(Originally written in Ukrainian, then translated to English)
This story started back in 2015, in the days when winters were at least a little snowy, pigeons weren't so arrogant and people on the internet still were chatting on online forums, not just on Facebook. At that time I was just starting to get interested in cycling marathons and did my very first brevet, a 200 km one; so, once in the morning, when I was reading through a local bicycle forum with a cup of strong coffee in my hand and a fragrant Cuban cigar in my mouth, I've stumbled upon a thread about the Paris—Brest—Paris — the oldest and the most famous brevet in the world, which is held once every four years starting from 1891. The ukrainian delegation just did the last preparations before traveling to France for PBP-2015. I was struck dumb while reading all that stuff — it's not only a twelve hundred damn kilometers ride, but it also has a whole bunch of requirements, limits for every country, a series of qualifications and so on, and people who took part in this — for me they seemed to be the most iron people of Ukraine.
Long story short, a little hazy dream came up at that moment — to complete this Paris—Brest—Paris sometime, as the culmination of the cycling marathons career. "Sometime" can be in four years, or maybe sometime later — who the hell cares, four years is a bunch of time anyway. So I've just added a new item to my bucket list and forgot about it.
But, us we all know, the years go by very fast, grandchildren has already grown and unexpectedly I got a lucky chance not only to attend PBP, but even to finish it somehow.
Apart of the story I planned to document everything with my film photo camera, stopping and looking for interesting angles from time to time. However, in reality the depth of suffering was so large that I didn't have enough time and power for photography, most of pictures were made on the move or in a big hurry (when you stop for just about 30 seconds, you need to push hard for a few minutes to catch up with your group). Therefore instead of wonderful photos you will have to look at some blurry and totally not artistic pics. Sadly if you want to make a good photo report from Paris—Brest—Paris, you either have to be a damn superman, or ride it on a car/motorbike.
What, how and why
PBP 2019 is:
- a distance of 1230 kilometers (it's like from my hometown Lviv to Venice);
- elevation gain of approximately 11 thousand of meters (and this is like Mount Everest, Hoverla and that hill near your uncle's house — put together);
- almost 7 thousand of participants from all over the world;
- 83 participants from Ukraine;
- time limit of 80, 84 or 90 hours, depending on your start time (we choosed the last one).
It's not a race, not a competition, there are no places, prizes and so on; only you and your time limit, if you did it in time — good job, if you didn't — well, good job anyway!
But if you complete this marathon — it will be an achievement of your whole life (and also a guarantee that when you get old, you will have at least one cool story for your grandchildren).
In order to be eligible for Paris—Brest—Paris, you must first complete the pre-registration; it happens wave-by-wave, and the longer brevet you did in the previous season, the higher your priority is. After successfull pre-registration you also must complete the qualifications — 200, 300, 400 and 600 km, each must be done by a certain date. And then, if you did all the official qualifications till the beginning of summer or so, you are finally allowed to take part in PBP.
This year's route:
- 0 km — Rambouillet — start
- 120 km — Mortagne-au-Perche — just food
- 220 km — Villaines-la-Juhel — control
- 310 km — Fougères — control
- 365 km — Tinténiac — control
- 450 km — Loudéac — control
- 490 km — Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem — just food/sleep
- 535 km — Carhaix — control
- 620 km — Brest — control
- 700 km — Carhaix — control
- 755 km — Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem — secret control
- 795 km — Loudéac — control
- 885 km — Tinténiac — control
- 935 km — Fougères — control
- 1025 km — Villaines-la-Juhel — control
- 1115 km — Mortagne-au-Perche — control
- 1190 km — Dreux — control
- 1230 km – Rambouillet — finish
You have to get a stamp in your special passport on every control, as a confirmation, that you didn't take a short cut or wasn't given a ride by a car (later at the finish we had to hand over our passports for inspection). Besides you could have a dinner on every control point, and some of them had specially equipped sleep places.
The adventure began with an alarm clock at 5 AM, after several hours of bike & stuff packing and two hours of sleep. It's dark, sad, sleepy, it's raining, and in general I want to die in a warm bed instead of going to that goddamn Paris.
An hour later we met the rest of guys and gals from Lviv Bicycle Club and packed into our bus, now the mood is a bit better. Suffering is always more fun if done together.
The place where everything always begins, in case you are Ukrainian (and if you weren't lucky enough to take a plane). As we are not in EU, we have to pass some checks on the border:
During two days in a bus people get so bored that even an ordinary bench on a highway exit raises an excitement and intensive discussion:
Bienvenue à Paris
After we arrived and checked in the hotel, first and foremost we got our bikes ready, put on our uniform and headed to hit the city. But not everybody of us — some of our team decided not to waste time and stayed in hotel degustating some drinks.
