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Stage 11: Carhaix-Plouger to St. Nicolas-du-Pelem

For some reason, I want Carhaix to be the spot with the castle, instead of Fougeres. And not just because of what it would signify for distance. On the return this time, I figured out why: the church spire towards the middle of town is especially majestic and tower-like (towards the center of this photo). I was glad to clear up that point of confusion.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

Upon reaching Carhaix and remembering the lousy food options, I pre-emptively stopped at a good-looking Boulangerie, and boy am I glad that I did. First, the pastries were gorgeous. That's a Spider-man cake on top.

Boulangerie in Carhaix

Boulangerie in Carhaix

Second, despite their speaking no English and my French limited to "oui," "croissant," and "baguette," I got them to understand that I was a vegetarian interested in something to eat. I'd spied some tasty-looking pizzas in one of the cases, but unfortunately they all contained meat. One of the two women, however, offered to fix me up with a baguette sandwich. It took me a good two minutes to understand that they were asking me if I ate tuna (ach, no), but once we got past that point I conveyed my enthusiasm for adding an "oeuf," fromage, tomato, lettuce, and some mayonnaise (ha, French word!) to a baguette in lieu of butter. YUM.

Is this what Subway is trying to imitate?

I relished this sandwich while sitting in the grass at the Carhaix control. I think this is the kind of sandwich that Subway is trying to emulate. The real thing is so much more delicious. But I couldn't linger for too long at the control, for one main reason: the hills between St. Nicolas and Loudeac were ahead. Based on how terrifying it was to hurtle down those hills in the dark on the outbound leg, I wanted to reach that stretch during whatever daylight remained.

Stage 12: Saint Nicolas-du-Pelem to Loudeac
I'm going to carry on with my assertion that St. Nicolas is the place to stop for a cafe-au-lait. It no place to linger, though, either. I can't remember if I got fixed up with another sandwich here or not, or if that happened on the outbound leg. Regardless, onward.

I managed to reach the big hills before dark, to my relief. Let's get these over with. Photographs always flatten things out, but to give you some idea of the terrain, look at the cows standing on the cliffside in the distance. (also look at that great hedgerow)

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

It turned out that this quite hilly region is quite beautiful, too! This was my first time seeing it during daylight hours.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

Even more incentive to ride through here with some daylight.

In 2011, the topical ibuprofen from Carhaix had worn off by the time I reached Saint Nicolas, so it was time to try something else, anything else. I was beyond desperate. The mechanic's stand at Saint Nicolas had one thing I'd been looking for, though: platform pedals. Switching from SPD's to those allowed me to move my feet around into different positions on the pedals, providing just a little more relief. I needed whatever ammunition I could muster to tackle those Loudeac hills.

Unfortunately, the weather conditions at that stage in 2011 were against me. At a certain temperature and humidity, the brifters (integrated brake-shifters) on the Trek start to gum up and refuse to shift. Well, wouldn't you know it, just as we hit the point where I NEEDED to shift, my shifters stopped responding. On top of that, I'd been developing handlebar palsy, which only makes the effort involved in shifting worse. S was incredibly patient while I suffered through that section, having to stop repeatedly midway up a hill, with no idea of how far up we'd gotten or how many more hills were ahead, so I could breathe and summon the energy to carry on. It was a low, low moment.

This year, the contrast with PBP 2011 was literally night-and-day. Froinlavin's bar-end shifters are perfect. I did notice that I was starting to get tired of having to shift gears all the time, but I would chalk that up to the fact that the Paris-Brest-Paris is a hilly ride. Eventually, though, I had some more serious shifting trouble of a different nature: chainsuck.

I was about halfway up a steep hill when it happened. I'd been experiencing problems with my chain dropping prior to that point (always the little ring in front, big cog in back), but had managed to get things unstuck pretty easily and had figured out a general workaround (shift to granny gear BEFORE shifting to big cog in the rear, ease up considerably when shifting). This time, though, things were thoroughly stuck. After blackening my hands during initial attempts to free the chain, I cast around trying to think of what sort of rag I might have with me that I could use to really grasp hold of the thing.

Aha. The Jolly Roger flag. It's already black. Now I was glad I still had the thing with me. Time to put it to work.

