There are times in life when you have to consider all your past experiences and apply them to the present. In the Cascades, I had continued on ignoring the pain until it caused real damage. This time, I stopped the bike and tried to come up with a course of action. First, I dropped my seat a millimeter. Sounds like not much, but it may as well be a mile. This, I hoped, would take pressure off the muscle, although it wound up putting more on my butt. I also pulled out my leg warmers and tied them across my thigh for compression and took a handful of advil. I was still about 100 miles from Loudeac, but there were some options. Medical help would be available at Carhaix. I could also stop pushing so hard and opt for a sooner rest than a later one.
The compression and advil did a pretty good job of making me feel better and at Carhaix there were long lines so I opted to go on instead of going to the medical tent. The big hill outside Brest seemed easier going east and the rain had indeed stopped as I got to the top. I ran into my roommate, Greg, and chatted until he pealed off to get food in one of the small towns. Ryan was nearby too and the slower pace let us chat a bit. Brest to Carhaix is very hilly and we also heard at this point that one of the American riders had been killed, but didnt get many details.
I got through the Carhaix control very quickly, running into George from the Cascades, who was thinking of quitting. I also saw Paul, another face from the Cascades, who was having a good ride as well. I knew I would need food before Loudeac, but the lines were long and I didnt want to have my muscles cool off too much so I continued on. The stretch to Loudeac had been a good one, I knew there was additional food, and I ran into Keith from San Fran who was having seat issues, but still a good ride. I stopped for food at a tiny bakery near a cathedral. The woman running it made me a sandwich in her own kitchen and an italian rider gave me his bread. At this point, I was only about 40 miles from Loudeac and it was about 7:00 pm. But my leg didn't feel right and I considered that stopping at St Nicholas mightr be an option too. After all, I normally go to sleep at 9 so it might make sense.
I was surprisingly strong out of my stop and within 40 minutes, I had suddenly covered the 13 miles to St Nicholas. That left only 26 miles to Loudeac. Cheered, I continued on, at this point alone. If I could make it to Loudeac and rest quickly, it would help me considerably. The R part of RICE ( rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is not to be underestimated. At Corlay, 18 miles out, I saw a big roadside stand full of spectators. It would be much better to eat early and not haver to deal with food lines at Loudeac. I pulled over at 8:45 and probably saved my ride.
This particular stand of spectators had a big overhang and was being run by a couple, Marie and Gilbert. Neither spoke any English, but they could not have been nicer. They had hot soup, cassoulet, yogurt, drinks. It was like a mini control. They lived next door and got e some ice for my leg. I elevated it while I ate and did some gentle massage, took more advil, and moved my leg warmer/compression bandage. Then they let me sleep in a quiet bed for 3 hours with a pillow under my knee. I can't imagine how gross I was after a day of riding in the rain, but they were awesome. The spectators make this ride, no doubt of it. I took their picture as I left, but my reflective gear messed it up. Bummer.
By this time, it was about midnight. I had 3 hours to make it to Loudeac where most of the crowds would already have passed. I made a mental map of how to get through fast. I still wanted to change clothes and get supplies from my drop sack. I was now riding very strong and at St Denis, I met Robert, from North Carolina. This was his first year of randonneuring. He was a super nice rider and had set of fans in St Denis that waved kisses as we left.
We made it to Loudeac quickly, only about 45 minutes. He was faster on the hills but I
would catch up. No sense tempting fate on my much improved leg. We managed to change clothes, do the control, eat a big meal and get going in only 40 minutes so we left Loudeac by 2:30. I also used my giant wet wipe to take a shower in the bike parking area using my rain legs as a shower curtain. This works really well by the way. As we left Loudeac, we ran into another rider from Pennsylvania, she had been riding with her husband but he had been forced to stop at Brest after a hand injury flared up. She couldn't imagine riding a 1200k other than PBP, for her the experience of having so many riders and spectators was paramount. I thought that was really interesting, having been on other 1200ks myself.
