1999 > Paris-Brest-Paris > Lisa and KenS's Report

Team Bikeaholics Do the
14th Paris-Brest-Paris

…as told by LisaA (with qualifying comments by KenS)

(This is the LONG version. You’ll want to print this out and read it a chapter at a time as bedtime reading.)

D/E; 782 mi (includes getting lost twice); >30,000 ft climbing

Quotable quotes:

"You are my obsession!" - see text.

"Vous etes une fille ! ! !" - Uttered in surprise by a French randonneur as Lisaa was making her way back from a bakery at 7:00 Thurs. morning. 

Important Statistics:

Bags of UltraFuel - 22 (11 each)
Flasks of Hammergel - 6
Tubes of Gu - 33 (each)
Bowls of potage - 9
Baguettes - 18
Cups of café au lait - innumerable
Bottles of wine - 0
Hours of REM sleep - 4 per person in a total of 3.5 days


After four long years of double centuries, brevets, extra long weekend training rides and innumerable miles of base week-day riding, Team Bikeaholics felt they were finally ready to try the most highly exalted long distance ride of all: Paris-Brest-Paris. Participants included Team Captain Lisa Antonino, Morale Officer Ken Straub, Übermensch Craig Robertson, Double Century Specialist Ken Holloway, Foreign Affairs Officer (and newly appointed Deputy Captain of Team Bikeaholics South) Thomas Maslen, Honorary Bikeaholics Tom Zaharis and Elaine Astrue, and Provisional Bikeaholic Ron Porat.

Over the course of the training, many different lighting systems, powdered and liquid energy concoctions, saddles, and an unknown number of $$$ worth of gear and clothing had been evaluated for use during this 1200 km, 90 hr (max) event.

The week before departure to Paris, the 200 lb. of gear was assembled. The packing list consisted of (but was not limited to): four complete sets of bike clothes, rain gear (stories of PBP years with drenching rain and powerful headwinds prompted us to evaluate our foul weather gear, and we bought new Gore-Tex rain jackets), 4 complete lighting systems with batteries, personnel hygiene products, first aid kit, packets of UltraFuel, Gu, HammerGel, PowerBars and Cliff Bars, tools, spare tubes and tires, camera, film, tape recorder, travel documents, foreign currency, and space blankets. At the last minute, we decided not to bring along the snake bite kit (we heard of one story where a woman was bitten while using Nature’s facilities). The StarCruiser and miscellaneous panniers and gear were packed into a BikePro tandem case rented especially for the occasion, and the wheels, spare tire and fenders were transported in a wheel case.

August 19, 1999

Finally the day of departure arrived. The American Team travel arrangements were made by Claus Claussen of Des Peres Travel, and all American PBP’ers could be easily identified by their bright egg yolk-colored T-shirts. We were all seated in the same section of the plane. The flight was relatively uneventful, and we disembarked and went to fetch our precious cargo. We were momentarily detained by French Customs Officials who discovered innumerable bags of "white powder" in the luggage of all PBP participants, and we briefly imagined what the French equivalent of UltraFuel would be like (Fuel de Vin in Bordeaux and Chardonnay flavors?), but the materials failed the German Shepherd Sniff Test, and we were shuffled out of the airport. The bikes were loaded into the truck, and the gear and riders went by bus to their respective hotels.

The Bike is Damaged ! !

Shortly after arrival, we unpacked the bike and began the process of reassembly. The pedals, fenders and rack were put on, the handlebars were reinstalled, and the derailleur reattached. It was not until we went to put on the rear wheel that we noticed there was a serious problem with the bike. The rear right drop-out and derailleur hanger had been bent and otherwise mangled, and the rear wheel could not be inserted. We became instantly very sick. After all we had gone through to prepare for this event, we were now faced with a seriously broken bike and only 36 hours before bike inspection.

