—By Cap'n John Ende—
Intro By Mike Dayton
Editor's note: Go figure. Day 3, 64 hours and 550 miles into Paris-Brest-Paris 2007 and our legs had finally found their level. We still had more than 200 miles to go, but we were getting a faint whiff of hay from the barn.
We'd seen the worst of it, me and my riding buddy, Cap'n John Ende. The hours of punishing rain. The crosswinds and the spray-soaked feet, the heavy black skies and the heavier eyelids.
We'd shrugged it off, put on our game face and kept our heads down, always keeping the ultimate prize squarely in our vision.
On Day 3, around 1 p.m., we reached the Brittany town of Dingé and stopped for a break, eating pizza and drinking cafés au lait at a hip little bar called Le Brigantin.
Our mood bordered on punchy. If somebody said something, anything, funny or not, we laughed. The clouds lifted. We watched the bright carnival of cyclists drift downhill through the town square.
Yes, life was good. Only 200 miles to go. This ride was in the bag.
Five minutes later, Ende fell out on the sidewalk, clutching his side.
"That doesn't look good," I said. But it didn't look all that unusual, either. PBP riders in contorted poses, whether on the sidewalk or in the ditches, were a common sight. I'd already seen Ende with his legs propped up on a hay bale. This was just the next natural step.
In the next 90 minutes, however, the situation would turn desperate. Ende's pain grew so sharp that he could no longer sit up. Then he put in a call to his wife. He left a voice mail and for the first time used an ominous word: "hospital."
Things had turned into a full-blown medical emergency.
I called ride officials in Tinténiac, the closest contrôle, and asked for help. They immediately dispatched a taxi.
The owners of Le Brigantin graciously provided a garage where I stowed Ende's bike. When the taxi arrived, the driver and I loaded Ende in for the 25 km ride to the hospital in Rennes.
I rode on without him. When I reached the Villaines contrôle, I learned he'd passed a kidney stone. And now he was back on the course!
Despite eight hours off the bike, Cap'n Ende managed to reach the St. Quentin gymnasium with an hour to spare.
Following is his remarkable story.
By John Ende
I was having the time of my life. You may have heard riders talk about the highs and lows of a 1200k. They usually don't happen in the same minute. We were reaping the rewards of the previous night's lavish five-hour sleep break. We had passed secret contrôlee deux and cruised through Tinténiac. I met a wonderful French rider, Jean Pierre of the Basque region. Within five minutes of making his acquaintance he had invited me to come ride in the Pyrennes. I may take him up on the offer.
Mike Dayton had left Tinténiac slightly ahead of us in search of café dining. Wes Johnson and I found him outside Le Brigantin in Dingé. He laid a bounty before us, pizza, pain au chocolat and cafe noir. I was just polishing off the pastry when kaboom I was shot in the side. It was a pain that I have never had before. I was worried. I feared for my PBP and mortal life.
At some point the proprietress feared that my spectacle was too much even for her hardy randonneur customers. She led me upstairs into her living quarters. The place had a new age Celtic ambiance. She prepared a comfortable spot on a futon. Any other rider would have killed for this spot of comfort. It provided no respite from my ever intensifying douleur. I was left writhing in pain as I awaited the taxi.
Each time that I moaned in agony a dog would enter the room to observe my motions. A cat found it challenging as it attempted to walk on my turning, quivering person. I moaned for Mike. He was keeping watch out for the taxi and trying to reassure me but no comforting was enough. I needed transport. Eventually the taxi driver would ascend the steps to observe his would-be passenger.
"Ambulance?" he apprehensively posed to my condition.
"Non," I replied, you are taking me to the hospital. Mike and Monsieur Andretti assisted me downstairs and into the waiting cab. Mike tried to get in to accompany me to the hospital but I couldn't bear having him DNF due to my misfortune. He had already taken 1 1/2 hours caring for his fallen riding partner. Mike reluctantly got out of the taxi and we were off.
Every 30 seconds I asked how much longer. The cabbie patiently replied each time fearing for his livery interior. I held a plastic bag as waves of nausea and pain ebbed and flowed. I would raise and lower the window just for something to do. At one point I looked over to see that we were traveling at a respectable 160km/hr. We were not on the interstate.
