Ask a randonneur what it takes to tackle a big brevet and you’ll get a million pieces of advice (at minimum!). Most of this wisdom can find a home under the Ride Your Own Ride umbrella.
How long will I ride before taking a break? What kind of speed will I carry, given the course’s topography and my general fitness and ability? What and how do I best fuel myself? How about sleep (hahaha!)?
Last year at this time, Felkerino and I were clipping in for Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). We trained steadily for two years to fully prepare, giving us plenty of opportunity to dial in our “Ride Your Own Ride” methodology.
We answer these questions through riding, and adjust around the edges from year to year. It’s exciting to discover an approach that works. It’s like figuring out the answer to a riddle, and the riddle is you and your bicycle.
For Felkerino and me, Ride Your Own Ride has often translated to literally riding by ourselves. We have limited time to spend on the bike, our local club is small, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to keep pace with the momentum of a tandem.
Riding away from Loudeac with the group
But PBP is an event with over 5,000 participants, and you will inevitably find others whose Ride Your Own Ride matches yours, at least somewhat. You see it play out from day to day.
PBP is also big enough that your unique ride will inevitably intersect with someone else. Rarely will you pedal all alone and the riders around you become your neighbors on wheels.
This dichotomy of the individual to the group captivates me. I’ve heard people say that randonneurs are solitary people, but if that is really the case then why have brevets or organized events? There is something that draws us to a group experience.
Shakedown ride in Rambouillet before PBP
Once in Rambouillet (the start and finish for this year’s PBP), Felkerino and I rode our own ride within a massive pod of people. Yet each rider and volunteer we encountered at PBP shaped our experience and drew a small piece of our story. In ways we do not know we shaped the story of those around us.
We spent almost the entire event in the company of our friend Jerry and three of the four days with a small group from San Francisco Randonneurs, including Rob Hawks, Anson Moore, and Roy Ross. Brian Koss was also in our orbit at times.
Brest: Anson, Brian, and Roy
Throughout PBP, we crisscrossed with Gavin, Bill Fisher, and Chip of D.C. and Pennsylvania Randonneurs. I don’t trust nostalgia, but I know the story they helped us write was a rich one – better than we could have crafted or imagined ourselves.
We climbed over the Roc’h Travezel and back with Jerry and the San Francisco guys, dismounting for a flurry of photos at the famous bridge in Brest that marks the ride’s midpoint. Brian had even waited up quite a while for the group, and I’m pretty certain it was so he could snap an iconic bridge photo with his friends.
We laughed with Roy Ross about randonneuring making a terrible reality show – too long, bad wardrobe, not enough conflict. No one would watch it.
Another PBP photo at the bridge! Felkerino, Jerry, and Rob
Temperatures unexpectedly dropped into the 30s, and we froze together under crystal clear skies during night miles that seemed like they went on forever. Unknown riders occasionally interrupted our group flow to claw for the tandem wheel.
At Crepes at La Tanniere, a well-known spot where everyone eats crepes and promises postcards in exchange, we took a gratuitous pause to share in crepes consumption and admire the postcards and messages received from all over the world after previous PBPs.
Rob, Anson, and Roy decided to continue to Rambouillet on night three. No way we were doing that. Bill, Gavin, Chip, Jerry, and I chose sleep and shared in a groggy breakfast with bowls of coffee the final day.
Jerry, Ed, and I made a final stop for espressos and pastries, our eyes propped open with toothpicks and the desire to finish. The ride ended and we unsentimentally departed, exhausted from the effort and riding high on our finish.
A coffee and treat with Felkerino and Jerry before finishing PBP
We took our medals home and stuck them in a drawer. Operation Ride Your Own Ride complete, PBP 2019 an official success.
Yet what lingers longest and sweetest is not the physical accomplishment. It is the story that unfolded through the actions, words, and fellowship of others, especially those I mentioned here.
Jerry and Carolyn at the finish of PBP
As I caught up on sleep, dreams already percolated for how we might all meet again at the next edition of PBP. It was such pleasure to ride with you, and I’m grateful these memories are woven into my timeline now.
I also struggle with the words to say this, but I’m so sad that we will not have a chance to ride with Roy again. He had great spirit and it was a treat to ride with him.
Thanks for reading, everybody.
I’ve been missing your posts. In such a challenging time, your posts are always a welcome break. Stay safe and I hope you’re able to get out on some fun new adventures soon.
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Lovely account of your memories, Mary. I’d say I hope to see you on London-Edinburgh-London in 2021 (I’ve signed up as a volunteers the St Ives checkpoint) but there’s a shadow over travel and large group activities which may still hang over us in 12 months time. Stay safe!