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Stage 13: Loudeac to Quedillac (839 km complete)

Onward I went, to distances no rebeccmeister had ever traveled before. To be honest, I don't remember much from this leg of the trip, and from this stage forward the order of events gets hazy due to the sleep deprivation, general exhaustion, and discomfort. The controls are also generally more frequent from Loudeac on back to account for this.

I reached Quedillac while it was still dark, and I think I looked around this optional service stop and decided I didn't need much (a trip to the bathroom, perhaps?). Maybe a plate of pasta. There were riders sacked out all over the place, including sleeping in chairs around a firepit outside. Now is as good a time as any to mention something else that I'll discuss more in a separate post, one of the major aches and pains that cropped up: saddle sores. In my case, I developed pressure point sore spots under each sit bone. Regular treatment with Lantiseptic seemed to help keep things at bay, but the sore spots made it hard to sit correctly on the saddle. One of the things I really like about my bike saddle, however, is that it's possible for me to sit in several different postures on the thing. To relieve my poor sit bones, I spent a considerable amount of time doing what I call "riding pretty" - scooted forward on the saddle, which forces me to sit even more upright. It's not especially ergonomically efficient, and after long periods it's hard on my back, but it allows me to keep moving. I also scoot back and rest my weight on my thighs when coasting down big hills.

Stage 14: Quedillac to Tinteniac (865 km complete)
There are so many different beautiful aspects to the French countryside. As the sun came up, we passed through an area where the houses were just sublime. I particularly liked these two:

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris
Even my camera was getting sleep-deprived and blurry-eyed.

One interesting thing is that we passed by no small number of new houses, constructed to match the general aesthetic of the traditional French countryside homes. They look so snug and inviting that I can understand why some Americans try to emulate this look, with varying levels of success.

A fellow cyclist and I also marveled at the wide range of colors of hydrangeas:

Colorful hydrangeas

I guess there's enough variation in the soil chemistry to turn these from a somewhat dull "grandma" flower into a colorful mix.

The two times of day when I start to feel the most sleep-deprived are sometime around midnight, and sometime right after the sun comes up. When I reached Tinteniac, I decided it was time for another nap. I went through the food line upstairs and ate while chatting with a couple of Americans, then found an empty spot on an ultra-thin yoga mat downstairs and rested for 45 minutes. Do these naps count as sleep? I'm not so sure. They were helpful, but not exactly high quality rest.

Stage 15: Tinteniac to Fougeres (919 km complete)
Again, thanks to sleep deprivation I don't remember much. When I reached Fougeres, I hit another point where I couldn't stand to wait in yet another long food line. Instead I rested in the grass for a few minutes, changed from one set of cycling clothes to the other set (dirty, but at least a little more aired-out), and filled my bottles. Just as I was getting ready to shove on, a woman came up to me. She had helped translate for me at the bike mechanic in Loudeac! She was so happy to see that I was continuing on and doing great with the replacement drivetrain. I hope she conveyed the message back to that mechanic. With that, I departed the control. Fougeres is a large enough town that I figured I'd be able to find something to eat, and I was not disappointed. Not too far down the road, I spied a corner bar with a sign out about food. I propped up my bike and went inside.

I was starting to notice that something was going on with my mouth by this point, but hadn't figured out just what. It just felt kind of like my body had stopped producing effective saliva, and my mouth was dry and a bit tender. Does this happen often to people who are trying to complete ultra-distance events? I don't know, but what I do know was that I craved a certain mixture of starch and electrolytes, aka French fries. The food at the controls had been slightly *too* bland in this department. This bar delivered, and quickly. Much faster than the control food line, and I could wait while sitting down. They also assembled a baguette cheese sandwich for me that consisted of baguette, butter, and Camembert cheese. I cannot tell you exactly how much butter I ate during PBP, but I did start to wonder if I was going to eventually sweat butter.

