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The Journey - A Score to Settle - Part VII (Finale)

Posted by Vikramsinh at Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever
-Lance Armstrong 

The Ride – Day Three ..Missing a beat

Riding early in the morning, "Carhaix" – the only thing on my mind. Ride was very slow, time limits were out of reach, and eyes were very sleepy. Hard to stay awake, asleep on the bike and veered out of the road for few times. This is dangerous, I thought. After some distance I decided to sleep to avoid perilous consequences. I slept at road side for half an hour but I was already running out of time. With bad knee my bike was crawling slowly. It was Tuesday morning, no rain, bit warmer, I rode with determination. I reached "Carhaix" at 11 AM , 2 hours extra, over the time limits. I thought my ride was over, stamped my brevet card and asked about if "I can ride or it’s over?". Again I wished I could have understood the French, many of the officials didn’t knew the exact rules, after much discussion I understood that if I reach the "Brest" which is 618Kms by 7.30 pm and complete whole distance back to Paris within 90hours then officials might approve for the medal. I met another rider who lost his way, in turn jumped time limits and reached the control late. We explained the situation to volunteers; translators were of great help while working out whole thing.

I met some of my friends and talked for some time at "Carhaix". Then I left at 12 without eating much. Some distance ahead, sleepy feeling was back, terrible situation. I decided to sleep. Slept for 1 hour at roadside, many riders crossed, sleep was not quiet and pain became worse, hard time to get moving. Next control was at "Brest" 618 kms.

Road was scenic and hilly, I stopped clicking photos long back before "Fougères". The constant ups and downs were taking toll; I started to stop more frequently as pain was getting bad. After some distance I slept at roadside again, I was feeling exhausted, then the crucial moment, the decision quit or not, target was elusive, 60 more kms to ride in 3.5 hours with bad knee and exhausted body, knee was in bad shape, and most of the riders were on the return journey.
I met one of my friends on the way. Moving ahead, Route transformed from low to high traffic, cold winds had shivering effect. I tried to get lift from cars moving on the road, but no one stopped. All options closed except riding. Continuous ups and downs made it difficult and painful. Returning riders were moving fast, crossing me, I was happy for them. They were cheering most of the times. I saw a returning rider stopped at road side, I went to him and asked if he can call to control point and get some help. But after discussion we thought it was of no use, he told me ride ahead and get help in the next town. Then I rode some distance, and met Indian-Seattle guy on his return. He quickly stopped and turned his bike, crossed to the other side of the road. He suggested some exercises to relieve pain. Talking to him was nice. We thought about the options, the best bet was to ride some distance, search for help from locals. It was 6 pm by the time I reached the small hill top where some locals were present.

Just before hill top, encountered old biker, I tried to convince him that there is no use of riding as control will get closed by the time he reach there, but he was under some magic spells, he imagined that there was lot of time remaining. I met many riders who lost the track of time, and made them realize that it was 23rd of Aug and not 22nd.

Once on the top of the hill I talked to some local guys who were standing on the road side and cheering the riders. I was feeling exhausted, bad knee and cold winds, I explained the situation. First thing I did is asked him to inform to Brest control that I am quitting. He repeatedly asked me (more than 3 times) if I really wanted to quit. I was feeling more pain while saying yes. Finally he informed to control officials, the other guy with car was ready to get me to the nearest train station “Morlaix”. The spirit and selfless nature of people was always touching. It was wonderful experience.

By this time I was 40kms from Brest, total of 580 kms. We put my bike inside the car and travelled to station. I was feeling the cold, next bad news was we were late, no trains available for that day to Paris. No place to sleep. Train official helped me to find out hotel, the cheap one. The guy was never reluctant to help, we went to youth hostels. I thanked the guy from bottom of my heart for all the help he extended despite being unknown.
Inside the room it was warm and I was in deep sleep within few minutes.

Day Four… In Security

Next day, Wednesday 24th , I left the hotel early in the morning, reached train station at 8 AM. I heard from my mind “The bad new is, TGV(high speed train) does not allow to travel with bike unless bike is packed, the good news is people are ready to help”
Scanning the PBP logo on my jersey, one lady stared talking to me regarding the race. She helped at ticket counter with language and also offered any help, if needed in packing my bike. Her husband was ready to drive me to Decathlon store. When I insisted on checking other options to ticket official, he figured out that if I reserve the seat in particular compartment then it was ok to take the bike without packing it. I booked the ticket. Now I was thinking about how to spend next 8 hours on the station. train arrival time - 5 PM in the evening.
I asked the lady “when will it reach to Paris” she said “at 9” it was almost 600 kms so I asked “in the morning?” she started laughing and said “no in the evening itself, you know it’s much faster by train than bike”.

Later she told me about the tragic death of one rider in an accident on Monday night. She showed me the newspaper. An American veered across the road (presumable fell asleep) and got ran over by long truck. Thai Pram was a 58 yr old from DC Ranndoneurs and he died on the spot. This is the second death in last 2 editions, an Italian died in 2007 after falling asleep on a fast decent.