At this point, Thomas Maslen showed up at the Hotel Mercure, having taken the train into Montigny Le Bretonneux from his hotel located somewhere in the Paris suburbs. We were extremely glad to see him, and sent him to the Hotel Campanile to talk to Daryn Dodge and the Davis gang to see if there was anyone who could help. Meanwhile, we found a telephone and called the Bicycle Outfitter back in California to find out their recommendation on how to repair the drop-out. We also called the Santana Factory to get additional information and find out if it was possible to FedEx a derailleur hanger or possibly find a tandem in Paris to rent. When Thomas got back, he informed us there were three frame builders in the group at the Campanile, and he had the name of a mechanic in a nearby village. It was then about 9:30 PM, and we were sufficiently satisfied we had done everything we could possibly do until the next morning, and we convinced ourselves we needed to get something to eat.

Bright and early the next morning, we went to the Hotel Campanile. We spoke with Daryn and Dan in the breakfast room, and they said we should talk to Rob and Alice, who had done the Erickson tour on their tandem, but were not planning to ride it on PBP. They were amenable to letting us use their tandem if we could not get ours fixed, and that relieved us greatly. So far, plans A-D were in place:

    A - Get the StarCruiser fixed at a local bike shop

    B - See if one of the Davis Bike Club frame builders could fix it (Daryn had a BIG wrench)

    C - Borrow Rob and Alice’s tandem

    D - Buy new single bikes at the local sports shop and outfit them for PBP

We rolled, dragged and carried the StarCruiser three miles down the road to the next town, Trappes, where there was rumored to be a pro-bike shop. After practicing getting lost several times (something that would come in handy over the next several days), we finally arrived at the very small shop of Cycles Pascal Linget. This turned out to be a popular destination, as it was crowded with a multinational coterie of randonneurs, all clutching their (mostly airline-) damaged bicycles with a pleading look in their eyes. It became apparent that, in order to communicate with a French bicycle mechanic, you needed to know the various names of the bike parts and have a sense of what they do, as well as know how to string the various nouns, verbs, and other linguistic components together. Fortunately for us, we found just such an individual immediately in front of us in the bike shop line, a fellow American from Seattle with a mal-shifting recumbent who appeared to speak the right kind of French.

There did not appear to be any equipment resembling a frame alignment stand anywhere in the shop. We watched with horror as Pascal took a very large wrench and bent the rear drop-out and hanger, eyeballing it as he went. He then got a caliper and measured the opening. The right side was too narrow, so he retrieved and used a large file. He then spent several minutes adjusting the derailleur. To our amazement and relief, he was able to get the bike going, and promised us we’d finish PBP. We did a test ride around the block, posed for a picture, and rode back to the hotel in street clothes!

We did a test ride to Versailles that afternoon. However, we were again plagued by mechanical failure! We got a flat tire, and upon removing the tire and tube from the rim, discovered that the rim tape had become pressed into the nipples and the nipples were essentially punching holes on the inside of the tube. Sunday morning we went back to the shop, bought more tubes and new rim tape, and replaced the rim tape on both wheels.

Bike Inspection and Test Ride
Sunday, August 22, 1999

You would have thought that the French had never seen a tandem before. We waited in line at the designated time for bike inspection, worried if the French Officials would check to make sure we had at least 3 extra bulbs for our blinking rear LED (i.e., bulbless) taillights! Instead, they were more than satisfied to see we each had our reflective vest and one spare headlight for the front. Then they spent the rest of the time poking and prodding at the bike, looking at the stoker shock seat post, the captain’s Terry liberator saddle with the hole in the middle, the Shimano Flight Deck computer, the V-brakes and the V-brake stiffener. They were shocked to see that the lever for the rear drum brake was under the control of a female stoker!

We accepted our official PBP water bottles and proceeded into the stadium, where the Davis Bike Club group picture was to take place. We parked the bike and watched as dozens of randonneurs and officials examined the bike, commenting on this and that and pointing here and there. Finally the photographer arrived, and 81 Davis bike club members, colorfully clad in their team uniforms, lined up for the group photo. It was an awesome sight.

We then proceeded to the inner gymnasium to pick up our official papers and magnetic strip card. Every official document of mine had my last name misspelled, and as much as I tried to explain they had made a gross error, they just shrugged. When we were all done, we proceeded to the exit, and Craig, Thomas, Ken and I got ready for a short ride to Mere and back.

