rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Okay, first of all, don't get too excited - it's more like Tour of Three Bakeries, With Repeat Visits on the Way Back. Still, a nice concept for a 200k permanent. In case I haven't mentioned this here before (or in a long time), "permanents" are randonneuring routes that can be ridden at any time, with prearrangement with the route owner.

Last spring, I kicked off the pre-Paris-Brest-Paris randonneuring events in April, when I drove out to Nebraska City to ride in the Nebraska Sandhills Randonneurs' 200km brevet. I continued to ride with the Nebraska gang through the spring, completing all of the qualifying rides for Paris-Brest-Paris by mid-May. Once June rolled around, I decided to keep going, so I drove out to Ames, Iowa, and got to meet a number of the Iowa Randonneurs, and also got to see my first ElliptiGo riders. Then, in July, SK helped me put together a gnarly mixed-terrain Overnight 200k that circled around Lincoln. Then there was August and Paris-Brest-Paris itself.

By that point, I'd ridden a brevet every month for five continuous months, and got to thinking about one of the awards offered by Randonneurs USA, the R-12. To earn the R-12, all you have to do is complete one ride per month of a minimum distance of 200km. Well, the Nebraska Sandhills Randonneurs had two more brevets scheduled for the early fall, first a 400k and then a 600k, so why not? For good measure, I also rode a 200km Arrow with the gang. Those events carried me through October. But what to do for November? Eventually things got down to a "last chance" effort. After scrutinizing the various permanent options listed by the San Francisco Randonneurs, I settled on a route called "East Bay to Davis," and [livejournal.com profile] scrottie joined me for a jaunt out into the California unknown that involved a detour to see Napa Valley and then some crazy climbing through the mountains out to Davis.

December's ride happened in Arizona, another permanent, the End of Pavement 200k, shortly after Christmas. Finally, in January, I was able to join the San Francisco Randonneurs for the Pierce Point 200k, another leg-buster with some impressive hills and lovely scenery. S came out with me for the Two Rock - Valley Ford 200k in February, and then I was looking to finish the twelve months out on the Russian River 300k.

When we had to bail two-thirds of the way through the 300k two weekends ago, I started to think about and look around for a make-up ride. With a better sense of the local geography as compared to last November, I narrowed the options down to either a repeat of the East Bay to Davis 200k, or something out in the direction of Marin again called the Tour of Five Bakeries. I wasn't feeling especially excited about doing either route as a solo ride, so I sent a message to the San Francisco Randonneurs to see if anyone else would be interested. I received a single enthusiastic reply, from a rider who was up for the Tour of Five Bakeries, so that sealed the deal. R and I made arrangements for an 8 am start, which would hopefully give me enough time to catch the first BART train from El Cerrito and then ride 15 miles from Embarcadero out to Mill Valley.

I was nervous about running late, but wound up reaching the starting point with ten minutes to spare, just as R pulled up. Phew! To top it off, a third rider appeared! She'd made her own arrangements to complete the permanent on her own. It's always nice just to know someone else is out there.

The ride started with a nice loop through some rolling hills out to Tiburon, which was most likely included in the route to bump the mileage up to the correct distance. No harm in that! From there, we rejoined roads that have quickly become familiar. But let me show you the elevation map, to give you some sense of things:



You can see the rolling hills in the beginning, up until somewhere around mile 20. The big spike past all that (mile 25-ish), plus the subsequent spike near mile 40 are two hills that bracket a lovely stretch of road that passes through Samuel P. Taylor State Park. I experience somewhat mixed emotions along this section, however, because that's the area where S and I wound up riding 15 bonus miles during the February 200k. So I enjoy the redwoods and smooth pavement, but also feel a slight twinge of panic.

This time, we didn't have to make any turns, and by shortly after 11 am, we found ourselves among the hordes of cyclists at Point Reyes Station. People were out in full force on their Saturday training rides. Time for bakery stop number one, Bovine Bakery. I devoured a slice of quiche and most of a giant raspberry scone wedge.

Then it was time to wind along Highway 1 and on up for the second stop at Tomales Bakery. I wasn't feeling especially hungry, but got a lemon bar and stuck it in my trunk bag as a snack for later. The Tomales Bakery also appeared to be popular with cyclists, to judge by the crowd outside.

Tomales Bakery

I also discovered that the "NOT A BANK" wifi network that my phone had detected during S's and my impromptu visit to the Continental Inn must have come from the bank-shaped building next door to the Continental Inn, which had a large "NOT A BANK" sign up at the top, about where one might expect to see the name of a bank. Another B&B, apparently.

Not A Bank
The center building, here.

From Tomales, it was time to face that fateful stretch of road again, the section between Valley Ford and Tomales where the state trooper had pulled us over on the 300k because the conditions were too gnarly. In the elevation map, you'll notice five spikes between miles 60 and 80. Those hills. Those are the ones that we struggled up in the dark, in that wild storm, where things got so bad that S had to pause and take a break, panting, halfway up the hill.

They took some work this time, but weren't so bad, really, with sunny skies and only a faint breeze. And at the turnaround point, another bakery!

I was feeling ambivalent about baked goods at this stage, but to my delight, this bakery also sold beautiful loaves of artisanal bread. I picked up a loaf of rosemary-garlic bread because it reminded me of S and his loaf of rosemary bread he won't stop talking about, and of all the other times that he and I have been out on brevets and have picked up amusing food items to haul home.

Then we turned our noses around for the return stretch.

We skipped the Tomales Bakery on the return. It wasn't a control and neither of us wanted more baked goods at that moment. Instead we just carried along until we got all the way back to Point Reyes Station. Somehow, by then found I had a renewed appetite for another baked good, this time a peanut butter bar washed down with a carton of chocolate milk. Refortified, I tackled the first climb on Sir Francis Drake, then the second one, and even that last hilly bit up and over Camino Alto to the end.

Finish at Safeway, Mill Valley
The End

For me, it was a fast 200k, clocking in at 10 hours and 25 minutes, despite the leisurely bakery stops. Hopefully R enjoyed the pace, too, which gave him plenty of time to look around while I huffed and puffed my way up the hills.

Regardless, it was a relief to finish out the R-12 series. What an adventure it has been!
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
(typed in haste)

At the beginning of the San Francisco brevets, the RBA has all of the riders raise their right hands (or their other right hands) to take an oath not to do anything stupid. Saturday's 300k was no exception, but in this case I thought a bit more about the oath, just given the dire-sounding weather forecast.

But I should back up for a moment to tell you a bit about the night before. The 300k was scheduled for a 6 am start, which is before the BART starts running, so I'd made reservations to stay at the Fort Mason hostel, which is a short ride from the starting line. By the time I went to make the reservations, the only space available was in a 24-bunk room.

By the time it was time to get up, S and I were both amazed and horrified by the level of noise in that room. How do people sleep with their smart-o-phones chiming and bleeping all through the night? That's not to mention some of the impressive logs that were sawn. Fortunately both of us seemed to be okay, probably thanks to a good night's sleep Thursday night.

We reached the plaza with a comfortable amount of time for last-minute adjustments (and a photo), and then it was time to set out.

At the start of the Russian River 300k

Visibility was much better for the earlier parts of this ride as compared to the prior 200k, which made the hills much more pleasant to roll along. We also managed to stay on course this time around, which meant we reached the "secret control" in good time.

Russian River 300k - Secret Control

I have to say, light rain is some of my all-time favorite weather. Everything looked so nice and green, and the air tasted fresh. The scenery was great, too, and we rolled in to the control in Petaluma in good shape. It was so nice to have a bit of time to eat some macaroni and cheese without getting stressed out about getting back on our bikes in a hurry.

The stretch between Petaluma and Healdsburg was all right, too. Mostly farmland with a few undulating hills. It continued to sprinkle lightly. S and I laughed at a business advertising "organic spray tan" just before the control in Healdsburg. With his lack of fenders, S had acquired a different sort of organic spray tan:

Russian River 300k - organic spray tan

We had reached the Healdsburg control just as the penultimate group of riders was pulling out, but were feeling pretty good, with about two hours in the bank.

From Healdsburg, conditions started to get more interesting. We were riding through some lovely rolling hills, past wineries, still enjoying the terrain. Soon the route met up with the Russian River, adding to the great scenery. Somewhere along River Road, with a sense of dismay, I heard an all-too-familiar sound. A flat. S and I found a spot to pull over and I changed out the flat with a fresh tube, pulling out a piece of embedded glass that appeared to be the culprit, and noting that it's time to go ahead and replace my worn-out tires. Well, no big deal. We got back on the road, but then all too soon, another flat. Blast. By this point, S had determined that his brakes weren't in great shape, so as I came to a stop, he gradually sailed to a stop as well, some yards ahead of me. Apparently we would need to be careful about managing our speed, given the condition of our equipment.

At this second stop, I spent a good 20-30 minutes going over the whole tire with a fine-toothed comb, looking for culprit number two. Meanwhile, S patched the first punctured tube. With all that looking, I couldn't find the culprit, which made me nervous, so I followed S's advice and rode around in a parking lot for 5-10 minutes on fresh tube #2.

Fresh tube #2 seemed to be holding air just fine, but when I inspected the tire again, I noticed a tiny slash in the sidewall with tube bulging out of it. Not promising. I deflated the tube again and shoved in a piece of a potato chip bag as a tire boot. Then I did another test ride around the lot. Things seemed to be holding okay, so it was time to carry on. All things told, dealing with the flats probably cost us a full hour of daylight.

The wind and rain continued to pick up as we carried on towards the next control, in Bodega Bay. By the time we got there, the gusts were starting to get really strong. It was shortly after 5 pm and we were just at the beginning of the segment of the ride along Highway 1, aka Dramamine Drive. After wringing out my socks and some more mac and cheese, we set out again. Daylight was waning and we had another 30 miles to go before the penultimate control at Point Reyes Station.

Some of the people at Diekmann's Bay Store said wind gusts were getting up to 37 mph, and that conditions were forecasted to worsen in the upcoming hours. At that point, the shortest way to get home was to just keep riding, and if we could keep our pace up, we still had some chance of making it to Point Reyes Station in time. We passed through the town of Valley Ford and kept going. There are a couple of hills just outside of Valley Ford that I remembered being pretty steep from the prior 200k, but on that brevet we didn't have to fight a headwind while trying to go up them. Things got so bad that S ran out of gears and had to stop and hyperventilate for a bit to make it all the way up.

At around that point, I thought some more about that oath we took at the beginning of the ride. At the top of one of those hills, while waiting for S to catch up, I had to keep the brakes squeezed full on in order to keep Froinlavin under control. The gusts were so bad that we had to fight to keep the bikes traveling straight, and the size of the debris on the road was starting to make me wonder about tree branches crashing down. On top of that, it was dark and the driving rain made visibility very poor, so we had to slow to a crawl on the downhills.

The thing that made me decide to throw in the towel was the moment when a California Highway Patrol car put on its lights and pulled us over to check on us and see if we were okay. The patrolman was very nice and said that some of the people driving along the road had called in about us. He also said that there was a hotel about 4 miles up the road, in Tomales. He then escorted us to town, where we were able to track down a person at the hotel and arrange to wait out the storm in their one open room.

Russian River 300k - cleanup

It had taken us about two hours to travel 15 miles, and we would have had another 15 miles to travel along curving roads with gusting winds to reach Point Reyes Station. If we'd kept going, all of the businesses in Point Reyes Station would have been closed by the time we arrived, assuming we didn't have any additional interesting incidents along that stretch.

It was really hard to decide to give up. We were tired, but we were perfectly warm and had plenty of food and extra warm clothing with us. If we hadn't had to stop for that hour to fix flats, we would have been able to cover more ground through the difficult conditions during daylight hours, where it's easier to keep speed up. But given the terrible visibility and unknown road conditions, it made sense to just stop and wait until daylight.

The next morning was a perfectly lovely time for a ride, and we were able to finish out the distance without incident.

Russian River 300k - muddy waters

And, finished

I still feel a sense of disappointment, but I will take two major lessons from the experience:

1. Knowing my riding style, I will now carry a spare folding tire with me. I tend to ride until my equipment wears out, especially in the case of tires, where in general I can ride without much in the way of flats up until the tire wears out and needs to be replaced. In the present case, I only realized my tire was worn out when I got the first flat.

2. I think I am going to draw the line at riding in 30 mph winds. It was only that final segment, in the dark and driving rain, that I hit a point where I stopped having fun. Everything else was a great adventure, and we enjoyed the scenery both days. As I told S, in addition to thinking about the oath, I also found myself thinking about some signs posted in a research lab where I worked one summer, that said "Know Your Limits."* It's okay to have limits.

That said, I wish I'd been able to hunker down somewhere for a few minutes to look at a weather radar and figure out how much longer the storm was likely to continue. There was a bar next door to the hotel where we wound up staying, and if it had just been a matter of waiting for an hour, we might have just stopped for some food and drinks. I'm going to keep this in mind for future rides.



*It took a while before I learned that these weren't some sort of strange motivational sign. They were reminders to make sure to not put too much radioactive material down the drain. There's a limit to the amount that's allowed to go down the drain in a given day.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
So, Saturday was the February 200k brevet, and it was a doozy of the sort where the main thing that [livejournal.com profile] scrottie and I had to look forward to, after a certain point, was simply the feeling of relief of having finished the thing.

