Paris-Brest-Paris 2015, prologue

by dhdaines

Riding Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneur for me this year came in the middle of an absurdly hectic month of globe-trotting travel. The last week of July, I travelled to Beijing for a week to attend ACL 2015. The morning after my return flight landed in Montreal, I jumped on the bike again (after a couple weeks of not riding) to meet MJ in Vermont, where she had just spent a week taking a weaving class.

China. Yup.

China. Yup.

My main goal was to ride over the pass whose name I don’t actually know, north of Jay Peak, on route 105, on the way to our friends’ house in Marshfield. To make things more “fun”, I would climb Joy Hill on the way there, and for a moment I had also contemplated going all-out and criss-crossing back and forth across the Green Mountains via route 242 and 58 before continuing southward. Seeing as I had just flown back from the other side of the world and slept a mere 5 hours, I figured that I would see how I felt when I got to Jay, where I would turn to go back up over the mountain. As expected, it no longer seemed like a very good idea at that point, mainly because I wanted to get to Marshfield before dark.

As it turns out, I was also cultivating the beginnings of a particularly tenacious sinus infection, no doubt brought on by the combination of Chinese air pollution, sleep deprivation, and three large climbs, all on gravel roads, over 220km of otherwise leisurely riding. In any case, I made it in around 7:15PM and had a nice weekend in Vermont, including the most excellent Northeast Kingdom trifecta of the Bread&Puppet Circus, swimming in Crystal Lake, and pizza at Parker Pie, before returning to Montreal.

Border Crossings, Collect them All!

Border Crossings, Collect them All!

I had to remove the front wheel from my bike to fit it in the Toyota Matrix MJ had rented for her trip, and when I pulled it out and reassembled it I noticed that the quick-release, when opened, still inexplicably failed to clear the fork ends. Not thinking much of it, I unscrewed it a bit until it had the necessary clearance. Oh well, maybe it just tightened up somehow in the car, I thought, and quickly forgot about it.

I spent the next few days at work and the nights anxiously preparing for PBP. Trevor and I (and, it turns out, also at least 3 other riders from Montreal) were on the same flight to Paris on Wednesday night, and MJ volunteered to drive us out – conveniently, he owns a bike rack that fits well on the trunk of a Yaris from Communauto, so no wheel removal would be necessary!  I was very nervous about getting my bike on the plane – Air Transat assured us that they would have plastic bags on hand, and it was “pretty unlikely” that the cargo space on the flight would fill up, so we should just try to get there at least 3 hours early.

Finally, after work the next Wednesday, the moment of truth arrived. MJ, who is a genius at packing, had fit all my clothes and such in a backpack, with my handlebar bag inside my Carradice bag, which then fit inside a cloth grocery bag to carry on the plane. This setup was ideal for riding from the airport into Paris, I would simply have to install the two bike bags, put on the backpack, and go! And, to my great relief, everything about the flight over went smoothly (except for the flight itself, which actually went through some nasty turbulence). We snaked through a huge, but fast-moving, line, to the check-in counter, where we were given receipts to take to the cashier, who issued us bike bags and boarding passes in exchange for $30 each. The bikes then went in the bags and were dropped off at the oversized baggage counter, where they waved a magic wand over them, wrapped them in “CATSA INSPECTED” red tape, and assured us that we would find them in Paris 7 hours later.

Ready to go in the bag!

Ready to go in the bag!

Unfortunately, in the rush to get the bike in the bag, I failed to measure or otherwise note my seat and handlebar heights or the angle of my handlebars, and my bike felt a bit strange after putting it back together. Despite ending up in a strange topsy-turvy pile in an anonymous corner of the tiny, low-budget baggage claim room at terminal 3 of Roissy, it arrived relatively unscathed (except for a missing plastic cap on one of the bar-end shifters):

Recombobulation Area at PBP T3

Recombobulation Area at CDG T3

At the baggage claim area we saw Yves and Marie-Claude waiting for their bikes, which were meticulously disassembled, wrapped, and packed in pro bags… and which the guy at the oversize baggage counter apparently made them unpack and repack all over for inspection! Still, given carbon fibre’s reputation for failure when bumped or nicked, I would probably have done the same as them… Also on our flight were Olivier C, who we rode to Ottawa and back with, and another guy from elsewhere in Québec whose name I can’t remember. Good thing they didn’t run out of cargo space on the plane!

CDG Terminal 3 gets a bad rap but I really found it to be a superior experience to the one other time in my life I had to pass through this airport. Sure, the other terminals are grandiose works of modernist architectural genius, while T3 is a squat, one-story box made out of cinder blocks and sheet metal, or something like that, which looks like it belongs at a naval research station in Antarctica rather than at the main entry point to metropolitan France. On the other hand, as you step off the buses that shuttle you to the single sliding door which serves as the gate for all arriving flights, you walk between two slightly sad looking palm trees… palm trees! Not to mention that it takes all of 5 minutes to walk through passport control and out the front door of the terminal. More importantly, though, once you get out the front door, rather than being confronted with a spaghetti mess of on-ramps and off-ramps to the A1, you walk down a friendly covered pedestrian walkway to Roissypôle, from which you can take a bus to any number of illustrious destinations throughout Seine-Saint-Denis, but more importantly, from which you can also directly ride a bike into Paris on low-traffic roads and a very nice bike path.

Which is what I did (read all about it tomorrow…)