While we were standing in the high school stadium, I casually made a remark to another randonneur about the name on his top tube, "Hellfire". He replied that the bike sounded more ferocious than the rider, and was very nice to join us in conversation with members of the Danish cycling club. Our new friend, Peter, was from the Regensburger Fahrradsgesellschaft, and noted that cycling had completely changed his life. Not only had he lost 20 kg and stopped drinking and smoking, but he’d also alienated his family to train and qualify for PBP, just like the rest of us!

He noticed that Ken was wearing the Terrible Two jersey, and that he knew Chuck Bramwell and the Triple Crown. Lightbulbs lit up, and we asked if he had ever heard of the Bikeaholics. He also lit up and explained how he’d read the entire web site and knew every story. Then we hit him with this: "We ARE Team Bikeaholics. Here is Morale Officer Ken and I am Team Captain Lisa". He nearly passed out as he exclaimed, "Captain Lisa, you are my obsession!". We all cracked up and I promptly shook his hand!

We had a nice ride out to Mere (only lost our way 5 times) and were relieved that the bike appeared to be PBP ready.

PBP Start
The Tandems and Autre Machines
9:45pm, August 23, 1999

Although it was great the have the whole of Monday free to get ready for the 90 hr "Autre Machines" start, we found ourselves getting more nervous by the minute as we prepared ourselves physically and mentally for THE big event. We got to the school at 8:15 PM, 1.5 hours early, and found a huge line of single bikes several deep all the way down the street as far as the eye could see. Several other tandems, recumbents, trikes and strange pedal-powered contraptions appeared, and we banded together, broke through the line, and forced our way on ahead so we could be ready for OUR start, which was scheduled 15 min. before the first wave of the 90 hr velo start. We got our control cards stamped and magnetic cards swiped, and proceeded to the traffic circle, where we were being lined-up.

As we waited, a friendly radio announcer rattled on in French about this and that (under amplification with loud music in the background). Thomas, who said he would be sleeping, actually showed up to see us off. At 9:45 PM, we were let loose in the traffic circle, where thousands of PBP fans cheered us on (editor's note: while it's true that the race officials turned us loose at 9:45, StokerLisa almost didn't! When Ken heard the starter's horn he stomped on the pedals, and NOTHING happened--- in all of the lining-up-confusion, the drum brake had been left "locked", and we went nowhere for about 7-8 seconds until we realized what the problem was). Tears began to form in my eyes, it was so intense and huge! People were lined up along the course out of Guyancourt, and were cheering us on into the dark unknown

The First Full Day
August 24, 1999

Our first encounter with control points was at 2:30 AM Tues. morning in Mortagne au Perche (141 km). On the outbound leg of the trip, this was listed as only a refreshment stop ("controle ravitallement"), and Ken had remarked at some point that we should just "blow this one off". When the time came and we had ridden a continuous 5 hours in the dark, the decision to stop was unanimous. My first impression was, "My, how clean and orderly everything is" and "There are hardly any people here". Yeah, well, we were the first to arrive, other than the 80 hr. group that was long gone and/or didn’t stop anyway! I glanced at the food in the "Self" hot food line and made a selection of potage (Mike Harding said to eat the potage at every stop) and bread. We brought along some yogurt. Ken changed the battery pack and we proceeded on to the next control point, Villaines La Juhel.

So far our energy was holding out well, and we were excited and eager. Somewhere along the way, we noticed a wobble in our rear wheel. We hoped we’d be able to get it fixed at the next Controle. When we finally got to the first official control point at 7:00 am, around breakfast time, we got an idea of the dynamics of the Controle (or as we later called them, the Refugee Camps). The first thing to do at the Controle was to GET THE BOOK STAMP and GET THE CARD SWIPED. At Villaines, one had to walk quite a distance from the bike parking area and precariously negotiate the stairs in bike shoes to the control area. After that feat was accomplished, we looked at the map of the Controle in order to locate the "Self" (hot food cafeteria), WC and bike repair. The Self was across the street, and we made our way across several hundreds of cyclists to the other side and made our breakfast selections. For Lisa, this consisted of bread, polenta, mashed potatoes and a large bowl of coffee. Ken had an omelet. After 8 hrs. of riding, we were in need of a food break and definitely in need of café. The inside of the cafeteria was gaily decorated in a bicycle motif by the young French school children. I (Lisa) then went in search of the women’s rest room. I followed the "WC" sign, but could only find a large area with urinals and lines of half dressed men. Thinking there must be a special place for women (there were precious few of us) I went up to the information desk and asked the women there. They shrugged their shoulders and pointed to a handicapped restroom. I waited several minutes until a tired, dirty male came out, then seized the opportunity to relieve myself of 140 oz of UltraFuel in relative privacy.