Cycling infrastructure in Paris is totally nice, commuting feels convenient and not scary at all. Cruising over the district:
From left to right: Shunia, crispy Auchan baguette, Mad Max, Andrew Zrobok, Petro Nedbailo, tough Christy, equally tough Sasha, Ray, Dima Knysh and Volodia. Nice people (and strange).
It was the last time I saw them so happy:
Few words about Paris: I didn't expect anything, so I wasn't really disappointed. I didn't like it as well as any other huge and over-globalized city. City center is a total uh oh: it's hard to imagine a less romantic place than the Eiffel tower. Crowds of people, noise, street vending, bothersome black guys approach you literally every minute, offering you water, beer, weed and souveniers etc., and as an icing on the cake — the stomp of little rat paws all around you!
So if you plan honeymoon or something of the sort, you better go somewhere else. Or maybe I'm just not able to abstract.
Of course the city is beautiful by itself, but too intense tourism has never been good for any city. And I just don't like large cities, even Kyiv is too bustling for me.
I'm sure that Paris has tons of other cool spots — as we didn't have much time to explore, we attended only the most famous and touristic ones. And honestly I didn't care about it too much, I had higher expectations from French countryside, and it didn't disappoint me at all, but I will tell about it a bit later.
Remark was here:
I wonder what will happen to Notre Dame during the next four years:
It is amusing that people reacted to our Ukrainian jerseys many times, they honked the horn, yelled something nice, one guy even catched me up on a car and decided to tell that he has some friends from Ukraine and that our country rocks :)
The day before the start we needed to get to Rambouillet (it's about 40 km from Paris) to pass the mandatory bikecheck and get our starter packs.
The view from the hotel window wasn't too inspiring, it was raining again, but luckily we had our own bus, so we didn't have to get wet.
The bikecheck procedure did not imply anything special, they just had to check our brakes and lights, and make sure that none of us have a cute tiny electric motor hidden inside of a bike.
However for me it was the most scary part of the event, because my bike wasn't actually as innocent as it should. In short, I ride only with the front brake for many years already — I like to have just a single gear and just a single brake. So when I was building my brand new shiny road wheels a couple of months ago, I decided to use a disc-brake specific rim on the rear wheel — less weight, more style; and why not, if I do not use the rear brake and will never do. But according to French traffic rules, which we quite obviously should respect on PBP, bicycle must have two efficient brakes, and even the style can not be an excuse.
It wasn't a problem to install a rear brake, but I was very worried that there could be questions about my rear rim, since, frankly, there is no much sense in a rear rim brake if the rim itself doesn't have a braking surface. It would be very sad to get a refusal on the bikecheck after making such a long and difficult way to PBP.
I approached these extravagant messieurs, shaking like a leaf, but from from the inside, and they began the inspection. They asked me to turn on the lights, checked the steady light mode, pulled brake levers, and suddenly my heart nearly stopped because one of them started staring at my rear wheel, it felt like a horror movie, when someone is laid low hiding from a terrible danger and it's about to find him. But those guys just smiled and wished me a nice ride, phew.
The ride should have started the next day from this very place, Rambouillet. A whole parking of participants' and their families' campers were already on site, I was excited, always wanted a camper.
Some beautiful palace nearby:
At the start, and later at each checkpoint, there were large areas intended for bicycles parking. With this kind of things it's important to stay attentive — a few times during the ride I parked my bike in an uncontrolled mental condition, and then couldn't find it.
It's very interesting to wander aroung the parking, some people use really crazy stuff for the ride:
Let's go get our starter packs. Okay, seven thousand of participants is not a joke, sometimes you have to to wait in line a bit. I didn't know that it was just a warm-up before all the queues which were waiting for us in the next few days.
The starter pack included number plates and a chip for the bicycle, a reflective vest (you are required to wear it when it's dark), a small fabric backpack, a branded bottle, a plastic waterproof wallet to wear it around your neck, and the most valuable thing of the nearest days — the control stamps passport.
A lot of Paris—Brest—Paris participants are not that young. It seems to me that 40+ and 50+ are the most numerous age groups, and even 60+ is far from uncommon. For me it's a bit unusual, because in Ukraine it's rare to see even a 40 years old person on a cycling event. Well, it was always noticable that in Europe elder people are much happier and healthier than in my country. Nothing strange but a bit sadly.
There was also a small fair with different cycling related stuff. This kid (who scarily reminds Georgie from the "It" movie a bit) and his father represented their small bicycle bags workshop.
Group photo with the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine in France:
Back to the hotel, it's the last night before the start. Contrôle vélo OK:
«All right, here we go, motherfuckers!!!»
The day of the start, everyone is trying to sleep as much as they can.
A van arrived from our sponsor, the "Split" club, they took some of our stuff to bring it to Brest, where they also arranged a personal rest for us. So we were able to send our fresh clothes, chain lube etc. to Brest and not carry everything with us, and then use it, change, and also have a meal, take a shower and so on.
We pack again and finally head to Rambouillet for a start.
