Sunday, November 4, 2012


Thanks Mary, for organizing this. I had fun scoping out coffee shops that I wanted to go visit by bike, and missed out two that I wanted to go to, but didn't.

Well known fact: Randonneurs (and randonneuses) ride long distances.
Little known fact:  Said randonneurs ride with the bling to be had in mind.

I present to you, the Coffeeneuring challenge: Go here for all the details..

Mary G of chasing mailboxes fame came up with this challenge along with SIRs Joe Platzner. The idea is to ride at least 2 miles to drink coffee (or hot chocolate or cider) 7 days over 6 weekends. I started this challenge on the 7th of October and completed it on the 3rd of November, 2012.

The beauty of the whole thing is, my wife and I already have a weekend coffee ritual. We have our favourite coffee shops and every Saturday morning we head out to our usual haunts, book, laptop or tablet in hand and spend a few hours waking ourselves up. This challenge presented the perfect opportunity for me to do this by bike. 6 out of the 7 days I had coffee with my wife, and the last one was the only instance I had coffee alone.

I did get receipts for all the weeks, but lost the receipt for Le Rendez-vous. Album is here.

Ride 1 (week 1)

With bemused spouse!
Date: 10/07/2012
Destination: Urban Coffee Lounge, 9744, NE 119th Way, Kirkland WA 98034
Ride 1 distance: 3.5 miles.

The day started off rainy and we had some errands to run in the morning to do with our upcoming vacation to Spain, so we decided to start this challenge right by heading to our beloved coffee place in Kirkland. I live atop a hill, so the first 2 miles are almost all downhill with a bike lane most of the way. My wife drove there, and I got myself a nice Americano and settled down with a nice book.

Ride 2 (week 2)

Who said it had to rain ?
Date: 10/13/2012
Destination: Starbucks, 9721, NE 119th Way, Kirkland WA 98034
Ride 2 distance: 3.5 miles.

The drizzly, misty rain made it one of those "Just get it done" days. Rode to the same location as last time, but went to Starbucks instead. We normally avoid Starbucks, but the convenient location won out. Late evenings usual call for a non-caffeinated drink: a decaf Soy Mocha that my wife turned her nose up at.

Ride 3 (Week 2)

Empty cafe on a perfect day!
Date: 10/14/2012
Destination: Caffe Rococo, 136, Park Lane, Kirkland WA 98033
Ride 3 distance: 5.8 miles

Perfect day for an early morning (10a for me) ride to the coffee shop. The ducks were swimming in the lake, and runners had that "Oh my goodness, this hurts" look on their faces as they climbed the hill leading up to Downtown Kirkland. 6 miles is about the distance that I start to accumulate some sweat but all too soon it was over.


Ride 4 (Week 3)

Perfect lighting!
Latte and demi-baguette

Date: 10/21/2012
Destination: Le Rendez-Vous Organic Cafe, 8918 161st Avenue Northeast, Redmond WA 98052
Ride 4 distance: 6.5 miles

Cloudy day dawned but no rain. This has been one magical October. We headed out to a French bakery nearby that makes Paris-Brest pastries. I helped a lost cyclist on the Sammamish River Trail. The light was just about perfect for a photograph. Had a nice latte with a demi-baguette, butter and jam. Fantastic day to go out for a bike ride.

Ride 5 (Week 4)

The crap we do for bling!
Date: 10/27/2012
Destination: Victor's Celtic Coffee, 7933 Gilman St, Redmond WA 98052
Ride 5 distance: 6.4 miles

Well, our run of spectacular weather had to come to an end. I got rained on all the way there, and I wore shorts and paid for it. My jacket kept me dry. The Blueberry danish and Americano more than made up for the lousy weather. Raji was with me again, shaking her head at the trouble I was putting myself through.

Ride 6 (Week 5)

Back to normalcy!
Date: 10/27/2012 
Destination: Peet's Coffee, 17887 Redmond Way, Redmond WA 98052
Ride 6 distance: 8.0 miles

Another incredible day. Nice and warm and meant for shorts, even if it was late October. Raji seems to like Peet's too. The place was crowded. Peak coffee shop season is almost here!

Ride 7 (Week 6)

Drinking alone sucks. Coffee or anything else!
Date: 11/03/2012 
Destination: Starbucks,
14015 Northeast 175th Street
Woodinville, WA 98072
Ride 7 distance: 3.7 miles

The wonderful thing about living in the Seattle area is the absolute abundance of coffee shops within a 5 mile radius. For the last ride, I should have chosen Sandy's in Carnation, but I was short of time, so I just headed to the local Woodinville Starbucks. And for the first time in the past few weeks, I had coffee alone. I was feeling under the weather, but the challenge had to be completed!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

PBP Randonneur 2011, Part 8: Dreux to the Finish

August 25, 2011: Dreux to The Finish

As I walk to the table I am apprehensive and nervous: "Bonjour" I say, and the controle volunteer smiles and stamps my card. Next comes the time: "8.32" she writes. I have missed it by 2 minutes! "Oh, crap", I say, and instinctively my left hand comes down on the table and thumps it. I honestly don't know what the heck I was thinking. I recognize fairly fast that this act might be misconstrued as belligerence and quickly apologize. The volunteers are quite surprised but my prompt apology has the intended effect. They reassure me in two languages as I stand there with a very embarrassed look on my face and show me the closing time on the control: 7:12. With my 2 hour allowance for starting in the final group I have made it with 40 minutes to spare! I thank them again, apologize and head back out the wrong way but there is another helpful volunteer directing me towards the proper exit.

The guy who got me here deserves a hug, except he is nowhere to be found. I find my way back to the bike and an overwhelming desire to sleep grabs me. I succumb: 15 minutes I tell myself, no more. There is a generous amount of foot traffic and there is little chance of me falling into deep sleep. I ask the volunteers to wake me if I am not gone in 15 minutes. I wake refreshed from my 15 minute nap on the concrete. I open my eyes and find an Eastern European rider taking a photo of me with a wide grin on his face. He smiles and heads off as I get up.

As I dig through my Carradice I find the Japanese rider sitting inside the glass enclosure digging into a plate of food. I say a wholly inadequate "Domo Arrigato" again and make for the water taps to prepare my final two bottles. Carrying your own food saves one a lot of time at the controls but also delivers some regret at not being able to stop and sample the fantastic French faire. My mouth feels like a cesspool and I really must find a way to brush my teeth. I get back on the bike again and set off for the last 60 or so kilometers to Paris. We start with a nice little downhill and then the road flattens out. We are now reaping the benefits of the final few kilometers being mostly flat. My speed increases and so do my spirits. The terrain remains farmland but changes as we enter the first of several towns with insanely narrow streets. We don't find as many people standing to cheer us but they are present all the same. We eventually get on a very narrow road running through fields. It looks and feels like a bike path but a car in the opposite direction surprises me. I am passed by swarm after swarm of riders of different nationalities. They are almost uniformly in good cheer having smelled the barn from 50 kilometers out and I am not fast enough to hang with any of them.

