Friday, March 11, 2016

My Pretty Good PBP'15!

"Formidable!" a lady called out from her porch in a village outside Paris. It was close to 11pm. Rain-speckled roads glistened in the streetlights, with a dozen miles to the finish. It wasn't that I looked particularly formidable, but that, like all of us on the home stretch, we were being cheered on for undertaking this grand event.

You can make what you like out of the 6,000-rider Paris-Brest-Paris: a frenetic personal best, a scenic tour of the Ile de France and Brittany, an immersion into waves of randonneurs of many lands, chance encounters with friends, or the occasional moment of solitude with the landscape ...

My friend Tim Sullivan riding a country lane into Carhaix near the 500km mark.

My Story

I thought about what kind of story to tell this time, and how to arrange the photos. I see that most of the photos are of people, and for me an important part of PBP is the people. So I'm just going to go chronologically with occasional comments about the ride.

The Run-Up

As with any 1200k, you spend most of your time getting there, getting set up, and maybe fretting. There's this island of a few dozen hours when you're actually riding, and then you go home.

And that doesn't count the podcasts, panel discussions, and training we did in the winter and spring.

I stayed at the Novotel St. Quentin Golf National, as I've done before. It's about 3 miles from the event start, in much quieter surroundings than some of the lodging most popular with riders. You miss some interaction, but tranquility counts for something. And there are enough other riders there to stay connected. And, yes, there is a golf course.

Tree-lined avenues surround the Novotel.

Plus, you run into all sorts of people here ...

Jennifer Wise and Pierce Gafgen,
RUSA members #1 and #9
and organizers of Boston-Montreal-Boston

They give us a nice, big conference room for the bikes and bike containers.

Capacious conference room for bikes

A number of local friends from the Boulder/Denver area chose to stay here, too ...

Steve Le Goff - 1st PBP

Michelle Grainger - 1st PBP

Terri Gooch - 1st PBP
Brent Myers - 1st PBP
with invisible tandem partner Beth Long

... plus friends from far away I only see at 1200k's. 

Sunshine 1200 organizer
Dave Thompson (l.) from Florida/Quebec
with Canadian randonneur

Assembling your bike is just the start, of course. There are all sorts of other prep to do and things to think about, such as which jerseys you will wear ... and in which order!

RMCC, RUSA, and Last Chance 1200 jerseys

Then it's deciding what spares and extra parts to carry, from tires to screws.

Spare Keo cleats and hardware

Then there are the non-dynamo challenged such as myself. I have been pleased with the light output - even on the lowest setting - from my Cygolite on recent 1200k's and other long brevets. But on those I could always recharge during sleep breaks. For PBP I bought two extra lithium battery units, and carried one with me. This turned out to be more than enough.

Cygolite and extra battery

Now that all that's set, it's time to try out the bikes by finding the start venue (which has changed since last time), and into ground zero of rando activity near the hotels Campanile and Mercure.

Coach Michelle Grainger confers with her overachieving client,
Mark Thomas.

Rob Hawks, San Francisco RBA
and RUSA VP (at that point, now President).

North Texas RBA and Texas Rando Stampede organizer,
the inimitable Dan Driscoll,
with former Cascade 1200 organizer Mark Roerhig

Next day it's bike inspection and packet handout.
It has rained overnight, but only leftover sprinkles and damp roads on the way to the velodrome.

Also another chance to encounter more friends!

Last Chance 1200 veteran Henk Bouhuyzen,
after driving down overnight from the Netherlands

After inspection and getting a PBP water-bottle,
the trusty Green De Rosa waits outside,
while the packets are handed out inside the velodrome.

There was a long, snaky line inside the velodrome to pick up your packet and any attire you'd ordered. At this new venue, they were trying a new system. The wait was not a big deal, as riders after all were not losing sleep time or watching their control closing margins shrink. And you got to see riders of many lands, and hear their rando tales in many languages.

This is the only long line I experienced during the entire event.

Colorado High Country veteran
and former RUSA Treasurer
Tim Sullivan - Coronado CA

Colorado High Country veteran
Hamid Akbarian - Maryland

1200k and RAAM veteran and raconteuse
Kitty Goursolle - California

Boston-Montreal-Boston and PBP luminary
Melinda Lyon - Massachusetts

Former San Francisco RBA Todd Teachout

Longtime RUSA Webmaster Don Bennett - California
- proudly sporting his Adrian Hands Society jersey

Last Chance veteran Joel Lawrence - North Carolina

RUSA group photo on the lawn outside - nice that the sun has come out!

