2003 > Paris-Brest-Paris > Lisa's Report
Team Bikeaholics does Paris-Brest-Paris 2003
Overall Ride Summary
Qualification for PBP 2003
Team Bikeaholics Participants
Arrival in St. Quentin en Yvelines
Visits to Paris
Overall Ride Summary
How does one start writing-up an epical bicycling adventure that starts in the suburbs of Paris and traverses to the coastal town of Brest and back in 90 hours? It is difficult enough to remember exactly what happened right before, during and after those 90 hours, the whole ride seemed a blur. Here's what left a lasting impression.
I stood in line at the start for about two hours to ensure I was in the first "90 hour" velo group to be let loose at 10:00 pm on Monday, August 18. I felt fresh and excited, and I had just about peaked in my training for the year, in spite of the slight training detour with my cycling accident in June. It slowly became dark, but it was not too cold out. The street around the Gymnase was packed with spectators, cheering us on as the announcers (French and American) gave their last minute instructions and provided commentary. It was exhilarating to start pedaling around the first roundabout and proceed down the street. We had a police escort for about the first 15 km. I had ridden the first 40 or so km of the route the proceeding Saturday, so it seemed somewhat familiar. My mind jumped back four years to the first time I did PBP, and the sensation of the departure was fresh in my mind.
All through the night, the country roads were packed with cyclists. Red taillights could be seen far into the distance, and the immediate area was illuminated by a myriad of headlight models. Even at that late hour, there were people sitting in chairs on the side of the road in each small village cheering us on. I briefly stopped in a village that had a bike shrine and marveled at the enthusiasm of the French people in their support of PBP. At one point we were entertained by one of the SAG vehicles playing upbeat Dixie music. The first stop was a "Revitallement" at Mortagne au Perche - not an official Controle on the way out, but none the less, most of us stopped there briefly. I arrived there around 2:30 am Tues. morning. I had met up with Ron, Don and Ken a little while before, and we drank tiny cups of espresso. The next stretch to Villaines la Juhel gave us our first sunrise, and I felt rejuvenated and eager when it got light enough to see the actual countryside we had been riding through. We passed by many dairies along the way. Somewhere along that stretch I met up with Ivo Miessen, a guy from the Netherlands whom I had met the previous PBP. I recognized him in his Esperano jersey. This year, he was apparently riding with the Danes. I arrived at this first official Controle at around 8:00 am, and after checking in, drank more coffee, ate a croissant and a ham omelette, and retrieved my RUSA drop bag to obtain more Gatorade and nuts. I saw TandemRogerSandra there, and Sandra was as cheerful as usual. How does she do it?
The route to the next Controle at Fougeres showed us more of the French country side with miles and miles of fields, villages and quaint, old towns, such as Mayenne (home of mayonnaise?). In Gorron, the townspeople had set up their own Revitallement station, and I enjoyed a cold cup of Pepsi and some cake and orange slices. Along the route, I struck up a conversation in my broken French with an older Frenchman, and found out this was his 6th (and last, he added) PBP. He was able to tell me he had been to San Francisco, and that I rode strong - in fact, he was trying to get me to push him up the hills! "Posse, posse!," he shouted. I arrived in Fougeres at around noon, and drank a cold iced tea and ate some of the nuts I'd been carrying, then headed out to the next Controle, Tintenniac. The middle of the day was warm and humid, and I was getting tired and hungry. I arrived in Tintenniac at round 5:00 pm, checked in, and went up to the cafeteria and bought some mystery meat with mystery starch. It wasn't exactly the best Controle for food, but at least they had something. Surprisingly, my stomach was holding out well, and I could eat most anything in sight at the cafeterias. I ended up only drinking one bottle full of Sustained Energy during the whole ride.