Participants start in groups of 200-300 people every 15 minutes. We are in the P group, which leaves at 19:30, followed by the Q group (19:45), R (20:00) and so on. Most of the Ukrainians are in R.
19:30, still waiting for the start:
Finally, it's our turn, we get the first stamps in our passports and leave the town to the noise, yells and applause of supporters. All right, dammit, there are several days of the road and incredible adventures ahead.
In fact, I did not have any strategy for PBP overcoming, 'cause instead of examining and planning the route before the ride, I was sweating hard at work. Fortunately in my start group there were two experienced dudes who already did PBP, so I just decided to stick with them as long as possible.
Starting on Sunday at 19:30 to meet the 90 hour limit we had to reach the finish not later than 13:30 on Thursday. The approximate plan between these dates was as follows: push it hard from the start till the night, then through the whole night, and then the whole Monday, up until the next night, stopping for a food, of course, but without sleep; then sleep on the night from Monday to Tuesday at Saint-Nicolas (490th km), on Tuesday to continue the movement to Brest, visit our sponsored rest point, return to, say, Loudeac (795th km), sleep again; on Wednesday to reach, say, Mortagne (1115th km), take a nap there, and then smash the final kilometers in the Thursday's morning.
Also our strategy assumed: not to strain, enjoy the scenery, taste croissants and drink wine at every opportunity, and overall — to have fun. This is the only part of the strategy that has failed.
A long, long ride
First kilometers after the start, in both directions far to the horizon, you can see a long and almost continuous chain of cyclists. Looks cool, especially at night.
Apart from some short stops for toilet and search of lost comrades, we made the first pit stop in Mortagne (120th km).
Mad Max started a whole half an hour later than us, but he has already caught up with us:
15 minutes of rest on the floor and we're off back into the night.
In a certain way the first night is even the most difficult: you are afraid of every little sensation of pain, fatigue or sleepness, 'cause you understand, that it's only the beginning, a long, long ride still lies ahead, and all these things can accumulate and turn into unbearable pain or total exhaustion.
And only the next day, already accustomed to the monotonous pedalling, you reach some nirvana and actually stop feeling any troubles, and the further you ride, the deeper and deeper your nirvana becomes, and finally, when you get to the finish line, you understand that you can easily do another few hundred of kilometers. All the hardships and sufferings become mundane thus now you barely feel them. It's like work, at first you — fresh university graduate — suffer, but soon you get used to it and even start to get some strange pleasure from work, fall into despair only once every six months, dreaming about a vacation.
To keep your mind clear from any kind of depressive thoughts during the ride, it is worth to talk to someone as much as possible.
And luckily, there are enough people to talk to, even if you already drove your teammates mad.
There will always be at least a few mysterious strangers in the area of visibility whom you can chat on different topics with. It's very cool, I've never had the opportunity to talk to so many people from all over the world in my life - various Europeans, Asians, Americans, Australians.
I was often talked to by my singlespeed colleagues, because the topic of conversation was ready — how you doin', what is your gear ratio, how are your knees, and so on and so forth.
It was nice to meet some middle-aged, family, responsible people who ride singlespeeds and fixes. In Ukraine, if you ride singlespeed or a fixie, usually you are a headless dude under 20, and the attitude towards them is corresponding, so it was nice to see the contrast finally :)
There were people who wanted to talk about Ukraine — someone was asking about the war; someone's son was studying in Ukraine, met here his wife and took her with him back to America; someone had friends from Ukraine and wanted to tell me about them; some man tried to remember the name of the cement plant in Ukraine, with the director of which he is familiar; and so on.
This is Matthew from USA, he has accidentally get in one of my shots. He had a beard, cool sunglasses and a stylish Surly bike. He came next to me to get acquainted, asked to send him the photo, and then we talked about some bike related stuff, cyclocross competitions in the US and all that, a very nice dude.
It's also hard to forget Fergus from Hong Kong. For a while I saw him here and there, and noticed that he has always kept smiling. On some difficult climb, where everyone was moaning and groaning, while Fergus continued to radiate joy, I couldn't stand it and told him that I like it very much that he is always very positive no matter how hard it is; then we talked for a while, and at the end he handed me a present, a laminated photo of the Hong Kong panorama and his bike, with his email and Facebook written on the back. But since we were climbing the uphill again at that moment and the speed was low, he started to lose balance and then boom, both of us are laying with our bikes in the middle of the road and my teammate Paul joyfully crashes into us from behind.
Fortunately none of us got any injuries, bikes weren't damaged too (my rear brake pads shifted a bit, but since it was a fake brake, I just quickly unfastened the cable).
The second time we met was in Sizune (575th km), where we did a short food stop.
so this one is just for illustrative purposes)
– Hey, Fougeres! — I said gladly. I have really poor memory for names, but Fergus diplomatically paid it no attention. He told that despite the fact that he slept only less than three hours from the moment of start, he is already a bit behind his schedule.