I remembered about the recent similar incident, Wouter Weylandt (who was making a descent during the Giro d'Italia when he crashed and died on 10th May 2011).  His friend Voigt said about the incident "I never was the bravest. I like to think I know my limits, know the consequences and try to stay away from trouble, but when you're young, you think you're invulnerable, that you're never going to die. Just like James Dean." I also remembered few moments of my sleepy riding and felt terrible.

Considering the statistics, ride involved roughly 5,000 riders, and something like 350,000 miles of riding, there is always probability of dire consequences if someone is not careful. I felt sad, there is so little one can do to help. But then the racing will go on. It has to, It's the best thing we could do.

I roamed to areas nearby station, waited for the train. In the evening I boarded train, the journey was fast and smooth. Few DNF’s (non finishers) from PBP joined over the course. I chatted with a German rider who met with an accident and couldn't ride so abandoned. We talked lot, shared many experiences. Lastly I reached at station, took local train to Plaisir. In the night it was difficult to find roads. I asked help from station officials, they gave one big map of the area and explained how to reach the hotel. Lastly hotel at 11 PM.
Next day, 25th Aug – the last day of PBP. we joined the valedictory function followed by the party in the evening, cheered for all who completed the PBP within time limits. Again nice time, met more riders with amazing stories. At the age of 76, Italian rider completed in 75 hours. We heard his story of PBP, he said “I was on the bike for 50 hours, and rested quite well.” While discussing about the rider with amputated leg who rode the PBP, he formulated his emotional words “I saw the guy, he was so determined. I also saw someone who is blind and riding along the way, these things made me cry”. We spent most of the time at gymnasium, collected directive arrow signs as a lifetime memory from volunteers.
Now flying date was one day ahead. I was eagerly waiting for the Saturday. Days after PBP were full of rest and packing. We flew back to India on 27th Aug, Saturday.
Before I left France, I had accepted that, the idea “I might not finish the ride, but that I would have fun either way”. Maybe that was a bad Idea (in terms of finishing), an unfinished PBP a new challenge ...A Score to Settle...might be in 2015, but I did have fun. I saw the amazing passionate riders some riding with amputated leg, with only hands and blind also ..and as old as 75 + ...the sheer human spirit that goes beyond limits . The enriching experience which will remain with me for rest of my life. Lastly I thought about Thai, his family and the wonderful people I met in France.

The End

The Journey - A Score to Settle - Part VI

Posted by Vikramsinh at Tuesday, October 18, 2011

This is not Disneyland, or Hollywood. I'll give you an example: I've read that I flew up the hills and mountains of France. But you don't fly up a hill. You struggle slowly and painfully up a hill, and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of everybody else.
 -Lance Armstrong

The Ride – Night Two…Uncertainty Principle

Night has always its own flavor of riding. Night looks beautiful when you see full moon in the sky but when its dark, strange and silent it scares you.

During the second night, I began to see the headlights of returning riders—those working as teams, with support at controls attending to every need. These were the randonneurs who would finish the ride in under 50 hours. They were riding like buzzing machines, cutting the distance with high speed. I felt envious about them and of course respect.

Out of secret control, I met couple of friends who told me its IT band pain and advised to try some exercises. I rode for an hour, pain was bit reduced which allowed me to ride non stop till next control. I was loosing the grip on the time limits to reach control points.

The road was illusive when it seemed like road was sloping downwards, the actual bike speed indicated otherwise. Riding alone in the night was bit scary, few cyclist crossed, over the time period. I felt my headlights were not good enough to show me the road. Batteries dying or may be some internal connection problem due to rain. Tapping the lights was temporary solution which worked for me in my previous rides. So, on one of the uphills, while climbing slowly, I tried to do some adjustments to headlights, tapping etc, and ..

Front part of light was off, flying on the road and it was totally dark. Only light remaining was the light on my helmet. Next moment I saw one car is coming in the same direction, sudden thought of getting my headlights crushed under its wheels caused panic. Adrenaline rushed, legs moved quickly. Standing in the middle of the road, I stopped the car and picked up the lights, moved back to roadside. It was terrible. Within next few minutes I fixed the light, working fine.. fortunate.. I started moving again.

The next incident followed very quickly. Bike was going downhill with good speed, more than 60kms/hr, following the red lights of riders ahead. Then at the end of downhill, a sudden sharp turn, the lights I followed turned illusive, as they were quite far away from me. Divider was just ahead, I applied brakes hard,
and …booommm!!!

Bike skidded within no time. This time, no serious injuries once again. Dreadful feeling surged the moment I thought about the bike, how much damage it caused damn it. Looking in the darkness, I tried to figure out, Chain was out of place. No other damages .. wohaaa….Fixing the bike was easy part. Soon I was back on the bike.

