PBP Stories -1999

BC Randonneurs Cycling Club

(More about the source of this text - Gerry's PBP99 info archive)

From: "Chuck Bramwell" <CBrams@CalTripleCrown.com>
To: "Ultra Cycling" <Ultra@cycling.org>, "Randon Cycling" <Randon@cycling.org>
Subject: PBP Memories
Date: Wed, 1 Sep 1999 08:50:37 -0700

Hi ...

This was my first Paris-Brest-Paris and I will go to my grave still
remembering so many things about it.

Like the absolute excitement of the 80 hour start with great music,
TV cameras rolling, thousands of spectators, motorcycle police
leading guys out pumping with endorphins at full throttle. (I then
went back to the Hotel and of course couldn't sleep for hours
dreaming of this lead peloton flying down the course!!)

I will always remember the endless stream of red taillights as my
buddy, TK Gardner, and I purposefully were the last in the 5:00
A.M., 84 Hour Peloton. We couldn't see where the start of the
peloton began ... it was way down the road in the darkness!! TK and
I had a blast riding side by side through forests, small country
villages, up steep hills, and around so many roundabouts.

Thanks to the Police, we didn't even have to stop at any
intersection for well over the first 200 miles!!

The forests were shockingly beautiful. The Roubaillet Forest was
like the Redwoods in California ... surrounded by ferns everywhere.
Trees that go up forever on both sides of the perfect road that
weaves between them. We must have gone through a dozen beautiful
forests like these!! As were so many things for me on PBP, this was
a completely unexpected surprise.

Certainly, this was heaven.

I will always remember the passion the French have for cyclists with
young children out cheering us on at 3:00 A.M. in the full moonlit
night. Or the older ladies yelling "Bon Courage" out their windows
with beautifully planted fresh flowers in every flower pot.

The incredible beauty of the French Country villages had a big
impact on me. I will always remember seeing the Chapel on the hill
in the distance at night. Climbing up to the center. Weaving
through the really neat bendy streets. Surrounded by buildings that
were hundreds of years old. Having fun riding around the
roundabouts. Riding by the Chapel always well lit up even at night.
Then riding fast down the downhill on the way out of town. I have
been on some Wild RollerCoasters but this was the most magnificent
and fun RollerCoaster I have ever ridden!! (PAC Tour Ridge of the
Rockies was a close second).

The absolute silence in the night riding was shoking. I loved it.
Hours with no cars anywhere. Only the sounds of crickets and wild
things in the distance.

Full moon nights. Perfect night weather. Just cycling shorts and
jersey all night long!!

Certainly, this was heaven.

I will always remember how hard it was. It was the hardest thing
I've ever done in my life. Period. It was the first time I had
ridden past the 600K mark. I had to dig real deep. I learned a lot
about myself and others. I learned a lot about what works for me
nutritionally and what doesn't (lots more to follow here).

I will also remember that all of the training really paid off. All
of the long training rides that John Hughes recommended were
remembered by my legs and body. The many 400 mile training weeks in
July really did help. I felt good on the bike even on the third day
(after working through some diarrhea that left me disoriented and
weak). The hill repeats in training allowed me to motor up the
endless steep hills. Some faster than others.

I will always remember riding side by side with John Hughes and Kim
Freitas on Day 1 for over 200 miles. They may have not known it,
but they took me to PBP University that day as they taught me by
example how to conserve my energy for Day 2 and Day 3. At night,
John was just fearless in the dark ... letting it rip at 40+ MPH
down the hills into total darkness. That night riding confidence
really spread like a virus to me ... and I thought of John's big
grin on his face as I rode with increased confidence at night on Day
2 and 3. Thanks John for all that you did to help me and so many
others have a great experience over there. "Yo da #1 Coach!!"

I will always remember smelling the barn on PBP at about 100 miles
out. Racing through the Roubaillet Forest in total darkness with
some cyclists from Audax Australia. Sprinting for the last 30 miles
through the final small villages and back into St. Quentin --
sometimes in my 53-11 gear and with my Heart Rate even climbing back
up above 160!!??!! Seeing the Race Controllers on motorcycles
zipping by us at 50+ MPH racing through the night. Tracking the
last of the thousands of the reflective arrow signs tied to the
street signs -- the arrows that pointed the way.

As I enterred St. Quentin, my good friend Debbie Hennig was walking
back to the hotel and yelled out, "Way to Go Chuck!!"

I was so pumped when I got the finish that I nearly passed out!!

Certainly, this was heaven.