Back at the hotel for a nice group meal. 
The Novotel dishes are well prepared and tasty, with great service as would be de rigueur in France. 
An elegant dining experience to remember fondly during our ride.

Brent Myers, Ray Rupel, Pascal Ledru, Mark Roehrig, Steve Le Goff, Michelle Grainger,
Linda Roerhig, Terri Gooch, Mike Turek, Beth Long

The Departure!

Finally it's time to do the actual ride. 

I stop off at the MacDonald's - about a mile from the Novotel - en route to the event start, for last-minute sustenance.

Jim Bradbury and Terri Gooch also making a stop at the McDonalds.

It's a mild, partly cloudy early evening. I time my arrival to be around half an hour before my wave start time. After years of folks suggesting start waves, the ACP is trying assigned start waves this year. It is one of the most striking improvements in the event, a big contrast to waiting hours in the hot sun or the rain to get a favorable spot in the start crowd.

When they registered, riders could pick a start wave - each with several hundred riders - heading off in 15-minute gaps. If you were able to pre-register, you get an earlier crack at choosing a start wave. Folks who rode a 1000km or greater in 2014 get the earliest crack. I chose an early-evening time, 5:45pm.

I wondered how well this would work in practice. Well, it worked great!
They'd set up two, alternating, start-wave "corrals" (my term) outside the velodrome. One wave started while the next wave staged in the adjoining corral.

Several hundred may sound like a big number but it's nothing compared to the crush of a couple thousand riders. Here's my start wave - "H".

Start-wave corral set up for start-wave H.
(Signs for other waves lean against barricade.)

A few moments left, time to chat with whoever's next to you, such as this friendly Canadian gentleman.

Plenty of room for everyone to mill around.

So far the event is going just according to plan, 
at least jersey-wise!

The "H125" frame number on my helmet is chiefly for Maindru, to sort out the riders their photogs are photographing en route.

On The Ride

The wealth of pre-ride photos will now be balanced by the paucity of photos during the event, mainly because one tends to be busy riding. I do have more photos of the landscapes, villages, and citizen's roadside stands in prior reports. All those features were still there, to charm the rider.

The miles out into the countryside were low-key, with 2½ hours of daylight and mild temps. I passed a few of the ElliptiGO riders, manoeuvred around large rider bunches, were passed by zippy riders with later start-wave letters on their frames, chatted my friend Vicky Tyer riding her recumbent, and headed on into the night.

Mortagne-au-Perche - Revitaillement

Ninety miles into the route is the refreshment stop at Mortagne-au-Perche. I didn't used to stop there except to top of water bottles. But now think of it as strategic renutrifying. After all, you still have seven more hours to go until daylight, and perhaps 3½ hours to the first control.

Already busy there - it's about 11:30pm - but not yet crowded enough to cost time. I immediately see some friends, enjoying their spaghetti bolognese!

Luke Heller, Tim Sullivan, Jenny Oh Hatfield, Cap'n John Ende, Mike Dayton
at the Mortagne-au-Perche revitaillement stop

Still dark at the first control, Villaines-la-Juhel. First light coming into Fougères, at which point I'm feeling a bit wilted, things perking up by Tintéac, sunny but breezy.

Velomobiles (enclosed recumbent trikes) rocket past with a whoosh, and sometimes a wobble, on descents. I say hi as I pass them on the next hill.


Mid-afternoon, and it's the Loudéac control, where Claus Klaussen has a bagdrop site, bags grouped by country and source hotel. Since I'm not sleeping there, I just load fresh powdered drink from my drop bag and make a change of clothes (including jersey #2).

Bag Drop at Loudéac

Next to the big dining hall, Loudéac has a nice quick-eats venue (sandwiches, puddings, and the like), which I've had good luck with. Plenty of food, no lines.

After the stiff hills west of Loudeac, we joust with huge farming vehicles trundling down the highway to St. Nicholas de Pelem, and then through the small tree-covered lanes into Carhaix.