High speed needed now, time limits for next control - too close. I managed to reach the control just in time. "Loudéac" - 3 AM. Pain returned and eyes started shutting down quite frequently. It was time to get some sleep, planned for 1.5 hours sleep. The control was quite warm compared to chilly night outside. Gloves, shoes, socks were out on the table, all wet. I felt bit relaxed to getting rid off the wet feeling. I already missed last night’s dinner, and feeling hungry. I bought dinner, my plate was full, too many items. After eating some rice, pasta and vegetable soup I was done. That was not like typical me, wasting food. ‘What’s happening, my mind and body are not working coherently’ I thought. Mind was saying I should eat to cover up lost minerals, carbs, proteins but body refused to take any. That landed me in wasting too much of the food, almost three forth part in the plate.

Being the central control, “Loudéac” soon becomes a hub of hubbub, with riders from both directions trying to refuel, sleep, repair bikes and themselves. Signs of attrition are everywhere, with riders curled up in every corner, shivering under silver space blankets, on tables, under tables, on floors, outside in the rain (with and without space blankets). I followed my own way, 3 chairs lined up in a row beside the same table where I ate and I was flat, within few minutes I lost the surrounding sensations.
When my senses were back, I suddenly woke up with extreme fear
‘How much time I lost in sleeping.’ I realized that I forgot to set alarm. ‘what time is it?’.. 5 AM in the morning. ‘ahh.. not too late’. Sleep of 2 hours was not enough. Total of 3 hours of sleep in last two nights. I put my things in place hurriedly and came outside. Body felt sudden gust of cold wind. The surrounding was wet and cold, body started shivering. I was feeling exhausted and didn’t want to ride in such cold weather, but there was no escape. The next target was gradually turning difficult, at 525 kms "Carhaix". Within 3.5 hours 75 kms.

The Ride – Day Three…Backscatter 

I started to ride in the direction of "Carhaix" . Rain was stopped but cold, chilly winds were making life miserable. Sun was hiding behind the clouds, after few kilometers I saw long uphill, and pain was back, for every pedal rotation, knee was absorbing pain. Going uphill was great task with bad knee.

At the top of the hill and thirst prevailed, I looked down to bottle cage..“damn it, what is this, where are my bottles???”, to my surprise both the bottles were not at there place. What the hell..!!!
Suddenly I realized the last night crash beside the divider.. When my bike skidded. Both bottles were out their on the road but I could not realized that until now, it was too dark to see those bottles. No clue about the next water station, I turned back to the nearby place where volunteers were providing water. More painful thing – riding in reverse direction, to come back and lose height. while riding back, riders crossing me were confused that I was quitting. I heard the encouraging words.."courage". I reached to the place, purchased new bottle. After quenching the thirst, I rode back to hill top, nature was best part to enjoy, and clock was ticking, "Carhaix" by 9 AM. Go go go …

...To Be Continued

The Journey - A Score to Settle - Part V

Posted by Vikramsinh at Sunday, October 16, 2011

To be a cyclist is to be a student of cycling's core lies pain, hard and bitter as the pit inside a juicy peach. It doesn't matter if you're sprinting for an Olympic medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you're missing the essence of the sport. Without pain, there's no adversity. Without adversity, no challenge. Without challenge, no improvement. No improvement, no sense of accomplishment and no deep-down joy. Might as well be playing Tiddly-Winks.
-Scott Martin

New day - dawn
As dawn broke weakly under a grey sky, I was feeling better. Riding in the day light was more comfortable. It was Monday, 22nd Aug. I was close to the control point Villaines-la-Juhel” total 220 kms. 

The Ride - Day 2

I reached the control point at 8.30 AM. Stamped my brevet card, went to cafeteria to get some food. Tried to sleep for 1 hour on the wooden bench in the cafeteria, clock was ticking fast. I woke up soon. 10.15 in the clock.

Endurance sports can play havoc with your digestive system. I’d been enduring a belly ache for some time. I was worried about the horrid conditions of the control toilettes, but there was no other option available. Stopping more frequently means loosing more time. Ticking clock seemed paralyzing.
Controls were so cozy that you can easily spend couple of hours there, without realizing it. The loss of time at the control point – more than 2 hours. started riding at 10.45 AM.
Riders in the rain

Fury of Rain God

As I started riding, the rain God was not happy, within few minutes it started raining. Raingears were out, everyone was riding with silence. I looked at speedometer, it was stopped moving. Damn it, I stopped at roadside and tried to adjust, it worked for some time and again constant reading. So I stopped to worrying about it. Next control was "Fougères" 310 kms with maximum time limit 4 PM.
My bike
Riding in the day time was peaceful; country side views were amazing, quite a treat for eyes. I took some photographs, had exchanged words with riders along the way. But most of the time rode alone. Now I started to feel the wetness inside my shoes and cloths. My raingear was not enough to protect me from the heavy rain for long period of time. Low temperatures made it worse. On the way, just before the control point I met 3 children who were distributing souvenirs, I talked to them and took photographs, few good memories added to my memory bank.

