Even after one month, there is numbness on my left hand. I am still visualizing all days and nights spent on saddle. I am still finding the route in my dreams from Fougeres to Ramboillet but not yet found till last night. I felt that something is still missing and that feelings provoked me to write this blog. The blog is all about my recent expedition at France.
We have to be ready to live with our choices what we make and I choose the toughest cycling ride of 1,220 Km that had to complete in 90 hours. I was prepared for the event at fullest by mental and physical fitness after five years of cycling and two years of randounnering experience. I earned ” Super Randonneur” title three times as a part of my intense training and qualified for an event participation. I worked hard on my nutrition, overall weight, endurance over varying distances, terrains and climatic conditions in India.
Not all battles are fight for the victory but some fought to stimulate the mind and self realization. I did not have any confined strategy. I just thought to reach at the finish line within the time. It was bit of risk but i went with my intuitions, that works sometimes and sometimes not. It was an attempt to be more truthful as much as possible, at least with myself.
17th Aug 2019 – I arrived at Rambouillet early in the morning for bike check and queued to receive my goody-bag. Weather was not so looking good in contrast to the previous day. It was raining raining constantly and that made me little nervous since rain socked me fully. Post bike check, I was happy to meet Eric, whose videos inspired me while training and event preparation.
Thousands of cyclists had gathered around the world to witness and experience the Paris Brest-Paris event with 7000 + riders from 70 + countries. Second highest participation from India was noted with 300 + riders. Around 55 riders from Gujarat inclusive of 12 riders from Ahmedabad.
18th August 2019 was the day, when i queued at the start line at 1700 for my first international event. I was getting multiple thoughts in mind leading to excitement, confusion and anxiety equally. I kept on identifying my positive thoughts and pampered it until i get occupied on saddle. I listened all my intuition and acted accordingly just few hours before the start time. With conscious mind, I replaced tube and tyre of rear wheel just three hours before the start time and it really reduced psychological pressure.
I was expecting a presentation ceremony, some music, some instructions (of-course in English) before flag off of an epic event. But, event started as scheduled as like as other BRM held in India. Time had arrived to seek something or someplace where i never been to and journey began at 1730.
It was all about gaining spontaneous experience instead of fixing something in mind because many times planning dose not work. I was damn sure that every few hours terrain is going to change and weather will be highly unpredictable. It was complex kind of range of experience. There was something enjoyable and sometimes something frustrating. Frustration began just after 20 Km ride and that was never thought of.
I never felt so fragile in describing the situation before since, it reminds me the uncertainty of life. This was about mechanical breakdown of bike as gear wire got skipped off. This happened in outskirts of city where we hardly notice people roaming around or any cycling workshop. I tried to fix the problem but i could not do it. I did not have any other option but to look at riders passing besides me. I struggled lot in fixing the problem but it remain as it was almost 30 minutes. My brain had became scrambled and my body dripped down slowly with passing time being on the same spot.
I was waiting for miracle to happen since, I always believed in destiny and faith so strongly. And miracle really happened when a gentleman came to me and started fixing the gear wire using my tools. He confidently told me that problem is fixed and i can ride now. Today, my faith in destiny is much more stronger with belief that ”Cycle mechanic also can be an Angel.”
Ride continued thereafter with extra efforts to recover the time lost. I decided not to sleep but riding throughout the night with a quick pace. I reached at the first official stop Mortagne at 118km. That was not a control point but just for food.
Food plays an important role for endurance rides as body continuesly required to be replenished by nutrition and hydration. I was so touched to receive Shaily’s (Nutritionist) call before an event day to get an update on nutrition arrangement. I was following almost all inputs given by her but many things went out of control. I was happy to hear from some sources that organizers arranged special counters for Asian vegetarian food at all control points. I do not eat eggs, meat, chicken or fish being a vegetarian. But, I was disappointed largely at first control point itself since I hardly found vegetarian food. I had to manage with banana, vegetable soup and pasta (only on two control points) throughout the event. I could store around 10 – 12 banana in my jacket having ample storage space.