It seems like I am destined to limp my way in. The day warms up and in yet another field I pull over and shed some clothing: the rain jacket, skull cap and leg warmers are no longer needed. It doesn't strike me that I can wrap the leg warmers around my handlebars to get cushioning. I get back on the bike and briefly ride with a rider from China and stop to get the business card of a Spanish woman who has taken a picture of me. She speaks no French and my Spanish is worse than my French.

The flatlands don't last. We enter more suburbs and then a long stretch with a very mean set of hills. I grind my way up as my speed drops right back down. The distance has destroyed my ego, cleansed me of my vanity, robbed my memory and arguably my respectability. It has left me bare for all to see: I can do no more than simply slouch, whimper and whine and hope that the next pedal stroke finds me at the top of the hill. My butt, neck and hands all hurt. I never think "I am never doing this again" but I confess thinking that I'll never be doing L-E-L. I don't think I can put up with another 160k on the bike. The climb puts us back a little Southwest of Jouars-Pontchartrain, past that beautiful church and row of trees running away from us into the distance. The road flattens out a little but not for long as the sustained flat lands I remember from Sunday don't materialize: more rollers, tree-lined boulevards, narrow streets, screaming children and shy cars do, however.

The final couple of dozen kilometers all blend together for me. Under an overpass, I see the 15 km banner and a man cheers us on: "Quinze kilometer" he says with a grin. I think the rollers finally end somewhere near the 15km point. We enter a series of roundabouts, and shortly after the famous set of lights that seem to annoy everybody. Each one of them is red, each one heightening the expectation of the finish. After the solitude of the last dozens of miles, I find myself in the company of a lot of riders, and the group expands the more lights we hit. Not all of the riders wait patiently: an Italian jumps the light and nearly gets creamed by a car coming from his right: the woman driving is none too pleased and decides to let him know how she really feels. The Italian is unfazed and sprints at the next gap in traffic.

We have less than 5k to go. It finally dawns on me that I am on my victory lap. A cliché it is, but I can stop riding, start walking and still make it in time. Maybe. If I get a flat now that is what I will do I think: walk to the gym and soak in the love for a wee bit longer. Oh, and my upper body wouldn't cooperate in fixing the flat for sure. We climb one last bridge, one last little steep stretch of no more than 30 yards and we are finally on the home stretch. More lights follow but now the sidewalks are crammed with people cheering, clapping and yelling. As we come to a stop at each light, we are bathed in a sea of adulation. "Chapeau!" they yell, and I later learn that this is a word that the French don't throw around lightly. I recognize this street: we walked here ages ago - last Saturday - for bike registration. No more than a couple of kilometers now. I find myself riding with a Frenchman who despite his lack of English is trying to make conversation. This is his Seventh Paris - Brest and that he had finished all of them. Amazing! An Englishman on his second Paris-Brest is on my right. I ask about their home clubs and ogle their bikes and gear. They ask about the Cascade 1200 and I tell them it is as beautiful as it is difficult and that the support is awesome.

A few hundred yards from the finish
Dozens of riders in the front and 20 or so right behind me. Riders congratulate each other. We are now a huge swarm of riders and a little ways down the road we finally sweep around the roundabout and are guided to a narrow area leading to the rear of the gymnasium. As we negotiate the constricted roadway two cyclists riding near us crash, unable to avoid the barricade, a wayward pedestrian or themselves.

Ooh, that was close indeed.
Having avoided this mishap very deftly, we ride carefully down the gravel path and sweep left as volunteers yell out "Bravo" while simultaneously shepherding us to the right spots. As I park my bike I see Mitchel being hugged by his sobbing wife, Linda. Will Goss also finishes in the same time as I do. We congratulate each other and make our way into the gym. I get my card stamped one last time.

Handing that card over, one last time!
The very friendly volunteer tells me gently - for next time - that I should fill my emergency contact information on my brevet card. "It is too late now", she says with a smile. "Yes", I tell her, there most definitely will be a next time.

The Post-ride scene

My battery is out of juice and as she takes away my brevet card I am filled with regret at not being able to snap a photo of my card. Do I have the brains to ask Barbara to take a photo of my card? No, of course not. Susan Otcenas finishes a few minutes behind us but I guess (rightly) that she has had way more sleep than I have. She looks fresh and I resolve to train harder for next time so I can linger a tad longer, sleep a little more and look like Susan at the finish. What a delightful ride! The next few hours are a blur but the main motivation was a complete unwillingness to leave the finish. I buy photos at the Maindru booth. I wander around talking to riders. I leave my bike out and walk outside and meet Michael Huber.

Mike and  I have been riding together for a while and at the Spring 100k on a very frigid West Snoqualmie Valley Road Mike made me a promise: we would share a bottle of Champagne at the finish of PBP in Paris! Mike keeps his promise and blows 50 Euro on a bottle and we sit down with Jan Heine and Drew Buck to finish the bottle. We talk bikes, PBP, and our respective rides. Drew is tough, having completed the ride solely on catnaps. I hit the food stall and find the meaty fare very unappetizing. There's quite a few SIR riders waiting in line for food. I treat myself to some Pain au Chocolat and a Nutella crepe. We talk bikes and see riders finish. Kole finishes.

Hanging out with the Indian Contingent
Mike takes off for the Campanile and I meet members of the Indian contingent. They are a bit disappointed but happy about the whole experience and promise to come again to right matters. I catch portions of the closing ceremony with our own Jan Heine emceeing in English. I see Jennifer finish. I try to update my Facebook status and fail miserably, falling asleep at the keyboard more than a few times. The volunteer managing the computers gently wakes me up and with a smile asks me to go home and get some sleep. Eventually it is time to leave the finish area and I walk away from the Gym overwhelmed by the experience.

Near the roundabout, I meet two German riders who finished earlier and they help me pack my things and take a photo of me at the finish. I am clueless as to how to get there, but they help me find my way.

At THE roundabout
With PBP loot!
I walk back to the hotel and the roads are filled with riders. The Campanile lobby is filled with riders and their bikes. Some of them have the look of contentment in their face. Many strangers offer congratulations for finishing the ride. In the room Mike is already out cold. I brush my teeth for the first time in almost 48 hours, shower quietly and fall into blissful sleep at around 7p.