I lost Robert sometime later in the dark. There was a giant pack of french riders in the audax style with a support van behind them. I gather the French basically do what they want on this ride regardless of the rules. Still, it was interesting to watch. It was a nice night and I made good progress. Finally, I had to stop at the secret control (somewhere around Quedilliac). It was about 5 am and I resolved to get coffee and avoid needing a dawn nap. I got two cups and walked outside. With my two fisted coffee, I stood outside with lights streaming at my face as I hurriedly drank. Then I heard someone say my name. Okay, my name is french so it didnt occur they could be talking to me until a couple of seconds passed. I turned out to be Paul who I had seen some miles earlier. He was also having knee issues, but was handling them well and we decided to ride together at least through the night. Turned out to be the rest of the ride and the next 400k were to be my very favorite part of the ride.
For those that haven't done things all night long, the old saying that the darkest part of night is before dawn is true. Paul and I were treated to a really nice sunrise just outside of Titeniac and came in at around 7:30 am, good time to spare. There wasnt a line so we sat down and ate. I'm not sure beef stew is my favorite for breakfast, and it somehow didn't sit very well this time. We rolled out around 8:00 am. I started getting a really sour stomach and later stopped at a pharmacy for some French maalox. One of the bonuses of speaking French is being able to describe one's ills and the French have really good over the counter stomach remedies (think about the cuisine). I got a new toothbrush too; nothing like fuzzy teeth on a ride.
By about 11:00 we were riding into Fougeres. Paul was continuing to have trouble with his knee and a really nice lady offered to let us stay at her house which was right there. We didn't take her up on it, but it was another sign of what this ride really means to the people who live on it. I'm sure we smelled terrible. At Fougeres, we did a daring thing. We stopped to sightsee at the castle. "I've done this 7 times and never stopped at the castle" was Paul's statement. So we spent about half an hour taking pictures and looking around. Okay, we skipped the guided tour, but as 11th century castles go, this one is really worth looking at. It's much nicer than the ones I later saw in the Loire valley. It has a moat and everything.
After our stop, we made a quick stop at the control around 12:00. The climb out of Fougeres is long and Paul regaled me with stories of bygone PBPs. He knew all the worthwhile places to stop including a crepe stand whose owners make free crepes for all the riders in exchange for the promise of a postcard. They do this 24/7 for almost 4 days, apparently rain or shine. The town has also opened the cathedral during bad weathers and put up tents for riders to come out of the dampness. How cool is that?
No bad weather on this day, it was gorgeous with sun and rolling clouds in the mid 70s. We separated briefly with me going ahead. I stopped to talk to a guy playing music to riders. He had been collecting signatures on maps for years and was with his grandson who I gather was getting ready to take up the family tradition. They played me "Dixie".
Paul caught up again and we continued on. At Losssey les Chateaux, we stopped for pastries and I had the best mousse pastry I will ever eat. According to Paul, eating pastries is somewhat of a rite of passage and he was surprised that I had not tried any yet. He also did some moves on my quads to release them as I was sitting there and nearly all my leg stiffness and pain disappeared instantly. A few miles later, I raised my seat back up. My butt had started hurting and I no longer needed the tlc on my hamstring. That made climbing much easier. Other highlights in this section included the reine-claudes, small plum-like fruit that children were offering in baskets along the side of the road. I must have eaten about 10 of them on this ride. You could pop on in your mouth, chew around the pit and spit it out easily.
We rolled into Villianes at around 5:30. Here were had enough time in the bank to sit down with Ron and some of the BC randonneurs for omelet at a local stand. For only a few dollars, we got a freshly made omelet, croissants, and a cold coke, heaven. We even had time for a brief snooze. At this point, we only had about 130 miles to go and 19 hours to do it in. I was feeling pretty confident, but was warned that it included about 10,000 ft of climbing. Villianes was a circus, again, and Robert waved at me as we rode out of town.