One can't help feeling a surge of energy and ease of riding, but I know it's just the easier terrain and tranquil countryside. I've been riding with Tim, who as a rule heads on to Brest. Although there's plenty of daylight left, I stop in Carhaix.


The good news is that the dining hall is not crowded, and the sleeping area is almost devoid of riders. The bad news is by halfway through the sleep break, many riders have poured in, and their snoring has taken on what seems like a competitive quality, each snorer trying to outdo his/her neighbor, each snore louder and more prolonged than the last.

These would have come in handy at Carhaix.

Heading off around 3:00am, it's chilly - upper 40's, perhaps, which is cooler than usual - but quiet and benign. As we ride up the winding L'Hyère valley, I'm wondering whether we'll run into fog over Roc Trevezel as in 2011. It was heavy, wet fog that really hurt visibility, especially at night.

Then ... patches of fog. They come and go along the serpentine route. Then we climb out of it for the ascent over Roc Trevezel. Great! Then the fog returns on the descent through Sizun - a stop for some warming espresso and pastry. More fog on the plains south of Brest. But all in all not as troublesome as four years ago.


Dawn - a perfect time to cross the scenic bay into Brest.

Terri Gooch on the non-motorist bridge into Brest at dawn.

It's a cheery, sunny morning for climbing back over Roc Trevezel.
It's coolish weather, but comfortable.

Approaching Roc Trevezel from the west

Back in Loudéac, our friend Laurie Stanton gives a warm greeting.

Laurie Stanton amongst the dropbags in Loudéac

After stopping in Tinténiac for a second sleep break - this time in a dorm room with only a couple of other riders and actual beds - it's on to the final day of riding.

Time to enjoy the charms of the route ...

Mr. Potato Head advertizes potatoes the year 'round.

... and the "vélos fleuris" greeting you in the villages.

un vélo fleuri

At Villaines-la-Juhel I stop for just a snack to save time: two pains au chocolat and a Coke. The volunteer serving them says cheerfully, "Why not three?" And I know she means it as good advice.

One of my favorite sections is east of Villaines-la-Juhel, on a ridge. Great views across the valley from atop the ridge, and you feel you're flying along.

Heading east from Villaines-la-Juhel

Predictably, the final miles into Mortagne au Perche are accompanied by drowsiness, something in the landscape or the crops. Then I meet up with Mike Sturgill from Phoenix, and it's a lively conversation on into the control. Mike has caught up with me from the 84-hour group, so he's doing just fine.

Mike Sturgill at Mortagne au Perche

We exchange photos, in front of the control venue, so different-looking from the refreshment stop towards midnight a couple days before.

Still on track jersey-wise: Last Chance on Day 3.

A plate of food, and then off into the forest east of Mortagne. 

This year they have a new approach to Dreux - avoiding the high-speed traffic of the past couple PBPs - through quiet villages and past a château.

At Dreux, I grab a sandwich jambon-beurre and a slice of camembert and head out, eating my way out of town and into the dusk. The ham sandwiches have become my new nutritional friend on this PBP, though others have touted them for years.

There are a couple of sprinkles, and some wet streets after dark winding through the village exurbs, making the final segment just that much more evocative.

As we think we must be getting close, an official waves us into a corridor, calling out "quatre kilometres!" and we are flying along on a park path devoid of motor traffic and traffic lights. In past years, 2011 especially, it was a toil taking many turns and making many stops at red lights. This year we breeze directly into the Velodrome grounds like géants de la route.

It caused me to reflect on how nice it is when the finish to a big event is serene or special, just those last few miles. 1200k's are all over the place in that respect - including the Colorado High Country - but this was a nice PBP finish.

The fared recumbents in repose.

Lots of finishers!

Blurrier-looking, perhaps, but pleased things have gone so well!

The jaunt back to the Novotel around midnight was mild and dry.
Steadier rain moved in for later riders, many of whom found it a refreshing wake-up!

Terri at breakfast and Beth just getting in - both happy finishers!

Now it's time to reminisce and critique in leisurely detail - which roadside stand had the best crêpes, or costumes, for example. Steve Le Goff has a unique perspective among us, as he's returning to his homeland to ride roads he traveled as a young person.

Mark Beaver, Tim Mason, Michelle, Terri, and Steve.

All in all, a pretty good PBP.

Riding into Carhaix

Congratulations to my fellow riders and hoping your PBP was rewarding.