7 We next walked the bike down the street to a bicycle/moped/motorcycle shop where an able bicycle/moped/motorcycle mechanic trued up our rear wheel. We were soon on our way. Since the sun had come up, we could enjoy the French countryside. The villages were rustic, with multitudes of pots and planters overfilled with orange and pink geraniums. The sidewalks were lined with onlookers, who cheered and encouraged us on.

Originally our plan was to make it to Carhaix-Plouguer (520 km) during the first 24 hour period. As the day wore on, it was apparent that we'd be lucky if we could make it to Ludeac (444 km). After leaving Villaines, we rode as best as we could, but still found it necessary to stop for a café. We found a nice little town on the way to Fougeres and stopped for an espresso. Across the street, the Australians were guzzling beer. We arrived in Fourgeres at about noon and got our cards swiped and signed. The food line at the Self was quite long, so we decided to go for PowerBars and take a 20 min. nap on the grass.

We arrived in Tinteniac (359 km) at around 5:30 PM, where we met up with Bill Bryant and Lois Springsteen, Ron Porat, and a friendly Netherlander, Ivo Miesen. Here we had a pleasant dinner of jambon (ham) sandwiches, potage, grated carrot salad, and, of course, more coffee.

The Refugee Camp at Ludeac

Ludeac resembled a very large refugee camp. For most PBP starts, this was the first big evening stop, and there was a bag drop there organized by Claus. We arrived late, around 10:30 PM, and were very tired and weary. We had hoped to have our sleep stop at Carhaix, but it was evident that we were going to have to take a couple hours sleep in Ludeac. We went to the Self again and searched for the appropriate nutrition. Up to this time, I had miraculously experienced no digestion problems, probably because I had taken the potage at most control points. I was also able to eat the warm pasta dishes and roasted chicken. The CamelBak with UltraFuel (and the occasional swig of HammerGel) had been keeping me hydrated and with a base number of calories. Ken was also doing well. After dinner I’d hoped to take a shower and change into my Team Bikeaholics jersey. But alas, there were no showers! Instead, there was a hose near the toilets and open urinals where several men had shrugged off their modesty and stripped down, soaped up and hosed off. Actually there was practically no need for them to be modest, considering there were so few women. It must have seemed like a men’s locker room to them. (We later discovered there were only 6 % women on PBP.)

Not being able to shower, we hoped to at least be able to sleep for a couple of hours on a comfortable mattress in the "couchette" room. However, it became apparent from the length of the line at the official sleep station that we weren’t going to get an official sleeping space anytime soon. So, we opted for plan "B", which involved use of a space blanket and a quiet, out-of-the-way patch of grass outside somewhere. This proved to be more of a challenge than we realized. The immediate area was a sort-of-urban-park-environment, mostly concrete and asphalt, covered with a patchy film of broken glass and discarded bicycle parts. We wandered over towards the back of one of the parking lots, clambered over a "Closed--- Do Not Enter" barrier, but didn’t see anything that looked terribly inviting. The side of the building was lined with garbage cans, and there seemed to be large mounds of trash lying all over the lot. Ken was heard to complain, muttering something like "Jeez, don’t they ever clean this place up?" As we wandered through the lot, we suddenly noticed that some of trash mounds were MOVING--- fearing the worst, Ken prepared himself for the sight of rats and other vermin. Much to our surprise, the moving mounds of trash turned out to be a dozen or so randonneurs wrapped in space blankets, looking for all the world like discarded Burger King wrappers or extremely large microwave-ready burritos. One person, a woman, even had her laundry hanging on a line over her. We found a free spot of grass, unfurled our space blankets, set the Polar Pacer watches for 2:30 AM and tried to catch some sleep. When the alarm sounded, we jumped up, packed up our panniers, and ate a quick "breakfast" at the Self. By 3:30 AM, we were on the road again.

