Sunday, August 30, 2015

Living the dream. One account of Paris-Brest-Paris.


I thought I was prepared. I was wrong.

After five years of randonneuring over different distances, through a vast assortment of weather, after climbing hundreds of thousands of feet, after earning a shelf full of rando trinket awards, after a full season of training specifically for this ride, I thought I was ready for the 1230 Kilometer Paris Brest-Paris (PBP) bike ride that starts in the town of St. Quentin (pronounced Can-tan) located in the outskirts of Paris, goes to Brest, a port city located deep in the Bretagne (Brittany) region on the western edge of northern France, and then returns to St. Quentin. After all, according to my friend JB, who completed PBP twice before and would attempt it this time on a tandem, PBP was "just a bike ride." JB has been right about many things, but about this, he was just wrong.

One cannot simply ride this route whenever one chooses and then claim to have ridden PBP.

PBP is more than a bike ride.

PBP is an entire region of France coming out to welcome and support a diverse collection of worldwide adventurers.

PBP is a rolling Tower of Babel speaking the common language of cycling for three plus days.

PBP is an arduous personal challenge, testing body and spirit, that reaches back into history to the very birth of the cycling.

PBP is a moment in time.

PBP takes place outside of time.

PBP is its own reality.

PBP is a dream made real. 


This brief account cannot capture the experience of 6000 participants from 48 countries - no one account can. Add to that the fact that I spent the days that followed the ride in a narcoleptic fugue state, sleeping deeply, often and unexpectedly, as my mind and body swam up from the murky depths of exhaustion and sleep deprivation and the challenge of writing an accurate ride report grows greater. But, most of all, telling the story of PBP is like recalling the details of a dream - some are strong and clear, others linger at the edge of recall, slipping away from easy description and some may be lost in the haze of time. But this remarkable event remains a story worth telling, so, with those shortcomings in mind, I shall try to share a sense of living the dream that is PBP.



  Gathering at the velodrome




Randonneurs from around the world gather outside of the St. Quentin Velodrome in a kaleidescopic mixture of colors and sounds. The bike jerseys identify groups from Brazil, Greece, South Africa, Taiwan, Japan, Great Britain, Italia, Australia and Germany to name just a few of the 48 counties in attendance. Hundreds of riders represent the United States. I hear French, German, Spanish and Portuguese among the cacophony of languages. The palpable excitement needs no translation.

We will take to the course in groups, setting off in fifteen minutes intervals, based on a time selected at registration. The waves of participants will continue for hours, each moving forward on their desire and will to finish.
The specials - the tandems, velomobiles, recumbents and historical bikes - start at 17:15. Two friends, JB and Katie, are on tandem they call "the tandemnator." The group I am in will depart at 17:30, the first group to leave after the special bikes. In a ninety hour ride, fifteen minutes is not an insurmountable lead so there is a possibility that I may see them again. 

A group of Americans in my start group coalesce around the "North Carolina boys." I've been reading about the exploits of Mike D., Luke H., Brian R., Captain Ende and Ian H. (maybe most of all) on the internet for years and the tie-dye bike jersey that Ian wears seems perfect for his joyful approach and laissez faire attitude. This is Ian’s second time at PBP. He rides a fixed gear bike and says he may go for Charlie Miller (a finish in less than 54 hours) or Adrian Hands (a finish in more than 88h 55 min) depending on how things go. He is capable of both. I doubt that I will see him again.
I recognize Jenny O. from California from her Facebook postings and see riding partners Jim R. and Chistine T. from Maine, with whom I've ridden before. The four of us are first timers and share the excitement of what we are about to undertake. Although we've never met, I call out "Hello" to Jenny as if I'd known her for years  and she responds in kind. It's that kind of a day.

At the starting line, the announcements blare from speakers in multiple languages over background music and the cheers of the crowd,  culminating in a french countdown. Trois, deux, un and off we go. With a series of clicks as people clip in and a  collective swoosh of tires, PBP 2015 is underway.

Riding out of St. Quentin


The course begins on a slight downhill. We weave through roundabouts and other road obstacles on streets lined with cheering spectators. Children and adults applaud and cheer us on.




The afternoon sun is high above the horizon. The day is bright and clear. We fly down a road lined with tall buttonwood trees that form a canopy of green leaves, their mottled trunks stately and picturesque, aside golden fields under a French blue sky. I am awestruck by the beauty and the spectacle. This is real. I am here.


