Dancing with Charly and Adrian | Paris-Brest-Paris (aka PBP) 2023 Ride Report

The Paris-Brest-Paris randonneuring event is an epic ride held once every four years in France. This August, cyclists from all over the world gathered for the mighty challenge - Cruzbike riders included! Read Derek Minner's awesome writeup below and check out Global Cycling Network (GCN)'s coverage of the Cruzbike Vendettas in the mix here.

"My PBP journey started three years ago..."

 

Paris-Brest-Paris 2023 Ride Report - Derek Minner on Cruzbike Vendetta V20

It was 4:50am CEST, and I was sitting at the starting line for V-group, the “specialty bike” group chasing an 84-hour time limit to complete the 762 mile out-and-back journey across France known as the PBP. While this moment was the beginning of my 3 day ride, my PBP journey started 3 years ago when I met a fellow recumbent rider who dropped the acronym casually in conversation.

“What’s the PBP?”

The PBP (which stands for Paris-Brest-Paris) is the world’s oldest modern mass sporting event. It was started in 1891 by a local newspaper as a bike race open to all. It drew a motley crew of participants (from pros to amateurs) and helped the paper sell millions of copies as the entire nation was captivated by the daily updates on rider progress. It was originally held every 10 years because of the medical community’s fears over its impact on participant life-expectancy but was later changed to once every 4 years. Fun fact: the Tour De France and the modern Olympics are both said to have been created as a result of the success and popularity of the PBP. In the mid-Twentieth Century, the event officially became amateur. Pros were no longer allowed to participate, and the refrain of “it’s a ride not a race” was born.

Learning about the event’s rich history planted an unconscious seed that would slowly germinate over the next 2.5 years which were filled with: a traumatic bike crash shattering my tibia and fibula, a head-on car crash with an intoxicated driver breaking my knee’s tibial plane, a slow 6-month return to sport, and a 2 year process of increasing fitness, ride intensity, and ride duration. By November 2022, I decided to begin base training for the 2023 season with intent to do the PBP qualifying rides (123 miles, 185 miles, 250 miles, and 375 miles), and if I qualified, to head out to France in August for the ride.

I completed the qualifiers with relative ease and did so in a P60 series which means in <=60% of the time limit. At some point a fellow qualifier told me “if you can do the P60 series, you should be able to do a Charly Miller time at the PBP”.

“What’s a Charly Miller time?”

Charly Miller was the first US rider invited to participate in the PBP in the early 20th century. He was a beast, and despite old tech, poor roads, and some unforeseen challenges along the route, completed the journey in 56 hours and 40 minutes. Now, anyone from the US who is able to beat that time is inducted into the Charly Miller Society — which is basically just a short list of talented cyclists. Later I was informed by a fellow recumbent randonneur that nobody on an unfaired recumbent has ever made the cut.

”Game on…perhaps.” I thought. “Perhaps” because my personal mantra (in order of priority) for these ultra-distance rides is always:

  1. Get home safely.
  2. Savor the experience.
  3. Go as far and fast as possible.

At the starting line, I squared up with a small group of recumbents, velomobiles, and tandems who chose the faster 84-hour group which started a half-day after the massive 90-hour group that set off the Sunday afternoon prior. I’m not sure why they chose this group, but my thought was that if I could stay ahead of the 84-hour bulge, I would have clear sailing through several of the first control checkpoints (which were notoriously slow) for getting ones card stamped, bottles filled, and food purchased before heading on down the road.

What I hadn’t accounted for was a 15mph motorcade escort for the first 10 miles which allowed the 500-or-so non-speciality riders to catch-up and queue behind us such that once the motorcade disbanded, it became a scene reminiscent of the Tour De France. Tight quarters. Folks passing left. Passing right. Riders going on the wrong side of the road or the wrong side of a roundabout to shave a few feet off a curve.

Paris-Brest-Paris PBP 2023 on a Cruzbike Vendetta - Derek Minner

The first 60 miles was a seemingly endless game of cat and mouse. Trying to stay ahead of the group, I would rip down hills and lose them. Then, on the next incline, they’d catch back up and sometimes pass me. Just as I started to feel like John Cusack in Room 1408, we entered the first rest stop to refuel.

