I love the swoosh and the sway and the zoom of bicycling. I love to fly, to corner, to tilt like a gyroscope. It’s primitive and it’s simple and it’s elegant and it’s graceful and it’s powerful. The abject skilllessness of bicycling is its greatest virtue. It requires nothing. A four-year old can master it. A little balance, not much, far less than, say, being a spider. We know this as children, but we forget. We already have everything we need. The PBP is not the NFL. It is, instead, an incandescent union of form and function. Of past and present. Uniting us not with our grandparents as much as some animal 400 million years ago. Bicycling is primordial. We come from an unbroken line of winners, stretching back to the first day we crawled up out of the mud. Every one of our ancestors, all the way back, kept going long enough to beat predators, disease, starvation. Long enough to have a child. With really only the skill it takes to ride a bike. Like the rest of my species, I hale from Africa, and I was born to run through the woods. Or bike, if the woods are paved. A brevet is a race, after all. The human race.
. . . We reek, but are unaware of it, like fish that don’t know they are wet. We have been marinated in our own sweat. Paul saw a café on the way into Fougeres 370 miles ago and has had his mind’s eye on it for two days. He leads us there and we sit down to an outdoor picnic table feast of sausage crepes, heavy on the mustard, and frittes, heavy on the ketchup. As we finish, Paul launches into what may be the second greatest pep talk ever. I cannot do it justice, but the gist was . . .
- We are in France, riding the PBP, and we are the luckiest people God ever made
- We are in the homestretch and can taste it
- This is an epic adventure
- Life is precious
- We will remember it forever
- It will mark us
It was unbelievable. Paul said “Alright boys, pep talk.” Then he just started in. It was amazing. And it couldn’t have happened in a better place. We are just down the road from the greatest pep talk ever, given 592 years ago, a little east of here. At the Battle of Agincourt, Henry IV whipped a vastly superior French force six times larger, by virtue of yew bows and a spectacular speech: “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” Perhaps he was a randonneur at heart.
People ask me what we think about on the bike. It’s a good question. Often you have an active inner life, thinking a million things, many of them swings you wish you had over. Much of the time, though, I don’t believe any thinking is going on. It’s peaceful. Howell Raines says you go fishing to hear the Sigh of the Eternal. To be in the Zone. The Church of the Rolling Mass. I don’t know. I do know I left Fougeres and arrived in Villaines la Juhel. I’m not sure what happened in between. I talked to Paul, Ray, Kevin and Brad. I talked to a great guy from Zimbabwe who had moved to Ireland. I met a French boy, 15, who was riding effortlessly. But mostly I was out of it. Somewhere along the way, a man fell off his bike and died. I fell off mine and lived. I missed it all. If I didn’t know the Trotsky story was true, I’d believe RUSA was founded by the Whirling Dervishes, who believe that an ecstatic trancelike state of universal love could be induced by the practice of spinning around and around, like all celestial bodies.
Jeff Tilden's account of his 2007 PBP experience is funny, informative, touching and simply brilliant. You can download and read the entire report here: ( in Word format, including pictures, 18 mb in size.) or from the Seattle Randonneurs' site
It is safe to download and well worth it. Read it. Trust me.