Sunday, September 4, 2011

PBP event & Paris vacation pictures - Vol. One

Chris and I are notorious for taking our camera on vacation and then not taking any pictures.  We did take pictures while in France, but not as many as we should have. Here's the link to some of our better pictures.  Enjoy! 

We are connecting with some of our PBP friends who stayed with us at our hotel and they have some fabulous pictures that we will steal (I mean borrow) and share here on our blog.  We'll work on those next.

For every photo we took, we have a hundred technicolor memories.  PBP was, for us, a truly awesome experience. 

The feedback everyone has given us is tremendous.  To our family and friends, we thank you for all of your support during our PBP adventure 2011.  Who's with us for PBP 2015?!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Chris' Ride Report

Here's Chris' ride report.  We're working on our pictures (and stealing some from our PBP friends) and will provide a link to them this weekend.  Enjoy Chris' report!

A Paris-Brest-Paris Primer

So most of you know by now that the Paris-Brest-Paris ride (“PBP”) is a 1200 kilometer (760 mile) ride starting in a suburb just south of Paris, continuing to the coastal city of Brest and back to the start.  Each rider can choose from one of three starting groups, depending on one’s expected finish time: 80 (the fastest riders), 90 (the maximum), and 84 hours.

I chose the 84-hour group thinking that I should still be able to comfortably finish in the time allotted and also that the 5am starting time seemed more like all the other rides I had done in the past (as opposed to the 6-7pm start time for the 90 hour group).  I also thought that since the 84 hour group was much smaller than the 90 hour one, there would conceivably be smaller lines at the controls (mandated stops) for food, bathroom, etc.  

My Bike & Equipment

I rode on my custom Lynskey Cooper titanium bike.  It’s a pretty traditional sport-touring frame, but I ordered it with lengthened chainstays, both for a bit more comfort and stability, and also for the ability to run Continental 700x28 GP 4 Season tires with SKS fenders.  Components are Campagnolo Super Record, with a compact 50/34 crankset and a 12-29 cassette.  I won’t evangelize, but I love Campy, and the new 11 speed is a dream, and for a relentless spinner like me, the compact gearing is wonderful.   

My only Shimano concessions are brakes, which are long reach to accommodate fenders and wide tires, and SPD-SL pedals.  I used a Carradice Barley bag with a Bagman rack.  Saddle is a Brooks B-17, punched and laced for extra firmness and to accommodate my thighs.  Front wheel is a Schmidt hub laced to a DT Swiss hub, powering a Schmidt Edelux headlight.  Rear wheel is a bombproof Campagnolo Eurus.

It was difficult on Sunday night watching the other riders pack up and take off, while I returned to the hotel and tried to get some sleep for the 3:30am wake-up call.  Half of a benadryl and a glass of wine didn’t seem to help at all, and I tossed and turned until I woke just before the watch went off.

The Start (5 a.m. on Monday)

I took it as a good omen though that the hotel staff had set out breakfast early, so I was able to get some bread and cheese and coffee before setting out on the quick ride to the start.  I joined the mass of riders and quickly was funneled out to the starting line in the first wave of riders.  I recognized a good friend, Scott, just behind and tried to wait for him, but a French official quickly shooed me into the line, and we were off into the night.  

I usually feel pretty awful at the beginning of rides, so I wasn’t too fearful when the pack took off quickly and my legs felt like lead.  I figured I would just spin a bit and wait for Scott to catch up.  Soon I was riding by myself and peering through the intersections to see the signs marking the course. 

A Penalty (Not a Great Way to Start!)

At one roundabout I paused after a few particularly harsh cobblestones.  A rider behind me rattled off in French that my taillight was out.  I thanked him and switched on my backup one, but he continued his loud, staccato French and made cutting noises with his hands.  I realized that he was telling me that I had just had a time penalty imposed for riding without a taillight.  Now I would have to finish in 83 hours.  I took off in a rush of adrenaline.  

Part of me was embarrassed, part a little pissed that the guy sat there riding behind me, saw the bump and then pounced without a warning.  Luckily, another part of me realized that it probably wouldn’t make any difference, and I should just try to put it out of my head.   So, I pushed a little harder and started to warm up and feel a bit better.  Finally, I started seeing riders in front of me and that encouraged me.  Now things were feeling a bit more comfortable, and I settled into a nice pace as the dawn slowly started to peek over the horizon.