August 25, 1999

Sometime in the early morning (before daybreak) we came across a small town where there was an open "bar". It looked like some other cyclists had stopped there, so we thought it might be an opportunity to get a café au lait. We encountered a small group of British cyclists who had apparently gotten the same idea, and we happily joined in on the lively conversation. I believe it was somewhere in this stretch between Ludeac and Carhaix that we started seeing bikes come back the other way. Craig and Daryn were probably in there somewhere, though we wouldn’t have been able to recognize them. It looked somewhat eerie to see headlights coming toward us. We also came across our first "Secret Controle".

We arrived in Carhaix in time for breakfast. "Le petit dejourner" was the food of choice - a box with a croissant, 1/3 baguette, a little container with jam, a pat of butter, and a huge bowl of coffee. We sat on the (very narrow) picnic benches and enjoyed our coffee. The toilets in Carhaix were a different story. These were literally THE PITS! There was no seat, just a hole in the floor and a place to put your two feet. You could flush it, but you’d better got out of the way fast before the water got to your feet. It was indeed a "feat" to do this in bike shoes with cleats. OK, I could get used to elbowing my way through the crowds of men in the women’s restroom. I could turn my head to the men in the urinals and hosing off naked with the hose. But these pits! I longed for a clean, nicely scented powder room with all the modern amenities!

As we prepared to depart Carhaix, it began to rain. We had made an agreement before even leaving for France that if it rained, we would put on rain gear before we got all soaked and miserable (having experience exactly this on a 200 km Davis brevet). We thus thought it prudent to put on our rain gear - all of it. This took the better part of 15 minutes. After suiting up, we headed up the hill through the forest on the way to Huelgoat. The view was absolutely beautiful in the misty morning, and we enjoyed the climbing through the forest. However, not only had the rain stopped, but we got hot with all the rain clothes. We stopped to remove the rain gear (another 15 minutes). At this point, we were suffering from extreme narcolepsy. I would drift off to sleep and throw the balance of the bike in one direction. Ken would swerve off the road in quick, uncontrollable jerks in the other direction. Then we’d wake up with a start and exclaim, "What was that?", thinking something was wrong with the bike. We started mumbling to one another in incomprehensible conversations, which neither of us remembered, although I think I remember trying to make a very important point about something! With the remnants of sanity and logic that remained, we made the joint executive decision to stop at a parking place for hikers and lie on a stone wall for a few minutes. (We discovered that other riders referred to this activity as a "Power Nap".) We certainly had the strength and endurance to do PBP, but the narcolepsy was a real problem. Of course, once we actually stopped and were lying on the stone wall, we felt wide awake again.

Once we got through the beautiful forested area, we found ourselves going up a grade that went over a low mountain range between Carhaix and Brest. The climbing was fine, and we seemed to have perked up a little. We got to a town at the bottom of the grade and stopped for espresso and the French equivalent of Ibuprofen. My knees were starting to get a little inflamed, and the saddle sores were crying out. The next two hours to Brest were fairly easy, but we noticed the wobble in the rear wheel had come back. We arrived in Brest around noon and had to navigate through town to get to the Controle. This included going over a big bridge with a view of the beautiful main suspension bridge that serves as the gateway into Brest.

Once we finally arrived at the Controle, parked the bike and took care of the official stuff, we surveyed this particular refugee camp. There really were HOT showers there, and they were truly segregated! Ken scarfed down two jambon sandwiches from the "Rapid" and I got my potage and other hot items from the "Self" across the way in another building. We then got our panniers and headed for the showers. It was great to finally rinse off the 38 hours of sweat and dirt, get some hot water on the aching muscles, and brush my teeth. I had to slip back into the old clothes, but it was not as bad as I had imagined. I had already exchanged the Avocet saddle for the new Terry Bella Gella (AKA "Big Bertha") back in Ludeac, but the seams from the shorts I had been wearing were carving lines in my legs. I applied more cream from my trusty tube of Chamois Butt’r.