I didn't see him after that; later he wrote on Facebook that he reached Brest and decided to stop there, because of gallucinations and a really bad lack of sleep. It is sad, but as for me it was bold and right decision. I will remember him as a really great person and hopefully we can even meet again in 2023 (if I have enough courage to try it again).
It was not just nice to talk to someone, sometimes it was really, really necessary, because it was the only way to get the brain distracted from sleep. People falling asleep right on their bikes were not uncommon at all.
Terrain & weather
By the dawn the next day about 200 kilometers were already behind. By this point, we had formed a more or less stable crew: the light-hearted and courageous Ksiondz; the ingenious and resourceful Alex; the pretty and detached Christy; cold-blooded and charming Paul; as well as the incomparable Mad Max. We rode almost the entire brevet in this composition.
I didn't really understand what to expect from terrain on Paris—Brest—Paris. From several people who were here in 2015 I heard that there are no flat segments at all, just hills and hills. Well-well, maybe it's indeed quite hilly, but people always tend to exaggregate — I thought sceptically — and how fucking wrong I was. I got fed up with those hills on the second day of the ride already. Except for the first (and, consequently, the last) 40 kilometers, the route is absolutely and totally hilly, it's just up and down, up and down. There are bigger and smaller hills, steeper and gentler hills, but they are everywhere, one after another, just hills, hills and hills, I'll eat my helmet if that's not true.
I never liked the climbs, but here I enjoyed them even more than the descents. As someone said before this trip — the northwest of France in August is not warm at all. At night, the temperature dropped to 6°C, on the descends I was freezing to the bones, despite I had four layers of clothing: a long sleeve jersey, a short sleeve one, a raincoat, and a reflective vest (though none of these had windstopper).
Well, the night's descents were also dangerous — there are many people around you, and nowhere near in adequate condition, everyone goes fast, while visibility is bad. Sometimes you roll at speed, watching the stripes of the road marking flashing under you in the beam of your flashlight, and you start to zonk out sooo badly.
Whereas climbing — yep, sometimes it's very hard, but it's at least warm and safe. There were many extremely tough climbs, but none of them were impossible on 48/17 gear (sometimes in the snake style).
In terms of precipitation we were very lucky, there was only one short little rain in Brest, but in terms of wind — completely opposite. Strong headwind was right from the start and it lasted all the way to Brest, six hundred kilometer of wind directly in your snout! And what is the most funny, after we turned around in Brest, it took a short pause and turned around as well, becoming headwind again. In fact, the wind was the cause of the most of our suffering — it was hard to pedal, so we were moving slowly, so we had to save time and sleep less, which made the ride even more tough.
I think that without that wind much less people would have abandoned the ride. 30.5% of all the participants didn't complete this ride successfully, 27% of them abandoned and 3.5% were off their time limit.
It was interesting to watch how people from different countries dress up. Japanese often had masks on their faces, similar to respirators. In the evening, when I was already riding in a long-sleeve jersey, the Swedes were relaxedly cruising in short-sleeve ones, while the Indians were already in several layers including warm jackets. At night, warm countries representatives generally resembled solid cloth bulbs, many of them were in thick down jackets. According to statistics, the lowest percentage of successfull finishes is in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other warm countries.
The first control was Villaines-la-Juhel (220th km). It is very difficult to miss the control, even if you are already in a semi-conscious state, you will definitely be caught by volunteers and led into the room with stamps almost by the hand.
But firstly you need to park your bike:
Bonzhoo, stamp, sign, let's go eat.
Somehow we couldn't find anything good enough except pasta with Bolognese sauce on the first few controls, I couldn't even look at it anymore. Then there were more variety, some potatoes, soups, meat, vegetables & fruits, weird desserts, rice pudding, pastry. And cola, of course — the eternal source of the life-giving sugar.
Usually everything was tasty and cheap, so I personally ate well, mom would be satisfied.
— Large borscht with sour cream, please.
— Go in peace.
Typical contorl point view. Randounners enter the place, park their bikes, stand in lines, lay on the ground, leave the place. Local people watch them, rejoice, play musical instruments and dance.
Out stops for food and minimal rest took about an hour in average.
Riding PBP is in any case slower than if you just rode 1200 km by yourself. There is a another million of people on the route besides you, and everyone needs the same things as you. Crowds of people hang out at every checkpoint, and in the best case you need just to get a stamp in your passport. More likely your imperfect, non-autonomous organism would require food and toiled, therefore you will have to stand in two more lines. You better not even think about the shower at all.
Well, hell with it, if it only was on checkpoints — but crowds of people hanged out along the whole route. Wanna taste freshly baked French pastries in a cozy sidewalk cafe — there's a lot of other randonneurs already; wanna stop near a grocery store to buy yourself a chocolate bar — please wait a bit in a line amongst your Asian mates; wanna lie down for a minute in a dirty smelly gutter — sorry mate, already occupied!
