Friday, September 16, 2011

Chris Nadovich's PBP Ride Report

2011 has been quite a busy year with PBP and several other grand randonnees here in the USA.  In looking over the various event websites, Eastern PA riders have done very well on the big rides.  With the ancien tradition in mind of leading the way for others to follow later on, I've asked the participants to share their thoughts and comments on the following:
- your event and result
- what was unique or special about the event
- would you participate again
- your preparations, and anything you would do differently
- any links to pictures, ride reports, or other comments you'd like to share

Chris Nadovich kicks off this series with his report below.  Although Chris has only been riding brevets for a couple of years, he has shared many miles with Bill Olsen and as a result, benefited from Bill's vast experience of riding a 1200k.

-Tom Rosenbauer
Eastern PA RBA

***************** Chris Nadovich's PBP Report  ************************
I finished PBP well within the 90 hours. I rode conservatively, aiming to enjoy the experience and simply to finish without anxious time pressure. And that's exactly how it worked out. I never had less than 2 hours in the bank. I ate plenty; slept adequately; and saw enough neat stuff to last a lifetime.

Personal Note: You should know, Tom, that I never would have started PBP without your encouragement; I never would have finished PBP without your tough brevets and useful advice. Thanks for inspiring me
to have my name inscribed in the big book! 

Anyway, my PBP photos are linked here and here.

I received lots of advice and other information prior to PBP. Not all of this information matched my experiences. Here's a True/False list of PBP conceptions and MIS-conceptions based on my experience.

1. PBP is easy --- FALSE
I had a lot of people tell me things like: "If you rode the PA series, then PBP will be easy." Well, although I'm very, very glad I rode the PA series, AND the tough Englewood 600K, AND beat myself up on various other brevets and "training" adventures (e.g. a Trans Am ride) in the years leading up to PBP, there is simply NO WAY that PBP seemed anything like easy. I don't think I would have finished PBP without that training. I did not spend any time "on the edge" but PBP was, never the less, a non-trivial cycling project. Part of this is doubtless the nature of any 1200K brevet, no matter what the course.

2. PBP is basically flat -- FALSE
Much of the riding reminded me of Lancaster County. Lots of long rolling hills through farmland and small towns with churches. Occasionally we'd cross more significant grades, like the grades in and out of Brest, or near Mortagne au Perche. These reminded me of riding out west -- long slogs. There was nothing equivalent to the 15-20% gaps, ravines, and glens we have here in PA, but I wouldn't call any of PBP "flat".

3. You waste a lot of time at PBP controls -- FALSE
If you are riding on the hairy edge of the control closing time, it can be a rude surprise that the place where they stamp your card is a 5 minute walk from where you park your "machine". Otherwise, I never spent more time in a control town than I wanted to. I ate delicious sit-down meals, I took showers, I slept, I drank some beers, and I chatted with riders and whatever locals would tolerate my broken French. Not a minute of it was "wasted".

4. There's no place to sleep at the controls -- FALSE
There were hundreds of open cots at Ludeac. It was a little tighter at some of the other controls, but there was always ample room. Yes, people skip the controls and sleep in the weirdest places: on medians, ditches, under tables, in phone booths, in any imaginable place. But for a mere 4 euros, I always could have a reasonable bed and a pre-arranged wake-up nudge in the "disco morgue" that is a PBP control dortoir.

5. Always ride defensively. Assume everybody else is drunk -- TRUE
This was excellent pre-PBP advice given to me by Bill Olsen. I've been to four RAGBRAIs and I've never dodged so many seemingly drunken bike riders as I encountered at PBP. Riders would swerve erratically,
making crazy lines. They'd hammer past, then put on their brakes and stop dead in the middle of the road. They'd just stand there like idiots, blocking the way. You were never safe from the "drunkards". One time I was stopped under a street light, well off the road. I was adjusting my clothes for the drizzle that had just begun when a rider rode up and stopped next to me. He opened his mouth and I thought he was going to exchange some pleasantries, but instead he bent over and puked right in front of my feet. Unbelievable!

