Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wistfully Upbeat

Cannes, towards the end of October 2011

One of the contradictions in my personnality (and I don't think I am unique in that) is the tendency to be simultaneously nostalgic and forward-oriented. Over the last weeks, I had reasons to start worrying about a healthy balance between both attitudes. The obvious public explanation is a lack of health and a lack of physical activity (both go together for me). Can you believe that I still haven't touched my bicycle since the finish of PBP? That's pretty serious, after all.

While working on recovering enough health to break the vicious cycle of not getting enough exercise, I want to get closer again to the bicycling story in my life. This will provide a better balance between nostalgia and optimistic forward-looking.

I wish I could illustrate all the important events with photos or other credible documents; but mostly, you need to take my word for it. However, over the summer, Fabienne did come across some old photos which I should include in my blog:

Here is the first photo of me on a bicycle (note the Lederhosen!). My great-grandmother (the same as mentioned here) understood that I desperately needed a bicycle in my life, and she miraculously arranged for transferring that very old and very simple woman's 26"-wheeler to me. I didn't even know this photo existed until this summer; the fact that it does exist indicates that riding the bicycle was extremely important for me. 

I must have had nine years at that time. My first real contact with a bicycle, however, happened nearly five years earlier, and I do recollect precisely what happened. At that time, in the early years after World War II, barely anybody in our village had a car; people travelled by bicycle. And so, one day, a visitor came to do grown-up conversations with my parents inside, while I stared in fascination at his bicycle leaning against the outside of the house. After a while, I couldn't resist any longer: I had to try it out! I had seen other children ride a bicycle, contorted under the high horizontal tube of a men's frame; I would do just the same. 

Not only did I topple over, of course, and soon enough (because the house was high up on a hill and I didn't even think about how to operate a brake) - in falling over, my leg got caught and pinched between the front wheel and the frame and I was unable to get up by myself. This made a big impression on me and I screamed accordingly. The subsequent additional punishment made another big impression on me. But it did nothing to discourage me from pursuing the dream of riding a bicycle.

I rode my great-grandmother's bike a lot and became a self-taught bicycle mechanic with it. Over time, it got tuned up quite thoroughly. I believe all of my eight younger siblings learned to ride a bicycle on it.  But it was not street-legal; and by the age of twelve, my bike riding had become so convincing, both in quantity and skill, that my uncle handed his heavy but very solid 3-speed bicycle over to me. Now I could go on the roads and start bicycle touring with friends! It sounds absolutely incredibly nowadays; but barely two years later, the parent generation of those times thought nothing about letting me and three of my friends pack our bikes and leave for a trip of four days, sleep in youth hostels, averaging 80 miles per day, on Bavarian roads that touched some of the very same places I would not see again until last June on this occasion!

In the meantime, I had read articles about bicycle races in the newspaper and followed the annual Tour de France with my friends - Gastone Nencini (the winner of the 1960 Tour de France) and Hennes Junkermann were our heroes. It became clear that I needed a bicycle with drop-handlebars. Not that it came easily - quite the opposite. But it came: a yellow 10-speed "Bauer" bike with rack and fenders. I loaded it with panniers and took off for long distances and high passes (more about that later; there is a story to tell that deserves its own title); and at the end of 1961, I started racing on it (each time removing the rack and fenders, and putting them back on for the daily commute to school)

I am not in the above picture from the traditional annual Pfingstbahnrennen at the velodrome in Niederpöring, Lower Bavaria; but I am the photographer. I rode my yellow 10-speed there as a spectator; but the village volunteers let me in for free, thinking I was one of the racers. Later, I went there with my home club RSV 1895 Passau for some little club races with our geared street bikes (we couldn't afford track bikes). Besides, the velodrome had a dirt/gravel surface at that time, which made for interesting traction problems.

Here is a picture of me - I am the one on the right side, in danger of getting dropped from the field (which you need to imagine to the left of the picture). This and the following picture were taken at the annual "1st of May" criterium in Gerzen, probably in 1964.  In the end, I managed to hang on and to finish in the field, but without points - I had no chance in sprints. That's why, one year later, I attempted to break away nearly two laps before the next sprint for points - I had used this tactic before already, but never succeeded. This time however, only three racers passed me, and I saved a little point for showing up in the results and bringing home a sausage as a prize!