But let me back up.

Earlier in the week, I sent an e-mail to the list to inquire about bumming a ride over to the start. Another rider responded to let us know that we could make it to the start on time if we caught the very first train down at the West Oakland BART station. Well, okay. The West Oakland BART station is about a 10-mile ride from home. Since [livejournal.com profile] scrottie often has a hard time waking up at the ass-crack of dawn (okay, more like somewhere in dawn's colon), plus navigating over to the BART would cover new territory, I figured we would need to budget some extra time, just in case. S wasn't too keen on having to get up extra early, but after some discussion, he reluctantly agreed to the plan.

Saturday morning, we got up, I made coffee and breakfast sandwiches, we saddled our steeds, and we headed off towards the BART station with a decent time cushion. Better to have a little extra time so we don't have to rush, after all.

It was a good thing we had that decent time cushion because somewhere in West Oakland S rode over a nail. One of those nails that plows through the tube and then tattoos the far side of the tube with about 15 additional stabby little holes. I guess the Bontrager hardcases don't have a good Kevlar lining after all? He's interested in ideas for better tires again - they have to be under 25mm because of narrow clearance. We also managed to do a bunch of flailing in the process of fixing the flat, but somehow, in spite of all that, we STILL made it to the train about 3 minutes before it was due at the station. Phew. Only had to put on a little hustle to get there.

Team F-Minus 200k

That meant we were able to follow a couple of other riders from the Embarcadero station over to the start at Crissy Field, and make it to the start on time.

...not that making it to the start on time made that much of a difference. I could almost hear the RBA's announcements about things to pay attention to on the route. Almost. People towards the back were talking loudly and rustling all of their plastic baggies. Then we took the pledge to not do anything stupid, ate a few bites of our breakfast sandwiches, and set off behind the back of the horde of 100 or so riders.

We'd checked the weather the night before, and the prospects looked amazing - no chance of rain and a high of 70 degrees. However, we had failed to account for the fog. It's probably time for me to look into some of those anti-fog coatings one can get for one's eyeglasses, because some of those early downhill stretches were pretty terrifying, navigating around slower riders on unfamiliar curvy, foggy roads. On the other hand, I do love the sound of the foghorns out by the Golden Gate Bridge.

Eventually, by somewhere around Fairfax, the fog started to lift and we reached a point where we were riding along at a steady pace in a clear section on our own. It was starting to look like a lovely day. I had reached the bottom of the first page of the cue sheet, so I asked S to keep tabs on our route on his GPS instead of pulling over to flip over my cue sheet, and we carried along quite happily through the forest up until my Rando Senses started tingling. I was starting to wonder about the point where we needed to split to the east towards Petaluma on the lollipop-shaped route.

Inspection of the cue sheet plus my GPS suggested we had missed a turn about 7.5 miles back on Nicasio Valley Road. Well, shoot, argh, et cetera, cue mild panic. I had the sense that we would still be able to make it to the first control before the control closed, but there went any hope of a comfortable time cushion during the early stages of the brevet. We turned our bikes around and nosed back through Samuel P Taylor State Park and headed up and over the next hill at a more urgent pace.

Having a tight deadline can really suck the fun out of a bike ride, oof. We made it to Petaluma about 20 minutes before the control closed, in definite need of additional calories. We left the control right as it closed, which meant continuing at a solid pace up to the subsequent control, at Valley Ford. We got to Valley Ford with about 45 minutes to spare, which we used up again in refueling before heading back to the south towards Point Reyes Station.

When I pulled in at Point Reyes Station, I turned around and discovered that S wasn't behind me. Oh boy. I hadn't heard him shout anything about stopping, so I figured he must be just a moment or two behind me. I went back to the corner where Highway 1 descends down a big hill and waited for a minute or three to see if he would appear.

Several minutes later, no S. Oh dear. Now what.

After waiting another minute or two in a state of slightly tired befuddlement, it finally occurred to me that if he'd stopped due to another flat tire, he might be out of spare tubes and in need of a tube from me. Time to climb back up the hill to find him. Fortunately, he was right there, at the top of the hill, working on his his jerry-rigged rear derailleur which was giving him some trouble*. It turned out that he'd lost his taillight after hitting a bump on a prior curvy downhill corner, so he'd fallen behind in tracking it down, and meanwhile a zip-tie that had been holding his rear derailleur in place had broken, compromising his ability to shift.

Not a good situation given the California terrain.

Given how close we were to the control, he was able to coast on down the hill, and then after a lengthy and desperate search for a bathroom he managed to get things fixed up with some baling wire again.

Team F-Minus 200k

I was glad to get more calories from the bakery, and then once again we set off right at around the time the control closed. No rest for the wicked.

We made it to the end about an hour and a half before the final deadline, and felt a welcome sense of relief. It would have been nice to have had more time to enjoy the ride and scenery**, but all things considered, I'm satisfied with just having survived that one.

Then we hung out at the finish for a few minutes until the last two riders pulled in.

Team F-Minus 200k

This is A, who completed her first 200k ever, on a nice, solid cruiser, wearing some pretty cute shoes. Her brevet training consists of hauling along a two-year-old and six-year-old on this bike. Most of the other riders told her she should get a different bike. I just think she's a total badass, and a rockstar for doing her own thing. She seemed to be managing all the hills just fine, and she was totally jazzed at the finish.

One more month to go, and then I'll have completed an R-12 and will focus more on things like rowing a bike camping. In the meantime, maybe it's time for some bike maintenance, and time to make mental note to do a better job of previewing brevet routes when riding in unfamiliar regions.



*This is the second Campy 8-speed rear derailleur where the piece of metal that holds the set screw in place has sheared off. Campy doesn't make these anymore, so they can only be bought used, so it may just be the case that someone else abused the derailleur at some point.

**As much as one can, given the annoying volume of traffic out here.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Hmm, this is going to be unedited because I have a bunch of other work to get done today.

So, [livejournal.com profile] scrottie arrived in town on Thursday evening, hurrah! But things have been something of a blur since then. We skipped Bike-Friendly Friday because there was just too much to do. To begin with, I spent a couple hours working with an undergraduate researcher on an assay that's of mutual interest (vanillan, used to quantify total lipids). Then I dashed off to a Postdoc Lunch on that perpetual topic of interest, "How to Get a Job." To some extent it's reassuring that most of their recommendations line up with the recommendations I've already gotten from others, elsewhere. I just need to keep at it. Then I worked with another undergraduate who I am setting up to run a cricket feeding experiment, and once that was underway I put in a couple of hours on the current leafcutter feeding manuscript.

Interspersed with all of that, I got underway with sorting out logistics for Saturday's 200k brevet. I hadn't realized until Thursday that the brevet start time of 7 am at the Golden Gate Bridge would be challenging to reach by public transit, because the BART doesn't start running on Saturday morning until 6 am. After S decided that he really couldn't do the brevet, I worked out a carpool with another randonneur from the East Bay. As we drove out to the start, he said there aren't any ways to bike across the Bay unless you go all the way down to Fremont (the South Bay, basically? Still learning the local geography). If I knew more of the other riders, I probably would have been willing to take the BART and just start a couple minutes late, but given that one of my goals for this ride was starting to meet the local riders, the carpool was helpful.

Ahh, logistics.

The rest of Friday evening, then, was full of the usual pre-brevet logistics: downloading the .gpx and then uploading it onto my phone, putting air in Froinlavin's tires, repacking the toolkit into the trunk bag, printing the cue sheet, prepping and stuffing four burritos. It's a bit of work, but it's familiar work by this stage.

There are some contrasts between the brevets here and the brevets in Nebraska. For one thing, a few more riders show up.

Starting crowd

For another thing, the terrain is much more lumpy.



The route took us through the Samuel Taylor State Park, dripping and full of redwoods and ferns, then up to Pierce Point, a peninsula on the coast that is separated from the mainland by the San Andreas fault. The course was basically wishbone-shaped, so from Pierce Point we backtracked back through Point Reyes Station, and then traveled along Coastal Highway 1 up to Nick's Cove. At Nick's Cove, we turned around and headed back through Fairfax to Sausalito and back across the bridge, enjoying some nice harbor views and views of the city skyline along the way.



I didn't take any photos of the lovely redwoods in Samuel Taylor. The forest gave me flashbacks to that wonderful bike touring trip around the Olympic Peninsula several summers back, although I have to tell you that the Olympic National Forest is even more grand. Plus there are better shoulders on those sections of road in Washington, and Washington drivers are generally more patient. Still! I have no cause for complaint, and am happy to have gotten the introduction to some of the great parks that are within biking distance.

Things got more interesting past Samuel Taylor, as we headed towards the second control at Pierce Point. If you look again at the elevation profile, right around mile 47.2, you might have some idea as to why. Last week my legs were sore up until right around Friday, from doing lunges early in the week. All through the first part of the ride, I just kept telling myself that if I got myself all the way to mile 50, the rest would be just fine. If I got to 50, then I could just do another 25 miles, and at that point, heck, I would only have 50 miles remaining, and my recollection from a hasty glance at the elevation profile was that things would be smooth sailing from then on.

Well.

By the time we had reached that lumpy business right at mile 47, I'd already chowed down on a bunch of stuff out of my feed bag, because URGH, hills, and not enough gears (banana, granola bar, Balance bar [gross!], mini-Clif bar, burrito). And dead legs. There were enough other riders around that I was pushing the pace to keep up, especially because other riders kept on passing me and I was nervous about finishing with a non-embarrassing time. Just picture me huffing and puffing away up the hills in slightly too high a gear, chowing down on a banana and trying not to choke on it, and you've got the right picture. I kept myself going by telling myself that it would be SUPER embarrassing if I had to stop in the middle of a hill to pant. Just keep going, self, just keep going!

And then, The Hill. My body was already working hard and disgruntled by the time we reached yet another hill where I pretty much just ran out of gears. Whoof. I watched with some envy as another rider shifted down to spin his way up this beast, while I did what I could to lurch along. I did the best I could, but finally, it happened. I redlined so hard (yes, that hard) and my legs went NO, and I just had. to stop. The "KEEP GOING!" instinct runs so strong, though. If I couldn't hang on and pedal my way up without asphyxiating, I could at least walk, right? I haven't walked up a hill in the midst of a bike ride since the days of the Chilly Hilly as a kid. But walk I did.

Really, I only needed to walk for about 50 yards before my heart rate dropped back down into a sensible range and my legs said, "Well, uh, okay, but don't overdo it again." And after that point I managed to smooth out my pace to something more sustainable. But OOF, that hill.

On the other hand, the reward was a view like this:

Lovely view from Pierce Point

(alternating with view of cows in grassy, hilly pastures reminiscent of the French countryside)

And I was only a mile from the second control, where the volunteers had plenty of water and some energy bars and fresh, home-baked chocolate chip cookies.

Pierce Point Control

I paused and ate one of the cookies, plus a second burrito, and then hit the road again, grateful to know that I was through some of the craziest bits (based on my hazy recollection of the elevation profile).

The second part of the wishbone, out to Nick's Cove, was lovely too. I was happy for a chance to see what Highway 1 is like, but it made me think that if I do more bike touring, I'll go elsewhere. I can understand why motorists on Highway 1 get tired of bicyclists. It's stressful to have to pass cyclists on narrow, winding highways, and frankly, the motor traffic sucks out a lot of the fun for me as a cyclist. I don't need to ride right along the ocean at all times.

On the return, I stopped in Point Reyes Station to check things out for a few minutes. I'd seen bikes parked while on my way out to Nick's Cove, but still wanted to keep pushing along since I know I can lose a lot of time if I stop. I had come up with a stupid goal of trying to see if I could get back to the Golden Gate Bridge before it was completely dark so I could take a fun tourist photo. On the return, though, I had this feeling that it would be a good idea to look for more calories, as I'd already gnawed my way through the Luna bar I'd snagged at the second control and M&Ms were sounding really good.

Calories appeared in a different form, though: a nice, big, walnut brownie from the Bovine Bakery. The bakery had a bunch of other things that also looked phenomenal, so I'm going to have to go back. I hung out and chatted with a couple other riders for a few minutes, then saddled up and hit the road again.

Somewhere along the return, about 30 miles from the end, as I was pedaling along and working on the remnants of an apple, a paceline passed me and the guy at the front of the paceline remarked to me, "Nice job," as he rode past. The effect was like striking a match: I finished the apple, tossed the core into the bushes, caught up with the back of the line, and managed to hang on and ride with the gang for the remaining miles. I was particularly grateful to the rider in their midst who was struggling the most, because he set the best pace on the remaining hills and made it possible for me to keep up.

And with that, we cruised into the finish, just after the sun went down, and just under 11 hours after we'd started.

I took a photo at the finish anyway, even though it was dark. Not too bad for a hilly little adventure.

Finished!
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Today has been an "organize the calendar" sort of day. I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but at the same time this is a good time of year to take stock of things and think about plans for the upcoming year, including changes. I am not sure about how to organize this list of things I am wanting to organize, but here it is:

-Short-term: Finish bike hook installation (probably the weekend I get back to town - Jan 8).

