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Last time around, my knee was starting to seriously bother me by the time we reached Brest, so I went and spoke to a medic who refused to give me any ibuprofen because "I am not a doctor and so I cannot, and besides it will only make you hurt yourself worse." With that, I joined S on a gym mat for an exhausted nap. When I woke up, a television camera was trained on him, recording every poof of air coming from his lips. I suspect he was targeted because there weren't many other nappers at that time and he was sporting a cute black tutu. My overall feeling about Brest was, "Ehh, Brest is not so nice of a place anyway. Let's go back to Paris instead."

I felt similarly this time around. I believe that, in addition to switching the route into and out of Brest, the organizers also changed venues, although this time around the venue seemed just as strangely confusing. After parking my bike I descended a staircase to find a restroom featuring squat toilets, which made for some interesting stretching and propping, given my tired legs. I was still concerned about low supplies in my food bag, so once I'd taken care of business I set out to look for the food line for lunch.

One glance at the line of hungry cyclists was enough to convince me that I shouldn't waste any more time in stupid food lines. Instead I took another catnap in the grass and got back on my bike with the intent of finding some little bar or cafe just outside the control. I couldn't remember the precise location, but I remembered visiting somesuch place in 2011. To some extent I kind of appreciate the fact that the Brest control is less than comfortable and convenient because it encourages me to keep moving.

Unfortunately, nothing looked very familiar on the outbound route, so out of some desperation I stopped at the first thing I saw that looked even remotely food-related. It turned out to not be a creperie, arg, but instead a crepe factory with a modest storefront. Casting about, I eventually decided I would just buy a package of crepes and some jam and assemble some snack crepes. Just as I was about to pull out my wallet at the register, I noticed a basket right next to it that contained individually packaged rolled-up crepes spread with chocolate-hazelnut spread. I tried to make apologetic faces at the clerk while I hurriedly put the other items back and stacked up a pile of 6 or so snack crepes. I guess that's how they do granola bars in France.

Trouble was, I wanted a meal, not a sweet snack. I got back on Froinlavin and kept pedaling. I passed by a Giant-brand bicycle shop, which the French had aptly named "Giant Brest." They did give us the Grand Tetons, after all. Another mile or so down the road, I spotted something more promising: a Domino's pizza place. Other randonneurs were just starting to swarm it. The young employees were utterly unprepared for the multilingual, multicultural onslaught, but I managed to order a medium pizza and eat half of it. The hot, salty cheese and tomato sauce were perfect and reminded me of the Casey's pizza on brevets in Nebraska. Once it was adequately cool, I folded up the other half of the pizza and stuck it in my food bag. NOW I had adequate calories.

Stage 10: Brest to Carhaix-Plouger (698 km)
I continued to make a series of small stops.

First, another visit to that mighty fine bakery in Sizun. I bought up the last three slices of rhubarb galette. Other cyclists had cleaned out just about everything else. One slice went down the hatch while I sat on a park bench in front of the church, and the other two joined the pizza in the food bag. Supplies replenished.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

For another thing, I kept having to pee. This brings me to a point of commentary. A male randonneur brightly remarked at one point about how nice it was to be able to just pull over to the side of the road and pee right into the ditch (is PBP simply a ploy by the French government to increase nitrogen fertilizer inputs? The jury is out). Good for you and 95% of the other cyclists, sir. For me, the frequent need to pee was more challenging since for some reason it felt important to avoid offending anyone by sticking my bare ass out in public. To enjoy the nice bit of peenery ("peeing-scenery") below, for instance, I had to find a spot to lay down Froinlavin and then hike a good ways down someone's driveway, hoping I didn't have any accidental encounters with the driveway owners while attending to business.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

The view was lovely, but it cost mental energy and every little bit of time spent hunting for a quiet spot to pee started adding up, especially the numerous false attempts. Somewhat later, I figured out that my body's micturitic enthusiasm was due to my period showing up, oh joy. Thank goodness for emergency tampons. In the bathrooms at the controls, several fellow female cyclists and I commiserated over having to wait in line for a toilet only to see a MAN emerge from a women's restroom. While to some extent I can understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, this enraged me in my own exhausted and sometimes desperate state. Women are more prone than men to contract urinary tract infections, and have to deal with menstruation as well, making hygiene a big issue for extended events like PBP. Globally, it's a subject that's taboo and generally isn't talked about or dealt with, but it's a huge factor in determining quality of life for women. We don't just want clean facilities for some egregious level of comfort and convenience; they make a tremendous difference.

For the sake of other women seeking to ride in PBP in the future, I will point out that a large number of the small towns along the route have public restrooms somewhere near the center of town. Look for them - they aren't always obvious. A couple of the small towns very helpfully pointed out the location of these restrooms. They aren't fancy but they generally at least have clean running water. Bars and tobacconists are also often accommodating.

Part of my agenda in returning to ride PBP was that I wanted to be part of the small group of ~300 women who rode, comprising less than five percent of the total riders. I'm still mulling over how I feel about the process of increasing and improving women's participation in randonneuring, BUT the one thing I know with certainty is that I greatly enjoy going on bike rides with other women in a way that I don't experience under typical male-dominated conditions. I feel similarly about rowing, where the gender balance is much better. What would it look like if PBP consisted of an even gender balance? I have a hard time even imagining it. For an event like PBP, that would signify a vast change in the global status of women, and women's participation in sports. I suspect it would be comparable to realizing changes in workplace equality and humanity's approach to work. In the very least, in 2011, if I'm reading things correctly, Randonneurs USA was given an award for having the largest number of women. And I have this sense that, if women took over PBP, we would start seeing just as many roadside signs pointing out clean bathroom facilities as we see roadside stands offering up water and refreshments. Just imagine that.