It was almost solo ride till Fougeres and observed surrounding rather than to be observed. I was busy in discovering people from different counties having different cultures and languages on roads. France roads has left-hand drive unlike India. Pre-PBP riding practice helped in getting acquainted with wrong side riding to prevent an accident during ride. Even though, many times i made mistake in wrong side riding. France roads are really wonderful having vista covered by multi-colored landscape with undulated terrain that pleased to my eyes. I had to climb approximate 11000 meter cumulative elevation through out the route without obstructing potholes or speed breakers.
The first control point was Villaines-la-Juhell at 217km, where I got my card stamped at 0645. I knew that I am already late, so I didn’t stay too long at control point. Mindful of this, I had bought some coca-cola and bananas, enjoyed a quick black coffee and started further for Fougeres. I arrived at the Fougeres control (306km) at 1311 completing 25% of the ride. The next stage to Tinteniac was shorter, just 54km, where I arrived at 1800. I had a proper lunch of boiled pasta and vegetable soup there. I decided to take power nap for an hour since eyes demanded rest.
August days are summer season in France, however climate keep changing from Cold to Hot and Hot to Rain and Rain to Cold. Temperature goes below 5 degree in night hours so often. I could manage lowest temperature by using surgical glows for palm/ feets. Still, many times it was too difficult to operate breaks/ gears. I never experienced such frequent changing climate in India. I also experienced sudden rain while riding towards Loudeac. There was constant rain almost for 20 km but I preferred to ride since I was well protected by good rain jacket.
Days were found too long where sun gets set at 2200. Sun was setting down when I was in an area of forest, where roads had become hilly having long gradual climbs and equally long descents. Beautiful road suddenly got transformed into spooky and haunting roads. Night skies were somber and starless. Sometimes I was so much conscious with increasing speed while descents thinking of unexpected speed breakers or potholes like India but roads were really smoothly paved. I arrived at Loudeac (445km) at midnight.
Gujarat team had arrangement of dedicated support vehicle to manage Indian food and drop bag facility. I eat Indian rise/ dal/ roli and felt like an extraordinary personality having an deep satisfaction. I put on fresh clean clothes after taking shower. I rented bed to take some sleep for about two hours and woke up before the alarm rang. I was almost ready for further ride when i encountered few of known Indian riders who quited the event. I moved on towards bike parking without talking to them just to avoid distracted from my goal. In-between, I skipped to replenish my food bag of dry fruit and energy bars in hurry.
Another 83km got me to Saint-Nicolas, an unexpected control point where I was told to get my card stamped as surprise check. There was chill in air with dense fog with very less visibility on the road and could not utilize benefit of tail wind. The terrain was still hilly and steady climb one after another through dense forests. I arrived at next control point Carhaix at 521km. I was pretty exhausted by the time I got there at 0850. I looked for spot on the floor to lie down on for some rest. I laid down and put my helmet below my head and realized that this is going to be a waste of time. So i stood up within 15 minutes and moved further for next control point.
Journey began to approach halfway destination called Brest. I knew that big climb would come before Brest and soon there will be a cable-stayed bridge. But, it took a long time to reach at Brest control point after passing through stiff climbs and very very long descent at 1600. I already consumed 46 hours reaching halfway, when i realized strongly that time will become bottleneck now. Even a small amount of sleep will become constraint even-though that may have an amazing effect for re-setting body and mind. Without wasting much time, I bought some banana from control point and left from Brest heading back.
I experienced many things that divided people by culture, language, food and many more things. Contradictory there was also one thing that connect people by humanity. I was so happy to see cultural commonness between France & India. Many shelters, hydration stations and food stations were arranged to welcome and support cyclist passing from the route similar to welcoming people walking to Ambaji or Dakor in India. All along the route people set up tables offering free water, coffee, cake and other goodies and sometimes offered space to rest with blankets. Kids were clapping excitedly and hold out their hands for a high-five throughout the route.
