Sunday, August 30, 2015

Living the dream. One account of Paris-Brest-Paris.

I thought I was prepared. I was wrong.

After five years of randonneuring over different distances, through a vast assortment of weather, after climbing hundreds of thousands of feet, after earning a shelf full of rando trinket awards, after a full season of training specifically for this ride, I thought I was ready for the 1230 Kilometer Paris Brest-Paris (PBP) bike ride that starts in the town of St. Quentin (pronounced Can-tan) located in the outskirts of Paris, goes to Brest, a port city located deep in the Bretagne (Brittany) region on the western edge of northern France, and then returns to St. Quentin. After all, according to my friend JB, who completed PBP twice before and would attempt it this time on a tandem, PBP was "just a bike ride." JB has been right about many things, but about this, he was just wrong.

One cannot simply ride this route whenever one chooses and then claim to have ridden PBP.

PBP is more than a bike ride.

PBP is an entire region of France coming out to welcome and support a diverse collection of worldwide adventurers.

PBP is a rolling Tower of Babel speaking the common language of cycling for three plus days.

PBP is an arduous personal challenge, testing body and spirit, that reaches back into history to the very birth of the cycling.

PBP is a moment in time.

PBP takes place outside of time.

PBP is its own reality.

PBP is a dream made real. 

This brief account cannot capture the experience of 6000 participants from 48 countries - no one account can. Add to that the fact that I spent the days that followed the ride in a narcoleptic fugue state, sleeping deeply, often and unexpectedly, as my mind and body swam up from the murky depths of exhaustion and sleep deprivation and the challenge of writing an accurate ride report grows greater. But, most of all, telling the story of PBP is like recalling the details of a dream - some are strong and clear, others linger at the edge of recall, slipping away from easy description and some may be lost in the haze of time. But this remarkable event remains a story worth telling, so, with those shortcomings in mind, I shall try to share a sense of living the dream that is PBP.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

special edition of Friday writing for randos: His place will never be with those cold and timid souls

  {First Friday Writings for Randos - A monthly post that features pieces from other writers that touch some facet of the Randonneuring experience, even if that was not the author's intent. It's stuff that's best read out loud - slowly.} This month it's an excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt)

Speech at the Sorbonne
Paris, France
April 23, 1910

  It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust sweat and blood; who strives valiantly,  who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds;  who knows great enthusiasms; the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;  who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of  high achievement and, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.

Friday, August 7, 2015

First Friday Writings for Randos - The celestial bodies of Paris Brest Paris

{First Friday Writings for Randos - A monthly post that features pieces from other writers that touch some facet of the Randonneuring experience, even if that was not the author's intent. It's stuff that's best read out loud - slowly.} This month it's an excerpt from Jeff Tilden's account of his PBP Ride in 2007* . . .

I love the swoosh and the sway and the zoom of bicycling. I love to fly, to corner, to tilt like a gyroscope. It’s primitive and it’s simple and it’s elegant and it’s graceful and it’s powerful. The abject skilllessness of bicycling is its greatest virtue. It requires nothing. A four-year old can master it. A little balance, not much, far less than, say, being a spider. We know this as children, but we forget. We already have everything we need. The PBP is not the NFL. It is, instead, an incandescent union of form and function. Of past and present. Uniting us not with our grandparents as much as some animal 400 million years ago. Bicycling is primordial. We come from an unbroken line of winners, stretching back to the first day we crawled up out of the mud. Every one of our ancestors, all the way back, kept going long enough to beat predators, disease, starvation. Long enough to have a child. With really only the skill it takes to ride a bike. Like the rest of my species, I hale from Africa, and I was born to run through the woods. Or bike, if the woods are paved. A brevet is a race, after all. The human race.

 . . . We reek, but are unaware of it, like fish that don’t know they are wet.  We have been marinated in our own sweat.  Paul saw a café on the way into Fougeres 370 miles ago and has had his mind’s eye on it for two days.  He leads us there and we sit down to an outdoor picnic table feast of sausage crepes, heavy on the mustard, and frittes, heavy on the ketchup.  As we finish, Paul launches into what may be the second greatest pep talk ever.  I cannot do it justice, but the gist was . . .