I sat at a table with a cranky older Englishman who was highly dissatisfied with how the PBP organizers were running the controls. It turned out he is involved in organizing another grand randonnee in England, the London-Edinburgh-London (1400 km), and they take a more heavy-handed top-down approach to managing the controls. I'd have to try that ride out before deciding what works best for me. To some extent I appreciate the random interactions with townspeople outside of the controls, but I could also see benefits to efficient controls.

Stage 16: Fougeres to Villaines-La-Juhel (1008 km complete)
More beautiful French countryside. I found this region interesting in terms of the transitions between fields and forests, which were abrupt, as shown here:

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

I also paused for yet another nap, after spending some time riding at a brisk pace with another chatty Brit. This one was briefly interrupted by a couple of ants:

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

It pleased me that the ants of Europe came and found me so I didn't have to go out looking for them. These foragers had a pale iridescent sheen that was very pretty. Just as my nap wrapped up, the fast-moving, chatty Brit sped past and tossed me a chocolate donut he'd acquired from a roadside stand. Score! I need to write a thing or two about speed and ride companionship in an epilogue.

I reached Villaines-La-Juhel in the early evening. I had been hoping to get in yet another nap on the grass there, but when I arrived the control was an absolute zoo.

The bicycles of Paris-Brest-Paris

There were so many spectators. Villaines had turned the brevet into a festival. Some of the other randonneurs have commented that it felt almost like a stage from a pro race, and if that's the case, no thank you. In addition to the onlookers watching me pull stuff off my bike to go into the control, there was a booming voice on a loudspeaker, making announcements. If I had attempted to nap I would not have gotten quality sleep. I took it all as a sign to take care of business and carry on. Countryside naps for the win.

Instead, once again I found a pub somewhere further down the road and stepped inside, joining an Indian rider for a plate of French fries with two fried eggs (imitating his vegetarian order for the sake of speed). He was a chatty fellow and rode heavily bundled up, in four layers of clothing, because the weather felt so cold to him. It felt perfect to me. At this point, however, my shoulders and back were aching from riding with "sitting pretty" posture for so long, and I wasn't especially interested in slow-rolling conversation, so I mumbled something about falling back to pee and take a nap and took my leave.

I wanted some good grass for the nap, but good grass seemed to be lacking along the sides of the road in that stretch. When we came to a roundabout, I realized that the grass in the roundabout was perfectly trimmed and thought, okay, that'll do.

Once again, it wasn't so much sleep as simply a chance to rest. There was a donkey in a pasture nearby, and I don't know if it was my flamboyant napping location or some other factor that caused other riders to pause there, but pause they did. This set off the watchdog donkey a-braying, plus I kept hearing laughter as cyclists approached and passed through the roundabout. Regardless, my aching shoulder muscles were grateful for the break and I felt as though I could carry on for a while longer yet. Up and down across the gently undulating terrain, as day crossed over to night once again.

Stage 17: Villaines to Mortagne-au-Perche (1089 km complete)
By the time I reached Mortagne-au-Perche, close to midnight Wednesday night, it was starting to feel like the finish line in Paris was in sight. Still, those last hundred miles or so weren't going to do themselves. I was still having problems generating saliva to chew on buttery, cheese-stuffed baguettes, which posed a dilemma at the control: what to try and eat? I was reaching a point where I was growing sick of croissants and baguettes, and didn't relish the thought of even more baguette crumbs glued to the roof of my mouth. Swigs of water seemed to help dissolve the crumbs and get those calories into my stomach, but this seemed like an inefficient feeding method. I started to actually wish for some energy bars.

Fortunately, they had fruit, pistachio custard, and yogurt for sale at the control. Boy did that custard hit the spot.

