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  1. #1
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Tips for the PBP

    I know it's early, but since there have already been questions about the PBP, I thought I'd start this now and we can add to it as the time goes on.


    If you have been to a PBP at some point in the past, or if you have completed another 1200K randonnee, what tips would you have for those who are starting their preparations for their first PBP?


    I'll start ...

    1. Bring a small sleeping bag or bivy. Sleeping accommodations are available along the way, but there are often LONG waiting times for them, and if you do happen to get in, they aren't exactly "hotel-like" in comfort. Also it gets COLD at night and space blankets don't cut it. I would have killed for a small sleeping bag in 2003, and vowed I would take one next time.

    2. Bring soap. For some reason, I could not find soap anywhere on the way back from Brest. The dispensers in the toilets were completely out and the kitchens denied having any.

    3. Bring a plastic grocery bag, or two. Any ordinary grocery bag will do. If something happens to your handlebar bag (the mounting bracket on mine broke) and you have to put all the stuff in your handlebar bag elsewhere, a plastic grocery bag is very helpful. Also, if it rains, two plastic grocery bags worn over the socks and under your shoes can help keep your feet dry (or drier than they would have been).

    4. Bring a long-sleeved wool or polypro (or other warm material) top to be worn at night when it gets cold. I packed for the killer 40+C temps they were having, then froze when the temps dropped a day or two before the PBP.

    5. Learn some French. At least learn the polite terms like please and thank-you, and the names of foods. The French people were great, and were more than willing to go out of their way to help ... but they do appreciate it if we try to speak a bit of their language. I went over last time with my Canadian "cereal box" French and had no problem getting around before, after, and during the PBP (and can tell you lots of stories of very supportive and helpful French people). This time, I'm going over with a much better grasp of the language which I hope will enhance my experience. If any of you want to know a bit of French, I can help you out to some extent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    5. Learn some French. At least learn the polite terms like please and thank-you, and the names of foods. The French people were great, and were more than willing to go out of their way to help ... but they do appreciate it if we try to speak a bit of their language. I went over last time with my Canadian "cereal box" French and had no problem getting around before, after, and during the PBP (and can tell you lots of stories of very supportive and helpful French people). This time, I'm going over with a much better grasp of the language which I hope will enhance my experience. If any of you want to know a bit of French, I can help you out to some extent.
    This may be overkill, but my library has the complete Pimsleur French courses on CD (roughly 120 30-minute lessons). I've been doing a lesson over my lunch break. You're supposed to advance a lesson when you get 80% of the responses right, so I've had several lessons I've had to repeat 2-3 times, i.e., it'll take more than 60 hours to do. That said, it beats listening to talk radio and it can't hurt.

    So far I'm on lesson 8 (outta 120!!). Tres bien!


    EDIT: Sheldon Brown's website has a complete French-English bicycle terminology dictionary which is pretty cool. Don't have the link right now, but Google should find it.
    Last edited by danimal123; 12-14-06 at 03:22 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    1. Bring a small sleeping bag or bivy. Sleeping accommodations are available along the way, but there are often LONG waiting times for them, and if you do happen to get in, they aren't exactly "hotel-like" in comfort. Also it gets COLD at night and space blankets don't cut it. I would have killed for a small sleeping bag in 2003, and vowed I would take one next time.

    2. Bring soap. For some reason, I could not find soap anywhere on the way back from Brest. The dispensers in the toilets were completely out and the kitchens denied having any.
    Was the space blanket not warm enough? I have heard some stuff about them being noisy. True?

    I am thinking about carrying a small toilet kit that includes soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Mind you, I have no experience over 400k, so all of this is very theoretical on my part.

  4. #4
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    Toothbrush (paste optional), shampoo (doubles for soap) and a travel towel (some checkpoints had showers but no...). Learning any amount of French is good. Arm and leg warmers are lightweight insurance for cold weather.

    I've always slept at checkpoints, so have had no need for a space blanket or anything else. I have always aimed at a fast first day (Carhaix for first sleep) and to cruise the rest. You get slightly in front of the main group of riders, so shorter queues, then get plenty of sleep while others are dragging themselves in.

  5. #5
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ronsmithjunior
    Was the space blanket not warm enough? I have heard some stuff about them being noisy. True?

    I am thinking about carrying a small toilet kit that includes soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Mind you, I have no experience over 400k, so all of this is very theoretical on my part.