I had planned to make it to Carhaix the first day, but my speed and efficiency at the Controles was not as I hoped. It looked like I was going to have to stop in Ludeac and get some sleep there. This 80 km stretch seemed endless, until I met an English rider, Bill, and we rode together and talked about our kids. He apparently had several football-playing sons, and my son also played soccer. The sun started going down, and it got dark by around 9:30 pm. I made it to the Controle at around 10:30 pm, ate a nice dinner with roasted chicken and accoutrements in the cafeteria, retrieved my drop bag, changed into new clothes, unfurled my space blanket and layed down in the grass to sleep for a few hours. I set my alarm for about 4:00 am and dozed off. The wind rustled the space blanket through the night, and it started getting really cold. One could really see the stars out in the night sky. It was still dark when the alarm went off, and I quickly got up, drank an Ensure from my drop bag, and got back on the bike. Along that stretch after the sun had come up, I saw Craig, Ken H. and some other Bikeaholics coming back in a pack riding Audax style (i.e., ride together the whole way). I also saw Todd and a bit later, Paul G. on his Bike Friday that almost didn't make it to the airport. I would have liked to ride with Paul, but he was going just a little too fast for me.
Breakfast was in Carhaix at around 8:00 am. A friendly crew served the "petite dejourner" with a croissant, piece of a baguette, coffee, jam and butter. One could also obtain ham (jambon) and some other items, if desired. I saw Jim Bradbury there, and we sat together and compared our ride notes. I also saw TandemStevePeggy and TandemWayneMary from the Davis Bike Club, and heard that Wayne and Mary were having bike troubles. That must have been very stressful. I was lucky that my trusty Sonica was working well. I had a bit of trouble with the shifter cables because I was hesitant to change them so close to PBP. (I had decided only a few weeks before to ride my trusty Sonica, not the beam bike I had put together the previous year.) And my right shoulder was still a bit inflamed from my fall ( http://www.bikeaholics.org/2003/lisaa-UrgentCare.html), so I was having to twist my whole body to work the right Ergo shift lever, but all in all, the bike felt great.
It was only about 80 km more to Brest, the turn-around point. Once I got there, I knew I'd make it back. However, the road to Brest was slow and hilly, and I went through several cycles of being alternately very grumpy and then, somewhat optimistic. Near Huelgoat, I saw Kathleen, who had quite the story to tell. Her "Rambouillet" touring bike had gotten stolen out of the basement of her Paris hotel, and she had luckily managed to find someone to loan her a bike. She set it up for randonneuring, and was doing pretty well, although she said the fit was not optimal. After taking some scenic pictures in Huelgoat, we got to the big hill that went by the communications tower. The grade was not very steep, but it seemed like it went on forever. Then there was a long, gentle downhill, but I was very sleepy, and was upset because I had to struggle to stay awake. There was quite a congregation of cyclists in the town of Sizun, and I decided to stop and have some strong coffee in a bar. I was pretty tired and at a low point, and a few minutes of downright crying made me feel a little better. I remembered this intersection from PBP 1999, as I bought the French equivalent of Ibuprofen at a pharmacy there. It seemed like an eternity to get to Brest from there, and it was a relief to finally see the hallmark bridge in Brest. Yet it was another several minutes of riding around town before getting to the Controle at around 2:00 pm. I ran into Bernie there, who was lamenting about many things, including the problems with his new wheel and his saddlesores! I explained to him that we were ALL tired and saddlesore!
I slept on a mat for about 30 min, then tried to stuff down some food in the cafeteria. I couldn't eat as well as I'd like, but managed to get some calories in the form of tomatoes, chicken, and pasta. Then it was back on the bike for the return route to Carhaix. There was another long gentle climb back up to the communication tower, and then more rollers in the Brittany countryside. I arrived in Carhaix at around 7:30 pm, and made that my dinner stop. The cafeteria there was well set-up, and I was able to eat a decent dinner with more roasted chicken. After leaving town, I connected up with Mike and Susan from the Davis Bike Club as it was getting dark, and had a nice chat with Susan to pass away the many hours in the night. We stopped off at a bar around midnight for coffee, and made it back to Ludeac around 1:30 am on Thurs. morning. It was very very cold, so, after dinner, I decided to sleep in the cafeteria (with about a hundred other bodies) under a table, wrapped in a space blanket, with my drop bag as a pillow.
