Sunday, September 2, 2007

What a time that was! Ramblings and Photos of a 1200K rookie

“So, how did it go?” My reply is that I finished with 5 minutes to spare, according to the control documented time. My watch gave me 7 minutes to spare, but I wasn’t about to quibble. Given the preceding 24 hours, I have never been happier about cutting it so close.
On Thursday early evening, a number of us were held up while a fallen cyclist was being attended to. Further down the road a fellow participant who spoke limited English told me he had heard the cyclist died. Further ahead, about 1-2 hours before the Villanes control, I hear “help- please stop” out of the pitch dark. There’s a German rider crashed in a ditch. He was on his back clipped on and pinned down by his bike. I was too tired to get him out by myself, so I started waving to cars to stop. A group of cyclists from behind were yelling for me to get off the road until they figured out why I was waving for help. A motorist shortly after stopped, helped to unclip the rider and get him out of the ditch. The poor guy got tired of me asking neuro check questions, reiterated that he was OK, that his support vehicle was on its way and that I could leave. I had been drowsy before that; afterwards I was wide awake and wondering what did I get myself into???
The Villanes control was a welcome sight. The floor was comfy and I got about 90 minutes of sleep. Then the real fun began. I could not stay awake on the way to Mortagne au Perche. I stopped several times for blinks as it seemed a longer nap would would put me out of time. Finally I’m lying on the side of the road torn between just going to sleep and using the delays described above as grounds for a time adjustment or going on at a snail’s pace. Neither alternative seemed likely to result in a timely finish. Then I felt myself becoming alert and energized so I pushed on. I made it to Mortagne au Perche with an hour to spare. There was a souvenir site there with a Mortagne wool jersey, but I figured the last thing I needed to be doing was shopping and then dragging that item for another 140 km. I stayed at that control 2+ hours- 2 hours of sleep and the rest ass-dragging behavior.
So, I’m behind schedule again. I now have to average 22 kph to get to Dreux. Not an unreasonable speed, except that the hills at the start of that leg put my pace at 16 kph for the 1st hour. Once again, my prospects for finishing the ride on time appeared dim. But hey, the road flattened out and I found myself doing 35-40 kph. Then I joined forces with an SIR rider who helped me for a while and I arrived at that control with 10 minutes to spare. The last km I started having chest tightness. I went through my checklist, thought it reasonable to judge my symptoms noncardiac in character ( I’m a Family Doc), ate and rested for an hour.
My hope at that point was to finish at a leisurely pace. I met up with the before-mentioned blueshirt (I’m terrible with names, especially when hypoxic) again just outside of Dreux. He warned that portions of the last leg were hilly and advised a faster pace- not what I wanted to hear at that point. I kept on lolly-lagging for a while, chatted with a group who had a 20 minutes later start than me (thus more time to spare) and my inner alarm clock went off again. Time for another cardiac stress test. I arrived at Trappes chest pain free and feeling on schedule for a 89:30 finish. Then the traffic lights began. I commented to a fellow rider that we could say we would have finished on time had it not been for the Trappes/Guyancourt lights. Shortly after, I realized that finishing out of time due to the traffic was not a sarcastic exaggeration but a distinct possibility. In my haste, I overshot the finish line, backtracked and arrived at 16:43 my watch to the control. In that chaos, I missed seeing my wife who had been waiting for me at the finish for 3 hours.
It’s difficult to overstate how much good fortune contributed to my finishing on time. I used Vittoria Open Corsa tires. Not the best choice for bad weather, but I had no flats. Using heavier wheels with a higher spoke count than the Mavic Ksyrium SL I used are the conventional wisdom. I chose whatever speed benefit my wheel/tire combination provided over the added reliability of heavier wheels/tires. I did not feel that I was taking a significant risk as I’ve used 2 sets of Ksyriums over the past 2 years without any problems. Using the Ksyriums forfeited the use of a Schmidt hub in favor of a Dinotte LED light with lithium battery packs. I much prefer the Dinotte’s light pattern in addition to avoiding the watt and weight penalty of the Schmidt setup. These issues may have been marginal, but things wind up being very important at the margin. I got some ribbing for getting a new bike with DT shifters. But, I only had one mishap- missing my granny gear for only part of one stage, which was remedied by a 5 minute stop with one of the control wrenches. I changed front bags shortly before leaving and without testing Detour’s claims for water resistance. As a result my control card booklet was a soppy mess for most of the ride. Quite a bit of moisture gathered on my cameras, but they remained functional. I expected that out of my Leica as I’ve used M models for the past 25 years. I’ve only had the little Ricoh I used for color photos for 2 months and was very pleased with it’s hardiness.
Here’s the link to our PBP photos
PBP 2007

I wish I could have slept more, socialized with more riders, stopped at cafes for real food with good company and taken more photos. I did get to do a little of all the above, but that is not what was special about PBP. The experience of many heightened moments and of transcendence is PBP’s gift. The tradition, magnitude and commitment of time and resources were motivating factors. So much so that I can see doing PBP again but am doubtful about trying other 1200Ks. The other motivating force for me was towards the last part of the ride when I began to visualize meeting my wife at the finish happy and fulfilled. I could not have asked for a more supportive partner and I wanted to give her a happy ending for this. And it was.
PS- Anyone know how I can get a Mortagne au Perche wool jersey?


John Henry said...


I am so glad that you finished and accomplished your goal. Joanne and I followed your progress on the web. We cheered every time you reached a control and we were amazed when you finished (but we thought that it was by 45 minutes).

Hope to see you on the road soon.

Edward said...

Great story, and great perseverance. Aren't those stop lights at the end a pain? Well done.

Ed Felker

Cecil Anne said...

My hero!

Bruce's Bike Blog said...


You will forever be a hero to me. I am proud I had a chance to ride with you in Arizona when you were here.

Congradulations on PBP. I'm glad you made it! I remember on the GC 600 when you rode off without your helmet at the Flagstaff Controle! We had quite a good laugh!



BryanG said...

Congratulations Sal!!!

Any 1200 km is tough, but this year's weather made PBP unusually so. You should be very proud of that medal!

You gonna help me through in 2011, now that you are an ancien?