Lurking behind, shifting up at the top of the hill!


OK; I feel better already. 

Looking forward.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Life is not perfect

Mille du Sud, September 15 - 18, 2011

Yielding to some pressure from friends, I posted early August about my Big Goals and listed the three of them for 2011. The title of today's post gives a hint towards the outcome of the third. It's DNS - Did Not Start. The reference to my immune system at the end of my PBP report gives another hint: Although I did get rid of the cold in time, the bronchitis which it had generated as a side effect persisted. I proudly assert that I am still reasonable enough to know when not to attempt a big long distance effort.

Be that as it may: as so often in life, there are benefits to setbacks. In this case, the coughing had become rare enough that I could make the 90 km drive from Cannes to Carcès on Wednesday afternoon (the day before the start) and go with Ghislaine on a four-day vacation trip which included about half of the 1000-du-Sud route. This way, I enjoyed meeting with the 31 participants at the common Wednesday evening dinner:

partake of the common breakfast served by Sophie before the 7 a.m. start:

leisurely discover the Green Provence around Carcès during Thursday:

Healing in the clean air of Tourtour

and spend most of Friday and Saturday on the road to Le Bourg d'Oisans and back, mostly on the route of the Mille du Sud, taking pictures of the randonneurs on the road:

I also enjoyed meeting with the organizer, Sophie (the same as the one mentioned here). Here is another picture of her, close to the finish of the recent Paris - Brest - Paris:

Yes, she road that bike, named Charlie-Ferdinand. Note the drop-handlebar-rider in the background desperately trying to hang on. When she presented her brevet card at one of the controls, with her flowing flower dress, the man with the rubber stamp in his hand said something like "No madam, your husband needs to be present to get his brevet card stamped." Her prowess on a bicycle is one thing; her ambition and dedication to making "Le Mille du Sud" the most outstanding 1000 km brevet is another.


Six months ago, Bob K. from British Columbia and I (we knew each other from having ridden many miles together in grand randonnées) agreed to ride together and to share rooms. I was profoundly distressed not being able to share the experience with him. When we passed him on Saturday, half-way up the Col du Lautaret, he said "You cannot believe how much fun you are missing out on!"

Actually, I could believe. However, I also realized that Bob was behind schedule at that point. I didn't want to hold him back by asking more questions, but I learned that his second night was sub-optimal and that he worried about his sleep deficit. In the end he decided to stay overnight in Le Lauzet-Ubaye (there were bad hail and lightning storms), which made him finish hors delai (past the time limit of 75 hours). Given all the other witness accounts from the road, I have no doubt that had I ridden with Bob (even at my best), I would not have been able to do any better. And I would have been just as happy and satisfied and proud with my hors delai finish as Bob must have been.

We passed my riding companion Roland from last year's Mille du Sud half-way up the climb du Col Saint Jean. He had just stopped for a sandwich-lunch break. He appeared to be well within the time limits - but he had taken a short-cut on the evening before and would not qualify as finisher any more. The heat on the first day had put him out of contention. 

The same might have happened to me (I am not strong in the heat either). But there is no way to know, now. Roland took a hotel room in St-André-les-Alpes, left at 3:30 a.m. and finished at 9:30 a.m. - contagiously happy and gregarious as ever. We will communicate regularly over the next months: I can use his recommendations for my first Diagonale, next year!

We passed several other participants - and finishers - on our way back: a group of Germans, a group of Italians, several randonneurs riding alone, and the 2-man team from Mulhouse/Kingersheim (Alsace). We did not catch the first three on the road; they were too far ahead already, and we decided to take a shortcut towards the finish (we were running late ourselves). All in all, it appeared that the percentage of finishers was clearly better than last year, despite a harder route and more difficult atmospheric conditions. The reputation of this event already has some effect on the self-selection of participants and their preparation.

I stayed overnight from Saturday to Sunday at the finish in the Salle Polyvalente to be available in case I could be useful for anything. The case occurred when the duo Pascal/Gilles from Mulhouse/Kingersheim arrived, at 1:15 a.m.. Less than an hour from the finish, on a winding descent through a forest Provençal, Pascal hit two young wild boars on the road and both he and his companion went down. Gilles didn't appear to be injured, but Pascal was severely shaken and suffering (while the wild boars probably got away unscathed). They both finished - Pascal with a broken collarbone (!) and extremely painful severe contusions. After some deliberations to overcome Pascal's objections, Gilles and I drove Pascal around 4 a.m. to the hospital in Brignoles where he had to stay for two days. 