-Schedule a piano tuner (S gave me the Gift of Tuning, hurrah!)

-Figure out rowing in the Bay Area. A big thank-you to [livejournal.com profile] dichroic for passing along a couple of lists of the area rowing clubs. Starting point: Berkeley Paddling and Rowing Club (closer), if not that then Lake Merritt (8.7 mile bike ride one-way).

-Finish out an R-12 award (i.e. ride at least a 200km brevet each month for 12 consecutive months; I have 3 more months to go). Once I finish this, I plan to focus more on rowing, with occasional recreational bicycling thrown in for fun and profit (e.g. more picnics and bike camping).

-Come up with a plan for creative projects. [livejournal.com profile] sytharin and the housemates are somewhat keen to get ceramics operations up and running, which is something that makes me dream of gas-fired kilns and learning to mix up glazes. These two dreams are impractical for the here-and-now, plus I have other, non-ceramic creative projects that I wish to attend to (specifically, quilting and knitting). Hence the need for more of a plan for creative projects. The best solution may be just to schedule Crafternoons with RAC. That should also help us figure out how I can best help her with gardening projects, too. I can see why people use shareable calendar goop for this stuff, although I am tempted to continue rebelling with my paper and text files.

-Academic to do (condensed version): make a schedule for the conference in Portland next week; push forward the leafcutter manuscript (which doom level have I reached, again?); make a semester plan; analyze data and write manuscripts; start new experiments; polish job application materials.

-Get back on track with tracking spending. As mentioned elsejournal, I'm particularly interested in doing some detailed grocery accounting. In part this should help me figure out which items I wish to buy where in the grocery landscape of the Bay Area, and in part I am intrigued by the idea of comparing grocery spending here against grocery spending elsewhere (Lincoln in particular), and in seeing what I eat over the course of a year. Lincoln groceries won't include the occasional foray to the farmer's market, but those trips were pretty occasional and mostly for pecans and fruit bonanzas, because the grocery co-op did such an awesome job of selling locally-produced foods.

Edited to add:
-Develop the Bike-Friendly Fridays coffeeshop agenda for the East Bay.

I think that covers the major bases.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
My visit to Arizona has involved a mixture of quiet and busy days. I’d put yesterday in the “busy” category. S and I roused ourselves shortly after 5 am, had coffee and breakfast sandwiches, and then set out for the starting point of the End of Pavement 200k permanent (permanent = brevet route that can be ridden at any point, after pre-arranging with the route “owner”).

The route promised to be scenic, and it was, covering multiple scenic regions just to the north of the Greater Phoenix Suburb-o-Politan area:

EOPRoute

We first shot north along Arizona Avenue, which morphed into the Beeline Highway. This section reminded me of all the bike camping trips we’ve ever taken out to the McDowell Mountains, including that one trip where I packed along the Coleman stove AND a cast-iron frying pan on the Jolly Roger. The extra weight on that camping trip meant I really couldn’t complain on any of the hill climbs, and I was pleased with being able to surprise everyone with scrambled eggs in the morning.

This time, we continued on past Fountain Hills, out to where the Beeline connects to Bush Highway - the back entrance into the Salt River Recreation area. My memories along this segment turned towards ants. I have spent so many hours out along sections of the Salt River, looking for ants. Mostly leafcutter ants, but there are also a couple of reasonably good spots for seed-harvester ants, too. The leafcutter ant populations along the Salt River seem to have suffered from the drought conditions of the last decade or two.

We didn’t make it quite all the way to my old field site before it was time to turn off onto Usery Road, and head through the Usery Pass area - another bike camping site where, one morning, we woke up and discovered that some native fire ants had helped themselves to some cinnamon-sugar bread and half an avocado that I’d left in the Jolly Roger’s picnic basket. I still ate the ant-bread, although most of my friends were weirded out by it.

From Usery pass, we nosed along Brown Road and out through Apache Junction, heading towards the Flatiron and Superstition Mountains. I never did make it up to the top of the Flatiron - the one time I went out to hike it, I had completed an intense rowing leg workout the day before, so I decided it was unnecessary to go all the way up. Instead, I got to hang out with my friend DM and enjoy the serenity of the Arizona outdoors, sitting on a rock about halfway up.

I was nervous about the stretch of road towards Lost Dutchman State Park, and my fears turned out to be justified. For whatever stupid reasons, Arizona motorists and tourists all want to go extremely fast along that section of road, and there’s no shoulder. Argh. Some of the road users include people hauling motorboats up to the lakes, and we had an egregious number of drivers buzz us. That area could use some "bikes on road" signs, in the very least - we weren't the only cyclists out enjoying the scenery.

That section also involved the steepest hills, the most twists and turns, and the worst pavement: chipseal that was wearing out, buckling, and cracking. Jarring. I’d borrowed my friend RG’s bike for the ride, and the top tube was just slightly too long for me, making it challenging to handle on the rough terrain. Nerve-wracking, altogether, which detracted from our enjoyment of the scenery (and truly, this ride covered some of the best scenery in the area).

At long last, we reached the turnaround point, where the pavement ended.

After some celebratory photos, we turned back around to head back towards town. We had to get ourselves back up and over one last big lump of a hill, but once we crossed over it, I knew we were just about home free. There's something comforting about riding in a familiar region. Everything back from the Superstitions is a long, gradual downhill towards the Salt River drainage.

Our return route took us along some new-to-us roads that skirt along the eastern edge of the metro area. In general, we have zero reason to ride out to that part of town; we had a nice, wide bike lane all to ourselves on a road that passed by empty, flat tracts of land just waiting to be developed into cheap suburban housing. There's not much going on out there, and it's pretty depressing suburbiaville.

Just before we reached our final turn onto Pecos Road, we started to encounter large volumes of backed-up traffic: motorists exiting off the loop highway and heading out to the suburbs of Queen Creek for the night.

It always feels gratifying to quietly whir past piles and piles of automobiles. We only wish we’d been on tallbikes, which provide that extra sweet element of joy and transport people out of their everyday experience.

Pecos Road was also largely empty and flat, which was fine with us, as we were ready to be finished and starting to get hungry for dinner. After completing our last transactions and paperwork at the finish, we headed for one of our traditional Extreme Picnicking rewards: a stop at the Cornish Pasty Co. for some beer and vegetarian deliciousness wrapped in buttery dough.

This 200km permanent went much faster than the previous one in California - 11 hours, 20 minutes compared to 13 hours, 45 minutes. I think it helped that there was only 6000 feet of climbing, instead of 8000 feet, plus I am pretty sure the rice-and-bean burritos we packed along helped to prevent me from developing El Crampo (debilitating stomach cramp that forced us to stop and rest in CA). We also appreciated the fact that many segments of this route had bike lanes or wide shoulders, although again I wish things were better along the stretch out towards Tortilla Flat, and there were a couple other spots that weren't great. And really, I’ll continue to miss the quiet Nebraska roads.


Yep, just a couple of small climbs...The end-of-pavement turnaround happened at mile 77, the top of that big peak.

End of Pavement 200k preparations
My borrowed steed (Surly Traveler's Check, note the S&S couplers), and S’s beloved GT mountain bike, which has seen many, many an adventure.

Thirst
S got so thirsty, he ripped the top right off his water bottle! [joke] Methinks the plastic from his 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris water bottle just got too old and brittle. Fortunately, both of us tend to pack along some extra water, so we managed fine without this bottle.

Arrival
Where the Pavement Ends

Evidence
We made it! The scenery out here is phenomenal, but doesn’t photograph well, so you’ll just have to figure out how to experience it yourself, or imagine it. Picture lots of big, colorful rocks, many cacti, agave, and creosote bushes, and some lakes and streams.

End of the pavement
End of Pavement. The road continues on, and in fact we’ve driven out there to go backpacking, which I also highly recommend, although bring good navigational aids because people still get lost out in the Superstitions.

Post-brevet cheer
Blurry post-brevet selfie beers. My smart-o-phone’s camera sucks, especially when used for selfies in the dark.

Wildlife spottings: Raven, dead owl, dead rabbit, dead squirrel, dead coyote.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
There has been some discussion recently among the randonneurs about demographics in randonneuring. I was pleased to discover that there's a breakdown of RUSA membership on the RUSA website, along several different axes, including age and gender. Hm! Eighteen percent women, as compared to the 5% participation rate by women at Paris-Brest-Paris. Of course, not everyone who joins RUSA actually rides in brevets, but it's a benchmark, at least. I believe that at some point the PBP organizers will provide more detailed participation statistics, so we can see whether the US participation at PBP reflects the RUSA membership. If so, this would mean that it's other countries who aren't bringing in women participants. I suspect the reality lies somewhere in-between, but that the US is doing a comparatively good job on this front - of course, that's not to say that we couldn't do better.

So, how does that compare to rowing, my other favorite sport (and, admittedly, first true love)?

Well, a website seeking to help people interested in monetizing the sport* declares that we've gone from 43% of the population as Master's rowers (ages 27+) to 75% Masters between 2004-2008. But note that participation in the sport has also grown, from 177,500 persons (+/- 9%) to 220,000 persons (+/- 9%). While things aren't broken down by both age and gender, it looks like the gender ratio has remained constant between the two surveys, at 55% men and 45% women.

So, wow. This supports my sense that rowing has done WAY better in the gender-balance department than long-distance cycling.

On the other hand, rowing is still overwhelmingly, tremendously white and privileged. But I'm pretty sure that cycling for sport is, too. This last link does a nice job of talking about good reasons to push for improving diversity in rowing, and many of those reasons are equally applicable to cycling.


*I mention this because there are so many potential sources of bias in this report. A quick skim of this site suggests they're trying to be transparent, but it would be useful to see how their numbers compare to USRowing's numbers (which I can't seem to find after an admittedly quick search).
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
This one deserves a more poetic write-up, but, busy.

-[livejournal.com profile] scrottie's rear shifter lever broke off about 20 miles into the ride (4 am start time meant we went to bed at 11 pm and got up at 3 am, oof). Campy shifters. Right before we hit the steepest hill section. So he had to reach down and pull up on the cable to get his bike into a low enough gear to not completely die when going up the hills. He pulled in some cable when we reached Pawnee City, then pulled in a little more cable when we reached O'Dell, and finished out the rest of the brevet single-speed style, beast mode. Even when he can't spin as much as he'd druther, he can keep up a good clip.

-Pre-brevet sleep deprivation (not just the night before, but the whole week before) meant we were so exhausted we took a lot of naps during the night on the return section between O'Dell and Pawnee City.

-We saw two "Corn Devils" - dust devils that didn't have dust in them, just dried-out corn stalks swirling around in little magical circles. Lots of corn harvesting going on.

-Were those some sort of cluster sunflower all along the sides of the roads, or some other kind of plant? Very pretty.

-On the return between Pawnee City and Falls City, all of the opossums decided that it would be fun to play chicken with us. S and I were riding side-by-side, S towards the center line. A possum came across from the far side of the road, and S barely managed to yell out and swerve around it. It kept going. I just held on for dear life and ran over it, I think just with my rear wheel. I don't know how it fared but we did just fine. I now owe myself a possum spoke card (I make hand-drawn spoke cards for people who hit animals while bicycling).

-Man, it was so great to be out biking in the Nebraska countryside. The weather was gorgeous. A little bit of headwind. Beautiful and quiet out there, with respectful drivers.

-Those s'mores pop tarts from the grocery store in O'Dell tasted amazingly good.

-I don't think I'm going to do the 600k in two weeks. The 400k didn't make my lingering PBP ailments any worse, but it didn't make them any better, either (handlebar palsy and foot metatarsalgia still problematic). Work is too crazy. My body deserves a break.

-S got a camper about two weeks ago, but I didn't want to post about it until he got official plates. It's a Dolphin from the late 70's (early 80's?). Princess TinyHome. It smells slightly of cat pee, leaks, and is so far past the point where it needs maintenance work done*, but we slept fantastically the night after the brevet and it was super convenient for making coffee in the morning. I love it.

Edited to add...

-This brevet happened on International Speak Like a Pirate Day, mateys! I dressed in my finest pirate cycling garb, complete with vest, cutlass, and pirate socks, and growled slanderous things all day long. None of the townspeople really seemed to notice.



*But the engine is fine! So it's ahead of the curve compared to when Princess TinyCar showed up, heh, and feels a bit less dangerous to me. I can see why S is attracted to these vehicles.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Work has been busy, to put it mildly, which means I've had a serious backlog of subjects I've wanted to cover. Here's a review of some of the logistics involved in traveling to another continent to embark on a bike ride.

The travel: Lincoln only has a small municipal airport with two American carriers. Most airlines charge a hefty fee for bicycles, plus there's the added expense of limited airline options and I generally don't care for American carriers for overseas flights. So instead I decided to take the train up to Chicago, where I would have many more options. I think the train ticket cost a total of around $120, plus another $10 to check my bicycle on the return trip (on the trip there, the station manager didn't quite know how to handle the situation so he didn't charge me). I could afford the time.