The First Few Control Stops – and the Rain

I continued on into the morning, knowing that this would be a longer stretch, but a little nervous at reaching the first control, having heard horror stories about huge lines for everything.  Also, it had begun to rain steadily.  Nevertheless, the optional first control was not crowded, and I was pleased to get in, fill my bottles, pee and get out in only 10 minutes. 

It was still raining, and I just wanted to put in as many miles in the daylight as I could.  Along the way I saw a recumbent tandem, where the riders sat back-to-back.  It was pretty disconcerting to come up to them, while the woman in the back just stared at me, facing backwards as she was.  Soon she began to whistle some sort of classical tune, staring at me the whole time.  For some reason it drove me crazy, and I finally sprinted ahead over the hill.  

By this time I reached the next control, and I was pleased to see a huge row of faucets for water and a long line of port-a-potties.  That elation soon was gone when I opened the first door – just a hole and a pair of footprints molded into the plastic.  Ugh.  A quick cup of coffee and a pastry, and I set off, feeling quick despite the rain.   The rollers through the countryside were never ending, and I reached the next control knowing that my long stretch of eating Clif bars was over.  Thankfully the cafeteria was not too crowded and had a nice selection of food.  I settled on a big bowl of rice and chicken.

As I left the control the clouds were massing again with loud rumbles of thunder.  It was dusk, and I was nervous about getting cold in the dark, as I had all of my clothes on: jersey, bibs, wool arm and knee warmers and waterproof jacket.  I knew if I could keep moving to the stop at Loudeac, where I could access my drop bag, I’d be OK if things got cooler, but I had to keep moving through the rain. For a brief moment I thought about stopping as the lightning flashed and the thunder boomed all around me.

Suddenly I saw a group of riders stopped in front of me at an intersection.  A French policeman was standing in front of a road closed sign, arms crossed shaking his head.  A couple of French riders were animatedly trying to get the guy to understand that we had to go on.  Finally, the policeman rapidfire described a detour, and we all took off, frantic to stay together.  The rain was coming down in sheets now, and we passed pig farm after pig farm, while I tried not to think of what was splashing up from all over the road onto my bottles.

Now we were back on course and came to a “secret” control, not on the schedule, but requiring a stop as well.  A bowl of warm, thick potage (split pea soup) was a godsend, and I quickly moved on.   

The fastest riders were beginning to come past in the other direction, already on the way back.  Somehow it was comforting in the dark, as I was beginning to get a bit drowsy, coming up on the 440km point and the control in Loudeac.  I promised myself a stop here, and I had a big plate of whipped potatoes and chicken.  Now another thunderstorm hit as I was curled on a bench under an awning and tried to nap, but the lights and noise were too much.   

The rain ended, and I thought if I’m not sleeping, and it’s not raining, I should just continue on.  There was another optional control only 25 miles on if I got tired.  So, I changed clothes and headed out into the 2am darkness, while the riders in front of me were reduced to pinpoints of red light in the distance.

The Dark, Dark Night (and Some Crazy French Riders)

Now the riding became surreal.  The remote roads we were on were absolutely dark.  It was impossible to tell if the road graded up or down, except that it suddenly became easier or harder to pedal.  The only sounds were the grind of pedals, the whirr of generators and an occasional rattle over the rough roads.   

Without a reference point it was difficult to even tell one’s speed.  Then, suddenly, I would enter a village filled with blinding lights and groups of people, clapping and yelling “Bon Courage”.  Then, just as suddenly, back into the still darkness.  This repeated over and over until the first pink tinges appeared at the horizon. 
While I was mostly riding on and off with individuals, I came onto a large group of French riders rolling along at a nice pace and joined them.  

 Within five minutes everything felt wrong.  All the rules I knew about riding with a group had no bearing here:  people were passing on the right and left.  Some were leading at the front, then just as quickly dropping back, and there seemed to be a leader of the group.  Whenever a rider came from the other direction, he would yell “Badabadabada.  A droit”, and everyone would shift to the right of the lane, then just as quickly resume their weird formation.   

I couldn’t take it, so I slowly dropped back, realizing that a British rider had also slipped in, then out, of the formation with me.  “What was that?” he asked me.  “I have no idea,” I replied, and we watched them carry on ahead of us.

Getting to Brest (the Half-Way Point)…

Another control and meal and I was back out on the stretch toward Brest.  Now we hit some long, foggy climbs with traffic whizzing by, and the road continued to roll all the way to the bridge to Brest, where I stopped to take a picture.

Getting to the control turned out to be a mess, as the traffic was fierce and the roads were rough winding through the city itself.  While we had had groups on the side of the road cheering us on for most of the last 36 hours, there were only speeding cars around us now.   