No counting sheep
At first, the exhausted sleeping people scattered throughout checkpoints and along the route, make a big impression on you. Then you get used to it.
People pushed themselves to their absolute limit, so they fell into unconsciousness literally everywhere: in the canteens under tables and on them, at bus stops, on the roadsides, on the sidewalks, in the courtyards of people, in the lobbies of banks.
Sometimes people were laying in such positions, that it was even difficult to figure out if they are sleeping or some accident has happened. A lot of impressive shots could been made, but usually I was also very close to fall down and pass out.
Many of them had safety blankets to keep themselves warm, but a bunch of people were scattered along the road without anything. For example: night, a terrible cold, you enter a town and see an Indian guy laying down on a concrete in a super uncomfortable position, his bike lays next to him with the headlight shining right into his face, and he is sleeping, and you think, oh god, dude you'll freeze, and it's only about a hundred of meters to the checkpoint — but this poor fellow just couldn't had enough strength for these last meters.
At the end of the second day we had already passed Fougeres, Tinteniac and Loudeac; according to our plan we had to reach Saint-Nicolas-du-Pelem (490th km) and fall asleep over there. Another great man from Lviv, Max Logash, catched us and joined our pelotone.
Finally, at 1 AM we are in St. Nicolas, here is a special place for sleep — a school gym with the light off and with the floor completely filled with rows of narrow foldable beds. It reminded me a cinema, but a lay-down one, and your dreams are instead of a movie. Or a kindergarten — but everyone snores. Or does children snore too?.. This is interesting, but it seems children can't snore at all, I need to study this issue. Okay, so you pay 4 € or so, get a number of your bed, tell volunteers when to wake you up, then a dude with a flashlight lead you to your bed and wishes you good night. We planned to get some sleep until 4:30 AM, have some breakfest and continue pushing forward.
God, how fuckin' nice is it to finally fall asleep after 29 hours on the road. Except that I didn't manage to do this for a period, it was either too hot, or too cold, or my neighbour fell down from the cot with a loud noise, etc., and a constant reminder beeped inside of my head: you need to fall asleep ASAP, you need to fall asleep ASAP — and it made things even worse. For the advice of experienced guys, I took earplugs with me, but either my ears are not ergonomic, or what, but those goddamn plugs always tried to jump out, I had to twist them so deep that my brain started to ache.
Eventually I fell asleep, but was constantly waking up. I looked at the clock — 3:50, still have another 40 minutes to sleep, I black out, wake up again — 5:03. What the fuck, I was supposed to be waken up half an hour ago! First thoughts: my mates woke up, did not wait for me and has already left, because there is no way in hell they were able to find me in this huge and dark place among other bodies and for one that is missing there's no spoiling a wedding. I take my phone, open our chat and see that everyone has overslept too but they are already up and sitting in the canteen — except me and Christy. I write that I've also woke up, then sit down and start thinking on how to find Christy. The room is filled with the noise of snoring, several people are roaming around with flashlights, the sound of dying whales can be heard sometimes.
It seems that we were taking our bed numbers together, I try to remember her number. The brain is still groggy from bad sleep, I rack the leftover of my grey matter and the number 408 pops up in my memory, I turn on the flashlight on my phone and start the search, tyring not to shine onto other people, to not wake them. The movie theater association comes up again, I've found the fourth row, now need to find the eighth place, found — and it's empty. Well, maybe she accidentally was placed on a cot nearby, I check it — indeed, covered with a blanket Christy is peacefully sleeping on a 409th bed, like a little angel. I feel sorry to wake her, but I have to — we're already late. I shake her gently, she open her eyes and looks at me stunned; it's ok, I'm thinking, it's sleep inertia, you will come to your mind in a minute or two — get up, Christy, they forgot to wake us, we're already late, do you hear me? — she sits and continues to stare out at me, it seems that it lasts forever. Damn, how long she would be like this? I continue to shake her while she is talking some gibberish. We have overslept, we have to go, come on! — here I notice that the sounds she makes are not similar neither to Ukrainian nor to English, it's not even similar to anything; and in general I'm starting to assume that maybe it's not Christy at all, I look at her carefully — my, my, it is true… yes, she is quite similar, but maybe just a little bit too asian. Although, what's the difference, maybe nobody will notice?.. But no, nobody will be able even to talk with her.
– Sorry, I confused you with another girl, — I say, bow and walk away.
— Oh, it's nothing, — she replies, looks at me like I'm and idiot, which I am, smiles and gets back into bed.
I didn't have time to think about the accident, I needed to quickly find the real Christy. I went out to the volunteers and asked for the list of beds they were supposed to wake up at 4:30. I see my number in the list and 804 near it — shit, I've mixed up two digits. I returned to the room, found another Christy, this time I checked twice — yes, it's the true one! I repeat the same procedure, she reacts pretty much in the same way as her Asian twin, but she turns on in a minute and we move on.