Once I got back on the road, I noticed that the Tour De France had ended, the field had spread out, and it was back to the feel of the brevet qualifier rides I was used to. In addition to the racers being gone, I also noticed something else started to change: spectators began to appear at street corners and roundabouts. Since we had an early morning start, all we had seen until this point were the professional photographers perched at the most picturesque spots, later to sell you copies of your moment-of-glory as you exit the rollercoaster and walk through the gift shop. But by now it was approaching 8am, and townsfolk were starting to come out for the show.

Little did I know at that time that the locals would be a steady presence for the next three days straight — from early morning through the wee hours of the night. Shouting encouragement like “bon route!” (~“safe journey”) and “bon courage!” (~”good luck”). Some with bottles of water for a quick refill. Others with a makeshift barista setup for riders needing a jolt (3am cup of joe, anyone?). Others with full on barbecue pits, and others handing out carby homemade goodies in various forms.

PBP 2023 on a Cruzbike Vendetta - Derek MinnerThe next couple hundred miles is a bit of a blur aside from the facts that:

  1. Villaines control (~mile 125) was awesome. We got a whole-town reception. Their mayor was out announcing on a speaker system and all. People both loved and were amused by the recumbent in equal measure.
  2. At 40,000 feet across the ride, there was much more climbing than I was used to (I hail from Southern NJ which is pancake flat), and although this winter I embarked on a climbing regimen of over 150,000 ft of “virtual” elevation gain (including climbing a Zwift-replica of Alp Du Huez 30x), we all know how well high-tech preparation works from when Rocky fought the Russian.
  3. It was getting hotter, a lot hotter. France was in a heatwave that would put temps in the high 80s. to low 90s with next to no cloud cover for all three days.

Going into this event I had done the math, and figured: since I was able to do my qualifying 600k (375 miles) in 23.5hrs, then if I just took this ride out at the same pace, that would put me in Brest with 33 hours to get some rest and complete the return journey. What I hadn’t accounted for was that my qualifying 600k had 50% less climbing-per-mile, the PBP controls took forever to get through, and I was getting worn down by the heat.

It was so hot that around the 150 mile mark I was gulping through my water reserves faster than I should if I wanted to make it to the next control. I saw a little girl holding up a 2L water bottle and pulled over to let her fill me up. A half hour later, I was totally zapped by the heat and saw a little boy holding up a garden hose. So, I pulled over and let him and his brother hose me down — helmet to shoes — them laughing, me laughing, before I pushed back onto the road renewed.

“Merci. Merci Beaucoup!” I said.
“Bon Courage!” “Bon Route!” they and their father replied.

Again feeling hot and fatigued a bit later, I slowly climbed a hill past an elderly lady in her 80’s who was packing heat: a yellow and green 1990’s style Supersoaker. We didn’t speak each other’s language but no words were necessary because she had a raised eyebrow and devilish grin imploring “you want some of this?” as she slowly raised the weapon. And my reply was a toothy smile and nod indicating “why yes, ma’am, I do in-fact want some of that!”

SPLAT!! She blasted me square in the face. It was obvious this wasn’t her first sniping. 

PBP 2023
When I arrived at the Tinteniac control (~mile 225), it was starting to get cooler out, but the accumulation of heat exposure and strain of climbing had gotten to me. I had a sour stomach, couldn’t drink more GoFar (think liquid carbs+salt), and when I attempted to eat, it became readily apparent that wasn’t going to be an option either due to an intense case of nausea. Underfueling quickly equals game-over in endurance sports. I knew I needed to figure something out, and I remembered feeling nauseous as a kid and being soothed by cool air. So, I asked the woman serving food if it was ok if I take my tray outside and eat in the cooler air. Luckily, that did the trick, and I was able to down the food and get back on my way.

