The turning of the calendar to 2015 also means the arrival of a “PBP year.” Paris-Brest-Paris, the most heralded, historic, and international of all grand randonnees now peeps its head around the corner and beckons to us randonneurs, a mere eight months away.
I thought that deciding on a return trip to PBP would take little internal debate. I would set my sights on it, no matter what. Yet, as of this writing, I feel mixed. Like the self-help books taught me, I drafted a list of pros and cons to aid my decision-making.
Pros and Cons to PBP 2015
Been There, Done That: I rode PBP with Felkerino in 2011, and had a grand time. We even had a tailwind both ways. Both ways! Because my PBP experience was so satisfying, I wonder if I should move onto a new challenge.
In an interview with The Bicycle Story last year, I said:
This might sound crazy, but there are two times that I recall feeling absolutely beautiful– one of them was my wedding day and the other was PBP 2011. PBP is awesome.
How can the second time possibly compete with the first?
Cost: PBP is expensive, much more so than a domestic flight and bike tour would be. I only have so much time for these kinds of activities. Since I did go to PBP in 2011, shouldn’t I move onto another challenge?
Fatigue: Even though PBP is not the most difficult 1200K course, it’s still 1200K that must be completed within 90 hours. After the longer brevets, especially the 600Ks and up, my recocery time is a couple of weeks. It takes at least a month for my legs to feel lively again post-1000K or 1200K.
If I go bike touring instead of PBP’ing, I see lots of new territory at a more leisurely pace that allows for full nights of sleep and a bit of off-bike exploring. Why do I want to completely exhaust myself for a four-day ride?
Chipseal: A couple of years after the painful memories of the ride were stashed away, my friend Andrea reminded me of the brutal chipseal we rode over, particularly on the last day. We were tired and our bodies were ready to ride on smooth velvety roads. I remember that chipseal, and it now belongs in my cons column.
Bathrooms: The number of people churning through the controls takes a toll on the bathrooms. As the ride went on, they deteriorated into various states of gross. I also found many of the women’s restrooms being used or just overtaken by men. That sort of makes sense, considering that the majority of riders on PBP are men, but it sometimes left inadequate bathroom accommodations for women, which I did not like.
Language: I don’t speak French. While I did not find that I needed it during PBP because it was as though I was going through France in a bubble, I would feel better if I had a rudimentary understanding of the language.
“Have you ridden PBP before?” While in France, randonneurs constantly asked each other the number of times they had ridden PBP, at least it felt that way to me, as I meekly responded that it was my first time.
It may be an easy conversation starter, but I told Felkerino after PBP 2011 that it felt great to know I would never again have to say no in response to being asked over and over again, “Have you ridden PBP before?”
Fanfare: PBP is the one randonneuring ride that actually feels like a big-time event. There is a pre-ride expo. There’s even jersey pickup if you bought a jersey. People cheer for you as you ride along, and as you finish.
I like that the local randonneuring events have a low-key feel, but I also enjoy being an event participant. It strokes the ego to have fanfare around your chosen athletic endeavor. I run marathons in D.C. so I am exposed to that kind of energy and encouragement when I run, but there is nothing in the domestic randonneuring realm that offers the big event thrill.
Fitness and Health: After riding a full series and a hilly 1000K with Felkerino, and completing the rides in a somewhat deteriorated mental state but overall strong physical shape, I am confident we have the base fitness and abilities to tackle a big ride this year.
THE international randonneuring event: Not only is PBP the most historic randonneuring event, it is the event that randonneurs from all over the world attend. And if you ride PBP, you have the opportunity to talk with them! Maybe even ride a few kilometers together.
Those who regularly read this blog know that I like my riding to have a social element. This is one of the many reasons I love riding tandem with Felkerino. Constant social element!
Through PBP, I met many new riders as well as randonneurs I only knew via the internet. It will be a thrill to see people I only rarely do, and to meet even more riders.
Tandem-friendly terrain: Compared to the domestic brevets and grand randonées, I found PBP to be a forgiving course for a tandem. Rollers you can crest without grinding to a slow pain ful stop? Check. Flat to smoothly undulating sections of recovery? Check.
It’s “only” every four years: If I don’t go now, it won’t be until 2019 that the choice to ride will even be on my radar screen. Who knows what will be happening in four years? Since I have a pretty decent level of fitness and things look calm at the moment on other fronts, why not shoot for PBP?
Perhaps I’ve listed my way to a decision. What do you think?