Amy and I are packed and headed to the airport for France...where did the last four years go? There is a maxim in long distance cycling (and other endurance events to be sure, and even life in general probably) that after a time one completely forgets the pain, suffering and long down stretches, and remembers instead the wonderful, sunny smooth roads, wind at the back. This selective amnesia allows us to contemplate longer and harder challenges.
So it is in 2015 as the last Paris-Brest-Paris fades a bit in my memory. However, I can distinctly remember the time and place in the 2011 ride when I thought "OK, it looks reasonably good that I am going to finish this event, and I really don't have to do this ever again". Nevertheless, again the tickets have been bought, the qualifiers duly completed, and I am contemplating not only another round of Paris-Brest-Paris, but even allowing myself to envision a finish in a faster time.
A quick recap of a tumultuous year. One must complete four qualifying rides to register for Paris-Brest-Paris ("PBP"): 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km. There are time limits for each ride, but they are rather generous. I decided to try the series of rides in Kentucky instead of my usual Ohio venue, based on the challenging terrain, and the early start. This strategy almost backfired. The 200k was in February, and the first date was cancelled due to a horrendous ice storm in Louisville. Scheduling required the make-up be held the following Saturday, which was sunny and 8 degrees at the start. While a week of obsession produced the right clothing choices (thank you, Pearl Izumi and Icebreaker merino wool), the constant vigilance to avoid icy spots in the shade made for a nerve-wracking ride.
The 300k was a completely different challenge. Two days of constant rain led to flooding of the Ohio River and the rain was pouring at the start. The first two hours of riding were pre-dawn, and I'll never forget seeing flooded portions of the road appear ahead of me in my headlight and thinking, ok, I don't know how deep that flowing water is, but here I go. I finally finished, completely spent, thinking that I was woefully out of shape. I took a great deal of consolation when a careful inspection of my bike much later showed that the crank bearings were completely shot, making pedaling that much more difficult.
The 400k was a wonderful change. Great sunny weather meant that we could actually enjoy the course: back roads winding through Kentucky horse farm country with miles of dry stack stone walls bordering the roads. I was lucky enough to ride with a good friend, Tim Argo, who is a master of pacing, and we managed to finish the 250 mile ride in under 17 hours, which was quite a good time for me.
The 600k was quite a bit more challenging. The course was a repeat of the 400k, with an additional 200k loop. We set out at 4am in a light rain, riding quickly and stopping only briefly as thunderstorms were predicted later in the day. Within 20 miles I had my first flat tire. I changed it quickly with the aid of friends, but there was a disconcerting feeling of not being sure that I had found the cause of the flat.
By mile 130 I had another flat, disturbingly in the same spot in the same tire. Now the clouds were massing, and I had just used my last spare tube. I sat at a stop, frantically trying to patch my spare and wondering if the wal-mart near the hotel carried the right size tubes.
The tire held through monsoon-like pouring rain in the afternoon, and we stopped at the end of the 400k loop and decided to grab some sleep. I felt a bit of a let-down, as I had hoped to ride the entire distance without any sleep straight through the night. However, drowsiness, the rain, and warnings about dark, pothole-filled roads led us to sleep a wonderful 5 hours and rise just before dawn to complete the last leg. 20 miles later I had another flat in the same spot. Now I was mystified and down to my last tube. Tim suggested putting a band aid on the inside of the tire, thinking that perhaps a small tear in the tire was somehow causing these repeated flats. Sure enough, his sage advice worked, and the band aid got me through the entire rest of the hilly ride, 36 hours and 23,000 feet of climbing later. Not a fast time by any stretch, but qualified nonetheless.
So after a rainy Summer I am ready to board the plane for the next round, perhaps having learned a bit from last time. I will surely obsess until the last minute over minutia, but I'm looking forward to the camaraderie and the challenge of another go at Paris-Brest-Paris.
Follow along with us as we post updates to our blog. Thank you again for everyone's support and positive energy! --Chris & Amy