Sunday, November 8, 2009

Oh Tee

I was called out in an online discussion recently for going 'off topic' with my remarks. I was also accused of 'talking down' to the previous posters.

I have a pretty strong 'push back' response. You hear about the 'fight or flight' response, suprising my line didn't die out generations ago: Screw the flight, let's fight! So my immediate reaction was to start pounding the keys in BOLD CAPS, ... oh buddy you call this talking down?! Hey I wrote the handbook on snide, cynical, demeaning, and snappy retorts. I was the first editor of the New American Review of Sarcasm and Cutting Commentary used by such luminaires of the genre as Lenny Bruce, and Don Rickles. Really, you are tugging at the tail of the tiger here. 'Off topic, oh really? Who made you hall monitor?'

But I'm older now. Not wiser, just slower. The sharp tongued retort is not nearly as satisfying as it once was, and the residue of regret has become more bitter and long lasting.

So, lost in all the reaction, hesitation, and better judgement was the topic at hand: Getting ready for Paris Brest Paris, better known as PBP. The next link in this bicycle chain to the past will be forged in August, 2011. Talking about getting ready now may appear an indication of just how damaged these PBP bike geeks are, ... except: Qualification requirements are changing, and possibly in flux for the '11 edition.

It is clear that how a person rides in 2010 will influence their qualification for 2011. So, even though there are over 18 months before the riders roll out from St Quentin en Evelines, we will soon be using real bullets with no 'do over'.

here's the deal: In 2007, it could fairly be said that PBP was oversubscribed. Too many riders and record bad weather (rain, wind, cold) resulted in near record rates of attrition which essentially oveloaded the infrastructure that supports the ride. PBP goes through lots of rural French villages. This is part of the charm of the event and in good weather a rider can actually take nap in a stairwell, doorway, or park bench. But after 48 hours of cold, blowing rain, many rides were ill, and needed to get out of the elements. with over 4,000 riders there just were not enough escape valves. Riders were not prepared for extended periods of such harsh conditions so they plugged the controls, then the public spaces, then the local health care infrastructure, then the trains. I finished, but I was one of the sick ones: I left an 800Km trail of snot and lung cookies out to Brest and back. As a result the organizing body has decided that there really is a limit and they will not exceed that limit in '11. Consequently, they have instituted a fairly complex, process by whch they will allocate registration.

For the nations that sent the most riders in 2007, there will be a quota. Nations like Brazil, China, and Latvia who had very few entrants will not be restricted.

In addition, riders will be allowed to register earlier in 2011 if they ride certain qualifying rides in 2010. Each 'quota' nation is also in the process of developing a prioritzation stragtegy in the event that they have more qualifying riders than they have slots for. This too may rely on 2010 performance.

All this uncertainty makes the herd nervous, so we start hearing people saying they 'need' to know what the US priortization criteria are so they can make decisions on how to best prepare. My suggestion was this: Yes we do need to know, but we really don't need to know right now. I doubt that if RUSA were to issue it's selection criteria today anyone would do anything different tomorrow. It's most of two months between now and the beginning of 2010. The sense of urgency is really the product of uncertainty, not need. Oh, and by the way there are lots of things you can turn your energy toward that might be more productive than complaining. I chose not to vent so was deemed to be off topic. Guilty as charged.

A lot of hot air, eh?

PBP is one of my favorite things, if I never ride it again I've got more than my share of incredible memories but of course, 'how you gonna keep em down on the farm, once they've seen Paris?' I want to go back.

It's about 19 months till the start of PBP 2011. If you're seven years old that's a long way off. If you're 60 years old, it's less than 3% of the time you've spent on this earth, ... and who knows what percent of the time you have left on earth. The point is, if it is important to you, you think about it, frequently.

In 2003, once I made the decision to try to qualifty for, and actually ride the event I came to the realization that there are lots of things that need to get done befor you ever pin on your number and roll up to the start: How will I get there, how will I get my bike there, where will I stay, how much is all this going to cost me, and where am I going to find that kind of money?

