27 August 2007

Paris Brest Paris

see this post for the background on this ride.

The 930pm start (I was way in the back and didnt leave till 11pm)
I was in one of those deep sleeps, when you are oblivious to the outside world. I don`t know how long it took him to wake me, but the first thing I remember is some guy speaking to me in French. The room is bright and empty, except for this guy talking to me and another guy with a tv camera behind him. I realize I am riding Paris Brest Paris and am at one of the controls. I went to sleep around 230am and had asked them to wake me late- 9am. That`s why the room is empty. I try to gain some composure. I touch the spandex and jersey I slept in- dry. I wonder over to the window- no rain, but cloudy. I see my other set of spandex and jersey hanging and I touch them- still wet from the rain I rode in for the last 5 hours of yeterday´s 18 hour ride. Do I wear my last dry set and risk them getting wet or put on the wet set and be cold for the first hour or so? All of this seems quite rational when the camera guy asks me something in French. I recognize him as the same one who asked me some questions in a small village we has stopped in yesterday. He is with www.parisbrestparis.tv. I explain my ignorance of the French language. He says, in broken English, `Is your head okay?´ Apparently my touching and looking came off far less rational than I thought. Can`t wait to see the video of that.
And that is one story of hundreds I could tell about my 1227 kilometer ride from Paris to Brest back to Paris. Part bike tour, part double century, part critical mass...I dont even know where to begin. The French love bikes! We rolled through all these little villages and people had food and coffee for you, little kids yelling. Great. Some towns even set up tents outside where dozens of people were hanging out (and drinking) and when you rolled by they all yelled 'bravo! bravo!'
When you are riding with 5000 people and the route is sign-posted, it is not all that miserable. Even if it did rain 20 of the first 26 hours I rode straight through. 760 miles go by quickly. I finished in 77 hours, which I was happy with. I slept about 15 hours, which apparently is a lot. I kept hearing, ' You slept how much???' Ride Hard, Sleep Fast. Or Ride Fast, Sleep Hard.

I cannot say enough about the people along the route and the other riders. In the USA Randoneuring`s reputation, unfortunately, is that it is boring and for old people. Just look at Randoneuring USA´s website (I won´t even go into how they did not want to accept Swarm! as an official club). But internationally it seems to have such a different vibe. There were far more young people from other countries and it is a well-respected type of cycling. I guess that is true for a lot of Europe- respecting things that are not respected in the US, for example a cyclist`s right to the road.

Through the first night I rode with a women from Colorado who is a 24-hour mountain bike racer. She dropped me about 100 miles in and I never saw her again. I then hooked up with a bike messenger from Dusseldorf who recognized my Team Bonobo cycling cap. Apparently a call went out from the guy who runs www.messengers.org that bike messengers should attempt PBP (and early on I ran into a kid riding a track bike from Hungary who knew Jack-crazy!). We rode together awhile, but I quit the ´fuck it, lets just keep riding´ camp at 1230am, after 330 miles and 25 hours of cycling, and went to sleep while they pressed on to Brest. Even the kid with no gloves and no bar tape.

To keep this readable, I am switching to list format:
  • I rode with a German and French guy up and over the biggest pass, working together the whole time. Outside of the teams that were there, not many worked in pacelines. We did and it was super fast and a fun time.
  • There seemed to be two ways to take this on: ride fast and sleep little or ride moderate and sleep little. The only people I saw who did what I did (ride fast, sleep a lot) were young and by themselves (that is not very many riders!). Each control had cots set up where you could sleep comfortably with a pillow and blanket!
  • Helmets were optional. Pretty cool. Lots of women did not wear helmets and a lot of the recumbant riders as well. The less their bikes looked like a a normal bike, the less likely they were to have one on.
  • Saw multiple fixed gear riders, including Emily from Boston who rode the Furnace Creek 508 fixed two years in a row. She said this was the first time she didn´t ride to a Brevet.
  • Rode with some Spaniards with beards. They were stoked. We talked Spanish and rode fast.
  • I had what I thought were bad saddle sores. Not horrific- I was able to shuffle around on my seat and avoid hitting the worst ones- but present nonetheless. There was some blood and I didn´t put anything on them, so I was scared to look at them. When I finally did, at the end, I saw that the worst one was not a saddle sore, but a 3-inch long gash. Wtf? Fat Dan, ever the funny one, said I was probably shanked by a RUSA member in my sleep for not being patriotic enough. It sure looks like I was sliced!
  • The controls had plenty of vegan food. I heard the French word for vegetarian many times. I had carried or put in my one drop bag, almost enough food for the whole ride. I ended up eating some peas and rice and some soup at a couple of controls. I also carried some tofu pate in a tube (Mexican flavor!), that was delicious with fresh baguettes from bakeries.
  • In towns, people moved aside so you could get what you needed. They opened new registers for you so you wouldn´t have to wait in line.
  • I did have some emotional lows and some hallucinations, but those stories are far better in person.
  • Any and all rain gear is worthless after several hours in the rain. Though, my strap on fenders were pretty helpful for the periodic rain and/or wet roads.
  • One of the toughest parts, mentally, was the last 30 miles and then after I finished at 4am. I had no where to go, nothing to eat and no clothes to change into, so I slept on the floor of the gymnasium in my cycling clothes, using my bag as a pillow and my space blanket to stay warm. Never one to shy away from a good night´s sleep, I slept till 11am!
  • I will hopefully get my own pictures up when I am back in California. All of the pics on this post are from www.parisbrestparis.tv

