Well, that’s my Paris-Brest-Paris qualifying brevet series complete.
The ride took place last weekend, and now that I am recovered and slightly caught up with work I have a moment to write about this epic adventure. In addition to the main feat of qualifying for PBP, there were several other milestones reached/achieved on this brevet. Firstly, it was my second brevet series as a randonneur, meaning that I achieved the “Super Randonneur” award for the second time. Not too shabby for being at this for less than a year now. Secondly, I decided to ride the 600km(373 miles) straight through with no sleep, so it was my first completely sleepless totally ridiculously long ride. It was my first time to do anything like a 24 hour ride, so I now have set 335 miles as my 24 hour personal record. I completed the ride in 27 hours and 6 minutes, well faster than I had ever imagined doing. I put at least 7 hours on my last 600km which I rode in about 35 hours, though I slept that time and it was much hillier.
So, enough boasting about my “accomplishments”, as most of this was really only possible due to the dynamics and conditions of the day, and let me start telling y’all about the ride. The ride being at 7 a.m. from the I-35’s most scenic truck stop in Italy, TX. Being only a little more than an hour away from DFW I decided to drive in the morning of, saving money on a hotel, having a little more control of my pre-ride dinner and breakfast, though losing a couple hours sleep that might of come in handy.
Our club does a great job of offering several different distances on a given day. This draws out a lot more people. Usually the different distances start off the same, and then split off after 1 or 2 controls. This is nice because you get a fast start with that many people. We first headed South-Southeast to Dawson, Tx(by the way, don’t feel bad if you have no idea where any of the places I mention because I had never heard of them before. The ride mainly took place on the roads in the no-man’s land between I-35 and I-45). The 200k’ers kept going and everyone else stopped. With that large of a group it took awhile to get through the control as it was also the first stop and lot’s of people needed to use the facilities.
The 300k folks split off shortly afterward and pretty much everyone left was doing the 600km. We headed further south to Mexia, about a 28 mile stretch I recall. At this point we were enjoying a slight northerly wind from behind making things pretty effortless. From Mexia we headed 36 miles to Jewett. At this point, not a whole lot to report scenery-wise as it was mainly flat with a few trees here and there, and we did pass a coal powered energy plant. Quite a lot different to our routes out west near Mineral Wells as they are hillier, more desert-like and with a nuclear power plant instead. With a lack of scenery, and mainly trying to focus on not running into someone I only took one photo from the first 220 miles. The one picture, however, did pretty much sum up what I saw all day:
The day was warming up but topped out in the 70’s, i.e. perfect. The one thing I can say with the slight tail wind the group was hauling ass. We were making great progress without putting in much effort. The only thing that really slowed things down was the controls. And its not that some people took longer than others, its when you have 20 people trying to get their cards sign, buy food and use the bathroom all at the same time things just take longer. It would be pretty crap to use the benefits of the group, but then take off because you were being impatient at the controls.
As I went into the brevet with the intentions of riding a 600km all-nighter, riding at the group pace made a lot of sense. I would of gotten through the controls faster on my own and maybe even rode a bit fast than the group if I was with just a couple other fast folks, but I would have burned up considerably much more energy. And I also knew that it might be a long, lonely rode out there when I rode through the night and the others went to sleep, so it was good to have lots of company when it was there. We took turns up front, some more than others, and I did my share of pulling the group along for quite a few miles.
Our next stop was 21 miles later in Normangee, TX. This was the turnaround point in this first out-and-back leg of the brevet, 110 miles in. We were making damn good time. I can’t totally recall what damn good time we arrived in Normangee without my brevet card in front of me(its on it’s way to France for verification), maybe between 1:30 and 2 p.m. After Normangee we headed back the same way we came. Not much to note during this return leg, other than to our amazement, the wind had started to shift. Instead of facing a head wind on the way back, the wind had shifted to the east giving a cross wind which was more than manageable.