I had thought that the 5-hour gap between the train's scheduled arrival in downtown Chicago and the plane's departure would be adequate, even taking into account the inevitable Amtrak delay. I was wrong. The train encountered a downed tree across the track and wound up arriving in Chicago a few minutes after the flight had been scheduled to leave. However, for reasons I'll never quite know, the flight also got canceled, so Aer Lingus re-booked me for the following day for free. Phew. I was able to get a room at the Chicago youth hostel downtown and did some sightseeing. Not a huge deal, but if I were to do this again I would go for the 29-hour layover just to be on the safe side. The 25-hour layover on the return was very pleasant. But maybe I should plan on visiting fewer destinations in Europe, although overall I'm happy to have visited so many places. I am likely to forget this last point, but altogether I am thinking: head straight to Paris on the way out, then do some leisurely sightseeing after the ride is over. Better for resting up the legs and ensuring that the bike arrives.

By the way, neither Aer Lingus nor Virgin charges a bike fee for trans-Atlantic flights as of this posting. When you consider that most bike fees run around $125, that's around $250 in savings.

In 2011, I transported my aluminum/carbon fiber bike in a big, plastic, hard-sided case. It protected the bike all right, but was a huge pain in the ass to cart around because it had one small strap and tiny wheels. Ugh. So heavy. This time, I used the soft-sided bag that [livejournal.com profile] scrottie bought in Amsterdam in 2011 when his cardboard box failed, and carted it around with a folding luggage cart. The bag has a shoulder strap, which let me shoulder and carry the bike up stairs and escalators, and the hand cart was rugged but comfortable enough that I walked with the bike for distances of up to 2 miles while traveling around (Brussels, in particular). My only complaint was that the whole thing was a bit too floppy. If I were to do this again I would try to figure out how to snug everything together better. It was floppy to the point where at one point it pressed one of the wheel guards onto the wheel, wearing a groove in it.

I saw some riders in Versailles who had packaged their bicycles up in coroplast boxes, which looked pretty good. I'd still say that some sort of rugged shoulder strap is indispensable. I got some raised eyebrows when I tried to carry on the bike on the return train trip from Paris to London, but eventually the officials just waved me through. Otherwise it would have cost me another 30 Euros to check the bike for that train leg.

When the ticket agent in the Chicago airport said my bike was "checked through," I got lulled into complacency, thinking that the outbound trip would be like our travels through Iceland, where I didn't see the checked luggage until we arrived in Amsterdam. That could have been why my bike took 2 extra days to show up in London, which cost me all the time I'd planned on spending in Brussels and the $250 I'd saved by taking an air carrier without bike fees (rebooking my train ticket). So, reconfirm this aspect of things when you check your bike. Those days in London were stressful.

In general it's helpful to remember that Europeans are better about providing good "left luggage" services than Americans. I was able to store the packed bike at the youth hostel in London when I went out to the countryside for a few days, and stored it overnight at the Dublin airport on the return trip (~12 Euros) because I really didn't want to drag it in to town and back again. Youth hostels are generally accommodating on this front.

One other note on the Dublin airport, though. It took a LONG time to get through lines and all the way to the gate. Budget extra time for that airport.

Local navigation in France: Right before I left, I paid to upgrade to the full version of OpenStreetMaps. Worth every penny. I also wrote down the latitudes and longitudes for a whole bunch of miscellaneous important places. This system worked fantastically well for getting around town, as long as I remembered to use the appropriate navigation settings. I took some scary roads when I accidentally used motor vehicle settings instead of bicycle settings. Whoops.

I also downloaded a gpx route someone had shared for getting from Paris proper out to SQY, starting from the Arc de Triomphe. The route was excellent and scenic, with very few navigation points. The only hitch was that it led me to the 2011 gymnasium start instead of the Velodrome. I also wish I'd felt good enough to have just ridden back into Paris after PBP, especially after the experiences on the Metro. I wasn't able to extend my stay at the Versailles hotel for any more days because I hadn't booked the room early enough, but in the future I think it would be good to budget two full nights of sleep and recovery there before trying to travel anywhere else.

I also downloaded gpx files for the PBP route, but I never used my phone for this at all. The signs were adequate as long as I was attentive at certain key points. Instead I only used my phone for pictures and the nap timer (left the GPS off and left it in energy saver + airplane mode). Its battery held up fine for the entire ride, although I'd packed along a backup battery just in case.

One thing I did that was tremendously helpful: I wrote out information about all of the controls and service stops on a set of index cards, including my calculated closing times, the distances between controls, and the total distance I'd gone so far. I should note that the brevet card only lists control openings and closings for the 5:15 pm start, so if I hadn't done my own calculations in advance I would have had to do the math on the fly while sleep-deprived. Not so bad when there's just an hour difference, but it was better to have everything laid out clearly. Plus I wasn't riding with my brevet card face-open, whereas I had the index cards out in my map case instead of a cue sheet (tucked behind and not really used at all). Maybe I should have translated those to miles from kilometers. But hey, this was in France. I probably should have switched over my odometer to kms, too, but at the same time the conversions gave me something to try and think about when sleep-deprived and sometimes it's better if you can't quite do the math on how far you've gone and how far you have yet to go. If I were to do this again I would try to scope out more of the non-control towns where it is possible to get services much faster than at the controls. Knowing more locations of bars, tabac shops, and pharmacists could be useful.

Ride food. I'm generally reluctant to pack bunches of energy bars and electrolytes and the like. However, I was very glad that I had a packet of Nuun tabs along with me because there weren't enough other electrolyte sources along the ride. I also wish I'd packed at least a couple of energy bars, because they would have saved my butt on more than one occasion, like when I couldn't buy baguette sandwiches in SQY immediately prior to the ride because it was a Sunday and the mall was closed.

I won't waste my money again on the "pre-ride dinner" ticket. I kind of want to send it back to the organizers because I am still annoyed that they ran out of food.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
There's a national e-mail listserv for randonneuring, and it's kind of amusing to know a thing or two about subjects that were hotly discussed just prior to PBP as compared to subjects hotly discussed afterwords. Before, a group of people were all "ZOMG GPS route!!" twitchy about things - largely, it should be noted, the PBP newbies who hadn't yet experienced the marvel of all of the route signage. Not a peep about the route after PBP concluded. Instead, following PBP there have been several different discussion threads about various aches and pains and their sources, particularly from those for whom the aches and pains turned into ride showstoppers.

It's useful for me to make note of what hurt and what didn't so I can keep thinking about what things could stand to improve, and how.

Prior to the start, my left Achilles tendon was starting to feel a little sore, I suspect as a result of all of the walking around I did as a tourist. I was concerned that it would wind up getting much worse over the course of the ride, but then it gave me no problems whatsoever. Phew.

Instead, it was my left big toe that was unhappy at first, and I don't entirely know why. It started to feel sore fairly early on, and stayed that way, getting neither better nor worse regardless of whatever else I did.

My lower back was fine after I adjusted my seat at 300km. My upper back and shoulders suffered more. I tend to have some troubles with my right levator scapulae after long rides, and this ride was no exception (it's a muscle that runs between the inside top of the shoulder blade to the neck, to help hold up the shoulder). It has been less than happy, but no worse than it has felt after a 600k. I think it must be doing extra work to help hold up my head. It would probably be helped the most by me being more consistent about shoulder strengthening exercises.

During some of the spring qualifying brevets, you might recall that I spent a lot of time trying to stand and jam my way up the hills, but found that this led to really sore, creaky knees. During PBP I figured out that I had been trying to stand and climb too fast, in too low a gear - when I shifted up more, I was able to stand and climb much more comfortably. While it wasn't especially fast, standing helped give my body crucial relief on the long climbs. I am glad I figured that bit out. I did eventually start to feel the effects of this in my knees, but at some point during the ride someone commented that everyone's knees would feel sore by the end, so I didn't think too much of the knee discomfort. This knee pain also resolved very quickly after the ride and was never as severe as it had been during those spring brevets. In contrast, it took a day or three for my right knee to feel normal again at the lower patellar attachment point - the spot that started to trouble me during the last 40 miles. I think I must have torqued it in a strange way at some point while it was already fatigued.

I'd mentioned in a previous post that I'd experienced problems with saddle sores. This was a hotly discussed topic on the listserv, where someone pointed out that a useful starting point is to distinguish between different kinds of sores. In the past, I have had persistent saddle sores caused by bacterial infections, which are terrible and annoying. I concluded that leather saddles don't agree with my skin, and haven't had any problems with that variety of saddle sore ever since. Some people also identify chafing as "saddle sores," and I've had my fair share of experiences with chafing as well, but that wasn't the main problem in this case. In the present case, I experienced discomfort from "pressure point" sores - the skin under my sit bones wore through, and fairly quickly. There are three things to consider on this front. The first is that I haven't been able to get in the right sort of consistent mileage needed to build up good butt callouses. The second is that it might be that the saddle that has served me well for years, the Selle Royal Respiro Athletic, is slightly too soft for me now. So I might need to go back to saddle shopping again. Third, maybe it's time for new bike shorts, too. I did apply Lantiseptic frequently, but it didn't seem to help much with this kind of butt soreness.

One of the factors that contributed to my DNF for PBP 2011 was handlebar palsy, which continued to plague me afterwords for over a month. This time, I have it again, except only in my right hand, not my left, and it's not as bad as in 2011. Someone on the listserv speculated that it was common to have a worse case in one's non-dominant hand, as one is less likely to move that hand around as much. I felt like I moved my right hand around plenty, but I have to wonder if it experienced more awkward/uncomfortable stretch because I did so much shifting going up and down hills. The interesting thing about the handlebar palsy is that people have been all over the board in reporting what has worked for them to alleviate the problem. Some people prefer extra padding under their bar tape; this adamantly did not work for me. Others prefer well-padded gloves, but one person commented that for him the thing that helped more were "sticky" gloves that provided a better grip. Yet others noted that they'd benefited from developing more core strength to keep weight off their hands, but another approach adopted by many has been to raise their handlebars higher. In my case, I think better cycling gloves and more consistent work on core strength will make the difference. I'm relatively pleased with the outcome on this front, all things considered, and I think better bike fit was a big contributor.

After the ride, one other problem cropped up: metatarsalgia, also known to cyclists as "hot foot." At first I wasn't exactly sure what was going on, but the balls of my feet felt inflamed after walking around post-PBP. After discovering that "hot foot" was just another way of saying "metatarsalgia," I thought back to the last time I'd experienced it, back in the years when I first switched from marathon running that one marathon to bicycling. Here, again, I'd gone from a lot of walking to bicycling, so perhaps it was no surprise that metatarsalgia had flared up again. Something I read noted that in cyclists it's often caused by nerve compression, which made me realize why, the last time, my mother's advice to stretch out the sole of my foot with an old tennis ball had worked so well. I've been applying the tennis ball, while also generally trying to keep my weight off the balls of my feet, and it seems as though this is allowing things to gradually heal. I don't know if I'd attribute this flare-up entirely to the transition from lots of walking to lots of cycling. It might be that I need to do something about my cycling shoes (related to the sore big toe), but I'm not sure yet.

You'll note that I haven't mentioned any of the leg problems that cropped up after that 300k brevet in June. Zero troubles on that front. It's just everything else that's just a little less than comfortable. :-)
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
I spent a couple of dazed hours hanging out at the velodrome after finishing. First I got into a long, slow-moving line, and then learned there would be food when I reached the front of it, hurrah. Another cyclist was quite happy to have the chicken that was on top of my pasta, and I was relieved to get more calories on board after those terrible gel packets. Then I hung out for a few minutes in the midst of the hubbub with a couple of other American cyclists, which was where I learned about RP's second serious incident during the ride. At the time, no one was aware that she'd sustained a serious concussion in the accident, and there wasn't much that I could have done other than shake my head at things and figure that the Fates had it in for her this time around. At least I knew she'd successfully completed PBP in 2011.

I had hoped to take the train from SQY back to my hotel room in Versailles, but in my exhausted state I couldn't figure out how to navigate through the station, sections of which were under construction. So instead I slowly coasted the seven miles back.

Showering felt as incredible as you might expect, although I continued to experience one strange consequence of all of the sleep deprivation, a loss of balance. I was okay as long as I either had my eyes open or remained in contact with the shower wall.

I then proceeded to fall asleep while sitting on the bed with a spoonful of yogurt and muesli in my mouth. It was only a microsleep but I took that as a sign that food could wait a bit. That bed was so gloriously comfortable. I was highly satisfied with my decision to pay extra and stay in a hotel just prior to and after the ride.

I woke up six or seven hours later, as evening started to set in, and decided it would be wise to track down a solid, hot meal before sacking out again for the night. One of the closest restaurants had good Yelp reviews, so I walked on over (Yelp's so convenient for narrowing down the options when traveling). Just as I was about to be seated, I noticed another cyclist sitting by himself and asked if he'd like some company.

Just as with the shower and bed, the beer tasted phenomenal, the salad was even better (after days with so few vegetables!), and the pasta intensely cheesy and full of rich, dense calories.

