of “Col. Chron.,” an abbreviation of “College Chronicle,” the name of his column in World magazine (Norcliffe 158). Second, his entire book takes thoroughness to an absurd extreme. The preface is 107 pages long: it has a meticulously detailed table of contents, a general index, an index of places listing every geographical feature he could have conceivably seen from the road, an index of every single person he encountered, and four addenda. There are countless examples of extraordinary scrupulousness such as these. If there is a circle in Hell reserved for the excessively detailed and pedantic, Kron is most certainly there.

But that is not all: as his title hints, Kron took a keen interest in racking up the miles. Using his brass cyclometer, he recorded them to the nearest quarter mile: in 1879, he rode 742 miles over 47 days; in 1880, it was 1 474 ½ miles in 58 days; in 1882, 1 956 miles in 67 days… etc. But miles ridden are not enough for Kron. No, he also recounts all the miles he traveled with his bicycle in tow, be it on a train (he provides the number and route of each one), on a steamboat, on a canal narrowboat, or in a wagon. He even discusses all the travel he undertook associated with the bicycle’s production.

Lastly, perhaps the strongest example of Kron’s eccentricity is the chapter about his dog, Curl. There is absolutely no connection between his pet and his bicycle. In fact, Curl died ten years before Kron even owned his bicycle. He acknowledges the lack of connection and actually admits that he included the chapter about Curl because he couldn’t get it published anywhere else. The book opens with an illustration of the dog, and follows with this dedication:

Dedication to Curl, his bull-dorg?

I don’t mean to poke fun, but Kron just made me think of a reading dog, one whose heart is breaking as he learns all the details of his owner’s cycling addiction. But I digress.

So, yes, Kron’s Ten-Thousand Miles on a Bicycle is an important source of information about the early days of cycling, but it is one with numerous and sometimes glaring flaws. It is available for free as a pdf on Google Books, but before you download it, consider yourself forewarned. It might be the most unusual book about cycling ever written.

The Great Ontario Adventure of Karl Kron, October 1883

It would be a mistake, however, to completely dismiss Kron. Yes, he was too isolated: he did not know how to share what was universally appealing or interesting about his impressive cycling experiences. True, he was too focused on cataloging details – every single one of them: it never occurred to him that he should be telling a story (and doing it with considerably fewer words). But sometimes, despite himself, Kron does talk about his cycling experiences in an almost relatable way.

One of those occasions is when he describes his ride across southern Ontario. Starting in Windsor, he went eastward, meandering through Huron Chapter country, then straight across Toronto Chapter land, and ending in the domain of the Ottawa Chapter. Yes, he is still verbose and boastful, but it is interesting to read about what cycling in Ontario was like all those years ago.

Reference: Railway Map of Province of Ontario, Shewing Lines Chartered since Confederation, 1875. The Route was plotted on the basis of the work of Glen Norcliffe (164) (Copyright T. Ormond, 2021)

Mechanical difficulties were completely different back then. There were no inner tubes to puncture. There weren’t even any cables or chains to snap. Troubles were much more catastrophic, like large chunks of your bike falling to pieces. This happened to Kron near Georgetown when his handlebars snapped in two. He had to walk into town and get a new set forged. Horses still dominated the countryside in 1883, so blacksmiths were easy to find.

Public electricity was not yet available. This meant the country roads at night were completely dark. Nor were there any viable forms of lighting fixtures for bicycles. Moonlight was essential. Riding in Ontario in the autumn, Kron often had the added benefit of frost, which made the road glimmer in the moonlight and helped him stay out of the ditches. Otherwise, night riding was slow and dangerous. It often meant walking.

Diet was more restricted. There were fewer places to stop for food. Kron often talks about taking quarts of milk, which I suppose means he stopped at farms. He also rode for long periods of time without taking in any food at all.

Kron rarely discusses the landscape. He is only interested in road conditions and the number of miles he can cover on them. His first description of the land only comes on the seventh day of his tour when he passes his first cedar grove in a place called Osprey, near Guelph. The only other comment he has about all the land features between Windsor and Guelph is that the countryside is “open” with “long hills in the teeth of the wind,” “affording fine views of the autumn foliage.” I would prefer to have more descriptions of what the landscape looked like back then, but I think that is asking too much of Kron. If it’s not a road, Kron doesn’t see it.

All his attention on the roads makes one thing very clear: they were bad, very bad. Kron often complains about them:

The 13 miles ending at Goderich at 4:30 P.M. were done in 2 hours, though level roadway (much of it in sight of Lake Huron) was nearly all muddy and difficult (313).

And elsewhere…

My cyclometer said it was 14 miles, I got over it at the rate of 3 miles per hour, with occasional bits of riding (312).