The beauty around
I'm not sure how it's in the rest of France, but this part of it has quite a beautiful nature, and we had the opportunity to observer it in all aggregate states: from early morning to deep night.
There is no much sense in my photos, you better come here by yourself.
I can't say that the nature here is impressive, sometimes it's monotonous, sometimes the landscapes are no different from Ukraine. But there is a lot of beauty: tortuous forest serpentines; endless corn and not just fields; hills; morning fogs; hay bales, cows, tractors and windmills scattered around.
The villages and towns can be admired as well, they are as cute and cozy as possible. In one village we drove past a little house, which was so well maintained and so flowery, with a so lovely granny cutting the bushes in the garden in front of it, that it seemed like it's a cartoon scene.
There is a cool gothic church, castle or another piece of art almost in every town center.
Citroen 2CV. Usually driven by a bunch of crazy nuns in films with Louis de Funes:
And what is the coolest — there is not a single frickin' tourist in these cozy towns (besides us, but we're just passing through).
Brest also met us with beauty. The bridge over a beautiful quiet harbor:
Damn, you can see the Atlantic Ocean from here (between the two shores about the center of the frame):
My beloved bicycle. Cromoly singlespeed Cinelli Tutto:
Due to knee problems Max Logash left us shortly before Brest — it's a pity, but on the other hand it's great that he, as a doctor and simply as a clever man, decided to abandon the ride instead of fighting through the pain by pushing himself for another 700 kilometers, and then to change bicycle to a wheelchair on finish.
We also heard a rumour that Sasha from Odessa abandoned the ride too, as well as many other people from Ukraine, and some didn't abandon yet but plan to do so in Brest. All this stuff made us a bit less motivated, but we were very close to the rest point by Split club, where they would take care of us, listen to us and give us a shoulder to cry on.
We got stamps on control in Brest and in merry desperation made our way through the city to the hotel where someones were already waiting for us.
Home sweet home
Who would have thought that the feeling of home can be found even in a foreign city, in a hotel where you have never been, in a room where you get hosted by people you have never seen. Everything you need for that is only a warm welcome, sympathy, a few smiles and divine buckwheat dinner. After so many pasta days.
Petro and Mad Max are basking in the glow of care:
Finally we could take a shower, change into a fresh clothing, have a good meal and chill out a bit on a true snow-white bed, not on a foldable cot.
Then they gave us a bunch of cool stuff for the road — some cola, banans, sweets, and, what is the most interesting, small thermonuclear portions of Hasbrandt coffee, which you could quickly drink on the go in case of deadly sleepness.
There were two downsides to this whole story: first, we still didn't manage to get any borscht; and secondly, now we didn't want to go anywhere. But the clock is ticking, so in an hour and a half we had to say goodbye to the girls and guys, thank them and move on. Halfway done, motherfuckers.
After Brest, we set up a tiny 15-minute holiday for ourselves in the town of Sizun (650th km). The locals made such an atmosphere here that it was impossible to stop.
A 600 km long festival
Since Paris—Brest—Paris is an event with a long history, it's a really important holiday for the locals, they prepare for it and rejoice at it — and it is so incredible, it's to die for. Thanks to these people just a marathon becomes more like a festival with elements of a marathon. And you are part of the holiday for them.
You can notice it along the whole route: something is happening here. When you ride through a village, it's not just a village — there would be greeting posters, flags, decorations, and some grandfather playing flute. When you ride across a bridge over a river, it's not just a bridge — colored bicycles, flowers, etc. would be attached to it's fence. When you ride through a field, it's not just a field — a goddamn giant hay teddy bear with greeting posters would stand there! (actually, most fields were still just fields, but the rest is true).
In each town, people lean out of windows, stand near the road, sit in chairs, ring bells, greet you, clap, give you high five and shoot something cheerful.
Even in the middle of the night! You enter the town at three o'clock at night, and bloody hell, people sit there, drink wine, watch you, applaud, and shout "bravo! courage! bon route!" And you think, god, people, why don't you all just go to bed, it's a dark night outside. But they stay! And it's very nice and inspiring, really.
Very often people brought tables with drinks, pastries, jam, etc. to the road and treat riders. Sometimes they asked money for it, but it's rather exceptions, usually they just gave everything for free. In such situations it's good to have postcards or any other souvenirs from your country as a thank.
I will not soon forget a fresh piece of bread with nutella, which a cute little girl presented me on the top of a long uphill.
Again, tables with food stood near the road even at night – sometimes with people, and sometimes just with a note "welcome, help yourself". And some people even kindly left mattresses or clamshells in their gardens.
When you were cold and sad, and it was still plenty of way to the nearest control, such tables with hot tea/coffee were very helpful.
Seniors jamming out on one of the controls:
«Paris—Brest is a cake»:
«Paris—Brest» is a cake indeed, created a long time ago in honor of PBP, it is quite popular and famous in France.
The boy offers water. Children were totally happy when someone accepted their help.
