Sunday, September 11, 2011

PBP Report -- Speed Equals Sleep

Chris Kamm sent along this report of this year's PBP. Enjoy!

After we completed PBP, my wife, Annette, and I traveled around France and Switzerland for a couple of weeks. I wrote parts of this account in my head while vacationing, but the theme of our ride and of this account came later when I chanced upon a comment from Rob Dayton. He spoke of mistakes and difficulties that caused the clock to expire before he finished the 1230 kilometers. It reminded me of my own ride in 2007. We made it that year, barely. And a succession of mistakes on my part made it a close shave. This year was different, and I will use a favorite quote from Greg LeMond to encourage us all:

It does not get easier, you just go faster.

Racing or randonneuring, it is true in all ways.

We returned for another go at PBP, and, unlike the last time, Annette and I made a plan and made it work. I took from an idea of a several-time ancien, Steve Kabielski. He wrote of the strategy to ride as hard as possible for the opening 24 hours, so as to get out ahead of the congestion one encounters at control points. We also arranged hotel rooms in Carhaix, and in Fougeres on the return. This committed us to a schedule as well as giving a base to my brother and Annette’s sister who crewed for us with meetings at those points in both directions. Paul handed me our heavy fuel each time, a bag of four ham and cheese sandwiches.

Annette at AHS / NC Rando gathering...
With the 6PM start, we wanted out of SQY as soon as possible. Thanks to Wes Johnson, we got a good position and rolled out with the third wave, at 7:15. Beaucoup daylight remained and we reached the plains west of Ramboullet before nightfall. Prior to that I had a chance to ride in the first hour with Damon Peacock. He unknowingly relieved me of soggy memories of 2007, when, as we discussed that ride, he proclaimed that all his memories are in living color. That set my mind in a better way for the rigors ahead.

We lost track of Wes at dusk. (He would turn up again at Brest,) As we reached elements of the two proceeding waves, the ride selected out and we found harmony with riders from many countries, careening through darkness toward Villaines and Fougeres. The second control was reached in 12 hours. I have taken longer to ride stand alone 300K rides in daylight. We would pay for this opening effort for the rest of the route, and would also reap the benefit of never encountering anything but empty bike racks, and sparsely populated cafeterias. We continued after a 30-minute nap, and enjoyed good conditions all the way to Carhaix. This was our first hotel stop.

There are different theories on randonneuring, and I have slept under cafeteria tables in wet, dirty clothes. For me, it is better to use a hotel room. In fact, some memories I have of Loudeac argue the case that it is actually faster to use a hotel.

Chris with Jimmy at pre-ride gathering...
We spent four hours off the bikes, three of those in full sleep. The low ebb of our morale followed as we exited the Carhaix hotel into wind and rain at 12:30AM. That quickly went away as I recalled Damon Peacock’s exhortation. Brest came onto the horizon soon enough, and we were done there after a 20-minute snooze on the bleachers. As we were heading for the return, we saw Wes briefly. He was headed for the dormitory. We also saw John Morris’ bike in the racks. This is a funny thing. We saw John himself from tine to time, but without fail we saw his bike at every stop. Such a simple thing can raise the morale, like a postcard from home.

Heading back to Carhaix was surprisingly easy. We were two thirds of the way up Le Roc before I stopped wondering when we would reach the base of that climb. The fog lifted beyond the summit, and we rode the Swedish express all the way through the rollers into Carhaix. I use a ten-speed 14t-25t cassette. This is nice on the way up with a near straight block of climbing gears. However, on repeated high-speed descents such as this sector, it was some work to stay with the Swedes as they poured on the coals. Thanks to their efforts, we returned to the hotel in time to use it again before check out. That included a ninety-minute catnap.

My brother and Annette’s sister headed for the laundromat as we set out for Paris. Showers were forecast, and they would arrive later, but we were thinking of Branson as we left the hotel. Paul had looked up his progress, and his ride was heroic. We plodded off on our twenty-speed bikes, in awe of the fixed gear ride Branson was making. We saw John Morris himself in Loudeac, and a bit more news filtered in regarding Branson’s whereabouts. People that know me know I love racing the track and riding fixed gear on the road. But this, it was too much to even think about what Branson was doing.

Tuesday was a beautiful day. There were showers, but they lasted not long, and we found great people to ride with all day. The flat areas between Loudeac and Fougeres prompted us to keep a good pace, and we reached Fougeres by evening. A check of the control window cushion allowed us to make a long stop that included five hours of full sleep. This is as much as we had managed for the entire ride in 2007. (I would fall asleep on my bike that year in Ramboullet …yes I tipped over.)

Wednesday was a day even more beautiful, with perfect conditions. It all went by like a dream as Annette and I filtered in and out of different groups of riders. On this day in particular I am sure Annette made about ten French boyfriends to go along with the men from Spain with whom we rode all morning. The Spaniards kept the pace lively and we reached Mortagne in time for a 30-minute nap in the grass in the sun. And it was there we remembered they always have mashed potatoes and green beans. We were fueled and ready for the last bit to come.

We met Wes and John in Dreux, ate some pastries, and got out of there like horses sensing the barn. These last 65 kilometers took us from one end of the time cone to the other, and before long we were cresting the last real climb at the exit of the forest. Clumps of supporters appeared along the roadside, and here one of the funniest anecdotes fell upon us. In the streetlamps one could see that Annette and I were in matching NC randonneur jerseys. At the top of the climb I was perhaps 50 feet behind my wife. A voice came out of the crowd of well-wishers:
“Bonne chance monsieur, vous etes derriere la femme.” Yes, nicely said.

The final 20K were like a victory lap. We were elated at having achieved our goal. This goal was not arriving in this time or that, but rather to complete the course in the allowed time, and to be able to get enough sleep to enjoy it. We did.

To repeat LeMond: It does not get easier, you just go faster.


bullcitybiker said...

Félicitaitons on your rides, Annette and Chris! I'm very humbled that in the midst of your adventures, you thought of me. After the ride, a Dutch 5-time ancien who'd ridden fixed on two of his PBPs shared his theory about derailleurs vs fixed: "The advantages and disadvantages of each cancel out. They are both hard!"

Hope to see you soon! Branson

Anonymous said...

I have two redeeming qualities. I am persistent and I am a quick learner. I will be back to get my time.
Rob "Rico" Dayton

Z said...

Bravo Annette & Chris!

A good read and a great ride. Doesn't get much better than that.