Pascal and Gilles on the road to Digne, Saturday afternoon

There would be several other heroic stories to tell, like the one about the four recumbent riders who came close to finishing but eventually got defeated by hail, thunder, lightning and floods. Or the one about the last hors delai finisher, the 68-year-old Italian Marziano. He had trouble with broken spokes and navigational errors, but found no way of notifying Sophie (who was worried about his whereabouts, and even alerted the police) until Monday evening. She waited for him the following night until she was too exhausted and fell asleep. Early Tuesday morning, she found him sleeping in his car, at the finish. "È tutta una avventùra ...", he said.

Instead, I close with a photo from the restaurant L'Olalpa in Carcès, early Sunday afternoon.

In the background, Sophie with three of the recumbent riders. In the foreground, the "presidential couple" of the Argens Cyclo Carcès club, from our table of six.

I think the picture reflects much of the true spirit, beyond bicycling, of Le Mille du Sud: Friendship and conviviality. We parted with "A l'année prochaine!"

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mind Games

Paris - Brest - Paris, August 21-25, 2011

It's a little stretch to apply the concept of "mind game" to what remains for the me the dominant impression from my PBP 2011 experience; but that's what it was - except for the "deliberate", "on another" and "competitive advantage" parts in the definition above. I played all the mind games on myself - unwittingly.

It started earlier this year, when I set up my big goals for the season and completed my qualifying brevet series for PBP. Somehow, this exceptional event got downgraded in my mind, to the point of having its historical weight, its challenges and unique characteristics repressed. I should have known better; but I brought myself to belittle it as a relatively easy 1200, sandwiched as a filler between my first Big Eight of Bavaria and a desperately sought-after successful finish at the Mille du Sud (coming up on September 15). I was only partially aware of the psychological mechanism that was going on, and did occasionally express concerns to my friends about "not taking it seriously." Even up to the last days and during the long hours waiting for the start, I couldn't bring myself to be as excited as expected. It took a couple of days on the roads of Brittany of being exposed to the enthusiasm and generosity of the population and of the countless volunteers, and of being surrounded day and night by 5000 randonneurs from all over the world, to normalize my attitude. Even then, in particular when the lack of sleep triggered some of the usual symptoms, I still had difficulties truly understanding what PBP precisely was: something different from a "usual" 1200k brevet; but what?

Physically, my preparation was adequate; I had been able to take advantage of rather favorable circumstances that minimized the risk of overtraining and maximized the opportunities to rest. Mentally, I could have done much better. At least, I had put together a list of controls, with km-totals and estimated arrival times, and kept it on my route sheet holder. Below Fabienne's copy where she applied in red the adjustments due to my late start at 19:40 instead of at 18:00.

Undeniably, one thing was very special about PBP for me again: In contrast to most of my other long rides, it was a "family event." Even though we couldn't repeat the big presence of 2007, Fabienne made a point of coming from California to keep Ghislaine company during the ride, and my niece Nathalie joined them again. The three enjoyed the special atmosphere and made it clear that they were looking forward to be there again in 2015, no matter what! From my side, I had made it clear that I wanted to ride alone this time, and without any personal support at controls. I didn't use a drop bag either and carried everything I needed for nearly four days on the bike.

Bisou. "And be careful!"

"The hardest part (the waiting) is done. From now on, it's pure pleasure!"

Despite showing up shortly after 3 p.m. in the hope of catching an early wave (and then seeking some sit-down opportunity in the shade, rather than standing for hours in the burning sun), I managed to leave with the next-to-last wave only - what a waste of well over four hours! I still have to learn a lot ...
On the other hand, I had opportunities to chat with friends, to make new friends, and to wave and shout across the lines to other randonneurs of various nationalities who recognized me before I recalled that we had met already somewhere some time in the past.