The control was cramped, and there were two bathroom stalls for the entire group of us – a line snaked out into the next room.  Thankfully they had placed gym mats on the floor of the makeshift cafeteria, after a bit of food, I laid down for a delicious half hour nap.

I woke up refreshed and ready to get out of Brest quickly and steeled myself to deal with the hills I knew were coming.  I resolved to just spin the hills, and try to go a bit faster on the flats, and this seemed to help, as I was feeling better.   

The dry conditions certainly helped as well.  A quick meal at the Carhaix control, and I was feeling a bit woozy, watching the newly massing clouds.  Crash!  A rider standing behind me fell, completely unconscious, onto a cart full of cafeteria trays.  Soon he was surrounded by volunteers.  Time to leave!

So I rolled on back to Loudeac, the drop bag, and another promised nap.  It was 10pm, and I was ready for a meal and a bit of sleep.  I went back for more mashed potatoes, and watched the Italians enjoying red wine with their dinner, the French white, the Germans and Austrians a beer, and thought, what the hell, I’m about to sleep, so I had a bottle of cold fermented cider (a specialty of the Brittany region).  It tasted wonderful, and after a quick shower, I managed to secure a cot in the sleeping area.   

I asked the volunteers to wake me at 3am, thinking I’d get 4 hours of sleep, but they understood it to mean wake me in 3 hours, so I slept like the dead and was awakened at 2am.  Ah, well, breakfast and I was off into the dark.   

It had always been explained to me to try to get sleep in one and one-half hour increments during these events, because that is one sleep cycle, and the body wakes up much more easily after a complete cycle than in the middle of one, so perhaps this was better anyway. 

I rolled on back into the surreal night.  Now I felt good.  The air was cool, but dry, caffeine was kicking in, and a steady stream of bobbing red pinpricks marked the way ahead.

Then things got weird...

Hallucination, Mind Games, & Saddle Sores

The lack of reference points meant that changes in the grade of the road were felt, rather than seen, almost like riding a roller coaster with eyes closed.  I started to feel the ups and downs in my stomach and inner ear.   
Then I saw what looked like a tandem ahead with the rear rider standing on his saddle staring at me, while the front rider pedaled on. As I got closer it turned out to be just a regular rider, pedaling normally.  Luckily, I think this was my only hallucination. 

Riders were passed out on the side of the road, cocooned in space blankets, looking like they had just tumbled out onto the shoulder, bike and all, and slept where they landed.  The geometric patterns of their reflectors both dazzled and captivated my sleep-deprived brain.

Thankfully, another secret control came up, and I took a welcome coffee break.  This turned everything around.  I managed to keep pedaling past dawn, through another control and I even allowed myself to think that I might actually finish this thing.  

The next control turned out to be one that seemed to take forever to navigate.  There were lines for everything, and by the time I had eaten I felt like I was moving through a fog.  I put my head on the table and drifted off a couple of times.  Finally I knew I had to get moving.  I reapplied some chamois lube and set off… and fire lanced through my backside.   

Whatever saddle sores were there got irritated by the lube, and I could not sit comfortably on the saddle.  I moved around the best I could, but it was pretty hopeless, and I really began to despair that this was the end.  

I stopped for a minute to shed my jacket and noticed that the laces on my brooks leather saddle had come unknotted.  I retied them tighter and took off.  Relief!  It changed the shape of the saddle just enough that I could sit comfortably.  I was elated.

Ahh.  The sun had come out.  I had temporarily conquered my saddle demons and escaped the black hole control.  I started noticing the scenery around me: beautiful vegetable gardens (always with leeks, cabbage and carrots), flowers everywhere, and the most perfectly manicured hedges I’ve ever seen in my life.  I reached the next control and ate a big bowl of macaroni and turkey.  Gotta’ go. 

It’s sunny.  I’m flying along. After a couple of hours I started getting drowsy in the afternoon sun, so I stopped at a bar/cafĂ© for a heavenly cup of espresso.  I still felt full, though, and I was worried that my stomach wasn’t digesting anything.   

More long climbs and I got to the next control, which was loud and overwhelming: a narrow street filled with screaming people and an announcer on a pa, who yelled your name and country of origin as you enter the control area.  Gotta’ get out of here. 
Now the mind games started:  OK, 180 miles left at 15mph total, means only 12 more hours.  Oooh, that’s finishing in the middle of the night.  Should I sleep?  Will I need to sleep?  Just gotta’ get out of the control and back onto the road.   

I risked a baguette with ham and butter and an Orangina, which tasted awesome.  The road ascended to a gentle ridge around the town with gorgeous views of the valley to either side.