20 August 2007


In just over a day I have managed to ride past most of the amazing sites of Paris. Yesterday we rode 20 miles out to where PBP starts and it was an extraordinary site. Reality hits. Like the rain and headwinds. Nonetheless amazing to be amongst the 5000 cyclists from all over the world. Someone told me that I will see riders ahead and behind me for the entire (90 hour) ride. Wow.
Am also reading a book about the May 1968 Student Movement in France (see here for their amazing (mostly) Situationist slogans). It's great to actually see the places mentioned in the book. Will give me something to think about while I am riding across France and back.

18 August 2007

Preparing for Paris-Brest-Paris

Why in the world would anyone do a 750-mile bike ride? Because it is there? Randonnuering is self-contained long-distance cycling that fits right between bicycle touring and double centuries. It is a 'ride to finish' event, though some people, of course, race it. Paris-Brest-Paris is thee event; it started in 1891 (before the Tour!) and now happens every four years. Over 5000 cyclists from around the world are signed up, including 600 americans. There are staggered start times; I am starting 930pm (1230pm in California) Monday and have a 90 hour time limit. Just under four days. Fa(s)t Dan(donnuer) is already in Paris; after my ferry/train journey we'll meet up for bike inspection Sunday. My Seven is hooked up with a front/rear lighting system and fenders.

You can follow my progress online, here. My plate number is 4660. If you can read French, there is some sort of GPS tracking planned.
I have so much food with me you wouldn't believe it! Some pate in a tube, flapjacks, havla, Lara bars and the powdered stuff I am use to. I have a drop bag set up for Loudeac; since it is an out-and-back I'll see it twice. My plan is to ride 274 miles, sleep 6-8 hours, ride 198 miles back to Loudeac, sleep again, then ride the 278 back to Paris. With the exception of the first night, which I will ride straight through, I hope to avoid real long stints at night.
Concerns? My biggest fear is getting a flat at 3am in the rain with no around and not being able to speak French to anyone. Also saddle sores, duh. Should be a great way to see France!

More info on the 115 year old event:
French site
BC Canada Randonnuer PBP site (the better of the lot)
PBP tv? Not sure what is going to happen here.
The painfully boring American Randonnuers PBP site

From the French site(!?):
The reputation of the cyclos must not be a synonym of

17 August 2007


I flew from Oslo to Dublin last Friday to meet an old BMX friend from 1995. We hang out almost every other year. Like many of my old BMX friends, Woody has picked up road riding and brought his 'big bike' with him to Ireland. Unlike the rest of us though, he still rips on the BMX. The photo below is from the South Coast BMX blog. In Brighton yesterday we rolled to the skatepark and he stuck some barspin transfers, tail whips and tech peg tricks. All brakeless. Actually, 7 out of the 8 BMXers were brakeless. And this is no 'just use the cranks to stop' fixed gear brakeless. This is straight up no way to stop brakeless. Like a skateboard. Which answers the 'why' question. I got on someones bike and stuck some manuals. Dope. Woody actually just signed up for his first 100 mile ride, which is next weekend. In true BMX fashion Woody 1) Refuses to wear spandex 2)Pedals super hard at all times in too big of a gear 3) Doesn't understand limitations the way a normal person would.

Anyway, back to Dublin. There were two football matches while we were there which was some great insight into that culture. We spent a day doing the urban thing and then on Sunday did a 45-mile road ride south through Wicklow County. Beautiful, rolling hills and old farms on tiny back roads. Of course it rained on us, but cleared as we got back in.

Monday we took a ferry to Whales then a train into London. A surprisingly fantastic journey. Any California resident has a great appreciation for lush, green summers. We arrived in London at 930pm and hammered 7 miles to get to his girlfriend's place. It's always fun to be on the wrong side of the road in a new city, carrying all your stuff (remember I've got my damn wet suit with me from Norway), in the dark, going really fast (see note above about Woody's riding style).

Now what everyone wants to hear: what I've been eating.

Norway: When I was staying near Hamar I cooked, mostly. My host was happy to have me search out Asian markets and let me cook up some stir-fry and other things. Found some breaded cutlet things that I made an open-faced sandwich with, topped with grilled onions and tomato sauce. The four-pack cost close to $8. Norway was like, 'I'm in your wallet, killing your funds.'