Paris - Brest

My plan (i.e. the estimated arrival times at the controls) was "agressively optimistic" as I put it in a pre-ride e-mail to friends, so they could follow my progression on my SPOT device and the official tracking of participants. I had announced that I was going after a sub-80 hour finishing time, which was pretty ambitious for me. I didn't seriously expect to succeed unless the atmospheric conditions remained favorable and I didn't encounter any snafu. The fact that I knew something about this event from my first attempt four years ago, and that I had accumulated some general randonneuring experience since then should give me confidence, however. Not to speak of some reluctantly admitted modest progress I had made over time in terms of speed and endurance (remember: it's all relative).

And so, more than a little upset about the wasted time at the start, I went out fast enough that I caressed hopes of absorbing my 1h40 delay before Brest and finishing by 2 a.m. as planned. This would make a big difference in perceived comfort (the last night would be shorter by 1h40), and I would be able to brag about a 78:20 finishing time ...

I had no trouble going through the first night and kept my stops at a minimum. Despite some headwind, I was 1h10 ahead of my schedule at the Loudéac control (km 451) - only 30 more minutes to gain and I was "even." I remembered many of the more characteristic climbs on the route from four years ago and found that they had become much easier, in the meantime; life was good! I only had to reach Carhaix (barely 80 km away) for a major sleep stop of about 3 hours, push on to Brest and then relax on the return trip with its tailwind!

Before I could leave the Loudéac control, I had to wait for the passage of the groupe de tête - they were racing the event (while still satisfying the control-stamp obligation) and about to set a new record of something like 44 hours, due to the above-mentioned tailwind back from Brest. Back on the road, I meditated for a little while about the conflicts between racing and randonneuring and the contradictions in the mission statement of PBP (as imagined by me), but decided to remain philosophical about it.

The new-this-year eat/sleep stop (not a control) in Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem, about 30 km before Carhaix, was pleasant and inviting. While I chewed in the restaurant tent and listened to the invitations to take advantage of the available cots in the sleeping tent, I heard some thunders in the not-too-far distance - hmm? For a split second, I considered changing my plans and staying right there for my sleep stop. But only a split second. Carhaix was only about 90 minutes away, and I could get quickly closer to my new intermediate goal of recovering the 1h40 of my late start if I pushed through and kept the sleep stop in Carhaix.

Big mistake!

Less than five km later, it started to rain, and then to pour, and then to thunder, spiced up with some lightning. In hindsight, it would have been better to turn around to Saint-Nicolas and to stay there, after all. The wet ride to Carhaix was miserable and slow (I wasn't alone - misery likes company). By the time we arrived, I had already lost a good portion of my advance; but the real loss (and snafu!) was still to come. The way from the control to the sleeping quarters in Carhaix was long across a field - and the sleeping quarters were full. We learned that only after being held standing in line for at least ten minutes outside in the rain. I then figured out that I could enjoy some quiet minutes in a dry place if I asked for the rest rooms (they are called rest rooms for a reason). Also, I could change into dry clothes there. But still no sleeping opportunity, and it was past midnight on the second night. I walked back to the cafeteria (getting wet again across the field) and looked for an emergency napping opportunity. This was not very successful; but I could at least close my eyes for half an hour and get stiff. When I realized that the rain had stopped, I decided to leave and sleep in Brest instead. Despite the lack of sleeping comfort at the Carhaix control, I now believe it was the wrong decision regardless. I advanced very slowly, stopped many, many times to keep myself going with micro-sleep stops on half-way safe ground and generally was rather angry with myself. At some point, I realized that my SPOT didn't blink at all. This was odd; it should blink either green or red, depending on whether the satellite transmission of the coordinates had succeeded or not. It would have indicated  low batteries for several hours before failing - and I had changed the batteries in the afternoon. But it was so dark, I couldn't see anything without stopping, and I had stopped too often already. Later, when I had street lights, I saw that there was no SPOT any more: I had lost it, probably on some rattling descent. I must have missed to fix it properly after changing the batteries in the afternoon!

