An excerpt from:
Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Suffering
by Paul Jurbala
Now I am riding on my own ribbon of granite. I pass a boy at roadside handing up cookies, and I snag one as I go by.
Ambieres, Lassay-les-Chateaux…the sun is getting low now. Through Le Ribay there is climbing but then in the direction of Loupfougeres the road flattens out again. It’s quite pleasant now, and I am alone with the coming dusk and my strange inability to look more than a few metres down the road. I imagine myself out on a club ride at home, explaining my day: “Well, I got up early and went out for an 85 k ride. And that was fine, so then I did another 55 k ride. So I had something to eat, then I went out for another 85 or so after lunch…and when I’m finished that one, I’ll, you know, have dinner or something, then I think I’ll go for another 85 k. That should do it for today I think.” Really makes it sound like something, four “normal” rides on one day; far more impressive, or crazy-sounding, than the simple statement “I did three hundred and ten kilometers on Thursday.” And three hundred and thirty on Wednesday, and four hundred and fifty back on Tuesday, and I’m capping it off with a short one hundred and forty- just a doddle really- on Friday…
I suffer the last 15 kilometers as always, cursing and wondering “where the #$@! is Villaines” and wondering how the French, who invented the damn things, ended up with longer kilometers than anybody else in the whole world. I remind myself of how short 15k feels on a training ride at home and I remember the roads I always take and that it only takes me 35 minutes, on average, to cover those short 15 k. Here it seems to take about an hour and a half…but eventually I am in Villaines. It looks like an old friend. Here’s the place I left my bike on the first morning! But the stairs to the control are unaccountably more steep and painful to climb: my knee doesn’t take well to stairs.
The control is both more and less crowded. There are far fewer riders than the last time I was here, but a higher percentage are sprawled on the floor, making it difficult to walk. With my card stamped- the control volunteer gives me a Villaines postcard- I decide to cross the street in search of food, since only coffee and pastry are served in the control hall. First I find the washroom, then search for the cafeteria (“Self serve” the sign says) hoping the line will be short. I round a corner. The line is long. I stop in my tracks, roll my eyes, and turn away. A lady in line sees me. Curious- there are no cyclists in line, just volunteers. The lady beckons me, waving me toward her. Me? Yes. I take a few steps and the line parts, as if by magic- I am almost propelled bodily toward the front. I’m stunned. Clearly the coureurs are kings here.
At the place where the trays are stacked I stand for a moment, not quite in line; a man sees me and motions to his wife who with a smile gives me her tray, complete with napkin and cutlery…merci, merci…and then I am behind the last cyclist and in front of the first volunteer, waiting for my food. I am shaking my head in disbelief. Who are these people? When my tray is loaded I slowly make my way to the cashier, pay and…a boy of about 9 years runs up and rattles off something in French at me. Again, I stand like an idiot; the cashier says “Eee vant to help you, monsieur!” I give the boy the tray and he sets off with me in tow…the crowd parts…more French, which I decipher- where would I like to sit? “Si vous voulez!” I manage…and I am seated, while the boy races off to help another rider. I wonder if they compete to see how many trays they can carry. I try not to cry.
Paul Jurbala's captivating account of riding Paris-Brest-Paris can be read in its entirety here (click link) .