I was especially grateful for the opportunity to compare notes with this cyclist, who had finished in 77 hours, to see what factors he thought seemed to make the difference between his finishing time and my 88-hour finish. It sounded like one of the biggest elements was simply that he'd hopped onto more pacelines and drafted more. While the wind could only really be classed as a "gentle breeze" on the outbound leg, all the little factors do eventually add up. I also remained pretty conservative in terms of power output, heeding the advice of Training for Long-Distance Cycling, while he was convinced that there's a larger margin where one can pick up the pace and experience some discomfort from the effort before one reaches the point of overexertion. I think I ran closer to this "red line" in 2011 and was able to get more sleep as a result, before other factors interfered. So the lesson there seems to be that I should consider experimenting some more with riding with pacelines that I initially think might be moving too fast, and should be slightly less conservative with power output. I am also thinking it would have been helpful if I'd managed to keep up a once-a-week 30-mile intense ride through the summer, but logistics and work in particular made that impossible this year. So in those respects, I'm pleased with what I was able to accomplish and satisfied that my conservative approach worked.

After dinner, this cyclist and I discovered that we were next-door neighbors in the hotel, which was funny in that we kept thinking we were about to part ways and then awkwardly followed each other. I conked out again and got a satisfying night of rest, and then got up early enough the next morning to enjoy the hotel's magnificent breakfast spread. Then I walked around the Versailles gardens for a couple of hours (lovely and relaxing), packed up my disgusting bike clothes, and checked out of the hotel.

At the train station, a Tourist Info guide helpfully gave me a set of directions for how to take the train back to the youth hostel in Paris. When I got off the first train and hauled the fully-laden Froinlavin up the steps, a second train station guy gave me a completely different set of directions that involved walking to a different train station near the Eiffel Tower. Things got somewhat confusing in that section of Paris, what with the throngs of tourists and trying to wheel around my pack mule, but I did manage to find a lucky 5-Euro bill on the ground in the process. Besides, I wasn't in a hurry. Eventually I found an elevated train station with a functioning lift and a train that would take me in the correct direction to a second transfer point.

However, when I reached that second transfer point, I ran into a problem. I'd forgotten that bicycles aren't allowed on the Metro and I had gotten off at a terrible stop where I wound up hauling Froinlavin up and down several sets of stairs in search of my connection. When I reached the transfer point I'd been seeking, I could discern that the sign indicated no bicycles, so I finally decided I would just pop out aboveground, figure out where I was, and figure out how to navigate from that point. But even the station exits were set up to punish scofflaws like me. As soon as I managed to squeeze Froinlavin through, the station officer who had been watching me proceeded to yell at me in French, despite my repeated protestations that "Je ne parle pas Francais!" Well, whatever, lady. I'm leaving and I won't try this again, trust me.

Once aboveground, I determined that the youth hostel was still about 3 miles away. I'd put on a skirt and walking shoes, as I'd intended to wheel Froinlavin through train stations, so the trek back to the hostel became a trifle awkward and consisted of a combination of walking and gingerly sitting on Froinlavin and coasting along. Midway back I paused at a random Indian restaurant so I could stock up on more calories and use the restroom, and eventually, at long last I made it back to the youth hostel, where I could do laundry, pack up Froinlavin, and get ready for the next phase of the trip.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Stage 13: Loudeac to Quedillac (839 km complete)

Onward I went, to distances no [livejournal.com profile] rebeccmeister had ever traveled before. To be honest, I don't remember much from this leg of the trip, and from this stage forward the order of events gets hazy due to the sleep deprivation, general exhaustion, and discomfort. The controls are also generally more frequent from Loudeac on back to account for this.

I reached Quedillac while it was still dark, and I think I looked around this optional service stop and decided I didn't need much (a trip to the bathroom, perhaps?). Maybe a plate of pasta. There were riders sacked out all over the place, including sleeping in chairs around a firepit outside. Now is as good a time as any to mention something else that I'll discuss more in a separate post, one of the major aches and pains that cropped up: saddle sores. In my case, I developed pressure point sore spots under each sit bone. Regular treatment with Lantiseptic seemed to help keep things at bay, but the sore spots made it hard to sit correctly on the saddle. One of the things I really like about my bike saddle, however, is that it's possible for me to sit in several different postures on the thing. To relieve my poor sit bones, I spent a considerable amount of time doing what I call "riding pretty" - scooted forward on the saddle, which forces me to sit even more upright. It's not especially ergonomically efficient, and after long periods it's hard on my back, but it allows me to keep moving. I also scoot back and rest my weight on my thighs when coasting down big hills.

Stage 14: Quedillac to Tinteniac (865 km complete)
There are so many different beautiful aspects to the French countryside. As the sun came up, we passed through an area where the houses were just sublime. I particularly liked these two:

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris
Even my camera was getting sleep-deprived and blurry-eyed.

One interesting thing is that we passed by no small number of new houses, constructed to match the general aesthetic of the traditional French countryside homes. They look so snug and inviting that I can understand why some Americans try to emulate this look, with varying levels of success.

A fellow cyclist and I also marveled at the wide range of colors of hydrangeas:

Colorful hydrangeas

I guess there's enough variation in the soil chemistry to turn these from a somewhat dull "grandma" flower into a colorful mix.

The two times of day when I start to feel the most sleep-deprived are sometime around midnight, and sometime right after the sun comes up. When I reached Tinteniac, I decided it was time for another nap. I went through the food line upstairs and ate while chatting with a couple of Americans, then found an empty spot on an ultra-thin yoga mat downstairs and rested for 45 minutes. Do these naps count as sleep? I'm not so sure. They were helpful, but not exactly high quality rest.

Stage 15: Tinteniac to Fougeres (919 km complete)
Again, thanks to sleep deprivation I don't remember much. When I reached Fougeres, I hit another point where I couldn't stand to wait in yet another long food line. Instead I rested in the grass for a few minutes, changed from one set of cycling clothes to the other set (dirty, but at least a little more aired-out), and filled my bottles. Just as I was getting ready to shove on, a woman came up to me. She had helped translate for me at the bike mechanic in Loudeac! She was so happy to see that I was continuing on and doing great with the replacement drivetrain. I hope she conveyed the message back to that mechanic. With that, I departed the control. Fougeres is a large enough town that I figured I'd be able to find something to eat, and I was not disappointed. Not too far down the road, I spied a corner bar with a sign out about food. I propped up my bike and went inside.

I was starting to notice that something was going on with my mouth by this point, but hadn't figured out just what. It just felt kind of like my body had stopped producing effective saliva, and my mouth was dry and a bit tender. Does this happen often to people who are trying to complete ultra-distance events? I don't know, but what I do know was that I craved a certain mixture of starch and electrolytes, aka French fries. The food at the controls had been slightly *too* bland in this department. This bar delivered, and quickly. Much faster than the control food line, and I could wait while sitting down. They also assembled a baguette cheese sandwich for me that consisted of baguette, butter, and Camembert cheese. I cannot tell you exactly how much butter I ate during PBP, but I did start to wonder if I was going to eventually sweat butter.

I sat at a table with a cranky older Englishman who was highly dissatisfied with how the PBP organizers were running the controls. It turned out he is involved in organizing another grand randonnee in England, the London-Edinburgh-London (1400 km), and they take a more heavy-handed top-down approach to managing the controls. I'd have to try that ride out before deciding what works best for me. To some extent I appreciate the random interactions with townspeople outside of the controls, but I could also see benefits to efficient controls.

Stage 16: Fougeres to Villaines-La-Juhel (1008 km complete)
More beautiful French countryside. I found this region interesting in terms of the transitions between fields and forests, which were abrupt, as shown here:

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

I also paused for yet another nap, after spending some time riding at a brisk pace with another chatty Brit. This one was briefly interrupted by a couple of ants:

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

It pleased me that the ants of Europe came and found me so I didn't have to go out looking for them. These foragers had a pale iridescent sheen that was very pretty. Just as my nap wrapped up, the fast-moving, chatty Brit sped past and tossed me a chocolate donut he'd acquired from a roadside stand. Score! I need to write a thing or two about speed and ride companionship in an epilogue.

I reached Villaines-La-Juhel in the early evening. I had been hoping to get in yet another nap on the grass there, but when I arrived the control was an absolute zoo.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

There were so many spectators. Villaines had turned the brevet into a festival. Some of the other randonneurs have commented that it felt almost like a stage from a pro race, and if that's the case, no thank you. In addition to the onlookers watching me pull stuff off my bike to go into the control, there was a booming voice on a loudspeaker, making announcements. If I had attempted to nap I would not have gotten quality sleep. I took it all as a sign to take care of business and carry on. Countryside naps for the win.

Instead, once again I found a pub somewhere further down the road and stepped inside, joining an Indian rider for a plate of French fries with two fried eggs (imitating his vegetarian order for the sake of speed). He was a chatty fellow and rode heavily bundled up, in four layers of clothing, because the weather felt so cold to him. It felt perfect to me. At this point, however, my shoulders and back were aching from riding with "sitting pretty" posture for so long, and I wasn't especially interested in slow-rolling conversation, so I mumbled something about falling back to pee and take a nap and took my leave.

I wanted some good grass for the nap, but good grass seemed to be lacking along the sides of the road in that stretch. When we came to a roundabout, I realized that the grass in the roundabout was perfectly trimmed and thought, okay, that'll do.

Once again, it wasn't so much sleep as simply a chance to rest. There was a donkey in a pasture nearby, and I don't know if it was my flamboyant napping location or some other factor that caused other riders to pause there, but pause they did. This set off the watchdog donkey a-braying, plus I kept hearing laughter as cyclists approached and passed through the roundabout. Regardless, my aching shoulder muscles were grateful for the break and I felt as though I could carry on for a while longer yet. Up and down across the gently undulating terrain, as day crossed over to night once again.

Stage 17: Villaines to Mortagne-au-Perche (1089 km complete)
By the time I reached Mortagne-au-Perche, close to midnight Wednesday night, it was starting to feel like the finish line in Paris was in sight. Still, those last hundred miles or so weren't going to do themselves. I was still having problems generating saliva to chew on buttery, cheese-stuffed baguettes, which posed a dilemma at the control: what to try and eat? I was reaching a point where I was growing sick of croissants and baguettes, and didn't relish the thought of even more baguette crumbs glued to the roof of my mouth. Swigs of water seemed to help dissolve the crumbs and get those calories into my stomach, but this seemed like an inefficient feeding method. I started to actually wish for some energy bars.

Fortunately, they had fruit, pistachio custard, and yogurt for sale at the control. Boy did that custard hit the spot.

Mortagne was busy when I arrived, swarming with cyclists. Well after PBP's conclusion I would figure out that I remained in the middle of the peak crowd of cyclists at controls, so it was no wonder the lines were terrible. I was ready for another catnap, but where to sleep? Eventually I decided that a spot in front of a historic poster looked sufficiently clear of traffic, so without further ado I plopped down, covering my face with my polka-dotted bandana. It amused me greatly to discover that I was surrounded by other sleepers by the time I got up, ten minutes later. The inverse of the outbound Loudeac nap. I had become a nap magnet.

I also bumped into an old randonneuring friend at the control, RoadPixie. I'd encountered her along with another rider during the first night, and had been so cheered to see a familiar face, especially because I've learned many things from RP and she is one of the few female cyclists who participates in the Arizona brevets. However, later in the ride I ran into RP's companion, sans RP, and learned that RP had dnf'd at Loudeac. So how was she here at the control in Mortagne? I got more of the story from RP directly: a combination of a colitis flare-up and a severe asthma attack had taken her out at Loudeac. But at that point, how else was she going to get back to Paris? I didn't have time to mention the train option, and figured that maybe it's better not to know about it, as she seemed to be in pretty good spirits in Mortagne and satisfied to be riding back in. Then another rider interrupted us to ask for some ibuprofen and I wound up wandering off to finish taking care of my own business.

Stage 18: Mortagne-au-Perche to Dreux (1166 km complete)
This was the last segment that I rode at Dark O'Thirty. I think I took a nap in someone's driveway in some small town along this portion, with light sprinkles of rain gently landing on my face. I also spent time in the company of a hodepodge group of 5-6 English-speaking cyclists, but otherwise this section simply felt like deep, dark night. I pedaled onward. I also paused at a wonderful roadside stand that served up strong coffee, cake, and chairs in which to rest while enjoying said goods. The homeowner handed me his card and I'll have to send along a thank-you note. He was tickled by "le petit canard."

By the time I reached Dreux, I was starting to feel like I was running out of gas in a bad way. With baguettes out of the equation, it was becoming difficult to get in enough calories, and I was hitting that point where I was getting tired of eating. In the grand scheme of things I managed to cover a tremendous amount of distance before reaching this stage, so I can't complain.

When I walked into the control, I was hit by a wave of smell that caused my stomach to do a few bellyflops, something that's unusual for my iron stomach. On top of that, once again, the food line was miles long. I would have forced myself to buy at least a pastry, because they had Paris-Brest pastries for sale, but the line for the cashier was just too long.

Controle at Dreux

Instead, I ate a yogurt that I had stuck in a bike jersey pocket in Mortagne, and lay down on the pavement next to my bike for yes, yet another ten-minute catnap.

I got up when more light sprinkles of rain started hitting my face. While I finished getting Froinlavin repacked to continue riding, the light sprinkles started turning into full-blown rain. Perhaps the rain is cause for complaint, but really it just made me grateful that I'd made it this far into the ride before experiencing any kind of real weather. Plus, now I was justified in carrying along and installing fenders. Rain with 40 miles to go is a completely different story from rain during the first 40 miles. The end is in sight.