Children with souvenirs
When I reached to "Fougères", watch was showing 3 PM. Time to rest for some time. Inside the control it was warm. I opted for coffee. One rider from US came to talk to me, he was very excited, asked me “you are from india?” I said “yes”. “nice to see you, I like Hindi movies, me and my wife always watch Hindi movies on TV, there is particular time when they air Hindi movies every week”  He said while introducing himself to me. I realized why he out of blue came to me and started talking. We talked for some time. It was nice conversation. These kinds of conversations were frequent. I would see a lot of the same people over and over. That’s the part of PBP culture, you can get really nice friends on the way. Chen arrived after 15 minutes, I clicked some photos.

Rain was not stopping, I decided to go out, tried to ride through heavy rain for some distance, darkness all around, though it was only 5 PM. I finally stopped as it was difficult to see ahead on the road. Bridge was good shelter; I stayed under with few other riders. Chen was standing nearby, chatted for some time.
After 20 minutes rain conditions were better though not completely stopped. I put my spare headlight on my helmet. That was for extra security. Anyone should figure out my presence on the road from long distance. Next control was at 54kms, "Tinténiac" total of 364kms. I started to cut distance through dark forest.

Right Knee – Wrong Time

Till this time I had no major problems in riding, not mechanical, not physical. The first thing that changed the fate and outcome of PBP was sudden rush of pain in my right knee. Around 350 kms , feeling of uncomfort, the moment knee started feeling pain, I feared that this could ruin everything.  Pain jeopardized the whole remaining ride. I applied pain reliever ointment and wrapped knee tightly with handkerchief. Next control was near, that gave me hope to get some help at control.
I reached to "Tinténiac", stamped my brevet card and went straight to medical help section. No doctors available; volunteers put some ice on the painful knee. Officials were reluctant to give any pills without prescription of doctor. But one lady volunteer turned helpful. She went outside, searched for pills, asked riders for help. She got pain killers from one of the riders. Some painkillers in my hand, unofficially; I thanked her. Then I saw a friend, explained him the situation, he gave me another type of ointment. He had issues with bike, broken spoke to taken care of, so we parted quickly.

Ride started, the pain was not going away. I was feeling it each time my right leg bends through 90 degrees. Next destination was "Loudéac" 450kms, and maximum reaching time was 3 AM in the night.
On the way there was one secret control. I entered the control, and again asked for medical help, it was dark then, and I was in pain. The best thing was that people were extremely helpful. Volunteers were everywhere, helping, cheering supporting the riders.   
I asked one of the volunteers if I can get medical help. She didn’t understand English so first she asked the translator to help, then after few minutes of discussion, she understood the situation. She called the doctor and asked for help. The doctor was ready to help. He came to the control point in his car at those odd hours, only for me. After inspection he gave some pills. I had some vegetable soup and pills. Muscle inflammation was the reason behind the pain.  He insisted to get some rest, so that medicines show their effect, but I was running out of time. There was no option left, except riding without wasting more time. Next control -  "Loudéac" , maximum time limit - 3 AM. Doctor was very kind to offer me the help without any charges; the selfless nature of all people was just touching. I started riding in the silent and dark night.

 ...To Be Continued

The Journey - A Score to Settle - Part IV

Posted by Vikramsinh at Friday, October 14, 2011

Pain is a big fat creature riding on your back. The farther you pedal, the heavier he feels. The harder you push, the tighter he squeezes your chest. The steeper the climb, the deeper he digs his jagged, sharp claws into your muscles.
-Scott Martin

Leaving for the starting point
Finally the D day, Sunday, 21st Aug. Lazy start of the day, no hurry, we had to show up at the starting line in the evening at 6 PM. so everything was slow. Meanwhile, we had to make another decision, we booked the room for first 4 days while we stayed at the hotel. The confusion was to book the room for the 4 racing days also, only for keeping the luggage, just to add expenses. Option was put baggage at some other place, may be at storage room of hotel or may be at gymnasium. We contemplated for some time, outcome of discussion favored the booking for racing days also. UK Randonneurs from nearby room were also looking for the place to put their baggage, we extended the help and placed their baggage at our room. Now we had plenty of time till start time of the race. 80 hour start was the first to go at 5 PM, then next was ours, 90 hour start, at 6 PM in the evening. I tried to sleep for some time in the afternoon expecting about next four days I would not be sleeping quite well. Till evening things were in place, brevet cards filled, water bottles placed in bottle cages, spare set of tubes, batteries and many other things in the bag, air pressure checked, all set.

