Paris-Brest-Paris 1200km Felix Wong

Paris-Brest-Paris is the granddaddy of all ultra-cycling rides as it is the oldest amateur cycling race in the world. A 765-mile continuous bicycle race that was first held in 1891, it is older than the Tour de France and modern Olympics. Sometime after college, riding in it became a major dream of mine, one that was fulfilled in August 2003.

I completed it in under 85 hours, or three days and four nights with a total of 12 hours of sleep (5 hours with 35 miles to go), often in random fields underneath a tree. It was a marvelous way to tour the countryside of France, such as Brittany.

Here is a collection of multimedia to recreate the experience.

Self-Narrated PowerPoint Presentations

These were first presented at a 2004 Annual Dinner at the request of the MG Owners Club.

Part 1: Paris-Brest-Paris (16:39)

Part 2: Cars in France (5:00)

My Progress

One could have followed the race by visiting the links below. The race began on Monday, August 18, at 10:00pm (French time). It ended 90 hours later, on Friday, August 22, at 4:00pm. I was rider #4462.

[Note: links below no longer work. I keep them here as something of a time capsule. Anyone remember when Alta Vista was one of the foremost search engines?]

Itineraries

How I Qualified for PBP

To qualify for PBP, one must complete a series of brevets of 200, 300, 400, and 600 km, in order, within the specified time limits, in the same year that PBP is being held.

Statistics

  • 1225 km (762 miles)
  • 10:00pm start, 10:45am finish (3.5 days later)-> 84:45 hours total
  • Average speed: ~13 mph rolling, 9.0 mph overall
  • Maximum speed: ~40 mph
  • Climbing: maybe ~35,000 feet

Rating

  • Scenery: 5
  • Organization: 5
  • Food: 0 (purchase your own at checkpoints)
  • Weather: 5- (perfect temps except the last night which was very cold; no rain)
  • Relative Difficulty: 5
  • Overall Rating: 5+. The best ride ever!!!

Notes

Below are some miscellaneous notes about the race not included in the PowerPoint presentation.

  • The whole trip, including a Priceline SFO-CDG round trip airline ticket for <$600 bought three weeks in advance, cost only $1100, including several days in Paris and Versailles.
  • To aid comfort, I wore two padded cycling shorts. Not sure if that helped as my crotch area still had some discomfort after 375 miles.
  • At the first checkpoint—a cafeteria where a bunch of us, including myself—bought sit-down food to eat, I spent about 50 minutes off the bike. After that I would just dash in and out of little markets and convenience stores along the way and saved a lot of time that way.
  • The weather was great most of the time. France just had a killer heat wave so it never got too cold except for the last night.
  • During the last night, I rode for a couple hours all alone, not knowing whether I was even on course or not. Plus I was freezing. So when I got to the last checkpoint with 35 miles to go, I opted to sleep on the gym floor for 5 hours. When I got there, there was still 16 hours to finish the race, and I preferred to finish in daylight with other riders. Plus I wouldn’t have been able to check into my hotel in Versailles until later anyhow.
  • Five of the twelve hours I slept during the race were during the last night with 35 miles to go. I mostly took 20-minute catnaps in fields under trees or with my helmet over my face.