We then went to take the rear wheel to the bike repair. The ETA for repair was, however, about 45 min. This was totally unacceptable. We should have taken the wheel to the shop FIRST! There were two obviously loose spokes, which we tightened, then we adjusted a couple spokes to get the wheel a little better in true. That would have to do until we got to Carhaix. We saw Ken H. just as we were getting ready to leave. He said he had a bad cold, but seemed to be doing OK. We wished him luck, but kept our distance!

The route back to Carhaix was a little different from the way in, so we didn’t see the cyclists coming into Brest. The steep hills we went down on the way in were luckily avoided on the way back. The long uphill grade to the communication tower was not as bad as I had anticipated, mostly because I didn’t realize we were on the hill until we were most of the way up. When we got to the top, people were clapping and cheering. One woman looked like she had pity on me and appeared to snarl at the Captain for "forcing" me to do this ride! We arrived in Carhaix at about 5:00. We got our cards stamped and immediately headed to the bike repair to have the rear wheel trued. This time, the mechanic put loc-tight on the loose spokes. We figured the extra weight of the panniers must have placed an extra burden on the rear wheel, and we vowed to lighten up the bike considerably when we got to the drop point in Ludeac. We went into the "Self" and had more real food, including potage, yet again.

The potages at the different Controles were similar, yet different. Some were thicker, some thinner; some more yellow, some orange or green. Some seemed to have more salt, but otherwise they were quite bland. Regardless, they served as an effective vehicle for liquid and nutrients. I also had some grated carrot salad with tomatoes and boiled egg.

While packing up the bike, I did a quick inspection of the tires and discovered the tread on the rear wheel was basically gone! There were several sections where the casing was coming through. We were extremely lucky we didn’t have a show-stopping blowout on the road! There were a couple of onlookers as Team Bikeaholics changed the tire with great precision and accuracy (we had been carrying a new tire with us). Not only were they observing the team dynamics (probably shocked to see a girl doing some of the critical tasks), but also looking intensely at the bike. After we were done, I looked at them and exclaimed, "Voila!". I think they were suitably impressed!

Leaving Carhaix along the same rolling country road we’d been on early in the previous morning was much different in the early evening. We started out slowly, and I experienced a mild upset stomach, which I warded off with a dose of Imodium. We slogged along in the dark, reaching the Mother of All Refugee Camps (Ludeac) at about 11:00 PM. Time management was of the essence. The wheel had gotten out of true YET AGAIN ! ! I examined the wheel and discovered that one of the spokes had broken at the hub. We tried to explain the problem to the French-only-speaking mechanic. He located a replacement spoke but couldn’t get the drum brake off. In fact, we later discovered that in his attempt to get it off, he messed up the adjustment, rendering it completely unusable. We thought we could get by with 47 of the 48 spokes, so he cut out the broken, dangling spoke and trued up the wheel. We then parked the bike and went to the "Self" with our panniers and drop bag to decide what to take and what to leave. Ken was completely incapable of making higher order decisions at this point. In fact, he seemed to be in a complete daze, wandering around the room and mumbling incomprehensibly (editor's note: as I remember it, I think I was busy calculating Fibonacci number series at this particular juncture, although I'm still not sure why). We ran into Ron Porat again, who seemed to be in no better condition than Ken. He, too, was planning to catch a couple of hours sleep.

After unpacking, sorting, repacking, taking more out, and trying to stuff the rejected items into the drop bag, we headed over to the Couchettes to see if we could get in. Luckily there was space available this time. We signed in, selected our wake-up time, and prepared to enter the quiet, dark room accompanied by the attendant. Once the door was opened, we were overwhelmed by 150 snoring and somewhat smelly randonneurs! Ken had asked if I wanted ear plugs. This time, I grabbed them desperately. The foam mattress was a little damp on the side (hopefully from a little spilled water), but I was so tired I just didn’t care. In no time, I was fast asleep.