Pandora's Box

In the evening at 4 PM, we started riding towards the starting point. Though we visited gymnasium for bike check previous day, we were not sure about the route. We looked for help from passerby. Language was big barrier, we didn’t know French, that turned fatal.
After riding for some distance on the route shown by people, we heard cheering, saw all people were cheering us on the both sides of the road. Something was wrong, realization - we were on the actual race route, what the hell ..!!!
legs stopped pedaling…. We understood what exactly happened, Earlier people thought we were asking for the actual race route, and they shown that route, and we went on the racing route before even going to starting point.. what an irony

After discussing with few people standing on the road side, we were headed for correct track. This time we made no mistake in understanding the route…
But once again ..omen was not good . I was riding at bit high speed and suddenly I saw a woman was just ahead of me, on the road, in my way, walking with baby in the baby sitter. I didn’t get any time to put my brakes as I was not expecting anyone on the road. And the next moment..
Within flash of time I crashed.. what the hell !!!
I got some injuries, bruises (again deep purple patch of clotted blood on upper part of left thigh) but bike was fine. Just head light was out of place, which I fixed immediately and then adjusted handlebar. One of my water bottles jumped on the road and got emptied on the spot. The water mixed with glucose all over the road.
Sea of Riders
Now it was serious issue. Thousands of ugly thoughts.. Fortunately everyone was free from any serious injuries, lady was furious. I thought, why this is happening at this crucial point of time. Thankfully situation didn’t turn worse. 10-15 people were gathered at site, After some commotion, it was settled and we started riding again.. 
Goals for motivation

At last we reached to Guyancourt, met some friends and other Indian participants. Once inside the line up area, I saw long queue of riders, moving along the periphery of a football ground, all waiting for there turn. While standing in the queue all riders were closely spaced, moving inch by inch. That provided the chance to talk with other riders. Seattle randonneurs were distributing small souvenirs. Williamsons from Seattle, who was standing besides me, introduced himself and chatted for a while, he mentioned his wife is Indian. What I liked was the list on the paper stuck to his handle bar, the goals he wanted to focus on, whenever he would have need motivation, the list was there. What a nice idea to get motivated. He showed me one of the goals was making new friends.

When we moved the half of the distance, local TV reporter came to me and asked “how are you feeling, are you afraid of such a formidable ride?” and added few other questions. I replied with great enthusiasm as I was very excited to be a part of such amazing and wonderful journey. “I am not at all worried about the ride, of course 1230 kms in 90 hours is daunting challenge but If you never try things you might fail at, life would be more boring. I will enjoy the ride either way, the experience is so enriching that its worth living. I will ride slow and steady so that I won’t miss any fun and beauty of nature”
Here we go
Then finally our group reached the end point, where bunch of 500 riders was leaving after each 20 minutes, it took 2 hours for us to actually start the ride, organizers provided magnetic chip that can detect the location and our timings to reach controls points. Official website was getting updated with each control point timing of riders.
Standing in the queue for 2 hours we lost much energy in excitement, with nerves jumping and adrenalin pumping.  We started in the last “wave” at 8 PM, on the same route earlier we followed. People were cheering on the both sides of road, the feeling was amazing. Extended hands to cheer the riders, throwing punches while yelling “allez! allez! allez!” and “bonne route! bonne courage!”, I was careful while throwing punches, as big crowd riding closely, I worried about the collision, Veterans had warned me not to get swept up in the starting frenzy; we had 1230km to go. The start was good, no crash and no mechanical failures.

The Ride - Day 1 (First Sleepless Night)

Evening has its most beautiful color effects in the sky. Initial route was woody forest.  One can see riders having mechanical problems, standing on the road sides with their bikes. I hoped for the best. Around 9 PM darkness started to spread. Now I was riding alone (no known friends) with other riders. I could clearly see the whole route was glowing with tail lights. Thousands of red tail-lights, undulating over the landscape, towards the horizon. At times, this flickering snake of lights sends a daunting message about the route ahead. Whole area was under darkness, nothing can be seen expect the small patch of road over which headlights were focused. Forest which was looking beautiful in the twilight, turned scary.  I reminded myself that I was not hallucinating, that I was indeed speeding through a 200 square-kilometres forest in France, in the middle of the night. It was critical not to touch the wheel of a bike in front of me.
Tail lights in the night

Night was cold, more than I expected.  It was mistake not to take extra protection from cold. Small villages came and go at regular intervals. Every village seemed to precede or follow a sharp climb. Stone walls passed by, painted by dancing headlight beams.
The experience was so rich, in every village people were waiting for the riders, outside their homes, extending every help. Water bottles lined up on tables. The immense support and generosity of the people along the route, who stood out late into the night in the rain giving cheer, coffee, food and encouragement to the participants … all overwhelmed me. It was amazing and wonderful.
Mortangne-au-Perche First rest point
First rest point was at 140 kms "Mortagne-au-Perche". It took 8 hrs to reach there; I took few breaks of 5 minutes till this time. It was 4 AM in the night, I rested for some time, ate some food. I met to some of friends at control point and chatted for some time. One volunteer came closer while we were talking, he told us that one of the Indian cyclists had problem with his bike and they are going for the help. We were not sure about the cyclist. I already spent more time than planned at control. So I left, It was cold out there, and the next control point was “Villaines-la-Juhel”  220 kms. And I was not feeling sleepy, first night was almost over. Riding through the dark night, I was waiting for sun to shine and illuminate all life around me.