The course is marked by color coordinated signs with reflective arrows which point the way to Brest but, at this point, there is no getting lost. The unbroken line of riders indelibly marks the path.

My daughters weaved a bracelet for me to wear during the ride - orange on one half, blue on the other. They chose the colors to remind me to be calm in the first half and strong in the second. The colors happen to match the signs which point the way to Brest and then Paris. I take it as a sign. I turn the bracelet to blue and ride on, calm as I can manage, heart full with thoughts of my family and the thought of the days to come.

Each wave of riders mixes people of different speeds and paces so, over the course of the ride, faster riders from later groups pass slower riders from earlier groups. The constant swirl of riders gives me the opportunity to see some of the historical bikes that left in an earlier wave.


Drew Buck is a bit of PBP celebrity known for riding historically correct bicycles. This year he rides a 1936 Raleigh Record 3 speed. We talk. I tell him it is my first PBP. He says, "It's a long ride, take your time and you will make it." He calmly pedals on, demonstrating his own advice.

Two mustachioed men, whom I assume to be Italian because they wear the colors of Italy, ride wooden rimmed fixed gear bikes. They wear goggles perched on their cloth caps and have bike tubes crisscrossed around their shoulders.

At 140 Kilometers, this first stage, the ride to the town of Mortagne au Perche is the longest leg of the event. Truth be told, at this point, getting there is all about getting it done right. I watch my speed, watch my food intake and try to remember to look up and around.

We  ride through a charm bracelet of small, quiet French towns linked by long and winding roads that border spacious golden  fields of harvested farms. I am focused and disciplined but encumbered by plans and calculations as I try to follow a plan of times and schedule. The towns and fields roll into the background as I make progress toward the first objective.


First Night


In northwest France, in August, the dark of night comes late and slowly, the sunlight reluctantly trickling away like the last guests after a good party.

In the darkness, the ride is transformed. The riders become bright lines of reflected light, points of glowing red, circles of white pools of light that dance on a blacktop stage, will-o-the wisps floating in the dark, fast moving incarnations of Diogenes of Sinope searching for an honest pace or perhaps even our true selves.

The sheer number of spectators diminishes as we reach smaller towns, but, at every town along the route, the people of Bretagne are there. Men. Women. Children. Old. Young. All day. All night. Cheering from street corners. Leaning out of bedroom windows. Sitting outside the town church and at cafes. Calling out words of encouragement as if they are waiting just for you.
 
I wear a jersey decorated with stars and stripes. I hear calls and whispers of Amerique! and Les Etats Unis! I wave and say Bonsoir! For all the riders they call out:

Bonne Courage! 
Bonne Route!  
All along the route, the people of Bretagne stand vigil to bear witness to our passing.


***********************************************

The first night was an exercise in restraint and constant reminders to save something for later. After 220 Kilometers, I arrived at Villaines on plan and on schedule. Eat and then back into the night - on to Fougeres. The first night went by smoothly. I was rested and moving well.

Dawn came shrouded in cold fog after the temperatures dropped overnight. As the sun burned through in late morning, I stop for a cup of french coffee, served in demi-tasse tea party cups, that is unbelievably delicious. Along with a french pastry and I am fueled for the next controle. I ride through the day.


Loudeac the first

At about a third of the way through the course, Loudeac at 449 Kilometers (278 miles), is a pivotal control. I have a drop bag there and plan to sleep before moving on to Brest. I arrive over 24 hours after I started. I get in line, wait, wait, and wait to buy food then eat. As I sit, the effects of hours of riding descend on me heavily and my tired head bows over my plate as I slowly lift fork to mouth.

Despite the large number of riders, I have been riding alone. I did not want to ride someone else's pace and no one seemed to be riding mine so I arrived at Loudeac as I had left St. Quentin - on my own. As I sat and slowly ate, I felt a hand rest softly on my shoulder. Not a pat, not a tap, but the steady hand of reassurance that you would put on the shoulder of a friend who needed your support. When I looked up, I met the kind concerned eyes of a gray haired volunteer whose face was lined with a lifetime of experience. He held a pitcher of ice water. As he held my shoulder, he quietly said "de l'eau" and filled my glass then, in response to my "merci," he simply said "bonne courage." My eyes swam at the thought of him reaching out to me in all the hub bub that swirled in the control and lifting away the fleeting burden of loneliness. I drink the cold water to wash away the lump in my throat.