Stage 18: Dreux to Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines (1230 km)
My odometer records distances in miles, but I had written down the distance between controls in kilometers on a set of index cards. My hazy math abilities suggested to me that there were only around 40 miles from Dreux to the finish in SQY. However, I remembered one other thing with some trepidation: on our way out from SQY, we had all gone screaming down some really big, steep hills. It was not going to be smooth coasting into the finish line.

On top of that, something else was happening: a brand new kind of knee pain in my right knee, argh. It was probably due to all the time spent "riding pretty" - pain centered over the anterior part of the fibula (aka below the kneecap) because I was applying force to the pedals in an unusual position. Now no matter what I did I was going to have to deal with something painful, whether it was sitting on my painfully sore butt, forcing tired and aching back muscles to hold me up, or making this creaky knee worse.

Still, on some level this is standard fare for a long brevet. Sometimes conversation is helpful for taking one's mind off of things. For a little while, I trudged along with a couple of other Americans who were also slowly limping towards the finish. Then they wanted to stop at a bakery while the rain poured down. I tried stopping with them, but something in my brain snapped and I just couldn't hold still. I couldn't stand in the bakery (literally; my body wanted to sit in a squatting position) or look at all the baked goods I didn't feel like eating. Every moment standing there was a moment during which I lost body heat. I apologized to them and shoved on.

Somewhere in the forest outside of Ramboulliet, I bumped into RP and L again, but as I kept riding I lost them in the hills. I had to keep riding my own ride. At some other point along this segment, I finally encountered a large peleton of riders smoothly gliding over the terrain, and finally I was able to glom onto the group for a couple of miles and let the group just carry me along. Where was this group for the preceding 1200 km, anyway?? I could have used some help through some of the other terrain. Unfortunately we wound up reaching one of the massive remaining climbs and at that point I wasn't able to hold on any longer. Still, they'd carried me forward for a few more miles.

Part of the reason I fell off was I was running completely out of juice. I didn't have much of anything I could eat left in my food bag and I was starting to get desperate. I got so desperate, in fact, that I ate two emergency gel packets that have been traveling in my food bag for years.

They were disgusting, but they worked.

The rain had mostly let up by the time I rolled in to the final control at the velodrome in SQY. I will admit I had to choke back some sobs as I crossed the finish line and wheeled my bike over to the racks. I can't fully describe how it felt to finally complete PBP four years after that first attempt. But there I was, feeling all the feels.

Finish area parking

Finished!

Up next, the epilogue, plus several posts on specific themes (naps, logistics, aches and pains).
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Stage 11: Carhaix-Plouger to St. Nicolas-du-Pelem

For some reason, I want Carhaix to be the spot with the castle, instead of Fougeres. And not just because of what it would signify for distance. On the return this time, I figured out why: the church spire towards the middle of town is especially majestic and tower-like (towards the center of this photo). I was glad to clear up that point of confusion.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

Upon reaching Carhaix and remembering the lousy food options, I pre-emptively stopped at a good-looking Boulangerie, and boy am I glad that I did. First, the pastries were gorgeous. That's a Spider-man cake on top.

Boulangerie in Carhaix

Boulangerie in Carhaix

Second, despite their speaking no English and my French limited to "oui," "croissant," and "baguette," I got them to understand that I was a vegetarian interested in something to eat. I'd spied some tasty-looking pizzas in one of the cases, but unfortunately they all contained meat. One of the two women, however, offered to fix me up with a baguette sandwich. It took me a good two minutes to understand that they were asking me if I ate tuna (ach, no), but once we got past that point I conveyed my enthusiasm for adding an "oeuf," fromage, tomato, lettuce, and some mayonnaise (ha, French word!) to a baguette in lieu of butter. YUM.

Is this what Subway is trying to imitate?

I relished this sandwich while sitting in the grass at the Carhaix control. I think this is the kind of sandwich that Subway is trying to emulate. The real thing is so much more delicious. But I couldn't linger for too long at the control, for one main reason: the hills between St. Nicolas and Loudeac were ahead. Based on how terrifying it was to hurtle down those hills in the dark on the outbound leg, I wanted to reach that stretch during whatever daylight remained.

Stage 12: Saint Nicolas-du-Pelem to Loudeac
I'm going to carry on with my assertion that St. Nicolas is the place to stop for a cafe-au-lait. It no place to linger, though, either. I can't remember if I got fixed up with another sandwich here or not, or if that happened on the outbound leg. Regardless, onward.

I managed to reach the big hills before dark, to my relief. Let's get these over with. Photographs always flatten things out, but to give you some idea of the terrain, look at the cows standing on the cliffside in the distance. (also look at that great hedgerow)

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

It turned out that this quite hilly region is quite beautiful, too! This was my first time seeing it during daylight hours.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

Even more incentive to ride through here with some daylight.

In 2011, the topical ibuprofen from Carhaix had worn off by the time I reached Saint Nicolas, so it was time to try something else, anything else. I was beyond desperate. The mechanic's stand at Saint Nicolas had one thing I'd been looking for, though: platform pedals. Switching from SPD's to those allowed me to move my feet around into different positions on the pedals, providing just a little more relief. I needed whatever ammunition I could muster to tackle those Loudeac hills.

Unfortunately, the weather conditions at that stage in 2011 were against me. At a certain temperature and humidity, the brifters (integrated brake-shifters) on the Trek start to gum up and refuse to shift. Well, wouldn't you know it, just as we hit the point where I NEEDED to shift, my shifters stopped responding. On top of that, I'd been developing handlebar palsy, which only makes the effort involved in shifting worse. S was incredibly patient while I suffered through that section, having to stop repeatedly midway up a hill, with no idea of how far up we'd gotten or how many more hills were ahead, so I could breathe and summon the energy to carry on. It was a low, low moment.

This year, the contrast with PBP 2011 was literally night-and-day. Froinlavin's bar-end shifters are perfect. I did notice that I was starting to get tired of having to shift gears all the time, but I would chalk that up to the fact that the Paris-Brest-Paris is a hilly ride. Eventually, though, I had some more serious shifting trouble of a different nature: chainsuck.

I was about halfway up a steep hill when it happened. I'd been experiencing problems with my chain dropping prior to that point (always the little ring in front, big cog in back), but had managed to get things unstuck pretty easily and had figured out a general workaround (shift to granny gear BEFORE shifting to big cog in the rear, ease up considerably when shifting). This time, though, things were thoroughly stuck. After blackening my hands during initial attempts to free the chain, I cast around trying to think of what sort of rag I might have with me that I could use to really grasp hold of the thing.

Aha. The Jolly Roger flag. It's already black. Now I was glad I still had the thing with me. Time to put it to work.

But even the Jolly Roger flag was insufficient. Eventually my predicament attracted the attention of a rider from the Bristol Cycling Club. I'd been playing leapfrog with their group for several hundred miles and they'd already provided a sense that they were considerate riders watching out for others - guardian angels of the ride. This only confirmed that sense. We got the bike flipped over, and made some progress on the project to the point where the chain would move again but was still trapped between the frame and the granny gear. What now? There was some discussion of chain tools and breaking the chain before I finally had the presence of mind to remember that this was a quick-link chain, duh. Problem solved, just as we attracted a second helper. Seeing that things were basically under control, the second helper generously shared some wet wipes with me, and he and the Bristol cyclist carried on. Daylight was still a-burnin'.

The chain back on, I wiped up my hands as best I could (read: smeared around the grease) and continued. I took this experience as a clear sign that it was time to do something about my worn-out chain and cassette. I mean, before the ride even started I knew it was foolish to start a long ride with this level of drivetrain wear-and-tear. I just hadn't had the time or wherewithal to deal with it (mostly because I hate having to think about component brand names).

I carried on as night fell, but experienced one other advantage as compared to the outbound trip. I'd been trying to figure out how to mount my Fenix flashlight onto my helmet, with no success. Eventually I gave up and stuck it on the handlebars, and was SO glad I did. Even though the Edelux light is bright and gets brighter on the descents, the Fenix still augmented it with an added ring of light. I took to using it strategically - turning it on if I started feeling a little sleepy or twisting it a little to light up and check for the route arrows.

When I finally pulled in to the control at Loudeac just after 11 pm, I headed straight for the mechanic's stand. One of the funny things about my ignorance of French is that I have no idea of how to say, "I'm sorry." All that I could convey to the French mechanic was that my chain and rear cassette were "tres fatigue." When he took a quick look, he insisted that, along with replacing them, he would only do it if he could also replace my chainrings. Okay, sir, I'll agree with you, absolutely. This is a relatively cheap and expected maintenance expense and I am completely willing to pay what it takes. There's no reason for me to grouse at a mechanic for doing entirely reasonable work in the middle of the night, and he's correct that a fresh cassette and chain won't help much if the chainrings are that worn out. Then he looked slightly more closely, and revised his opinion: only the middle chainring was seriously in need of replacement. Carry on, good sir.

While he and his team got to work (he had to send someone somewhere for a cassette and chainring), I bopped over to the showers. After 800 miles, bathing had become higher in priority than sleep. I smelled like a latrine, to put it charitably. While the showering facilities were basic, they felt heavenly. For most of the time, I had the set of four women's stalls to myself. I toweled off with the stack of paper towels they'd handed me (I can understand why the paper towels, when they're dealing with 6000 disgusting cyclists). Then I changed into my wool long underwear and marched back over to the mechanic. He was in the middle of swapping out my chainring, so I communicated that I was going to go and get some sleep and he would have two more hours if he needed them.

Then, back to the gymnasium to sleep. I burned another 15 minutes of sleep time while waiting in line for a bed, but it was worth it for two reasons. First, the sights and sounds of a cavernous, dimly-lit gymnasium full of snoozing and snoring randonneurs was a beautiful and adorable thing. It would not have photographed well. And second, that cot was a hundred times more comfortable than any hard floor would have been.

The sleep space is as well organized as such a thing could be, considering the language barriers and hordes of cyclists. You tell the volunteers, in 15-minute increments, when you want to be woken up, and they come around and MAKE SURE you are up at that time. I gave the volunteers a couple of duck stickers because while I waited I watched them ever so patiently deal with crazy, tired, cranky, special-needs randonneurs.

Sleeping facilities in Loudeac

I woke up, shivering with cold, an hour and 45 minutes later, just when I had wanted to get up. As I gathered up my things, a woman came around to check on me and was satisfied to see that I was awake. I changed back into my stinky cycling kit and headed over to the mechanic's stand. There stood Froinlavin, ready to go. I did my best to profusely thank the mechanic, administered more duck stickers, and paid up (aside: can you just imagine what it would be like to be a mechanic at PBP? This dude was hard at work on my bike between midnight and 2 am!). Time to roll again.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Last time around, my knee was starting to seriously bother me by the time we reached Brest, so I went and spoke to a medic who refused to give me any ibuprofen because "I am not a doctor and so I cannot, and besides it will only make you hurt yourself worse." With that, I joined S on a gym mat for an exhausted nap. When I woke up, a television camera was trained on him, recording every poof of air coming from his lips. I suspect he was targeted because there weren't many other nappers at that time and he was sporting a cute black tutu. My overall feeling about Brest was, "Ehh, Brest is not so nice of a place anyway. Let's go back to Paris instead."

I felt similarly this time around. I believe that, in addition to switching the route into and out of Brest, the organizers also changed venues, although this time around the venue seemed just as strangely confusing. After parking my bike I descended a staircase to find a restroom featuring squat toilets, which made for some interesting stretching and propping, given my tired legs. I was still concerned about low supplies in my food bag, so once I'd taken care of business I set out to look for the food line for lunch.

One glance at the line of hungry cyclists was enough to convince me that I shouldn't waste any more time in stupid food lines. Instead I took another catnap in the grass and got back on my bike with the intent of finding some little bar or cafe just outside the control. I couldn't remember the precise location, but I remembered visiting somesuch place in 2011. To some extent I kind of appreciate the fact that the Brest control is less than comfortable and convenient because it encourages me to keep moving.

Unfortunately, nothing looked very familiar on the outbound route, so out of some desperation I stopped at the first thing I saw that looked even remotely food-related. It turned out to not be a creperie, arg, but instead a crepe factory with a modest storefront. Casting about, I eventually decided I would just buy a package of crepes and some jam and assemble some snack crepes. Just as I was about to pull out my wallet at the register, I noticed a basket right next to it that contained individually packaged rolled-up crepes spread with chocolate-hazelnut spread. I tried to make apologetic faces at the clerk while I hurriedly put the other items back and stacked up a pile of 6 or so snack crepes. I guess that's how they do granola bars in France.

Trouble was, I wanted a meal, not a sweet snack. I got back on Froinlavin and kept pedaling. I passed by a Giant-brand bicycle shop, which the French had aptly named "Giant Brest." They did give us the Grand Tetons, after all. Another mile or so down the road, I spotted something more promising: a Domino's pizza place. Other randonneurs were just starting to swarm it. The young employees were utterly unprepared for the multilingual, multicultural onslaught, but I managed to order a medium pizza and eat half of it. The hot, salty cheese and tomato sauce were perfect and reminded me of the Casey's pizza on brevets in Nebraska. Once it was adequately cool, I folded up the other half of the pizza and stuck it in my food bag. NOW I had adequate calories.

