PBP 1999 - The Best and Worst
than a blow by blow recount of our fabulous ride on PBP in 1999,
this is our list of the best, worst and most interesting controls
and such that we encountered on PBP (in my own not so humble opinion,
of course). John and I spent a fair amount of time at the controls,
about an hour each at most of them and 5-6 hours at the two where
we slept, providing me with adequate qualifications for making
A little background
PBP in 1999, we rode our tandem equipped with a bar bag, trunk
bag and two small panniers. We kept our camera, control cards,
passports, wallets and a small amount of on the bike food in the
bag bag, which John removed and carried into each control as we
checked in. This bar bag was decorated with the tassles that accompany
ice cream desserts all over France. Control staff always guessed
we were on tandem. Maybe it was having the two photo numbers on
the front, and not actually the whimsical tassles.
Tools, spares, and maps (essentials that didn't need to be accessible
on the move - or in a control) were kept in the trunk bag, which
stayed on the bike - no need to haul that stuff into controls.
We also each had a small pannier, packed with extra shorts, rain
and cold weather gear, including jacket, jersey knee and leg warmers,
gloves, overshoes - things I'd have missed if I really needed
them. They also held some basic toiletries and very compact silk
sleep sacs to go between us and the very scratchy horse-hair blankets
found at the sleep controls. The panniers could easily be removed
and carried into controls where we slept, but we left them on
for the shorter stops - just pulling out or storing various items
as we needed them. We did not use bag drops or hotels, choosing
to eat and sleep at controls, living off the land as much as we
Since we took the 9:45 p.m. tandem start, so we found ourselves
in between crowds for the most part, This worked quite well for
us. We never encountered long lines, and found all the staff at
the controls very friendly and helpful.
We ate at every control. With one notable exception, cafeterias
worked great for the less adept at French among us, as I could
simply point to what I wanted to eat, and say, "je voudrais
cette, s'il vous plait."
Best Coffee - Loudeac. This was the first place
we finally got a grande cafe au lait in a soup bowl. Prior to
that we only got little shots of espresso. After Loudeac we learned
to say grande and hold our hands out wide! We were always rewarded
with delicious and potent coffee, which woke me up when I needed
it! NO American coffee has ever worked as well!
Best Soup - Tintineac. My best food memories from '91
were soup and sandwiches at Tintineac. I used an all preprocessed
chemical liquid diet that year, but had my first proper food in
Tintineac. The soup there was just as good as I had remembered
from 1991. And I was much happier with eating real food
throughout the event this time around! Highly recommended.
Best Chicken - Fougeres. We arrived in Fougeres-outbound
in the early hours of the morning, after riding all night. While
others were ordering omelettes - as it was around breakfast time,
I looked at the poulet, pointed and of course said "s'il
vous plait." It was moist and delicious. The perfect breakfast.
Chicken - Loudeac. Here the chicken was a bit dry, but the
mashed potatoes were melt in your mouth delicious.
Most awkward cafeteria - Brest. One could get coffee and
sandwiches in the main building, but I couldn't figure out where
to get hot food. I later found out that I was supposed
to go to a table, say what I wanted (no looking and pointing),
pay in advance, get a ticket and then go up stairs and across
a courtyard to collect the meal. This wasn't at all obvious to
me, but I admit that I was a bit tired at that point. This was
closely followed by St. Quentin en Yvelines - why was there
no real food at the finish? There were some sandwiches, but I
could only get sodas one cup at a time, and nothing hot. We did
eventually discover we could buy bottles of Champagne - so we
did! We shared the bottle with Team Ireland (John being an official
a member of the team, while I get honorary membership, based on
marriage) and a few other friends we made along the way.
Showers and loos
Best toilet seats - Villaine La Juhel - the only one
with actual seats - maybe someone can explain to why none
of the others had seats!
interesting toilets - Carhaix - holes in floor with foot prints
to indicate where to place your feet - They did FLUSH, so they
must be modern! We found most public toilets in rural France are
this way, but we always refer to them as Carhaix style loos! These
are also the best reason to use recessed cleat walkable cycling
shoes! They can be quite slipperly and there is no way I would
put used cleat covers back into my pocket!
Best Public Showers - Loudeac - here, there was a hose
and a bucket, and folks stripped down and stood in the large bucket
and got hosed down! I didn't actually try to take a shower here,
but did enjoy the show. A lack of proper foresight had this operation
slightly uphill from the toilets, so folks got to cross a vast
stream of shower drainoff to reach a loo!
Best "private" shower - Fougeres - the door
was marked "Femmes", and a control worker actually kicked
out the men who were showering there, so I could have a shower
in privacy. To be fair to these men, they had been apparently
directed to this shower by another control worker, and later tracked
me down to offer an apology. They had one of those wonderful motorcycle
escorts translate for them. It was very sweet. This control even
offered towels with the fee for a shower!
Worst showers where I tried - Brest - had showers available,
but did not have any towels for rent. I had remembered being able
to rent towels in '91, so I had left my pack towel in Paris. I
can't comment on any others as we didn't try any where else.
