Following PBP to Brittany (Bretagne)

August 24, 2019 Odometer: 1262.5 miles

The one fixed date in my schedule was to be present at the start of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP). This is an out and back course from Paris to Brest then back to Paris. It is 600km (375mi) each way. I did not participate this time, but I did follow the course from the start until Fougères. Michelle Santilhano was originally planning to do PBP but missed some cutoff date for a qualifier and so was unable to officially register. We decided to meet at the start line and ride part of the course unofficially.

It was my plan to ride it slowly, stop often, and get a full night sleep each night. I did not have any time constraints. With my fully loaded touring bike, and level of training, I would not be able to keep pace with the PBP participants even if I wanted to. Michelle, with her lighter bike and better training, probably could.

We left the starting line in Rambouillet 5 hours before the official 90 hour start. Thus, we would not be caught in the complex swarm of bikes at the start line, and we would get to see the lead riders come by after they’ve sorted themselves into the fastest pelotons. This offered some unique perspectives for me.

Michelle Santilhano on the PBP course to Fougères.

On the first day we made it to the first time station in Mortange-au-Perche. After the lead riders passed us late in the day, we were dropping further back in the field, we would see progressively slower riders. In the evening we stayed in a hotel room with a window overlooking the course. It was fascinating to watch the chaotic flow of cyclists on the street below. I knew they would be riding through the night on courage and caffeine getting their first short nap after sunrise, or giving up unable or unwilling to make the time cutoffs.

On the second day we made it nearly to Villaines-la-Juhel, the second time station. At this rate it would take us about two weeks to do the whole course, which was not our plan. Early in the second day we saw several returning riders, about one a minute on average. This was not the lead pack returning from Brest. I conclude these are the DNFs (did not finish). DNF is a general category for those that decided to give up or did not make the time cut offs. I guess that with 13,000 riders, there can be many DNFs.

We met our friend Deb Banks at a cafe before Mortange-au-Perche. She was headed back to Paris with a story of a valiant attempt. She had broken her hip just months before the start of PBP. She gave it everything she had and made it to the first time station. Her new goal was to visit the Cathedral at Chartes before returning to the start line near Paris

Late in the second day we saw the first pelotons returning from Brest. They appeared fatigued but still riding strong. Though the rules only give credit for finishing the race without recognizing who finished first, PBP still becomes a race to finish first. The riders at the front of the pack all recognize this.

Stopping for morning coffee, we meet Deb Banks and swap stories.

In the town of Gorron, near the third time station, Fougères. We stopped to get a fresh melon to eat. We found a group of recumbent (velocouche) enthusiasts. They were cheering on the PBP participants and watching the real time results on the website for their own rider’s progress. The discussion proceeded, some in English some in French. I casually asked if they knew ‘Les CycloMigrateurs’. There was a resounding affirmative response.

OK, it turns out my friends Irene and Joël are famous amongst recumbent riders in this region. I suddenly felt quite fortunate to be headed to their place as guests. It was fun explaining that they had stayed at my place in San Francisco, and that now I was following in their foot steps, traveling the world indefinitely.

Stopping for fruit in Gorron, we encounter some velocouche (recumbent ) fans
Bacchetta Corsa and Schlitter Bikes are popular here.

Amongst the hot tips that cyclists share about PBP, a big one is the Crepes place about 10km east of Fougères. This place has been in operation since I started doing PBP in 2003 and probably much earlier than that. The idea is that Paul and his wife (name?) make crepes all night and all day for the duration of PBP. They give them out free with the your promise that you will send a post card from your home. We stopped in for a crepe. We explained that we were not participating. We got the crepe anyway. Good people.

Paul, The Crepe Guy
Paul’s wife. Note the stack of crepes on top of the microwave oven
Hungry Cyclists eating crepes with homemade rhubarb jam

The address to send your postcard

Komoot Frequently Delivers amazing routes

Once we got to Fougères, we left the PBP course and started using a course generated by Komoot, my digital dominatrix. The idea was to take a relatively direct route to Joël and Irene’s place near Rennes. It did generate a good route, but along the way we were directed to a path in the Forest of Liffré. The map shows a legitimate traffic circle. When we found this circle, It was like something from a lost civilization. I had a good belly laugh over this place in the woods. It would be a great candidate for stealth camping.