Stage 10: Brest to Carhaix-Plouger (698 km)
I continued to make a series of small stops.

First, another visit to that mighty fine bakery in Sizun. I bought up the last three slices of rhubarb galette. Other cyclists had cleaned out just about everything else. One slice went down the hatch while I sat on a park bench in front of the church, and the other two joined the pizza in the food bag. Supplies replenished.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

For another thing, I kept having to pee. This brings me to a point of commentary. A male randonneur brightly remarked at one point about how nice it was to be able to just pull over to the side of the road and pee right into the ditch (is PBP simply a ploy by the French government to increase nitrogen fertilizer inputs? The jury is out). Good for you and 95% of the other cyclists, sir. For me, the frequent need to pee was more challenging since for some reason it felt important to avoid offending anyone by sticking my bare ass out in public. To enjoy the nice bit of peenery ("peeing-scenery") below, for instance, I had to find a spot to lay down Froinlavin and then hike a good ways down someone's driveway, hoping I didn't have any accidental encounters with the driveway owners while attending to business.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

The view was lovely, but it cost mental energy and every little bit of time spent hunting for a quiet spot to pee started adding up, especially the numerous false attempts. Somewhat later, I figured out that my body's micturitic enthusiasm was due to my period showing up, oh joy. Thank goodness for emergency tampons. In the bathrooms at the controls, several fellow female cyclists and I commiserated over having to wait in line for a toilet only to see a MAN emerge from a women's restroom. While to some extent I can understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, this enraged me in my own exhausted and sometimes desperate state. Women are more prone than men to contract urinary tract infections, and have to deal with menstruation as well, making hygiene a big issue for extended events like PBP. Globally, it's a subject that's taboo and generally isn't talked about or dealt with, but it's a huge factor in determining quality of life for women. We don't just want clean facilities for some egregious level of comfort and convenience; they make a tremendous difference.

For the sake of other women seeking to ride in PBP in the future, I will point out that a large number of the small towns along the route have public restrooms somewhere near the center of town. Look for them - they aren't always obvious. A couple of the small towns very helpfully pointed out the location of these restrooms. They aren't fancy but they generally at least have clean running water. Bars and tobacconists are also often accommodating.

Part of my agenda in returning to ride PBP was that I wanted to be part of the small group of ~300 women who rode, comprising less than five percent of the total riders. I'm still mulling over how I feel about the process of increasing and improving women's participation in randonneuring, BUT the one thing I know with certainty is that I greatly enjoy going on bike rides with other women in a way that I don't experience under typical male-dominated conditions. I feel similarly about rowing, where the gender balance is much better. What would it look like if PBP consisted of an even gender balance? I have a hard time even imagining it. For an event like PBP, that would signify a vast change in the global status of women, and women's participation in sports. I suspect it would be comparable to realizing changes in workplace equality and humanity's approach to work. In the very least, in 2011, if I'm reading things correctly, Randonneurs USA was given an award for having the largest number of women. And I have this sense that, if women took over PBP, we would start seeing just as many roadside signs pointing out clean bathroom facilities as we see roadside stands offering up water and refreshments. Just imagine that.

But back to other aspects of the bike ride.

Continuing on, I started to hit another low point. One of the things that I have learned from randonneuring, however, is that if one keeps on, most low points will eventually pass. This particular low point seemed to call for a nap, though, so I started keeping an eye out for somewhere shady with some soft grass. No more desperate concrete catnaps.

I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but eventually found something that was close enough: a flat section right next to the road that had been mowed not too long ago, with the requisite shade. I wanted a real snooze, so I set an alarm for an hour and laid out my survival tarp. An advantage to daytime sleep, I figured, was that it would be warm enough to sleep comfortably. Once again I dozed off to the sound of passing bicycles, occasional laughter, and those who paused to snap a photo.

Proper sleep would not come. A half hour later, I was up again and resigned myself to continuing to pedal. If I wasn't sleeping at least I could make some slow forward progress. For some reason, it started to become a real struggle to turn over the pedals and get my speed over 10 mph. Why did it feel like I was pedaling through molasses? What a struggle. Eventually I became aware that everyone else around me seemed to be experiencing the same struggle and slow crawl. Then I noticed that riders traveling in the opposite direction towards Brest seemed to be doing an unusual amount of coasting.

Oh. We were going uphill. I really couldn't tell from the surrounding terrain at that point, but it turned out we were going up THE hill, in fact. Before I even knew it, I spied a familiar sight:

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

That, my friends, is the TV tower at the top of the mountain. I could hardly believe it.

And this is the point where I knew, deep down, that this time I would finish the Paris-Brest-Paris.

What a feeling. And what amazing, beautiful, perfect weather. The clouds had cleared completely and once again it felt like we were at the top of the world. We could see gorgeous French countryside in every direction. I really can't capture the experience in photos, just as it's impossible to bottle and sell the experience of reaching a mountain summit. As another passing rider remarked, "The French all like to say, God was a Frenchman."

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Stage 8: Saint Nicolas-du-Pelem to Carhaix-Plouger (526 km)

First off, I am so excited to write out more about this epic adventure that I woke up thinking about it this morning. Memories from this next part are VIVID.

The stretch from Saint Nicolas to Carhaix was the section where I thought to myself, okay, this is where the Paris-Brest-Paris really begins for me. It was dark, the middle of the night. On top of it being o'dark-thirty, riding along between Saint Nick and Carhaix, the pea soup fog decided to finally show up. I _knew_ it! I am fairly certain this is a key element to riding PBP. At some point, there will be heavy fog. This is fog so thick that within three minutes my glasses produce lower visibility than riding blind, without them. I cursed my decision to shove on from Saint Nicolas because I was limited to a barely-moving crawl in the poor visibility, blindly feeling my way along the road near the white center line (no fog lines here, hah!). Plus I am fairly certain that stretch of road is absolutely gorgeous to ride through during the daytime, with beautiful forest and ferns. Ah well. After crawling along for what felt like eons, eventually the fog started to lift and I could see well enough again to pick up the pace onward to Carhaix. Often this time of night brings on a big case of the sleepies, but I wasn't feeling especially sleepy yet. It helped that I rode in to Carhaix with another American rider whose name I can't remember (argdarnit!). Every night I seemed to manage to find other English-speaking riders to talk to, and the conversations helped keep up our spirits and keep everyone awake.

This rider had started out an hour before me, so he had only two hours in the bank to my three by the time we reached Carhaix. He'd indicated an interest in continuing to ride together, and I hope I didn't hurt his feelings too badly when I suggested we take care of ourselves individually at Carhaix. For me, managing interpersonal dynamics and trying to coordinate adds an extra level of strain to the ride because it can turn everything into a negotiation that has to be discussed and agreed upon. How long to sleep? Where to eat? What else needs attention? If I were a stronger and more confident rider I would be more interactive, but it felt important to remain self-focused so I could put all my energies towards my goal of completing PBP. I need to ride when I feel good, and stop when I need to stop.

Since it was the middle of the night/morning and dark, and my camera is terrible at taking photos under those conditions, you'll just have to use your imagination for the Carhaix control. I had hoped there would be sleeping cots, but alas, none. Piffle! Instead, there were riders sacked out everywhere: in the hallway by the bathrooms, in the cafeteria, under tables, on top of tables, sitting at tables. One of the best was a rider who had found a full pack of toilet paper and was using it as a pillow. Pillowy-soft indeed!

I got in the food line and started reaching the end of my patience for the control food lines when I got up to the counter and discovered they didn't have any shredded cheese to go on my plain macaroni noodles. Only meat sauce for a topping. I need protein and fat to make those carbs stick! Thankfully, necessity is the mother of invention. When I pleaded, "Fromage?" they gesticulated towards some wedges of brie in a deli case. Walking over to the deli case, I observed little trays holding hard-boiled eggs and tomato slices, as well as some sort of mustard-based salad dressing. Okay, fine. Dinner (? breakfast? Who cares! Calories.) consisted of a huge pasta salad, with slices of brie, tomato, and hard-boiled egg with a mustardy dressing and plenty of salt and pepper. Not too bad, all things considered.

Then I changed into my wool long underwear to give my butt and bike shorts a breather, pulled open my space blanket, and joined the sleeping masses for a snooze.

Stage 9: Carhaix-Plouger to Brest (614 km; halfway mark!)

I had intended to sleep for two restful hours, but after one hour my eyes popped open again. Was it from the discomfort of lying on the cardboard floor, keeping barely-warm? Was it adrenaline? Did it matter? Not really. It seemed pointless to continue trying to lie there, so I got up and got ready to get back on my bike. It was now Tuesday at 4 am, and I knew two things: there was still a mountain range between myself and Brest, and at least last time there were soft sleeping mats in a big gymnasium in Brest. Perhaps my body could be convinced to sleep there.

In retrospect, I should have caloried-up again before departing Carhaix, but I just couldn't bring myself to face that awful food line again. So I was low on calories when it came time to begin the mountain climb. I think I had one or two granola or candy bars stashed away in my food bag. They vaporized while I continued to slog up the hill.

As we rode up and up and up some more, I remembered something I'd read or heard somewhere: you'll know you've reached the summit when you see the tower. In my addled state, I clung to this memory and was only partly fooled by an early false-flat section.

After what felt like several billion years of grinding along (induced in part, no doubt, by being low on calories), at last I spied the red-and-white TV tower. Summit success!

In 2011, everything was completely fogged and misty at the summit, so we didn't have a chance to admire the view. This time, there were clouds in the valleys but we had climbed up above them, and the view was phenomenal. Here's a blurry photo that captures about 5% of the experience. This spot gives you one of those "top of the world!" feelings.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

The descent is where things started to get dicey. On all of the descents, I try pretty hard to give myself a big pocket of space, because inevitably my extra mass and adequate aerodynamics cause me to creep up behind a rider who is finding it necessary to brake for some reason and waste all the potential energy they gained on the climb up. My safety pocket was fine, but the descent then became so tedious that I started getting incredibly sleepy - something that has happened before, out on Mission Road on an Arizona overnight 200k. This is where I came as close as I've ever come to hallucinating, only I never saw anything lucid, just something that looked like a computer circuitboard that popped up and made me think, "Oh, hello, I guess this is what people are talking about when they talk about hallucinating from sleep deprivation." Shortly after that, I managed to have another sleepy thought: maybe I should take this as a sign that I should take a nap RIGHT NOW.

I pulled over in the first spot that seemed like a logical napping spot to my sleep-addled brain: a concrete traffic island. I fished out my space blanket and wrapped myself up in a sitting position, resting my crossed arms on my knees, my head down on my crossed arms. Pretty soon it became apparent that this was insufficient, so I rolled over onto my side and passed out for a few minutes to the sound of bicycle freewheels whizzing past and the occasional chuckle of laughter.

On the Lincoln overnight 200k brevet in July, S and I hit a point at Hickman where we started to get extremely sleepy. S suggested that we pull over and take a 10-minute nap, and I agreed. That was all it took for me to feel refreshed and finish out the rest of that ride. That concrete traffic-island nap had a similar effect: I found I had enough energy to carry on. It seemed silly to stop in the middle of a downhill stretch, to sleep in such an uncomfortable location, but I have zero regrets.

Twenty miles outside of Brest, there's a small town called Sizun. In 2011, S and I stopped at a creperie here for some buckwheat crepes stuffed with goat cheese and mushrooms, YUM! I was still low on food in my food bag when I reached Sizun, so a stop was mandatory. For some reason, I didn't feel like lingering in the creperie this time around, in good part because I remembered the service being very French (i.e. took their time to prepare top-notch cuisine), and because I needed more calories than that. Calories for my belly and calories for my food bag. As I paused to peer at other potential options, I spied, aha! A boulangerie!

I got in the line, five cyclists deep. Someone up ahead of me recognized me somehow. It was a British cyclist named Simon, who had ridden in PBP 2011 with RG. He'd recognized my helmet from photos from the Seattle-to-Portland that RG had posted on Facebook. I was too deliriously low on calories to do much more than croak out a hello and weak smile. Then someone else in line, looking at the pastry case, ordered a slice of rhubarb galette, and instantly I knew that I would need to append my croissant order. One pain-au-chocolate, one plain croissant for the snack bag, and a slice of rhubarb galette, s'il vous plaît.

The second I bit into that rhubarb galette, fresh and still slightly warm, I knew it was PERFECT brevet food. THIS is what I came to ride Paris-Brest-Paris for. Okay, this and the amazing scenery. I can tolerate some sugar, but I have to be careful to not eat too much sweet stuff or it will make eating too off-putting and I'll go back into that deep, dark Land of Low Calories. Dangerous. The rhubarb galette most definitely contained sugar, but also a restorative dose of almond flour, and of course I had to enjoy the rhubarb in honor of S. Long-lasting calories and protein for the push to Brest. The enormous slice disappeared in about 30 seconds, and I was ready to push on. I need to find their recipe.

The PBP organizers made some changes to the route into and out of Brest this year. The first sign that we were getting close to Brest was that vehicular traffic picked up. I remember feeling exasperated about that in 2011, too. While the vast majority of French drivers are conscientious, I think there's a universal element to driving where anybody driving along suburban roads is prone to bombing along at frenetic speeds, incognizant of anything other than a desire to GET SOMEWHERE FAST!! After all of the gracious and welcoming country drivers, carefully alert to the presence of 6000 cyclists, it was a shock to be back in a place where most people just don't give a damn about you and your ridiculous bike because you're in the way between them and the mall.