A Quick Friendship

Now I rode along and noticed an older man riding next to me at almost the same cadence, which surprised me, as I tend to spin a pretty fast cadence, even up hills, while most people tend to pedal less in a harder gear.  We pedaled over some rollers, and he stayed right there, just behind me on the left.  

It was oddly comforting riding together, and he seemed to pedal effortlessly.  We approached a group of riders on a long gentle climb, and I realized that it would be easier to just pass them rather than try to slowly go around them, so I kicked it in up and over the hill.   

I turned my head and my French companion was right there with a big grin on his face.  So it went for a few more miles.  

Finally I said in my awful tired French that my name is Chris.  He said that he is Roger.  I asked if he had done PBP many times.  He smiled and said, yes, he is 69 years old and this is his eighth time.  I am stunned, and he is amused at my expression.

We reached the next to last control and he smiled one last time and said that this is where he’ll sleep.  I hesitated for a moment, but seeing the riders flying away from the hive of activity that is the control somehow got me motivated.  

I grabbed a coffee, a fistful of Mars candy bars and headed out into the night, determined to finish the ride by morning.  

Almost Done – or, Am I?

I set out down a long descent, but noticed several riders hesitating, checking their cue sheets, their gps and their maps.  The reflective signs that had confirmed the route for us for the last 1000km were nowhere to be seen.   

I pedaled on, yet again on a stretch of inky black darkness, route undulating under me, then suddenly through a floodlit village where an official waved us around a corner.   

I could hear him yelling at a stopped group of riders who were questioning the lack of signs: “You can’t expect us to mark every turn”.  Well, you had done so up ‘til now.  Why stop?

Suddenly a rider zoomed by me, whistled to his friends behind him and zoomed off.  I figured he must know the route, so I hustled to stay with him.   

Soon we were a group of 12, flying through the utter blackness.  Evidently no signs meant no turns.  The pace continued on at breakneck speed, as I watched the rider in front of me start to lurch to the left and right in front of me.  Not good at this speed. 

Then the rider at the front was replaced by his buddy, the pace quickened further, and I dropped back, watching their taillights zoom away into the darkness.  No matter, as I spun along, watching anxiously for the lights ahead of the town of Dreux and the last control and trying not to think about how tantalizingly close to the end I was coming.

The last control was somber and quiet, and I wanted to leave as soon as possible, so I took off again into the night feeling a bit ragged.  The signs were back, but it was becoming difficult to concentrate at every intersection to make sure that I stayed on course.  

 I managed to stay with another rider, and the two of us kept each other on course, until another rider zoomed past us. We took off after him, determined to keep his taillight in our vision.  

We reached a steep climb into the area around the starting town.  Now I could really feel the lack of food, and I was getting tired.  I labored - just had to keep that rider in front of us in sight.  The course led through the hills around the starting area, and we circled back around, seemingly in giant repeating loops.   

Finally, spray-painted on the road was a message: 10km to go...!   

Two Taiwanese riders were now in front of me, and I resolved to keep them in sight.  5km to go and we entered the city of St. Quentin proper.  We were nearing the finish!

Suddenly, no riders were in front of me, and I had no idea where to go.  

A sign reading Paris-Brest led me to an empty parking lot.  I tried to circle back, but had lost my bearings in the night.  I flagged down a woman and asked directions.  Her husband was also finishing PBP, but she had no idea where the finish was.  She pointed me in a direction and thought it was that way.   

As I cruised over an overpass, I saw a group of riders beneath me.  I lurched down to the street and joined the group.  Finally!  Then they admitted that they were also lost.  Four others joined us, also lost.   

We were tired and pissed. Finally we saw a sign and turned a corner into the finish area.   

We were herded into a holding area where we stowed our bikes and led into the hall that served as the finish.  Inside riders were sprawled sleeping everywhere.  I turned in my card and promptly joined the others on the floor, easily passing out for an hour nap.

I was done, and after my nap I pedaled the last 2 miles to the hotel – standing the whole way, as my saddle chafing had finally hit the unbearable point.  Everyone was up, eating breakfast and cheering as each rider made the slow trek to the front of the hotel.  

A quick shower, a beaming hug and kiss from Amy, clapping and cheering from the hotel guests and staff, and I hit the bed for some of the most wonderful sleep I’ve enjoyed for a long time.

The Big Question

Will I do this ride again?  Hard to say.  It’s probably good that it only happens every four years.  In true randonneur fashion I will forget the sleeplessness, the rough roads that caused my fingers and toes to still be numb two weeks after the event, and all the half-conscious stumbling around to find lines for food, restroom, etc. 