Maybe it would sound too dramatic, but people are what make this ride so special and what constantly give you strength and motivation. You are almost never alone, the support will find you everywhere, even when you are in a complete shit. Isn't it neat.
In the end, I was even a little tired from people's hospitality, from saying "thank you" and waving every time, and so on :)
If it wasn't for the people and their support, then the next, third, night, I would definitely fall asleep on the go. It was the hardest night for me, I was falling asleep terribly, riding on autopilot. Paul rides near me, asks something, I answer, and he says, dude, I've been talking to you for a few minutes already, but you didn't react until now. Hmm.
We needed to get to the sleeping control in Loudeac (795th km). I dropped in that wild coffee from Hausbrandt, but did not feel anything at all, caffeine doesn't affect me for some reason. But when Mad Max — the chief on substances in our team — gave me a few sips of crystally clear guarana, I was immediately drawn to adventures, I wanted to ride or run anywhere right now, or mine iron ore, or kill a dragon, or at least beat a few rugs. A wild thing, but the effect didn't last long.
We got to Loudeac at 1 AM, and I was completely dead. I don't even know how the rest felt at that moment, can't remember anything.
We had dinner and went to beds, 3.5 hours again. This time all of us lay side by side and set up our own alarm clocks.
I took off everything except shorts and one jersey, lay and fell asleep perfectly, but in a few minutes it got cold; in this sleeping room, besides thin sheets they supplied us with nice warm blankets, so I all tucked in it; still cold; I put on everything I had, fall asleep. Woke up, I'm shaking, shaking so badly that I can't even get myself together and stop shaking. I want to cry, but if my face get wet, it would be even colder. I tuck in all possible ways, but it doesn't help, there is only one thing left which can help — my foil safety blanket. Hell, it's not manly at all, I'm not even in a snow-covered forest, I'm indoors; but all the men's settings are off, I want to warm up, drink a cocoa with marshmallows and hug a unicorn, something like that. Hands work poorly and I can't properly open the blanket in a dark room, and I don't want to make much noise either, so I just wrap my feet in it; the effect is almost instant and I fall asleep happily. I wake up shaking again — my feet are wet. Well, I could predict that, foil is not breathable, but it's too late already. The previous night I wished the clock to go slower, but now, on the contrary, I was waiting for the time we had to get up, because there was a very little use in such sleep.
Yay, here is the alarm clock, and here is the grandfather which came to wake us. Thank you, monsieur grandfather, you are the real role model for your colleagues from Saint-Nicolas.
By mysterious circumstances, most of the towns in France are at the top of the hills, so when you leave the town, it's usually a descent. I will never forget how we left Loudeac, six in the morning, 7 degrees Celsius, fog and descent, brr.
A way too long ride
At some point the time-space continuum has finally broke and no one could remember what day it was and how long we were going. It seemed like a lifetime. Finally, we agreed: today is Wednesday, it's our fourth day on the road and the finish is tomorrow. Phew, feels better, 'cause you ride like a hedgehog in the fog. I have even already forgotten that I have work, family and friends somewhere out there, far, far away.
So, Wednesday: this day we gathered a few more Ukrainians: Petro, Bohdan from Greece and Ruslan from Odessa. We all kept together that day.
Ksiondz and Christy from the corn cob's point of view:
I felt bored, so when a large truck started overtaking our peloton, I immediately decided to slipstream behind it, just for fun. I rode maybe 200 meters behind it and let it go, didn't want to break away from my mates. And as soon as I slowed down, two marshals on motorcycles overtook me and looked at me carefully, then at each other, and drove away. Holy shit, it was such a small chance to do something stupid in front of them, but I did it, even though they drive past us maybe 3-4 times per day.
I was glad, that they did not stop me, but that didn't mean anything — maybe they just remembered my plate number (otherwise why would they watch at me so long) and later judges will give me a time penalty.
Digression: the penalty time could be added for various things — traffic rules violations, disrespect for the environment, obtaining unauthorized assistance, etc; it was all described in our stamp book, but it was described in French, so I had no idea whether I could get a fine or not, and if yes, then how much. My French only allowed me to understand that the maximum penalty is two hours.
My intuition suggested that I hasn't done anything bad and nobody would care, but it would be dumb to risk, so on that day I decided that I should finish the ride with a reserve of more than two hours, so that I would stay within the time limit even with the 2-hour penalty.
Subsequently, at some CP I found another Marshal, told him the situation and wondered if there could be a fine; he convinced me that everything was fine, nothing would happen, but I thought that the marshal might be wrong, so it would be better to reserve the time.
Later I found another marshal on some control, described him the situation and asked if I could be given a penalty; he convinced me that everything is fine and I shouldn't worry, but I thought that he might be wrong as well, so anyway it would be better to have a time leeway.