When we arrived at the hospital in Rennes the cabbie led me inside, grabbed a sheet for a stretcher and laid me down. I was rushed into an exam room and stripped into my birthday suit by four twenty-something French nurses. I could have cared less.
The doctor examined me and decided that pain medication was in order. Narcotics were promptly administered and a beautiful nap ensued. They gave me a sliding scale to quantify my pain and I pegged the thing off the chart. Damn near broke their device. The pain medicine acted quickly.
I was then taken for an x-ray and the preliminary results were no stone although I thought that I saw one in the distal right ureter (I am a radiologist in my day job). After my nap they asked for a urine sample and voila: A 3-mm black nugget appeared in the bottom of the bowl.
I was cured. The stone had passed, my first ever.
I wanted out of the urgencie. "Non, non," came their reply.
First I needed an ultrasound. I was wheeled into another building and the renal sonography was performed. I watched the screen and realized that my obstruction had been relieved. There was a small amount of perinephric fluid but that was to be expected.
When they took me back to the ER my room had been occupied by a more pressing case and I was left in the hall. I grew impatient and began redressing and removing my IV. I stopped an orderly and told him, "Je droit partir maintenant!"
He called my cab and I checked out. The total bill for 4 hours in the ER, an x-ray, renal ultrasound, IV fluids, pain medication, blood work battery and urinalysis came to 187 Euro. I put it on my MasterCard. My care was excellent. I apologized for my impatience but thanked everyone for their tremendous help.
I left my third and final message for my wife. The three messages were as follows: 1. I have terrible abdominal pain and I am being taken to a hospital; 2. I am at the hospital in Rennes and they have given me pain medicine but we don't yet know my condition; and 3. I passed a kidney stone and I am going to continue the ride.
My main problem at this point was that I really didn't know where it was that I stopped or left my bicycle. I knew that it was in the garage of the cafe but I wasn't sure about the town. I remembered seeing a sign for Dingé so that is where I asked the new driver to take me. The ride back was much longer than the ride to the hospital in part due to the fact that we got lost. After consulting several maps with a magnifying glass I got us back on course to the town where I thought that my bike might be. The retour cab driver was very talkative and friendly and despite his meter reading 84 Euro he only charged me the 60 that I had paid to get to the hospital.
I was much relieved to find out that Dingé looked familiar. It was even more comforting to lay eyes on Le Brigantin cafe. The owners were having a quiet cafe when I ambled through their doorway. They looked up as if a ghost had appeared before them. They were incredulous when I asked for mon velo. Surely I was not going to continue. I assured them that I was in fact about to pedal on to Fougères.
The contrôle at Fougères was just then closing and I was still 27 miles away. I conceded that I might not make the Fougères cut-off. All told I was 8 hours off the bike.
I got into the drops and began to hammer like a man possessed. After 10 miles I encountered the first riders along the course. They were two Japanese riders limping along and I shot by them like a TGV. One of them yelled to me: "Audax." I think that they wanted to ride together but our paces were ill-suited to one another. I shouted "Courage" and continued on.
Amazingly there were still people along the course cheering and offering encouragement. I found this quite unbelievable. It really gave me an emotional boost. I was on the verge of tears continuously. Workers at tents would shout "Courage." A man on his porch announced dix kilometers to Fougères.
As I passed through Tannière there was a man standing outside the famous post card garage revitalment. I can only assume that it was Paul Rouge himself. He was clapping and shouting for me. I wondered just how long he would remain at that spot. All of the riders really should be past this point by now. I resisted the urge to stop since I was already running a bit behind. I now regret not pulling in for just a minute. I plan on sending him a card at the following address: Paul Rouge, 16 rue de Bretagne, LA TANNIÈRE 53220 Montaudin, FRANCE.
When I got to Fougères they were walking out of the door with boxes and turning off the lights. I showed them my hospital paperwork and x-ray which I was now carrying. The last official in sight wrote a note in my book. I bumped into [N.C. rider] Caroline Atkins who was suffering from Shermer's neck. I hated not being able to aid her. She is a very strong rider and I'm certain that she will complete PBP in the future. I continued on. As I left Fougères I donned my reflective gear and turned on my lights.
On the way out of town I stopped at a bar and they refilled my water bottles promptly. I told them about my calcule and they all had a big laugh.