The sleep stop at Loudeac was a comedy of errors. I went get my bag from the bag drop location, searched and searched, but could not find it. I asked the guy watching the bags and he told me that, if I dropped it off at Mercure (a hotel near the start) which I had, it should be in this group of bags. I checked this group of bags again. I saw a bag that looked like one of my drop bags and even though I thought I left the other (red and black) bag, maybe I had a brain fart and forgot which one I'd left. I grabbed the bag and went inside all the while wondering why it was so damn heavy.

The French are good at many things but, apparently, efficient service may not be one. Perhaps it is a legacy of their history of diplomacy. Perhaps is a legacy of French bureaucracy. Perhaps it was just the language barriers or impatience brought on by fatigue, but it seemed that if you had two people working at one station, every decision required extensive discussion and debate. In any event, it takes a while. The sleep station had four people behind the table. Needless to say, that line took a while.


A man took my cot ticket and guided me into the "disco morgue." Disco morgue is a phrase coined by Patrick C-H, to describe the large gymnasium at Loudeac that is filled with canvas cots that are in turn filled by bodies covered in white foam paper sheets. Green glass covered lights dimly light the room and the sounds of hundreds of exhausted sleeping bodies, with all the accompanying, grunts, coughs, snores and rustlings, provides the soundtrack. It sounds like livestock.

My cot is occupied by a sheet covered body. The man with my ticket wakes the poor guy that is in my cot and checks his ticket. He then tells him that he is in the wrong cot. The poor guy, clearly still half asleep goes wandering off, unaccompanied, while I am offered the still warm cot and used morgue sheet. Viola!

Too tired, and too short of time, to protest. I accept the used offering. I then open my drop bag to discover it is not my bag. I grab a volunteer and persuade them to return the bag, but I have no change of clothes - no drop bag. Conscious of the time being wasted, I decide to just do the best I can with sleeping. I lay out my wool jersey on top of the cot to dry a bit while I sleep, set my phone to alarm in an hour and a half, put my thumbs in my ears,  and sleep with my head on my hands.

One hour and  fifteen minutes later, I wake up and check my alarm to see if I over slept.

I use the extra fifteen minutes to slowly gather my wits and my possessions before leaving the chaos of the control to enter the quiet of the middle of the night.

The kindness of strangers

On the road to Carhaix, I ride into a waking dream. Night in northern France is eerily quiet. No chirping crickets, croaking frogs, cicadas, barking dogs, sirens, peepers, none of the sounds of summer nights that fill the darkness in eastern Pennsylvania. A partial moon adds a dim colorless light to the darkness, but I move in silence.

Lack of sleep threatens my consciousness. Bodies of sleeping Randonneurs accumulate along the side of the road as people sleep in ditches and fields along the route. My eyes play tricks on me. The hills are getting steeper and I am so much slower. The piles of spaghetti in the road only become cracks in the pavement when I blink hard and shake my head to correct my vision. I am on the verge, or past the verge, of hallucinating from lack of sleep.


A home appears in the darkness. There, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, a family has opened the doors of their home to the riders of PBP.

The children, 9, 10 years old, pour hot cafe into small cups. Water is available. Inside, maman serves fresh bread. Papa directs the entire event with the quiet merriment of one whose own lack of sleep is fueled by french wine. The entire family, the entire home, offers free aide and assistance to a world of strangers on bikes. 

The people of Bretagne restore our souls.











 


I ride forward, toward the promise of sunrise, slowly climbing long climbs in the quiet dark, slowly moving forward, one kilometer at a time, blinking back the waking dreams.

Sunrise on Roc'h Trevezel  

I remember Roc'h Trevezel as the name of an endless climb at the end of an endless night.  
As I climb in the blue gray light that comes before the dawn, I notice the crucifixes that appear along the road like distance markers. Each one unique but appearing regularly along the road we ride. 

I remember climbing a steady moderate grade from one crucifixion scene to the next. As I ride past these potent symbols of sacrifice and redemption, these stations of the cross, I realize that I am on my own secular pilgrimage: one of many who have come from afar to visit a place that only exists for a moment, to share a transformational experience created by the faith, sacrifice and effort of many. 

Tired and weak, I approach the peak of Roc'h Trevezel. Then the sun rises and reveals the world to me. The peak is not a peak as much as a plateau. The lower peaks of the valley are islands afloat above the low lying clouds. The details of distant horizon strain the limits of my vision. It was a beautiful sunrise. My words, my pictures, do it no justice but those who were there will remember.


