PBP ride report (long)

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Metin Uz

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Sep 2, 2019, 1:38:45 PM9/2/19
to San Francisco Randonneurs
Sorry for the long report. TL;DR version:



Day 1 - Rambouillet to Loudeac - 280 miles

I ride the mile or so from the hotel, join the queue for the 5am start. I hear Rob yell my name, but the line is long and I don't feel like cutting in. Further back I join a larger group of SFR riders: Bill, Craig, Anson, Roy and Sourav. After some nervous waiting, the gate opens at 5 and we spill onto the road, after a cobblestone descent and a tricky turn. I keep telling myself: "just don't crash!"

It is a large group, but the roads are fairly open, no riding through narrow streets and road furnitures like the last time. The pack seems to stay intact for an hour or so, then thins out. We are passed by the pointy end of the Y start group; they are fast and organized, cut through our pack in no time. We settle in; Bill rides ahead and Sourav follows. We then see Bill stopped on the side and he joins us; no sign of Sourav. First rays of sun.

I see a group of riders stopped on the right, a downed cyclist with blood on her face being tended. We soon see an ambulance going that way. Reminds me to be extra vigilant the first few hours. Sun is low, speeds are high as everyone is running with nervous energy.

The faster Z guys catch us, we then get enveloped in a large group of Y riders. Bill and Craig are further up with a couple SFR riders I can see but not quite identify. I can't get out of the large group as much as I try; I get ahead on climbs and then caught in the descents. We soon arrive in Mortagne, the first rest stop some 70 miles in. 

I park my bike and go straight for the soup and mashed potatoes. I see Rob and Sourav doing the same. Somehow it doesn't taste quite as good as I remembered.

I leave with Sourav, Mike Sturgill zooms past on a descent. For a second I think of working harder on the climb to say hi, but realize my chances of catching him are slim.

After a little while, I get passed by two riders, one with Dill Pickle bags (like mine), I yell out "nice bags!". They are 
Sam and Brian from Chicago. We roll together for the next 10 miles, chatting. Being on fixed gear, I normally go harder on climbs, but they are going harder still. They have done a lot of riding in Wisconsin, where the hills are steep. After a while, I tell them I will back off a little, but they pull over to stop and I ride on.

By now, the gentle headwind has turned into a constant in-your-face annoyance. The 60 miles from Mortagne to the first control at Villaines-la-Juhel seem to take forever. I finally arrive, some 45 minutes behind schedule and feeling down. But this town will lift your spirits, it seems they are having a non-stop party at the control, feels like the end of a Tour de France stage.

Trying to make up for lost time, I keep the break short. Get a pastry, fill the bottles, back on the bike. A few miles out, I get passed by Yu and Jeff, who asks me: "are you soft pedaling?" I tell him that's all I got on fixed gear, he veers into the oncoming lane to check it out, in disbelief.

By now, the wind is in full force, which is a double whammy on fixed gear. I am mostly riding solo in the wind, and my cadence is too slow, effectively pushing a larger gear. I feel grumpy. I have to remind myself: you are so lucky to be here, enjoy it!

I start passing some 90-hour riders, and note that this is quite a bit earlier than last time. We are not even 300k in, and they started 8-10 hours earlier. Many are stopped, looking at their phones, seemingly no longer interested in riding.

A little before Fougères Anson and Roy catch up -- I did not know if they were behind or ahead. I tell Anson I had been praying for a tailwind, but I will make do with their company instead. We roll together for a while, but a larger group with Robert S catches up and the group feels too large and disorganized so I drop back and ride on my own. 

I get into the control and find Roy and Anson there, we ride to the cafeteria, where we happen to sit down with Bill and Louis (Santa Cruz RBAs) for lunch; they are volunteering in Fougères. Jeff marvels that I am there, he must have figured I will never make it at the rate I was going. After good company and a nice meal, my spirits are lifted. We leave together, I expect I can ride with them all the way to the overnight control as there are no big hills in between.