6. Showing up a few days early is a good idea -- TRUE
It adds to the cost, but arriving on Tuesday, five days before the start, is a great plan. I had a blast touring around with other riders -- going to cafes, restaurants, tourist sites, shopping, and just hanging out in the hotel lobbies with everyone.  Beyond the fun of making friends and seeing sights in a foreign country, there's advantage in getting acclimated before the actual ride. There were numerous shakedown tours organized by various groups, some of which rode nearby segments of the course. These helped me feel comfortable, and on start day I began with a couple hours of familiar riding. If I ever do PBP again, and if my schedule allows, I'll stay in France PBP celebration.

7. I'd regret choosing the 90 hour free start -- FALSE
The 90 hour free start was awesome! I lined up at 8:45 PM and was released to start at about 9:10 PM with my exact departure time recorded by the chip as my official start time. There were always groups of riders to join, but not crazy-big packs. In contrast, some people that lined up for the 90 hour mass start had to wait hours in the hot sun before starting. In many cases they were not riding till 8PM and they had to deal with all the insanity associated with giant peletons. Part of the reason the free start went so well was because only a few riders chose this option. There was no crowd. Still, the PBP officials were very efficient with the free starts. I expect that the free start will remain and will still be a very good option in 2015.

8. The French people are wonderfully supportive -- TRUE
There's no way to adequately describe the depth and breadth of support you get from ordinary people. There are people literally everywhere cheering you on. Day, night, sun, rain, in town or out in the middle of nowhere, there are people cheering "Bonne Route!". A little girl handed me a bunch of fresh flowers, at night, in a drizzly fog. She said "Bon Courage, Monsieur." Things like that just melt your heart.

9. Language would not be a problem -- TRUE
I have studied French, and can read it pretty well, but like anybody who's never used their "book language" to talk to actual people, I was initially shy to speak. That reluctance evaporated after some sleep deprivation and on PBP I was yapping away in pidgin French with wanton abandon to whomever would listen. Not that it mattered. Doubtless my Franglais babbling was incomprehensible to everyone -- especially my attempts at French versions of phrases like: "Where the !%#^&* did Claus hide our drop bags?" In general, pointing at things and looking pathetic were enough to get me whatever I needed.

10. Des Peres Travel does a good job -- FALSE
Knowing what I know now, I would never have booked my plane tickets through Des Peres. Yes, he can save you a few pennies here and there with "group rates" but I did not see Des Peres lift one finger to help
anybody in the least when we all needed to rebook because of the storm. I expected travel arrangements to be "pay and forget", with the Des Peres handling rebooking and contingencies (possibly charging extra fees), but that's not how it was. We bought group packages entirely at our own risk, and were effectively on our own thereafter. This was problematic because group tickets cannot be easily altered by anyone other than the group organizer. If I return to PBP, I'll buy my own airline ticket direct from an airline. Even for the hotel, bus, and drop bag, I'd think twice before using Des Peres again.

-Chris Nadovich, PBP 2011 finisher

*** Update 8/8/14***
Claus Claussen, from Des Peres Travel provided a follow-up to the travel difficulties on the return from Paris:  "... I remember that there was a hurricane on the US East Coast. I had told those concerned on Sunday Morning,  that Air France would fix alternatives at the airport, and they did. I pointed out that being on a Sunday, the US Group department was closed, besides the 6 hour time difference. Therefore I could not reach them in the US. All those who went to the airport with the transfer buses, left to the US to Boston and then by train; NY and Washington were closed to all traffic.  Therefor it is unfair to accuse Des Peres of doing nothing, I tried, but the concerned did not want to come with me to the airport. ...."

If you book with  Des Peres and and lock in the prices, you just pay $ 200 and in case  of  cancellation, you lose only  $ 50. If  you buy  your airline  ticket yourself, it is 100% non-refundable.