    Space blankets are incredibly noisy! They are also about as warm and comfortable as a plastic bag ... in other words, not at all. In addition to that, once you've taken one out of the package (and spent 20 minutes unfolding it all), you'll never get it back down to the same size again. You'll end up wadding the thing into a ball and stuffing it into your trunk bag in case you need it again. There it will develop a life of its own, and take over your entire trunk bag. Then every time you open your trunk bag, it will try to leap out and make its escape, often taking half the contents of your trunk bag with it.

    I'll probably bring a space blanket in case of dire emergency, but I have no intention of using it under anything resembling normal circumstances.


    Toothbrush and paste is a very good idea ... get the small travel-sized stuff.

    Just one type of soap will do, and just a very small bottle. I wanted it for washing out one of my waterbottles after experimenting with a powdered energy drink I bought in Brest that was one of the worst tasting things on the planet. It ended up making my bottle stink to high heaven the rest of the way. If you went with shampoo, a liquid handsoap, or a liquid dish detergent, it would work for showers, for washing up in a sink, and for washing out a bottle.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    Just one type of soap will do, and just a very small bottle. I wanted it for washing out one of my waterbottles after experimenting with a powdered energy drink I bought in Brest that was one of the worst tasting things on the planet. It ended up making my bottle stink to high heaven the rest of the way. If you went with shampoo, a liquid handsoap, or a liquid dish detergent, it would work for showers, for washing up in a sink, and for washing out a bottle.
    If you are going to take only one type of soap, can I suggest you make it shampoo? Liquid soap will be too harsh on your hair and liquid dish detergent will leave your skin dry and horrible. The other advantage of shampoo is that you can use it as a laundry detergent and it will wash out better than liquid soap or dish detergent.

    Just make sure you don't pick a shampoo with built in conditioner because it can leave a bit of residue in your clothing.

  7. #7
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by matagi
    If you are going to take only one type of soap, can I suggest you make it shampoo? Liquid soap will be too harsh on your hair and liquid dish detergent will leave your skin dry and horrible. The other advantage of shampoo is that you can use it as a laundry detergent and it will wash out better than liquid soap or dish detergent.

    Just make sure you don't pick a shampoo with built in conditioner because it can leave a bit of residue in your clothing.
    Good points. And I suspect I'll be carrying a very small bottle of shampoo to use for the few situations requiring soap.

    It does depend a bit, though, on how often a person intends to shower, wash their hair, wash their clothes, etc. On the 2003 PBP, I didn't shower at all during the whole 3.5 days. I didn't have time! The line-ups for showers were too long, and I was riding too slowly. The best I got was a bit of a wipe down with some wetwipes and antibacterial gel, and a splash in a couple sinks. However, one of the guys I rode with on and off showered at every opportunity. He'd head for the shower line and I'd start riding. Later he'd catch up with me.

    On other 1200Ks I've managed a shower or two, but I never wash my hair. My hair is hip-length and tied back in a long braid. Unravelling it all, washing it, and getting it all back into the braid again is too time consuming, too big a hassle, and if I happen to plan to sleep after a shower, as has sometimes happened, I can't sleep with wet hair (that's just me). In a very small way, I almost envy bald or almost bald men on those rides!

    I've also never taken the time to wash clothes on a 1200K, although I know of a few who do give their stuff a bit of a wash (usually a quick swish in a sink - you might want to carry a sink plug if you want to do this as none will be available in any of the washrooms on the route) and let it dry, flapping from their trunk bags, as they ride.

  8. #8
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Oh, BTW, thinking about sinks, showers, and washing things reminded me of something else ... more of a warning than a tip .....

    1) By Loudeac on the way out, so about 400-ish kms into the ride, all the toilet seats had been removed from all the toilets for the rest of the journey. I'm not sure why. Also, ladies ... if they have the same secret control on the way back as they did last time, you'll encounter what might be your first (it was the first one I'd ever seen) stand-up toilet.

    2) There will be lady's and men's washrooms at most controls. However, because only 6%, or so, of the riders are female, all the washrooms are fair game to either sex. Don't be surprised to have men walk in as you are changing, washing, etc. It happened to me several times!

  9. #9
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    Oh, BTW, thinking about sinks, showers, and washing things reminded me of something else ... more of a warning than a tip .....