Self-Portrait at the Campanile hotel room
13 hours later I wake up and feel great. It is one of the happiest days of my life. The breakfast room is filled with tons of food, and riders: most are in great spirits. I have the biggest breakfast I have ever had in my life: we eat as a large group and make the most noise, laugh the loudest, tell the tallest of tales, eventually getting kicked out for the lunch hour. I say my goodbyes and board a train for the Gare Montparnasse. I briefly think about riding along the course to look for a "Brest" marker, but I resist the urge. I have to get back to the Latin Quarter.

One more instance of largesse awaits me from an unexpected source: a Parisian. On the train to the Gare Montparnasse a very genial looking Frenchman is sitting across from me and asks me in perfect English if I have finished Paris-Brest. I don't pass up many opportunities to show off and we chat about the whole experience. He is a cyclist too and I ask him which of the French papers have good coverage of PBP. He mentions a few names and the only one I recognize is L'equipe (Tour de France). We get off at the Gare and join the weekday throng, walking together towards the newsstands that dot the station. Cautioning me about bike thieves he tells me to stay with the bike and goes to look for papers. Say what you will about the Internet taking over for newspapers, you don't see anybody printing out webpages as souvenirs! Instead of coming back with names, he comes back with copies of Le ParisienL'equipe and Le Telegramme. "My gift to you for finishing Paris - Brest" he says and without so much as an introduction walks away. I am quite surprised. Thank you, Mr Anonymous Frenchman.

I cannot bear to get on the bike. My butt is still quite sore and as I walk past a crowded restaurant where patrons are sitting pretty close to the street, I notice a gentleman pointing in my direction, and as I walk past them I hear the tail end of the word "Brest" and figuring I'd chat with him I walk back. An older couple are sitting along with 2 men, both of whom rode PBP. I visit with them for a little, hear their stories and while all of them introduced themselves, I can only remember Rob from Florida. I take their leave as I have a train to catch. My bike box is at the hotel where I stayed at before the ride. I get my bike box and it hurts to unpack the bike because every part of my body is screaming. A few drops of rain fall on me as I take my time to pack the bike and catch a train to London that very same evening.

I sit on the EuroStar train and reflect on the ride and one thought strikes me. I was asked a myriad of questions during the ride: Where are you from ? Where do you live?  How old are you? Are you married? Do you live in France? Do you like Brittany/Normandy? Are your parents from France? Would you like some coffee? Why won't you have some Camembert Cheese? There is one question that I was never asked: "Why are you doing this?" (or the French equivalent, for all you smart-asses out there). The French simply get it. There is no need to explain, justify, or cower behind anything. You can simply be.

Vive Paris - Brest - Paris. Vive la Bretagne et la Normandie! Vive la France!

See you in 2015 and hopefully I will write a shorter ride report then.


PBP Randonneur 2011, Part 7: Villaines-la-Juhel to Dreux

August 25, 2011: Villaines-la-Juhel to Mortagne-au-Perche

It's 5 minutes to 10p. I've gotten back on the black side of the clock by a good 35 minutes. I find a spot to park my bike and prepare to mix more food. There is a family standing near my spot and the man asks me "Seattle?" looking at my jersey, "Oui" I say, and the man nods his head, his English just about exhausted and my French in hiding. I walk the 50 or so yards to the entrance and then 50 more yards to the control and get my card stamped. The volunteer smiles and wishes me Bon Courage while slipping in some kind of sticker into my control card. I feel pretty good coming out of the Villaines control. I mix two more bottles and feel fortified for the road. I don't have too much time but enough for any mechanical problems or a brief roadside nap which is all I care about really at this point.

The road leading out of the Villanes-la-Juhel control is through a big white banner with the words "La Mayenne" emblazoned in giant print. Every rider heading back on course has to pass through this banner and the crowds are concentrated along the narrow road giving each rider a hero's sendoff. I watch this spectacle for a few minutes chatting with the same family near my bike but I have to leave pretty soon. I mount my bike, and say "A Bientot" to the family. "Bon Courage", they say. Riding towards the banner, I wave to no one in particular and the crowd erupts with the cheering reaching a crescendo as I pump my arms in the air while stupidly yelling "Vive la France!". I am shamelessly working the crowd and they respond with sustained cheering as I ride out of the little chute area and into the open road. I feel so good and so happy and the rush is strong: it will be a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. You can't get this anywhere else!

The road starts off being lumpy with a climb right out of the control but shortly afterward we hit what I would characterize as mostly flat terrain. The road is a little foggy and the night air is cool but not unbearably so. Little lights flicker inside houses and porches are filled with people watching us. I am still dressed in shorts, wool socks, and half-fingered gloves. My front derailleur is acting up again and I pull over to take a look at what is happening and a woman driving in the opposite direction stops and asks me if I want a ride to the Villaines control. Amazed at her kindness and her awareness of our event, I reply in the negative; I think I can nurse this to Mortagne as I nursed myself to Tinténiac this morning, but I do kick myself for not having visited the mechanic at Villanes-la-Juhel. It will just slow me down. I thank her and move on.

As this is just a few miles out of the control I am riding with people again. The road plunges downhill after a very tricky roundabout and we leave the town behind. The road curves right quite sharply and I see one rider down on the side of the road: it looks bad! The sound of squealing brakes fills the air as everybody in the vicinity stops. A (Chinese?) randonneuse - having crashed earlier - is sitting on the road surface taking stock of her injuries and two Asian riders are with her trying to make sure she is OK. Her bike is in the ditch. We ask if they need help, but understandably the three of them are in a world of their own, not to mention language. Figuring she has the support she needs we leave but ask (in English, oops) an oncoming car to render any assistance. The lady at the wheel is more than happy to help. I normally bomb down descents but the combination of witnessing an accident and an inability to shift to my large ring dulls my instincts somewhat.

After an uneventful few kilometers I start wondering about my food situation: I have polished off one bottle of Sustained Energy, but the remaining bottle isn't quite enough to get me to Mortagne-au-Perche, so I decide that I'd like a cup of coffee and some food. A nice descent brings us down into the small town of Fresnay-sur-Sarthe with a lovely bar right at the corner where the course makes a very sharp left turn and heads due East. There were a couple of bikes leaning against the wall and figuring that I'd been riding for a couple of hours at least and may have banked some time I go into the bar which happens to be the only open establishment in this town.

There are quite a few locals and a couple of Russian riders. I ask for a coffee and scanning the menu, order an Omelette with frites along with Toast and jam. The locals are full of questions and so is the very jovial barman. The cook comes out, greets me and goes back in to make my omelette. It feels good to get off the bike for a while. The standard questions are asked and answered and the locals make jokes that I do not understand.The food takes awhile; the Russians wish me luck and leave well before me, having stopped by for only coffee. The coffee arrives, warms and wakes me up. Two very welcome sensations at this late hour. The food takes its sweet time and by the time the food arrives I realize that I wasn't thinking when I sat down for food here. I must have restricted myself to some coffee, mixed more powdered food and moved on. Lingering on the road would cut into that other luxury: sleep. But, one does have to enjoy the experience some, right? I have just had a massive brain fart: there goes 45 minutes of sleep.

