Published on August 31st, 2019 | by Admin11
My PBP 2019 Experience – Anne
We set off from home on Wednesday 14th August at 10am to travel the 1550 kms to Ramboullet. The car was packed with two bikes, Peter my husband, Tony my cycling partner and luggage for the three of us. We did a damn good job of utilizing the space and there was enough room to stretch out a bit in the back as Peter and I shared the driving.
We stopped off en route for a superb menu del día before finding a hotel just near the border of France at a place called La Jonquera, which is a town with lots of supermarkets and tobacconists where French people come to buy cheap booze. The hotel was adequate for our needs as we were leaving early the next morning to continue with our journey. We still had 800 kms to drive. We stayed on the toll roads and religiously kept within the speed limit.
We made good progress and decided to continue all the way to the hotel we had booked for the following night, which was the Ibis Budget Hotel in Trappes. It was full of PBP participants.
That evening the three of us went to a restaurant called The Hippopotamus about 2 kms up the road. We decided to walk after spending a couple of days in the car. It was good to stretch the legs.
After the meal we walked back and called at a garage to buy water where we met a couple of Indian riders, who were also competing in Paris Brest Paris. We talked for a while and took photos before heading back to the hotel.
We were eager to get a good night’s sleep, only to be woken by the fire alarm just after midnight. We all assembled downstairs and it was so funny to see that some riders came downstairs with their bikes but leaving everything else behind. Thank goodness there wasn’t a fire and we were all soon tucked safely back in bed.
The next morning, Friday, we set off in search of breakfast in Trappes. Nothing was open. We spent an hour travelling round in the car, only to end up back near our hotel at a little Boulangerie. We did, however, enjoy our breakfast before heading back to the hotel, where Tony and I changed into our cycling clothes to cycle to Ramboullet and look for Lynton, our close friend and former bike shop owner, who was driving from the UK in his campervan. Peter drove to Ramboullet in the car and Tony and I eventually met Peter in the delightful town quite near the Chateau of Ramboullet. After eating and a couple of drinks, Tony and I went to look at the beautiful Chateau, whilst Peter drove round to the park where the campervans were parking and where the event would begin on the Sunday. We waited and waited for Lynton, who was having problems locating the place. We did enjoy sitting on the grass watching people arrive. It soon became very busy. I received a message from my Spanish friend Gema, who was also having problems finding the correct place. I helped her best I could and shortly after was rewarded as Gema and three other of her pals rolled up on their bikes.
Soon after Lynton arrived and put the kettle on for the four of us to enjoy a well-earned cup of tea.
The weather forecast wasn’t good for the next day, the day for the bike checks. And so after a meal in Ramboullet we decided to leave our bikes in Lynton’s van and travel back to the hotel by car with Peter.
What a good decision it turned out to be, as the next day we saw many bedraggled and soaked cyclists as they made their way to the bike check. We enjoyed a snack in the campervan before heading for our bike check at 3.30pm, with umbrellas aloft. Before heading back to the hotel in the car, we all went to Ramboullet to a restaurant to have an earlyish meal. I found it difficult to eat as my stomach was full of butterflies; the nerves were getting the better of me.
On the day of the event, we left the hotel around 11am to find somewhere for breakfast, again in the rain. Believe it or not, this had proven to be to be a hard task. After eventually having breakfast at a McDonald’s we carried on to Lynton’s campervan. I managed to get 45 minutes sleep lying in the back of the car before we had to be ready to set off on our Paris Brest Paris adventure.
Our numbers were K104 (Tony) and mine was K106. No idea who was in between us!
Our starting time was 18.30 but we had to be at the start 45 minutes beforehand. We waited patiently, chatting excitedly to other riders as the nerves started to settle.
And then we were off, amidst cheers, clapping and a fanfare of music. The support from spectators was incredible right from the start. We left the park and onto country roads. At first all you could see was a procession of bikes for miles. Hundreds of them, with different coloured jerseys, with riders from all over the world, riding all types of bikes. The weather was perfect at our start time, after the torrential downpour we had encountered earlier on. About forty kilometres into the ride we heard sirens and at the top of the next hill a cyclist was being carried into an ambulance. I thought about all the training he would have done just like us and in a split second his PBP chance had ended almost before it had started.
