by Will Martin
On the evening of August 18, 2003, I plan to set out on an long-distance bicycle ride known as "Paris-Brest-Paris" along with 3,500 other people from more than 20 countries. The thought of participating in Paris-Brest-Paris has been lodged in the back of my mind since 1991, when I read an account of that year's running of PBP. Why would I want to do such a thing? There are several reasons.
First, I love cycling and the physical challenge of riding long distances. I've done numerous "century" rides---one- day rides of at least 100 miles---and before I began the serious business of raising three children with my wife of twenty years, I did several long-distance bicycle tours, the longest of which was a one-month, twenty-two hundred mile trek from the Canadian border in upstate NewYork to Key West, Florida.
Second, I am drawn by what I have read about the appreciation the French people have for PBP and the riders. Villagers yell "Bon Courage!" or "Allez! Allez!" out their windows that have beautiful flower boxes underneath. People stand along the road or sit in their yards and cheer and clap. They advertise food, water and help with homemade signs. Children pass out sugar cubes and pieces of chocolate. The many accounts of PBP I have read are filled with stories about simple and remarkable acts of kindness extended by the French people to weary, hungry, lost, and injured randonneurs.
Finally, I would like to be a part of the history of Paris-Brest-Paris. PBP is the oldest cycling event still run on a regular basis. The names of those who complete it successfully are entered into Le Grand Livre, or "Great Book", alongside the name of every other finisher going back to the first PBP. I would like to see my name in the Great Book along with the names of others from Russia, Australia and South Africa, not to mention all the European countries. It would be something in which I could take great pride, something I can imagine telling my children's children one day.
This year, as I suffer on the trainer, I pass the time thinking about PBP, doing mental calculations about how long it will take me to finish, or imagining myself spinning late at night through the quiet streets of an ancient village, waived on from an upstairs window by a beautiful French woman.