Paris-Brest-Paris 1200km

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 10:00 p.m. (French time). It ended 90 hours later, on Friday, August 22, at 4:00 p.m. 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)
  • 10:00 p.m. start, 10:45 a.m. 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.
[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.  "Hey, I've done that ride," 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 & 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, 8:32 p.m.] I check in, get my race passport stamped, and my magnetic race card scanned. (August 18, 2003)[>1 hour before the race, 8:50 p.m.] 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, 9:53 p.m.] This is it!!!  Just minutes before the race begins! (August 19, 2003)[KM 141, 7:35 elapsed, 5:35 a.m.] 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, 5:37 a.m.] 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, 10:30 a.m.] 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, 2:39 p.m.] Almost immediately after Control #3 in Fougeres, I stop off at a grocery store where I purchased some "American recipe" chocolate chip cookies. (August 19, 2003)[KM ~352, 18:55 elapsed, 4:55 p.m.] At Viveco, another supermarche in a small village (I think the village Feins), I purchased some awesome pain d'epices ("bread of spice"), which tasted like cake, for just 1 Euro! (August 19, 2003)[KM ~399, 21:12 elapsed, 7:12 p.m.] 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 & time] Felix Wong on the road, feeling great at this point! Photo: maindruphoto.com. (August 19, 2003)[KM ~404, 21:27 elapsed, 7:27 p.m.] 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, 7:19 a.m.] Someone had a pet reindeer... (August 20, 2003)[KM 529, 34:30 elapsed, 8:30 a.m.] 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, 9:40 a.m.] 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, 11:34 a.m.] 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, 12:16 p.m.] 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, 12:43 p.m.] 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, "A Paris!  A Paris!" (August 20, 2003)[KM ~667, 41:26 elapsed, 3:26 p.m.] 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, 5:08 p.m.] Ravenous for calories, I stop off at a McDonald's in Carhaix... (August 20, 2003)[KM 695, 43:08 elapsed, 5:08 p.m.] ... and have a milkshake vanille. (August 20, 2003)[KM 696, 43:39 elapsed, 5:39 p.m.] 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, "... I'm not even sure if the guy on the TRICYCLE even had gears! (he did...)  And he is AHEAD of us!!" (August 20, 2003)[KM ~701, 44:02 elapsed, 6:02 p.m.] Nice French cottage on lots of green land. (August 20, 2003)[KM ~706, 44:18 elapsed, 6:18 p.m.] Another nice French cottage, with tons of flowers (as many French homes have)... (August 20, 2003)[KM ~790,  49:22 elapsed, 11:22 p.m.] 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 "Swiss Army-type" knife to cut it. (August 20, 2003)[KM 840?, 53:52 elapsed, 3:52 a.m.] 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, 7:02 a.m.] 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, 8:18 a.m.] 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, 8:56 a.m.] 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, 9:44 a.m.] 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, 12:34 p.m.] 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, 12:36 p.m.] ...and was promptly served a delicious crepe! (August 21, 2003)[KM 1002, 66:20 elapsed, 4:20 p.m.] 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, 8:06 p.m.] I saw many displays like this... bicycles covered with flowers in support of the PBP riders. (August 21, 2003)[KM 1075, 70:23 elapsed, 8:23 p.m.] More encouragement from the locals: "Bienvenue aux cyclos du P.B.P" (August 21, 2003)[KM 1084, 70:56 elapsed, 8:56 p.m.] 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, 9:16 p.m.] 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, 1:29 a.m.] 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, 8:54 a.m.] 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, 10:29 a.m.] 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, 10:40 a.m.] This is it!  The finish!! (August 22, 2003)[Post-race, 10:43 a.m.] Happy 10th Aniversary, Canny... we did it!!!  I have rarely felt more proud! (August 22, 2003)[Post-race, 12:49 p.m.] 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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