Sunday, September 9, 2012

On the Roadside Again

Le 1000 du Sud 2012, September 5 - 8

Willie Nelson certainly did not think of randonneuring when he sang "And I can't wait to get on the road again." But I did think of his song when I picked the title for this post. So there is both forward-looking envy and some melancholia in my mind as I am writing this. Looking back into Life is not perfect, I now sense a bit of resignation in that title from a year ago already, in hindsight. I still don't know when - or even whether - I am going to get back in shape for long distances again. I do know I will have to write off the current year.

At least, I managed to participate again in this year's 1000 du Sud as a volunteer; and this included fourteen memorable hours on the roadside manning a secret control at km 760, on the way to the Col de la Couillole. For many, it may be hard to understand that I was excitedly looking forward to those mostly solitary hours. But for me, it meant an opportunity to stay at altitude in clean air (much more precious than you think!), enjoy the scenery, and provide support to fellow randonneurs who still consider me as one of them.

View from the control location (photo borrowed from here - check out the other pictures there!)

And this was my spot

But this was on Friday. Before, on Tuesday afternoon, I showed up at the start and finish location in Carcès to help with setting up tables and chairs etc. for the traditional pre-ride dinner.

Let the guests arrive!

Jean-Claude and Papou proudly present ...

Sophie, the head of Provence Randonneurs and the organizer of the brevet, must be doing something right: The number of participants increased since last year from 31 to 45! The French filled less than half of the roster; the remaining registrations came from Germany, Italy, England, the Netherlands and the USA, which was represented by Robin L. from the Eastern Pennsylvania Randonneurs. 

Robin made me the gift of admitting that he decided to come and ride the 1000 du Sud mainly because of my Wine and Cheese piece in the American Randonneur.

The start time of 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning left enough room for a leisurely breakfast and some more socializing.

Under a cloudy sky (but with a favorable weather forecast),  Sophie set up a table for the start control:

and as soon as the bells from the clock tower rang 8 a.m., the 45 randonneurs were on their way.

I helped with cleaning up L'Oustaou per toùti (the house for all) and found some additional reasons to extend my stay in the "green Provence" until I really had to drive some 50 miles back home. How I wished I could have been on the road again with my friends, or at least stayed in Carcès ...

By Thursday afternoon, I had loaded the car with what I anticipated to need for my "secret control" assignment, and drove about two hours up into the Alpes Maritimes

The red dot at the top indicates the control location
I'm borrowing some more photos from Sophie's collection to give you an idea about the scenery (I had my hands full with driving on the narrow, twisty roads and didn't take any pictures):

Originally, I had planned to sleep in the car; this way, I would be on the spot even for very fast riders who might pass as early as 3 a.m.. But my spouse Ghislaine didn't like the idea and insisted I get a place to sleep (and a dinner, and a breakfast) at the Fripounière, located right next to the Col de la Couillole. The only problem was that I needed to get out of bed before 3 a.m., to drive down about two miles on the west side of the pass to a spot where I had cell phone coverage, so I could communicate with Sophie who was at the previous secret control and gathered information about the riders as they passed through, so I could estimate when to expect them. And so I slept in the car anyway - until I was awakened by the first rider shortly before 5:30 a.m.. He said he had indeed hoped to get through the night without a sleep stop; and then he would have been at my control possibly even before 3 a.m.!

The sunrise was glorious, and I felt lucky to be where I was. I had all the morning for myself - the next riders showed up after 11 a.m. only! - and used the time to practice my Zither playing out in the open air (did you notice the instrument on the table in the third picture from the top?). I only put it away when "rush hour" occurred, around noon. The big majority of randonneurs passed before early afternoon; they were well within the time limit, despite an extremely demanding route with about 50,000 ft of elevation gain, including the Col de Cayolle at nearly 8,000 ft!

Zither, food and control stamp on the table

I then counted down the last four or five remaining randonneurs; as long as they would pass before 5 p.m., they still had a fighting chance to finish within the time limit of 75 hours. They were also the ones who could use a couple of uplifting words. From my own experience, I knew very well how they felt, severely exhausted, with empty and badly hurting legs. Then again, I wished I was in their shoes. To repeat the obvious: even if I had been in my best shape from earlier last year, I would definitely not have been able to be where they were at that time of the ride!

Eventually, by around 5 p.m. my rider list was all signed and stamped, and I could pack up and leave. I knew from Sophie that several other riders had "opted out" earlier from chasing the clock; they took more recovery time in the first or second night and wanted to finish the ride "touristic style." Given the extreme nature of the parcours, Sophie anticipated and actually encouraged that approach for riders who were at risk of missing control closure times. As much as I would have liked, it didn't make sense to wait for them. They did not expect to find me there, anyway.

I went back to the Fripounière, used the remaining two hours before dinner time for a rewarding hike around the neighborhood, and fell fast asleep in my bed as soon as I had finished dinner. On Saturday morning, I drove back to the finish in Carcès, but arrived "hors delai" (past the time limit); I had underestimated the time it would take on the narrow, winding roads. Also, I didn't hesitate to stop and enjoy the scenery; I did it "touristic style." I had hoped to still catch up with some participants on the road, but didn't see anybody: all those who came through my control finished within the time limit! Given the difficulty of the route, a finishing rate of 30/45 is pretty good; and this is without counting the hors delai finishers. Sophie certainly was happy with this successful third edition of the "1000 du Sud." And I was happy for having been part of it, even though on the roadside again.


  1. "...provide support to fellow randonneurs who still consider me as one of them..."

    You'll always be, Joseph. Thank you so much.

  2. Thank you Joseph for your encouragelent just before the Colmiane
    This help me to get more mental during this effort.
    Finnaly I came at saint Martin in time and with a big smile.