The next morning, I couldn't eat. The smell of the food mixed with the bodies in the cafeteria made me nauseas. Subsequently, I didn't have much energy and rode fairly slowly. I was also fatigued and fighting off sleep. There was a Secret Controle, so I took that time to sit and munch on some nuts and a Power Bar. I must have looked pretty forlorn, as the trio of Englishmen riding the triple tandem sat by me and cheered me up. Ron Porat showed up and offered me a nectarine, which basically saved me! It went down well, and I decided to continue on to the next town to find a store and buy more nectarines! However, before getting to the town, I had to take a mini-nap on the side of the road. Is sat cross-legged in the grass with my head supported on my hands, closed my eyes, and actually got about 15 min. of REM sleep! I found a store in the next town, and loaded up with nectarines, potato chips and a Snickers bar, all of which I was able to eat. I met up with Jim Bradbury again somewhere along that stretch, and rode with him to Tintenniac, arriving at around 9:30 am.
I got to Fourgeres around 2:00 pm, took a 30 min. nap on a mat, then got back on the bike. I hadn't eaten any lunch, so looked for a restaurant, but couldn't find anything that looked like it would be fast. I was getting pretty tired of all the hills. I didn't remember so many hills the last time I did PBP! It seemed there was one hill after another. I would see signs for the next village: 15 km. After an eternity, I'd see another sign for the same village: 10 km. After another eternity, it would be only 5 km away. I rode until I got to Gorron, and stopped at a store for some slices of ham, a popsicle, nectarines and a can of Orangina, a wonderful slightly carbonated orange drink. The town of Gorron had its revitallement station again, this time on the other side of the road, and I had more Pepsi and cakes. I didn't get to Villaines la Juhel until around 8:00 pm, and I had to eat a substantial dinner there, as I hadn't eaten enough the last several hours. They had French fries, which I ate loaded with ketchup, and some wonderful pasta with mushroom sauce. I saw Bernie again, who pointed me to Bob sitting at one of the tables, ready to pack it up. Pack it up that late in the ride???? I managed to convince him to keep riding ("Are you stupid, or what?"), then got some things from my drop bag and was back on the bike around 9:00 pm.
The next stretch was very slow, and it got dark and cold. I was very saddle sore, but otherwise ok. One town had a table with snacks with cheerful people serving in the middle of the night! I got pretty tired and had to take a 20 min. powernap on the side of the road. I didn't make it to Mortagne au Perche until about 2:30 am on Friday. After a plate of chicken with mashed potatoes, I laid my head on the cafeteria table and took an hour nap. I was on the road again by 5:00 am for the final leg of the ride. It was extremely cold, and I had to wear my long-fingered claws over my gloves, as well as my rain jacket and neck warmer. It got colder and colder, even when it started getting light. At 7:00 am, I stopped at a bar for coffee, but getting back on the bike was hard. I had cooled down, and I had to put my rain pants over my leg warmers in order not to shiver. I was also very sleepy and groggy. Once the sun got higher, and it warmed up, I stripped off the extra clothes, and began to wake up and ride faster. I got to Nougent le Roi at around 11:00, ate breakfast, and pushed on for the last painful 50 km to Guyancourt.
It was a relief to see the familiar parts of St. Quentin en Yvelines and finally make it back to the Gymnase at 2:18 pm, one minute faster than my 1999 finish! Craig and Ken H. were there to greet me, and I was very happy to have finished. Unfortunately, the women did not get long-stemmed roses this time, and I was a little put off about that, as I had been anticipating that for many months. I noticed shortly after finishing that my throat was sore, and I started coughing. We all got a drink ticket, so I got a beer from the cantina, chatted with Ken H. and Todd for a while, then painfully and slowly rode back to my hotel. I took a shower, which felt really good, then collapsed in a heap on the bed. When I awoke an hour later, every part of my body was screaming in pain - I guess the ibuprofen had worn off, and what I was feeling was what my body had probably been suffering with for the past 18 or so hours!