I skipped the Quedillac rest-stop since it wasn’t an official control and because I was getting frustrated by my slow foreword progress. The next two hours are a complete mystery, and I remember arriving at Loudeac control (~mile 270) by nightfall. By then, I had blown through the vast emptiness that separated the last 90-hour Sunday starters (10pm U-group) and my V-group which started 7 hours later. Loudeac was PACKED. It was a mad house, and I had previously read peoples’ ride reports which indicated this was the best place to rest, clean up, and change clothes before plodding on. So, that’s exactly what I did. Took the time to shower. Changed into a new outfit including a wool jersey which would come back to haunt me in the next day’s heat. Took a 45 minute nap in the grass with all the ecoutremane of a first-time PBPer (complete with eye-mask, earplugs, inflatable pillow and wool sleeping bag liner). I then ate a full meal, and got back to it. In hindsight, I regret all the time I wasted in the space between these activities. Getting stuff on and off the bike. Blankly staring into space for a while. Realizing I forgot something on the bike. Parking my bike far from the showers and drop-bag area. I likely wasted upwards of 30–45 minutes of what was required for a quick shower, change, nap, meal, and run.
PBP 2023
I left Loudeac around midnight and headed for Carhaix. This part of France was more remote than the earlier controls, and it was amazing for cool-night riding. I had a renewed wind in my sails (which was a bit surprising considering I had only gotten 2 hours sleep the night before the start, ridden 250 miles in hot hilly terrain, and only napped for 45 minutes). These were fun miles. With a powerful headlamp and a bike that can effortlessly rip down hills over 30mph, I passed hundreds of riders in this section which helped get my confidence back up. I moved quickly through the Carhaix control in the middle of the night and pressed on to Brest.

It was around this time that doubts about my ability to achieve a Charly Miller time in a reasonably safe way began to set in. I was way behind my planned schedule, as in, a few hours behind. If I picked up the pace and kept it there, speeding through future controls, minimizing time for food and rest, I could still do it, but would that be reasonable since the next days weather forecast was predicted to be just as hot out as it was earlier that day? These were the questions bouncing around in my head as I was riding the rollers, trying to use the momentum on the downhills to get back up the next climb without losing that beautiful aero-momentum.

I looked up and realized the Brittany sky is incredible. Far enough from any light pollution, the stars appear as clear and numerous as they do when far out into the mountains or on a cruise ship. Too bad I don’t have time to linger and look. I’m chasing Charly here.

I hit a wall around 5am in some sleepy town 20 miles outside of Brest. The wall wasn’t physical. I could have kept pedaling. It was a wall of consciousness. I was starting to hallucinate, and it was becoming difficult to keep my eyes open. I thought about a PBP video I had recently watched on YouTube about how most of the injuries occur when sleep deprived riders fall asleep on the bike and crash defenselessly into the pavement. That didn’t sound good to me at all. So, I recognized this was the time to pull over. I saw a park bench by a small river, and I laid down for a 15 minute nap.

BEEP BEEP BEEP. Dang you Garmin Watch, but the restorative effect of a 15 minute nap is truly unbelievable. Complete mental reset. Time to ride.

The descent down to Brest was just amazing. LONG downhill sections for the better part of an hour. Gorgeous views. I got into the Brest control by 8:50am (28 hours into the trip), almost exactly 50% of the Charly Miller time. I had a decision to make: am I still pushing for it, or am I just going to enjoy the ride back?

Since I can remember, I’ve always been extremely driven to achieve things — whatever they might be. In school, sports, work, hobbies, whatever. It was never good enough to just participate. I wanted to win, to receive accolades, to do things that were deemed by others (and thus by myself) as “good”. In short, its as if my brain has always been wired to say “I’m good because of XYZ” instead of just plain old “I’m good”.

But my crossroads at Brest took me down the unexpected path — the one less traveled by my former self. I thought about things I had seen in the middle of the prior night: people huddled around a rider laying on the ground at the side of the road with an ambulance approaching the scene, a car having swerved off the road and crashed into a ditch, another ambulance stopped by a rider laying face down just beyond a roundabout while a witness was pantomiming head trauma to the paramedic who was assessing the situation. I thought about my own cycling accident in 2021, the toll it took on me and how it affected my family. I thought about my wife and daughters who took a quick trip to London while I was doing this ride, likely worried about me.

And I thought: it’s just not worth it.

If I wanted to do Charly Miller, I should have treated it like a race from start. The “its not a race” refrain is not for the Charly Miller crew. Make no mistake, there are two distinct PBPs, and I had been riding somewhere between the two for the first half of my journey. My legs and cardio were up to snuff, but my mindset toward navigating the controls and interacting with the locals was far too casual for Charly. At Brest, I resolved to be completely in the it’s-not-a-race camp on the way back.