A Danish woman gets on our wheel on the climb out of town, then stays with us for a while. She must have found our pace insufficient, she proceeds to go to the front and then pulls at a brisk pace. Roy lets go as she speeds up further to bridge to the next group, we tease him about her riding him off her wheel.

A German rider in Seattle Randonneurs jersey falls back and rides with us for a while. He had lived in Seattle, he says he likes the jersey as it's better and cheaper than Rapha (hard to argue). It's the golden hour and lighting looks magical, sun rays piercing through the crowds. I take a few pictures. When I see  just the right background I pull out my camera quickly and drop my USB battery. I yell out to Roy that  I'll go back and get it, and he acknowledges it. As I search the roadside for a small black cylinder in the fading light, my good friends Roy and Anson launch an attack. I ride hard for a mile or so, but no sight. Then I see the German guy stopped at a roadside stand; I give up and settle in my pace. Soon Robert passes by in a large group again.

There are some menacing rain clouds up in the horizon, occasional sprinkles, then some very wet roads. I arrive in Tinténiac as it's getting dark. I sit down with Robert at the cafeteria, Eileen and Paul V sitting nearby. Paul has called it quits, he is questioning his choice of bike, a Bike Friday. Robert tells me Anson and Roy were leaving as he arrived.

I leave and settle in for the solo 55 mile ride in the dark to Loudéac, my planned overnight stop. I am 2 hours behind schedule, I figure I will arrive at 1:30am. Yet I know there are 2 more days and I can't make up for the wind delay by riding harder now.

I catch a glimpse of the first riders returning from Brest. There seem to be a few small groups with escort cars behind, definitely looking like a race. I remember seeing them around the same place last time, but now in the dark.

Further on, I see more riders returning, now in ones and twos, and no escorts. They are dropped down on their bars, look like angels with wings when my light falls on their reflective vests. After what feels like forever, I arrive at the control. There is a steep ramp with a 90-degree turn at the end. The rider ahead slows down in the gravel before, I know I can't make it up without building up some speed, so walk my bike sheepishly and find a spot to park.

To my surprise, I see Roy and Anson walking around - they tell me they are looking for their bikes. If you don't note where you park, it's awfully hard to spot it in the sea of bikes under sodium lights (and the fog of riding all day). I get my card stamped, pick up my drop bag and head for the hotel. Check-in is easy, the clerk asks my name and hands me a key. I devour the food laid out in the breakfast room, take a quick shower and get in bed, set the alarm for 4.5 hours later, turn off the light. Next thing I hear is my alarm -- surely this can't be right?!

Day 2 - Loudéac to Brest to Loudéac, 210 miles

I had gone straight to sleep last night, so it takes me a while to get ready. One of the few advantages of riding solo; I don't care when I leave. Quick breakfast and on the road shortly after 8. The sun is shining, but it's still foggy and cold. I see Sourav stopped on the side, he says he's putting on an extra layer. I pass Robert shortly after.

I climb past many riders, legs feeling good after the rest. I come upon Sam and Brian; they had a hard time sleeping in the noisy gym. 

The hills ease up a little, then I arrive at Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem "secret control", which is not so secret. I see Cheryl, she is still peeved about the tough first day, such a slog. 

I see a tandem I recognize stopped at a roadside stand; soon they pass me and we exchange pleasantries. It's Ed and Mary (of Chasing Mailboxes fame). They tell me they had been riding with a number of my compatriots -- we are easy to spot wearing the SFR jersey. 

I arrive in Carhaix, where I meet the group (Rob, Brian, Anson and Roy). We sit down for a meal, I leave before them as has been the custom. I really like the quiet pretty climb towards Huelgoat. 

Soon after, I am passing a rider with 6 feet of space, she veers straight left just a few feet in front of me, miraculously steers back and stays upright. She had fallen asleep for a split second. My adrenaline is running high, I feel like sprinting away. Not sure if she speaks English, I say "you really need to stop and take a nap -- this is not safe". She says, "Yes, you are right" and falls back.

