Ride Report – Paris-Brest-Paris 2011

by DJ

Sad as it may be, here is my tale of PBP.

Very soon after I started riding brevets I was advised that randoneur is an individual sport and that you need to ride it that way. If you and a friend each lose an hour to “incidents” you will be 2 hours behind, however if you each ride individually you will each only be one hour behind.

My plan was to ride the 600 km to Brest in 30 hours, take 10 hours off at a hotel and then spend another 30 hours riding back to Paris. This left a 10-hour cushion for the unexpected.

I started out riding with a friend. She was going slowly and trying to get her to draught me didn’t seem to help and riding on her rear wheel seemed to annoy her so when the group we were in split I stayed with the lead portion, but kept watching her group in my mirror.

When “her” group caught up to me she wasn’t in it so I dropped back and just kept pedaling slowly.

I finally came to a store that was open (uncommon in France on a Sunday). I left the bike in an obvious spot so that she could see it and went in to by water, fruit, etc. When I came out I saw that a large truck had parked in front of my bike so she would not have been able to see it or, quite possibly, the store. Now I didn’t know if she was ahead of me or behind me.

I decided to carry on and came upon a French family that was offering water to the riders. I described my friend and they thought that she had already gone by so I carried on to the first check point.

I didn’t see her there so I grabbed a sandwich and a Coke and found a spot where I could see all of the arriving riders. I calculated that I had to be gone by midnight to be sure that I had sufficient time to get to the next check point in time. Midnight came and went without any sight of her so I pushed on to the second checkpoint.

My wife was at the second checkpoint and I learned that my friend was having difficulty and that her husband had gone back to assist her. My wife had been dropped at a local hotel earlier and she had walked to the checkpoint about when she thought that I would be there. We visited a bit, she left and I went to leave. I realized that I didn’t have my Control Book. My wife had been looking at it and kept it.

I didn’t know what hotel she was in or how to make contact and without the Control Book I couldn’t pass the next control point.

I again waited until the last minute, texted my friend’s husband that they would have to get the book to the next control point and headed out again.

I made good time, but nobody was there to meet me. With about 10 minutes to spare my wife showed up with the book so I was back in the race. However, I had now been delayed so much that, in addition to no sleep, I was going to have to ride into another night before the turn around at Brest and the batteries for my lights weren’t going to make it. My charger works in a vehicle so I gave them to my wife with instructions to get them to me by the next check point. Given the “grief” to that point I had second thoughts and took back the two that still had some remaining charge, just in case.

At the next check point I received a text that they had had car trouble and that I would not be getting my batteries until the next check point, which would put me well after dark. Thank goodness I had held back two of them. I put the weakest battery on the tail light in flash mode, which is against the rules in PBP but which uses less power. I didn’t use my bike lamp and only turned on my helmet lamp when I was meeting someone, until it became so dark that I had to leave it on just to be able to see the road.

Given the dying battery situation I “rode like hell” and made very good time, getting in nearly an hour sooner than I had expected, only to receive a text that the car had quit all together, they had hired a taxi and expected to be there in another 45 minutes. By now their cell phone batteries had died so they did not know that I was already at the control. I waited again until the time situation was desperate and decided to check at the actual Control Desk and yes there was a package for me, batteries and a bunch of other possibly useful stuff, but not the clothes that I needed for riding on a cool rainy night.

About 5 minutes out of town in didn’t just rain it bloody poured. I was going downhill under 20 kph because I couldn’t see to go any faster. Somehow the rain was getting almost directly into my eyes, despite the glasses. Without my proper gear I was absolutely soaked and the saddle really began to chafe my butt and any other body parts that it was coming into contact with.

I pulled into a closed gas station, took shelter under an overhang and did some calculations. I still had 80 km to go to Brest and I was 4 hours away from cut-off. I couldn’t imagine making any better than 20 kph in the dark and the rain, but the possibility was there. However, that would have put me at the half-way point, completely exhausted, soaking wet, no time to sleep, trying to make up enough time to sleep, without any real hope of dry clothes and it being unlikely that I had enough battery life to get through the next night.

Maybe I’m a wuss, maybe I will regret the decision, but I turned around, rode back to the last aid station, turned in my Control Book and caught the train to Paris. This just did not seem to be my year to do PBP. If there is a next time, it will be alone and unsupported.