A doctor's note is required to entry Paris Brest Paris (PBP). Dr. Dunn is a god and understands ailments, strains, unusual scars and problems long riders deal with and never once thinks about turning my wife into the police on suspicion of spousal abuse! Dr. Dunn's medical partner has ridden across the USA on bicycle and I see him on local roads now and than. Doc Dunn understands us and I wish more people did.
Doreen and I were meant to be on a tandem. There I was, after only three weeks knowing her, fresh from the coal fields of Wyoming on my knees asking her to marry me. A few weeks later we placed an order for a custom tandem. (She said yes to both). Our lives revolve around family, friends and sports. In that circle of love we've found community and support for ourselves and a healthy lifestyle for now and the future.
None of this would be possible without careful attention to goals and lifestyle. The process of achieving cycling goals might be just as rewarding as completing them and should we fail trying or do not fully achieve a goal maybe we had one heck of a great adventure trying.
If life was a 30 second sound bite, then my "PBP 2003 Summary" might sound like this: Paris-Brest-Paris, 1200k, one stage. Pre-frontal lobotomy REQUIRED. Discover all your cycling showstoppers that will prevent you from riding for 30+ hrs at a crack. Qualify by riding a 200k ,300k ,400k and 600k brevets. Spend a few hundred hours researching PBP. Train 18+ hours per week. Learn to comfortably ride hilly double metrics. End social at 8pm. Result: you never say "I can't do that" again. Priceless.
In all seriousness, because Doreen and I rode PBP in 1999 we knew many logistical pitfalls and countless details that consume newcomers. For 2003 we felt released and moved on to the pleasure of simply preparing to do better than in 1999.
Training for 2003 PBP began in April when we spent a week in late April riding the rural mountains of Virginia with 25-30 friends. Our annual spring "Acorn Inn" training camp has become a rite of spring passage and is now into our 4th year. Surrounded by our best cycling friends we ride the hills, cook, tell lies and hang out in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is "Lifestyle" at its best.
On May 17, 2003 we arrived in Delavan, Wisconsin, to (hopefully) finish all our Brevets during five days of riding including three rest days! Qualifying in Wisconsin at PAC Tour's Brevet Week with the generous and humble team of Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo seemed an easy choice. Not exactly a cakewalk, but definitely something Doreen and I felt we were capable of. We were.
What a crazy thing to do. Leave the USA to ride 760 miles non-stop in a foreign land? We must be nuts...again.
Doreen and I arrive at the airport to depart for Paris. Our semi-coupled tandem is packed into two single bike cases and the Air France "inspectioneer" is suspiciously eyeballing our freight. The French are often misunderstood. What I've learned is they highly regard basic formalities such as "please," "thank you," and "good morning". Failure to adhere to basic rules that your mother taught you, will banish you to the darkest recesses of UGLY AMERICAN hell. A simple "Bone Jur Mah-dame" is good enough to get us and our obviously overweight tandem through the check-in process tout de suite!
At the hotel Gril Campanile, we take in the chaotic pre-race scene. Everyone is super focused on details that were long ago taken care of but are now rechecked and forgotten. The mood is a mix of fear, testosterone and thank goodness. Some people are really calm like Steve Rex and his beautiful family. Steve is a PBP ancien "fur shur." He has that easy Southern California way and he always has a few minutes to chat about life. We do not talk about bikes even though he is one of America's best bike builders. The culture and spectacle of PBP is WAYmore interesting than some palaver about bike bits and pieces. We both are scoping out good places to eat, and laugh when we recall our past obsessions with pointless details, like when we try to ignore rainy weather.
The 90 hour tandem start is the one to be in if you want a clear road and fast riders to chase. Arriving about one hour before our departure we are behind a sea of 90 hour starters! The line to the gym must is 2000-people deep and we need to get to the start line. People are very nice as we bounce, drag and carry our tandem through the crowd. About 100 yards from the gym an official arrives to clear a path for tandems.... a "Mercy Buckets" is appreciated by all. Doreen and I situate ourselves at the very front of the start next to a mixed team riding a 50+ year old Rene Herse Tandem that was freshly restored and authentic in every way. The captain looks grim; I would be too if I were riding a precious museum piece.
From the very start it is obvious that a group of approximately 8 tandems will work together to speed down the road. There are severalAmerican tandems, a British male/male team including a blind stoker, the Rene Herse tandem and a young US mixed couple. The pace is very fast and we arrive at the first water stop (89 miles) in about 4 1/2 hours.After the initial excitement wears off we settle down to a more reasonable pace of about 17mph average.
The lovely and inspiring aspects of this race are the instant alliances you make with simpatico riders along the way and upon leaving controls. Our British tandem friends are hilarious declaring that this is the fastest they have ever ridden. Doreen and I are laughing at their jokes and trying to keep up with the pace.
Our riding experience in 2003 resembles nothing like 1999 where we never rode alone. This time we solo darn near 500+ miles! Who'd have thunk it? So, rather than waste time and energy looking over our shoulders for riders to team up with, we go about the business of riding the bike and speeding down the road. When the riding gets really tough we sing or tell raunchy jokes and then the spectacular would happen. We'd ride through countryside so astoundingly beautiful that we'd say nothing and just take it all in. This year we see many of the farmlands that were obscured by dark in 1999.
We make excellent time working in and out of the controls. It's really a lot of fun. Our "control routine" includes a kiss at each checkpoint in front of the check in tables and shouting "Vive la Fraaaance" to the control personnel which brings a smile.
At the controls, the French fans are fascinated with our custom tandem. Crowds gather to inspect the bike while Doreen and I rush to check in at the officials desk and rush back to mix bottles, replenish Camelbaks and head for the next control. The fans never ever impose themselves while we prepare and are not in the least intrusive. There is nearly always a loud cheer and a "BRAVO" as we leave.
Our proudest moment comes at Brest where we reach the half way point in 27 hours with no sleep. We decide to ride on to the next control. About 40 kilometers from Brest the weather becomes cold and damp, which makes us extremely sleepy. We fight on for four hours to make only 60 miles. Doreen slugs me a few times in the face to help me stay awake. The abuse!!! After 1.5 hours sleep we ride pretty steadily to the finish with one more short sleep break and numerous coffee stops ~ "Café Grand, see-voo-play."
The most memorable part of PBP is sleeping in haystacks and stopping in the Breton region at Monsieur Rogue's house around 2a.m., where his wife is whipping up fresh crepes topped with home-made jam and offering us hot coffee. The only sad moment is when he invites us to come inside for a sleep break. Bummer. Unfortunately we have just finished a 1:30 sleep in the previous control. I'll remember the grace and honest love of sport the French have forever because of things like this. Too wonderful for words.
We were able to shave our PBP 1999 time of 74:3 hours down to 68:11. We don't know "for sure" our exact placement and really don't care. The experience is good enough to satisfy us deeply.
Let it be said here and now, in print, before all of you and the gods of cycling....NEVER AGAIN. This is exactly what we said in 1999, so take that as you will. Our love for each other and the shared experience is something that is intangible and has no replacement. Riding a tandem on an long-distance endurance cycling event is more involved and hard on your body than riding a single.
There are many, many more flavors of adventure for us in the future and we expect to find a few before our teeth fall out and our chains rust solid. To all of you who dare to try PBP 2007, we say "Bon Chance" and for the rest of you anciens, we say, Congratulations.
Author's Note: Contact me for advice on anything related to nutrition or logistics during ultra events. firstname.lastname@example.org or click the mail link at www.ahealinghand.com