This was a major blow. For one, on these long rides, I always enjoy thinking of family and friends who are following my progression on the map based on the SPOT messages with my position every ten minutes. Now, I felt disconnected and lost and alone and discouraged. But, there was also another disturbing sensation. I know that I have to expect an onset of mild hallucinations if I am in the second night essentially without sleep. I learned to deal with them in a scientific way and to be entertained by their mystic absurdities. By the way, they have never been threatening or troublesome, and mostly even esthetically pleasing (like floating carriages without horses on the side walks which dissolve into nothing as soon as I approach them). This time, no hallucinations. Instead (or does this count as a hallucination, too?) - I feel the presence of Ghislaine, my spouse, on my side. It is as if we are traveling in a car, me driving and she in the passenger seat. And she is talking to me, blaming me for having lost the SPOT device which is, after all, last year's Mother's Day gift for her! She keeps going about reminding me how bad this is for all our friends and family members who are worried about my well-being, now that they don't know what happened. As if I didn't know it already, all by myself. I find it annoying enough (nothing against my spouse!) that I squint my eyes, look at my handlebar, down to my slowly grinding cranks, and to the side where there is nothing but a fog line: I am alone on the road to Brest! Five minutes later, Ghislaine is at my side again, and the nagging about the lost SPOT continues. - Doesn't it feel like Ghislaine was playing a mind game on me?

It went on and on in complete darkness, up and down, with small groups of other riders passing me every so often. I didn't attempt to hang on to them; it was just between me and the night. I could guess when we passed the highest eleveation, Roc Trévezel, and felt much better on the long downhill. Day broke when we arrived in Sizun, and with relief I joined a group of other randonneurs in an early open bar for a grand café and a huge croissant. The night was over - not too soon!

Now in daylight (although subdued by dense low clouds), I made the effort to join some faster groups to get to my sleep stop in Brest as soon as possible. The more or less touristic detours built into the route this time were a test of patience and stoicism; they played a mind game of making me believe we rode repeatedly around loops. But all was well as soon as I got my card stamped and a cot assigned - it was Tuesday, 8:34 a.m. (less than 37 hours for 618 km - not too bad, after all!), and I slept like a stone for over two hours.

Brest - Paris

Just when I left the breakfast cafeteria, a man stepped in my way, introduced himself as Jackie Krebs, and I said "OK. What did I do?" He was a little dismayed that I didn't recognize him, and showed me the family letter with pictures we had sent him for Christmas. As documented on page 4 of this, four years ago, my daughters had met two cheerful, helpful and generous gentlemen at the control in Brest; but maintaining the contact had proven to be precarious. Now, one of them had looked for my control times on the PBP website, come to the control and waited (possibly for hours, while I slept) to meet with me! He had his hands full of gifts and souvenirs for me and my family (good thing I had big enough bags on my bike). And then I took off. - That's what PBP is all about!

The two hours of very deep sleep had done miracles. I smiled when I recognized the spot where I had slept on a bench, four years ago. I enjoyed the scenery, enjoyed the moderate climb up to Roc Trévezel, enjoyed the descent and the rolling hills where I was "fast" already four years ago towards Carhaix. I tried to identify the hill where I must have lost my SPOT and scanned the left road side, but without success. At 15:48, I checked in at the Carhaix control and didn't even realize that I was still on target for my originally hoped-for 80-hour finish. I only enjoyed the ride and intended to keep it that way.

I was only worried that my planned sleep stop in Tinténiac (where I should arrive before 2 a.m.)  might get marred by the same mishap as in Carhaix on the way out. That's why I didn't hesitate this time (I had learned my lesson!) to immediately lay down on an empty soft mat at the secret control in Illifaut, somewhere between Loudéac and Tinténiac, shortly after 11 p.m.  I texted home where I was and what I was about to do, that I did well, and that I didn't care about my 80-hour finish any more! I just slept ...

When I woke up and decided to continue, I didn't even look at the watch. I arrived in Tinténiac without any trouble at 5:40 a.m., didn't stay longer than necessary and continued cheerfully towards Fougères, because I had kept good memories from this relatively short and easy leg between controls since 2007. My card got stamped at the control in Fougères at 9:18 instead of a planned 8:10 a.m.; but, as I said, I didn't care. I might as well have made a mistake in my spreadsheet calculations when I estimated the control passage times!

Next goal : Villaines-la-Juhel, km 1009. This control town is special in many ways; but most importantly for me, this is where Dr. Fressier expected to see me. Four years ago, Fabienne offered her services as French - English - German translator there, and we stayed in touch. This time, I arrived alone, still 40 minutes behind my original schedule, but reducing my delay (thanks to some growing tailwind) and visibly in great shape. I got an exceptional VIP treatment, an excellent free lunch (carried to the table by a charming little girl), many pictures taken, and took off for the remaining 230 km in high spirits.