A forgotten traffic circle in the Liffré Forest near Fougères

Evidence of a civilization from many years ago

Upon arriving at the home of Joël and Irène, we were treated to some very fine hosting. They have an amazing place. It has many advanced ideas for organic (Bio) living. For instance, they process the grey water from their home through their garden, then into a frog pond. And that’s not all. The main bathroom uses a dry toilet which works remarkably well.

The house is in a quiet village, Noyal-sur-Vilaine. Down the road is a small organic dairy farm where they buy all their milk unpasteurized. Michele made quick friends with Alexandra, the woman from the farm. She also named all the young cows.

The table scraps from the evening meal are offered to Edmund, the wild hedge hog that lives in the hedges I suppose. Edmund repays the gesture by eating all the slugs in the garden. A good symbiotic relationship.

Edmund, a wild hedge hog is also a guest of Irene and Joel.

Joël and Irène planned a big day for us. The following day we drove out to the coast to see Mont San Michelle, one of the seven wonders of the world. It is a huge Cathedral built on a large rock out in the ocean near the border of Brittany and Normandy. It has been modified over the centuries. The first building was completed in 740AD. The tides at Normandy are large enough so that at low tide, the island that the Cathedral is standing on is actually no longer an island.

Joël and Irène gave us a grand tour of the place bottom to top. They pointed out that when the tide comes in, the water front moves so fast that one cannot out run it.

Tim and Michelle take a tour guided by Joel and Irene.

Mont San Michelle at low tide appears to be land locked

The same day we also attended a rock concert in the park and a light show projected onto a large public building in the center of Rennes. This is something I have not seen in the US, but it has become quite popular in France. Each performance is designed specifically for the building it uses. The features of the building are specifically incorporated into the light show.

Bretagne Sans Michele

Early the next morning, Michele departed for a monastery in Taizé. I stayed with Irène and Joël for a few days more. One of the joys of travel is to live with and experience life with the local residents. I got the full experience there.

Irène’s grandchildren came to visit for a week before school starts. Hugo is 5 and Eva is 7, I think. It was fun interacting with them. Perhaps I am the first adult they have ever met that does not speak French very well. Frequently they would say something to me in French which I was unable to parse. I would respond in French that I do not know French well. Eventually they felt comfortable enough to try out some English with me.

Hugo age 5 showing his alien antennae
Eva age 7 likes to make herself scarce when the camera is pointed her way

We attended a large party at the home of Noel and Evelynne in the Domagné countryside. I estimate there were 30-50 people there. Some came all the way from Paris for this party. There was a sound stage set up which was well used by many in the crowd. We were lucky to have Yves, a good friend and professional chef. He produced Quiches and Flam Kuchen, amongst many other specialities.

I played my first game of Pétanque. This is similar to Italian Bocce, but does not require a court to play. A patch of gravel worked well for us.

Friends performing traditional French folk and rock and roll.
Left to Right: Noel on Sax, Jean-Yves on Trumpet, Jacqueline on accordion, Daniel on guitar
Irène takes the stage to sing acapella.
A free spirit in his natural environment. Hugo takes the plunge

In this large group where many are meeting for the first time, there was an easygoing feel. People found it easy to be themselves, with little concern about how they may be judged. This left a good impression on me. J’aime Bretagne!

Joël enjoys one of the many culinary treats.
Just by chance, we encounter a fireworks display on our way home from the party
Joël and Irène scan the train schedules. It can be tricky traveling with a bike

I had some time to plan my travels. Now I have only about two months left on my EU tourist visa. Joël and Irène provided some good ideas and tips for travel. I decided it would be best to travel by train to Strasbourg and cycle there after along the Danube to the Black Sea. This is a popular route for cyclists.

On my last night in Brittany, Irène made a special Crepes Flambé with Grand Mariners, fireworks of the tasty kind. The next morning Joël drove me to the train station in Rennes. Irène gave me some cookies and Grand Mariners to enjoy on the long ride to Strasbourg.

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