    1) By Loudeac on the way out, so about 400-ish kms into the ride, all the toilet seats had been removed from all the toilets for the rest of the journey. I'm not sure why. Also, ladies ... if they have the same secret control on the way back as they did last time, you'll encounter what might be your first (it was the first one I'd ever seen) stand-up toilet.

    2) There will be lady's and men's washrooms at most controls. However, because only 6%, or so, of the riders are female, all the washrooms are fair game to either sex. Don't be surprised to have men walk in as you are changing, washing, etc. It happened to me several times!
    I know things have improved in the last few years but Loo's in France can be a bit basic, and smelly. Especially away from Civilisation. For you women- Be prepared for a few shocks on the Amenity front. And for you men- be a prepared for a few shocks on the amenity front.

    I lived in France for 4 years and travelled the country in my own particular sport at the time. Biggest tip I can suggest to you is to Mix with the French people. If you stay aloof because the rest of them are foreigners, then that is what you will stay- a Foreigner. Mix with them- Talk with them-Eat with them and you will find the most Fantastic people in Europe.

    Edit---- If you are offered a colourless liquid in a bottle without a label on it to drink- Smell it first. If it is not water take care- The last Time I took some it blew the top of my head off. (Illicit Calvados). For some reason- alcohol seems to offered at the most inopportune times and it is not obligatory to take it.
    Last edited by stapfam; 12-16-06 at 02:13 PM.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member The Octopus's Avatar
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    /bump

    Wanted to move this up as a public service since folks' plans for Paris ought to have gelled a bit, one way or the other, since December. A lot of good info. to share here.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by danimal123
    This may be overkill, but my library has the complete Pimsleur French courses on CD (roughly 120 30-minute lessons). I've been doing a lesson over my lunch break. You're supposed to advance a lesson when you get 80% of the responses right, so I've had several lessons I've had to repeat 2-3 times, i.e., it'll take more than 60 hours to do. That said, it beats listening to talk radio and it can't hurt.

    So far I'm on lesson 8 (outta 120!!). Tres bien!
    I've been using Pimsleur to study Italian for next year's trip (Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and Tuscany). I'm halfway through the second of 3 levels. I listen through headphones when I'm walking to work, and I play it in my car when I'm driving somewhere that takes 1/2 hour or more. I'll repeat the lessons until I'm more like 90 - 95% right, or until I'm sick of that particular disc. On my trip to Italy last year I had studied enough to have a very limited Italian vocabulary, even that seemed to make a big difference in how people behaved toward me.

    My experience in France was a lot like Machka's, people were much more inclined to help if I made some attempt to speak French, even though my French was pretty limited (2 years in high school, back in the 70s).

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    This is a very interesting , informative and enjoyable thread. I'll never ride PBP, still working on my first century, but I admire all of you who have ridden it and those who will ride it for the first time. Sounds like a lot of fun, albeit filled with pain, stress and discomfort. Until I get past that first century, I'm satisfied being an armchair randonneur. Good luck.

  13. #13
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    Don't ride in a group. Although moral support might be nice, when you're in a group you travel at the speed of the slowest rider. Each puncture, each breakdown, each rest stop is cumulative and affects the whole group. Ride solo, go with people who match your pace, chat with them, have a laugh, and if you need to stop, let them go. Or if they stop, you can carry on.

    Don't be fanatical about checking in before eating and sleeping. You can lose half an hour or more in a long queue. If you have time in hand, and the queue for the check in is long, go chow. check in later. If the queue for chow is long, and it's day time, ride on to the nearest town and buy some bread and ham, or whatever. Don't let your ride be ruled by queues.

    Take a digital camera, take photos. After the ride, the days will be one blur, very hard to remember things.

    PBP is hard mentally rather than physically. It's hard to get enough sleep. If the weather's good and you have time in hand just crash and sleep wherever, in a ditch, under a tree.

    I'm not doing PBP this year (sob) but next tiem round I'll be 49. Ideal to do it just before 50!

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    Enjoy it...

    StewartP1511 makes some really good points. I met many more folks just riding solo and hanging with whoever was near if they wanted to. I like riding alone, so it was fine.

    Being tied to drop bags and schedules creates mental stress. We spend all our days following a strict schedule and here all you have to do is make the time cuts. No sense in making more difficult! Bringing gear for sleep stops is handy (emergency blankets cannot be repacked easily), but one never knows what the weather will be like. If it rains, sleeping in a ditch is going to be a lot less appealing, so controls wll be more packed depending on your timing.