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[11 days before the race] All of the PBP entrants from the East Bay congregated at the Toutatis creperie in Oakland, CA, for dinner.  This is a snapshot of just the riders: Mike, Mark, Susan, Charlie, Dan, Felix... and 2 others I forget their names (sorry!)  I'd run into Mark and Mike in France either before or during the race.[4 days before the race] At the Charles de Gaulle Airport, I met Lew Meyer from Berwyn, PA, who was doing PBP too, so we traveled into Paris together.  Here's Lew on the Metro. (August 14, 2003)[4 days before the race] Felix Wong on the Metro.  Unfortunately, the RER train (Line C) I was counting on to get me to my hotel was closed for construction, so I ended up walking a mile further than I intended to, lugging my heavy bike case around. (August 14, 2003)[2 days before the race] Here I am lugging my bike case from the Versailles-Chantiers RER stop to L'Hotel Home St. Louis in Versailles.  I felt I got a lot of exercise before the race with all the bike case lugging! (August 16, 2003)[2 days before the race] In the cramped hotel I managed to put Canny back together without any problems. (August 16, 2003)[1 day before the race] Found the gym!  Here's a nifty tandem recumbent at the start. (August 17, 2003)[1 day before the race] At the registration table I lined behind a guy who had done the Devil Mountain Double.  &quot;Hey, I've done that ride,&quot; I enthusiastically said. (August 17, 2003)[1 day before the race] The day before the race I had to find the Gymnase des Droits de l'Homme in Guyancourt, 9 km away from Versailles.  Basically I had to rely on a small Maporama map I printed off of the 'net (before leaving the U.S.) and my sense of direction. (August 17, 2003)[Morning of the race] I woke up after the night's heavy downpour thankfully ended and went to participate in the morning's Prologue.  Unfortunately, in looking for the start of the Prologue, I made the mistake of staying on D10, which turned into a full-blown highway!! (August 18, 2003)[Prologue] During the 30-km prologue, I met and rode with Brian Bowling from Southern CA--the 3rd place winner of the  (August 18, 2003)[Post-Prologue] Canny all set to go while I munched on a delicious sandwich jambon burre (ham &amp; butter). (August 18, 2003)[Afternoon before the race] As it was still a little wet outside, I went to a McDonalds to eat and also sleep inside for 2.5 hours! (August 18, 2003)[Afternoon before the race] In the afternoon I attempted to sleep on the grass in front of the gym with no success. (August 18, 2003)[Evening before the race] At the pre-race dinner, there were many interesting machines, including this fully-faired HPV. (August 18, 2003)[Just 1.5 hours before the race, 8:32pm] I check in, get my race passport stamped, and my magnetic race card scanned. (August 18, 2003)[&gt;1 hour before the race, 8:50pm] Here I am, with mandatory reflective vest, in a huge horde of riders who are also all set to go. (August 18, 2003)[7 minutes before the race, 9:53pm] This is it!!!  Just minutes before the race begins! (August 19, 2003)[KM 141, 7:35 elapsed, 5:35am] This is the very first controle.  Queues were long for everything, including food, and I spent WAY too much time here (like 45 minutes).  After this I resolved to stop at controls only to check in, and rely on local shops for food and water. (August 19, 2003)[KM 141, 7:37 elapsed, 5:37am] At least the food was good at the first control.  I ate a bowl of soup, packed the bread, and could only eat half of the huge plate of mashed potatoes. (August 19, 2003)[KM ~238, 12:30 elapsed, 10:30am] The scenery is pretty typical of the route and northern France: lush and green, even in August! (August 19, 2003)[KM 313, 16:39 elapsed, 2:39pm] Almost immediately after Control #3 in Fougeres, I stop off at a grocery store where I purchased some &quot;American recipe&quot; chocolate chip cookies. (August 19, 2003)[KM ~352, 18:55 elapsed, 4:55pm] At Viveco, another supermarche in a small village (I think the village Feins), I purchased some awesome pain d'epices (&quot;bread of spice&quot;), which tasted like cake, for just 1 Euro! (August 19, 2003)[KM ~399, 21:12 elapsed, 7:12pm] This is a modern French home, not typical of most of the homes I saw.  I loved how most homes don't have an ugly garage door as the prominent feature at the front as with most American homes. (August 19, 2003)[unknown distance &amp; time] Felix Wong on the road, feeling great at this point! Photo: maindruphoto.com. (August 19, 2003)[KM ~404, 21:27 elapsed, 7:27pm] Accident!  I'm not sure what happened, but this guy was being attended to by several other cyclists when I came by.  He was bloody and immobilized in the middle of the road... hope he ended up okay. (August 19, 2003)[KM ~515, 33:19 elapsed, 7:19am] Someone had a pet reindeer... (August 20, 2003)[KM 529, 34:30 elapsed, 8:30am] At the Carhaix controle, where I ate, shave, and in general, spent way too much time (~40 minutes), I encountered Bob, whom I had met during the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge.  