Being only 28 hours in and at the halfway point of an 84-hour limit, I knew I could basically stop wherever I wanted on the return leg. So, I set off, determined to stop at all the stops, greet all the families, and enjoy the experience of heading home.

Leaving Brest I saw a nice photo opp at the beach. Don’t mind if I do!
Paris-Brest-Paris BPB on a Cruzbike Vendetta Charly Miller Quest - Derek Minner
Going over the bridge a child seemed interested in my bike. I stopped to give him and his brother NJ Randonneurs pins as a keepsake. I took the prerequisite bike-on-a-bridge photo and kept rolling.
Cruzbike Vendetta V20c PBP 2023

I came upon a couple with two little girls handing out fresh strawberries. Yes please! Merci!

Later I arrived at a super secret control (they try to catch the cheaters by putting a couple of these unpublished controls in every PBP — which begs the question: who are these losers who cheat on a ride with no winners and no prizes?!). It was in the town of Pleyben. I was heat stroking out so I had a Coca-Cola (did I mention I cut out caffeine for a month so it would work wonders on the ride? I did, and it did). I also ate and took a 15 minute nap.

Paris-Brest-Paris 2023 PBP

When I woke up I went to hop back on my bike and noticed that the nut holding the bolt on my front headlight was missing — likely loosened from 30 hours of vibrations. I went to a volunteer and asked if they had a mechanic and he said no but asked why. I explained, and he told me to give him the bolt — that he had nuts at his house. He then proceeded to run nay SPRINT out of view. He came back 3 minutes later, drenched in sweat (it’s 90 degrees out mind you) and gasping for air, with the nut in his hand and a victorious look on his face. It’s an old rusty nut and it isn’t the locking variety, but beggars can’t be choosers so I wrenched it on tight and hoped it would stay put. I thanked him profusely. I gave him a pin as a symbol of my appreciation.

As I start to get on my way, my drivetrain makes a hellacious noise as I begin to pedal. I try to pedal more but the sound and resistance get worse. I look down and dang it if my iPhone charging cable hadn’t gotten wrapped around several cogs of my cassette. People gather around and help hold the bike while I back pedal to remove some of the cord and manually unwind it around the cassette with my hands. The ordeal takes 5 minutes and leaves my hands a greasy mess. Just as I’m about to go grab some weeds to rub the grease off, that same volunteer says that he will run back to his house to get degreaser. I said it’s really not necessary but he insists, SPRINTS out of view, comes back 3 minutes later, drenched and gasping.

The charity of the French people absolutely blew my mind.

“Thank you sir. You are amazing.”
“Bon Route. Bon Courage”

Pedal pedal pedal.

A couple hours later I remember bumping into a couple guys from the NJ Randonneuring group — Andrey and John. They were in good spirits, and we rode together for a few miles. Then I saw a bunch of riders stopped at a pizza place, and I stopped to have a slice. Little did I know I’d bump into Ryan from the San Francisco Randonneuring group who I had met a few days prior before the ride had started. We got to chatting, had an Orangina, some ice cream, and a personal pie before heading back onto the road.

By this point, I am now comfortably set into my new reality of not chasing Charly. I’m not trying to set any records or be the first to do anything. I’m embracing the opposite: that I am anonymous — one of the faceless masses of people who have come before me in this 130 year old procession, with a simple goal of completion. I am enough. This experience is enough, and not only is it enough, I’d argue it’s the best damn thing that could have happened to me.

A bit later I bumped into a guy with an American Flag cycling cap on under his helmet. I started chanting out “USA” “USA” “US..” and he laughed and said something like “we’re doing it!” so I slowed down and asked where he was from.

“Tom’s River” he said.
“Tom’s River…in New Jersey?!” I asked.
“Yeah”
“Dude, I live in Medford!”

We both laugh in awe at the idea of us both traveling halfway around the world to bump into a veritable neighbor in the back hills of France. I stuck with Chris for a while and got to learn that he’s in a similar profession, rides in my area often, and while between jobs, had recently traversed the United States by bike where he averaged around 100 miles a day for the duration. There was a big downhill section where the recumbent’s aerodynamics took me away from him, and I saw him again later at the Luaduac control point, when we were both about to hunker down for a nap.