...To Be Continued

The Journey - A Score to Settle - Part III

Posted by Vikramsinh at Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The most extreme conditions require the most extreme response, and for some individuals, the call to that response is vitality itself. . . .The integrity and self-esteem gained from winning the battle against extremity are the richest treasures in my life.
- Diana Nyad ( U.S. long–distance swimmer)

We started our journey to dream destination – Paris. All official woes were over. Gradual realization of dream, that was waiting for long time in the hearts of all randonneurs.

Paris, Riding Delights and N12

Carrying bike box was challenge
It was Thursday (16th Aug) morning when we landed in Paris. Airport to hotel distance – 50 kms. RER Train was best (and cheapest) option. It took 9 hours and 17 Euros to reach the destination. We had to change 3 trains and finally boarded bus. Carrying the bike box all along the way was great challenge. We were so irritated that we opened boxes and started assembling bikes on the bus stop while waiting for bus. Travelling expense (17 Euros approx Rs. 1100) was quite at higher end compared to usual fares in India but that was just trailer, later on the last day while returning, we hired taxi to get to airport from the hotel. With 2 bike boxes inside the taxi, we paid the amount beyond our imagination. The bloody 150 Euros (approx Rs. 10000). Lesson learned – never hire taxi in Paris for travelling unless you are in dire need or super rich. 
Assembling bike
Once we settled in the hotel. Plenty of free time, theme of the day – explore, explore, explore. Paris - city rich of culture and beauty. Though we knew very little about routes and language; roaming around was joyful. Next four days were full of wandering to all the places mostly on bike. We were exploring surrounding area, beautiful countryside....and modern Paris.  Experience was blissful...
Riding on roads was joyride, smooth, clean roads without any bumps. Very different feeling from India, bikers were getting high priority over the cars and other vehicles. Cars were stopping to give way to bikers. They never tried to overtake in hurry, without having enough space available on the road. The only thing to adjust was left hand driving, total reverse condition from India. Riding on the right side of the road, in the right most lane, took more time for mental adjustment. Many times we went on the wrong side of the road.
I missed Indian food
Food - difficult to survive. I missed Indian food very much throughout the tour. As a vegetarian I faced much problem to cope up with the new food. Bread, pizza and fruits were the main food items for whole stay. That didn’t provide the required nourishment. 

Our hotel was in Plaisir, town on outskirts of Paris, near the starting point of the PBP. Other group of Indian riders stayed at another hotel in Maurepas. That became the meeting point for all Indian riders and many other randonneurs from other countries, who created good friendship bonds. Dinner meetings were full of fun and laughter, sharing of experiences. During one of such meetings, some one asked to Chen, a randonneur form Canada who came for PBP 3rd time, “what are your suggestions? Any tips for the PBP as we are the first timers” he replied “PBP 2011 is already over. I can give you tips for 2015 (the next PBP)” that became amusing joke for quite some time.

Chen as a Translator at gymnasium, with volunteer 
Some other day some one asked him “what is your first name?” he replied “you can call me as Chen, I don’t like people to call me by my first name, by the way, it’s Patrick or sometimes I say Idiot”. These kind of light conversations created good memories to treasure rest of the life.

One thing that could have turned disastrous was riding on the national highway - N12. PBP was ending on 25th and my flying date back to India was 27th so I was desperate to go to Paris before PBP, especially for Eiffel tower. Consequently On Thursday (19th Aug), four of us who stayed at Plaisir, planned to go to Paris on bike. Unknown to routes to Paris we followed the arrows on the sign posts along the way, which landed us on the N12 which is national highway connecting Paris and Brest through Dreux and Rennes. Cycling on the national highway is strictly prohibited; which we know vaguely, we started riding straight to Paris.
Heavy traffic on the highway was moving fast, vehicles were flying at high speed, and people were staring at us with strange looks. We wondered what was wrong. After riding more than 20kms, suddenly yellow van slowed down and stopped in front of us, at the road side. Doors opened, two officials out.
What the hell.. !!! Mind was buzzing with so many questions, whether we have to pay for the mistake, are they police or just another authority, how serious it is, how much fine we have to pay, in worst case scenario could this end up into the jail, how to get out of this shit ..
Officials confronted us and asked the obvious question, why were we riding on the N12 despite it was prohibited. Enquired other details. All conversation in French, we pretended to unaware of the rules, after brief discussion they asked us to put our bikes inside the van. Gradually all the questions disappeared from the buzzing mind. Officials turned very helpful. They took us to the place nearby Paris and left us on the road where cycling was permitted. Relaxed, out of trouble, we thanked them and finally to God. Chen said “hey, you are lucky guys, someone didn’t hit you” when later we described the whole episode to him.

