After completing a metric century in the spring of 1999 in my one-year home of
Southern California, a few riders asked me if I was doing Paris-Brest-Paris
that year. I was confused, having never heard of the event. The only thing I
could think of was that it was one of the "classics," like Paris-Roubaix. Of
course I don't race, and they knew that, so I had no idea why they were asking.
I said no and left it at that, as the conversation changed topics. That was
the first I heard of PBP.
Months later, after learning all about randonneuring and brevets, PBP was held.
I read Chuck Bramwell's online account of his 1999 PBP experience. His
description of the elation he felt after crossing the finish line and seeing
his family stuck with me. I read the other ride reports that people posted and
knew that I had to try this someday. That someday arrived this past August.
Cassie (my wife) and I took the red-eye to France two days before the event. I
tried to get myself on France time as best I could, but a combination of
jetlag, excitement, and a non-working air conditioning unit kept me up until
5am the night before the ride. It probably didn't matter though, since the
nature of a 10pm start for PBP is that you are very quickly going to have a
very screwed-up body clock. After sleeping until noon and a day of moderate
sightseeing, we made our way to St. Quentin en Yvelines around 7pm. My bike,
that made the cross-Atlantic trip without any trouble, was loaded and ready to
go. I was a bit nervous, but having completed BMB in 2001 I knew that I should
be able to handle a 750 mile ride in 90 hours. The two things I was most
concerned about were particular to this ride--the night time start and the
unfamiliarity of a foreign country.
On the train to St. Quentin (a small office-park dominated suburb about 30
kilometers from Paris), I ran into Sam Collins, a Brooklynite I had ridden
parts of the New Jersey brevets with. Although there were only about 20 riders
from the New Jersey brevets doing PBP, this was the beginning of a long string
of fortuitous meetings over the course of the four-day event. I had planned to
meet Bob Powers and Joe Keenan for the pre-ride dinner and quickly found them
amidst the long line of colorful riders with interestingly prepared bicycles
waiting for food. We stuffed ourselves with as much as we could, boring Cassie
with talk of the brevets and the ride to come. I agreed to meet Bob at the
back of the start area around 9:15.
From the restaurant, Cassie and I walked the half mile to the start area. She
had done everything I could have asked to help me prepare for the ride--being
tolerant of the training and brevet schedule, encouraging me when I didn't want
to get out of bed at 2 in the morning for a brevet, forgiving the excessive
purchases required for this hobby, and agreeing to vacation in Paris while I
biked for four days (OK, maybe that's not that much of a sacrifice). But now,
we had to part and I had to do this alone. She took a few pictures of me
getting ready and mixing in with the crowd, we hugged and said our goodbyes,
and then I was off into the big crowd at the start.
The start area was filled with people. The ride itself has over 4000
participants, but the 10pm start (for those taking advantage of the full 90
hours) had about 2500 cyclists. We all had to get to the field behind a large
gymnasium while also processing our magnetic ID cards. It took about an hour
before I got to the back and found Bob waiting for me. The mass of cyclists
waiting to start was amazing--all sorts of people with colorful clothes, a huge
variety of bikes, and lots of reflective gear. The excitement was palpable, as
everyone was waiting for the opportunity to prove that their months and years
of hard work was worth it.
Waiting in the back of the long start line with Bob, we came across a group of
other New Jersey riders. The familiar faces were a very welcome sight. The
large group of us slowly made our way to the front of the gymnasium and finally
started with the 10:45pm group (the large start required 15 minute intervals
between groups). PBP finally had started!
It was a perfect night for riding. The French heatwave that killed thousands
and scared all of us PBP riders in late July and early August had subsided a
few days before. There were a few clouds in the sky, but it was a pleasantly
cool night with almost no wind (wind didn't factor into the ride at all over
the four days--what an amazing stroke of luck!). We couldn't have asked for
better nighttime riding weather. The adrenaline of the beginning of the event
mixed with the crowds of people wishing us farewell (bon voyage!) in St.
Quentin to really get the riders excited.
At the start of an event like this, it's a tough balance between taking
advantage of your fresh legs and not overdoing it early on in a long event. It
seemed that Bob and I, unlike the other New Jersey riders we were with, tended
more toward the "taking advantage" side of the balance than the other riders,
as we were passing hordes and hordes of riders going 20+ mph for the first
couple of hours. As many riders as we were passing, there were always hundreds
more in front of us--the line of riders didn't stop. It was an amazing sight.