I opted to take the bus to get back to the Campanile, where I met
up with many of the Davis Bike Club members - Elaine, Susan and
Barley, and many others. Craig, KenH, Reid and I went out for a much
needed, relaxing dinner at the Alsace restaurant. I unfortunately
missed the last bus back, so I ended up walking for over an hour to
get back to the hotel. The evening was warm, however, and it felt
good to stretch out my legs. It was nice to get back to the hotel,
and I used my special code to get through the locked gate. Much to my
amazement, I had a huge surprise waiting for me in my room - a giant
floral arrangement, which included a dozen of the most beautiful roses
from my husband Mike and son Arik.
I rode PBP for the first time in 1999, and afterwards SWORE that I would never put myself through such misery and abuse again. Shortly afterwards, I turned 40, my eyesight went whacko resulting in BIFOCALS!!, my metabolism changed, I quickly put on 10 extra (unwanted and unneeded) pounds, and I plunged deeply into my first mid-life crisis.
So, I immersed myself in my stressful job, as well as took on a new role as "soccer mom/coach" for Arik, who just started AYSO "K-league", while keeping up a lower baseline of cycling weekdays during my lunch break and on non-soccer weekend days. I managed to complete enough double centuries to still get my Triple Crown patches, but it was really tough. I felt like I was getting too old for long distance cycling, and it would soon be all over for me. After focusing so long on reaching the goal of finishing PBP in 1999, I was without a goal and drifting in a big, rough sea.
In 2001, I decided to try a brevet series again, so I managed to
complete the Davis Bike Club 200 and 300 km rides, conveniently got
out of the 400 km brevet due to a symphony concert set, and did only
about 500 km of the 600 km brevet, due to the fact that I followed a
group of cyclists that took a wrong turn, and ended up going several
miles before figuring out I was off course. In Sept. of 2001 I put in
an order for an Otis Guy frame with a Softride beam, which I got in
March of 2002, and I set up for randonneuring. I signed up for the
Davis brevets in 2002, and completed the 200 km and 300 km rides,
missed the 400 km again due to a symphony concert, and for the 600 km
brevet, I purposefully made arrangements to have someone drive my car
to Oroville so I could end there early Sunday morning and drive home
just in time to make Arik's soccer game. At some point I started
thinking about the possibility of doing PBP again, and decided to at
least try to "qualify" in 2003. I was on the edge with my level of
fitness, but I figured that I could qualify for PBP with persistence
and determination. Obviously I had forgotten everything about the
pain and misery I endured in 1999. The important thing was - I had a
goal again, and I could temporarily forget my mid-life crisis and
immerse myself into training and getting my bike optimized for PBP
The San Francisco Randonneurs 200 and 300 km brevets were scheduled in February, and I signed up for these to hopefully jump start my training. Riding in Marin and Sonoma counties was great, however the terrain was no piece of cake, and the headwinds on the northern California coast were unforgiving. The rides were mostly unsupported. (It was on those rides that I met visiting nurse, Liz, and Matt from South Carolina and connected up with them again at PBP.) In January of 2003 I had started a new job, so my general outlook was greatly improved, plus I discovered a dedicated group of cyclists at my new company that had an awesome lunchtime loop in the hills of San Mateo and Hillsborough. Although I hadn't lost any weight, I felt like my fitness was returning. I completed the Davis 200 and 300 km brevets in March, slowly and surely, without pomp and circumstance (been there, done that). The 400 km brevet came on Easter weekend, and I planned to finish in time to make it back to San Carlos for the Easter church service. Most of the ride was on mostly familiar territory, however, I had not done the stretch from Cloverdale to Hopland, and it was very hilly and hot. I was not in a good mood when I got to the turn around point, and my mood deteriorated on the way back. By the time I got to Pope Valley, I knew I'd finish but it would be early Sunday morning. My Lumotec lamp gave out at Moskovite store, and although I had a spare bulb, I couldn't figure out how to get the headlamp put back together in the dark and thought I had broken it. Luckily I had two backup lighting systems and was able to make it to the finish at around 2:30 am. I slept in the car for a couple hours before heading back. When I woke up, my knees and hands screamed out in pain, and my worse fear became a reality - my hands and arms were numb and in extreme pain. I was worried that further riding would end my viola playing. At that point, I convinced myself I was definitely through with long distance cycling and was going to figure out another way to ride out my mid-life crisis.