The next hour, before the dark, was a gorgeous part of the ride. Beautiful vistas and fairly easy rollers made the time clip by quickly. It's hard to maintain speed in the dark so I was sad to see the light go. There was to be no moon and clouds moved in. It got very dark, very quickly as we came into a very hilly section in the miles before Mortagne. I got a little sleepy and with 35k to go, we paused in a small town where I put my head down and bought some waffle cookies (the inspiration for honey stinger waffles). With it being so dark, all you could see was the string of bike lights hanging in seeming mid-air. I couldn't tell how fast I was going since it was too dark to even see the side of the road. At one point, I thought I was hallucinating bridged overhead, but Paul assured me that it was not a hallucination. It was so dark that my brain was interpreting the trees overhead as bridge arches. Cant be a hallucination if 2 people see it.
I got ahead of Paul and found myself totally alone on the road just before the control. I was seized with a sudden fear: am I off course? I stopped in my tracks to dead silence and darkness. Perhaps it was the sleep and sensory deprivation together that suddenly had me thinking Alice in Wonderland. I sang White Rabbit out loud and my voice was raspy and cracked. Vocal quality must suffer after so much breathing. I was really relieved when Paul suddenly appeared behind me. I wasn't off track after all.
Mortange au Perche was very close and we rolled in a bit past midnight. People were laying everywhere in complete exhaustion. This is apparently a low point for many. We grabbed a quick croissant and cokes. I barely recognized it from 2 days previous. This, he told me, was the time and place to see the lowest of the low. People slept sitting up with food in front of them. I was feeling upbeat: I was certain I looked better than most.
We were pretty confident that the big hills were past, but we still had quite a few to go as we headed for Dreux. Up and down what was probably beautiful woods, but as it was, I just kept wondering where we were. It got very cold and we stopped for brief nap in a park after the hills were past and i put all my clothes on. It wasnt enough for my knees and they ached with the cold. There were about 10 or so of us together and we drove the seemingly endless path thorough the night. The sun just began to come up just as we got to the outskirts of Dreux. I wanted in and out as fast as possible. It was crowded with people, had giant lines and I hate crowds (it's actually a significant phobia for me). We were out in 15 minutes.
We now had 7 hours to complete only 42 miles. After stopping to take in a gorgeous sunrise we ran into Matthew, who was in the same hotel as I was back at the start. He gave me some skittles as I felt a bit dizzy and the 3 of us rode back most of the way. At this point, we slowed a bit, stopped to eat at a small grocery and to shed clothes as another beautiful day started. Paul wanted to finish by noon, about 2 hours before the official time. I really enjoyed this section. We met up with Ron and the BC randos and finally a big group from Seattle. The last hill though the Rambouillet was steep, but I was feeling pretty strong and the warm temps helped my knees. It was actually getting hot!
As we came into Paris, I didnt want the ride to end. I suspect that the same was true for many because our group seemed to slow ever so slightly. Of course, we had to start stopping at traffic lights too. Being in a big group at the end did help with traffic concerns.
Paul and I crossed the finish at almost the exact same time. I had tears in my eyes. "savor this moment," was his advice, the advice of a true ancien, "you'll never feel this way again in your entire life".
I still don't really know what my exact time was. It was sometime around 11:30 when we rolled in, but honestly, I found I didn't care. I was elated in a way I never have been. I spent a couple of hours at the finish and eventually ran into one other person from minnesota on the way out. I had a half hour nap and met Paul for a celebratory dinner. For some reason, I felt nothing but great after this ride.
Looking back, there isn't anything I would change. Had one thing been different, I might not have met up with Paul and seen and heard so many wonderful stories. The second half of the ride had a magic that I cant even come close to describing. Ever pedal stroke was a new record and ever mile was a blur of colors, scents and people. That is probably part of why people come back to this ride so many times. It's the king of the 1200ks.