The only thing slowing us down was our frequent need for bathroom breaks (I
definitely overhydrated in the hours before the ride--a frequent problem for
me) and my pesky cyclocomputer magnet that kept detaching from my front wheel.
Bob and I made it to the first stop area in Mortagne au Perche around 4am. We
did our best to eat quickly (what food do you eat at 4 in the morning?), but
it's hard to describe just how slow you move when there are hundreds of people
trying to eat at the same time and there's a language barrier. Our quick stop
took over half an hour, and that was one of the quickest I'd have over the next
It was still dark when we got back on the bike, and we continued to roll along
passing all sorts of colorful riders. Surprisingly, very few others latched
onto our quick pace--the fast ones must have been ahead of us and the riders
near us probably thought we were crazy for moving so quickly so early. My
computer magnet was still giving me trouble on this leg, so we stopped a few
more times trying to fix it and finally found a great solution--the electrical
tape that I packed (Cassie had asked me, "why are you bringing that?" to which
I replied, "I don't know, but it might come in handy") mounted it securely on
my bike for the rest of the ride (and still holds it there to this day).
As daybreak came, we pulled into the next stop area, the first checkpoint, in
Villaines la Juhel. The checkpoint was the first of fourteen scheduled to be
on the route. All were pretty much the same--friendly volunteers who spoke no
English, a small area with quick bites to eat and drinks as well, and a larger
restaurant area with hot food. Thanks to the RUSA bad drop, I changed into a
clean jersey and gathered some replenishments for my on-bike nutrition (i.e.,
fuel). Bob and I left the checkpoint but couldn't resist a few fresh
croissants at the local patisserie before leaving town. The fresh breads and
baked goods in all the towns were an incredible part of the experience, and we
weren't about to pass up the early morning smells coming from the storefronts.
Now that the sun was up, the beautiful day that lay before us came into focus.
There were very few clouds, and the high temperature eventually reached only
about 80 degrees. It was great cycling weather. And the scenery matched
it--beautiful rolling green farmland dominated the route except for the forest
in the first and last 100 miles (which I never saw because I crossed it both
times in the dark). About every five or ten miles there were mostly small
towns, with the occasional larger town interspersed. They were all, for the
most part, on the top of hills (to watch for invaders centuries ago?), but none
of the hills were terribly long or steep. They did, however, keep the legs and
lungs working hard, since there were very few purely flat sections of the ride.
At the next checkpoint, it was evident that the quick pace had taken a toll on
Bob, as he wasn't feeling too good. I was tired and a bit groggy, but my legs
felt great and I thought it was important to press on while I could. We were
193 miles into the ride and I wanted to get to the checkpoint at mile 281
before stopping to sleep. Bob needed a break, so he found a cot in the rest
area while I kept going.
Luckily, I didn't have to go on alone though. Linda McAdams, another NJ brevet
rider, was at the Fougeres checkpoint and was about to leave when I was, so we
left together. Linda is a very strong rider who was doing her first 1200. We
had ridden a bunch together in the past, so it was great to ride with another
friendly face. The leg to Tinteniac was the shortest leg on the ride and was
also one of the least hilly. As the day progressed, I felt more and more
groggy (there's no other word for it). My legs and lungs felt fine and the
rest of my body had yet to really feel the effects of being on the bike for so
long. But, my mind was not clear at all, despite the Vivarin I was beginning
to consume (and, since I'm not a coffee drinker, continued to consume for much
of the ride). I had ridden this long before without feeling this way, so all I
could conclude was that the late night start was really getting to me. Having
ridden about 16 hours at that point PLUS the 10 hours I was awake Monday before
the event meant my mind was close to fried. Riding in a group really helped
keep me focused, but I knew getting where I wanted to sleep overnight would be
On the leg from Fougeres to Tinteniac, I encountered the only instance of
hostility toward bike riders I would experience on the entire ride. What
appeared to be a bunch of teenage boys or young men in a car (isn't that always
the case?) threw a carton of orange juice at a group of us. Luckily, no one
What was so amazing about that incident was how different it was from every
other interaction with non-riders over the course of the four days. Before the
event, I had heard of how supportive the French people along the route were,
but I could never have imagined how absolutely unbelievable the support
everywhere on the route actually was. Except for the absolute dead of the
night hours, people in towns and on farms were out supporting the riders in
every conceivable way--old ladies waving from their door fronts, families
cheering us on over picnic lunches or dinners, young kids handing out water and
fruit to everyone passing, bikes decorated with lights and flowers placed
everywhere along the route, signs welcoming PBP riders to town, the man
somewhere along the return route making crepes for the riders, the countless
cries of "bon route!" "bon courage!" and "bon jour!". All of it was amazing
and inspiring, especially for those of us coming from a country where having a
car pass you without honking madly is considered the kindest of gestures. If
I'm going to remember anything about this ride 50 or 60 years from now, it's
going to be seeing Cassie at the finish and the amazing French people along the
route who treated us like kings and queens, rather than like the insane
self-induced sleep-deprived cycling crazies we really were.