I approach Roc'h Trevezel, the feared big "climb" of the ride at 1250ft elevation. Doesn't feel like much of a climb, gets a little steeper at the top. As I start the descent, I start watching the endless lines of people coming up, back from Brest. I yell words of encouragement when I spot someone I recognize, or someone in the SFR jersey. There goes bunch of Seattle guys, I yell at Andy.

I finally arrive at Sizun, a busy town overrun by cyclists. I stop to fill my bottles at a roadside table; Rob and Brian show up. I leave, then realize I forgot to ask Rob whether he was going to stop for a beer as he had mentioned earlier. I think of turning back, but push on.

There is a little climb, then the inbound and outbound routes are split. I hear "I didn't realize you were riding fixed". It's the English guy I passed earlier and recognized as he is not wearing a helmet. We start talking, he has done Gold Rush and Cascade on fixed gear. He is riding an older Mercian, so we have lots to talk about. After a while he needs to stop to plug in his Garmin, then passes me as I'm taking a bio break. I see him on the bridge to Brest, where everyone stops for a picture. He takes my picture as I stand by my bike.

I remember the long lines at Brest cafetaria, so stop at a pattiserie on the long climb to the control. I eat a fromage blanc dessert and buy a chorizo and cheese ficelle just the right size for my jersey pocket. I get into the control, get a stamp, fill my bottles and see Cheryl getting ready to leave. She is surprised that I'm leaving as she has seen me roll in. We ride together, lots of stop lights on the way out. She expresses frustration, I say "you are used to this, you ride in the city!" She then rides like in San Francisco, jumps a curb to go past a line of stopped cars. I follow, she just makes the light and I stop, and she's gone.

I stop at my favorite crepe stand, just where the routes combine before Sizun. I come back to my bike to find an older French man looking at my bike. He moves the pedal up and down, showing that the chain doesn't move, i say "pignon fixe" in my very limited French. He mimes riding up hills, flexes his arm, we have a moment without a common language. 

Back through Sizun, I decide not to stop even though a cold beer is appealing. I make it into Carhaix at the golden hour. Quick meal, then put on night gear and get ready to leave. I notice the volunteer checking the riders for lights and reflective vests, very dilligent. I hand her a pin, she's thrilled, gives me a hug and we have a picture taken before I leave. 

I stop at a pasture with cows as the darkness falls. It looks so surreal, I can't help but take a few pictures. 

I come upon a group, one wearing SFR jersey and vest. I yell out "San Francisco", Peter C answers "who is this?" He tells me his tales of woe. I am always up for hearing somebody else's tales of woe, and Peter is full of stories. We discuss plans for the rest of the ride. They have not slept much and have little time in the bank, I recommend sleep by Loudéac if not earlier.  Peter falls back to rejoin his posse, I push on. 

I remember enjoying this section last time, still feels great but now in darkness. I go through the secret control again, don't even bother to fill my bottle.

 I ride past big groups, some pushing their bikes up the hill. I feel bad; long way to the next control, and even longer to finish, and the hills are relentless. 

First red lights marking wind turbines, then a spill of light in the horizon. I know it's getting close. At the top of a hill, a volunteer is shaking a flag and yelling in French, I barely make out "arretez" (stop) and "virage" (curve). Then it's a thrilling descent, steep with some sharp turns in the dark. I don't remember this, perhaps a new section.

As I enter the corral at the control, I hear my name. It's Dan B on his way out. This time I have no problem negotiating the ramp. I see Cheryl about to leave  for her BnB some 10km out. We discuss departure time in the morning, she is thinking 8. I suggest later; she will be closer to the next control, perhaps leave at 9?

Same routine; back to hotel, eat, shower, go to bed. This time I wake every hour or two. Wake up to the alarm, pack my bag, breakfast, then drop the bag at the control. I meet Jean Francois (who is running the drop bags), we chat a little, I depart around 8:15, an hour after control closing. Oh, I see the dreaded ramp now in daylight, it's nothing!