Glen Norcliffe, in his Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900, gives a thorough description of Ontario roads in the late nineteenth century. They were not paved, none of them. Your best chance was to ride on macadam. These were dirt roads covered with compacted gravel that might be mixed with sand and finer gravel. If the road was not macadamized, you had to ride directly on dirt, and then the local topography dictated. Sand was a challenge, especially when it was dry. Clay — wet or dry — was a nightmare. After a rain, clay became slick. When dry, it hardened into ruts made by wagon wheels when the road had been wet. Road conditions also depended on the locality: available raw materials and local attentiveness often determined road surfaces as much as mother nature (Norcliffe 166-8).

So, dismounting and walking your bicycle was an integral part of any ride in the late nineteenth century. Sometimes the walking would carry on for great distances. Stretches of riding “without dismount” are noteworthy. Kron made a thorough preliminary research of road conditions throughout southern Ontario before his arrival. Yes, he includes all his research as a very long footnote (314-6). He wanted to have a sense of the walking to riding ratio before embarking on his tour.

His research revealed that Ontario roads were relatively good, and he came here with the intention of completing 100 miles in one day, an accomplishment that had proven elusive on other tours. It took him four days to get from Windsor to London, but on 11 October he set off at 5:45 am with the aim of completing an imperial century.

Things began inauspiciously with the bridge out at Arva. He spent 15 minutes walking through the sandy creek. Then things quickly improved. Within three hours he had already covered 20 miles. As a reward he stopped for breakfast in Clandeboye. After breakfast, there was a brief dismount “to avoid skittish horses,” but from there he carried on without difficulty to Exeter where he “imbibed two lemonades.” It was now 11:10 am and Kron had already covered 34 miles. Exiting Exeter, he chased a horse and buggy: the driver was trying to outrun Kron and “served very effectively as a pace-maker.” Between Exeter and Bayfield, our intrepid hero covered a distance of 22 miles in 2 hours and 22 minutes, “the swiftest of all my long straightaway stays in the saddle.” He would have been even faster had he not had to halt “as a precaution against frightening a pretty woman’s horse.” It was now 2pm and Kron had covered 56 miles. Road conditions on the approach to Goderich slowed him down considerably, but he persevered. By 5:45pm, he had completed 72 miles, “the longest distance ever done by me in twelve hours.”

Plotting Kron’s route on RWGPS revealed that his cyclometer was wrong. If he started at Tecumseh House in London, as he claims, then he only covered 96 miles by the time he reached Hicks House in Mitchell. Incidentally, Hicks House still stands.

Reference: Maps of Huron, Perth and Middlesex counties sketched from references at the Canadian County Atlas Digital Project. (Copyright T. Ormond, 2021)

The hills he encountered after Goderich took their toll on his morale. He stopped for two hours at a hotel in Holmesville where he bathed, changed his clothes, and had supper. He had now completed 76 miles. It was here that he learned about the hotel in Mitchell, a place called Hicks House. It was 24 miles away: if he reached it before sunrise he would accomplish his 100-mile goal. Anticipating good weather, and counting on a full moon, Kron set off into the late afternoon with the expectation of reaching Mitchell in the wee hours of the morning.

But things did not go according to plan: having reached Clinton by 9:15, the clouds moved in to cover the moon and the wind turned abruptly against him. Kron kicked back a ginger ale to steel himself against these contingencies. He continued on to Seaforth, covering 9 miles in two hours. Conditions did not improve: he bought two more ginger ales. By midnight his cyclometer stood at 91 miles: “the wind blew against me with increasing force, the mist thickened, and the darkness deepened, so that the track grew much more obscure.” He was riding without any sort of lighting to speak of. He found that there were giant rocks in the road and so he walked in order to avoid them. Reaching the hamlet of Dublin at 1am, and with only 6 miles remaining until Mitchell, Kron noticed the road suddenly smoothen beneath his feet. He started riding again. Without light to read his cyclometer, Kron counted wheel revolutions in order to calculate his distance traversed. (Leave it to Kron to bring pi onto a bike ride…) By the time he had counted four miles, he suddenly fell into a mud hole. The road, again, had become too dangerous for night riding. He walked the remaining distance to Mitchell, where he found Hicks House at 2 am. “I had to kick and hammer for a long while before I could arouse the proprietor. Meanwhile the rain began to fall.” Kron had covered his much sought after 100 miles in one day.

