Dood! He Said “Brest!”
Paris-Brest-Paris may have nothing to do with those infamous globes which have inspired men of all ages, in all epochs, to impassioned acts of Love and War, but it does happen to be nothing less than the Olympics of amateur cycling. It is the oldest still-running event in the sport, organized in 1891, and is the ride that inspired the creation of the Tour de France. In its modern form, it is a 1200K brevet which must be completed within 90 hours–roughly 4 days’ riding to complete a hilly 750 mile course. It takes place only once every 4 years and there are over 4000 riders who participate, each rider having already completed a series of four brevets (200, 300, 400, and 600K) in order to qualify. Our Nefarious Slayer of Mountains arrived at the starting position on the afternoon of August 18th rested and ready to go. Antsy, even. Eager. The traditional mass start takes place at 10 o’clock pm, and riders are expected to ride through the first night. This is a beautiful thing. And it was, indeed, beautiful. As a non-PBPer, one might legitimately wonder how a PBP unfolds.
Here’s one version, belonging indelibly and intimately to Ours Truly:
Thousands of bikes spread out before and behind one for the first few hours. Kilometer after kilometer pass under one’s wheels; climb after climb, hour after hour. One’s entire existence shrinks down to a small, glimmering, conical splash of diffuse light. Thoughts turn inward. Control vans ride past one at 4am blasting “Let’s Twist Again” in order to wake one up and restore some spring to one’s spin (more commonly but less interestingly expressed as “spring in one’s step”) . One finds respite by sleeping in a Cash Machine Booth because it is just too damn cold to sleep on the park bench outside. Hundreds of local people stand along the roads shouting encouragement and selling coffee, snacks, or drinking water at all hours of the day and night. There’s peddling, and there’s pedaling. Lots and lots and lots of pedaling.
After 12 hours, things start to hurt. One adjusts one’s cadence or position or one’s saddle height. Some pains subside, others surface. One adjusts again. Catnaps. Quick meals. Control points. A visit to the medical tent, then a local pharmacy. Strong, hard riding throughout the second day–literally RACING into control #3 at Fougeres (never stronger!) and sharing the speed and exhilaration of a kamikaze paceline into control #4, Tinteniac. ATM. Dinner. Darkness. Freezing cold nap. Other pains arrive, this time completely new and unknown: the tendons over one’s inner ankles start to ache. Hours alone in the dark, riding toward the next control in Loudeac. Medical tent again: please won’t they wrap an injured left ankle??! At 4am there’s no doctor, just a red cross assistant. One accepts a useless, half-hearted “massage” and an inadequate wrap, pays to sleep on a cot for an hour and a half, awakening with barely enough time to make it to the control in Carhaix, the last before Brest. (Yes, Beavis, I KNOW I said “Brest.”)
Stepping into and upon the pedals, Our Rider knows he’s in trouble. His left ankle is so inflamed that he can’t even stand up on the bike. 80 kilometers and 4 hours separate him from Carhaix, and though his legs feel unbelievably strong, his mind alert and focused, he nonetheless begins to despair. At the secret control in St. Martin des Pres he asks for medical assistance. There is none to be had. He must make it to Carhaix, still over 50K away. Onward he struggles, wincing with every stroke, frustration and anger building. Twenty-three kilometers fall behind him without ever once standing out of the saddle. This static positioning increases stress to body. Right ankle joins left ankle. Ass discovers new levels of chappedness. Left hand, thus far unproblematic, begins to go numb. Defiantly he forces his ankles to do their job. They worsen. Generally speaking there was pain. Lots and lots of pain. But none of it really mattered except the screaming of ankles.
Nearly in tears, feeling helpless and enraged, Our Valiant Knight struggles as far as Plouvenez-Quentin before he can simply no longer apply pressure to his pedals. Refusing to quit, but unable to go forward, he simply fails. His body has abandoned him–not, as one might anticipate, from overtraining or overuse . . . but from a completely unexpected quarter. Without warning. Causation unknown. (“Human-Machine Interface Issues” one friend later suggests, trying to be helpful.) Feeling horribly embarrassed (and, as mentioned, violently angry), he accepts a ride into Carhaix, thereby giving up any chance of finishing the ride.
The doctor on duty says that nothing can be done that will take effect quickly enough to get him back into the ride. The doctor on duty tells him he should not ride for at least a week. The doctor on duty says he shouldn’t even walk for a couple days, if at all possible. The doctor on duty says he’s sorry, but there’ll be other rides. The doctor on duty narrowly avoids an invitation to kiss the aformentioned chapped ass.
Sadly, the Rider leaves the control, and the route, and the ride, finds a hotel room, drinks an entire bottle of red wine and sleeps like the dead for the next 18 hours, subsequently taking a train back to Paris in defeat.
That, dear friends, is how one PBP unfolded–at least for one rider, at one point in time. At another PBP, at another point in time, it will unfold very differently. Maybe. But that story will have to wait at least another 4 years to be written.
And with that, we arrive at the end of this Epic Saga, where verily and wearily endeth a massive Chronicle outlining but one set of adventures in the sometimes-remarkable-after-all life of The Transglobalist–rogue, charlatan, anti-statesman, hopeless romantic and intrepid slayer of Mountains. Despite his disappointment in Paris, he returned home happy and satisfied–with a 95% success rate and nearly 3500 kilometers added to his odometer. His body is recovering nicely, and his legs–if we can believe the rumors–are just too damn sexy for prime time.
So if, perchance, you should happen to meet this Intrepid Wanderer in your travels, greet him warmly, welcome him home, and remember fondly the Tales he has allowed me–with his usual grace and modesty–to retell herein for your pleasure, moral upliftification, and personal empowermentitude.
Or something like that….