Mortagne was busy when I arrived, swarming with cyclists. Well after PBP's conclusion I would figure out that I remained in the middle of the peak crowd of cyclists at controls, so it was no wonder the lines were terrible. I was ready for another catnap, but where to sleep? Eventually I decided that a spot in front of a historic poster looked sufficiently clear of traffic, so without further ado I plopped down, covering my face with my polka-dotted bandana. It amused me greatly to discover that I was surrounded by other sleepers by the time I got up, ten minutes later. The inverse of the outbound Loudeac nap. I had become a nap magnet.

I also bumped into an old randonneuring friend at the control, RoadPixie. I'd encountered her along with another rider during the first night, and had been so cheered to see a familiar face, especially because I've learned many things from RP and she is one of the few female cyclists who participates in the Arizona brevets. However, later in the ride I ran into RP's companion, sans RP, and learned that RP had dnf'd at Loudeac. So how was she here at the control in Mortagne? I got more of the story from RP directly: a combination of a colitis flare-up and a severe asthma attack had taken her out at Loudeac. But at that point, how else was she going to get back to Paris? I didn't have time to mention the train option, and figured that maybe it's better not to know about it, as she seemed to be in pretty good spirits in Mortagne and satisfied to be riding back in. Then another rider interrupted us to ask for some ibuprofen and I wound up wandering off to finish taking care of my own business.

Stage 18: Mortagne-au-Perche to Dreux (1166 km complete)
This was the last segment that I rode at Dark O'Thirty. I think I took a nap in someone's driveway in some small town along this portion, with light sprinkles of rain gently landing on my face. I also spent time in the company of a hodepodge group of 5-6 English-speaking cyclists, but otherwise this section simply felt like deep, dark night. I pedaled onward. I also paused at a wonderful roadside stand that served up strong coffee, cake, and chairs in which to rest while enjoying said goods. The homeowner handed me his card and I'll have to send along a thank-you note. He was tickled by "le petit canard."

By the time I reached Dreux, I was starting to feel like I was running out of gas in a bad way. With baguettes out of the equation, it was becoming difficult to get in enough calories, and I was hitting that point where I was getting tired of eating. In the grand scheme of things I managed to cover a tremendous amount of distance before reaching this stage, so I can't complain.

When I walked into the control, I was hit by a wave of smell that caused my stomach to do a few bellyflops, something that's unusual for my iron stomach. On top of that, once again, the food line was miles long. I would have forced myself to buy at least a pastry, because they had Paris-Brest pastries for sale, but the line for the cashier was just too long.

Controle at Dreux

Instead, I ate a yogurt that I had stuck in a bike jersey pocket in Mortagne, and lay down on the pavement next to my bike for yes, yet another ten-minute catnap.

I got up when more light sprinkles of rain started hitting my face. While I finished getting Froinlavin repacked to continue riding, the light sprinkles started turning into full-blown rain. Perhaps the rain is cause for complaint, but really it just made me grateful that I'd made it this far into the ride before experiencing any kind of real weather. Plus, now I was justified in carrying along and installing fenders. Rain with 40 miles to go is a completely different story from rain during the first 40 miles. The end is in sight.

Stage 18: Dreux to Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines (1230 km)
My odometer records distances in miles, but I had written down the distance between controls in kilometers on a set of index cards. My hazy math abilities suggested to me that there were only around 40 miles from Dreux to the finish in SQY. However, I remembered one other thing with some trepidation: on our way out from SQY, we had all gone screaming down some really big, steep hills. It was not going to be smooth coasting into the finish line.

On top of that, something else was happening: a brand new kind of knee pain in my right knee, argh. It was probably due to all the time spent "riding pretty" - pain centered over the anterior part of the fibula (aka below the kneecap) because I was applying force to the pedals in an unusual position. Now no matter what I did I was going to have to deal with something painful, whether it was sitting on my painfully sore butt, forcing tired and aching back muscles to hold me up, or making this creaky knee worse.