Linda and I got into Tinteniac around 4:15 in the afternoon. I wasn't up for
the food options they had there, so I quickly left the checkpoint to go into
town to get some chocolate croissants (I'm sure I had more than 25 over the
course of four days). Linda needed some repair work on her rear derailleur (it
wasn't holding the chain very well) and the line for that was very long, so she
stayed behind. As I was eating my croissants in front of the supermarket,
along came Linda. Her bike had been fixed much more quickly than she had
expected, so she generously volunteered to eat one of the remaining croissants
from the four-pack I had bought, and we then continued along. After passing a
group of four eight year old girls holding some sort of homemade pompoms and
doing a PBP-rah-rah-rah cheer, we climbed away from Tinteniac. Unfortunately,
Linda's bike started making the same noise again, so she turned back to
Tinteniac and left me to ride alone.
I came across a very nice rider from Georgia (the state, not the country) and
we shared the next twenty miles or so, with him racing past me on the downhills
and me gliding by him on the uphills (can you guess? he was much bigger than
me). I was feeling much groggier though and the Vivarin was doing nothing, so
eventually I let him go and rode along at my own sluggish pace. I was
struggling at this point, approaching 30+ awake hours without sleeping and
having spent 20+ of those hours on the road. In the middle of nowhere, like a
mirage in a desert, a young boy was off the side of the road with a table full
of water and small plums. I stopped, smiled at him, drank his water and ate
several of his plums, and thanked him as best I could in my terrible French.
The stop, the fresh water, and the tasty plums were a saving grace for me.
Plus, the timing worked out very well, as Linda pedaled along just as I was
leaving the plum-stop. Her bike was working again (for the time-being), and
she was feeling fresh, so she helped me along in the last miles of the leg to
I'm sure the town of Loudeac is a nice town with good people. I never saw the
town though, as both times I approached and left it was dark. And,
unfortunately, both times I was dead tired after a full day of riding, so I
will forever associate Loudeac with exhaustion and pain. Linda had a hotel
room pre-booked, so she went off to that for a good night's sleep. I was not
so foresightful (or was I just too cheap?), so after stuffing my face with the
same chicken and pasta dish I had been eating at the rest stops all day, I took
my place in the line waiting for a bed in the general sleeping area.
Keep in mind that both times I was at Loudeac I was at my lowest points, but
there is no way to describe the checkpoint without comparing it to a refugee
camp. The bathrooms are out in the open (with toilets in stalls--instead of
mere pits--only recently installed, according to PBP old-timers); there are no
urinals, just a wall of a building with some kind of plumbing attached and yes,
the wall was literally out in the open. Everyone there was tired, dead tired,
zombie-tired. Those who weren't sleeping were wandering around with dazed eyes
confused about where they were going and what they were doing. The sleeping
area was filled with rows of military-issue cots with the barest of blankets
covering riders who were passed out from exhaustion. Yet, predictably, when I
finally made my way through the line to get a cot, lying down on the stretched
canvas felt like lying down on a king-sized bed at the Plaza. I went to sleep
at 11:30pm Tuesday night and asked to be woken up at 2:30am.