The road slopes gently uphill and I am in the middle of a 10 person group. It seems like there is wave after wave of riders on the road waiting to repeatedly swallow me up. There is this rider going about my pace and I gently make conversation. She is French (of African extraction?). She cannot lift her neck up which under normal circumstances would be an annoyance but at night in rural France is about the most difficult thing to endure. And here she is, riding on. I do my best to help her navigate roundabouts and the sudden projections that make riding challenging. Adroit or a gauche I call out and she says thanks each time and follows my instruction based on my proximity to her. Helping her allows me to focus on something other than myself and keeps me awake. A few miles out of Fresnay-sur-Sarthe she is slow to react to an "a gauche" call and crashes into a concrete projection. I stop to make sure she is ok but a small group gathers and figuring she has all the help she needs, I keep riding. I don't remember her frame number now so I have no way of finding out if she finished or not. In hindsight, I regret leaving her behind. Keeping her to my left would have helped her avoid more obstacles with lesser effort.

Shortly after this, I find myself riding with two gentlemen from England. Brian (from Essex) gushes about the strength of my lights (eDelux) and confesses to wanting to ride with me just for that purpose. I have everything to gain by the company and our pace seems compatible. We ride out of one town and as I shift to the big ring my chain falls off. I stop to fix it and Brian stops too, shining his helmet mirror at my chain and making sure that I was OK mechanically. Helpful company is always welcome and I resolve to not lose Brian. We do however manage to drop Brian's friend as we exit one village and head into the countryside. Our conversation tends to be about equipment, our jobs, and the areas where we ride in. Brian is a veteran of several PBPs and he is very even keeled. As on the first night of PBP, a string of red lights takes off into the sky with the accompanying bad news: there is a climb ahead. There is a big highway to our right as we climb and the road undulates again. We are still in the presence of a large number of riders but for some reason it's been a long time since we've seen a directional arrow. This worries both of us. We ride for what seems like a dozen kilometers before Brian finally spots an arrow on a roundabout. We suspect that people are stealing souvenirs with less than a day to go. We aren't making progress at the required rate, Brian tells me. We have more than 20 kilometers to go and about an hour and 10 minutes to do it in. I finally realize why a sense of urgency pervades the riders as are were getting passed.

Down this big descent we go and there are two roads both of which are looking like they could be the right road and there isn't an arrow. Somebody has stolen a sign again! But, there is a car parked with its light on near one road and Brian and I cautiously go up to him to ask which way to Mortagne-au-Perche. "Tout droit" he says and points uphill. We enter a nature preserve of some kind and start climbing again, but this time the climbing is serious. We know we are up against the clock: it shows in the desperation of our pedal strokes.

I take a few swigs from my bottle and immediately feel a rush of energy. Brian has sped up and is a few hundred yards ahead of me, but I catch him on an incline as the tree-lined road veers to the right. As I look far into the distance I can actually see the orange glow that almost certainly is Mortagne-au-Perche. I have no clue how far it is to the control from here. We climb and descend I know not how many times but each time I get to the top, I can see the orange glow but there is one more ridge between us and Mortagne-au-Perche. The area has its redeeming qualities: there isn't too much ambient light here and the cloudless night sky is filled with a trillion stars and the occasional streaking meteor. I distract myself looking at this light show, but Brian is thinking of nothing but the task on hand. There is nothing but forest on either side of us. It is an awesome setting.

When I lived in Canada, I worked for a company with quite a large Japanese population and became aware of a very interesting dish made with Tofu. The preparation of this dish goes something like this: You put water, a huge block of tofu into a vessel and hundreds of teeny-tiny live fish together in a pot and start the heat. As the fish start to dislike the temperature, they make a beeline for the only hospitable spot in the pot that they can hide in. This of course results in hundreds of these fish cramming themselves into the tofu, which then turns out to be their grave as the temperature of the water reaches boiling point and cooks the tofu and the fish completely. I don't know why this thought came to me, but in a macabre way we resemble those fish and the Tofu is the Mortagne-au-Perche control: each of us on the road trying to jam ourselves into the tofu except of course that we are fish expecting to live to tell the tale.

We descend down to a roundabout and I see one steep final climb before the control. Our effort pays off. Though I am filled with dread as we approach the last kilometers we are a large group all giving their best effort to achieve the same purpose: make the control. There is very little talking. We finally see the lights of the building and relief washes over me. The road slopes up towards the control and at the bottom I ask Brian how many minutes we have to closing and he says "5 maybe" and I begin what I hope will be the last hard effort before the control. The control looks familiar from a few days ago except we are now arriving in the other direction. I park my bike near the entrance and run in. We still don't know if we have made it.

August 25, 2011: Mortagne-au-Perche to Dreux

Before Brian and I separate we agree to meet outside in 5 minutes: that is all the time we can spare. I feel like Jan Heine negotiating a break with riders in the lead pack except I am on the wrong end of the time game. There is the small matter of getting my card signed. I don't even know if I have made it. I take a short cut to the volunteer table but don't cross the mat which lies between the chip readers. The volunteers at the signing table are alert even at this late hour and guide me over the mat. I check in and have made it with 3 minutes to spare. THREE! It isn't my closest call ever and making the control infuses me with a sense of confidence and well-being.

Sleep doesn't even cross my mind mostly because making Dreux now has my attention. I remember where the water taps are and mix up more food, but when I arrive back at the entrance to the controle I do not find Brian or his bike. Another surprise is in store for me: when I look for the spare pair of shorts I have been carrying since Uzel, I cannot find them. I have to change shorts! Crap! I hunt every inch of my Carradice for them but it seems like I have left them back at the Gite. Oh, well. I can save some time not changing into new clothing. I step out into the night air and am immediately struck by how cold it is. I unwrap my leg warmers from my handlebars and put on every piece of clothing I am carrying. I have left my booties in my drop bag. Kent Peterson is right: drop bags do make you weak. I am hemming and hawing between waiting for Brian and leaving when I spot a very cheerful and well-rested - by outward appearances - Andy Speier.

Seeing a familiar face does wonders for my mood and I chat with him about missing by booties. Not even hesitating for a moment, Andy hands over his shoe covers saying he has no use for them but is glad that I could use it. I look around one last time for Brian and when he doesn't make an appearance I reluctantly leave the control. At PBP, time is worth something more than money. My pre-ride calculations had me sleeping a couple of hours here but reality is writ large on the clock at the control. Not knowing the terrain from here on out snuffs out any thoughts of taking a deficit on the clock.