We carried on to the first check point at Villaines La Juhel which was 217 kms without any hiccups. We were enjoying the French countryside and being greeted by Spanish cyclists who knew us. We also received some comments from people who’d seen our blog and they were delighted to see that Tony had made it to Paris after his accident. The next control was Fougeres at 306 kms. We got our cards stamped and continued to Tinteniac at 360 kms. Peter was there to greet us and directed us to where Lynton had parked the campervan. The idea was to get something to eat and some sleep for a couple of hours before setting off again.
Slightly refreshed we set out again, knowing that we would soon be losing the light and that it would get cold. We stopped off in a little hamlet where some of the locals were giving coffee and water to riders. There was live music playing and food which you could buy. We indulged ourselves for twenty minutes before continuing to the next control at Loudeac – 445 kms. We tried to put our heads down in the dining room for a few minutes nap but it didn’t really work. Tony started to get a pain behind his knee and so he took some paracetamol. My right knee was also starting to give me jip at the side but at least it was intermittent. I had to ride through it.
We were soon into a very long difficult climb. This was putting more pressure on Tony’s knee. I waited for him and he then told me to go on. I said I wouldn’t go on, I’d wait. Very soon though I’d lost him again. It became apparent that he had a big problem. I waited for twenty minutes and eventually I phoned him. He had stopped half way up the hill, taken some more paracetamol and wrapped himself in his emergency blanket. I didn’t know what to do at all. I wanted to call for help for him but he said he’d rest there for a couple of hours and then hopefully he’d be able to carry on. I said I’d continue to the next control and try and get some sleep and hopefully we would be able to meet up again.
Before I got to the next official control, I came across a “secret control”. They put these in so that people can’t cheat. Then again I can’t imagine anyone wanting to cheat because you’re only cheating yourself. This was at Saint Nicolás Du Pelem and at the 488 kms stage. I paid 5€ for a bed and asked them to wake me up in 90 minutes. I did doze off for about an hour. When I woke up I checked my phone and saw a message from Tony to say that he was struggling and wouldn’t be able to carry on. I was devastated for him, for us and for our dream of completing Paris Brest Paris together, especially after all our hours of training which had been far from easy, with many ups and downs.
I had to make a decision. Tony told me to go on, as did Peter and Lynton when I messaged them with the sad news.
And so into the cold misty morning I ventured alone. I felt tired, the hills were relentless, my spirit was low and I felt physically and mentally exhausted. I cried as I cycled along trying to give myself a good talking to.
I got to Carhaix-Plouguer at 7.30am on Wednesday 20th August. I had completely forgotten that it was our Silver Wedding Anniversary, as Peter presented me with a card. I thought our anniversary was the following day! I was so tired and cold. Lynton made me some warm rice pudding with fruit cocktail in it. I ate that and slept for 10 minutes before heading out towards Brest. It was still very misty but light was beginning to show what was promising to be a beautiful day. I soon warmed up as the day dawned and the sun shone. There were many more climbs to reach Brest, many more tables at the sides of the roads offering refreshments and the ongoing applause from the general public along the way. It was heart-warming to see all these people; many wanted a high 5 as you passed. The smiles, laughter, the genuine warmth of these people kept me going.
I nearly arrived in Brest but after waving to people on the right side of the road, I saw two cyclists turning left, so I too put my hand out and turned left. After about 250 metres I realised that these cyclists weren’t doing PBP and that I’d taken a wrong turn. I swiftly about turned and waved to the same people as I passed them again for a second time. A little while later I was at the control in Brest. 610 kms done and half way. After the headwind all the way to Brest I was looking forward to a tailwind back…… but it wasn’t to be as the wind had turned. I got my card stamped, ate, reapplied bum cream and set off back. I wasn’t sure if I’d get back because I was feeling so low on energy. I stopped at a Boulangerie where I bought a quiche and a drink. The quiche was cold and unappetizing, so I stuck it in my bag and carried on slowly.
When I arrived back at Carhaix-Plouguer, I was glad to see that Tony had been rescued by Lynton and Peter. They had to get special permission to drive onto the course to find him. His knee was still sore and had been told by a medic that he’d damaged some tendons. Despite his pain and massive disappointment, he was willing me on.
I decided to carry on another 80 kms, to make use of the remaining daylight hours and to try and make up some time. I arrived at Loudeac at 23.30 hrs having done 783 kms. I was allowed 2 hours sleep in a proper bed in the campervan whilst the three men shared a small makeshift double bed. Apparently none of them could sleep because of my loud snoring in my big double bed at the other end of the campervan!
At 3.30am on Wednesday 21st I left my cosy bed and set off towards Tinteniac. I stopped off en route to buy hot soup and bread at the roadside with many other riders who were feeling the cold. It was 6 degrees Celsius. I arrived at Tinteniac control at 9am, having done 869 kms. Again more soup and bread and I was back on the road.
By the time I got to Fougeres, I had done 923 kms but I was slipping behind on time as I was so tired. After some food and a quick nap on the grass I was off again. Another talking to me was required. I’d come this far, I really wanted to finish within the time limit. But tiredness was taking hold. I was hallucinating and dreaming whilst cycling. Bodies of cyclists were sleeping all over the place. I stopped outside the driveway of someone’s house and went to sleep on their tarmac for 15 minutes. That did me the world of good for a few kilometres.
What a fantastic welcome at Villaines La Juhel, where they had a band playing. There were hundreds of people lining the streets, including the residents from an Old people’s home, mostly of whom were in wheelchairs. The atmosphere was like a big summer fête. I asked one of the Marshall’s which way it was to get my card stamped. I asked him if he would carry me there and his reply was “why not, of course I will”. I declined his kind offer but all this good humour helped when I was feeling so tired. Tony and Peter were there to meet me. Peter found me some pasta to eat from a restaurant whilst Tony went to get me some clean cycling clothes from the campervan, where Lynton was asleep. It was a hard schedule for the men, who were also sleep deprived. I had now done 1012 kilometres and it was 8pm when I left to head towards Mortagne au Perche.
I arrived at Mortagne at 1.30am with 1097 kms done and looking forward to a couple of hours sleep in my comfy bed. I was told that I could only have an hour. The men were becoming concerned that I was slipping behind time. So I got into bed and fell asleep within a second. What appeared like five minutes later, I was being woken up and told that I’d had my hour and it was time to go. Only later did I learn that they had tricked me and only allowed me half an hour.
I was beginning to believe that a PBP medal was in my grasp and I felt very emotional. This was probably due to tiredness as well, as I kept nodding off for a split second on the bike. I decided that another stop was needed to lie down and sleep for a few minutes at the roadside. My overall tiredness was overwhelming. After a ten minute sleep just off the road, I set off again but less than half an hour later I was hit by an unstoppable desire to sleep but before I could stop I had crashed, over the grass verge, down one side and up the other side of a ditch and landed in a farmer’s field. Well that soon woke me up. I was shaken, my heart was pounding, l was not hurt except for a tiny cut to my face and my bike was fine once I’d untwined all the grass from the chain. A couple of passing cyclists stopped to check I was okay and I was on my way again. My brain was extremely tired, I couldn’t work out the mileage left but I was sure I had another 30kms to do to reach the next control. I honestly thought I was out of time as I swept round a bend and saw the control of Dreux in front of me. Peter and Tony were there to cheer me in. Flipping heck, I realised that I only had 45 kms to go. Tony told me I had 4 and a half hours left, I didn’t need to bomb it. Peter guided me to the control as Tony went to fill my water bottle and I was soon off again
The final 45 kilometres were very emotional. I was talking to my Dad in the clouds. I knew he’d been with me every push of the pedal. The sun was coming up and the dawn was breaking into a beautiful day. I felt at peace with the world. I thought about my children, my grandchildren, the rest of my family, friends, Lynton, Tony and Peter who’d been there for me all the way. I’d been told about the hundreds of messages of encouragement I’d received and I was going to enjoy reading them at the end. The end was in my grasp, I’d almost done it. But did I want this amazing bike ride to end. An experience of a lifetime, meeting so many inspirational people along the way. The fantastic public who lined the route cheering us on, welcoming us into their homes, sharing their water, coffee and cakes with us freely.
My body was tired as I entered the park at Ramboullet, over cobbles and up to the finish line. I was sobbing, happy emotional tears. I had made it in 87 hours 50 minutes. I had over two hours to spare. The first person I heard was Tony shouting “Well done Anne” as he cheered me in.
Then I saw him and Lynton waving at me. Around the cobbles I went to clock in my time where Tony took a photo and then I saw Peter waiting for me. He too looked emotional.
I’d made it through months and months of hard training and sheer determination. It had all been worthwhile.