I did my old shower, change, eat, nap routine back at Loudeac, but since this time it was 2am and cold outside, I crash for my nap in the middle of the tile floor of the cafeteria, complete with eye mask, earplugs, pillow, and wool liner. I’m a sucker for creature comforts. Don’t judge me.

Nap break Paris Brest Paris 2023

Back on the road, pedaling in the nice cool air. Nothing much to report over those next couple hours. I eventually needed to crash out for a “ditch nap” before sunrise. I learned a new use for the backpad on my recumbent: it makes a great insulator between you and the cold wet ground when taking an emergency nap. 15 minutes later I was back up and pedalling.


Again, specifics were a blur through the next 100 miles. At each of the two stops there were indications of the physical tolls being taken — especially on older riders. At Tinteniac, a man sat in the cafeteria wrapped in a reflective e-blanket being attended to by a paramedic. When I was mounting my bike, an ambulance had pulled up and taken out a stretcher. At Fougeres, I heard one rider telling another about his heart issue and that he was going to rest a bit, but if things didn’t improve, he would have to pull out. I later learned that about a third of the folks who started the ride wouldn’t finish.

More road, more pedaling. Not rushed, not in pain, I buddied up with the Adrian Hands crew. They counterbalance the Charly Miller ethos in that they vow to savor every last drop of the experience and finish within 1 hour of the disqualification cutoff. Good peeps. We talked of a trip down to the Carolinas/DC areas to ride with them next season. They were a slow moving party bus (not slow riders, just taking their time), and while I would like to have kept the party going, I had plans to meet back up with my wife and daughters in Paris on Thursday. So, I couldn’t run the clock all the way out like they were intending to do. I said my goodbyes and pressed on.

I eventually arrived back at Villaines control. The mayor was back on the speaker system. The entire town was hugging the sides of the road cheering each of us on. I have to say, that felt really good. I got a taste of what the professional cyclists must experience all the time. I wonder if they still appreciate it or if its like anything else in life: eat the worlds best cake once, you’re in awe. Eat it every day, it’s just cake.

Soon after leaving Villaines, disaster struck in the form of an increasingly intense shin splint in my right leg. I was still over 120 miles from the finish, and it felt like a knife was stabbing me every time I would push on the pedal. The irony of me having 3x 2” titanium screws and a plate holding my left ankle together and my GOOD leg being what could possibly take me out, was not lost on me. I tried everything I could think of: changing up the way I pedaled (pulling vs. pushing), making feet circles vs pushing or pulling, moving closer to the pedals or further away from them, nothing worked except taking pressure off my right foot and pedaling one-footed. So, I did this for the better part of the next 40 miles.

When I arrived at Montagne-La-Perche control, I was in ROUGH shape. I was looking to just coast around the corner, through the metal gates that create a sort of cattle-corral system that winds around from the street to the building where you check-in. But that’s not what I found when I rounded the corner. What I came upon was a short but steep hill with a few hundred spectators lining its sides.

Here I am with one good leg and 60 hours of accumulated cycling fatigue. My immediate thought was, THIS CLIMB ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN. I slammed down my feet to avoid falling as I quickly halted to a stop and my metal studded shoes made a loud “CLAPPPPP” on the pavement. This jovial mass of people who were mid-cheer for the guy ahead of me got startled by the noise and turned back toward me to see what was going on. They watched as I hobbled off the bike and slowly limped it up the hill while wincing in pain. There was a good 5 seconds where it was dead silent. No exaggeration — a few hundred people who were just cheering loudly became dead silent for several seconds. It was surreal. Then one guy starts to do this slow clap — like in a Disney sports movie or something. And then a few more join in. And then the whole group…LOST. THEIR. MINDS. There was an explosion of cheers that made the cheer-o-meter needle go deep into the red.

I realized what was going on as it was happening. They saw this guy on this weird bike. They saw him get off it unable to climb a hill. They see him walk it up the hill, with an exaggerated limp. They all made the connection that this person must be disabled. A disabled person is making a 762 mile journey across our country and back. This person is a hero amongst the common man. This person is to be celebrated profusely.

I confused them the same way Cosmo Kramer confused Mel Tormé in that Seinfeld episode where Kramer just had oral surgery and got strange shoes to improve his vertical leap. Hysterical.

Somewhere inside of me I appreciated the amazingly comedic scene that I had just been apart of (and knew this was going to make for a good dinner party story for years to come). But it didn’t take my pain away.