Well just like climbing a mountain if you stare at the summit you might never start out, it looks too big to accomplish. So you take it one step at a time. You do today what you know you must in order to be ready for tomorrow, and you look up at the summit periodically to make sure you have not gotten off track and that there are no big obstacles looming that you need to prepare for. It literally is a journy of a thousands miles and not only does it begin with but a single step, it only proceeds with a multitude of single steps. Patience grasshopper.

I also learned a trick that both helped me to better prepare and to handle my impatience: Set a goal to do someting, every day, that will help me be better prepared to ride and complete PBP. In 2003, I set that standard for myself about half way through the qualifying rides, sometime in about April. It worked in some ways: My bike was perfectly ready in advance, I knew how to dissassemble and pack it (and reassemble it) for the trip to France. I had my passport in hand, well in advance, I had all me trasportation arrangments made. I was not cramming for the final the night befor. My fitness could have been better.

in 2011 I moved that date up to January first. Not that I needed more time but I wanted to be able to incorporate a few conditional loops if needed. We took a conversational French class through the local CC and that helped, more than the audio tapes we had relied on exclusively in '07. I fine tuned my ride strategy and lodging arrangements. I had a bike better suited to long distances that made days two, three, and four, much less uncomfortable. My fitness could have been better.

Now folks are talking about adding 12 months to that? I don't think so. I will pay attention to the qualification criteria that RUSA is likely to post soon (I expect to see something in the November newsletter). I'll orient my riding to give myself the best chance of qualifying. In that department the old Eddy Merckx maxim "Ride lots" is probably the best advice. But I won't move up a lot of the other prep stuff by 12 months.

And then on 1.1.2011 I will offically start my own personal countdown clock. I'm inclinded to invoke the "red bike directive" here: When someone asks 'what kind of bike should I get', often people say "I've got a red one, it's perfect, you should get one too!" (with enthusiasm!!) I'm sure my strategy would be perfect for someone somewhere, but I am equally sure it would be inapproriate for many. This has worked for me, I hope it will work again.

Today, even thought August, 2011, is a long way off, I think I'll head out to the shop and ride the rollers for an hour: Never too soon to work on improving fitness.


  1. Just FYI, as a moderator on Randon, I guess I am one of the three "hall monitors", and I am pretty sure that you did not hear from us about being off topic. I have to say that if people are already so stressed about PBP 18 months before the start, I don't look forward to moderating the list in the months ahead. In the past three years, we had to intervene just three times when things started getting out of control. I just hope that people "ride lots" to relieve the stress about a ride a year and a half away, instead of spending time on the keyboard.

    The point of view of experienced riders like you are always welcome, and will be an important part of the discussion between now and PBP 2011. Thanks for posting this.


  2. I'm in training/prep for PBP as well. Converted some of the items from your randon-post to my personal list. Thanks for writing.

  3. Marcello;
    No worries, It's not the law that bothers me so much, it's the vigilantees. And by the away, thanks for all yo do!

    Don't forget to get a red bike, they're the best!

    DR C

  4. Doc C

    I read your comment, and rather than feeling talked down to I took note, just like Paul above. Particularly for us newbies and wannabe first timers for PBP, sage advice is welcome.

    In fact you saved me. I've got a new bicycle for randoing on order and I was just about to go Green. I think Green is considered to be the opposite of Red, so pheew! That was a close one.

  5. CR:

    Ah yes the red/green conundrum. You have fallen into the swiftly swirling vorex of the rando enigma! Unbeknownst to many, the question of red or green is at the center of rando immutability. The answer is the true but unknowable truth!

    All of which is to say, I destest red for bikes (generally) and green is indeed my most favorite color. (Imagine a lugged steel bike, BRG tubes and creamy 'eggshell' lugs; a thing of beaty to behold. But then consdider my preference for green and my absolute strangle hold on the Laterne rouge. It's more complex than it seems.

    Luck to you,
    Yr Pal Dr C

  6. You told me to get some hippie flower color when I was ordering my bike and now you say "red"?!?

    God man! You make my life so difficult! You know how much this thing is going to cost to repaint!?