But back to other aspects of the bike ride.

Continuing on, I started to hit another low point. One of the things that I have learned from randonneuring, however, is that if one keeps on, most low points will eventually pass. This particular low point seemed to call for a nap, though, so I started keeping an eye out for somewhere shady with some soft grass. No more desperate concrete catnaps.

I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but eventually found something that was close enough: a flat section right next to the road that had been mowed not too long ago, with the requisite shade. I wanted a real snooze, so I set an alarm for an hour and laid out my survival tarp. An advantage to daytime sleep, I figured, was that it would be warm enough to sleep comfortably. Once again I dozed off to the sound of passing bicycles, occasional laughter, and those who paused to snap a photo.

Proper sleep would not come. A half hour later, I was up again and resigned myself to continuing to pedal. If I wasn't sleeping at least I could make some slow forward progress. For some reason, it started to become a real struggle to turn over the pedals and get my speed over 10 mph. Why did it feel like I was pedaling through molasses? What a struggle. Eventually I became aware that everyone else around me seemed to be experiencing the same struggle and slow crawl. Then I noticed that riders traveling in the opposite direction towards Brest seemed to be doing an unusual amount of coasting.

Oh. We were going uphill. I really couldn't tell from the surrounding terrain at that point, but it turned out we were going up THE hill, in fact. Before I even knew it, I spied a familiar sight:

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

That, my friends, is the TV tower at the top of the mountain. I could hardly believe it.

And this is the point where I knew, deep down, that this time I would finish the Paris-Brest-Paris.

What a feeling. And what amazing, beautiful, perfect weather. The clouds had cleared completely and once again it felt like we were at the top of the world. We could see gorgeous French countryside in every direction. I really can't capture the experience in photos, just as it's impossible to bottle and sell the experience of reaching a mountain summit. As another passing rider remarked, "The French all like to say, God was a Frenchman."

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris


( 14 remarks — Remark )
Sep. 3rd, 2015 04:21 pm (UTC)
OH GOD THE STRUGGLE TO PEE IN FRONT OF PEOPLE OUTDOORS. I eventually bought one of these: http://www.thepstyle.com and I love it.
Sep. 4th, 2015 01:54 am (UTC)
If I were to carry along anything, I think it would be a skirt that would form a little pee-tent. There's a limit to how much bulk one can carry on the bike, and I still need to think some more about hygiene options.
Sep. 4th, 2015 02:34 am (UTC)
This sounds like a fantastic idea.
Sep. 3rd, 2015 05:06 pm (UTC)

It’s been so enjoyable to read your posts on the PBP.

I hear you on the difficulties of finding the perfect pee spot - it’s probably the one area in which I’m envious of male anatomy. My mother also swears by the little pee devices, especially for hiking, but also for long rowing trips, I believe. The mechanics of tight spandex might make it a little harder to position the apparatus, but perhaps one with an extended drainage tube might prove useful?

Sep. 4th, 2015 01:56 am (UTC)
I don't have too much of a problem with popping a squat to pee while out on rides...it's more a matter of privacy and hygiene...I am thinking a skirt might do the trick, but even that adds one more fiddly apparatus to deal with.
Sep. 3rd, 2015 05:26 pm (UTC)
; !
wow! so that's what it's like traveling abroad by bike..
Sep. 3rd, 2015 08:25 pm (UTC)
Magical galettes!
Sep. 4th, 2015 01:52 am (UTC)
Oh god yes.

This was an inch-thick base of crust with a scattering of glazed rhubarb pieces over the top. The crust had that coarse, crumbly consistency that was almost like a cookie made with almond flour and of course plenty of butter.

I think I need to figure out how to make a version of this. Quick searches aren't turning up much that's promising yet.
Sep. 4th, 2015 01:45 am (UTC)
We must inform neslihan of the squat toilets in France! She will cry! :)

Periods are the worst.
Sep. 4th, 2015 05:04 am (UTC)
This sounds like a story!

Periods are a drag. I was just relieved that I was carrying an adequate quantity of tampons, really. And I was also relieved after the stage involving excessive peeing came to an end. Bodies are weird and gross sometimes.
Sep. 4th, 2015 02:36 am (UTC)
I was laughing out loud at parts of this.
Someone needs to start paying you to write ultradistance articles.
Sep. 4th, 2015 05:05 am (UTC)
Heh, there's really just not enough money in the sport. However! There is a quarterly Randonneurs USA magazine, and once I finally finish writing out all of my stories I am thinking about writing and submitting an article to them...most likely about my Naps of PBP.
Sep. 4th, 2015 05:14 am (UTC)
I was thinking more like Outside Magazine. Ultradistance is all the rage right now.
Sep. 4th, 2015 05:51 am (UTC)
Thrift shop skirts - particularly the shorter styles - are all the rage amongst the Durango female riders... Particularly for the pee tent reason. I highly recommend them.

Also: the moment when you saw the tower, and knew you would finish... Gave me goosebumps.

( 14 remarks — Remark )

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