Day 3: Loudéac to Rambouillet, 270 miles

Next town, I ride by a bakery that smells so inviting! I am still full, so I push on. I ride past an ambulance; there is a bike on the grass, but I can't quite make out what happened.

A velomobile passes me like I am standing still, and I catch and pass it on the next climb. I notice a rider who had passed me earlier, now he's pushing his bike up the hill, looking like his legs are cramping. I pass and get passed a lot in the next 20 miles; seems like I can't find anyone riding my pace.

I spot Sourav shortly before Tinténiac, sitting roadside. I stop to check, he is resting, we roll together. He has slept for an hour at Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem, then showered in Loudéac. We get separated but arrive close together at the control, then stop to eat.

It's easy miles to the next control at Fougères. I see Roy in front of the restaurant, ask if he's leaving but can't make out the reply. I get my stamp, say hi to Bill working at the control, and come back to find the whole crew getting ready to leave, including the tandem. People look beat up in the heat. I go inside for a meal.

I leave town, noting that the route has changed, we are riding on the shoulder of a busier road. I spot Peter and his posse, but it takes a while to catch them. They have had a nice sleep stop in Loudéac and are looking much better.

Strangely, it's the tandem again, with the whole crew (Rob, Brian, Anson, Roy), and a bunch of other riders stringing along. I pass them on a climb, they pass me on the descent, I don't give a chase.

Soon I find them sitting at the famous crepe stand, where the owner asks riders for postcards when they're back home. I stop for a bite and leave with them, it's fun trying to hang on at the back as we descend. I know a longer hill is coming up before Villaines, so I leave them behind. Brian joins me, he's decided it's no fun trying to climb at the tandem's pace. I point out he may feel the same about my descending.

On the next climb, he and I observe something surreal: a rider has stopped on the road, fumbling with something. Another rider plows onto him and hits the deck. It's as if he never saw the guy; did not even attempt to brake. Fortunately this was not at speed; nobody looks badly injured. Clueless, meet oblivious!

Shadows are getting longer; Brian and I are looking forward to Villaines-la-Juhel. He asks me how far, relieved to hear "6 km" -- I'm just repeating what the spectators were yelling in French. Lots of people cheering us on, kids lined up for high-fives. Gavin B from PA catches us, we chat a little, then he bombs down the last hill, making me work hard to stay with him. Fun!

We are back in my favorite town, and the party is in full swing! Stacy is right ahead, I snap a picture. The band is playing, I barely make out someone yelling my name, but thinking maybe it's something French. Then I see Mark B waving at me, looking all happy. I tell him I had been following them on the tracker, but Deb's tag must not be working. He says it's working fine, but Deb has abandoned before the first control.

As I park my bike, I see Bill M walk by. His head is in a contraption with inner tubes, he has Shermer's neck and can't hold his head. He looks to be in a good mood considering; he says he should make it to finish with plenty of time.

We sit with a large group of American riders. Soon Rob, Anson and Roy join us. We are discussing plans for the rest of the ride. It's getting dark and we have a little over 200km to go. At this point, I am tempted to push on and sleep after finishing.

Again I leave first. After a little climb, there is a long descent where I am about to spin out. At the base, I hear a cheerful voice "that's too much excitement for me!". I look back, she seems to be riding a fixed gear, but tells me it's an internal gear hub. It's Lydia and Steve from Indiana; she tells me she hasn't had much sleep, but has had her first, second and third cups of coffee ever! They have about 14 hours to finish, I encourage them on. "Have you ever taken 14 hours to ride 200k?", aware that they are probably on the bubble (spoiler alert: they finished!).

Now the roads are full of cyclists, many of whom appear to be sleep deprived. Large groups standing on the side, some riders riding on the median, many times slowly and/or wobbly. I get nervous passing one of these; not sure if I should pass on the right or go into the oncoming lane to pass on the left. Do I warn them of my presence, or sneak my way through?

I see a group stopped on the road, on the left (oncoming) lane. I warn them to get off, not much later I see a car coming towards us.