I will remember flying through the dead, still night, and the earnest faces of villagers yelling “Bon Courage!”.  Perhaps I will come up with new strategies to ride the ride faster and more comfortably.   

All through the ride I kept thinking of those riders I met before the start who had done the ride five, six, seven times.  What motivates them?  Does the itch just start again after two or three years?  Well, I know I have plenty of time to mull it over and see which memories get amplified and which get glossed over and selectively culled.   

Who knows, I may be back at the starting line in 4 years, trying for 69 hours.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Velonews article on PBP & some cool videos

Chris is almost done with his ride report and will post it tonight (that's his goal.).  In the meantime, you might enjoy reading this article on this year's PBP from Velonews.  Thanks to our new friend and fellow PBP rider, David Litt in Japan, who shared this link with us:  (I think there is one correction, though.  If I am doing the math correctly, 1200 kilometers is closer to 760 miles, not 746 miles, as mentioned in the article.  Still, more miles than the average person is willing to do!)

Also, another fellow rider whom we met at our hotel during the event, Jan Dembinski in Vermont, forwarded this link to some great videos.  All are in French, but the images need no translation:

Chris is editing his report now...hope to get that posted very soon. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Fellow Rider's Ride Report

Chris and I flew back to Cincinnati yesterday.  It is a surreal transition.  Chris is working on his ride report and we will also post pictures soon.  We were without computer access the last part of our trip and are now catching up on our family and friends' messages, facebook posts, and blog comments.  What on earth did we do to deserve such a wonderful group of people in our lives?  And how awesome that we now have many, many new friends to add to this fantastic group.  Too cool!

As most of you know, Chris is a bike mechanic at Jim's Bicycle Shop in Cincinnati (in Deer Park).  One of Jim's customers is Todd Williams.  He just posted a great ride report on the bike shop's blog.  Here's the link:  Todd's writing really takes you along for the ride and all of its bumps, challenges, and successes.  Read it and enjoy.

Chris and I took today off from work to recuperate a bit and reflect on our trip.  Chris has jotted notes and his thoughts about the ride and he will do a blog post soon.  We can't thank everyone enough for your support.  We peeked at the statistics for our blog.  It shows that people from the U.S., Sweden, Ireland, France, and Germany have visited and read our posts.  How awesome!  If they are PBP riders or friends and family of a rider, Chris and I hope that they are celebrating their accomplishments.  More than 20% did not finish the ride, but I know that they are still heroes.  Read Todd's ride report above and you'll understand what I mean.  Anyone who sets PBP as a goal is a hero. Because PBP is more than a ride.  So much more.    

Thursday, August 25, 2011

72 hours, 10 minutes

Chris is snoring next to me. Safe, exhausted, overwhelmed. He rode a fantastic ride. Other riders came up to me and told me how strong a rider Chris is and how well he rode his first PBP. I am so proud of him and of all the riders from our hotel. We had a big celebration dinner at the hotel tonight. Even the staff took pictures of our group. I met a local Frenchman who had turned out to cheer on the riders with us at the start of the ride. As it turns out he is in the champagne business. A few of the other spouses pitched in with me and we bought 12 bottles of champagne to toast our riders at tonight's dinner. We included the hotel staff and they did a very sweet toast to all of us as well. Such an awesome experience!

Chris finished his first PBP in 72 hours and 10 minutes. I am so proud of him. He will have stories to share with you soon. A few days rest in our apartment rental in Paris will do him a world of good. I will convalesce with him as it seems all of the spouses have come down with head colds! Sympathy pain? Doesn't quite match the saddle sores, road rash, and leg cramps of our spouses. They look like the walking wounded. And I know that our friends who did not finish the ride are very disappointed. But they really all are heroes.

Thank you again to everyone who has followed along on our PBP adventure. Chris will have more to write after some much needed sleep. Funny, I usually worry about snoring and keeping Chris up when I have a head cold. I don't think that will be a problem tonight! XO, Amy & Chris

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Almost here!

One of the hotel staff came up to me at dinner to let me know that Chris was at the next to the last control stop and that he expected to finish around 3 or 4 a.m. (it's almost midnight here as I type this.). He had taken our hotel's number with him and asked one of the volunteers to call for him and relay the message to me.