With Dr. Fressier

Fresh like a flower!

As soon as I was on the road, I couldn't believe how fast I went: the tailwind was absolutely fabulous! I enjoyed recognizing much of the scenery and basked in the contrast between my current experience (middle of the afternoon, blue sky with some white clouds, terrific tailwind, great shape) and the one from four years ago (around 3 a.m., total darkness, rain, headwind, exhaustion). This all didn't last, of course; and in the end I arrived in Mortagne-au-Perche half an hour later than projected (shortly before 7 p.m.) but again well before my original 80-hour plan timeline!

I had learned earlier via some text messages from Ghislaine, Fabienne and Nathalie that in the end, they decided after all to come and see me at the control in Mortagne. This was of course a nice surprise, and I was happy that I was still able to let it all appear as "easy."

"Hotel de la Bouteille" - checking in at the Mortagne control

Still easy!

The future of PBP is assured ...

... according to the drawing photographed by Ghislaine.

Meanwhile, Fabienne made friends with our guardian angels

So, all this was nice and good. But, as you can tell from the difference in lighting and sky color between the first and last photos above, I stayed much longer than planned and adviseable. Also, the long break somehow affected my performance on the bike negatively, and I slowed down, down and even more down when night fell. The fact that I didn't know the roads to Dreux and to the finish (and that much of those roads had a rough surface) didn't make it easier. Many other small groups of riders caught up to me and passed me. I tried sometimes to stay with them, but they were nearly always too fast for me. And when I finally found a group with which I could cover the last 20 km to Dreux, the group riding at night didn't make an allowance for grabbing food in the handlbar bag and eating on the bike, and even less to stop and put on another layer - it did get a little too cool for me as we approached Dreux. As a result, when I finally arrived at the control and had the surprise to see Ghislaine, Fabienne and Nathalie again (they had made the decision to come to Dreux on a whim, after I left Mortagne), I had no desire or even ability to pretend it was still "easy."

I warmed up with a hot tea, added a layer, and exhorted my female family fans not to hold me back and let me leave as soon as possible for the last 65 km. Every five minutes would make a difference by the time I approached the finish - not because of the overall finishing time, but because of the time it would take until I could go to bed! And so I left in company of some anonymous and rather silent other riders, finding our way out of Dreux by looking collectively for the infamous reflective arrows, and - as far as I am concerned - reflecting on the mysterious geographical configuration of the route. Before getting there, I imagined a no-brainer easy run into the finish and was much more optimistic than my state of exhaustion allowed. But this optimism was about to change, and I was to experience the most outrageous mind game of my life (so far).

I am still puzzled today by this experience, and I still have no real explanation. If I had the opportunity, I would want to go back to that 65 km stretch from Dreux to the finish in daylight and reconstruct - or, rather, deconstruct! -  my impressions from that night.

Something slightly similar has happened before. When riding in darkness, there is not enough visual information for the cerebral cortex to build a complete spatial structure of the surroundings. My mind, however, desperately wants to get hold of such a structure (the more interesting the better), just for intellectual satisfaction, if I dare say so. For example, I have been riding many hours in Death Valley at night, and nearly always (even without being sleep deprived or particularly tired) I developed the conviction that the road I was riding on lead through a forest of high, dense trees.

This time, a specific sequence of turns, short and steep uphills, turns, junctions, turns, tunnels, short downhills, turns seemed to repeat itself all over again and again with only slight variations in the length of the individual segments or the characteristics of the turns. It was absolutely incredible, and I could nearly predict the next element of the sequence. It was not easy either, and the repeated climbs were often steep. We must have repeated the sequence at least seven times, each time getting a little higher. Or that's what my mind told me. I kept thinking about the genius who designed that sequence of turns, uphills, downhills, tunnels, such that it could be repeated on that half-urban geography with only slight variations; and the city planning committees who approved such an Escheresque design and managed to raise the money to build it. This could be a rival to the Seven Wonders of the World! - I really need to look this up on the maps, tomorrow! (But first, I need to get to the finish and sleep ...)