However, a couple days after the ride, I felt better, although my hands and arms were still numb, and I went in search for a solution to this problem. I found the Specialized gloves with the ulnar padding, bought a new Nitto handlebar with a more ergo design, and signed up for the 600 km brevet with the SLO club, as the Davis 600 km ride conflicted with the Santa Cruz County Symphony performance of Carmina Burana, which I couldn't miss! The SLO 600 km brevet sounded like an easy, scenic, ride, but turned out to be extremely challenging, with 7 hours of 15+ mph headwinds on the coast and in the Salinas Valley, as well as long, seemingly endless hills. The first day ended at 11:00 pm in San Juan Bautista after ascending and descending the San Juan Grade in the dark and cold. The second day followed HWY 25 through deserted inland valleys, but the SLO support was terrific, and I was greatly revitalized after two hot dogs and a Lipton ice tea at the junction between 198 and Peach Tree Road. I finished the ride Sunday at 4:30 pm (and was not the last one to finish that brevet). But my rear was extremely tender, and at that time, I convinced myself I was definitely through with long distance cycling and was going to figure out another way to ride out my mid-life crisis.
However... I met Stoker Sandra of TandemRogerSandra. She was smiling at the end of the brevet, and I was really wondering what her secret was for staying in such a great disposition, and on a tandem none the less. She highly recommended the Performance gel shorts, so first thing Monday after work, I drove to the Performance shop and bought two pairs of these miracle shorts, that for some reason were more than half the price of the Pearl Isumi shorts I'd been riding with for the last 8 or so years. I tried them out on two 100+ mile rides and found them to be effective.
I balanced on the fence for the next several weeks as to whether
or not to send in my PBP application, then finally decided to just go
for it. I bought the RUSA and ACP PBP jerseys, made my travel
arrangements, renewed my passport, and planned out the next 7 weeks of
There was only one hiccough in my training plan when I unexpectedly fell off my bike in San Francisco while on a long training ride ( http://www.bikeaholics.org/2003/lisaa-UrgentCare.html). After getting picked up in SF and taken to Urgent Care in Palo Alto, X-rays showing nothing broken, four weeks of intense physical therapy, and several grueling miles of tandem riding with Craig (Ubermensch Ultracyclist) to allow my shoulder to heal, I was mostly ready for PBP. I knew I wasn't going to be the fastest rider, but I knew I was in good physical shape, and I had the mental toughness to finish. I also decided that I was going to do PBP on my Sonica, not the new beam bike, and I transferred the Lumotec light and wheel with the Schmidt hub, and got everything set up for randonneuring. The bike overall was lighter than the beam bike, since I was using a large saddle pack instead of small panniers on a rack. We had our Team Bikeaholics Bon Voyage party on August 10th, and I made two "Gateau Paris Brest" for the occasion.
Finally the departure day, August 12th, arrived. There were several of us from the Davis Bike Club on the flight, including Bill and Lois, Peggy and Steve Rex and their two kids, Tom Z., Don, Todd, Ken H., Craig, Reid W., Donn K., Susan and Barley, and many others whose names I can't remember. I also saw Ron Porat, who now lived in Paso Robles and rode with the SLO club. We all hoped our carefully packed bike boxes would survive airport handling as we got settled in our seats for the long flight. We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport around 2:00 on Wed. Aug. 13th, retrieved our luggage and bike boxes, and loaded the bus for our respective hotels in and around the Paris suburb town of St. Quentin en Yvelines.