Gavin comes by in a group. They are planning to stop for sleep at an AirBnB a little before Mortagne. There are cafes and bars open, lots of bikes and riders congregated.

I arrive at Mortagne-au-Perche, grabbing some pastries and a cup of coffee, then finding a seat across Leif B. We chat a little, again I leave first. 

As I push my bike towards the exit, I hear "Do you think this was a good idea" in a Welsh accent. I look to find another fixed gear bike being pushed, our pedals rotating along. He is Bryn, and riding this for the last time, "and the last time!" he assures me. I bet him he will change his mind, just give it a couple weeks. 

We seem to have a very similar pace, cutting through the crowds uphill and then spinning down. We talk about the usual stuff, places we ride, politics, Brexit, ... It's getting chilly, Bryn says he will stop to put on layers and I continue.

I see the left turn I missed the last time. I spot the bar we stopped for coffee while Theresa took a cat nap. Fun to reminisce.

I spot some SFR vests further up; it's Sean and John F. They seem to be having a good time, we ride together for a while, telling stories. As we get close to Dreux, the penultimate control, I get the urge to go faster. I pick up one, two, then three riders on my wheel. Couple of tricky turns at the end, and we are at the control. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. It's getting cold, feels nice to get in.

I remember spending way too long here last time. I wash my face with warm water, which feels nice but makes me wish I was at the finish, taking a warm shower. I get a pastry and a dessert, see Sandra and Tim M walking around. It's almost sunrise. I put on my jacket for the first time, I had carried it the whole ride so might as well. 

It's an easy 27 miles to the finish. Unlike the last segment, I don't feel any urgency, ride slowly, taking in the scenery. Couple of groups ride by, passing slowly but I decide to ride solo. Towards the end, I am behind a recumbent and the rider appears to be having problems, taking his feet out and shaking. I approach and ask if he's OK. He says he's tilting to one side and can't figure out why; has never happened before. I recall seeing other riders sitting crooked with heavily tilted bikes, I had wondered about that.

The finish is a little anticlimactic. Descend cobblestones into the Bergery, ride the couple kms into the finish chute. Another stretch of cobblestones shakes my glasses so much I can barely see the spectators gathered around. And just like that, the ride is over. I remember to take a picture of my brevet card after the final stamp, then enjoy a meal at the finish tent, sitting with Greg M and Michael T.

Roy

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Sep 2, 2019, 2:36:01 PM9/2/19
to sfra...@googlegroups.com
Riveting story. Thanks for this. It makes me believe that this ride can be so much easier with eating at someplace other than controls and planning ahead on hotels. Anson and I lost our bikes which really killed our time of sleeping. Sort of snowballed from there. There is a huge tendency to use up time at the controls. Anyway, thoughts of doing it better still have no bearing on repeating this ride again since I did it once.

Roy.
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Peter Curley

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Sep 2, 2019, 5:38:02 PM9/2/19
to sten...@gmail.com, sfra...@googlegroups.com
Metin - it was nice to meet you out on the road. Also thanks for the instruction on “control hygiene”.....I have much to learn.  

Sent from my iPhone

Charlie Martin

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Sep 2, 2019, 11:11:58 PM9/2/19
to Peter Curley, Roy Ross, SF Randonneurs
Nice write-up, thanks for putting it together! Now I am very curious to see a report from Peter Curley. :)

- Charlie

Peter Curley

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Sep 3, 2019, 10:25:08 AM9/3/19
to Charlie Martin, Roy Ross, SF Randonneurs
I'm working on it!
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Peter Curley
415-513-8950






Roy

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Sep 22, 2019, 10:04:30 PM9/22/19
to Peter Curley, SF Randonneurs
Did I miss it or are you still ironing out the details?

Roy.

Sourav Das

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May 22, 2022, 8:28:36 PMMay 22
to San Francisco Randonneurs
Bumping this for those who may have missed Metin's ride report of PBP 2019.

Sourav

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