The light also reveals a park bench on the side of the road. I stop and, as the sunrises, I succumb to sleep.

Let the pilgrimage continue without me for a bit.

Brest

I wake from my nap remarkably clear-headed and refreshed. From Trevezel, the course descends in stairsteps of rolling climbs to the bay of Brest. I stop along the way for coffee, water and gateux (cake) offered by a woman for the promise of a post card when I return. I give her a souvenir pin in addition to my promise.


Brest appears to be a Peninsula reached by a bridge. Everyone stops for a picture. 
photo by C. Newman
Brest is the halfway point. It is both a physical and mental milestone. The closer I get, the better I feel. As we ride through town, I note the places to eat and decide to get out of the controle as quickly as I can.

When I arrive at the controle, to my surprise I find team tandemnator: Katie and JB! After I check in, we talk a bit and decide to ride together for a while. Katie gives me some pocket food from her supply to carry me over until I can eat a proper meal and soon we head out.

I am concerned about the climb back up the Roc, if I bonk there, my ride will be over. I need calories. On the way out of town, I stop at a pizza delivery place and, with JB's help, order a pizza in french. I tell them to ride on and take my pizza for two across the street and eat the whole thing at a little park overlooking a quiet canal.

Now refueled, I feel stronger than I felt even when the ride began. My pace increases and I catch up with Katie and JB who waited for me in the town of Sizun. Sizun has a wonderful patisserie with sandwiches and pastries. I eat again. 


Together we re-climb the Roc, but this time I am alert and energized and the climbs shrink in my presence.  

Riding with Katie and JB adds a whole new dimension to the ride. We share stories, laughs, and the experiences of the day. We "bonjour" the people of France, plan our meals together, climb the hills and then bomb down the other side. Despite the accumulating fatigue, growing saddle discomfort and repeated climbing I am having a wonderful time.







We eat at a shop in Carhaix. Then move on toward Loudeac. Katie and JB (wisely) had alternate sleep plans. I, on the other hand, had to return to the disco morgue.

 Loudeac the second.

The second go at Loudeac. I am determined to find my drop bag. Searching through the collection from Campanile - I find it! The french panel discussion on where to put sleeping randos is in full session, but finally I get a cot. This time, with ear plugs and a mask, I get to sleep for about two full hours.

If memory serves me correctly, just outside of Loudeac, I stop to take off a layer of clothing and meet up with Jenny O. from California. She was riding with the North Carolina boys and they separated due to different sleep plans. We head off toward Tinteniac and join a small group of mostly American riders including Tim from Connecticut. Jenny and Tim ride a solid pace that is in my comfort zone and, glad for the company, I ride with them to the next controle.

Tinteniac reminds me of a refugee camp for cyclists. People sleep in mats on floors, with heads on tables, sleeping anywhere and everywhere. The kitchen serves soup and other foods. I eat - what it was I forget- but I know I opted for highest caloric value.



Eat. Sleep. Ride

After Tinteniac, I was riding even stronger than I had during the day, in fact, the longer the ride went on the stronger I felt. Sure my ass hurt from the saddle and I had a growing numbness in the pinkie of my left hand, but on the bike, I was in my element. It was as though the worldly exterior had fallen away from me and revealed a Randonneur. Eat, sleep, ride, repeat. On less than three hours sleep in over 60 hours, I was thriving in this primal state of being. Eat, sleep, ride, repeat.


As I fell into the rhythm of the ride, I began to rely on the people of Bretagne. I trusted that they would appear to provide water when needed, coffee when needed, to cheer us on in the dark hours. Most miraculous of all they did so, consistently. The people of Bretagne celebrated our journey and uplifted our failing spirits.


Somewhere between Tinteniac and Fougeres the sun rose. In Fougeres, I saw the massive castle that I somehow missed on the trip out.

Sleep deprivation has affected my ability to put some events in order, but I will always remember Villaines la Juhel. I was riding with Ian Hands from North Carolina. He was on a fixed gear bike. He rode out to Brest in Charlie Miller time but was making his way back at a more leisurely pace. Ian was concerned about getting sick and was eating roadside black berries as a preventative measure because they have vitamin C. We talked about riding and the wonder of riding PBP. This was his second time. 