I put on my leg warmers and the comfortable little cushioning they have been providing becomes very apparent: my hands hurt again. I decide that I cannot wait for Brian and leave the controle building. We start climbing again and I find myself gradually warming up. I left a little before Andy but he catches me a few miles out of Mortagne-au-Perche on a small biting climb. I stop and dismount and hand over his booties to him. In hindsight this is certainly a misguided attempt at saving weight as I still had at least 2lb of food on me. The things you are worried about after a few miles in the saddle!

We are treated to one roller after another and I roll over them rather slowly. Daylight is but a few hours away and with that will come welcome respite in the form of better mental awareness but we shall first have to navigate through some uncharted waters. I haven't slept a wink since Fougères and I now have 1000k under my belt. The mileage shows; there is very little detail I can remember between the first few hours out of the Mortagne-au-Perche control. If somebody told me what happened I am sure I'll go "oh yeah, that's right" but the memories are in a sinkhole someplace. I notice that not very many cars have passed us since Mortagne-au-Perche.

PBP is a ride where you are seldom alone, but there were long stretches where I found myself very alone. On this night, I am riding along with dozens of other people, all of whom are passing me. I take some comfort in the fact that I am not alone in this; that there are a hundred other souls on the road with a vacant stare and a mostly empty brain with two words scrawled on it: Sleep and Dreux. There is hardly a car on the road. We ride through towns, forests and one particularly annoying climb that went on for what seems like a few miles with nothing but forests on either side. I pass a house with a rather large black gate, the kind used to keep wastrels like me out. A few hardy souls are sleeping on the grass, their space blankets shine as our lights fall on I them, but I am determined to keep riding until I fall over. I look to my right and see the first signs of sunrise: a pleasing blue sky rimmed by a few dark clouds for variety and a vaguely reddish horizon.

A laundry line of red taillights leads us into the darkness of a very still night. I have been riding for at least a couple of hours now and the sleep demon has caught me and has started extracting tasty morsels. I've been slowly climbing for a while now and as we near a small building with sodium vapour lamps and inviting grass along the side of the road I cannot take it any more. I simply have to sleep. I wasn't weaving or anything, but I have to sleep. I lean my bike against the railing, spread out my rain jacket under my butt, set my alarm for 20 minutes, and go to sleep in just my short sleeved jersey. It is cold but that'll prevent me from oversleeping. There are plenty of riders riding within 3 or 4 feet of the grass. Seeing me spread my stuff out another rider pulls over and proceeds to do exactly the same.

I wake up with a start. My mouth feels like a cesspool. That my battery had enough juice is something to rejoice over, because I have slept 40 minutes; 20 minutes of it through a loud and very insistent alarm. I suddenly realize that I do not have much time in the bank, so I quickly put everything away. The pre-dawn light is slowly brightening things up. I get back on the bike and start pushing the pace, but though I feel refreshed I am not riding any faster. I quickly calculate what time I need to be at the Dreux control: Around 8:30a. Time is probably 6am. I have 2 and a half hours to go whatever distance it is I have to go. I have no computer, no route sheet, no way to calculate or gauge progress and no way to find out how much is still left. I curse myself for having gone to sleep as I suspect this is going to cost me my ride. I am quite mad at myself. The road is still slowly climbing and a thin fog is doing its best to bestow some mystery on the trees. There are old palaces and grand buildings dotting the road as we finally make a left turn. There are people sleeping along the side of the road. Surely these are people with time in their bags.

I am passed by a Japanese rider who rides at a pace slightly faster than mine. He catches up but rides near me for a while. "How far to Dreux?" I ask him, and get no response. I figure he is thin on the English and switch to a question that I think he might understand: I point to his bike computer and say "What speed?". I must have looked really rude; this stranger who won't leave him alone asking all kinds of pointed questions. Again, I get no response. My desperation leaks through my lips: "I really have to make Dreux by 8.30" I say, not knowing who I am saying it to or what I expect them to do in return.

I start giving it everything I have got which as you've probably guessed by now, isn't much. I am reminded of what the volunteer at Loudéac said on the way back: we are allowed to miss one control. This gives me some mental relief that my ride will go on even if I miss Dreux. It is not the end of the world, after all. The road climbs again and he drops me and pulls away. I catch up a few kilometers later and he seems surprised that I caught him. Something seems to click inside the Japanese rider: he glances at me and pulls right in front as if to pull me along. I attempt to hang on but cannot and he drops me again but doesn't notice it. I curse my lousy drafting skills and give up hope. A few dozen feet later he realizes that he cannot just ratchet the pace up, and slows down to pull me. I gratefully merge back into his slipstream.

The acceleration comes and I can feel it, but instead of just taking it straight up he slowly increases the pace and I find I can match his effort. He looks back every few feet to make sure I am there. I am now riding at speeds that I haven't hit since the outbound leg to Loudéac. Maybe I have some hope of making Dreux after all. We ride past fields, palaces and water tanks. Nothing registers for long. Here now, gone the next instant. Nothing is as important as staying close to that wheel 5 inches in front. I am still on the train and hanging on and the Japanese rider is pulling me strongly. I don't know how long I can hold on but hold on I must. It's stressful, this effort to make time, especially when you have 1100+ k in your legs and not much sleep. I see signs for 25k to Dreux and I am convinced I only have 40 minutes to spare. I am going to miss the control and resignation washes over me, but the man in front doesn't let up.

Alarmingly, the first signs of hunger set in. I have run out of food too. I haven't bonked yet but I am sure I'll have that to look forward to in the next few miles. The road miraculously flattens out and as it curves left we ride past a bunch of corn fields. It is not the corn fields that capture my interest but the hordes of riders lying in a variety of states. Most of them are just dead to the world, some just barely waking up and a few cannot even lift up their necks to look at the goings on in the immediate world. I spot a sleeping rider on the side of the road and his hand is actually quite close to the road surface, on the gravel in fact. (I should have stopped and helped him off the road but acted selfishly. I won't do that again, I promise) Another is trying desperately to lift his head but cannot and makes eye contact with me as we crest the little hill. The look in his eyes and the expression on his face defies description. It didn't look like they were in a rush to make it to Dreux, but I hope they all did. The road finally flattens out, and with the tow I am getting it certainly feels like I am going downhill.