At that moment, I was grateful that I was not alone. I was riding in a group of seven, mostly French riders, with Kevin M. from Cayucos thrown in. I had the impression that he was more upset than me about the unexpected difficulties and the apparent artificial lengthening of the route so close to the finish. He has completed PBP several times before, but said that he never encountered that particular routing artifact. From my side, despite a thorough conviction of discovering something exceptional, I didn't insist on sharing my bewildering experience. Who knows; maybe not every cyclist is as sensitive to world wonders as myself? And then, I had to sprint again to catch up to the group - that preceding climb was a little longer and steeper than the others in the series! - and I certainly didn't want to be alone in this situation.

And so we arrived in Guyancourt and found our way to the finish control. I knew Fabienne and Nathalie would make a point of staying up and be there for me; and so I attempted to arrive before the bunch of the group. Fabienne recognized me from across the oval:

Ghost rider

I don't want to include any other pictures from the finish - I didn't look good. Fabienne and Nathalie are telling exaggerated stories about how I had forgotten my frame number even though I could see it on the helmet in my hands, or how I turned around when I couldn't see right away the table where I was to check in. But, eventually, I checked in and got my stamp. It was 3:33 a.m. on Thursday morning - I had finished in under 80 hours.


For the first time after a long ride, I ended up with catching a cold. The immune system didn't appreciate the late hours of the last night.
We left Guyancourt for a long drive to Bavaria on Friday, to arrive in time for the wedding of my niece Barbara (during PBP, I explained to friends who were surprised by my short stops at controls that I needed to finish early, or the wedding of my niece would have to be postponed). 

Since then, I am trying to recover in Lower Bavaria with the help of considerable quantities of locally brewed beer and other specialties. It seems to work - I gained over six pounds in a week.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Discovering the Roannais

Roanne, August 8 - 15, 2011

Picking a title for this post was easy: I just had to translate the sign below:

If you are curious: the Roannais is the area around the town of Roanne which is situated pretty much in central France, with Saint Etienne (see previous post) and Lyon as the nearest bigger cities.

Roanne happens to be the home town of Ghislaine's cousin Jacques and his wife Marie-France. They have a big house there which makes that I like to call Marie-France the Chatelaine. The title is well deserved, in particular because of her outstanding hospitality. I know, because we just spent a week of vacation at their house (and with their grandson Kylian, who told me I was chouette).

Of course, I brought my bicycle along and went out on a 4 - 5 hour ride, every other day, as a last tune-up for next week (my frame number is 4605).

Of course, I wish I could have managed to go back to St. Etienne and do the venerable Col de la République climb at least once; but this will have to wait for another time. Instead, I picked the mountainous area north of Thizy (on the top-right corner of the map above - click on it to zoom in) as the destination of my first excursion. And what a destination it was - Que Du Bonheur!

I started out on the "Milk Road", but soon gained altitude through Coutouvre with its mural paintings:

... and reached areas with greener grass and even happier cows:

It was very cloudy at times, but I stayed dray and enjoyed the change from Cannes' sticky atmosphere to the clean, fresh air in the forests. I accumulated several cols and quite some total elevation gain:

At the Col du Pavillon:

... I was amused to find a sign towards Belleville:

And I touched the border between the Départements of the Loire and the Rhone:

I stopped for two more pictures on the long downhill on the way back:

Pretty little town of La Cergne


Two days later, I followed the recommendation of Jacques and went southwards along the Gorges of the Loire to Balbigny and back, discovering a different view of the Roannais. No altitude to speak of (the Loire is well below 300 m at this point); but the road often goes up and down on the hills along the river, and the climbs are generally steeper than in the forested areas at higher altitude. All in all, another wonderful excursion and good training!

Château de la Roche

Pretty railroad bridge

A flower tree in Balbigny


Finally, one last day of riding in the Roannais, this time to the top-left corner of the map at the beginning of this post:

For the occasion, the Chatelaine had made me yet another pair of sandwiches for the road, and in recognition we urged her to pose for a souvenir picture with me before I left:

This was the route with the highest elevation and the longest, most demanding climbing; I enjoyed it even more thoroughly than the previous two.

Isn't that the prettiest name for a Col?

The declared destination was the station of  La Loge des Gardes. I certainly wish I could have stayed there in the woods at 1100 m for several days:

Time to smell the flowers!

And now, I also know where the département de l'Allier is!


We are back in Cannes now, but only for a couple of days before leaving for Guyancourt / Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Onwards to my second big goal of this year! (I won't be able to report about it immediately after the event, however; we have additional travel plans before coming back to the South).