I will go to my grave remembering my wife, Carol, and sons, Adam and
Alex, being there for me at the finish. It was 12:30 A.M. Friday
Morning when I arrived and they had watched my ride step by step
from the Start Line on the Minitel computer system that allowed them
to see when I made it through each of the controls. It meant
everything in the world to me for them to be there at the finish.
To hear them congratulate me even before I could see them was
something I'll long remember.

We decided early on that I would ride PBP without them supporting me
at the controls. I hadn't seen them for 3 days but it seemed like 3
years in many ways.

They had been overwhelmed by the beauty of Versailles and the

I had been overwhelmed by the beauty of Mortagne, Villaines,
Fougeres, Tinteniac, Loudeac, Carhaix, Brest and a network of a
thousand little villages on small country roads.

We were all overwhelmed. It was just a case of brain overload.

The bed felt real good that night. I remember Muffy Ritz saying in
a Race Across America video that she was "going under the covers and
not coming out for a week." I could relate to that big time.


I will long remember Mr. Lepertel tearing up at the Awards Meeting
Friday night as he expressed his incredible love for this event.
His passion was clear and felt very strongly across the language
barrier -- I was crying all over the place as I thought of the many
days, weeks, and months that he and his wife worked so hard on this
year's PBP ... and 1995 ... and 1991 ... and 1987 .... and I'm not
sure even how many he has headed up. 1,000 Volunteers. Just an
amazing organization. So impressive. So important to the French
nation. So impressive to the 3,700 Cyclists who came from all four
corners of the world to participate.


However, of all of these memories, and of so many others that I
haven't even written about yet, there is one that still chills me to
the bone. Thursday, Day #3, was of course the hardest of the days.
I was well into the Twilight Zone here. 90 Minutes of Sleep on Day
1 and 90 Minutes on Day 2 had left me "refreshed" but still many
hours of sleep deprivation going into Day 3. Then the Stomach
Cramps hit. Mike Tyson was punching in the liver. Sylvester
Stallone was punching me in the stomach. No power. This was the
low point.

As I headed for the Corn Fields for the 3rd time that morning, I

"A journey into nature
Push yourself until the pain comes
Until you think you can not survive
And then go on

Here the ego will let go
Here you will be purified
Here is the moment of true prayer
Where you will feel the power of the universal language
Eco-Challenge 1996"

Yes, here my ego did let go. I did feel the moment of true prayer.

I decided it was time for a "Power Nap". I wasn't getting any power
to the pedals. I looked for a nice grassy section of the side of
the road. Sat my bike down. Layed on my Camelbak as a pillow. Set
my Watch for 20 minutes. Fell asleep immediately.

I was awoken by an angel in disguise driven by a nice french man in
an official car. They had stopped to see if I was O.K. She placed
a Magnesium Tablet on my tongue then a Salt Tablet. She spoke
beautiful English to me and beautiful French to the driver.
Certainly this person was an angel in disguise. They both wanted to
be sure that I was O.K. and ready to continue. They waited to see
me mount my bike and cheered "Allez!!" (Go!!) to me.

>From that point, everything changed for me. I felt better
physically. More powerfully, it changed something in my soul.
These folks really cared for me when I was below the lowest point.
They picked me up and gave me a lift just when I needed it. I
didn't expect anyone to come by ... it was such a nice surprise.
They were so kind to me.

The next time I saw these folks was at the Awards meeting Friday
night. There were thousands of people there. But the angel in
disguise jumped right out at me. I went up to her after the
meeting. With tears in my eyes, I thanked her and gave her a big
hug. I was crying all over the place. I told her how much it meant
to me for her to pick me up and get me rolling again. She was so
happy to see me and so proud that I had finished. We both shared
tears of joy for that one moment. It was a great moment in time for
both of us.

I then noticed that her name tag read: "C. Lepertel". I don't know
if my Angel in Disguise was the daughter or daugher-in-law of the
Lepertels who have given so much to organizing Paris-Brest-Paris.
But I do know that she helped me just when I needed it the most --
and I will go to my grave remembering her kindness and caring ways.

Certainly, I had seen a glimpse of heaven.


So many memories. PBP changed me. Big time. Deep down inside I
now have a deeper passion for cycling.

I didn't think that was possible.

But it's very true.

"I love the feeling of my body
blending with the machine ...
Seeing and feeling my legs
working like pistons ...
The air sweeping past me,
my soul being rejuvenated."
Luann Angelone
Bicycling Magazine Calendar

I loved Paris-Brest-Paris. It was the ride of my life.


These and many more memories along with 150 photos taken on the bike
will be coming to: http://www.CalTripleCrown.com over the coming

Long live Paris-Brest-Paris!!

Chuck Bramwell
Irvine, California