I hammered again and began to pass more riders. I had a difficult time trying to calculate the contrôle closing of Villaines and decided that I was going to finish whether or not I made any of the remaining contrôlees. As I approached Villaines I stopped to report a fallen rider by cell phone. I called the contrôle in Villanes and spent 20 minutes on the phone. An Aussie rider named Ian stopped to help with the communication. As we were speaking with the contrôle two sweeper trucks pulled up filled with riders. The driver of one of the trucks completed the call and we were mobile again.
Surely now I wouldn't make the contrôle, but I did—just barely. When I arrived at 1:55 a.m. they swiped my card and didn't bat an eye. I was relieved. I spoke to an official and he took me all the way to the top official at the contrôle. They xeroxed my hospital paperwork, examined my x-ray and wrote a long note in my brevet card.
I told them, "Je suis fort, je peux le faire (I am strong, I can do it)". They liked that and told me to continue.
I didn't have time for a proper meal but downed a large coffee avec beaucoup biquits. I left with a group from Tennessee but their pace was too fast for me. The riders included Jeff Sammons, Peter Lee and Jeff Bauer and Mary Crawley on tandem. I was following a rider who obviously fell asleep at the wheel. He crashed softly into the grass and I helped him up and back onto his bike. He appeared okay but I had lost contact with the Tennessee train.
I was in a parade of zombies. Some were weaving, some were singing and others were just pulling over to sleep in the grass and ditches. I was among so many riders that I now had hope of actually finishing the ride within the specified 90 hours. The hammering between Dingé and Villaines had really taken its toll on me. I was now crawling, but so was everyone else.
After endless hills we summitted Mortagne. I checked in at 6:53 a.m. and was within the closing time. I grabbed a quick bite to eat and rolled out. The section to Dreux was much easier but I was spent. I once again met up with Jeff Sammons and he pulled me along. I also had a nice conversation with Paul Johnson of SIR, aka Dr. Codfish. He has a wonderful perspective on randonneuring and PBP in particular.
We had passed another SIR rider along the route. Paul told me that it was Jeff Tilden and that he had the terrible misfortune of not finishing PBP 2003 and had now broken a crank arm with less than a century to ride. I was later humbled to find out that his brother Brad had sacrificed his own crank arm so that Jeff could complete the ride, which he did. These stories are truly unbelievable.
I was dazed and confused by the time that I reached Dreux. On the left is the picture that confirms my condition. It was snapped by Gregg Bleakney of the SIR club. He was not riding but was simply at PBP for photo documentation. He is a spectacular photographer and I have admired his photographs on the Internet documenting his various world expeditions. The stories associated with this ride prove just how special that it is. People just want to be a part of this wonderful event.
At Dreux I had an entertaining chat with Jack Holmgren from San Francisco. He really is hilarious and I look forward to reading his ride reports in the future. Jack's lively conversation combined with the revitalizing accordion music to eventually bring me back to life. I forced down my final Jambon Baguette.
I set out for the final push home. I was no longer attempting to calculate the finishing contrôle time. I was trying to enjoy the ride. I stopped at a most wondrous patisserie and had two of the best pastries that I will ever consume. One had a pear in the center with a sugar glazing. It was a work of art and tasted like Heaven on Earth. I proceeded on through the numerous lights and turns and rode the final stretch with another SIR rider, Thai Nguyen. I kept telling him that I thought this was our final turn but after misinformation followed by more misinformation he finally quit listening to me. Everyone knew that my brain had shut down somewhere between Villanes and Mortagne. I am slowly regaining higher cognitive function.
As I finished I video-captured the cheering crowd before dropping my camera. I heard Mark Thomas yell that I should have stopped for a coffee and to try more cranberry juice for my next ride. I was a minor celebrity in line for my final stamp as news about the kidney calcule veloist began to spread. I had some wonderful heartfelt congratulations at the finish particularly from Branson Kimball, Wes Johnson, Paul Pavlides, Lois Springsteen and Don Hamilton.
So how many of you had a top speed of 160 km/hr? Who has received narcotics during PBP twice? (In 2003 I required a dose of Chloryl Hydrate to cease a nasty bout of diarrhea.) Was anyone else stripped naked by four French women? It doesn't matter. This is just my story. There are 5,312 other great stories. I can't wait to read them all. I guess the saying goes that the third time is the charm. I wonder what PBP 2011 has in store for all of us.