But even the Jolly Roger flag was insufficient. Eventually my predicament attracted the attention of a rider from the Bristol Cycling Club. I'd been playing leapfrog with their group for several hundred miles and they'd already provided a sense that they were considerate riders watching out for others - guardian angels of the ride. This only confirmed that sense. We got the bike flipped over, and made some progress on the project to the point where the chain would move again but was still trapped between the frame and the granny gear. What now? There was some discussion of chain tools and breaking the chain before I finally had the presence of mind to remember that this was a quick-link chain, duh. Problem solved, just as we attracted a second helper. Seeing that things were basically under control, the second helper generously shared some wet wipes with me, and he and the Bristol cyclist carried on. Daylight was still a-burnin'.

The chain back on, I wiped up my hands as best I could (read: smeared around the grease) and continued. I took this experience as a clear sign that it was time to do something about my worn-out chain and cassette. I mean, before the ride even started I knew it was foolish to start a long ride with this level of drivetrain wear-and-tear. I just hadn't had the time or wherewithal to deal with it (mostly because I hate having to think about component brand names).

I carried on as night fell, but experienced one other advantage as compared to the outbound trip. I'd been trying to figure out how to mount my Fenix flashlight onto my helmet, with no success. Eventually I gave up and stuck it on the handlebars, and was SO glad I did. Even though the Edelux light is bright and gets brighter on the descents, the Fenix still augmented it with an added ring of light. I took to using it strategically - turning it on if I started feeling a little sleepy or twisting it a little to light up and check for the route arrows.

When I finally pulled in to the control at Loudeac just after 11 pm, I headed straight for the mechanic's stand. One of the funny things about my ignorance of French is that I have no idea of how to say, "I'm sorry." All that I could convey to the French mechanic was that my chain and rear cassette were "tres fatigue." When he took a quick look, he insisted that, along with replacing them, he would only do it if he could also replace my chainrings. Okay, sir, I'll agree with you, absolutely. This is a relatively cheap and expected maintenance expense and I am completely willing to pay what it takes. There's no reason for me to grouse at a mechanic for doing entirely reasonable work in the middle of the night, and he's correct that a fresh cassette and chain won't help much if the chainrings are that worn out. Then he looked slightly more closely, and revised his opinion: only the middle chainring was seriously in need of replacement. Carry on, good sir.

While he and his team got to work (he had to send someone somewhere for a cassette and chainring), I bopped over to the showers. After 800 miles, bathing had become higher in priority than sleep. I smelled like a latrine, to put it charitably. While the showering facilities were basic, they felt heavenly. For most of the time, I had the set of four women's stalls to myself. I toweled off with the stack of paper towels they'd handed me (I can understand why the paper towels, when they're dealing with 6000 disgusting cyclists). Then I changed into my wool long underwear and marched back over to the mechanic. He was in the middle of swapping out my chainring, so I communicated that I was going to go and get some sleep and he would have two more hours if he needed them.

Then, back to the gymnasium to sleep. I burned another 15 minutes of sleep time while waiting in line for a bed, but it was worth it for two reasons. First, the sights and sounds of a cavernous, dimly-lit gymnasium full of snoozing and snoring randonneurs was a beautiful and adorable thing. It would not have photographed well. And second, that cot was a hundred times more comfortable than any hard floor would have been.

The sleep space is as well organized as such a thing could be, considering the language barriers and hordes of cyclists. You tell the volunteers, in 15-minute increments, when you want to be woken up, and they come around and MAKE SURE you are up at that time. I gave the volunteers a couple of duck stickers because while I waited I watched them ever so patiently deal with crazy, tired, cranky, special-needs randonneurs.

Sleeping facilities in Loudeac

I woke up, shivering with cold, an hour and 45 minutes later, just when I had wanted to get up. As I gathered up my things, a woman came around to check on me and was satisfied to see that I was awake. I changed back into my stinky cycling kit and headed over to the mechanic's stand. There stood Froinlavin, ready to go. I did my best to profusely thank the mechanic, administered more duck stickers, and paid up (aside: can you just imagine what it would be like to be a mechanic at PBP? This dude was hard at work on my bike between midnight and 2 am!). Time to roll again.


( 3 remarks — Remark )
Sep. 5th, 2015 09:51 pm (UTC)
After having read this, I think I'd prefer being a midnight mechanic to riding.
I'd like to do both, of course.
Sep. 5th, 2015 10:32 pm (UTC)
The mechanics, but also all the other volunteers for PBP, are real heroes! The folks at the control in Loudeac especially - they see a tremendous volume of traffic and manage it very well, all things considered.
Sep. 5th, 2015 10:41 pm (UTC)
There's an enormous amount of work to be done for supporting something like this. It's neat that so many people are happy to do so. (I would: I've done similar stuff in the past.)
( 3 remarks — Remark )

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