His tour across Ontario continued to Prescott, where he crossed the St. Lawrence River and returned to the US at Ogdensburg, NY. Along the way he stopped in Toronto and became acquainted with some of the cycling club luminaries around there. For those curious to read more, his Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle is available on Google Books for free. The relevant chapters about Canadian tours are “Nova Scotia and the Islands Beyond” (282-293), and “Thousand Islands to Natural Bridge” (334-352). I got my information for this article from the first chapter of his book and “A Fortnight in Ontario” (310-333). Glen Norcliffe’s The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900 was another important source for this article.

Conclusion. A Feast in the Time of the Plague? … or just a snack?

Karl Kron’s Ten-Thousand Miles lies far outside the norm. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it would be so much easier to tolerate if he were a good writer too. There have been plenty of very oddball authors whose idiosyncrasies have been softened by good craft and the regular employment of le mot juste. Not so in Kron’s case.

There is nevertheless something enjoyable about his book. When taken in small chunks and with several enormous grains of salt, I found it …not quite intolerable. I did genuinely get some vicarious pleasure imagining him with his 46-inch wheeled penny-farthing bicycle touring across southern Ontario with horses on macadam, sand and clay.

And yet, I fear that my diving into the world of Kron might have been a reflex and not a choice. Maybe it is just because of the unusual context I find myself in, it being COVID-19 and all. Under normal circumstances, I might not have downloaded and read this book, written an article about it, and made three illustrations. After all, this is a man that history almost forgot.

Meh. Perhaps it is unwise to dwell on normal circumstances …

There most certainly will be a future, but for now there is lockdown. And if we are in a lockdown then there is time for Karl Kron. The 900-plus pages of his Ten-Thousand Miles on a Bicycle will have to serve as my feast in the time of the plague.

2020 Ontario Randonneurs O-12 Award by Ken Jobba

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.

Ken and Tim, still smiling at the end of a very cold 200k in February

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.

Ken in a July scorcher

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.

We don’t have any patches for the O-12, so here is a virtual one. (I used the moon to signify months) Congrats Ken!

RO Awards Dinner — Toronto

The Randonneurs Ontario Awards Dinner was held at the Aviary Brewpub on 25 January 2020. Members from the Huron, Simcoe, and Toronto Chapters were in attendance. The Ottawa Chapter will hold its Awards Dinner at a later date.

Claire, Mike Jr., and Dede Barry joined the party with Mike and Dede handing out some awards.

It was a great chance to see everyone off their bicycles. In all, it was a fabulous night!

Here follows the awards, their presenters and their recipients…

Outstanding Performance on a Brevet Matt MacFarlane

PRESENTED BY: Carey Chappelle

Awarded to the club rider who has:

Demonstrated significant fortitude, courage, or generosity on a brevet ride.
Demonstrated physical or mental abilities beyond the usual in the conduct of a brevet ride.

Mike Barry/Jock Wadley Award (Outstanding Rider)Charles Horslin

PRESENTED BY: Michael Barry

Awarded to a club rider who is outstanding in one year or over several years and has:

Shown interest in the club and has provided support and assistance
Helped on rides or helped other riders.

      

Beryl Burton Award (Best Female Rider) – No Recipient

Awarded to a female club rider who is outstanding in one year or over several years and has:

Shown interest in the club and has provided support and assistance.
Helped on rides or helped other riders.

      

Coronation Cup (Most Improved Rider) – Brenda Wiechers-Maxwell

PRESENTED BY: Dick Felton

Awarded to a club rider who has at least one previous year riding with the Randonneurs Ontario, and has:

Shown consistency in appearing and in cycling;
Demonstrated improvement either in cumulative mileage ridden from previous season, or in brevet finishing times over the previous season.

     

Rookie of the Year – Jung Ah Hong

PRESENTED BY: Dede Barry

Awarded to a club rider who has:

Joined the Randonneurs Ontario in the year of the award or who rode their first brevet in the year of the award;
Shown ability in the year & shown interest in the club and in other club riders.

      

Half Wheel Award – Larry Optis

PRESENTED BY: Erin Marchak

Awarded to a club rider who has consistently forced the pace of the group during brevet rides.

                 

Best Fleche Team – No Recipient

Awarded to the members of the fleche team who record the most kilometres on the club’s fleche ride in the year of the award.

Organizer of the Year – Tim O’Callahan

PRESENTED BY: Carey Chappelle

Awarded to that person(s) who has:

Provided support to the club’s riding events in the year of the award or over several years.
Demonstrated care for the well being of the club’s riders.
Consistently taken on the task of organising and supporting club rides.

      

Special Recognition Award – Brenda Wiechers-Maxwell

PRESENTED BY: Tim O’Callahan

Awarded to a club rider who has:

Completed a cycling event in the year of the award that merits commemoration.
Made contributions to the club that merit commemoration.