Everyone was having as much fan as they could, so while I was thinking about the penalty system, other people came up with idea of stealing PBP signs to Brest and to Paris. I forgot to tell it, but the whole route was perfectly marked and you could easily go without a GPS. It was :)
In fact, sometimes there were multiple signs in a single place, or some signs were in places where everything was obvious. Nevertheless, my hands didn't steal anything, but apparently because of laziness, not moral qualities.
During the last night it was Christy's turn to sleep on bike. Ksiondz and Mad Max, as the only real gentlemen, kept riding near her; Alex left us a long time ago and drove somewhere at his own pace, communicating with different people (and under "people" mostly I mean one cute Japanese girl). Paul and I also decided to break away from main group and ride a bit faster, somehow we felt some power and it would be dumb not to use this moment, it's more reasonable to wait others at the next control and rest a bit longer. Also riding in pair with somebody who has a similar pace is much more convenient and fast than riding in a large company.
2 AM, Mortagne (1115th km). Only 115 km to go, mentally it sounds very easy. Physically it's another six hours. We arrive at the control point together, enter the canteen, I see Dima Knysh, he already had some rest, ate and now he is leaving. He says that Shunia is sleeping somewhere in this room.
We do not plan to eat, we set our alarm clocks for an hour and we immediately crash on the floor to sleep. In the hall, bright light, rattles, and other strange sounds, someone's legs stick out in my face, but for this hour I slept better than on both previous nights combined. Waking Shunyu, I'm happy - I haven't seen him since the start. Shun looks at me with a focused gaze and is philosophically silent. Well, what to strain a person, after the finish line we will talk.
We do not plan to eat here, set out alarm clock for an hour and immediately fall onto the floor. The room is brightly lit, it's filled with crunching and other noises, somebody's legs stick out in my face, but during this hour of sleep I recovered better than during both previous nights combined. We wake Shunia, I'm happy – haven't seen him since the start. Shunia looks through me with a focused gaze and is philosopically silent. Well, why bother him, we can talk after the finish.
When you leave the control at night hours, volunteers check if you has reflective vest, if your lights are on and sometimes they even look into your eyes to make sure that you are in an adequate state.
The road to Dre (1190th km) went unnoticed at all. All the difficulties in our head, so when the head disconnects, it becomes easy to go. This is the last stop before the finish line, it's only 40 fuckin' kilometers from here. We had breakfast, I bought myself an amazing raisin bun and left the town a bit quicker than my mates, because I needed to make a quick toilet stop somewhere. I'm going fast, maybe because of finish euphoria, but I can't find a suitable place for toilet, there are only towns and open wide fields, and that continues for about half an hour. Finally I found a cozy quiet place, stopped, meanwhile two people in Ukrainian jerseys overtake me, I return and catch up them — these dudes are from Kyiv. I try to estimate the time and decide to finish with them, I will have just enough leeway in case of time penalty. We go very fast and collect a pretty large peloton, nice.
There is nothing to tell about the finish, it's just the end of the adventure.
The last batch of applause and greetings. Some lady gives me a medal and a meal ticket, picks up my stamp passport, hugs me and congratulates on the victory. I return to the finish corridor, mingle with the fans and wait for my team to finish, I want to take a photo of them. Feeling a little lonely. But here they are, now I'm happy:
We find the rest of our mates, come together, everybody taste wine and share their impressions.
It was very, very hard. I think that I wouldn't have came here if I knew it would be so hard beforehand. But when you are already there, when you are in the saddle, everything starts to look realistic. So at the same time it wasn't extremely hard.
In terms of suffering and self-challenge this trip was completely successfull. In terms of enjoyment from France — not so much, so I would like to return to this area, in a quite relaxed mode, when you can stop whenever and wherever you want, chill out on a soft grass in some field, eat a sausage sandwich, make cocoa on a hiking stove and so on.
I'm not sure if I want to do the PBP again — probably not. There are many other interesting adventures, so it's not rational to repeat the same twice. But it's quite likely that I can change my mind during the next four years.
How much did I spend
Paris—Brest—Paris pre-registration cost 30 €; after qualifications I paid another 105 €; the bus carrying us and bicycles cost 235 € per person; 400 € for hotel accomodations; approximately 200 € for food and all the other stuff during the road forth and back and in Paris; and another 200 € for food during the PBP.
In total — 30+105+235+400+200+200≈1200 30+105+235+400+200+200≈1200 €.
I could also add the money spent for the equipment and bicycle parts, but I believe that this money was not spent, but invested :)
How much did I earn
I'm pretty exhausted.
The fingers are weak and numb, I guess it would continue for a few weeks.
I saw the ocean.
Crossed out another point from my bucket list.
Gave high five to a lot of French children and one black man.
Ate fresh French baguatte and croissants.
Took a lot of photos of sleeping men for my collection.
Saw things which I won't be able to see anytime anywhere else.
Witnessed an incredible amount of beauty in a single short period of time.
And got a huge bunch of impressions.
Now it's definitely the end.