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2003 Paris-Brest-Paris Report

By Tim Bruns
August 29, 2003

After 1,258 kilometers, 78 hours, 19 meals, 7 espressos, 6 hours of sleep and a couple of naps in ditches, I completed the oldest cycling event in the world - Paris-Brest-Paris!

This was truly the hardest thing I have ever done. But even now, just a few days after finishing, my memories are not of pain and sleep deprivation, but of the gorgeous, classic French countryside and the amazing, generous French people. Here is a very brief rundown of the adventure:

Day 1 - Paris to Loudeac
445 Kilometers, 22 Hours, 10:45 PM to 9:00 PM
I had done some night riding in the past, but never in the middle of a couple thousand cyclists! It was amazing seeing an endless stream of red taillights up the road. As we got out of the city things got pretty quiet, no more cheering Frenchmen along the roads, but at 4:30 we came upon a local bike shop where the owners were filling our bottles with Vitel water! I don't know how many cases they went through, but it sure was appreciated!

I must say, I enjoyed riding during the day better than at night, and made it to my first planned rest stop at 9:00. I had a shower, a change of clothes, and a nice meal before getting some sleep. Unfortunately the snoring hordes kept me awake, and I took off after an hour of rest.

Day 2 - Loudeac to Brest to Loudeac
310 km, 19 Hours, 1:00 AM - 8:00 PM
This was by far the hardest section of the ride. Not only did it include the most significant climbing, but the sleep depravation was taking a big toll on me. I was so tired, that I wound up taking 6 naps along the side of the road before sunrise! I also had the unique opportunity to experience the hallucinations that I'd heard so much about. I kept seeing alligators along the side of the road! What a hoot!

The decent into Brest would have made the trip worthwhile on its own! What a gorgeous coastal town! Brest is the turn-around point on the route, and I headed back toward Paris after lunch. I arrived again at Loudeac on my return in 19 hours. After showering and eating, I allowed myself to have a glass of wine (of course they served wine, it is France). I just sat there and thought "God, I'm tired … God, this is good wine … God, I'm tired". I slept for 5 hours this time!

Day 3- Loudeac to Paris
445 km, 24 Hours, 5:30 AM to 5:30 AM
This was my best day; perhaps because I was "heading home" or perhaps because I got some sleep. I had developed some serious saddle sores by now, and had a bit of tendonitis and some knee pain, but it wasn't serious enough to keep me off the bike. I decided it was time for caffeine, so I stopped for espresso as often as I could. What a great "drug", no wonder it is banned from racing!

A number of the delightful small towns were having big celebrations for the riders as we passed. This was so heartwarming! There were still people along the road cheering for us and handing up water, but these were entire towns of country folk making meals and making merry for us! I had on an old jersey from a French champagne manufacturer, which made for no end of good-humored comments from the townsfolk!

There really isn't much fanfare at the finish, at least not at 5:30 in the morning, but they did have a tent with nice food available. I walked over to the food tent before heading back to the hotel for some real sleep. There is a classic French desert that was created at the turn of the century to celebrate this ride, the desert is called "Paris Brest". I was pleased to see that they had this at the food tent. Never has a desert tasted so good!

Riding Paris-Brest-Paris is definitely worth the effort! For information on PBP and similar rides throughout the US and world, see the Randonneur's USA website: www.rusa.org.


About the author...

Tim Bruns has racing bicycles for seven years and racing on skinny skis for four years. He lives in Golden Valley and works as a safety engineer in St. Paul. Since beating cancer nine years ago, Tim has been living life one great adventure at a time.

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