I awoke on my own slightly before the volunteer came to wake me up. I gathered
my things and made my way to the main eating area for some breakfast. What I
found there was a scene out of some horror movie--bodies strewn on the floor,
on chairs, on tables. The people who were not knocked out were wandering
aimlessly or mechanically shoveling food in their mouths. I'm sure I looked no
better, but at least I had gotten some sleep. One of the people wandering
around looking confused was Sam Collins (the Brooklynite). His drop bag never
made it to Loudeac and all of his supplies (change of clothes, warm clothes,
batteries for lights, food for the bike) were nowhere to be found. He had been
considering dropping out, but he saw that I was about to leave and decided to
The pairing worked well, as Sam and I cruised up and down the bigger hills
between Loudeac and Carhaix. It was very cold overnight--in the mid-40s--and I
didn't have the right clothes for it. I welcomed the bodyheat generated on the
uphills and dreaded the wind going right through my clothes on the downhills.
At the secret checkpoint halfway through, we picked up Rich from Manhattan
(another NJ brevet rider). He had asked for a 5:30 wakeup at Loudeac and when
the volunteer woke him up, he got on his bike and rode on. He didn't realize
until he asked us what time it was at the checkpoint (it was around 5:30) that
the volunteer must have woken him up early by mistake and he had started his
Wednesday riding much earlier than he had wanted. He suddenly felt very tired,
but rode on with us nonetheless.
The three of us, all very tired, tried our best to keep each other awake on the
approach to Carhaix. The temperatures warmed a bit as daylight broke and we
welcomed the stop at the checkpoint to refuel and take a short break. Rich,
having not gotten the sleep he wanted overnight, turned in for a nap at Carhaix
while Sam and I pressed on.
We left the rest area at 8:20am and by 9am we were exhausted. We agreed to get
off our bikes and take a nap as soon as we found a patch of grass in the sun.
As we were riding along a wooded river valley at the time, there was a lot of
shade, so it took a while to find a spot, but when we did (there was already
someone else napping there), we quickly dismounted, spread out our gear, and
went to sleep to the sound of passing cars and cyclists.
An hour later, we both awoke. I didn't realize it until a few miles after
getting back on my bike, but the nap did wonders for me. Sam was still sleepy,
so when we got to the start of the biggest climb of the ride, he said it was ok
for me to go ahead, so I did. As I started climbing, I realized my legs felt
great. It was as if I had just gotten on my bike for the first time and was
pedaling on level ground. I was spinning like Lance does in the Tour (or so it
felt!). I passed rider after rider going up that climb. Halfway through I
came upon a Swedish rider who latched onto my wheel and we shared some good
conversation while almost effortlessly getting to the top of the mountain.
That climb made me feel great again, and I was looking forward to the 25 or so
mostly downhill miles to Brest, the halfway point.
On the back side of the mountain, I was cruising along at 25+ mph when a group
of cyclists came up from behind me. I hopped on their wheels and followed. I
quickly realized that they had no packs, their bikes were clean, and they had
fresh legs. There was only one conclusion--these four guys were locals, not on
PBP, just out for a Wednesday morning ride. With 350 miles already in my legs,
I knew I had only one option--hang on for dear life to their fresh legs. It
was like cheating--they never wanted me to take a pull, and they were very
fast. They spoke virtually no English but seemed happy that I was riding with
them; however, when they climbed away from me on a short hill after a few
miles, I thought that was the end of it. Yet, when I got to the top, they were
there waiting, saying something that I can only guess was "here's the American,
let's go." So, I got back on their wheels and was escorted to within 2 miles
of Brest by these four riders I could not converse with. It was a wonderful
way to ride to the halfway point since I was able to get some good speed
without much effort, but what was best was how nice the riders were to have
waited for me and helped me out. When they got to their home town, they turned
off, I thanked them as generously as I could, and I kept going to Brest.
Crossing the bridge to the town was a joyous feeling--seeing the bay that I had
been waiting for since leaving St. Quentin was wonderful. I was by myself, but
smiling nonetheless. The steepest climb of the ride was the short climb to the
checkpoint, but it didn't matter. 38 hours from the start and 25 hours of
riding later, I was halfway.
Other than that which was going on in my head, there was no real fanfare at the
checkpoint, just another hot meal and hordes of people. I made my way through
it as quickly as my body would let me and got on my bike for the return trip.
