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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


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