      

Dan Herbert Memorial Award – Peter Grant

PRESENTED BY: Martin Cooper

Awarded to a member who has in one or more years:

Benefited the club by mentoring one or more members (generally but not necessarily new).
Mentoring is to be defined as encouraging, educating and assisting riders to achieve their full potential as bike riders and club members.

      

Long Distance Award(s) (Peter Leiss)

Awarded to the rider(s) who has:

Completed the highest number of Kilometres on:

i)               Randonneurs Ontario Brevets – Charles Horslin

ii)             All ACP Brevets – David Thompson

iii)           Randonneurs Ontario Permanent Rides – Peter Grant

iv)            Highest Kms Female Rider – Erin Marchak –

      

Creemore Classic Bowling Champion – presented by Tim O’Callahan

Carey Chappelle

NEW Randonneurs Ontario Awards

Thanks to a proposal by Tim O’Callahan of the Huron Chapter, Randonneurs Ontario is now offering the following awards to its members.

THE O-12

This award goes to members who make a year-round commitment to randonneuring. In order to get this award, you must complete a club-sanctioned 200k ride for 12 consecutive months.  At least 8 of these monthly rides must be Randonneurs Ontario brevets or permanents.  If any of the 12 rides are completed outside Ontario, they must be brevets done with other ACP member clubs.

Recipients of the 0-12 will get a special badge.

ONTARIO EXPLORER

This award goes to the randonneurs who travel between chapters. Complete at least one brevet in each chapter in a calendar year and you will be designated an “Ontario Explorer.”

O-5000

This award recognizes randonneuring mileage. Complete at least 5000kms of sanctioned events within Ontario (includes populaires, permanents, brevets and flèche) in a calendar year and you will become an O-5000 hero.

These new awards show there is more than one way to have a rich and challenging randonneuring season. For the seasoned members and anciens / anciennes there are new challenges to be undertaken. For the newer members, there is a lot of potential for setting some long-term goals.

RO Flèche 2020

The flèche play park. Port Credit is the final destination for 2020. It will occur on 15 May.

This year Randonneur Ontario’s flèche event will take place on 15 May 2020 and all teams will finish their ride in Port Credit, Ontario (located between Oakville and Toronto on the Shore of Lake Ontario).

The flèche is a special event in randonneuring. It takes place early in the season, it must be a planned route of at least 360km, and it must be completed in 24hours. It’s purpose is to promote teamwork, and camaraderie in the early season.

Flèche means “arrow” and it is supposed to refer to all the teams’ routes pointing towards the common destination.

Those contemplating completing this year’s flèche should consult the club’s rules. But here are the main points

  • the route must be at least 360km and must be completed in 24 hours, starting any time between 6pm on 15 May and 10am on 16 May
  • the route must end in Port Credit, Ontario
  • the route must be approved by the brevet administrator at least two weeks before the weekend of the event (so before 1 May 2020)
  • the flèche team must consist of at least three members (but can have up to five)
  • at least three of the team members must complete the ride in order for it to be recognized

Sounds like fun. Night riding will definitely be a major factor, so make sure you have your lighting set up figured out.

I’m hoping to run a team this year. Anyone want to join me?

Paris-Brest-Paris 2019, a Ride Report by Matthew McFarlane


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.

Paris-Brest-Paris 2019, a Ride Report by John Cumming

John Cumming

My Paris Brest Paris 2019 Adventure …

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 sleep. 

Before the ride …

                  I 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.

                  I was 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 days.

PBP HQ in Les-Essarts-le-Roi: Carey, Darcy, me, Matt and his wife Erin, Tim and Brenda
Bicycle assembly

     From Wednesday 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.

Getting Excited – Checking out the Start Location for PBP
Meeting up with Fellow Randonneurs (Dick F is on the left)

      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)

Group “G” about to Start

                  I was 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.

                  My 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. 

                  I’m 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.

                  As is 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 …

                  I 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 PBP!)

                  I 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. 

                  I 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.

                  Much 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). 

Support Camper Van — a welcome sight at a couple of controls

                  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!)

Riding towards the Finish in Rambouillet

With a beautiful sunrise ahead of me, I rode the final kilometres into Rambouillet.  The end of the ride was rather anti-climactic.  Unlike 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 …

I bicycled 1200km for this??!!?

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 VRBO. 

Looking like I need to sleep
My PBP Control Card

After the Ride …

                  Refreshed 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 day!)

Randonneurs Ontario, Post PBP Dinner

                  After 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)

                  The 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 check!

                  Several 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 ever”. 

                  From 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 Canadians.

                  I did 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

                  In 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!

Cheers,

John