Ian said that, before he started this time, he had wondered if the first time was as good as he remembered or had he romanticized the event. He told me a story of visiting a restaurant where the owner had the waiter bring them a special meal of omelets. The waiter looked familiar and someone asked if he had been a young boy the last PBP. The owner said yes, the waiter was his son, and had waited on them years before. The owner teared up in the telling and the remembering. PBP was special to him as well.

As we made the final turn into Villaines la Juhel, Ian said, 
 "Get ready to feel like a pro."
We turned the corner went straight into a wall of cheers. Hundreds of people greeted us as we arrived. Loudspeakers. Bands. Cheering kids. Applause. We rode through a tunnel of cheering fans. Ian high-fived kids along the way. They greeted us like returning heroes, like prodigal sons. Inside the control, children carried our trays of food to the tables.

It took my breath away. 

At Villaines, I re-connected with team Tandemnator and we left the control together.  At about that point, it began to become clear that we would not have enough time for any significant  sleep if we were going to finish the ride in time. As it was, we were bumping up against closing times. The rest of the ride would test us.

From Villaines the next control was Mortagne au Perche. On route, we passed through Mamers, a food stop, where once again scores of people were waiting despite the late hour. 

Leaving Mamers, we encountered a road where physics seemed not to apply. I remember riding in the dark and seeing taillights approaching the top of the hill ahead. I stopped pedaling and started coasting toward the lights - up hill. I checked my references, the bikes ahead were definitely above me and yet I was coasting, up hill. To this day, not only do I have no explanation, but another rider reported the same experience. In PBP there is a road where you can coast up hill.

At Mortagne au Perch team tandemnator and I had a frank assessment of our situation. Because of our respective start times, I had to finish by 11:30 the next day and they had to finish by 11:15. There was no time for any real sleep but I was hopeful for another hour and all us were desperate for at least five minutes. After eating, we crawled under the table and slept on the floor right there in the dining room.

Dreux

After Mortagne au Perch, I remember that I rode solo to Dreux, but I honestly don't recall how that came about. I hope that we agreed to meet up at Dreux, I fear that I rode on ahead desperate for sleep and leaving behind the two people who had transformed my ride for them to make it as best they can. I do remember that I was determined to finish, that I had come too far and done too much to let anything short of a catastrophe stop me.

I arrived in Dreux at 5:42 and planned to leave at 7:00. That would give me four and a half hours to ride 65 kilometers (40 miles). Ordinarily, that would be a gimme, but now? sleep deprived, saddle sore and after 1165 kilometers (723 miles) of riding? I wanted a big a time margin as possible. 

IL Pleut (It rains)

With a half hour of sleep, I was ready to roll at 7:00. Outside, a soft steady rain fell. I took it as a good sign. Rainy days have been good to me. Then, just as I was about to leave, in come JB and Katie! They made it! I was elated. I could also see the exhaustion on their faces. 

After some back and forth, I decided to delay my departure and leave with them at 7:30. They had 3 hours and 45 minutes to finish the ride, I had four hours. We started out together, climbing the hill that that leads out of Dreux. I remember coming to the realization that I could not help them to finish any more than they could help me. We each just had to pedal our bikes and finish the ride. The difference between success and failure would come down to desire.

I remember thinking of my wife and kids who would be there at the finish, about how much I wanted to see them and to have them see me finish this thing that I started years ago. My voice broke with emotion when I told Katie and JB that they had everything they needed to finish and I would be leaving to see my family. As I pulled away, the last thing I heard was JB cheering me on. The rain washed a tear from my eye.

Arrivee

On this, the last day of PBP, I felt strongest of all. My left pinkie was numb from ulnar nerve pressure. Saddle sores made sitting difficult. I had no odometer because someone knocked my bike over and the computer was lost.  But, despite all that, I felt supercharged. Perhaps everyone else in their sleep deprived state was moving at a crawl, or perhaps, just perhaps, under cool overcast skies, with a light raining falling, with just forty miles to go, the conditions were just right for me to let go of all doubts, all restraints and gave full rein to the spirit of the ride. What I do know is that, over those 40 miles, I passed hundreds of riders. I do know that every pedal stroke over those last 65 kilometers was an act of thankfulness. Thankful for the people of Bretagne. Thankful for the friends I made over the last five years. Thankful for my wonderful wife and fantastic kids. Thankful for this opportunity to ride - fast, strong and joyful - across the final stage of PBP. 

Je suis le coureur de fer. Je suis un Randonneur. Je suis un Ancien. 