I was still alone at this point and the first part of this next leg I was
feeling very sluggish. The grogginess had returned and I was not pedaling
quickly. The mid-day sun didn't help, nor did the flat tire I got while
climbing out of Brest. I fixed the flat slowly and got back on my way. Back
on my bike, I felt good again as I started climbing back over the mountain that
I had just ridden on the way to Brest. I was again passing riders and pedaling
relatively effortlessly. Just before the top, I came upon Linda again.
Somewhere she must have passed me since she left Loudeac much later than I did.
She was a welcome sight again, and I joined her and a rider from Australia she
had been riding with for the hilly (and sometimes very fast!) ride back to
We agreed we'd like to make it back to Loudeac to sleep again that night, so we
left Carhaix after eating dinner. Night quickly came, so we rode most of that
leg in the dark, much of it with Linda battling her still-broken derailleur.
She was somehow managing to complete the ride on only three gears--very
impressive. We joined with an English rider and cruised through the night,
catching and leaving many groups of riders in the process. About 10 miles
short of Loudeac, we climbed a small hill to get to another in the endless
stream of old towns along the route. It was close to 11pm and there was music
coming from the town ahead. We figured we'd stumbled upon a town party, and we
were right. What we didn't anticipate, however, was that the party was thrown
on our behalf! There were signs congratulating PBP riders and when the group
of 40 or 50 people saw us coming, they split up on each side of the road and
slapped our hands as we rode through the line of people. They were singing and
cheering. After we got through the town, Linda and I asked the English guy if
he could tell what they were saying, since neither Linda nor I spoke French
well. Apparently, they were chanting "PBP heroes!" Dead tired, almost 500
miles on our legs, another day and a half and 250 miles ahead of us, the chants
of the partyers in that town put a little more giddyup in our pedaling. It
was, simply, awesome.
Back to Loudeac meant back to the zombie-filled refugee camp. I hit the cots
again, this time asking for 2 hours to sleep. I knew I'd be tired when I woke
up, but I didn't want to waste too much time when I had a lot of riding in
front of me. I woke up at 2:30am, expecting to ride alone for a bit in the
morning. However, as I was eating breakfast before setting out to ride, both
Sam and Linda appeared -- Linda wasn't able to sleep as much as she wanted and
Sam had caught up. They were both ready to roll, so we left Loudeac together
in the cold middle of the night.
Wednesday night/Thursday morning was very cold--into the low-40s. I still
didn't have the right clothes for cold-weather riding (my jacket was at the
first bag drop in Fougeres), so I shivered my way through the leg to Tinteniac.
Luckily there was another secret checkpoint on this leg, so I was able to get a
hot hot chocolate to help with the cold. Linda was very tired, but trudged on
with Sam and me to Tinteniac.
At Tinteniac, I was finally able to complete a phone call to Cassie back in
Paris. I had tried calling a few times before, but had to leave a message.
Hearing her voice for the first time in what seemed like years was wonderful.
We talked for probably less than two minutes, but it was exactly what I needed.
Sam and I continued on without Linda, as she had decided to take a nap.
Amazingly, we hadn't thought earlier on the ride to skip the food at the
checkpoint (which by then had gotten very boring) and enjoy the town food
instead, but Sam and I finally came to that realization. In the next town
after Loudeac, we stopped for breakfast pastries and a good long meal at a
French bar/bakery. It was delicious. We agreed to avoid checkpoint food from
then on, preferring town food if we could. I wish I had made that decision
Halfway through the trip from Tinteniac to Fougeres, I took one bathroom break
too many. The group Sam and I were riding with had gone ahead, and Sam had
stayed with them. I was too tired to catch up, so I pedaled along on my own.
Not a mile or two later, I was caught from behind by two riders who were moving
pretty quickly. I mustered all I could to latch onto their wheels. After
settling in comfortably to their pretty good pace, I recognized the voice of
the rider in front. He was Tom Rosenbauer, the sadistic yet friendly designer
of the killer hilly section of the New Jersey 600k brevet. He was riding with
Manuel, a Brazilian rider who was the only South American on the ride. The two
were great riding partners, as they were happy to let me stay on their wheels
while I got through the low period I was going through. Eventually, we caught
up to Sam's group, and Sam latched onto our group, joining us for all but the
last few miles of the trip into Fougeres.
