|The Faccombes on the wheel|
Being part of this ride was never really about seeing if I could ride 1200kms or how fast I could ride it in. What really attracted me and kept me motivated over the last few years was the history of the event, the truely international flavour and the tales of roadside support from the locals; and all this in a country I love spending time in. A country where the bike is seen an elevated form of transport not a hinderance to other road users.
The journey to the start line has been just as much as an adventure as the ride itself. Myself, Lee, Kieran and Dave have ridden thousands of kilometers together in all weathers and all seasons as we found our audaxing legs and prepped for the ride itself. It's been a truely shared journey ....new friends, who now seem like old friends, have been made along the way, Els, Mark (and the rest of the Portsmouth randonneuring folks) to name but a few; all of us with a common goal for 2011 and a common love of being out on a bike in good company, in great countryside with beer or a cuppa at the end!
I won't go into a turn by turn account of the ride (phew I hear you say!). I have lots of very clear memories of the ride but have given up trying to piece them together into any geographical or chronological order rather just happy to have them as snapshots of moments that piece together into an collage of the ride. I loved PBP. It lived upto all my expectations. It was a physical and mental challenge, but never felt impossible and really the sleep deprivation was the hardest thing to cope with as we rode through 4 nights and 3 days. We were lucky with the weather, unlike others, we never encountered any rain worth putting a coat on for and managed to miss the big thunderstorm, just encountering the wet roads, muddy control and soaking wet riders in the aftermarth! The sun even came out on the wednesday and with time in hand for me and Kieran we were able to indulge ourselves with roadside cake stops, home brewed cider, beers with the locals and a siesta in the shade by the side of the road. PBP 90hour Touriste style!
The level of support for this ride from the side of the road is unique in long distance events and brings people back for successived PBPs. I can completely understand that, for 3-4 days you are made to feel special: applauded, cheered and willed on by all ages; from the young girl at the end of her garden on a sunny evening to a farmer by the side of road in the middle of the night. From the lone young lad on his bmx quietly applauding riders who passed his road to white van drivers leaning out of their windows shouting 'Bon Couarge' with a clenched fist! Bottles of water and snacks were left out after supporters had gone to bed while the hardy stayed up all night to be there for you. Its these people who are the over-riding memory.of my PBP.
It was a parallel world we had entered as we left Paris. Normal days and their division become irrelevent. All that concerned us was the distance to the next control. the time we would ge there, did we need food and how much, did we need skeep and how much. How much time did we have in hand. These calculations are run endlessly especially through the long nights. The night riding becomes another world within this strange world, the snake of red lights stretches to the horizon, nothing much is said, often the only sound is the whir of the chain and quiet buzz of the tyre on the road. It makes for an eerie endless procession especially during the first night. However this is all broken with the arrival at the controls as you are snapped out of you dream with bright lights, hundreds of riders, bikes everywhere and the need to try and get controlled, fed water and rested asap and back on the road. Daylight always seems to come later than expected.
Multiple the above by 4 nights and 3 days and mix in increasing amounts of tiredness and you will get an idea of the slightly disorientated and disassociated state the average randonneur on PBP finds themselves in! Just keep pedalling!
The penultimate control, Dreux, is only 65k from Paris. The welcome and the atmosphere was as if it was the arrivee. The end was in sight. Time for one last refuel and refill those jersey pockets with bananas. Dawn was breaking we had plenty of time. For those last few hours back to Paris I was filled with mixed emotions. We had the fun of one last grupetto, with Nina and Patrick, cruising past other riders, the excitement of the imminent completion of the ride but I also felt slighty meloncolly that the who PBP adventure was coming to a close. Arriving back in Paris in the rush hour traffic was a bit of a wake up call and not ideal for tired riders but we safely got off the road and safely into the arrivee. A blur of officials and friends, one last check in, a voucher for a cold beer, no more calculations just stories swapped in the shade ...we had done it!