Bike Check – The Day Before D Day

Bike check – the first flavor of PBP. It is an integral part of PBP, where officials check bikes for minimum standards. Head and tail lights, reflective vest, no loose parts. The day when one can realize the true spirit of PBP first time. PBP is such a legendary fantasy, by entering this mythical ride, participants will test their cycling agility and their human endurance. They will strive to obtain their Personal Best or they will try simply to rally the arrival… but they will always do their best to live this adventure while supporting each other and building friendships with those who participate in this endurance monument, which is much more than a simple hike.

Saturday (Aug 20), the day before actual race, was reserved for bike check at the Guyancourt. As we moved towards the gymnasium in "Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines” which was the gathering point for all cyclists, we met many other riders along the way. Variety of bikes, recumbent, tandem, it was amazing. We had conversation with riders from other parts of the world.
At the gymnasium, in Guyancourt, it was like fair, the sea of 5000 riders, at one place with their bikes. It was enormous. I had never seen that kind of pool of people at one place in my life. Many amazing people gathered from all over the world. The whole place was full of riders and many volunteers, who were making best efforts to address every problem of participants. We got our brevet card, cue sheet, water bottle with PBP logo and jersey. The Super Randonneur medal, for completing super series 200,300,400 and 600 kms brevets within a year.
With Samim
Once official bike check was over, we had plenty of time in the afternoon so we spent quite some time there. Met the whole Indian team, including Samim Rizvi (First and only Indian to complete Race Across America, grueling 5000 kms race within 12 days, just monumental) who is in my list of inspirational people and the other Indian origin Seattle randonneur, it was very happy and joyful time. All riders were full of energy, Showing super enthusiasm and camaraderie with the other randonneurs from around the world. Intense passion and sheer beauty of the moment can only be experienced by being there at that moment. 

Discussions about the weather forecast were dreadful. Expected rain on Sunday and Monday. One Indian randonneur warned about bad weather, he said in alarming voice, “the worst case scenario – temperatures below 10 degrees and rain in the night near Normandy and Brittany” (this exactly turned true on the second night). Not good news, but it was not rained in last 5 days. I thought, rather hoped for wrong weather predictions. Finally we were back to the hotel in the evening thinking about the next day. While sleeping, mind was full of thoughts about the D day, the day for which we were waiting for long time, the day for which we absorbed so many sufferings, the dream day.

For more photos Click Here 

...To Be Continued

The Journey - A Score to Settle - Part II

Posted by Vikramsinh at Sunday, October 9, 2011

One of the most difficult things everyone has to learn is that for your entire life you must keep fighting and adjusting if you hope to survive. No matter who you are or what your position is you must keep fighting for whatever it is you desire to achieve. 
- Allen George (American Football Coach)

June was over and so was the horror of “B Cubed”. Wounds healed, bruises diminished, swelling vanished, deep purple patch of hematoma (a localized collection of blood outside the blood vessels) on the left side of the abdomen was almost gone. Now I was ready for training rides again. Second weekend of July, Saturday 9th July, 300 kms brevet, to some place ahead of Ahmednagar. Riding in the day light was comfortable journey though rain was making its appearance frequently. The ride was almost all alone, returning in the night with heavy and vicious traffic was appalling. Only single lane road, many times trucks and other heavy vehicles forced me to move out of the road, terrifying. Rain produced low visibility in the dark. Few times I stopped to make the way for trucks trying to overtake at high speed, no road lights. Finally at home - time 12.30 AM in the night, reading in the speedometer - 350 kms in 19 hours. Quite comfortable comeback after “B Cubed”  

July15, 1 month remaining for the planned flying date. I had to prepare for so many things along with my regular (rather irregular) training. I started to look for any help I can get from my employer, umpteen of mails exchanged. No positive outcome. Next step, contacted more than couple dozens of people who were located in Paris or nearby cities and asked them if they can help in any way. After long search I found a friend who was located in Paris. Who is long distance runner, invited me to stay at his place during the tour (Later circumstances turned in such way that I didn’t get any chance to meet him in Paris).
During the whole PBP phase, I was lucky to get as many leaves as I needed, thanks to the manager. The immense support given by my team at workplace and especially by the manager made it all possible. I was out for almost one month, though that was not the actual plan but unforeseen circumstances caused extended vacations. Extra one and half week. 

Mock Ride …Mud on the Face

July 22nd, Friday, Only 3 weeks remaining, I seriously thought for 1000 kms ride, which was due for long time. I thought about Dharwad, good place considering its location on NH4, about 410 kms away from Pune. Getting someone to ride with me was difficult; I asked to friend to come with me on motorbike. Plan was to leave on 3 PM on Friday and ride 900+ kms by Sunday night. Bike problems shifted time lines, speedo stopped working. Hand gloves and bottle cage was in need of replacement. Finally we left at 7.30 PM. till morning we covered 170 kms smoothly.