Ludeac to Morgagne au Perche
August 26, 1999

The alarm sounded at 3:30 AM, and I believe I had gotten some good, sound sleep. We quickly put on our shoes, gathered our things, and left to get on the bike again. This time I wore a pair of black lycra aerobic shorts without a chamois or seams in the legs, because I figured the Bella Gella saddle was padded enough, and the areas where the seams had rubbed were very tender. We had lightened up the panniers considerably, but they still seemed heavy. There was a line at the "Self", so we gulped down an Ensure and decided to stop at the first village with an open bakery or bar. We saw Tom and Cindy at Ludeac right before we took off - they’d passed us the previous morning on the way from Carhaix to Brest and had gotten a solid 8 hrs. sleep in Ludeac. The first bit of riding in the dark was not very pleasant. In fact, Ken was very UNHAPPY about having to ride in the dark again, but at least we had gotten some sleep. I put my REI spelunker light on Ken’s helmet and took out my mini-flashlight to use for reading the useless route sheet.

The dawn was a welcomed sight, and we came across an open "bar" a little before 7:00 AM and ordered up two café au laits. When the bakery down the street opened at 7:00, we all swarmed the place and got freshly baked sweets. That perked us up. On the way back to the bike, I saw a tired French randonneur and smiled. He did a double take and exclaimed, "Vous etes une fille!" ("You’re a girl!"). I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that comment, but I tried to take it as a compliment.

We saw Tom and Cindy again on the road somewhere on the way to Tinteniac. In fact, we surfed the rollers together for a couple of hours until our caffeine high wore off. Then they dropped us, as usual. However, we came across a secret Controle before the real Controle, and Ken and I managed to get in and out in record time. Tom and Cindy caught back to us later - they had actually stopped to eat something. We rode together to Tinteniac at about 9:00 AM and enjoyed a convivial breakfast. We took a photo of Tom and Cindy so we could prove to the rest of the world that we had actually ridden with them (an honor for us earthlings).

At some point we had to make another stop for pastries, coffee, batteries, water and more chamois cream. We first found the bakery, where I scarfed down a huge slice of apple tart. Ken, being ice cream-deprived for several days, opted for the triple scoop from the street vendor. We then found an Irish pub where we enjoyed some Celtic music while sipping our thimbleful of espresso. Ken then waited impatiently by the bike (we weren’t talking much by this time) while I retrieved the rest of the supplies. He nearly went ballistic when I went into the pharmacy.

However, my saddle sores were getting extremely painful, and if I were to finish the ride, I’d need more cream. At this point, Ken seemed to be getting annoyed at just about everything. He seemed to forget that it was necessary to shift gears, and when he did, he got it so cross-chained, it didn’t shift properly anyway, and of course, he blamed the bike.(editor's note: as I remember it, the FliteDeck cycle computer kept telling me everything was just fine, and that we were ALWAYS in an optimal gear!) I could look down and see how cross-chained it was, but it would have done absolutely no good to say anything! We just wanted to get the ride over with. Surprisingly, there were still groups of people cheering us on and providing water. Seeing the flowers and gardens cheered my up a little.

As Ken and I had exhausted all subjects for conversation and I was desperately in need of human dialog, I opted to take a survey of all English-speaking randonneurs to see how many of them had done PBP before and if they would do it again. The results were mixed. Much to my surprise, several extremely tired people smiled and said, "Maybe". About half of the riders polled had done PBP before. Of those, about half said they’d done it enough times. When I asked a German rider if he’d done PBP before, he replied, "Yes, I know I’m stupid"! Then, to break things up a little, I decided to practice my German. We chatted about this and that, how I learned German, about my plans to visit the Bodensee after the ride, and a variety of other topics. I later found out Ken was upset, suspecting that I was saying things about him behind his back that he couldn’t understand! (editor's comment: hey, even the paranoid can have real enemies--- I distinctly remeber hearing the phrases "coup d'etat", and "looking for a replacement captain"...)