We slept in Brest and Fougeres. Between the two, Fougeres
wins hands down. The sleeping building was separate from the control
and cafeteria, so it was nice and quiet. It was also split up
into small rooms, based on preferred wakeup times, minimizing
noise and disruption. Brest had one large building with sleeping
on one side, control in the middle and cold food, coffee, showers
and toilets on the other. Even with earplugs, the noise was almost
deafening. Despite having been up for a couple of days, I barely
slept 2 hours there. It is hard to imagine having trouble sleeping
at that stage. The two hours was btrief, but quality sleep and
enough to refresh me. We had packed silk sleep sacks and space
blankets. The space blankets were never unfolded, but we used
the sleep sacks. They were a godsend between me and the itchy
horsehair blankets at Brest.
- Many of the controls had great decorations with art from
local school children. Villaines la Juhel and Mortagne
au Perche had the best displays. Mortagne au Perche edges
out Villaines la Juhel for the best thanks to the two bikes complete
with mechanical scare-crow operators pedaling them non-stop throughout
the event. I had remembered this display from 1987 and 1991 as
Best freebee - Villaines la Juhel gave out postcards complete
with stamps, so you could post off news of your ride along the
Best approach wall to a control - Mortagne au Perche followed
closely by Brest. I'm glad we brought the low gears! We didn't
need them on the course though, just getting into the control!
John and others have told me that the climb to the control in
Brest was brutal, but I have somehow blocked that one out!
Worst series of turns to navigate through to get to control
- Fougeres, followed closely by Brest. Brest didn't have loads
of turns, but the arrows were positioned in such a way as to be
quite difficukt to spot at night..
Best spectators - Villaines la Juhel - here crowds were
cheering people all the time. Although if you arrived at the same
time as a local did, it was a good idea to get out of the way
quickly. One comment on crowds. It was great to have folks cheering
us along the way. It's one of the things that makes PBP so special,
but it sure would be nice at the controls if non-riders would
give riders priority for toilets, food, FRESH air and stairrails.
There was an awful lot of smoking, and lots of people sitting
on the stairs right next to the handrails, that I desprately needed
to hold on to walking up and down stairs as I tried to keep my
jelly legs operating properly!
Best arrows - What can I say here? The reflective heads
sure were nice, but they were equilateral triangles, and
the tails weren't reflective, so while they were visible from
a long ways away thanks to the reflective head, we had to be pretty
close to tell which direction they actually indicated. So next
time, make the whole arrow reflective, please! Also speaking of
those reflective arrow heads, I really began to worry as we left
Loudeac, and many of the arrows were missing those reflective
heads. Maybe the arrow budget had been stretched too thin! Fortunately
arrows with reflective heads began reappearing after a few miles.
But speaking of the arrow budget, it did seem like arrows were
rationed in some places, or maybe it was just positioning. One
thing we finally caught onto, was that straight ahead arrows were
often placed parallel to the road, so without or without the reflective
parts, didn't show up in our headlights. This is pretty typical
for French road sign posting, but definitely hard for cyclists
to see out at night, especially those stressed about getting lost
and riding lots of extra kms. We noticed this most as we approached
Brest in the wee hours of the morning. It did seem that arrows
were put up by different local clubs, as the styles varied quite
a bit throughout the course. So my suggestion to the ACP would
be to recommend that arrows be placed FACING oncoming riders and
their lights, and to be generous with them. My theory that they'd
run out of arrows was dashed at the end where extra arrows were
on sale. We bought two as souvenirs!
Best ride escorts - The motorcycles at the finish were
great. Really great. Special thanks to the one who accompanied
us in the last ten miles, especially after John took a wrong exit
off the roundabout. The motorcycle came back around for US! Maybe
it was that we were on a tandem or maybe my ear to ear smile charmed
him. All I can say is it erased any memory that I may have had
of this ride ever being tough, or hard or in anyway unpleasant.
At the conclusion of every other 1200km I have done, I have said
"never again". This time, I had already starting planning
Best cycling company
Well I may could get myself in trouble with this, but I'll try
not to. Roy and Susan, our tandem friends from Connecticut
accompanied us the first day all the way to Loudeac, where they
wisely chose to sleep. We have done many long rides with these
guys over the last two years, and they are great company. They
are also incredibly modest about their strength and speed. It
is great to have another tandem with which to ride. Tandems and
singles can mix together, but often it's lots of work and
awkward. It's always great to have another bike that rolls along
in a similar style. This was one of the great things about the
tandem start. We got tandem companions. We also thoroughly enjoyed
riding with Derek and Kim from Australia, albeit for too brief
a period of time. Derek and Kim, got knocked off their
tandem early in the ride, as another bike took a sudden turn directly
in front of them, after arrows seemingly appeared at the last
minute. We were riding alongside them at the time, chatting away
merrily. Kim was taking great pride in explaining all the fertility
symbols she'd painted all over the tandem. This must win as best
decorated bike, BTW. Anyway, showing the Australian gutsiness,
they completed the ride, although Kim's hand was swollen enormously,
as well as her knee and Derek's hip took quite a battering too!