Hideharu Sasai: Got me into Dreux on time
We are flying now, a group of 4 or 5 riders, passing people, even unintentionally shelling out a few. We start hitting some suburbs and the road goes around what looks like the Football pitch of a school. The Japanese rider finally pulls off and collapses. Unbeknownst to me, he has been fighting sleep and can work no more. We've dropped everybody. I quickly mutter a "Domo Arrigato" and head off towards the next arrow still not knowing if I would make Dreux or not. The road turns into rollers again but finally to the right emerges the Palais des Sports, the Dreux control. I pedal almost all the way to the entrance of the control and lean my bike against the closest object I can find. I must look really comical as I run the last 20 or 30 yards to the control.

PBP Randonneur 2011, Part 6: Tinténiac to Villaines-la-Juhel

August 24, 2011: Tinténiac to Fougères

I feel oddly happy though I still can't afford to sleep. But I can get help for my bike! I am trying to find a spot for my bike when out walks Joe Platzner on his way out of the controle. Mark joins him shortly after. I am happy to see them because it means that I am making good time. Ok, decent time. I tell Joe about what's I think is going on and Joe immediately produces a spare cable but they are pressed for time too and they have to move on. It is the last I see of Mark and Joe on the ride.

Tinténiac is simply too big to not have a mechanic. I get my control card signed and one of the volunteers sends me to the mechanic's. I am seen immediately even though there are a bevy of riders there with all kinds of bike problems. The mechanic speaks decent English and I am told to come back in 15 minutes. I head over to the café, get 3 or 4 pieces of bread (all gratuit), hot soup, coffee, and a banana and share a table with Mike Norman. My fingers are dirty from fiddling with the bike, but I eat anyway. The bread is fresh but a bit hard but a dip into the soup softens it. Ah, so refreshing, this normal-people-food. We chat about the ride and compare notes. We have had similar rides, but Mike has had more sleep. I head back to my bike and am met by a very friendly woman who politely tells me that my cable wasn't broken but they have fixed the problem, and no, payment wasn't necessary! Amazing, these people! Overall, I stay about a half-hour here.

I briefly think about a nap but decide not to and leave Tinténiac happy that I can now make semi-decent progress. But, while the shifter works, my drivetrain is now making a mad racket and I can see that everybody around me accelerates when they come near me. A guy from the UK pulls up and slows down, fully intending to ride with me. But my unruly drivetrain interferes: he apologizes before he accelerates, unable to stand the din. The road out of Tinténiac is curvy and hilly, nothing much changes there. After a few miles of this the road appears flat for what seems to be miles. We are riding through verdant farms, and picturesque French villages adorned with bicycles and flowers, each village eager to win the approbation of passersby. I am looking for things to pick me up and deflect me from the mental low point I am now riding towards and these roadside decorations and flowers help me refocus on something else for a little while. About 10 kilometers outside of Tinténiac I get a mental boost.

We ride through the town of Dingé and John Ende comes to mind. PBP 2007 has yielded some spectacular stories and John's is one that I remember well. "I am strong, I can do it": these are words from John's report and they ring in my head for a while. I am just riding on sleep deficit but John had to pass a kidney stone! My plight seems minuscule compared to his. Then there's my friend Allison Bailey. You will never see a ride report from Allison about PBP 2007 but she rode a thousand kilometers with a bad stomach while barely able to keep anything down. She was way out of time limits and nobody would have blamed her if she decided to take a train back but she still rode her bike back to Paris. Jon Muellner had similar stomach problems after 900k and rode his bike to the finish. But the words I hold on to from his report are "Suck it up Mate. Ride it in!". Dingé reminds me to do just that. I stop by a roadside stand and eat two of the most delicious slices of Lemon Cake I've ever had and this lifts my spirits considerably. They have a small jar for donations and their eyes widen when I drop a 5E bill in it. It is truly delicious Lemon cake.

The day brightens and warms up and I can no longer bear wearing the leg warmers and reflective vest. My wool jersey is plenty for my upper body and the wool socks keep my toes warm. I pull over well away from the road on to a farm access road and sit down to strip some of my clothing off. Sitting down is painful. Noel Howes (or is it Joe Llona?) rides by and hollers out a hello. I take my time and then take a small nap on the side of the road. I need some thing to hold on to and this 10 minute nap is just that. I pull myself up most reluctantly and ride on thinking that with Fougères not that far away and the terrain being a whole lot forgiving I might make good time after all.

In PBP special moments lurk around every corner and here is one that is seared in my memory. I come around a corner and the road - after what seems like miles of false flat - finally begins to climb. Stone houses sit under a brilliant blue sky dotted by white puffy clouds. There is some cheering coming from up ahead from I know not where. As I ride up to a clump of houses I am at the bottom of this hill and the chanting seems to be coming about halfway up. I am near the last 100 yards from the top and I finally spot them to my left. It's a group of 3 girls with their elbows on a window ledge. They couldn't be anymore than 7 or 8 years old. I am finally near enough to understand what they are saying: "Allez les Bleus" they repeat over and over again in a chorus of perfect rhythm. My jersey is of course Blue and I am almost moved to tears by this custom greeting. They could have been cheering for the French football team, but I highly doubt it. Merci, I call out and they add rhythmic applause to their chanting. I am in my granny and climbing slowly up, so this lasts for a while. I feel like I am on top of the world.

I stop again a little while later for another mini nap as riders stream by. This stretch is one of the easier ones that have been thrown our way but I have no idea how far it is to Fougères. That darned computer! It is midday now and I am overcome by an intense desire to sleep. I spy a roadside car and ask them if there is someplace to sleep. The two youngsters inside are unable to help and I continue on. Some sense gets into me a few kilometers down the road and I kick myself for losing it completely. How could they have possibly helped?! A few kilometers out of Fougères, I am struck by an intense sense of deja vu, except I've never ridden to Fougères in this direction before. It feels really weird until we ride by the castle that dominates Fougères. I gawk again, but there isn't any time for pictures. I finally arrive at Fougères around 1:30p. Welcome sight indeed!

August 24, 2011: Fougères to Villaines-la-Juhel


This is where you go get your card signed

I am shocked to find that I only have about an hour and 40 minutes at my disposal, but I absolutely must sleep. Despite the flat sections of the last few miles and the lower required average speed, I haven't gained much time. I make a mental note of this as I make the long walk up to the control officials to get my card signed. The dortoir is but a short 50 yard ride away, and 3 Euros poorer I ask to be woken up in an hour. The gymnasium I am led to is completely empty except for mattresses with wool blankets on top. I lie down and let sleep take me. In milliseconds I am woken up by the control volunteer. "Monsieur", he says and softly touches my shoulder. I look up to a smiling face and sit up. Convinced that I have woken up, he leaves. He doesn't know me well, does he?