It has been an emotional time. Several of our friends have had to drop out because of mechanical failures or illness. They have come back to the hotel tired, worn out, and very disappointed. I went into Paris today with the spouse of a rider who had to quit the ride because of stomach problems. The rider had to take a train from Carhaix to Paris. With my limited French, I helped buy train tickets, find the correct train platform, and get everybody back by train and bus from Paris to the small town where we are all staying. It took most of the day, but it helped distract me from worrying and waiting for Chris.

I've been moved to tears several times in the last two days. When the first DNF (did not finish) rider came back to the hotel, we spontaneously clapped as he made his way down the driveway. We have given each rider a hero's welcome. They deserve nothing less.

I am not sure if news has made it back to you yet, but sadly an American rider from DC was killed. I have not heard all of the details, but news of his death has affected all of us and has certainly increased the anxiety levels for those of us waiting for spouses and friends to return. And has made each homecoming that much more emotional.

There are no words that I can write that can adequately capture the meaning of this experience. The people we have met are fantastic. The French people have treated the riders like rock stars. One rider told me that as he stopped to fix a broken spoke, a small crowd of children gathered around him. When he had successfully fixed the spoke, the children clapped and cheered, handed him a bottle of water and shouted, "Bon courage!". I know that hundreds of scenes like this have played out over and over again. Small but powerful reminders that simple acts of decency and kindness can restore someone's dignity and hope.

Thanks, everyone, for following along on this incredible journey. I know we all look forward to hearing Chris' stories. We'Ll update again soon.

Monday, August 22, 2011

He's on his way...

The alarm went off at 3:15 a.m. I don't think Chris got much sleep. I know I did not. We watched the first group of riders take off the night before. It was truly one of the most awesome things we've ever witnessed. The look of excitement, determination, and child like wonder played on every face. We cheered and screamed, "Allez!". Grins and waves and hoots of gratitude met our every shout of encouragement. Chris' time group left the next morning at 5am and all of us spouses turned and made as much noise for them as the night before.

Be sure to check Chris' progress by entering his frame number, 8248, on the PBP site. Chris included it in an earlier post. I am a bit loopy with no sleep, several glasses of wine, and adrenaline. The people we have met are priceless. They are and will be friends for a very long time. Once we are back we will post pictures and give you some bios on our new friends. One rider is in his fifth PBP. Amazing! Chris is well on his way...! Love to you all!

Friday, August 19, 2011

We Made It!

After a long day of traveling, Chris and I have settled into our hotel and he is already on the bike checking the lay of the land. There is no computer at the hotel, but we have quickly made friends with someone who has an iPad (thank you, Terry!)

We have met people from Japan, New York, Minnesota, Arkansas, Seattle and Kentucky. We spent a lovely, cool evening (I should have brought more long sleeved shirts!) unpacking bikes, sharing food and wine, and adjusting to the new time zone with a great group of folks. Several riders have returned for their fourth and fifth PBP event!

Chris has his bike inspection tomorrow. He is nervous, but excited, and it is reassuring to talk to the veteran riders. Not much more to report. I think we are still in a bit of a trance - pinch us, are we really here?!

As always, we are grateful for the support everyone has shown us. Your good vibes follow us and will keep Chris company as he pedals his way through this amazing adventure. Mercy, mes amis! We'll try to post again soon. Love, Amy and Chris

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Big Thanks

Chris here.

I wanted to take a quick moment to give a big round of thanks to all my friends and family who have inspired, encouraged, prodded and generally supported me over this past year.  Thanks, everyone!

If you would like to check my progress during the ride, we are wearing id chips that will register what time we reach each control (required stop) along the course.  You can go here and type in my frame (race) number, which is 8248.  This is the first year they've done this, so there may be a few glitches, and I'm not sure how often they update the info.

I have to admit that I'm a bit nervous.  But I am looking forward to the challenge and the experience.  Thanks again to everyone for your support!  --Chris

Amy here.

I may have more butterflies in my stomach than Chris does.  I echo his gratitude and love to each of you - the responses we've received to our attempts at "blogging" are heart warming.  Chris deserves most of the credit for getting this far - but our family and friends have made the journey that much more meaningful.  Thank you.

We will make every effort to keep our blog updated over the next two weeks.  I am so excited to meet the thousands of other riders and their "cheerleaders" who are making their way to France as I write this post.  It's a pilgrimage of sorts. It's bigger than a cycling event.  It's a testament to what an individual can do with equal parts inspiration and determination.  It's about risk taking - betting on yourself and your abilities.  How often do we really allow ourselves to take that kind of risk?  Not nearly as often as we should or could.

I'm not a betting woman, but in this case, I'm putting everything on #8248.  The risk is so worth taking.  We've got nothing to lose because we've already won. 

