I debated for a long time what to name this post. I finally decided that the name just says it all. PBP is pretty much the Olympics of Randonneuring. I'd venture to say that it may be on every randonneur's bucket list and there may be 1200ks with more hills, less hills, longer distances, weirder weather or poisonous animals, but having done it, I can say that none will have the same magic that this ride does: nowhere else will there be 5,000 randonneurs on the road at the same time with a legion of locals cheering you on. On PBP, there is no cue sheet because none is required; I can't think of another 1200k that could make that boast.
My opinion of PBP will always be colored by the fact that I knew about it long before most people I rode with did. I first heard about PBP at the tender age of 8 years old, long before RUSA had even been founded. How did that happen? Well, at age 8, I started a lifelong study of French (the pinacle of which is an actual degree in French Literature). In the late 70s and early 80s, language teaching was changing with more emphasis being put on grammar in the context of culture. And believe me, cycling is big in French culture. PBP is the oldest ride in France (12 years before the Tour) and is open to women (which the tour is not). That made the PBP notation stick in my little cyclist head (yes, I was also doing long distance cycling at 8 too). This ride, I vowed to do when I grew up.
Sure, it took 34 more years to get there, but Road Pixie is very patient and persistent. Sometimes all things have a place and time. This turned out to be the year to do it. However, I had two major concerns that I thought could derail this ride: first, my hamstring or other body part could give out on me, as was the case in the Cascades, and second, I could have issues with sleep. I spent a year rebuilding my hamstring and to really get a grip on the sleep thing, I did not one, but 3 600ks before this ride two of which were on back-to-back weekends. As a result, I knew going in that for every 24 hours of riding, I needed 3 hours of sleep to continue effectively. Any less was going to cause problems. In each of my 600ks, I tried a different amount, more works, less made it far harder to continue on and with 4 days, continuing was a requirement. I think Coach Gary says it best: 3 hours is just about perfect - 90 minutes for your body and 90 minutes for your mind.
SpinBob and I agreed to ride together as well; though this eventually did not turn out at all as I had planned. I now can say with certainty that if one is planning on doing PBP, don't plan on sticking with someone no matter how well you know them. There are so many things on this ride to experience that neither will be satisfied without the implicit understanding that separating at any time is absolutely okay. Having done another 1200k elsewhere, I would say something different for those, with fewer people it's different. But for PBP, the different food, roads and carnival-like atmosphere are an experience that is deeply personal to each person. I had not considered before that being able to speak French opened a part of this ride that was extrordinary and it was something that simply could not be shared, even with a friend. An understanding of French culture also turned this into a completely different ride for me than I think others might have had. Sometimes it was very small things that looking back, I should have spoken up about. Like the fact that a Tabac is NOT a tobacco store - it's a conveniance store full of food and supplies. I remember hearing "well we won't be stopping at a tobacco store" at least once.
The other thing that really made this ride something was the number of people that I knew when I arrived. I had no idea that so many people read this blog! My many rides out of state in places like Seattle, Arizona, Kentucky, and Wisconsin also had introduced me to so many American riders that I felt like I had just shown up to a meeting of old friends. That really made this ride something special that I hadn't counted on. This was really the first time I felt like I was part of the entire randonneuring community; after PBP I have a far greater appreciation of the randonneuring community as a whole in the US. Something that I know will made future 1200ks much easier.
My friend, Paul, whom I had the honor of riding with for his 7th PBP, said it best: I keep coming back to this ride because it is like a moving party. It really is just that, 90 hours to be savored and enjoyed like you would one of the finest French wines. He also told me to savor the feeling of finishing both my first 1200k and my first PBP, there would never be another moment like it in my life. There was never a low point in this ride for me at all so I think it will always retain a special place in my long list of experiences; the kind of sense you get when all your planning goes perfectly well and every difficulty you have is one you have planned for and can overcome.
The next 2 posts will be about the ride itself. The 2 halves were so starkly different that it almost seems like they were not the same ride. I wouldn't trade a minute of either one, though in hindsight, I liked thet last half a little better than the first. But they both had their charms.