Still riding in a big group, on a flat course, with no wind we kept a great pace for the return leg. We hit the 200km mark in under 8 hours, the fastest that I have ever done 200km. The controls were in the same towns that we went through before. Once we got to Mexia, instead of having the control in the same gas station as the way out, it was in a Whataburger. Score! I normally save Whataburger for my post-brevet snack as they are open 24 hours and usually the best option in the small towns the rides start and finish in.
It was around 5:30 by this point, so perfect for a dinner stop. I don’t eat meat, so I normally ask for “a burger without the meat, please”. This is not on the menu but usually get the response “Oh, you mean the veggie burger.” With no veggie patty in sight, tomatoes, onion, and pickles constitute this veggie burger. But after a long ride its spot on.
After fueling up we headed towards Dawson. I don’t really now what happened, but on a long down hill section everyone started going as fast as they could. This splintered the group. There was one group up front and I was riding with a few people trying to catch up with them. Slowly our small group started to break up and I was kinda in no man’s land for a little while till I slowed down at a turn to wait up for the others. We made it in to Dawson around 8 p.m. This was a relatively quick stop since we had spent a lot of time at Whataburger, and it wouldn’t be long till we would be back in Italy.
It started to get dark at this point and for some reason the traffic was really bad on the last leg to Italy. Too many cars in too much of a hurry on these narrow country roads. There were quite a few close calls with cars trying to over take us with plenty of on coming traffic. I would like to think that being in the group made things safer as we were more visible, but its hard to say really. Chill out car drivers!
During most of the day, PBP was one of the main topics of conversation. Our club has several members that have participated multiple times. It was good hearing first hand accounts and asking loads of questions of the more experienced riders. During this last leg I spent sometime in the front of the group riding alongside our club president Dan Driscoll, hearing about his 2 experiences at previous PBP’s. Dan has been at this for a long time and has probably logged as many “k’s” as anyone else in RUSA. I asked him about training and strategies for PBP. It was interesting hearing a variety of opinions about preparing for PBP among the different group members. Everyone had a slightly different approach, and it really comes down to figuring out what works for you. The only thing in consensus was that PBP ain’t like any stroll on these flat Texas’ roads we were currently riding on. I was informed that the route is 25% hillier than our hilliest ride.
Around 9:30 we reached Italy. The first leg was over and we had covered 220 miles in 14 1/2 hours. Not bad going considering we had 7 controls and spent quite a bit of time at each one. That’s a 15 mph average counting the brakes. At the last control I overheard one other person saying that they were planning on riding through as well. The guys name was Brian and was from Dallas. After taking a break to have a second dinner and re-up with on-bike rations we met up to start the second leg. We hadn’t really spoken before and while we were getting our bike together Brian said to me ” I don’t really talk to much when I’m riding”. I kinda chuckled and responded ” I don’t either, so don’t expect any chat out of me.” Brian’s wife had driven from Dallas to see him during the short interlude between the 2 legs of the ride. As we were heading out she asked me if I wanted a caffeine pill. I figured I was going to stay up all night any way so why the hell not.
It was probably the caffeine, but for two self proclaimed non-talkers we were chatting away as we began this overnight stage. Brian had been to PBP 3 or 4 times, so I was asking him a lot about it. At first we both thought we were being very smart for deciding to ride overnight, and surprised no one else was joining us. Weather was great, roads were quiet now, and we had finished the first leg so early that it just seemed ideal to keep going instead of sleeping. The leg was an out and back as well, but with only 3 controls. The road was a little hillier than the first section, but at first didn’t really phase us. The first control was in Wortham, and was 53 miles from Italy. That was pretty far to go without a stop especially in the middle of the night after riding all day. We figured that just getting to this first control would be the biggest challenge, after which it was only 20 miles to Prairie Hill which was the turnaround control and we could just tough out the rest.