We avoided the food at Fougeres, stopping at a small lunch stop just
afterwards. It was much better. Why didn't I think of this earlier? After
our tasty lunch, Manuel, Tom, and I motored on. We worked very well as a
group, although Tom was definitely taking the most pulls. He was riding
incredibly strong, and we were grateful that he was happy letting us take his
wheel in exchange for the short pulls we could muster together. On his wheel,
I was feeling great--as if my legs were fresh all of a sudden. Riding along at
a good clip was a great way to spend Thursday afternoon. We took a break
halfway through the leg at a small pastry shop that had the most divine jelly
donuts. All three of us returned for seconds and then got back on our bikes
heading to Villaines, again powered for the most part by Tom's amazingly
consistent and fast (for this far along in the event) pace.
At Villaines, Manuel had to stop for longer than we wanted because he was very
sore and needed to wait for a massage. Tom and I bid him farewell and trudged
on to Mortagne. At this point, we had to start thinking about our plan for the
last night and next morning. It was 7pm, and we had just less than 140 miles
to go. There were two more checkpoints, both with sleeping areas, but we
decided we'd try to make it to the end without sleeping, figuring that if we
tried to go to sleep we might sleep too long and we would undoubtedly wake up
very sore. We pledged to ride together through the night, since navigation and
sleepiness become more difficult in the dark.
The ride to Mortagne was uneventful, which is always good. We got some good
action pictures in as the sun was setting, a meal at a pub that seemed to
attract many PBP riders, and a great assist from an American tandem couple for
the last twenty or so miles into Mortagne. There's no shame at all in drafting
and using other people's energy to the best of your advantage on a ride like
this, as undoubtedly at some point on the ride someone is using your energy as
well. Drafting off a tandem is even better.
We pulled into Mortagne at exactly midnight. Three full days of riding were
behind me, and another 87 miles in front of me. I had until 4:45pm that day to
complete those last 87 miles, but I wanted to get it over with. All in all, I
was in relatively good shape--no muscle strains, no saddle sores (thank
goodness!), my legs were still working ok, and my mind was as clear as could be
expected. I was tired, of course, but I thought I could do it without
sleeping. Tom was of the same mind, so even though we saw another reststop
strewn with zombie-like bodies, both awake and sleeping, we pushed on through
the thick of the night.
Overnight riding on Thursday into Friday was just as cold and dark as the other
two nights, but this time I actually had the proper clothes. Picking up my
jacket and long pants in Fougeres made all the difference. I was relatively
comfortable in the mid-40 weather, and I was enjoying the night-time riding.
Tom and I were alone for most of the leg, although at times we picked up a few
of the about two hundred Danish riders who seemed omnipresent on the ride. We
were both tired, but took turns talking about who knows what to keep our minds
focused and awake. Tom entertained me by telling me all about airplane black
boxes (his line of work), while I described the agony that was my 2001 BMB.
The highlight of the leg, and one of the great PBP moments of the ride, was
coming across a small patisserie at 3:30 in the morning. I forget the name of
the town, but this shop, with a huge multi-colored lighted bicycle with rider
hanging above its doorway, was open for cyclists at that hour. The baked goods
and donuts were incredibly delicious. What was more incredible though was that
the owner of the shop was a diehard PBP fan. She had memories of PBP from many
years past and delighted in telling the group of us that had gathered in her
shop about a rider from 1999 who couldn't continue and spent two nights at her
house recuperating. Her enthusiasm, at 3:30am!, for what we were doing was
appreciated more than she could imagine.
As the sun came up, we approached the last checkpoint in Nogent. The toughest
night riding was through, and the last 35 miles were all that lay before us.
35 miles is a nothing ride for randonneurs, so of course we could do it without
any problem. But, sitting down to refuel in Nogent left both of us exhausted.
There were plenty of others there sleeping on the floor, and Tom succumbed to
the temptation and decided to join them for an hour or two. My body really
wanted to, but my mind wanted to get this over with. We thanked each other for
the overnight help, and I thanked Tom for all his pulling on Thursday. Tom
then went to sleep while I found my bike and pedaled forth.