I didn't have any close calls, but I didn't exactly enjoy this section, either. Finally, after being escorted by the suburban drivers up and down and up and down some mighty large hills (oof, those'll hurt on the way out), the trees parted and we observed a majestic vista of ocean and coastline, with Brest off in the near distance. Just ahead, an iconic bridge crossing, the perfect spot for a photo! A British rider kindly indulged and snapped one for me.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

Note especially my forlorn empty flagpole, and how I have utilized every last inch of elastic on my trunk bag to air out all of my cycling laundry. Also note that handy polka-dotted bandana tied to my Camelback - one of the most invaluable tools I carried along!

As we crossed the bridge and started ascending yet another beastly Brest hill, a rider remarked, "Up next, a pointless tour along the shipyards!" Fortunately, he was wrong: this was the section that got modified. We rode through a few more city streets, and then suddenly, we were there, at the Brest control.

Up next: the return from Brest, including another epic nap.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Stage 3: Villaines to Fougeres (309 km)

Unlike the riders crashed out in the cafeteria at Villaines, I simply paused to eat, visited the toilets, refilled my bottles, and shoved on. As an old book puts it: Evening passed and morning followed: The First Day. Now it was Monday. Despite riding through the night, I felt strong and awake the second morning, riding through scenic towns on the way to Fougeres. It was wonderful to revisit some of the beautiful spots I remembered vividly from 2011, such as this small river and town in a valley. In the early morning, I had started to see evidence of the French enthusiasm for cyclists in the form of all sorts of bicycle-themed displays, but this was the first point where it seemed worthwhile to pause and take a picture because day had broken.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

The French are a large part of the reason to participate in this event. In addition to the countless people serving up water, snacks, and drinks by the side of the road, there are many who stay up late into the night and early into the morning to help ensure that tired riders don't miss critical turns. Even the French cyclists carry this attitude; at certain points I was cheered and encouraged by fellow riders passing me while exclaiming, "Bravo, madame! Bon courage!" Same to you, monsieur! What good cheer!

And then there were these guys, two Italians wearing historic clothing and riding period bicycles with old-fashioned lanterns for headlights. I hope they were able to keep their smiles all the way through.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

At the control in Fougeres, I scarfed down the following items from the cafeteria, and then it was time for another project.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

I can't remember if I've blogged much about this, but over the spring brevet series in Nebraska, I had an equipment problem crop up. My seatpost saddle bolt started to loosen up just a hair, causing my seat to tilt back too far. When I took things apart to investigate the issue, I eventually figured out that I could flip around one of the toothed bracket pieces and things seemed to hold together okay, so I have continued to use that seatpost. However, in the week prior to my departure for Europe, while commuting on Froinlavin, at one point I felt the unmistakable tiny clump of the saddle slipping down a notch again, angling the nose ever so slightly upward.

My desire to get good miles under my belt during the early stages of PBP overrode the need to do anything about this tiny maladjustment up until I reached Fougeres. At that point, growing discomfort in my lower back made me resolve to deal with the situation. The adjustment would have been trivial except that it also involved removing and re-installing my trunk bag, but after 5-10 minutes of fiddling, I got things better positioned and was ready to roll again.

As many cyclists will say, what a difference a degree will make! It turns out that it's still true. My lower back was instantaneously and miraculously happy again. In the long run I think my stubbornness contributed to the manifestation of other discomforts further down the road, but that's an aspect of myself I need to keep working on. Ounces of prevention and pounds of cure, and the like.

I had enough of my wits about me to remember that there's a castle in Fougeres! It is a little tricky to photograph from the route, but you can see a couple of the towers in this photo:

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

More importantly, in case you ever find yourself in Fougeres, it seems like a good idea to stop at the bar at the Fougeres castle, seen on the left side of the photo. Every good castle deserves a good castle bar.

Stage 4: Fougeres to Tinteniac (363 km)
I rode many sections of PBP alone, but in the company of ghosts, as memories of my 2011 attempt rose fresh to the surface. In 2011, by the time we reached Tinteniac, I was starting to feel the effects of riding straight through the first night and going up and down and up and down so many hills. At the controle, the man who stamped my brevet card asked me how I was doing, and I told him that I was very, very tired. In reply, he said, "When you are tired, just look out at the beautiful French countryside and you won't feel so tired anymore."

I listened and thought about his kind encouragement for the rest of the ride in 2011, and thought about his words many, many times on the road this year. If you were to ask me what would bring me back to PBP, the French countryside would be the number one answer.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

This year, I simply paused for a baguette sandwich and a banana at Tinteniac, and pressed on.

Stage 5: Tinteniac to Quedillac (km 389)
I don't remember a whole lot from this part. Instead, here's a photo of a couple of the ElliptiGo riders. We leapfrogged quite a bit and rode together a bit, too. A couple of them used their reflective ducks to mark the travel arms of the ElliptiGos, so bicyclists wouldn't accidentally come up too close behind them at night. It's difficult for me to remember the names and faces of many of the other riders who rode alongside me and chatted for a bit. As another randonneusse commented, after a little while all of the middle-aged white guys start to blend together! Sorry, guys, but thank you for the company nonetheless.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

Stage 6: Quedillac to Loudeac (km 448)
The ghosts surrounding Loudeac are strong. In 2011, on the outbound leg, S and I slept fitfully under a space blanket in a corner of the cafeteria, missing the worst of some thunderstorms. I was resolved to not sleep at Loudeac this time around because the conventional wisdom is that one can burn up too much time there waiting in very long lines for the showers, food, and sleeping cots. I did wait in the food line, and ate as much as I could of a huge plate of green beans (yum yum YUM), pasta with accidental meat sauce (ugh), and omelette (too intense for my stomach, ate most but not all). Then I set my phone's alarm for a 12-minute catnap in a small square of grass. Later on, another rider told me that when I lay down to sleep, there were a bunch of other riders sleeping in the same patch as well. When I got up, I was the only one left. I must have used an impressive repellent!

Stage 7: Loudeac to Saint Nicolas-du-Pelem (493 km)
Night fell. I also remember this section vividly from 2011. In 2011, the fog was pea-soup thick. S's fenders reached the point of irritability where we paused so he could rip them off, muttering curses. This time around, I didn't pause, but the section still felt treacherous. The hills are so steep and curvy that even with my much brighter generator light it was too terrifying to fly down them and reclaim as much energy as possible to climb back up.

I had been thinking I might try to sleep at Saint Nicolas, which turned out to be a "secret controle." However, when I pulled in, I could see a line sticking out of the sleeping accommodations, and I was starting to get tired of waiting in lines. I also didn't feel all that terribly exhausted, so instead I had a bowl of cafe-au-lait (in honor of my 2011 bowl there; the steam in my face felt amazing). I lay in the warm grass for another 12-minute catnap, then hopped back on my bicycle to forge onward to Carhaix.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
A recent edition of the American Randonneur magazine included a thoughtful, reflective article by a randonneur about the numerous occasions when he had failed to complete a Grand Randonnee - that is, a brevet of 1200 km or more. As I prepared to re-attempt the Paris-Brest-Paris this year, I cut out that quotation (difficult to find an exact attribution) and taped it onto the backside of the reflective Randonneurs USA nameplate we received in 2011. I safety-pinned the nameplate to the back of my trunk bag; 1200km is a long distance to cover by oneself and the nameplates were a handy introduction method for other English speakers in 2011.

Writing things out in my journal in the days immediately following PBP, I divided the experience up in several different ways. One interesting element of the event was the logistics involved, a topic that was hotly discussed in the US e-mail list in the months prior to the event. How to best get oneself and one's bicycle prepared for a trans-Atlantic journey to a country where English isn't the first language, where the foods are familiar but foreign, and where it would be challenging to get one's bearings if one strayed far from the route? This was the first arena where, overall, I learned a lot from the first time around and made some good decisions, aside from the initial terrible hiccups between Lincoln and London. But those were largely factors outside of my control. I'll write more about the logistics in a separate entry in the hopes that the lessons I've learned will be useful in the future.

The real excitement, though, centered around the ride itself, which can be broken up into eighteen different phases, between the controls and service stops.

Arrival and Departure from the Velodrome

I opted for a 90-hour departure again, although the 84-hour option was tempting because it includes more daylight riding. I just wasn't confident that I was strong enough to finish in 84 hours. The 90-hour start meant getting ready to leave at 6:15 pm on Sunday, August 16. I spent the morning relaxing to the degree possible, although I've never been any good at sleeping in late. At around 2 pm, it was time to head over to Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines to finish my final preparations. On Saturday after registration I had noticed that the large, modern shopping mall in SQY had a couple of good-looking sandwich shops, so I headed for the mall first, to pick up three sandwiches, one for lunch and two as early provisions for the first leg of the ride.

Wouldn't you know it, the mall is almost completely closed on Sundays. Instead I had a big plate of cheese ravioli at one pizzeria that was open, and headed over to the velodrome to fuel up a second time at the pre-ride meal. Not having a few extra baguette sandwiches in the food bag made me nervous, however.

The line for the pre-ride meal wasn't promising either. It reluctantly edged forward a few feet in the ten minutes I stood in it, but rumors started flying about the food running out, so eventually I just gave up and decided it was more important to relax off my feet at that stage. At 5:15, I made my way over towards the starting line to watch the "specials" depart - all of the non-standard bicycles start in their own wave so they have more space to accommodate their different riding styles. The "specials" are one of my favorite aspects of PBP; you won't see any of these bicycles at other races. I watched velomobiles whir past, numerous recumbents and folding bikes, a tandem tricycle, some historic bicycles and a Pashley 5-speed cruiser, and a fleet of those same ElliptiGos that I'd spotted back at a brevet in Iowa. It takes a strong rider to attempt PBP on one of these unusual vehicles. Yes, there was even a rowbike! I didn't actually see it while snapping countless photos, but it made me tremendously happy when I spotted the rowbiker further down the road. I'd wondered if it was feasible to power one of them on a ride like PBP. I hope he finished!

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

After that, it was time to queue up with a couple hundred other riders for my start at 6:15. Many people were grumbling and hungry in the starting chute; we'd been counting on the pre-ride dinner to fuel the early km's. I ate a banana and hoped my memory of the early stages was accurate, as I recalled passing by a tiny grocery store in the countryside right at dusk in 2011.

Stage 1: SQY to Mortagne-au-Perche (km 140)
I'd fastened a small pirate flag to my bike to add some cheer and flair, and it produced a few smiles and nods at the start. In 2011, the ride started at a sports complex, and we queued up at the very end of a great, big, long line. The start from the velodrome, in contrast, felt more orderly. First we entered corrals, organized in 15-minute increments by letters that corresponded with letters on our frame badges. These came in handy while on the road; it was comforting to ride with others who had lower letters (earlier start times), and useful to be reminded by the passing higher letters that one shouldn't linger too long anywhere and should keep shoving on. From the corral we entered the starting chute, where an American-turned-Belgian helpfully translated the announcements into the standard boring fanfare at the beginning of an event: "Two minutes to go...one minute to go...and, start!"

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

Riding with the hordes of others through the early kilometers in the city is both exhilarating and terrifying. There's a lot of "road furniture" through this part, so it's important to keep a good "safety pocket" so one's ride isn't over too prematurely. I was amused when a nearby French rider started singing as he pedaled along; I'm not the only one! This would sort of come back to haunt me later on, as it turned out he was singing a mushy, romantic French song and directing it at me! There were only around 300 women total on PBP, making for a mixed experience.

Around ten miles into the ride, the Jolly Roger flag blew off its flagpole. Drat, but ah well. After I turned around to fetch it and stuff it into my bag (it would come in handy later), most of my starting wave had passed and the roads were quiet. I stopped in at the grocery store and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was the only customer this year. S and I remember it as packed with cyclists in 2011. I quickly bought a pack of pre-sliced Emmenthaler cheese and a half a baguette and got back on the road.

The food lines at Mortagne-au-Perche were predictably long, but even with the extra baguette and cheese I was hungry enough that I stopped for a meal of buttery pasta with cheese, which I quickly wolfed down so I could get back on the road again. Mortagne is a service stop on the way out, not a control, and I wanted to reach Villaines so I could have an idea of how much time I had in the bank. It's unpleasant to realize that five minutes burned by waiting in line for food could have been five extra minutes of sleep somewhere down the road!

Stage 2: Mortagne-au-Perche to Villaines-la-Juhel (km 220)
This section of the terrain is exceedingly pleasant: fairly flat, with gently rolling hills. The entirety of PBP is hilly, so gently rolling hills are as good as it gets. I've concluded that I prefer this kind of terrain over flat stuff anyway. When I reached Villaines I was surprised to discover numerous riders already snoozing in the cafeteria. Seemed premature this early on, but who am I to judge? I found a lucky 10-Euro bill lying on the floor while waiting in line for some hot chocolate and croissants. A good omen!

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris
Looks like French farmers get entertainment out of building hay sculptures, too. Here's a tractor; later on, we passed a hay bicycle!

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

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