Fatigue started to slow me down after U turn and I somehow found some fresh energy from my food bag (dates, nuts, protein bars). I was still looking for something that keep me going but I knew that I hadn’t had enough of my own provisions that I would have eaten to ride to Carhaix (693km) and then Loudeac (783km). Even than, my body was fully responding to my goals and there was no any back-ache or neck-ache issues. I knew that I had the strength for the last third distance of the ride. The only potential problem of saddle-sore and I used plenty of cream to prevent it. Constant pressure kept me conscious constantly on saddle. I told myself that ‘I can sit on saddle and I can ride it’. So, I could sit and rode it till I arrive to Loudeac at 0930.
Further journey was not joyful since, I was extremely exhausted and tired. I arrived at Tinteniac (869km) and got stamped on request even-though sensors were removed and control point closing ceremony was going on. I realized that i will not be able to finish the ride within 90 hours. I thought to connect with Vivek Shah (Friend & Coach) and get his advise on the situation that i was facing. He suggested me to continue the ride even if it get finished after 90 hours. I got similar advise from Reena Joshi (Friend & Wife) and I decided to continue for next control point after taking some rest. I realized the effect of their words and this reset button had worked well till next control point.
I figured that I will reach to the finish only after 90 hours but still I thought to finish the full route for my own satisfaction. It was fourth night, passing through lots of hills, dense forest and open farms but my legs wanted to go fast so I finish the route in reasonable time. Suddenly, I got astray on the way since i could not see a direction board. I continued riding further on wrong route more than 5 km. I realized that it was now absolutely freezing but I kept on riding alone in dark night with little nervousness and now I was unsure of what to expect when I sensed that I might be on the wrong route. I noticed that GPS is also not working on that route. Finally, I stopped a car passing though and asked them, if they might have seen any riders passing through. But we did not understand each other’s language.
Communication was the biggest barrier during France stay. I understood that most Europe population either dose not understands or speaks English language. Important instructions, signage and other information were published only in French even at public places. Google translator became a primary source of communication at food stalls, cafe and control points that consumed lot of time.
I returned back on the same route and waited at crossroads from where I took turn. I had two choices either to ride to straight road till i observe direction board or to wait for any riders to arrive at cross roads. I took risk and I waited till I saw head-lights reaching towards me almost after 20 minutes. I was happy to see a rider from Jalandhar (India) and I started riding behind him confidently even without checking the direction board. Fortunately, we arrived at Fougeres, (923km) at 0100 and approached control point to get stamped. Later, we heard that riders pulled out direction board from the route to keep with them as souvenir while return journey.
We noticed that control point is not active and gates are locked. Campus lights were switched off and it was not even made available for shelter to rest. It was damn delicate situation since i was in full of fatigue and sleep-deprived state. We started looking for space for shelter with frustrating and demotivating feelings. I walked to nearby resident and borrowed blanket since I missed my emergency blanket in drop bag. I borrowed emergency blanket from one rider passing though, who did not want it so I can be saved from shivering and windy cold.
Yes, that was a quit moment when I laid down on footpath corner and concluded the ride after acknowledging deep breath and hearing the voice from my head that asked me to stop and gave my self a break. Fortunately, Fougeres has a good connectivity to Bus and Metro so we could reach back to start point comfortably.
So that was PBF (Pairs – Brest – Fougeres) for me. It was an interesting journey that started about two years ago and culminated now at 925 Km after 80 hours of continues riding. Biggest learning for me is to increase in mental strength having desire to sleep as less as practical without putting myself at unnecessary risk by riding sleep deprived. I noticed many riders sleeping in strange conditions and postures.
I would say that one cannot simply ride this route whenever one chooses and then claim to have ridden PBP. It is more than a bike ride, where 7000 riders speaking the common language of cycling for four days/ nights under many unpredictable challenges until we ride the event. I am sharing an experience of PBF is like recalling moments spent on saddle. Few moments were very strong and happy, some were crazy and funny and few moments were literally filled with emotions. Let these moments take place in to history of my lifetime experience on arduous personal challenge by testing the body and the spirit.
My happiness laid down between the start line and the finish line, where i gained mental and physical strength on highest peak. It was just ”I” vs ”ME” in the Paris-Brest- Fougeres. Post PBP, ” I ” lost around 7 Kg weight and ” ME ” became more healthy after getting squeezed from 75 Kg to 68 Kg.