I realized about 10 miles into the leg that I had made a big mistake. At some
point, I thought back on the last 10 miles and realized I remembered absolutely
nothing of them. I wasn't hallucinating (something I did briefly on BMB in
2001), but my mind was nowhere to be found. My mind was making clear what my
body knew at Nogent--it wasn't safe for me to continue. I found a grassy patch
on the side of the road, laid my bike down so my clock was facing me, and
tucked into the fetal position right beside it. I had lost my alarm clock
watch at Loudeac, so I had no way of making sure I didn't sleep 8 hours (or 8
days) and miss my finish time, but I figured I had no choice. As I hit the
ground to sleep, the clock read 8:18am.
Exactly 24 minutes later, I was awake. I guess sleeping beside a road won't
exactly give you the best sleep opportunity. I wasn't exactly refreshed, but I
felt I had to get back on my bike and try to continue. Miraculously, the short
sleep did wonders for me. I wasn't as fresh as I had been after the nap
Wednesday morning, but I was feeling better. I had 25 miles to go, and I
realized they wouldn't be much of a problem. The finish was near, and I was
As I pedaled on, I quickly came across a familiar sight. Tom had not been able
to sleep at Nogent, so he left shortly after I did. He must have passed me
when I was napping, but I was able to catch him as he was feeling terrible.
His stomach was giving him fits, and he could barely pedal faster than 10mph.
I was going faster (not much), so Tom tried to latch onto my wheel. I was
thrilled to be able to give him some help after he powered my ride for so much
of Thursday. At first, he could barely keep up with the pretty slow pace I was
setting, but the distraction of riding with someone else (as well as a pit stop
or two along the way) got him feeling better and before we knew it we were in
the streets of St. Quentin.
The last five plus miles into St. Quentin are by no means a gorgeous
crowd-filled run-up to the finish. We were coming into a suburban office town
at 10am on a Friday morning, so there was, for pretty much the first time all
ride, traffic and stop lights. Lots of stop lights. It seemed that the last
five miles had one every quarter mile. We picked up a few more riders at some
of the traffic lights and worked our way through the maze of St. Quentin
streets toward the finish.
David S. Cohen
The constant stopping and turning did nothing to dampen the elation of
approaching the finish. A year of dedication and hard training had paid
off--we were about to have our names entered into the PBP book as anciens,
joining the thousands who had completed this ride since its inception in 1891.
We had made it through a foreign country, hordes of other cyclists, and the
complete physical exhaustion we had brought upon ourselves. And here we were
back where we started, almost 4 days and 750 miles later.
Winding my way back to the gymnasium that served as both the start and the
finish, I glimpsed the crowd that had formed at the finish line. I knew Cassie
would be there to cheer me on at the finish and had no problem spotting her as
I came around the final curve. As I raised my hand in triumph (there's no way
I could have raised both at that point!), I gave her a big smile. Seeing her
at the end was a joyous way to celebrate the finish. I crossed the finish
line, made my way to the end checkpoint, and turned in my ID card at 10:58am
Friday. Tom and I exchanged hearty thanks for seeing each other through the
toughest moments on the last day and a half. Then, I turned and found Cassie
there to greet me. Her hug felt like the best description of heaven. I was
beyond exhausted, every part of my body hurt, and I could barely stand, but for
that moment in her arms I was euphoric to the point of tears. PBP 2003 was in
All in all, I took 84 hours and 13 minutes to complete the event. Just over 52
hours of that was spent on the bike, meaning I spent way too long off the bike
(over 30 hours!). My computer registered 765.7 miles for an average of 14.6
mph while on the bike. I also registered 39,130 feet of climbing, an average
of 51 feet per mile. By my rough count, I spent time riding with people from
15 different countries and 20 different states.
The overall experience was simply amazing. As every randonneur will tell you,
there were dozens of moments when I thought I would never be able to finish and
there were dozens of others when I thought I could finish averaging 20mph
without much effort. That's the nature of a ride like this. Managing to stay
focused and steady through the ups and downs is what is so essential and
rewarding. Even now, over four months after the ride, recalling the memories
of the four days chokes me up. It's hard to explain how an event of such
physical exhaustion undertaken completely voluntarily can stir such emotions,
but it does. The long history of the ride, the unbelievable support of the
French people along the way, the beauty of the countryside, the camaraderie of
riding with friends and strangers, the physical thrill of powering a bicycle
such a long distance, having Cassie's support before, during, and after the
ride--all of that combined into an unforgettable experience, the ultimate in