KC's Carter Lake Pre-Ride

KC Heck pre-rode the Carter Lake Populaire on March 8 - here's his report!

The day started off with a weather report. 29 degrees and snow in the foothills. So… Carter Lake in the foothills? Maybe yes, maybe no; we will find out. Driving to the start, the traffic report was not good; rollover on I-25 and the North West Parkway. I had to pass through this for the start in Mead. So an alt route was in order. As it turned out, the rollover was cleared up by the time I passed through the area.

Once at the start location, the decision of what to wear and what not to wear rattled around my mind. Current temp, was 39, and breezy, but not horribly so. I decided on a thinsulate base layer and a light windbreaker, hoping it wouldn’t snow.

A few moments after starting off, the breeze wasn’t too bad as I started to get warmed up on the Frontage Road. As I climbed and descended the slight rolling landscape, getting into a good rhythm, I glanced west towards Carter Lake. The sky was filled with dark ominous clouds which hung over the foothills. Welcome to the first spring Populaire I thought.

Looking west on CR-56 towards Carter Lake

Approaching CR-56, a giant sign on the side of I-25 indicated the Berthoud exit was a mile away. Heed this sign as there are about ten signs at the intersection of CR-56, except any signs indicating that this is CR-56. Go figure. I turned west into a moderate headwind. The clouds now directly ahead, seemed to get darker and darker as I slowly got closer to them.

As I passed through Berthoud, I made a quick stop at the new Grace Café, for a top off of some water bottles, and a quick unloading of some extra water (AKA potty break). A well hydrated cyclist is a happy cyclist. Besides, most if not all of the services at Carter Lake, will probably be closed.

Closer to Carter Lake

West of Berthoud

Approach to Carter Lake

 Turning west on to CR 8E, Carter Lake loomed directly in front of me. Luckily the slight canyon I found myself passing through disrupted all the wind. It was smooth going, except for the fact that I was now climbing. I passed the park kiosk, and knew the anticipated switchback were now under my spinning legs. This was about the same time that I heard some creaking. Was it coming from my bike or me?  My heavy breathing hid the emanation, but after some hard listening, I realized it was my bike. For a 200 pound lightweight like me, sometimes it’s hard to tell. The reward for the switchbacks was an icy cold wind blowing off the lake.

The View

 The red sand beach was deserted, as was the Marina Store, Checkpoint # 2. Deserted that was except for the snow that started to fall. Maybe Carter Lake is in the foothills. While filling out the CP question, even though it only took a minute, the cold crept into my bones. I got quickly back in the saddle, climbed a small hump and prepared for a fast (very fast) descent. If it wasn’t for a breeze blowing up the descent, I wouldn’t have maxed out at 53 Mph.  The snow didn’t last. It had already stopped a mile down the road.

The snow behind
Now with a tailwind I made great time to CP # 3. Next stop, Sandy’s for a re-fill.

After getting fueled up I was and ready to hit the road again. As I passed through the middle of the Mariana Butte Golf Course, on Rossum Rd., not a single golfer could be seen. I guess it’s not golfing weather. But the weather was turning for the better. Sunny skies loomed ahead, on CR-14 heading east, passing by the rocket house. On CR-14, I found myself in a good rhythm, passing by various farm type lands. By the time I got onto SR 60, I had a tailwind. The fields of brown and green passed by at around 21 Mph; A nice way to hit the next CP at Johnstown, (probable not named after John our lustrous organizer).
Looking east towards Johnstown

What a nice day

How often do you find a 22 shell casing in front of a 7-11 store? That’s what I found placing my bike against the wood pile stacked out front. I inquired inside about any recent shootings at the store. The cashier said that she hasn’t heard of any. Good I thought as a police officer walked in. I guess just a weird coincidence.

One last hurdle for the day, a climb up CR-13. By now it was sunny and mild and the odor from the baby calf’s didn’t even bother me as I started the climb. Knowing that this was the last strenuous climb, I gave it everything I had. Looking down at my cluster I realized that I was still in third gear. Oh ya!

A nice climb
A few small ups and downs lead me to the start/end of the ride. First ride of the year for the Brevet Series done. I know what you’re thinking all those pictures and not one picture of the name sake ride. Maybe it will entice you to join the ride this Sunday. So get out your spring jacket or snow jacket, you never know.

KC Heck