Love to you all.  --Amy & Chris

Saturday, August 13, 2011

When the Other Woman is a Bicycle...

Chris at a motel during a brevet.  Yup, with "her!"
The text message I sent to my friends read:  Chris is with "her" this weekend.  Anyone up for Mexican food and beer?  Chris was away (again) for one of his qualifying brevets and I had another weekend to myself.  As anyone who shares a home with a long distance cyclist knows, long distance = LOTS of time on the bike.  And when you are with a long distance cyclist who is training for the Paris-Brest-Paris event, the amount of time on the bike increases exponentially!  Which means you, as the supportive partner, must get used to the idea of doing a lot of things by yourself. 

No matter how rational you try to be, you will occasionally find yourself jealous of the bike and the time your spouse spends with her, er, it.  Don't get me wrong - there are times when this solitude is a luxury.  There are other times (like grocery shopping or cleaning the bathroom or taking three cats to the vet) when you wish you weren't flying solo.  Weekends can be especially lonely since Chris works on Saturdays, and Sundays are always a big riding day. 

The Other Woman...
So how do I fill my time?  I do a lot more cooking.  Chris' mistress doesn't cook.  That's one thing I've got on her.  Chris comes home ravenous after his brevets.  We do not have children, but to look at our grocery cart many people would swear that we have three growing teenage boys who are eating us out of house and home.  No, no teenage boys.  Just one endurance cyclist.

Over the last two years of goal setting and training for Paris-Brest-Paris, Chris, his mistress and I have worked out a pretty good relationship.  He still chooses her over me on most Sundays.  But I think I understand their relationship better.  After all, I'm counting on her to get Chris over the finish line in 84 hours or less, and mostly intact.

But I've got news for her.  On the flight to France, I get the window seat.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Details, Details, Details

Hi, it's Chris here.  Amy's been bugging me (she's good at that!) to post some more details about what the heck this PBP is, etc., etc.

Perhaps a brief explanation is in order. 

Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is a 1200km brevet (rhymes with "Chevrolet"), or organized ride, in the sport of randonneuring, or long-distance, self-supported cycling.  Organizers of these rides provide riders with a set course with stops along the way (controls).  A card provided to each rider must be stamped at each control and then submitted as proof of completion of the course.  Riders are not permitted to receive any outside help along the course (except at controls), so no sag vehicles or support crews are allowed.  While not races, each distance has a maximum completion time in order to receive credit for having completed the ride (e.g. 40 hours for the 600km).

For PBP each participant can choose a starting group based on one's expected completion time: 80, 84, or 90 hours (the maximum).  I've decided to go with the 84 hour group, hoping that perhaps the crowds will be less at the controls with the smaller starting group, and also preferring the 5am starting time rather than the early evening starting time of the 90 hour group.

To qualify for PBP one must complete a series of brevets, that is a 200, 300, 400 and 600km brevet in the Spring prior to PBP.  Because these must be done by mid-June, they start early in the year: the 200km brevet was 18 degrees at the start in early-March.  Springtime weather is par for the course as well: the 300km brevet ran from Urbana to Oxford and back.  In Oxford a thunderstorm started and kept exact pace with our lowly group, drenching us for four solid hours.  By the time of the 600km brevet in early June, the weather had turned to the upper 90's, and 17 of the original 36 starters had dropped out by the midway point of the ride.  By the end of the day salt crystals encrusted my helmet straps, eyebrows and goatee.

PBP will be a far cry from the ramble around Ohio with stops at out-of-the-way convenient stores as controls.  Each control in France will offer food and drink of all sorts (being France most even publish their menus ahead of time), and later in the ride there will also be opportunities for showers and sleep.  I've elected to pay for a drop bag, allowing me to have access to a small duffel bag twice along the route - changing clothes is heavenly after that many hours on the bike.  This also allows me to restock clif bars, energy drink mix and batteries - the staples of randonneuring for me.

My race number (or "frame number") is 8248.  For the first time, each rider will have a radio frequency chip, which will track each rider's progress.  If all goes as planned you can go to this link and enter my frame number.  This will only tell you the time I entered the last control, so it will not be up to the minute accurate, but close enough.  Amy will help fill in the blanks for everyone with pictures and blog posts while I am on the bike.  With over 6,000 riders expected to participate, she will probably have some interesting things and pictures (hopefully!) to post. 

Thanks for following along on our PBP adventure...stay tuned...!

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Surprise Bicycle Birthday Party (for a 40-year old!)