The rest of the day was a blur. We had dinner in Villaines and pushed on to Mortagne au Perche. That would have to be our sleep stop. The sun went down, and for a while, we enjoyed a very large full moon. The light grew dimmer and dimmer, and we struggled to see our way through the countryside with the low wattage battery powered lights. There were a lot of big hills, each one causing us to become more weary. And the headlights of the large trucks were blinding. Riding through the forest at night was also a trip. It was so two dimensional, and made us feel very isolated and sensory-deprived. It seemed like an eternity before we made it to Mortagne at about 10:30. We took care of the official business, ate some real food (chicken, pasta, ham sandwiches, potage) and proceeded to the shower/couchette area. The couchette room appeared to be full, but the English-speaking girl attendant suggested that we take a shower first and she’d see if she could get us in. For 10 ff we were issued a towel and a little sample of shampoo. The men’s shower was nearby, but the girl had to accompany me to the woman’s shower, which was across the way and down about 150 m. There was a large sign above the door: "Douche pour Femmes". I went in, but noticed that both showers were occupied. I heard some rummaging and rattling, then one of the doors opened, and a MALE came out! So much for the Women’s Showers! The water was ice cold, so I washed off really fast. (I heard a report that the other men’s shower was no better.) Once we got back to the door of the couchette room, the girl who had helped us before was gone, and the other one had no idea of what we were talking about. She decided we could sleep on the floor for free, since there were no mattresses available. There was a very thin carpet (with no padding) on the floor, but the room was fairly dark and quiet (even better with the earplugs). We set the alarms for 4:00 AM. Sometime in the middle of the night I awoke with the shivers and had to apply all the clothing I had in my pannier in order to warm up. I was also in excruciating pain. My hands and knees were extremely inflamed, and my saddle sores were second on the list. I took two ibuprofen and wondered if I’d ever be able to get up and get back on the bike in the "morning".

The Last Day of PBP
August 27, 1999

By the time 4:00 AM came around, the ibuprofen had begun to take effect. However, I spent 5 minutes stretching my legs and bending my sore knees. Ken also had knee problems. We went into the main room to get something to eat, but there were a lot of people in the Controle and the line was long. The floor and some of the tables were littered with randonneurs in space blankets. We ran into Mary, Wayne and Jim from the Davis Bike Club. Jim said Elain and Tom H. were also there. They had just gotten in and were planning to take a little rest. We packed up the bike and left at about 4:30 AM. It was still very dark out. We started out slowly to warm up our knees. Gradually we were able to pick up the pace a little. We came across a 3 km section of road that had been very recently graveled, and there were several people there to warn us, one had their car headlights illuminating the beginning of the gravel section. It seemed to go on forever, but we felt stable riding over it on the tandem.

At around 7:00, we came to a bar and had some coffee. By 9:00 AM we had reached the next-to-the-last Controle in Nougent le Roi. We were extremely brain dead at this point. The smell of the food at the "Self" was finally starting to turn our stomachs, and we decided to find a bakery or café. As we were getting ready to leave we saw Ron P. again. He was even more brain dead than us! We ushered him to the check-in, then convinced him to ride with us to get breakfast. We found a little bar/restaurant, but the restaurant part was not yet open. When the lady saw us, she offered to let us sit in the restaurant, and we had a nice breakfast with a large pot of coffee, foamed milk, and a plate of cut up baguettes with butter and jam. We sat there for about 30 min. and enjoyed our meal!

The remaining hours to the finish were like a death march for all of us. Although we were going very slow, we were still passing many randonneurs on single bikes. Napping cyclists littered the sides of the roads. The route back to Guyancourt was very circuitous, and we got lost once, adding on an extra 8 km or so (we actually somehow wound up on the entrance ramp to a "A" freeway, and had to do a quick U-turn!). The temperature began to rise, and it was somewhat muggy out. Toward the end of the ride, everything was hurting. My knees were inflamed, my saddle sores were extremely agonizing, my right shoulder was numb from the accumulative pressure from my CamelBak, my tongue had painful lesions on it, and I was dizzy from low blood sugar, since Ken did not want to stop between the time we had breakfast in Nougent and the finish, and we hadn’t eaten any real food for 4 hours. As we rode around a traffic circle near Guyancourt, a man stuck his head out the window of his car, looked directly at me, and said, "Bravo, Madame! ". I instantly burst into tears!

We arrived at the finish and were greeted whole-heartedly by Daryn and Craig, who had finished more than 30 hrs. before us. Our total time was 88 hours, but the time on the bike was only about 53 hrs. The important thing was - WE FINISHED PBP ! ! ! We staggered and stumbled into the gymnasium to turn in our cards at this final Controle. All women who had completed the course were awarded a long stemmed red rose. We carried them high, as trophies. It seemed to make up for all the inconveniences, lack of hygiene, bad smells, elbows in the face and all the rest! 

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