by Bob Breedlove
Rich Fedrigon and I were tandem partners for two Paris-Brest-Paris events. The first PBP was in 1991. During that ride we had very favorable tailwinds on the way out, mild weather and excellent support crew. We completed the course in just over 48 hours and had a phenomenal ride.
We returned to PBP in 1995 with the idea of bettering our time of 48 hours. Rich and I left with the 90-hour group hoping to catch the leaders in the 80-hour group who had a four-hour lead on us. We were able to move out fast and made it to Brest in about 18 or 20 hours. We were with the first group of participants to arrive at Brest. At that time we were confident that we would be able to better our 1991 time for the event. As a team we were riding very strong out of Brest on our way back to the first control which was at Carhaix. Prior to arriving in Carhaix, Rich and I had stayed on a pretty strict diet of Spiz, water and Power Bars. After we arrived in Carhaix, Rich ate in the control building. He had potatoes, ham and a very heavy, Sunday dinner type meal and probably some chocolate milk. At the time, my crew and I questioned the wisdom of his eating although Rich has been known for eating a lot of unusual foods on many long distance rides including RAAM. After the meal, Rich and I continued on our way to Loudeac.
Sometime after midnight in the neighborhood of Corley, Rich developed severe stomach problems and began vomiting across the French countryside. We ended up sleeping on park benches in the town with space blankets to keep us warm and no other visible support around. There was a small restaurant that was open and gave us something to drink. The rest of the night we spent sleeping outdoors and Rich trying to recover. When the sun rose, we then mounted the bike and pedaled into Loudeac where we found our crew waiting for us and wondering why it took us seven hours to go 80 kilometers. We checked into the control station, had our cards stamped and were officially registered at the Loudeac control. At that point Rich was unable to get back on the bicycle, and we were not going to be able to finish the ride. So we packed up the tandem, got in our support vehicle and drove back to Paris.
Once we arrived back at the hotel, we rested and our crew packed the tandem back in its shipping container. We milled around the hotel letting Rich recover. We then started planning our European adventure to Switzerland, Germany and Austria. The next morning we were up early and sitting in the restaurant eating breakfast when Rich began to feel better. He and I looked at one another and decided that even though we were not going to be able to break our 48-hour time on a tandem for PBP, that we could at least try to be official finishers.
We went to the PBP start-finish line at Guyancourt and spoke with the officials about re-entering the ride. They explained that as long as the controls were not yet closed and that if we had not turned in our controle cards, that it was still possible for us to complete the event. We immediately went back to the hotel, unboxed the tandem, reassembled it, put it back in our minivan and headed back out to Loudeac. The Loudeac time station had closed, but we had checked in prior to departing for Paris. So the next control we had to reach was at Tinteniac. We were able to make it to Tinteniac by closing time and from that point on gained time and eventually finished PBP officially in 80 hours and 55 minutes.
If Rich and I had stayed for 12 hours at Loudeac, instead of deciding to pack it in, we would have been able to start from that point and probably finished the ride in 60 hours rather than the 80+ plus hours that it eventually took us.
My advice to first time PBP riders is that there will be times out in the French countryside when sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst, cold, wind, rain as well as fatigue will be telling you it's time to pack it in and head for home. Because neither Rich nor I had ever quit in the past, it became apparent to us after Rich had recovered that we were not going to quit. With a little rest and support from the crew, we were able to resume the ride 24 hours after we nearly abandoned the event. We were determined to at least be official finishers of the 1995 PBP.
This year I will be riding tandem, once again. My tandem partner will be Stuart Stevens who is an accomplished cross- country ski champion. He and I will have hopefully five to six hundred miles of tandeming experience together before we participate in PBP which is three or four hundred miles more than my first PBP on a tandem in 1987 with Lon Haldeman.
I am certain that there will be times of discomfort for both of us not having been accustomed to riding together for an extended period of time. Because of Stuart's perseverance and his long distance cross-country skiing accomplishments and my past experiences in ultra cycling events, I am confident that barring any physical problems, we will complete the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris.