PBP redux, 2008


Well the bike has been packed away and we have been doing some non-bike stuff. The other day we drove up to the D-Day beaches on the Normandy coast. I had been there before but Sara had not and she had wanted to visit it as well. It was just as memorable on this visit and we both enjoyed the day. Yesterday we were headed towards Versailles but stopped in Chartres on the way. I really like Chartres, the cathedral is absolutely magnificient and the town is quite pleasant as well. Luckily it is also possible to get lunch in Chartres at one of the many cafes. We indulge in the full range of menu items completely without guilt. After all, I have paid my dues in fasting earlier in the week, what anyone elses excuse is I do not know!

There was also an itinerary of horse activities and we were able to visit the Franch National Stud Farm, Haras du Pin. It is a remarkable facility founded by Louis the XIV and continues its tradition of excellence. We are also able to visit an Egyptian Arabian ranch to view their beautiful horses. Finally in Versailles we spend a day at the Bartobas Equestrian Spectacle. This a demonstration of the amazing abilities of several breeds of horses in a theatrical display. It is a mix of art and performance and exhibits the talents of the horse from warfare to dressage. I do not know where they find the riders who perform in this spectacle but the resume would have to look something like this:  Skilled rider, must be young and thin, be able to sing, dance, shoot arrows, sword fight and clean stalls. Perhaps in France these qualities are not so hard to come by but in southern Utah it might be a little difficult. At any rate the performance is wonderful and we enjoy it very much.

We head back to our hotel which is just a few blocks from the palace after a wonderful last night in France. Tommorrow we catch out flight home to the States. The trip has not exactly gone as planned but it was a good trip nonetheless.

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This morning at breakfast in the hotel I had an epipheny. It was clear at this point that I would not be able to keep to my intended schedule and finish the ride as planned. Too many factors have been working against me and even though my wheels have been spinning I dont seem to be getting anywhere. So I am moving to my plan B, which is to do some sightseeing and enjoy the area. I have had very little opportunity to explore and I am actually kind of glad to have a change of pace even if it means I will not complete my trip as planned. I have been enjoying the countryside but the long days and riding well into the night have been taking their toll.

Fougeres is a very interesting town which most PBP riders will not get the chance to enjoy much of. There is a very old walled city at the heart of town that dates back more than 1000 years. The old part of town has wonderful churches and gardens to visit and there are many sidewalk cafes as well. After my recent involuntary diet regime I am particularly interested in the cafes!

I have a support crew on call for assistance and emergencies (my wife Sara and our host in France, Jos). I make the call and in a few hours they will join me for lunch. In the meantime I am able to cruise the town and get some riding in for the day. I have had the “Buzzard” with me for the whole ride as can be seen in some of the photos and I think he will also enjoy the change of pace. The area around Fougeres is kind of hilly and the streets are a maze. There are quite a few bike lanes here which kind of surprises me but I have seen some of these in the larger towns before. It is quite pleasant to cruise the town on a bike. I make a half hearted attempt to find the location of the controle from PBP but I have no luck. I continue my tour and soon I am distracted by something else anyway.

My personal support crew arrives just in time for lunch and we waste no time in finding a restaurant. It seems that in the larger towns food is much easier to come by, especially during lunchtime (Le Dejuener). Once we are well fed it seems natural to continue our touring on foot and so we hit the town again. There is much to see here but we limit ourselves to a radius within easy walking distance of the old walled city. In spite of the change of plans it is a good day!

So far things have not exactly gone according to plan. I am tying to adapt as I go but I am behind where I had expected to be on the route already. I was in Brest this morning but I expected to be in Carhaix which is about 95 kilometers away. That is going to make this a very long day! Brest is the starting city for the Tour de France this year and I had hoped to see some of the preparations for the event, but since I am behind schedule I will not have time to see much of it. I have seen some signs announcing route closures on my way but not too much otherwise.

I got breakfast in the hotel and set off again through town. Brest is a busy place and I see a large group of tents in town that are probably for the Tour. I don’t have time to look around much however and I get started on the bike. Returning the same way I came the route finding should be a little easier for a while but I expect difficulties again later. I have not studied the TDF route for this year but it looks like I will cross it several times. I see more “route baree” signs for the Tour noting different closures days along the way. I will have to look at the official route later to see where it goes.

Back in Loudeac I find a market and stock up on supplies. There is also a bike shop here and I do need some things but it is closed. When I ask someone when it will open today they just laugh and tell me “of course it is closed, it is Monday!” Silly me, I should have known better. The bike is giving me a little trouble shifting and I wanted to get some CO2 cartridges as well. I have not been able to get any yet and repairing my flat tires takes much more time without them. All these little delays continue to add up and deduct from the mileage I can cover each day.

You have a narrow window when the shops are open to buy things in the little towns along the way. Even water is proving to be a challenge. I think that without 2 large water bottles and a Camelback I would have run out of water a couple of times. I am carrying a lot more food than I normally would as well. The route is very rural and if you run out of groceries in between large towns or if you arrive in the towns at the wrong time you will go hungry. Ask me how I know that!

Climbing back over Tintineac Mountain I see another sign for a route closure on the TDF route. It looks like they will be climbing over this mountain and past the huge antenna on the way. This is a landmark that most PBP riders will recognize. When I watch the tour I will look for it. After the descent into town I find a small restaurant to stop at. I have eaten all of my food and water and it is late in the day. I am able to get a sandwich and a beer but when I try and buy water I find only 1 liter available at the bar. I spend another half an hour looking for water in town but there is none available. Apparently I got the last bottle of water in Tintineac!

I continue on towards Fougeres where it is my plan to spend the night. Navigation continues to be difficult and I do at least an extra 15 kilometers of back-tracking and looking for the right route. I came to one roundabout where there were 3 seperate signs indicating the direction to a larger town which was on my route. One was via the motorway, one was a truck route and the other was a local route. All 3 were the wrong way! The correct route was a little harder identify and went through smaller towns via some poorly marked lesser roads. Trying to determine the correct route has been my curse and may prove to be my undoing!

I arrive in Fougeres just after 10 pm and start to look for a hotel. It was a long last 10 km into town and now the search for a hotel adds to my day. I finally find a Campanile Hotel on the south side of town. All of the restaurants are now closed so I will have to be satisfied snacking on my remaining food for dinner. It doesn’t really matter that much, I am beat and I fall asleep right after a shower.

Okay, its time to ride! Due to time limitations I will be unable to start in Paris, so I will pick up where I left off last year in Loudeac. That is where Clair and I abandoned the event after falling ill. It is my intention to continue on from here to Brest and then return. I will follow the official route and try to finish it in the time that I have. I will be staying in hotels along the way and travelling during daylight hours only.

I was enthusiastic about getting started but it took some time to get ready. Once the bike was set to go I needed to get some food for the trip. This is where the first flaw in my plan was revealed. It was Sunday, and being Sunday in France all of the shops are closed. We were able to find an open bar where they served us a late breakfast, but they had no food otherwise. When I asked where I could find a sandwich the proprietor seemed confused by the request. I was told that they don’t sell sandwiches on Sunday in France. I convinced them of my need for a sandwich so the barkeeper went home and found some bread, ham and cheese and came back and made one for me. I have experienced this kind of hospitality each time I visit France.

Now I was prepared to go. Leaving from the controle location at St. Joseph College in Loudeac I headed towards the center of town where I hoped to find the correct route. This is where the second flaw in my plan was revealed. Navigation was going to be much harder than I had expected. The road signs are very inadequate and without course markings or other riders to follow, you are never really quite sure that you are going the right way. This then forces a lot of stops to try and verify the choice of direction. This in turn slows your progress dramatically and I began to worry that I would not be able to cover my planned distances for each day. Other obstacles to my progress appeared as well, first a flat tire, then I was stopped by the gendarmes to allow a local bike race to pass. My search for food and water also caused delays and it was getting later in the day than I had expected. Then there was the wind! The wind was brisk and relentless, and right in my face all day. I was happy to be on my way to Brest however regardless of my pace.

I arrived in Carhaix in the afternoon and had the same problem finding supplies. My only choices seemed to be McDonalds and a BP station. I stopped at  both and tried to make the best of it. Leaving Carhaix the route is quite appealing and I enjoyed this section, even with the climb up to Roc Trevezel.

The days are long here at this time of year but maybe not long enough. My original plan was to go from Loudeac to Brest and then back to Carhaix for the night. As the day wore on though I began to see that I would not be able to meet that schedule. I was now hoping simply to make it to Brest for the night. At times even that seemed to be questionable. Navigation difficulties, the search for food, wind and other delays had put me well behind. Finally around midnight I pulled into downtown Brest. It is a long uphill into town and I had yet to find a hotel. I pretty much took the first one that I found, a 2 star hotel in the middle of town. It actually wasn’t too bad and there was a food stand nearby that was still open. I was pretty much done for the day.

Today my plan is to assemble my bike and take it out for a test ride. It is market day in the nearby town of Mortagne Au Perce however so the plan for this morning is to do some shopping and see the sights. Shopping is hard work though and I am sure that coffee and pastries will be required to sustain us. My last visit to Mortagne was in the dark of night and the streets were flooded due to the rain. I must say it is a much more inviting little village in the light of day with coffee and food!

The bike assembly went well and once I got it together I was able to take an easy 40 kilometer spin through the nearby towns and villages. There is a new church nearby our place with a working convent that was quite scenic. The locals don’t seem to think much of it though. After all it is a copy of a much more famous church elsewhere and isn’t that old really. It was built in 1850. The weather was cool but humid and felt warmer than it actually was. All that was left to do now was pack my gear on the bike and get started.

The panniers I am using are pretty small so there is not a lot of room for extras which is fine. It will keep me from bringing along too much stuff! Of course it may also keep me from bringing the things I need as well, but I think I have the right gear with me. Perhaps the only thing I have an excess of are maps and route guides! I have multiple copies of several different types with quite a bit of detail. It’s probably a little too much but I can always ditch them later.

Arrived safely at CDG and picked up our rental car. Here is where the adventure stepped up just one notch, trying to navigate our way out of Paris on the motorway! It is kind of a controlled chaos and things are fine as long as you know where you are going. This is where we get our first small taste of adventure.

Traffic around Paris is always a challenge even when not at rush hour. We were just at the tale end of rush and had some delays. Soon though we were on the motorway and headed towards the town of Mortagne Au Perche. Our final destination was just outside the little village of St. Mard de Reno where we will be staying with a friend. We have a studio apartment at our disposal during our stay and our host acts as an occasional tour guide as well as restaurant translator. This greatly reduces our chances of ordering tripe at local restaurants which puts us more at ease.

Mortagne was one of the first controles on the PBP route and what I remember most about it was all of the water running through the streets as we passed through before dawn last August. It seems to be much drier this time around! The weather is great, alternating between sun, clouds and light rain. It’s just the perfect mix to keep you confused and guessing wrong as to what to wear. I think I will put the fenders on the bike based on these observations.

Tomorrow (Saturday) I will get down to business on getting ready for my ride. I have to assemble the bike and test ride it as well as pack my gear. Hopefully I have brought everything I need. If not I will just have to make do.

Okay, the adventure has begun. You might think I would be referring to a cycling adventure or some physical effort but I am not. Most adventures begin with the basics of travel. Sometimes getting to your adventure can be an adventure in itself. So far however things have been going pretty well and we have few complaints. Our Delta flight to NY was on time and we were able to enjoy our time between flights in the Air France lounge at JFK. We are now over the Atlantic just off the coast of Newfoundland and our biggest challenge has been trying to tell which was the fruit compote and which was the Foie Gras at dinner. I think there will be greater challenges to come.

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