Paris-Brest-Paris Part 3: Return to Fougeres

BoulangerieIn Brest I’d run into Scott from Iowa once again. We left together, stopping at the first patisserie we found. We both grabbed sandwiches, and I also had a chocolate éclair and some macaroons – tiny little meringue cookies with sweet jelly fillings – divine. Scott wanted to eat his sandwich there and I couldn’t afford the time, so I left him at the shop and pedaled on. I’d also missed connecting with Bob in Brest, so I was alone on the road once again. Time went as rando time does, with the hours melting together into a blur of sleep-deprived pedaling. Rolling hills, tiny towns, people shouting encouragement, brief encounters with other riders as we each “rode our own ride” crossing paths for a time. Daylight faded into the darkness of the third night as I kept on moving forward.

There is a time of night we randonneurs call the Zombie Hours – somewhere between midnight and daybreak when everyone you encounter looks like a candidate for a lead role in “The Walking Dead”. Bleary-eyed cyclists weaved all over the road, struggling to stay awake in the darkness. Red taillights stretched for miles in both directions, bobbing with every stroke of the pedal, hypnotizing riders behind. Again, every signpost supported a bicycle, every ditch was filled with a cyclist who had gotten off the road for a minute or an hour, hoping a tiny snippet of sleep would be sufficient to allow another hour of pedaling through the night. Several times I joined these ditch sleepers, napping for 10 minutes at a time and pedaling again until I caught myself weaving and tipping. Over and over I alternately napped and pedaled through the cold darkness, wearing every layer I had against the chill which was still insufficient to keep me awake. I stopped caring about making the time cutoffs, determined that I would finish the ride even if it was a 91 or 92 hour “unofficial” finish.

I chatted here and there with other cyclo-zombies, stopping at Loudeac, Quedilliac and road-side stands for coffee and snacks. Dawn did not help to keep me awake, and I ditch napcontinued with frequent micronaps. Eventually, through the haze, I realized I had 18 kilometers to go to the control at Tinteniac, and 45 minutes to get there if I were going to stay in the control windows. Suddenly, I WANTED that official finish. Something had to change in a hurry and more food had not been the answer. In desperation, I pulled out my I-pod. I almost never ride with music, preferring the quite of my own thoughts, and the songs of crickets and night birds to the beat of an electronic song, but this seemed like the right time to give my brain a focus. I cranked up Guns N’ Roses, and deliberately started drumming to the beat on my handlebars, pushing my cadence to match the beat. Suddenly, I was AWAKE. I pedaled faster, passing rider after rider. One way or another, I was determined to make the time cut-off and I picked up the pace even more, Appetite for Destruction pounding away in one ear. My legs felt amazing; my lungs were ok with the extra effort. A pair of men in Ukrainian jerseys stopped for a pee on the side of the road cheered me on as I flew by. Into the control, I dropped the bike and sprinted to the check point, making it with less than a minute to spare.  I needed food, but there was no yogurt, no coke, no coffee (yes, NO COFFEE!), no dessert, and I simply couldn’t face another plate of buttered noodles. I grabbed a few pieces of baguette and sprinted out of the control as quickly as I’d come in.

It was only a few kilometers to another “secret control” , this one offering bowls of steaming onion soup for 2 Euros. I wolfed down a bowl of the warm elixir, redolent with soup-soaked croutons and melty cheese. Restored, I continued on, running into Scott once again. We rode together for a while, stopping for yet another ham and butter sandwich, and then a 20 minute nap on the side of the road. I thought I had made up some time and was in good shape with the clock, but realized coming into Fougeres that the control was on the opposite side of town and I still had 10 kilometers to go with about 20 minutes on the clock. Once again, I put the pedal to the metal and fairly flew into the control, making it with barely minutes to spare. I sprinted through the check-in just under the wire, and there was my companion, the one I’d parted with in Loudeac,  waiting for me with a sandwich.

Once again, my need for the women’s facilities was rather urgent. I got in line behind one other person and waited. And waited. And waited still more. Finally, a MAN emerged from the stall, smelling daisy-fresh in a shiny, clean kit. He had taken advantage of the sink and toilet in that stall and given himself a proper bath while every woman who had been unwilling to bare all on the side of the road waited for him to finish his grooming. If looks could kill, that man would have been dead on the floor of the women’s loo. In that moment, I would have happily emptied my exploding bladder on his corpse, then kicked him in the head on my way out!

A note about restroom facilities on PBP – most controls had two stalls reserved for men and another two for women. In a field of 6000 riders, there were approximately 400 women. It was a common sight to see a row of men stopped on the side of the road in a timeless pose – feet planted shoulder width apart, back to the road, both hands grasping their nether regions, a yellow stream raining down between their planted feet. During daylight hours, on moderately traveled roads of rolling farmland and few trees, there was happy French cowsvirtually no place for a girl to similarly avail herself of nature’s urinal without baring all to passing cyclists, motorists, and the occasional sheep. Those limited, filthy, male-infested stalls at the controls were our only option, and we had no choice but to suck up the time lost to waiting in line or keep on squeezing sphincters until darkness fell.

But I digress…

Scott was just behind me coming into Fougeres, and my friend was there with a delicious kabob sandwich which I was able to eat a fraction of. She was feeling better after spending six hours in the Loudeac medical tent followed by 15 hours of glorious sleep in a hotel bed before meeting us at the control. She was determined to get back to St. Quentin-en-Yvelines under her own power, and equally determined that I would not spend another night alone on the road. I was grateful for her company, but concerned about her physical condition as we headed off towards what would hopefully include a connection with our drop-bags in Villaines-la-Juhel…

To continue the story…

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