Unlike the riders crashed out in the cafeteria at Villaines, I simply paused to eat, visited the toilets, refilled my bottles, and shoved on. As an old book puts it: Evening passed and morning followed: The First Day. Now it was Monday. Despite riding through the night, I felt strong and awake the second morning, riding through scenic towns on the way to Fougeres. It was wonderful to revisit some of the beautiful spots I remembered vividly from 2011, such as this small river and town in a valley. In the early morning, I had started to see evidence of the French enthusiasm for cyclists in the form of all sorts of bicycle-themed displays, but this was the first point where it seemed worthwhile to pause and take a picture because day had broken.
The French are a large part of the reason to participate in this event. In addition to the countless people serving up water, snacks, and drinks by the side of the road, there are many who stay up late into the night and early into the morning to help ensure that tired riders don't miss critical turns. Even the French cyclists carry this attitude; at certain points I was cheered and encouraged by fellow riders passing me while exclaiming, "Bravo, madame! Bon courage!" Same to you, monsieur! What good cheer!
And then there were these guys, two Italians wearing historic clothing and riding period bicycles with old-fashioned lanterns for headlights. I hope they were able to keep their smiles all the way through.
At the control in Fougeres, I scarfed down the following items from the cafeteria, and then it was time for another project.
I can't remember if I've blogged much about this, but over the spring brevet series in Nebraska, I had an equipment problem crop up. My seatpost saddle bolt started to loosen up just a hair, causing my seat to tilt back too far. When I took things apart to investigate the issue, I eventually figured out that I could flip around one of the toothed bracket pieces and things seemed to hold together okay, so I have continued to use that seatpost. However, in the week prior to my departure for Europe, while commuting on Froinlavin, at one point I felt the unmistakable tiny clump of the saddle slipping down a notch again, angling the nose ever so slightly upward.
My desire to get good miles under my belt during the early stages of PBP overrode the need to do anything about this tiny maladjustment up until I reached Fougeres. At that point, growing discomfort in my lower back made me resolve to deal with the situation. The adjustment would have been trivial except that it also involved removing and re-installing my trunk bag, but after 5-10 minutes of fiddling, I got things better positioned and was ready to roll again.
As many cyclists will say, what a difference a degree will make! It turns out that it's still true. My lower back was instantaneously and miraculously happy again. In the long run I think my stubbornness contributed to the manifestation of other discomforts further down the road, but that's an aspect of myself I need to keep working on. Ounces of prevention and pounds of cure, and the like.
I had enough of my wits about me to remember that there's a castle in Fougeres! It is a little tricky to photograph from the route, but you can see a couple of the towers in this photo:
More importantly, in case you ever find yourself in Fougeres, it seems like a good idea to stop at the bar at the Fougeres castle, seen on the left side of the photo. Every good castle deserves a good castle bar.
Stage 4: Fougeres to Tinteniac (363 km)
I rode many sections of PBP alone, but in the company of ghosts, as memories of my 2011 attempt rose fresh to the surface. In 2011, by the time we reached Tinteniac, I was starting to feel the effects of riding straight through the first night and going up and down and up and down so many hills. At the controle, the man who stamped my brevet card asked me how I was doing, and I told him that I was very, very tired. In reply, he said, "When you are tired, just look out at the beautiful French countryside and you won't feel so tired anymore."
I listened and thought about his kind encouragement for the rest of the ride in 2011, and thought about his words many, many times on the road this year. If you were to ask me what would bring me back to PBP, the French countryside would be the number one answer.
This year, I simply paused for a baguette sandwich and a banana at Tinteniac, and pressed on.
Stage 5: Tinteniac to Quedillac (km 389)
I don't remember a whole lot from this part. Instead, here's a photo of a couple of the ElliptiGo riders. We leapfrogged quite a bit and rode together a bit, too. A couple of them used their reflective ducks to mark the travel arms of the ElliptiGos, so bicyclists wouldn't accidentally come up too close behind them at night. It's difficult for me to remember the names and faces of many of the other riders who rode alongside me and chatted for a bit. As another randonneusse commented, after a little while all of the middle-aged white guys start to blend together! Sorry, guys, but thank you for the company nonetheless.
Stage 6: Quedillac to Loudeac (km 448)
The ghosts surrounding Loudeac are strong. In 2011, on the outbound leg, S and I slept fitfully under a space blanket in a corner of the cafeteria, missing the worst of some thunderstorms. I was resolved to not sleep at Loudeac this time around because the conventional wisdom is that one can burn up too much time there waiting in very long lines for the showers, food, and sleeping cots. I did wait in the food line, and ate as much as I could of a huge plate of green beans (yum yum YUM), pasta with accidental meat sauce (ugh), and omelette (too intense for my stomach, ate most but not all). Then I set my phone's alarm for a 12-minute catnap in a small square of grass. Later on, another rider told me that when I lay down to sleep, there were a bunch of other riders sleeping in the same patch as well. When I got up, I was the only one left. I must have used an impressive repellent!
Stage 7: Loudeac to Saint Nicolas-du-Pelem (493 km)
Night fell. I also remember this section vividly from 2011. In 2011, the fog was pea-soup thick. S's fenders reached the point of irritability where we paused so he could rip them off, muttering curses. This time around, I didn't pause, but the section still felt treacherous. The hills are so steep and curvy that even with my much brighter generator light it was too terrifying to fly down them and reclaim as much energy as possible to climb back up.
I had been thinking I might try to sleep at Saint Nicolas, which turned out to be a "secret controle." However, when I pulled in, I could see a line sticking out of the sleeping accommodations, and I was starting to get tired of waiting in lines. I also didn't feel all that terribly exhausted, so instead I had a bowl of cafe-au-lait (in honor of my 2011 bowl there; the steam in my face felt amazing). I lay in the warm grass for another 12-minute catnap, then hopped back on my bicycle to forge onward to Carhaix.