Photo by M. A. Russell

51 comments:

  1. Great stuff. Loved chatting with you after the ride. You may not remember, but I was stoked to hear the thrill and wonder in your voice when you spoke of the experience. Reminded me of why I keep coming back.

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    1. Of course I remember. And thank you for the continuing inspiration.

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  2. Wonderful write-up as usual. In some ways I regret not attempting PBP but I did not feel mentally ready not having done a 1000/1200k beforehand. That being said, I am hoping to secure one of the 250 guaranteed spots for LEL. It starts 15 miles from my wife's sister's house in London. Congratulations on a tough finish! It seemed like many riders were slower than in previous years and were fighting the time clock.

    Hope to see you at the Hawk Mountain 200k (another of PA rides I have never done).

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  3. Fantastic report, Nigel! I especially love this imagery: "a charm bracelet of small, quiet French towns linked by long and winding roads" and "riders become bright lines of reflected light, points of glowing red, circles of white pools of light that dance on a blacktop stage, will-o-the wisps floating in the dark".

    Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Wonderful. And congratulations.

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    1. Thanks Keith. This blog would not have begun if I had not met you.

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  5. Great description. The joy and the effort both shine through. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  6. Wonderful report Nigel! Chapeau bas a vous!

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  7. Well written, Nigel, and a good juxtaposition to Jim R from Maine's pretty much non-stop recountings. Kudos to all, finishers and attempters. I feel your fatigue and joy, love that you finished so strong and how you started and finished your tale with love of family. Bon courage indeed. Hope we meet some day. -- Jim's wife, Julia Reuter

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  8. Brilliant report, brings it all back in its full glory (apart for the sleep deprivation) and fills in bits I have forgot about.

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  9. "In the afternoon light, we fly down a road lined with tall buttonwood trees that form a canopy of green leaves, their mottled trunks stately and picturesque aside golden fields under a french blue sky. I am awestruck by the beauty and the spectacle. This is real and I am here." Wow. I am so impressed. Impressed at the physical feat you just accomplished, and impressed by the discipline I know was behind your sitting down to recount your experience in writing. I was right there with you while reading this. I can imagine the happy reunion at the end. Well done!

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    1. Betsy, I'm so glad you took the time to read this.

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  10. Bravo!

    You now understand everything about PBP except one thing: how bittersweet it feels for a 2011 ancien four years later to read a sensitive and excellent account of another PBP, such as your fine account. A PBP that this 2011 ancien did _not_ ride.

    And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
    and surely I’ll buy mine!
    And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
    for auld lang syne.

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  11. Well written. Dave - we spoke at the airport Saturday as we boarded the flight to Dublin. Glad you finished! See you next year.

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  12. Nigel,
    This is such a wonderful report. Well done and congratulations!.

    Thank you,
    Susan France

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  13. Such an inspiring account as always.

    I always enjoy reading your blog and in fact, it helped drive my decision 18 months ago to shoot for PBP. I successfully finished. We only rode together once if I recall correctly, my first Brevet in 20 years-the Blue Mountain 200k!!! You were chatting with me on a climb while my heart rate monitor blurted out Code Red threatening to call Mommy. You asked me what that noise was and then suggested that I slow down. Funny what we remember...I remember the smell in the air at that very instance. I'll remember a little boy running alongside me on PBP thru a quant village on a slight ascent going towards the ubiquitous church. He shouted the usual and then his joyous eyes and beaming smile latched onto to me as we smacked high fives and then, he said, "Vous etes une vrai Champion, Allez, Allez, Allez" and who could forget a teenage son's hug at the finish saying how proud he was of me. Who could forget Lenhard Björn climibing up away from Brest with such ease and his gracious response to my double thumbs up. Guy is off the front on a climb on a 700km solo effort and responds with a wave and a head nod. We may not conside these fast riders as true Randos but his response to me said otherwise.

    When I read accounts like Nigel's, I am absolutely humbled at the effort and accomplishment.

    Congratulations, fellow Ancien.

    Anyways, Nigel, you tell great Rando stories. Thanks again.
    Ed
    RUSA560

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    1. Ed,

      Thank you for this.

      And congratulations, on your impressive PBP ride. I doubt i will ever have the opportunity again to suggest that you should slow down.

      until next time.

      Bonne Route and Bonne Journee.

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  14. Wonderful evocative report, many thanks for sharing it. Most definitely, "a story worth telling."

    Big, big congratulations!

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    1. so glad you took the time to read it.