All through my life I have suffered from the "Oh please, 5 minutes more" problem when woken up from slumber. My mother and my wife will both attest to this: my "5 minutes" plea would leave my lips even before I've had a chance to open my eyes. I look at the clock and find I have 40 more minutes in the bank and so "decide" to sleep for just a few minutes more. I lie down and fall back to sleep. I wake up again to a hand on my shoulder and the same soft voice saying "Monsieur", but this time I detect just a trace of urgency and sit up upright. I have slept for another hour more! It is completely by chance that the volunteer came looking for me again.

Fougères Sleep Control volunteers who thoughtfully checked
back on me after my sleep break

It is almost 4.30 pm. I feel rested but despite being in the red as far as the clock is concerned, I am unworried. The official photographer comes over but waits for me to finish lubing myself up. The medical support person and the dortoir volunteers send me on my way with a "Bon Courage et Bonne Route".

Fougères: Official Photograph.
All lubed up and ready to go
The control is deserted, my bike being one of the few still around. I am just a touch desperate now, but one needn't panic, not with this many kilometers to go. There is plenty of distance between here and Villaines-la-Juhel to get back in the black. I haven't brushed my teeth in about 450 kilometers and I now have the beginnings of a sore developing along the tip of my tongue. Too much information? The road is mostly empty now as most riders are ahead of me but there are some people on the road. We head out on the road to Gorron.

The day is warm and the skies are clear. I arrive at La Tanniere at the home of Paul Rogue. There is a healthy crowd of locals outside and a few riders in front of what looks like a garage but it actually leads into a small yard. Who is Paul Rogue you may ask and how do I know him? Paul Rogue is famous for having a crepe and coffee stop along the PBP course and only accepting payment in the form of a postcard from your home town. In my obsessive reading of PBP ride reports his is another name that comes up in reverential tones. Not stopping here was not an option.

The cheering crew at La Tanniere
I ask for two crepes and a cup of coffee and a neighbour of Paul's from England hands it to me along with the coffee. "Paul is having a nap" she says in a crisp English accent. The Nutella crepes are delicious and I make small conversation in my paltry French as I eat and take sips of the very strong coffee. The crowd is small but well-dressed except for one man dressed in mechanic's overalls who is very interested in where I am from. There are two display boards featuring cards from riders past with a healthy representation from Seattle and Oregon. This stop is pretty close to Fougères so I have to leave fairly quickly, but I can now say that I have sampled Paul's hospitality firsthand. I check Facebook for just a minute and see an exhortation from my friend Amy Harman which politely tells me to quit taking photos and concentrate on the ride. I decide to stop taking photos unless I have time in the bank.

It is also near La Tanniere that my butt started complaining that it is unhappy with the general state of things. I have two sore spots on either cheek and I struggle to find a comfortable position on the bike that doesn't completely mess up my riding posture. I worry about my neck, my butt, and my hands. The former is still secure, but the latter two are getting insistent by the hour. I move my butt this way and that and finally find a position that I think works. I do not move my butt or stop for fear of losing this one comfortable position that I have somehow managed to find. In the interest of not grossing out the one reader who has read all the way to this point, I am going to refrain from mentioning this sore fact for the rest of the report.

There is a small climb outside of the town and as I am making my way up when the mechanic that I just met passes me in a old blue car, rolls down his window and yells "Bon Courage" before making a left turn off the main road. The Mayenne area we are riding through is chock full of farms and right out of La Tanniere we start climbing towards Saint-Berthevin-la-Tanniere. This area is vivid in my memory. We are afforded a 360 degree view: the surrounding landscape is a sequence of large mounds of earth all folding into each other. Farms pockmarked with trees fill the countryside. There isn't anything flat here. My butt doesn't want to help me sit on my saddle anymore: though slathered in unctuous goodness, it is complaining loudly. I am finding it difficult to sit comfortably and find myself climbing out of the saddle a lot for the next few kilometers. There is also a lot of bike related art including a tractor made out of bales of hay. I remember seeing something like that in the Tour de France! The pavement is littered with exhortations for the professionals with the Coup de Grace being "Good on ya, Cadel!". It is not as though they are partial to the professionals. Almost each town we pass through seems to contain some form of acknowledgement for the riders from the town who are doing PBP and for all cyclists in general.

We weave through Gorron the sight of my low moment a few days ago. I am reminded of Ken Krichman, having had to abandon due to a mechanical (post-ride note: he didn't abandon), a stark reminder that your ride could get messy any minute. There are a lot of riders from this town on PBP and proportionately, tons of people in support. All along the route I have seen people of different ages stand and cheer for us and it seems like this area has whole families at it. I see one family after the other at random points along the road with the now familiar "Bon Courage" and "Bonne Route" on their lips. There are two little girls sitting on a bench patiently observing the action wishing us "Bon Courage". I say "Merci Madame" and they start giggling. "Madame!?" they repeat in an amused voice and giggle again. Oh dear, not again. I yell out a "Merci Mademoiselles" as I ride by, their giggles receding into the distance.

I should have stopped and given those kids something I think just as I plunge down a small hill. I still have the second installment of those pins that I bought, the four or five left clanking around in my jersey pocket. I have forgotten about these and figure that I'd give them away to the next children I see. Of course, I have passed countless children before this revelation and the thought makes me sad. I start looking for children to give out these pins to.

I see them, two girls standing a little away from the sidewalk. The older sister is about 8 and the younger sister about 5, without any adult supervision, applauding cyclists as they ride by. They are quite surprised when I stop a few feet away from them on the road and motion for them to come over. They are a bit hesitant but something moves them toward me. I reach into my jersey pocket and in my kindest voice say "Un petit cadeau pour moi" ("a small gift for me"). They look confused. I'm stupid. Okay, let's try that again. "Un petit cadeau pour vous. Pour vous" ("a small gift for you") I say, and hold out the pins. Their eyes light up and they take the offering and look at them eagerly. I am about to mount my bike and ride off when the older girl - with a smile that could warm a Minnesota winter - says, "Vous êtes très gentil". Her voice is so soft that I might have missed hearing it had I not been two feet from her. Moved, "De Rien" I say and ride on.

One pretty town follows another. We've ridden through a lot of beautiful towns in the dark but I am happy to say that I rode through Ambrieres-les-vallés in the daylight in both directions: Beautiful town with a somewhat dilapidated chateau, brown stone houses and lots of flowers. A killer descent leads me to the only bridge in town over the river Varenne, but I ride on, not wanting to waste time. I'd regret this later. We climb out of Ambrieres-les-vallés past a beautiful little church. I need to use the bathroom and just before leaving town I spot a small park with bathrooms. The Men's bathroom is a giant mess and has run out of toilet paper but the Women's is as clean as can be expected after 500 men have used it. I become #501. I briefly consider stopping for pizza but thanks to the coffee at La Tanniere my brain is still in working order. I can't spare the time. In Lassay-les-Chateaux I ride by with little regret but after seeing Versailles my feeling is that a Chateau is best admired from the outside. Sorry, Chateauxophiles!