A few miles outside of Wortham we saw one rider coming the opposite direction. The rider was a guy from Arkansas, and I could only recall hearing that his nick name was “Tarzan”. Tarzan had taken off from the very beginning of the ride and was so far ahead of the group that I had totally forgotten he was out there. At this point he was essentially 70 to 80 miles ahead of us.
We eventually got to Wortham around 2 a.m. and were both starting to feel the fatigue. We were both thinking “Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to ride through?” Not a whole lot we could do about it by this point. We spent some time eating, trying to get some calories to energize us. As we left Wortham it had gotten considerably chilly outside so we started off briskly to warm up. The road was pretty much a series of rolling hills all the way to Prairie Hill, hence the name I suppose. I could only imagine what the scenery looked like because it was pitch black. Riding through the darkness on the undulating roads I felt like I could I have been anywhere in the world at the moment and wouldn’t know any better. We arrived in Prairie Hill at around 4 a.m. It was a short stop pretty much just to refill with water since the actual doors to the gas station were locked and you could only receive things by having the clerk go fetch them for you and hand them to you through a small window. This was fine as it meant we didn’t kill too much time.
We made the 20 mile jaunt back to Wortham, and this is when the fatigue really started to kick in. I was still pretty awake, albeit a bit dazed, but mainly just didn’t have much left in my legs. It was a bit of chore getting over all the little hills. By this point anything that was flat or downhill hurt to ride over. Nearly back to Wortham we saw another rider heading towards Prairie Hill. They were zooming downhill as we were climbing so we couldn’t tell who it was. Once we got to Wortham we had a little more food and then we were on our way for the dreaded 53 miles back to Italy. It was about 6 a.m. by this point, nearly 24 hours in. Brian had taken off pretty quickly to try and warm up, I didn’t have the energy or strength for that so just went my normal pace and figured that he would slow down when he had warmed up. Riding a hundred feet behind him I realized he had zoomed straight pass the pretty badly marked first turn. I had to sprint after him before he got away. We turned around and headed for the turn. When we got there I wanted to go one way and he wanted to go the other. He was right, and I was all turned around from having to back track. In this case 2 heads were better than 1.
We passed a small group in about the same spot that we saw Tarzan. I suppose people had different plans of when they wanted to start the second leg so there wasn’t going to be another large group riding together. Shortly after this, the very welcomed sunrise occurred. And now that it was light out and I wasn’t in a big group I could snap a couple pics:
Shortly after the sunrise we hit the 24 hour mark. About 335 miles in I really didn’t have much left, but new I just had to keep pedaling and it would be over. Here’s a pic of how I looked after being on the bike for 24 hours, mouth open with the blank glaze was pretty much the only expression my face was capable of at this point
Shortly after 7 we saw another group of riders. About 2/3 of the way back there was a small town called Blooming Grove.Though it was not a control stop, we stopped there to have a short rest. After some food and coffee we began the final crawl back to Italy. It was nice seeing the scenery that we had missed during the night. Though I had found it kind of dull the previous day I think everything was looking great with the prospect of almost being done and finally able to get off my bike. With spring in full step, the wild flowers were out and filling the fields and sides of the road.
We made the last couple of turns and before we new it we were back in Italy. A short ride through the town and we arrived at our destination after 27 hours and 6 minutes of riding. After getting our brevet cards signed we said very quick goodbyes, both eager to get on the road and back to our respective towns so we could finally get some sleep. My dad and brother came to pick me up, and luckily didn’t have to wait to long. I instantly feel asleep once in the car. We made it back to Fort Worth and I went for lunch at Sprial Diner with my brother. I had a few beers with my meal and had a bit of life in me briefly, but as soon as I got home went straight to sleep.
This is definitely a ride I will always remember, and something I may never come close to repeating. It was an experience riding through the night, but not something I really think I will want to do again, at least for a very long time. And though I am not a trained professional myself, I would not recommend trying this stunt at home.