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  15. A well-told story with a happy ending. Congratulations!

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  16. I was incredibly moved by your account. I've read so many PBP stories that made it sound like a cakewalk, but yours very eloquently captures the delirious highs and lows of the experience. Félicitations!

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  17. This is the account of PBP 2015 that I'll point potential participants to in the future. I still am awed by the support and welcome shown to us along the route it is most certainly one huge reason why I returned in 2015. Well done sir, well done.

    RUSA 2515

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    1. Rob, Thanks for reading and commenting. The west coast was well represented at PBP. Hope to meet you sometime.

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  18. Nigel, I met you briefly while you were riding with Jenny. I thought for sure you were a San Francisco Bay Area local by your bike and was surprised to hear you were from Pennsylvania. I really enjoyed your write-up. You captured many of the feelings I had on my ride, too, and that seem so difficult for me to put into words. Congratulations on your ride and thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

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    1. I remember our conversation. It was good to have had your company during the ride. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed the post. It was a special event.

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  19. Beautifully written. You're a poetic writer! I'm so glad you enjoyed the French as much as I always have. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Jen

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    1. Let's trade stories of France over a bottle or two of wine.

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  20. Nigel, my PBP wouldn't have been as spectacular without you. My absolute favorite part of the ride was sitting on that bench in Sizun eating those chicken sandwiches. Thank you for sharing the miles with me, for making me laugh, making me smile and making have the best BREVET OF MY LIFE!

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    1. Katie,
      I so glad to have met up with you during the ride and had the chance to share most of the second half of the course. You have an insuppressible spirit and drive not to mention the fact that you may be the best in the closing stretch of a brevet that I've ever known or heard of. Big congrats to you on making this goal happen. I have an inkling of what was involved . . .

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  21. "The light also reveals a park bench on the side of the road. I stop and, as the sunrises, I succumb to sleep." Yes you did. Gentlemen or their bikes do not lie on grass :). I had to take a fhoto. https://www.dropbox.com/s/txx9ve90rltorjl/IMGP0082.JPG?dl=0
    Nice to hear your ride went ok. BR. G252

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    1. Ha Ha! More proof that it is a small world. And yes, neither I nor my bike ever lie in the grass! LOL!

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  22. Hello,
    I discovered your website and your beautiful story of PBP 2015. Congratulations on your success. I myself have a site http://mesrandonneesavelo.e-monsite.com. Do you agree that the translation I share your story on my site? I think the French hikers many will like. Are you the hiker number G 127 which is on the last picture? This year I did not participate in PBP but I went driving for two days on the course and I had the pleasure of meeting hikers Seattle.
    I do not speak your language. Excuse Google translation.
    Good road and nice bike rides!
    Loïc BALANDE
    Cyclos Randonneurs de l'Anjou
    in Angers (France)

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  23. great ride, great report - thanks for the inspiration!

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  24. I've recently been reading alot of PBP accounts this year. It's great reading about strangers offering assistance or encouragement to the riders. France is such a nice country to ride in, it seems!

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  25. Nigel,

    I just re-read your account and once again it brought me to tears.

    I encountered you several times along the route and you were a different Nigel; much less open and jovial, choosing to focus all your energies on completing the challenging task at hand.

    I am so impressed! Bravo.

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    1. Bill,
      I'm glad to have shared part of the experience with you. The mechanical challenges you overcame to make your ride happen are still generating stories! Now, that was impressive.

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  26. Nigel ~ Well done! I loved this ride report when I read it in August and I enjoyed it again this morning when I read it in American Randonneur. Your eye for detail and use of language are so evocative that reading this piece places me right back in the hills of Brittany. You remind me just how important it is to read and write about randonneuring to help us make meaning out of this crazy sport we enjoy so much. Happy New Year!

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    1. Thanks George. Looking forward to riding with you in 2016.

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  27. I too shy away from large, organized group rides BUT would love to take this route “off season” as a solo or with a small group of friends.

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  28. At some point during the ride, you’ll likely be completely alone in the middle of nowhere. And then it will hit you: here you are, riding a bike along a quiet and picturesque rural road through the French countryside. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.

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  29. I can’t imagine doing the PBP. To ride essentially 3.5 double centuries over 3.5 days is beyond my capabilities. And this is coming from somebody who cycled 18,000 miles around the world last year. Hats off to all those who’ve attempted the PBP. You have my greatest respect and admiration!

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