Always cool to run into people you met before... (August 20, 2003)[KM ~549, 35:40 elapsed, 9:40am] At this Total Gas station, I stopped off and bought a Coke and some apricot-filled cookies. (August 20, 2003)[KM ~591, 37:40 elapsed, 11:34am] Along the course were quite a few free-range, grass-fed cows (as opposed to American wheat-fed, growth-hormone and antibiotic-laden cows)... the best kind... (August 20, 2003)[KM 607, 38:16 elapsed, 12:16pm] Made it to the coast; almost to Brest!  This is a nice bridge, but I'd be less impressed with Brest itself, which has typical big city problems (but is not nearly as beautiful as Paris). (August 20, 2003)[KM 615, 38:43 elapsed, 12:43pm] At the Brest controle, the halfway, turnaround point!!  Note the size of my bagette... it would prove not to be enough. I didn't stay long, departing to the chants of some local children, &quot;A Paris!  A Paris!&quot; (August 20, 2003)[KM ~667, 41:26 elapsed, 3:26pm] Coming back from Brest presented the longest climb of the day: about 30 minutes to ascend, I think.  Being powered my a mere bagette, I'd bonk shortly thereafter, facing my first food crises of the race. (August 20, 2003)[KM 695, 43:08 elapsed, 5:08pm] Ravenous for calories, I stop off at a McDonald's in Carhaix... (August 20, 2003)[KM 695, 43:08 elapsed, 5:08pm] ... and have a milkshake vanille. (August 20, 2003)[KM 696, 43:39 elapsed, 5:39pm] I'd also have a full meal at the Carhaix controle.  Here I met Jim from Paso Robles, CA (I think), who would hilariously and incredulously relate, &quot;... I'm not even sure if the guy on the TRICYCLE even had gears! (he did...)  And he is AHEAD of us!!&quot; (August 20, 2003)[KM ~701, 44:02 elapsed, 6:02pm] Nice French cottage on lots of green land. (August 20, 2003)[KM ~706, 44:18 elapsed, 6:18pm] Another nice French cottage, with tons of flowers (as many French homes have)... (August 20, 2003)[KM ~790,  49:22 elapsed, 11:22pm] Mechanical problem!  Front derailleur cable broke.  Fortunately I had a spare, but since I opted not to bring cable cutters, I had to make do with a dull &quot;Swiss Army-type&quot; knife to cut it. (August 20, 2003)[KM 840?, 53:52 elapsed, 3:52am] At a controle secret, there were many people sleeping on the floor.  I'd press on, only to have to take a 45-minute nap about an hour later in a cornfield. (August 21, 2003)[KM 859, 57:02 elapsed, 7:02am] I spent way too much time at the Tinteniac checkpoint (like 30 minutes), but was heartened to see upon exiting that there were some American fans here! (August 21, 2003)[KM 866, 58:18 elapsed, 8:18am] The French are awesome, as they love cycling!  Here's a bike with a sign proclaiming support for someone. (August 21, 2003)[KM ~879, 58:56 elapsed, 8:56am] At l'supermarche Comod, I purchased some more pain d'epices (the cake-like bread that was my preferred food during the race) and some water. (August 21, 2003)[KM ~893, 59:44 elapsed, 9:44am] I took a 25 minute nap here with my helmet over my head, only to awaken to have a video camera in my face!  I was even interviewed, in which I half-coherently replied in broken French and English... (August 21, 2003)[KM ~937, 62:34 elapsed, 12:34pm] Some guys had opened up their garage which had proudly displayed a ton of postcards from grateful PBP riders.  I did stop here... (August 21, 2003)[KM ~937, 62:36 elapsed, 12:36pm] ...and was promptly served a delicious crepe! (August 21, 2003)[KM 1002, 66:20 elapsed, 4:20pm] I didn't stop long at the Villaines controle, but learned my lesson from before that bagettes contain more air than calories.  So I bought a super long bagette! (August 21, 2003)[KM 1070, 70:06 elapsed, 8:06pm] I saw many displays like this... bicycles covered with flowers in support of the PBP riders. (August 21, 2003)[KM 1075, 70:23 elapsed, 8:23pm] More encouragement from the locals: &quot;Bienvenue aux cyclos du P.B.P&quot; (August 21, 2003)[KM 1084, 70:56 elapsed, 8:56pm] At the Montagne Au Perche controle, I downed this entire plate of mashed potatoes and the yogurt.  I packed the two pieces of bread in my jersey pockets, to consume on the road. (August 21, 2003)[KM 1084, 71:16 elapsed, 9:16pm] I then geared up to ride several more hours in darkness, for the last time!  (Again spent too much time here... ~30 minutes.) (August 21, 2003)[KM ~1155, 73:29 elapsed, 1:29am] Almost to the Nogent controle in the middle of the night and all alone, I pass through a town where there obviously were quite a few cycling (and PBP) enthusiasts. (August 22, 2003)[KM 1190, 82:54 elapsed, 8:54am] I slept out the rest of the night (sacrificing 5 hours) and resumed the last 36 miles after the sun came up.  But even back in St. Quentin en Yvelines, we wouldn't get a break.  There were still hills everywhere! (August 22, 2003)[KM 1223, 84:29 elapsed, 10:29am] Back in Guyancourt, with a group including a Californian rider I thought I recognized from the Davis brevets. (August 22, 2003)[KM 1225, 84:29 elapsed, 10:40am] This is it!  The finish!! (August 22, 2003)[Post-race, 10:43am] Happy 10th Aniversary, Canny... we did it!!!  I have rarely felt more proud! (August 22, 2003)[Post-race, 12:49pm] Felix, back at Hotel Le Home Saint Louis in Versailles, ready to take a shower and sleep in a real bed for the first time in 5 days!  What a race! (August 22, 2003)

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