Still, on some level this is standard fare for a long brevet. Sometimes conversation is helpful for taking one's mind off of things. For a little while, I trudged along with a couple of other Americans who were also slowly limping towards the finish. Then they wanted to stop at a bakery while the rain poured down. I tried stopping with them, but something in my brain snapped and I just couldn't hold still. I couldn't stand in the bakery (literally; my body wanted to sit in a squatting position) or look at all the baked goods I didn't feel like eating. Every moment standing there was a moment during which I lost body heat. I apologized to them and shoved on.

Somewhere in the forest outside of Ramboulliet, I bumped into RP and L again, but as I kept riding I lost them in the hills. I had to keep riding my own ride. At some other point along this segment, I finally encountered a large peleton of riders smoothly gliding over the terrain, and finally I was able to glom onto the group for a couple of miles and let the group just carry me along. Where was this group for the preceding 1200 km, anyway?? I could have used some help through some of the other terrain. Unfortunately we wound up reaching one of the massive remaining climbs and at that point I wasn't able to hold on any longer. Still, they'd carried me forward for a few more miles.

Part of the reason I fell off was I was running completely out of juice. I didn't have much of anything I could eat left in my food bag and I was starting to get desperate. I got so desperate, in fact, that I ate two emergency gel packets that have been traveling in my food bag for years.

They were disgusting, but they worked.

The rain had mostly let up by the time I rolled in to the final control at the velodrome in SQY. I will admit I had to choke back some sobs as I crossed the finish line and wheeled my bike over to the racks. I can't fully describe how it felt to finally complete PBP four years after that first attempt. But there I was, feeling all the feels.

Finish area parking


Up next, the epilogue, plus several posts on specific themes (naps, logistics, aches and pains).


( 9 remarks — Remark )
Sep. 7th, 2015 06:07 pm (UTC)
Gestion de l'energie
Maybe they should change the name of PBP to "energy management" to use your term:)! Jim Duncan
Sep. 7th, 2015 10:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Gestion de l'energie
Haha, only slightly less majestic, n'est-ce pas?
Sep. 7th, 2015 07:41 pm (UTC)
All I can say again is "congratulations"!!! It was thrilling to read this final chapter of the ride, I was cheering you along all over again. :)

What a lot of challenges there were along his ride, and it sounds like you handled them with your usual aplomb.
Sep. 7th, 2015 10:39 pm (UTC)
Although there were certainly some challenges, the whole experience was still a far cry from the 2011 attempt. For that, I am INCREDIBLY GRATEFUL. And thank you, once again, for your cheerleading!
Sep. 7th, 2015 08:47 pm (UTC)
Holy cow. This entry... it had me worn out with you.
I am really so proud of you for doing this. I am in awe.
Sep. 7th, 2015 10:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Again, it was so PERFECT to get to go out and visit with you and family right afterwords!

Oh man, the naps. The thing that still amazes me is that although I was tired, I wasn't suffering from the sleep deprivation to the degree that I thought I would. I've had 600k's where I've felt worse!

I think I could handle more croissant eating now. But it was funny how much of a relief it was to eat sandwiches in the UK (ohh, and pasties) after all the croissants and baguettes.
Sep. 9th, 2015 06:20 am (UTC)
Rode your own ride. Good job, you. :-)

Sep. 11th, 2015 09:08 am (UTC)
I did start to wonder if I was going to eventually sweat butter.

Most evocative sentence of this writeup!

Instead, I ate a yogurt that I had stuck in a bike jersey pocket in Mortagne

Runner-up! [giggling] Was it still... yogurt? That doesn't sound particularly appetizing, but I sympathetically remember eating a five years expired Luna bar boiled in hot water and turned into soup because it was too hard to eat, and that was the BEST FOOD EVER... so I understand how things get when you're tired and need calories, heh.
Sep. 12th, 2015 04:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the yogurt was still in perfectly good shape, just not especially cold. Microbes for the win!

I ate so much plain pasta with cheese sprinkled on it. It did the job and was generally easy to eat. Still, I wish I'd stopped at a few more interesting cafes and bars.
( 9 remarks — Remark )

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