    I hope to bring a camera this year, not many of my photos turned out in 2003, so I'll try harder this year. It's true that the it all becomes a blur and bringing a small notebook is also on my list.

    Jon

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    if you only carry one kind of soap, let me suggest Dr. Bronner's. It's a shampoo/dishsoap/laundry soap/handsoap and quite concentrated. Campsuds does the job too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chimblysweep
    if you only carry one kind of soap, let me suggest Dr. Bronner's. It's a shampoo/dishsoap/laundry soap/handsoap and quite concentrated. Campsuds does the job too.
    +10

    Peppermint Bronner's can be used for all of the above and even as toothpaste in a pinch. That stuff rocks.

  17. #17
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    if you only carry one kind of soap, let me suggest Dr. Bronner's. It's a shampoo/dishsoap/laundry soap/handsoap and quite concentrated. Campsuds does the job too.
    You guys are all WAY out of my league when it comes to bikes, but heres a backpacking tip, FWIW. If you can fit a razor in with your stuff, campsuds, or any other such soap, will also work as shaving cream.
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    I really enjoyed riding in the groups that formed up--the people are why the ride is fun for me. I didn't stay tied to any one group, though, riding on or dropping off when our goals or speeds diverged.

    I have used a space blanket, but mainly to lay on top of when stopping at night on the side of the road because the ground can be really damp. If you take it in a quart-size freezer bag you can fold it up and stuff it back into the bag without it later expanding and taking over your bike bag.

    If the formal sleeping areas are full, find an out of the way corner in the cafeteria if it's cold outside. Under a table at 3 in the morning is a popular place!

    Take some sort of alarm clock that you can use to set a wake-up call in case you get too sleepy to continue to your hotel or the control. I use a small kitchen timer so I just set the time I want to sleep--no trying to decipher AM or PM.

    Be sure to include some serious walking or running in your fitness regime if you intend to do much tourist stuff in Paris before PBP. In 1999 I was very sore from the endless walking and stairclimbing from a week of "touristing" and going through the metro stations--starting PBP on sore legs wasn't the best idea I ever had.

    Mark W

  19. #19
    Senior Member The Octopus's Avatar
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    Silly question, but what's the mosquito population like in France? I hear all this talk of sleeping outside at night, in ditches nonetheless, yet if anyone ever did that in August in the Eastern U.S., the skeeters would have a meeting to decide whether to eat the vicitim there or drag him back to base and divvy up the spoils later. The rank smell of a typical randonneur would attract flocks of biting insects for miles around. I'm guessing this isn't a concern for PBP?

  20. #20
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    I don't recall the mosquitoes being bad at all in France. Don't recall even seeing one. But then it was really hot leading up to the PBP ... so hot, they were toying with the idea of cancelling it. People were dying. It cooled down just in time for the PBP but didn't rain at all during the PBP, so perhaps the mosquitoes were all killed off.

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    Donīt do any changes for your bike just before PBP. If you change tyres, chain etc. ride least one week with new parts just make sure they are OK. Itīs not a nice feeling to find out during the PBP that chain has a stiff link or tyres has factory defect.

    Someone says earlier, donīt ride in a group. But I suggest to ride in a groups as much you can. But choose a group which suits your speed and condition. And donīt hesitate to change a group whenever you like or ride alone whenever you like. But remember when riding in a group you are gaining time to sleep and eat. The drag of the group increases your speed or save your energy on a same speed you would ride alone. Learn your group riding skills before PBP.

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    Bugs seemed pretty scarce in general--as a measure, windows are usually open on warmish days but they don't have screens.

    Mark W

  23. #23
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Have you all stocked up on taillights? I'll be placing my order this weekend!!

  24. #24
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    Okay, I'll bite.

    How many taillights do you need?

    I can see one or two on the bike and one in a bag as a spare, but more than that?

  25. #25
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gazer
    Okay, I'll bite.

    How many taillights do you need?

    I can see one or two on the bike and one in a bag as a spare, but more than that?

    That might do ... if they are well secured. Everyone loses taillights ... especially over the cobblestone, and also in other sections of rough road. I lost one, a girl riding with me lost three. The route is littered with taillights, bottles, and other cycling debris.

    If you happen to lose them all, you cannot continue to ride at night.

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