Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Out for a Little Ride (PBP)

So Eric Ahlvin and I left the Novotel at about 19:45 Monday night for the preride dinner and our scheduled 21:30 start of the world famous Paris Brest Paris Randonnee. We arrived at the restaurant and began what would be one of many fine hours of waiting in line for food or just about anything else over the next four days. Our 21:30 start became the 23:10 start after the required line standing and waiting. By the time the announcer stopped talking and fired the start rocket, a light rain had started to fall. I looked and Eric and Eric looked at me and said, "Well, lets go for a little ride." And off we went, into the dark, wet French night.

I felt a burning in my throat and was pretty sure I had acquired the Paris crud that my wife had caught as soon as we arrived in Paris. The previous four days were spent listening to her cough and sneeze. I hoped the crud didn't grow into hot coals in my throat and lungs. I also noticed my hips were sore from shuffling in line at the various Paris attractions, especially Versailles, in the days leading up to the ride.

The French nights are very dark and empty. Every night featured hard rain and not having thought to turn my cycling cap around and use the visor to keep the rain off of my glasses, I was pretty well blind at night. Not that it would have done much good. Other than a few lighted church bell towers, the French don't waste a lot of energy on lights at night. The land use patterns also appear to feature a sharp division between human habitation in cities and villages and the rural areas where there were scattered farms.

The French country side is very beautiful during the day when you can see it. It reminded me of south eastern Minnesota and south western Wisconsin where I grew up. The topography was rolling with many scattered wood lots, cultivated fields and pastures for horses and cattle. The vegetation was lush and green. Northern France has had a cool wet summer this year. I did not see any road side trash, cans, litter, broken bottles, used diapers, flotsom McDonnald's packaging or dumped trash bags. The country side was notably green and clean.

The PBP route is mostly back roads connecting small french villages though Brittany, and Normandy. The small villages are probably several hundred years old and very beautiful. The French are maintaining the look and feel of the traditional architecture. The new buildings are very similar to the old and the colors are coordinated and subdued. The small towns are very similar in layout and I had the feeling of riding through the same town many times. Usually the village started near a river and followed a hill or river bank to the top where there would be a church and then the route would turn and descend down the other side of the hill leaving the village behind and the route would repeat the same pattern.

Many times there would be a small concession tent set up near the center of the village where entrepreneurs would vend coffee, chocolate and various things to eat. Many of the French observers were encouraging and gracious offering encouragement and applause. I learned to say bonjour during the day and bonsoir at night.

Eric knows a healthy amount of French and if it hadn't been for Eric, I might have starved on Coca Cola and chocolate. I get the feeling the French begrudgingly tolerate Coca Cola as it costs a small fortune for a small bottle and is often warm. The French save big energy on turning out lights and not using refrigeration. Using warm milk on breakfast cereal was a sobering discovery.

So the ride was a bit difficult. This is my seventh randonnee in the last three years and all of them have been difficult one way or another. The route had plentiful hills. Many of the hills were large chain ring hills and it seamed the hills became longer and steeper traveling from east to west. The weather was wet but we did have several extended multi hour periods where it was either dry or sunny. The nights were wet and Eric and I were often nearly hypothermic by the time we got to a rest area.

Our third night at Fougeres was probably the most hazardous to our survival. Eric and I were totally soaked and cold by the time we arrived just before midnight. We got food as quickly as we could and decided to get a sleep area and blanket for 1.5 euros and try to rest and warm up for an hour. When the school kids who were helping at the control woke me up an hour later, I was still a little wet but warm and rested enough to continue the remaining 250k to Paris and the victorious end of the 2007 PBP.

I finished the PBP with squinty narrow eye slits, hunched over and wobbling with a generous list to one side or another. With so many other rides, the best part was riding with someone who's help and friendship contributed immensely to the quality and eventual success of the ride. So I guess we had a pretty good little ride after all. Thank You Eric for pulling me along, it was an epic adventure!

Late Night Music Club with The Beatles - Rain

-- Cosmo