The cake was a true work of art!
Chris will be one week shy of his 41st birthday when he finishes his 760-mile trek across France.  His 40th year rolled in on two wheels and it's only fitting that he usher it out in the same way.

I wanted to do something extra special for Chris' 40th birthday and I wanted that "extra special" to include recognition and celebration of his goal to ride in the Paris-Brest-Paris event.  So I did the one thing that I swore I'd never do.  I planned a surprise party for him.

A true work of art!
I can't keep a secret.  I don't intentionally spill the beans, but invariably I do.  I started planning Chris' surprise party months in advance.  More than enough time to get things done, ordered, organized.  Far too much time if you can't keep a secret.  I would not be surprised if Chris, at some point, suspected I was having an affair.
Chris and Glenn with well deserved beers in hand!

      I did amazingly well.  Chris did admit that he thought something might be up when he saw next to my laptop a scribbled list of names of our family and friends.  God love 'em.  He never said a word or tried to figure out the details.

     With the help of our amazing family and friends, we plotted to surprise Chris at the end of a long ride that our dear friend, Glenn, organized (a ride that would end up picking up a couple of new riders who had no idea what was about to unfold.)

Dave Might made this cake topper of Chris
     Friends and family gathered at Laura's house (Glenn's significant other and another dear friend of ours).  Glenn made up a story about leaving his wallet at Laura's house the night before and could the guys all take a quick detour so he could grab it from her?

     As they rolled up to Laura's, she gave us the signal and we all came pouring out of the side yard, yelling "SURPRISE," and laughing at the look of confusion on Chris' face.  Then laughing harder as he realizes what's going on. The outpouring of love, support, good-natured teasing, admiration, and encouragement for Chris was just plain awesome.  He and I both realized how lucky, how fortunate, how truly grateful we are that these beautiful people are a part of our lives.  You know who you are!  And we know that your good vibes and positive energy will surround Chris every minute that he is on that bike, pedaling hundreds of miles across France and making 40 look pretty darn great!


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Paris-Brest-Paris: A Spouse's Perspective

Chris is good for me because he's my censor.  My pause button and impulse control.  He reminds me to "sleep on it" before making a big decision.  He's saved me money and a bit of pride on more than one occasion.

Chris, on the other hand, is careful and measured and rarely makes a bad decision. It's one of the things I love about him.  But it means a decision can incubate for a very long time as he turns the situation and all the options over and over in his mind.  As much as he reins me in, I try to be his kick in the butt.

When we first started talking about the possibility of him doing the Paris-Brest-Paris ride, he hesitated.  Can we afford it?  Would he be able to find the time to train enough, ride enough?  Was the timing right?  Was he a strong enough rider? 

"Just do it.  We'll figure out the details.  We'll make it work.  You can so totally do this," I tell him.  I admit I was not totally selfless in my encouragement.  A trip to France?!?  Of course, as a supportive spouse, I'd need to go with him.  He would need someone at the finish line holding that bottle of champagne in celebration.

I knew we were on our way to France when the alarm goes off at 3:45 a.m. on a cold, drizzly Saturday.  Chris is not a morning person.  The only time he willingly gets up at such an ungodly hour is the day we leave for our annual trip to the Outer Banks in the North Carolina.

When the alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. and he got up to leave for his brevet (one of the organized qualifying rides he had to do to be eligible for PBP), I snuggled into his side of the bed, with a smile on my lips, and dreamt of the Eiffel Tower.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Amy's been bugging me to start a blog with our departure only weeks away.  It seems fitting both chronologically and in light of the blistering heat outside now to start with the 200k, the first qualifier of the year.  After all, it was 18 degrees at the start of the ride.  Cold enough that I wondered if my shifters would just up and freeze.  (But not mine.  They're Campy, right?)  64 riders registered and less than half actually showed up.  That moment of hesitation before the start: "Should I add one more layer of clothing?  (Even though I know I'll shed it in an hour?)"
The ride started on March 26, and it was a crystal clear, starry morning.  I drove up from Cincinnati to Springfield at some merciless hour for the 7:30am beginning.  By the first control the sun was out, but the wind froze my goatee solid.  The teenybopper clerk at the convenient store stared at me with wide eyes and exclaimed "Omigod!  Your beard!  It's frozen!"  Yeah, well, it's cold out there.  Would you please sign my card?
The trick was to keep moving and not let those nagging doubts about enough training after an icy winter slow me down.  I ended up riding with a new, faster group of people, cramping miserably only miles from the end, but finishing nonetheless - ultimately the only important result toward qualification for PBP.