I don't know why but my most vivid recollections from this PBP are on the Fougères to Villaines-la-Juhel stretch, probably as a result of the coffee I had in La Tanniere. The light is softening now on an inexorable march towards dusk. Assorted groups of people are standing by the side of the road as we enter the town of Charchingné, politely applauding. A very small town with church, school and library, the centerpieces of any community. Before the last of the houses on the right on the very edge of town, two little boys unforgettably demonstrate why PBP is as sweet as it is. They come out sprinting from one of the houses on the right and hold out a small notebook each. They want our autographs! They want our autographs?!?. I am prone to the occasional emotional lachrymatory attack and I am completely floored by their request. I don't remember what I wrote now, but I sign my name and city. I ride like I have wings for the next few miles.

What is a good way to describe how we are being treated ? It is hard to express what the people along the route mean to me and my ride, the part that they played and the reaction they caused, and this is the best I can come up with: each spectator is like a blacksmith. Each cry of Bon courage and Bonne route, each bottle of water and admiring grin, each slice of lemon pound cake, each cookie, each offer of coffee, food or a bed, each request for an autograph, each clap, each handshake, hammers into place the steel of your resolve, makes you determined not to quit. To give it your best shot. To put short term pain aside and focus on getting to the finish. And I think it is this that will make me go back to Paris to do this ride in four years. Not the scenery, not to brag, not the medal. My resolve to finish hardens and I ride with just a little more pep for the next few miles. The people of the Mayenne seem to realize that this is our last night on the road, that we need the encouragement, the slow ones more than most. At least, that's my best guess.

Right as we leave Charchingné the road curves to the right and we are treated to a nice long downhill, the black top of the road splitting two fields of green on either side. I am caught by a French rider on a recumbent. We talk and find  the first three things we have in common: we are bonking, have run out of water and have no food left. We carry on knowing that one town or the other will come up soon. We start riding through what looks like forested land but there are houses every so often. To the left we see a small sign that identifies this land as owned by the French Military and has the only "No trespassing" signs on the entire route. My friend comments that we better be on our best behaviour. We ride together in silence.

We round a small corner and there in front of us is a small village: Le Ribay. It's location is easy to remember: the town just before the big N-12 highway crossing. To our left, a small group of people are gathered around a small table set against the wall of an old stone building. A few children on mountain bikes are stopped near them, chatting informally. As they catch sight of us the whole group explodes with cheers and gets even more buoyed when they find out we are about to stop and partake of their hospitality. A genial Frenchman comes over and fills my water bottle after patiently waiting for me to put some powder into it. The bent rider - whose name I never did catch - is getting some water and reaching for chips.

There's lots of stuff to eat. Pretzels, cookies, cakes, chips, watermelon slices, and I eat some of everything. I tell them that I find Brittany and Normandy very pretty. They are clearly proud of where they live and one man tells me about the parks, the open spaces and the farms. Of course, I have no chance in heck of really understanding what he is saying but I understand that the main points were about the beauty of the aforementioned places. As David Bartlett writes in "Paris: with pen and pencil", "The language was unintelligible for I found that to read French in America, is not to talk French in France". Point taken, Mr. Bartlett. I find my lack of French very badly exposed, found wanting in conversation and comprehension and I regret not working my French.

Maybe I am flattering myself, but I get the feeling that your average denizen of Le Ribay doesn't see people of Indian origin often: they crowd around me leaving the poor French bent rider to fend for himself. They also curiously seem to think that I speak French. I soon find myself the recipient of one question after another, the most complicated of which is translated by the bent rider. "Do your parents live in France?". I reply in the negative and the crowd seems to enter a new phase of uncertainty. "If his parents don't live in France what is he doing riding Paris - Brest?" they probably wonder. I can handle most of their questions, but what they do not know is I am just Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice: I have anticipated some of the questions that might be thrown my way and practiced answers for them. I have rehearsed compliments too!

I tell them my parents live in India, that I was born there, all in French. I meet the first guy on the ride who hasn't heard of Seattle. That is a surprise. Somehow the conversation turns to family and I volunteer this little tidbit "Mon mari est a Londres" I say. They seem surprised; I wonder why and have no clue, but I go back to eating. "Votre Mari?" they ask, and "Oui" I say taking care to say it the right way and not the Parisian way which makes the Oui sound like "way". I look around town and continue eating and then it hits me: I've just told them that my husband is in England!. "Mon femme! Mon femme! pas mon mari" I say and smack my forehead. They all laugh hard and one man puts his hand on my shoulder and laughs his guts out. It seems like the French portion of my brain is slowly shutting down, but I am happy to cause some mirth.

A local offers some Camembert cheese and I politely decline. He looks offended. Not wanting to make him unhappy, I explain in English to the bent rider that soft cheese upsets my stomach and so I am going to stay off. He completes the triangle in the conversation but recommends the Camembert himself. "You must have some Camembert, monsieur" he says and takes a bite while I smile and parry his recommendation. I put on my vest and offer a Merci Beaucoup. The locals sees us off with cries of Bon Courage and Bonne Route. The bent rider outpaces me a little and is still thinking about the cheese: "It was very good, Monsieur. You must have some Camembert", he says and I tell him it is the first thing I will eat when I get to Paris. We have a good laugh.

A few hundred yards past Le Ribay is a crossing of the N-12 highway and the bent rider offers a warning. But, as we approach the stop sign there is a local there watching for riders and traffic and standing in the middle of the road. Allez, Allez he says and waves us on. I've had a nice little break and we begin climbing again to what looks like a ridge with views extending far and wide on both sides of the road. I try to read the weather up ahead: some patches of gray and blue with what is unmistakably rain. A few drops fall on us out of Le Ribay and I wonder if we are up for a stormy night. But it doesn't last very long. Le Ribay is less than 20 kilometers away from Villaines-la-Juhel and I ride with no sense of urgency. I have completely forgotten that I need to make up more time if I plan to sleep at Mortagne-au-Perche. I've just killed 20 minutes at Le Ribay, but it's a cherished memory of mine from PBP.

A few miles later I round a corner while climbing a small hill and see what to me is one of the weirdest memories of all of PBP 2011: A rider smoking a cigarette while stopped on the opposite side of the road. After lots of bike art, including a 6-person bike in Loupfougères, I find myself riding down a well-lit street with hordes and hordes of spectators cheering at the top of their voices. It is an awesome reception: I am in Villaines-la-Juhel. Two more controls to go.