Some may recall a while back as I spouted off about "Hey, maybe it would be fun to try to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris - the ultimate fast TOUR (1200k in 90 hrs).
For US riders, qualifying brevets begin this year for the 1999 P-B-P. And so I began - recently completing both the 200k and 300k brevets organized by the Davis (California) Bike Club (a *class act* in getting novices into brevet riding...yea DBC!).
They say that the 400k (27 hrs to complete) separates the sheep from the goats. (I haven't yet determined if I am a sheep or a goat.)
At 5 a.m., ready for the mass-start-in-the-dark, 102 sheep/goats set their cyclometers to 0.0 and turned on their lights (helmet lights, small battery lights, large rechargeable lights, generator lights; and at least one tail light per bike); reflective vests, ankle strips, stripes on bikes, triangles glowed the route as the group wound out of town.
The first hint of "an interesting ride" was one rider's observation prior to the start... "Sure is breezy out here." An understatement.
After a fast break out of town, as dawn broke packs of riders began to form pelatons and eschalons to help each other cope with the 20mph, gusting to 25, wind. Usually a direct head wind, but occasionally a quartering head or full cross wind.
Our first 100 mile leg was nearly a flat route right up the centerline of the Sacramento Valley. What could have been a fast ride now had a very different complexion indeed.
Near the back of the pack where I hang out (not by choice) short pacelines eventually broke down, and single riders strung out, "riding their own ride."
As I headed north, on the drops, head way down to present as small a package to the wind as possible, I watched the uneven asphalt move by me. Dangerously mesmerizing.
A very short foray into nearby hills teased us with a bit of downhill and a short-lived tailwind. All too short, for we were then at the first time check (control) and headed north - into the wind - for miles and miles and miles.
I tried not to fixate on my cyclometer as it read speeds between 6-11mph, generally pegged at 8. I willed it higher....to no avail. On a course which requires an average speed of about 10mph (including stops) to complete each leg in the appropriate time, I watched as my average speed began sinking below 13. And then below 12. And down towards 10mph.
When I raised my head to look around, the verdant green grasses (wheat? young rice?) waved and bent as if planted atop a roiling choppy ocean. In the near distance, a dark amoebic form danced above a field like a huge cloud of small insects. It never got closer and I eventually decided it was probably a twisting smoky cloud from rice stubble burning. The sky was bright blue, the temps around 70F. Mt. Shasta, 100 miles away (or so) looked closed enough to plan an afternoon hike over to. The Sierras on my right, much more distant, remained snow capped. A high pressure weather system was roaring into California from the northwest, bringing sun, warmth, and WIND.
As I neared the completion of the first 100 miles, and a 90 degree turn so as to fight a strong cross-wind, I contemplated my first ever sub-12hr century. (Usually my centuries are 8-9 hrs...so far no sub-8's.) Discouraging. And lonely!! Not another cyclist in sight - neither ahead nor behind. Not for hours. But we had Lee, Course Monitor Extraordinaire, watching over us as he drove the "Bikevan" more than 500 miles during the ride, racing from end riders to leaders to the rear again. He had an uncanny awareness of where all the riders were.
A ride like this gives one time - too much time - to contemplate more than just the cracks in the road. I finally was able to sit more upright pedaling through profusions of orange California poppies and blue lupine, by a milky blue creek angrily racing over rocks, low spray sparkling in the sun; pasture lands - one full of cows and bee hives (I don't think "the cows and the bees" has quite the right ring to it). Two turkey vultures were so unflappable that they barely moved their wings at me as I pedaled within 20 ft. of their fence post perch ("Sorry guys, I'm not road kill yet!").
I was loving the day. *This* was why I ride. This was why I enjoy centuries and double centuries. This was why I cycle-tour. I love multi-day rides and tours. I continued to consider why I was on a very long timed ride. A day/night ride. 6:30 p.m. and at mile 133, the turnaround point, what I *really* wanted to do was pitch a tent, explore, sleep, and begin another 133 miles the next morning. What I didn't want to do was ride the remaining 117 miles over hill and dale in the dark, arriving "home" at 4:30 a.m.
So I made a command decision. My bike went into a sag vehicle and I declared DNF (did not finish ... I was one of about 12 who didn't finished for one reason or another) at the 1/2 way control. No PBP qualifying 400k by doing this. My times at the control points were fine. No problem doing the whole ride well within limits. But it's a very lonely experience when you are not a fast rider. Riding at night really isn't my thing. And riding all night, potentially alone, into the sunrise *really* doesn't appeal. I like to sleep when it's dark! And ride when it's light.
I feel fine with my decision, but didn't realize that at night riders clump up and ride together (I helped monitor the course for the rest of the evening) so there is camaraderie and safety in numbers, at least in the longer brevets. It is also a decision that still has some "wiggle room." I am still signed up for the 600k.
After I was off my bike and helping monitor the course, a woman in a pickup waved us down. She angrily warned us of the aggressive javalinas (wild boars) which were a problem along those roads at night - she felt that cyclists were at some risk. Hearing that, I was pleased to be in the van. Fortunately, we saw no porcine creatures.
I likely will test myself again. It might be possible to squeeze in a 400k prior to the upcoming 600k. Or perhaps try to substitute a second 600k for the 400k. And if all else fails, qualifying next year is possible by adding a 1000k brevet to the series. I was so fixated on P-B-P and my own situation in one slice of time, I neglected to remember other rides such as Boston-Montreal-Boston and Edinburgh-London.
My nighttime accident during the Los Angeles double century last year is a dragon always snorting behind me - a dragon I wasn't willing to slay on the 400k. I need to do that. Perhaps I needed to DNF this ride to relieve the stresses of PBP qualification, and see how it felt. It feels ok. In retrospect, however, DNFing, quitting, doesn't seem like me. I know that if I go back and try again, and can't do it for physical reasons, I'll have no regrets. But I'll know better where the mental gremlins are; and know how to fold this type of riding into the kind of riding I enjoy most.
So, does anyone out there think that we could get a T@CO -PBP group together to ride in an informal team? Taking care of each other and encouraging each other? This sure would help the "road lonelies" and add an extra dimension of fun to a grueling ride.
Judy & Rufus (the touring teddy)
Copyright Judith J. Colwell, 1998.
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: May 27, 1998