From Mortagne-au-Perche to Dreux at Paris-Brest-Paris 2015. Becoming an Ancienne.
Pedal. Smile. Repeat.
Pedal. Smile. Repeat.
It is amazing how our bodies work and how far we can push ourselves to the point of extreme exhaustion. I was existing on 4 hours of sleep with no naps, had ridden 675.5 miles, and climbed over 30,000 feet during Paris-Brest-Paris. I perceived that up to that point, Eric and Rob had taken several naps during this stage of the ride. I had not done so. Why? To be quite honest, I think it was a combination of adrenaline and my focus on achieving my goal. I never felt like I was going to fall asleep on the bike. As a result, I just kept on going. I thought if I needed to sleep, I would sleep. I felt more comfortable sleeping at one of the controls where I could have someone wake me. My concern about sleeping along the side of the road was that I would not get up in enough time to finish the last leg of the ride. I thought that I would fall asleep for many hours and miss my cut off to finish. Being a novice at brevets and this being my first time doing a 1200K, I did not know what to expect. My body was ready to tell me between Mortgne-au-Perche to Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.
675 miles down. 87.5 miles to the finish of Paris-Brest-Paris.
Things were about to get very, very interesting…
Pedal. Smile. Repeat.
Pedal. Smile. Repeat.
THE SHADOW PEOPLE
I left Mortagne-au-Perche on August 20th at 12:47 am feeling very tired. My neck was still sore. I had 48.1 miles to go from Mortagne-au-Perche to the final control in Dreux. After that, it would be 39.4 miles from Dreux to Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines to the finish of Paris-Brest-Paris. I envisioned the finish line ahead of me. My goal was in sight. And then, at about 695 miles, I started to see other things. It was very dark. It was the countryside of France and the only street lights were located in the small towns as you came upon them. All I could see was as far as my light would carry unless I was in the company of others.
As I continued along the route, I started to see shadows in my peripheral vision that looked like bats. I recall saying out loud to no one in particular, “Bats! There are bats flying right next to me as I bike!” Previously, I had seen several real bats along the route. However, these were different. In my sleep-deprived, zombie state, I started to notice when I turned my handlebars that the bats would disappear based on my position. When I came into a town and there were street lights, the bats disappeared. I rationalized it as sleep deprivation. I knew that they were not really bats but only shadows from my handlebars and lights in the dark albeit this continued for several hours — all the way to Dreux. And although I tried to rationalize this phenomenon while it was occurring, part of me was in awe of the fact that I had bats flying with me on my Paris-Brest-Paris journey.
Another hallucination I experienced was from the white lines painted on the road. I would look in the distance and follow the trail of red lights ahead of me along the route. It was a continuous trail of red lights amidst complete darkness and my mind began to play tricks on me. In addition to the bats flying along side of me, I saw buildings and skyscrapers popping up from the white center line in the middle of the road. As I saw them pop up I would remark on their appearance. Sleep deprivation has an interesting effect on the mind.
I recall saying, “Wow, you can’t make this stuff up…” I tried to rationalize and recognize that it was because I had pushed my body past the point of exhaustion. Yet, I had some fun with it at the same time so I would not completely freak out. I began to share my observations with other riders as I passed them along the route. “Hey! I am hallucinating! Are you?!” I think most of the people I spoke to at that point were in their own state of confusion as several people didn’t reply or, even speak English. One group of riders came up beside me and were speaking Chinese and a very bright light came on. Thankful for the light, I did not care they were behind me and they rode with me for several miles as I continued to talk to myself about the things I was seeing. An hour later, as they passed me, I noticed a video camera taping me. So, somewhere out there in the world exists a video of a crazy American rando gal in a Vanderkitten kit seeing bats and skyscrapers on the route to Dreux.
Halfway to Dreux, I stopped for a moment because I was having shifting issues and a guy stopped to help me. He walked towards me with a very perplexed stare. Then he asked, “Are you really there?” I assured him I was a real person and told him he would be fine and that we were getting close to the next control in Dreux. I also told him to talk to himself to keep awake, keep taking deep breaths and just take one pedal at a time. I guess I was just saying out loud what I needed to hear myself as it was working for me during this very difficult time. He rode away and I saw him swerve a bit on the road.
I continued to talk to myself to stay awake and tried to focus as much as possible. I was singing songs and wished I had some music but my iPod and earplugs never showed up as they were in the same luggage as my bike lights that never arrived. I started to talk shop to keep my mind off of the hallucinations and the difficulty I was having. My mind ran through all types of wound care case scenarios, types of dressings, the make up of the wound care team, case reports I had done, etc…
My neck soreness continued to worsen as time went by. So, along with hallucinations, my neck was becoming more of an issue. At one point, I actually wondered if I was hallucinating about my neck pain and weakness. It was getting more and more difficult for me to hold my head up, as if the muscles in my neck did not want to work and were basically saying, “We are done!” I started to use compensatory muscles in my lower neck, upper back and shoulders to get the neck extension I needed to continue to ride on. This seemed to work fairly well up until the last control at Dreux. I was at a level of fatique I’d never felt before. My true self was being stripped bare. I was in a state of deterioriation. My body could not keep up with my calorie expenditure or recover from the exhaustion. I was cannibalizing my body to survive. My armor was breaking down and the moment of truth was in front of me.
I arrived safely in Dreux at the last control of Paris-Brest-Paris at mile 724.6 miles with 4 total hours of sleep.
I was thankful with my deteriorating mental and physical state that the previous stage had minimal climbing and descending.
The dice had been rolled.
42 miles to get to the finish of Paris-Brest-Paris…