The town looked just about as I had left it in 1999. My hotel was one of the last to be dropped off, and was about 6 or so km from the hub of the American Team at the Hotel Campanile. It was a small, quaint, family-owned hotel in a small village that would provide a level of serenity and calmness I'd need to prepare mentally for the days to come. I quickly unpacked and assembled the bike, finding that everything was in order. I tried to pump up my tires to the requisite 110 psi, but my acromo clavicular ligament was still aggravated, so I solicited the help from some of the male randonneurs with floor pumps who were also in various stages of assembly, and found myself having to shoo away dozens of randonneurs who were eager to give assistance to one of the only two or so female randonneuses at that hotel. (Thanks, guys!)
I had planned to ride to the Campanile to meet Craig and some of the other Bikeaholics for dinner at 7:00 pm. I left the hotel with plenty of time to spare (over an hour), and tried to make my way through the maze of villages, but got hopelessly lost. I was following signs to the Hotel Campanile, but found out there was also such a hotel in another of the small nearby villages. I decided to be brave and ask some natives (in French) how to get to Saint Quentin, but the natives I asked turned out to be Americans and they couldn't exactly tell me how to get there, either. Then I found another American randonneur, Mike from Kansas City, MO, and he guided me to a little pathway and said go here and there and I'd be on my way. Wrong... I got lost again and went around in circles. The clock was ticking, and by that time, I'd missed my dinner dates at the Campanile in St. Quentin. Well, I ran into Mike again, and at that time, he accompanied me to St. Quentin, under the promise that I'd provide him with light on the way back (I had redundant front and rear lighting with me).
Finally, at 7:45, we arrived, and I found my dinner dates at the
table by the water feature at the bottom of the stairs, just starting
to order. They had kindly and patiently waited for about 40
min. before writing me off! I enjoyed a leisurely dinner with lively
conversation about the next days activities and PBP preparations.
After dinner, I joined Mike and his Midwesterner friends, then Mike
and I headed back to our remote hotel. Well, the story doesn't just
end there, but we had another adventure trying to figure out how to
get through the closed gate. There was a keypad that somehow
indicated a way in, but it took a while to figure out that the entry
code was on our room keys. After contemplating how to spend the night
on the grass outside the gate (good training for the days to come), we
were lucky to crack the code to open the gate and make it back to our
I discovered right away that my helmet had gotten cracked in my luggage, and I needed to figure out a time to find a replacement. So early Thursday morning, I rode in to St. Quentin and bought a new helmet at Go Sport, as well as did some food shopping at the expansive Carrefour. When I got back to the Campanile to retrieve my bike (from the then sparsely populated bike storage room), I ran into Todd and John, who were also contemplating going to Paris. Don showed up on the scene about that time, and we all agreed to go into town on the train together. I quickly rode back to my hotel to drop off my stuff, and met them back at the hotel to walk to the train station. We figured out how to get tickets, and in no time we were on our way to Grand Paris.
We got off at the Tour Eiffel train stop, and lo and behold, the famous, giant structure of the Eiffel Tower was right there in front of us! The last time I'd seen the Eiffel Tower in Paris was in 1981 when I was a student in Germany and was traveling during my school holidays. We contemplated walking up the stairs to see the aerial view of Paris, but then concluded we didn't have the time for such extravagances, and pressed onwards to the Champs de l'Esee and the Arche de Triomphe. Todd was determined to visit a bike shop in Paris, and said he knew of two on the Avenue de Armee, opposite the Arche. We walked down the street and saw that one of the bike shops was closed for the next couple weeks for vacation. We continued walking and eventually found the second shop, on the right side of the street. All of us were looking for different things. I thought I might find a seat post bolt, as I had the insane gut feeling I'd need a new one. Luckily I never needed one. Our next destination was a long way in the opposite direction, so we opted to take the Metro to the Louevre station.
To be continued...