The waiting is finally over. Riders pump their tires once more, stuff their jersey pockets with PB&J sandwiches, and perhaps apply a liberal dose of butt balm. 760 miles is a long way.
Most of the riders begin their journey on Sunday evening, with starts scheduled at 15-minute intervals from late afternoon through the early part of the evening. There is much fanfare on Sunday, while for the 84-hour starters at 5 am on Monday morning, there is only a handful of stalwarts to see them off, and no speeches, no music.
On Sunday, I glimpsed Jan Heine from Seattle riding into the velodrome toward the control, a big grin on his face. I know he’s a strong rider so was not surprised to see him looking so excited for the 80-hour start. Many riders arrived in groups, obviously friends who had trained together, encouraging each other now, reviewing their ride plans, checking lights, attaching numbers, doing last minute tasks, some essential but many just ways of burning off nervous energy. I saw lone riders obviously dealing with nerves, talking themselves closer to the start line. They knew they would feel better once the ride started.
Hundreds of spectators lined the start area on Sunday to cheer their family and friends out of the velodrome. Riders touched by this show of support grinned and waved, and some fought off the tears.
Traveling with tandem team Raschdorf/Levitt, we watched the first few waves start. The 80-hour starters disappeared quickly. They would need to keep up a strong pace to complete the hilly course in time. The next to start were the special machines which included velomobiles, elliptigos, classic bikes, trikes, and tandems. This group started more slowly…some of the special vehicles took a little longer to get up to full speed. Finally we saw Katie and Jonathan pass by, looking happy, looking excited. It seemed a good start for them. We were there for a little bit after they left, but then we needed to return to our lives.
Our friends would be in our thoughts for the next four days, but we would have to carry on doing what we needed to do. On Sunday evening, we needed to help Rich get the motor home out of the tight space in which it was parked, then we needed to return to our hotel and have dinner before the restaurant closed. On Monday morning, while our friends were making their way through the first couple of PBP controls, we needed to pack, check out of the hotel and move on to the next part of our trip.
For the 90 hours of PBP, I would feel as if I were living two lives. Part of me was always imagining what my friends were doing and how they were coping. Were they managing the hills? Were they eating enough? Were they getting any sleep? Another part of me was enjoying Paris, coffee in the afternoon, good wine with dinner, a comfy bed at night.
A lot of living takes place in 90 hours. For nearly four days, I wished for my friends to be strong in order to finish their epic adventure. They had done so much to get here; it would be good for them to finish if they could. Also during that time, Jayne and I visited the Picasso Museum and the Rodin Museum, rode the #69 city bus around many of Paris’s tourist sites, took the Metro up to Sacre Coeur, and spent time contemplating the various playful sculptures in the Stravinsky Fountain. We had the best fallafel sandwiches ever at L’As du Falafel and drank several glasses of excellent red wine. I also had the worst beer ever. I ordered a Monaco, thinking it was a local beer, only to discover that the bright red drink I was served was partly beer and partly syrup. Awful, really awful.
Most of my friends did finish PBP, and I’ll write more about this when I’ve had the opportunity to hear their stories. I hope they will have time to rest today. In a few hours we will be on a flight home and will return to work on Monday.
PBP 2015 has ended, but the memories will last, and the dreams of the next one have no doubt already begun.