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hawk Mountain 200K - Digging the well

 "We dig the well of our personal reserve to the depth
and breadth of our experience"

My uncle Frank used to call it digging the well. Back in the 80's, when I was a teenager, uncle Frank introduced me to long distance cycling. He used the phrase to describe hard training, pushing back limits, the process of building of a deep reserve of strength and will to draw upon when things get tough, when you needed to go to the well.

The image stuck with me. I picture shoveling dirt, doing the hard work, again and again, to create a space to store that something extra to call upon in times of need. The well must be dug deep enough and big enough to meet the needs of the event. I also knew that an empty well is just a hole. To make it useful, you have to dig it far enough in advance so that, while you rest and recover, it can fill with the reserves that you may one day need. With the 768 mile Paris-Brest-Paris ride just over six weeks away, now is the time to dig the well.

Friday Writing for Randos: Keeping it real

{First Friday Writings for Randos - A monthly post that features pieces from other writers that touch some facet of the Randonneuring experience, even if that was not the author's intent. It's stuff that's best read out loud - slowly.} This month it's an excerpt from the blog Gypsy by Trade

Keeping it Real

The HLC 2015 was Lael’s first bikepacking race and only her fourth bike race, after the Fireweed 400 road race across Alaska, a local hill climb up Hatcher’s Pass, and a fifty mile fatbike race in Anchorage called the Frosty Bottom. The Tour Divide is her fifth.

In the entire distance and duration of the Tour Divide, Lael never showered, never slept indoors, and only sat down to one meal, in Pie Town. Even at the Brush Mountain Lodge where she got wrapped up in an almost hour long conversation with the hospitable staff, she asked to take her blueberry pancakes to go. “Are you in a hurry”, asked the woman.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Boston 400K - New Roads in New England.

            A night in Transit 
At 6:00 am on Friday morning I walked on the Gulf Coast beach of Naples, Florida, carrying my sandals in one hand. Tropical warm water swirled around my ankles as sea birds strolled on stick like legs along the raked sand. That afternoon, I flew to Philadelphia, got in my minivan and drove over five hours to a small airfield on the outskirts of Boston.

At 3:00 am on Saturday morning, I arrived in the parking lot of Hanscom airport in Bedford, Massachusetts.

The Boston 400K was scheduled to start at 6:00 am. The ridewithgps description reported 17,000 feet of climbing. The New England Randonneurs page reported that the ride went through three states: Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The latter two would be new States in my randonneuring collection - bringing the total to 18. But first I had to do the ride.

Monday, June 8, 2015

East Creek 600K - a simmering melange of desires

Close to 40 Randonneurs stream out from the Days Inn located off Exit 8 of the New Jersey Turnpike. Our red bicycle taillights stretch out along the roads that lead away from the north south Interstate  highway, away from the destination driven journey that the highway represents, away from that thoroughfare where every mile is made fungible, forgettable, less than a passing thought, less than a minute's consideration. On the small roads we ride, the miles grow large, significant, they take on their full meaning. This morning we set out to ride 600 Kilometers, 377 miles. The travel, the distance that we take on with our legs and our machines, is the destination. Over the course of this brevet, we will test ourselves where the only outcome that matters is pass or fail. For me, completing this ride will qualify me to ride Paris-Brest-Paris. I have been waiting five years for this. I have 40 hours to finish.

 seeking upekkha

In the darkness of 4:00 am, the cool air sits heavy with dew. As I ride through, tiny drops  collect on the tips of the individual hairs on my arm. I begin the ride searching for balance, equanimity, a place between extremes to accomplish the extreme, looking for that pace that will carry me through the uncertain miles before me. In my randonneuring, I have failed enough to know that success is not certain, but I have succeeded enough to know that perseverance and patience, especially now, in the first few hours of a major ride, can overcome almost any distance. I ride on, working on patience and building perseverance, as the world turns beneath my wheels toward the rising sun.