Finally there were a couple of French guys who were just too strong
for us leaving Fougeres on the way back. We also saw them a bit
on the remainder of the ride, and lots of smiles and nods were
exchanged. Enough so that they offered us Champagne at the awards
ceremony on Friday!
Worst Tandem Company - an unknown single bike rider.
Somewhere on the way to Loudeac, we hooked up with Mark and Julie,
who also happened to be on a CoMotion tandem. Since Roy and Susan
and John and I also were riding on CoMotions, we naturally felt
an affinity and tried to ride together. Unfortunately this one
single bike, kept latching on to whichever tandem took the lead,
and THEN refused to pull through when they pulled off waiting
for the next tandem to pull through, when he'd repeat this same
behavior. Basically it meant the tandem that had just taken a
pull could not get a good tandem draft as reward. We finally gave
up in disgust and stopped for water. Actually we needed water
and the kids were so great standing out by the side of the road
for hours offering water and hoping someone would stop.
stuffed company - P.B. Bear. He was being drafted by the very
chatty and raunchy joke telling Chris Avery. If only I
could remember some of those jokes now. P.B. Bear was likely
the only "participant" who actually wore his SR medal
throughout the ride.
Best tandem appreciating single bikes - At some point
on the way back from Brest, we passed a couple of singles on the
down side of a roller. We played the back and forth game briefly,
until they decided to enjoy the tandem draft to Carhaix - where
they bought us drinks! We saw them a bit throughout the return,
and they rejoined us for the final leg, helping greatly with navigation
as they were local. They also took the best shot of us on the
tandem with our camera!
Best jerseys - The Germans. And I got one. I took three
jerseys to trade. The Autralian Kangaroo was also pretty cool,
but I couldn't find anyone willing to trade. They ended up placing
another order, so I got one later.. I also managed to get a Danish
jersey, and another from a local French club. Let me just suggest
if you wan't a Danish jersey, bring size 5 jerseys to trade. These
guys aren't petite. I did find one fellow who agreed to swap for
a size 3 BMB jersey! It might fit a Danish toddler!
atmosphere - Everywhere. PBP is like no others. The drivers
treated us with respect. The locals cheered for us, and offered
us water and coffee when we desparately needed it, and even when
we didn't. We just couldn't stop everywhere and actually finish
the ride in time, Still, I felt guilty for NOT stopping more.
The bloomin' bikes in villages throughout were so cool. Don't
expect to see this anywhere but France!
Best section for riding - Loudeac to Tintineac, coming back.
There were a billion little towns in between these two controls,
each on top of a mountain, each with a church that we could see
from the previous town, and knew we had to climb. We were prepared
for this section to be brutal. Yet it was the most tandem friendly
section of the ride, with incredible rollers that we just powered
up, getting faster and feeling stronger the more we did it. Poor
Tim, the single biker who'd joined up with us, was amazed by the
speed we held, especially as we claimed at the start that it would
not be tandem friendly!
Best welcoming committee - John Dalton. Our hotel was
10 miles from the finish, and I actually wasn't looking forward
to the additional mileage! John Dalton is an Irish ex-patriot
living in Belgium. He had driven out to translate for his Belgian
friends at the RM meeting. He decided to meet us at the finish
and graciously offered to give us a lift back. Thank goodness
for S&S couplers! We were able to disconnect the front third
of the tandem to fit the big bike into his tiny transit van.
Things we forgot and needed the most - Petzl headtorch and
ibuprofen. Even after writing an article for Ultra Cycling
on PBP lighting, and recommending this headtorch, we forgot to
bring one. And having 4 at home, we held off buying a fifth. These
things can be crucial for finding arrows at night. We will never
forget one again. I also can't believe I forgot to bring any sort
of anti-inflammatory drugs. Somewhat early on, I was starting
to have some pain around my knees, and decided some ibuprofen
would be nice. I asked at the Croix Rouge, and was told I'd need
a doctor's prescription. I found my doctor, Roy, who didn't give
me a prescription, but did give me 4 Alleve tablets, which got
me through the remainder of the trip. I later found out that one
can get ibuprofen tablets in pharmacies without a prescription,
but they are kept in the back (not out on a shelf) and you just
have to ask.
Things we hauled around the course and didn't really need,
but were happy to have anyway since conditions could have been
very different - Wool jersey, rain jacket, overshoes, legwarmers,
gloves and headband. We were lingering over coffee in Brest
when the only rain we saw on the event came down, so we missed
it. Otherwise conditions in 1999, were pretty darn good, albeit
a bit hot during the day. The sun is quite intense there and (unlike
New England) there wasn't much shade, so it felt hot to us most
days. The temps did drop at night, and my knee warmers and armwarmers
saw lots of use then.
Well that's enough reminiscing for now. Hopefully there were
more bests than worsts.For my fellow riders, I hope you enjoyed
this little reminder and it brought back fond memories for you.
For those who haven't done PBP, I simply can't recommend it enough.
If lots of this article doesn't make sense to you, then do the
next PBP- it will become clear. There is nothing else out there
like PBP. PBP is simply the BEST!
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