Saturday morning, it started raining, troubled fate as roads were wet with mud. Each passing vehicle was sprinkling some more muddy water, reduced functionality of brakes cut down the speed. Shoes wet, bike without mud guard gradually created thin layer of mud on backpack.

The route was scenic full of natural beauty, green lush fields in every direction. We reached 250 kms mark at 11 am had our lunch and started again. Continuous rain made it very difficult to ride at high speed, bike was crawling steadily.

Till evening we made it to Belgaum 330 kms. rain was not stopped yet, around 7.30 rain and thunderstorms were became so worse that we couldn't see anything. After one good decent bike rested on the roadside, small shop was the only shelter. Speedo was showing 355 kms. We had some spicy dishes to alleviate the hunger. The shopkeeper was very surprised to know about us. “ you should not ride in the dark and rainy night”  He insisted (rather forcefully asked) to return to Belgaum and get to some hotel for that night. Friend was also reluctant to go further, heavy traffic was scary, better option was return back to Belgaum rather than risking life.

Rain was not mitigating, we returned to Belgaum in heavy rain, stayed at hotel and had good sleep for 10 hours. Wet shoes, socks, gloves were irritating. Changing to dry cloths was big relief. When I awoke in the morning, I was refreshed and ready for ride. Sunday morning we left Belgaum at 6 AM and rain was gone, the rest of the ride was peaceful though I was feeling exhausted. We reached Pune at Sunday night 3 AM. Total of 734 kms of riding over the weekend, that was good training ride. This ride took its toll on my weight, 3 kgs gone and eventually I spent sleepy Monday at workplace.

Official Woes…

Now training ride was over and I was working on formalities. The first thing was getting visa. The process was extremely painful and frustrating. First of all collecting the documents provided in the list of required documents was big task.  A travelling agency filed my visa application on 25th July, arranged an interview on 27th.  Interview was in Mumbai, officials asked too many questions (which were completely irritating and showed poor knowledge of authorities about this great event). The situation turned totally different from what was expected. French consulate held the decision for 6 days. Meanwhile I changed my flying dates -16th to 27th Aug, and booked hotel room for the same period. Getting official documents about the residential proof in original from friend in France was next to impossible. So I sent changed dates and proof of lodging for whole stay to consulate. It was of no use. When only 12 days were remaining to leave for the event, the decision was out; your visa has been rejected (by this time 3 other riders got their visa rejected)

Reasons for the rejection..
1.The information submitted regarding the justification for the purpose and condition of the intended stay was not reliable.
2.Your intention to leave the territory of the member state before the expiry of the visa could not be ascertained.

It was quite disastrous and very unfortunate. Each day was testing patience. Following days, passed in contacting many people for help and thinking of all options available. It was like unimaginable vicious circle, again applying for visa, going through the same process. Indian coordinator for organizing brevets and other riders contacted the vice president of the cycling event. At that time he was on vacation. But he was kind enough to write to the French consulate. Indian coordinator from Pune wrote the guarantee for us. With all these efforts we reapplied, this time consulate became bit lenient and issued visa to couple of participants.

My next interview was arranged on 10th Aug Wednesday, last interview among the unfortunate 4 who applied for second time. Travelling toMumbai, despite of engagements at workplace was repulsive. I tried to trade off this by visiting workplace location in Mumbai. On Wednesday, I was waiting at consulate and got the news that embassy denied visa for 3rd participant (whose visa got rejected earlier). My turn to try luck. Interview was same; once again consulate held the decision for one day, same as they did for 3rd participant so I was almost sure about rejection. This was going intensely painful and disappointing. I contacted all known high profile connections who might have helped..

The next day, Thursday, same visa office, again same interview, same questions ... and finally the officer agreed to provide the visa on the condition that I will report to the visa office once back in India. Thank god, somehow it was over..

By this time flying date was very close, only 3 days to go and I had to prepare so many things. Stressful days ahead...

Keeping all the stuff in place.. packing bike.. all in rainy weather .. complying to the airlines rules for maximum weight, dismantled bike dimensions and baggage specifications.. getting bike box.. all official documents, hundreds of small things and I was almost all alone .. finally somehow I placed all things in place, on Monday (15th Aug) morning left for Mumbai with one other cyclist friend... there we met to other 2 friends. Flight departure was at 2 AM in the night.

Once at the airport, first thing we did is to check weight of bike box, everyone was checking if it was not over 23 kgs. Now we had a problem, one bike box was over the specified weight, we cut the packing of bike boxes and distributed few things in our other bike boxes. The next thing was to get currency exchanged which turned out to be very expensive  for me (75 Rs/Euro instead of standard exchange rate 65 Rs/Euro). As we moved in the queue for check in baggage, subsequent barrier was waiting. “What’s in the bike box?” officials asked skeptically. Again we had to open our bike boxes for inspection and repacked. Next was migration and custom duty form. Here we lost much time convincing officials about bikes and getting different forms from them for each one of us. Finally all formalities were over and we were ready to fly. And so the journey started to dream destination..

...To Be Continued.