When I got inside the control, someone suggested I see the medic, and I agreed while holding out little hope for a solution. The medic told me to lie down, and he pulled out a tube of cream called “Saint Bernard”. My immediate thought was that this was well beyond the healing power of some European Bengay and that I will either need to grind my teeth through the last 75 miles, rest here until I felt better, or throw in the towel.

Saint Bernard Balm

I was wrong. That black magic cream actually worked! When I got back out on the road, the stabbing pain was completely gone. It was as if someone had performed a leg transplant in the 10 minutes from when I walked into the control and walked out of it. I realized that since my leg felt good, I better hit the gas as I wasn’t sure what the half-life was on this stuff, and I didn’t have a travel sized tube with me to reapply once it started to weaken.

I set off into the night, really feeling the effects of the accumulated fatigue, lack of sleep, an injury, and the challenge of navigating an unknown land given all those vulnerabilities while it was dark out. In that moment, I felt very alone. I get that as a recumbent rider I am in a bit of a lonely category. It is made lonelier by being a recumbent rider interested in riding fast, but one of the most common suggestions I heard leading up to the PBP (aside from “dont’ try to do a Charly Miller your first PBP”) was to crew up on the ride because it makes it exponentially easier — both physically and mentally/spiritually. Well, I now understand what they meant, and the fact that I had no-one there to serve as a point of encouragement was glaringly apparent.

Just then, I noticed some townspeople sitting out at the roadside. Prior to that, there was a 30 mile section where the course wound through woods and areas that were largely non-residential. And what I realized was I felt vulnerable and alone because it was one of the only stretches where I didn’t have the townspeople’s encouragement. I had been subconsciously affected by their absence. What a blessing it was to be doing such a difficult physical challenge supported by the literal cheers of thousands strangers who want to see you succeed.

I think it’s a symbiotic relationship — between PBP spectator and rider. The rider’s benefits are obvious, we get sustenance and encouragement. But what I came to realize over the 3 day trip was that the spectators got a lot out of equation as well. I saw high value moments between grandparents and their grandkids. I saw excitement and joy in their watching the sport that their country values so highly (there are bicycle monuments littered all across the countryside to solidify this as fact). I saw the lightness of being that comes by investing yourself wholly, altruistically, for the benefit of others. And I saw a lot of teenagers get a kick out of an American laying down on a funny looking bike.

PBP hallucinations

Soon after Montaigne the hallucinations set in. Fortunately, this time they weren’t sleepy can’t-keep-my-eyes-open type hallucinations. They were more of the wired hey-that-guys-reflectors-look-like-a-spaceship variety. So, I slowed my pace and let my vision shift and change with the glowing yellow, green, and purple light strips all around me. I recall seeing Otto from the Simpsons in the vest reflectors of a rider in front of me. It was pretty entertaining until I came careening down a steep hillside where 20 blue lights were flashing at the bottom. There were several ambulances. A shirtless man was laying at the side of the road, beside a 30’ tall rock embankment, being attended to by the paramedics. It was a very sobering moment. I later heard that while suffering a very serious injury during a high-speed descent, he was alive and recovering.

Which brings me to my Elven escort for the next 40 miles. I thought of him as an elf because I was sleep deprived and hallucinating, he didn’t speak, and he had a style of riding that was very light of foot. He sort of danced on the pedals and moved laterally a lot. Without speaking, we somehow communicated that we wanted to ride faster than the people around us and took off together. He then non-verbally asked me to line up to his 7 o’clock, and I understood that he wanted to use my headlamp as his light too. I thought it was because his light had died. So for the next few hours we exchanged pulls and I lit the way for us both.

At some point I decided to ask “do you speak English”?

And he says “Yeah” in a British accent.

And I said “HAH, why didn’t you talk all this time?”

He says “Oh I thought you were from Belgium or something since you have the recumbent.”

I said “I asked you a question earlier and when you didn’t respond I thought you spoke another language”

“Oh, I didn’t hear you” he said.

We both laughed about being two native English speakers riding together in silence for two hours because we both thought the other didn’t speak English. Sleep deprivation is a powerful thing.

