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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

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