You don’t really need an excuse to go to Paris, I know. However, when many of your randonneuring friends are signed up for Paris-Brest-Paris while you are not, well, then yes, you may have some explaining to do. I’m going to Paris but not riding PBP because I did not have the mental strength this year to talk myself through the tough parts.
The Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want….” is playing in my head as I write. Yep, but if you try real hard, you just might get what you need. Disappointment and self-recrimination were my initial responses to watching myself not show up for the PBP qualifying rides. Each time, part of me saw myself riding the course– stopping for sandwiches at Wawa, turning on lights as the sun faded, riding the miles through the Pine Barrens in the dark with frogs making their startlingly loud music in the nearby swamps, drinking coffee at 1am to get through the next section–but something else in me just rebelled against what I needed to do to get to those scenes I imagined in my head. I thought I wanted to ride the grand randonnee this year, but the degree of anxiety I experienced during the early qualifying rides erased any sense that it would be worthwhile and fun. I wish it were otherwise, but it is what it is.
I decided that I still wanted to go to Paris, however. I want to see the occasion that PBP is: hundreds of riders reassembling their bikes, the pre-ride chatter that is part excitement and part jitters, and the calm focus that will take over as wheels start to roll. The army of volunteers that make the ride possible. The waves of riders starting–some as evening approaches and some before sunrise–to the cheers of supporters. And a few days later, with some work and luck, the return of PBP ancien(ne)s–their efforts a big success. Some will be smiling, and some will be using everything they have, and more, to finish. This is what I imagine. I look forward to witnessing the real thing.
I want to support my friends as they set off on their adventure to Brest and back, and if it works out, I will be there to congratulate them on their return. I want to be part of this epic event even if it is just by being there to see and write about it. I’ve read dozens of PBP ride reports; I even co-edited a book of PBP stories in 2011. I’d like to see how reality compares with the impressions that fill my head.
I also look forward to taking in a little of Paris with my partner Jayne: a few cafes, a mandatory visit to Shakespeare and Company, and maybe two or three museums and parks. Time together in Paris…having a vacation. It sounds wonderful. I know that PBP and my friends’ journeys will be in my head for those four days that they are on the roads between Paris and Brest, and that I will sometimes wish I were with them, but I feel lucky to be able to do this more relaxed trip this year.
And I’m slowly regaining my cycling mojo with shorter rides. I’m also doing intervals and hill repeats for the first time ever and finding these exercises strangely enjoyable. I look forward to seeing what cycling adventures the future holds.
I wish the very best to everyone doing PBP this year.