He talked about his time doing a similar ride called London — Edinburgh — London, he told me he’s 6’4” (that’s one tall elf), and he told me he is a paramedic (which I thought was a great person to be riding with in such a compromised state).

When we got to Dreux he was dead set on riding through and making it to the finish by a particular time. I wanted to keep riding with him because I felt he lowered the risk profile of the last 25 miles ahead, but I didn’t want to hold him up as he indicated his intent to leave when I had already dismounted my bike and was walking toward the control.

So, off he went and in I went to eat my 15th meal of the ride. I ate quickly and headed back out the door. My intent this time was to find the first group that was moving quickly and to crew up with them. I didn’t want to ride alone, and I didn’t want to link up with a group riding too slow either. I found a foursome that fit the bill and latched on. The only problem was that it seemed the closer we got to Rambouillet, the more intent they were on racing each other into the finish. I had no interest in racing at this point but the black magic cream was wearing off. Every bump in the road felt like a knife in the shin, and I knew that my drag coefficient is about 25% lower if I’m riding with a group vs. by myself. Net net: group = less shin pain.

I hung on as best I could.

About 5 miles from the finish, they ripped around a right hand turn at a stop sign (without stopping), and I was about 10 feet behind them. As I approached the turn, I saw a wall of lights 2-stories high moving quickly toward me from the left in my peripheral vision.

Earlier in the ride, I had taken notice of the interesting design differences between an American semi-truck and their European equivalents. In America, the cab engine is out front with the driver right behind it — a few feet higher than a typical American car driver sits. But a European semi has a flat front that is about 15 feet high. I surmise the engine is below the driver as the driver and his window are both approximately 8–10 feet about the ground. I thought of my childhood friend Josh who grew up to be a big-rig driver and was gravely injured in an accident and thought about all the American big-rig drivers that have been killed on the job. I thought — these Europeans really got it right. This has to be a much safer design!

Well, I’m glad I took deep notice of the European semis earlier in the ride because the second I saw this wall of lights, I didn’t hallucinate that it was a space ship. I knew it was a semi headed exactly where I was about to be 3 seconds later, and I immediately slammed on the brakes. I came to a halt as the semi blew by at 40mph a second later — narrowly swerving to avoid the foursome by a few inches.

I soft pedaled in the last 5 miles, shook by what I considered to be a near death experience, but I also felt validated, that I had made the right decision to not push it to the limit on my homeward journey. If I had been chasing the clock in those wee hours of the morning, I would have rounded that corner. If I had been trying to “win” that final race to the finish, I might not be here to tell the tale.

  1. Get home safely.
  2. Savor the experience.
  3. Go as far and fast as possible.

…in that order.

Final time: 70 hours. 50 hours on a bike, 2.5 hours sleeping, and 17.5 hours savoring the experience.

Strava Link:  https://strava.app.link/zgwXCHsvXCb

PBP Finish Line


9 comments


  • Phil Fox

    “The next couple hundred miles is a bit of a blur.”

    Haha. No joke. What a blast 2023 was.


  • Brian Feinberg

    Hey, great hanging out at PBP. But – Ryan is my Starbucks name, lol!


  • Joe

    What a wonderful testament to the indomitable spirit, with a healthy splash of savoring the moments. I enjoyed the ride vicariously. Thank you for the article.


  • Boris

    The carbon tail bag is awesome – is it DYI?


  • Pascale KERVIO

    I’m one of the volunteer in Rambouillet and so proud to participate at this event. I have litteraly drank your report. What an amazing moment with your wonderful PBP… I wish you a full recovery and please come back in 2027 👍👏🥰


  • Shahrom

    Awesome!!!


  • Marshall Cooperson

    What an experience! Amazing job.
    Marshall
    P.S. I grew up in Cinnaminson, NJ


  • Lief

    So good. Loved the writing, memory, and apropos humor.
    All of us who’ve tried these sorts of things get those feelings resurfaced easily by your recounting Derek!

    I literally laughed out loud (not figuratively-literally either, literally-literally) at the cute old lady, the kids, the hallucinations, and the walk up the hill with the crowd!
    Fantastic.
    Thanks for sharing.


  • Kevin O

    What a great recap, I have been interested in PBP since the late 90’s when I first heard about it, at 65 now not sure its in my future but at least I lived it vicariously through Derek’s journey. Well done sir!!!


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published