Dublin: It's popular in Ireland for a 'traditional Irish' breakfast to come with your accommodations. I was positive that this would include some sort of potato, but unfortunately it never did. Baked beans and toast. Blah. We did find a nice vegetarian restaurant called Cornucopia (thanks Megan) that had very homely meals. Bangers and mash being one. I'll leave you to sort out what that is. Otherwise we ate veggie burgers and chips from some tiny take-away spots.

London: Vegan Thai buffet! There are now 3 different ones in Soho, but I wanted to eat at the same one as five years ago. Lots of options, including rolling your own spring rolls. We also cooked up some nice breakfasts; they seem obsessed with vegan sausage here. They are everywhere. Not as plentiful as hotdogs in Norway, but nothing can compare to that.

Brighton: Holy vegetarianism. Ate at a vegetarian pub. Yeah, you read that correctly. There are so many veg restaurants here I lost count. Plus Indian, Lebanese, Chinese, etc all happily exclaiming their veggie options. And of course vegan sausages everywhere.

Norseman and Eidfjord photos

The view from the shed we slept in our first night in Eidfjord

Max is AdventureSnore.
The odd places you have slept
in say a lot about the life you lead

Max in Eidfjord

tunnel on 125-mile bike course

Can you believe this part of a triathlon course?

Night before with support crew: Max (California),
Norunn (Norway), myself, Aidan (England)

Pre-swim at 330am. The ship takes racers out
into the fjord. You jump off to start the race.

Stoked to be on the bike.

More photos and stories in the August archive.

16 August 2007

Norseman Photos

Just found the official photos from Norseman! I can never manage to find the photos of me in races, but with only 200 people it was a little easier. Also, here are Max's photos.

The ship we took out to the fjord to start the swim.

I guess they didn't get my cannonball.

This is after you exited the water and they checked you for hypothermia.

I am not that stoked on getting back in, obviously.

I could barely walk to my bike.

Max handing off a jacket at the top of the first climb.
If you look close you can see the glaciers in the background.

Thanking Max for giving me the warmer jacket.

They have the internet in the UK!

I wasn't sure, but be assured, they do. Even some sun, which I was positive they did not have. Here is some stuff I cannot help but pass on. Hopefully get some photos up before I leave for France. Not sure if they have the internet there.

15 August 2007

Thoughts on Norway and Norseman

After two weeks in Norway, I have to say it was a fantastic country to visit.  The people are rather reserved, Max and I initially called it indiferent, but after some interaction are very friendly.  The country is beautiful, both rural and urban.  After being in Dublin and London, I have more respect for what Oslo has to offer.  Good times.

As far as the race, I am not ashamed to admit that I was in over my head.  Good lesson to learn now and not on the summit of some 20,000 foot peak.  Great experience and a great way to progress, mentally and physically. Am considering next year, but not sure if it can happen.  The biggest concern being financial.  Would be nice to get another full-iron race in before then, but not sure the feasibiity of that.  Am currently on the south coast of England, after some time in Ireland and London.  Will try to post some stories and/or photos. 

08 August 2007

Some Norseman pictures

Aidan`s photos. And since I am an RD and all, I have to add that I did not drink cola the whole way. I ate a lot of bananas and potatoes, but it seems Aidan did not document that. Ha.
It may be weeks before I get the photos off of my camera and online. Hopefully it happens faster than the Great Divide photos, which is approaching a year...

07 August 2007

Norseman conversation

To summarize my experience at Norseman, here is the conversation I was having with the sensible part of my brain:

215am Saturday morning, in gymnasium with 50 other people
Matt: Wow, people are up already?
Sensible Matt (SM): Of course they are. Most people went to sleep hours earlier than you and don`t want to be late getting on the ship.

400am on ship as the sun the is coming up on the fjord.
Matt: Wow, it`s cold!
SM: Duh.

455am standing on edge of ship, waiting to leap 12 feet off the edge into the water
Matt: The longer I wait, the less time I`ll be in the frigid water!
SM: Jump in you wimp so that you are actually ready when the race starts!

About half way through the swim you had to climb out over these big rocks, walk past a fire, show the organizers that you are not hypothermic, then climb back in and swim along the coast to the transition area to finish the 2.4 miles.

Approximately 724am after an hour and 18 minutes of swimming
Matt: How do you walk?
SM: Act normal so that they don`t pull you out of the race for being disoriented!

On the first climb, 3500 ft of switchbacks.
Matt: Why am I not passing tons of people?
SM: Maybe because the people in this race are actually well prepared and are not the standard triathletes who have less climbing skills than you. If you did more than 3 triathlons in preparation, maybe you would not be as surprised.
Matt: But, I did the World`s Toughest half-iron and passed dozens of people on the bike and even placed.
SM: But that race is only marginally harder than other half irons. This is way harder and twice the distance in difficult weather. Toughen up!

On the exposed ridge line at mile 105, after the 5th climb, in the cold fog and rain.
Matt: Wow, this is hard.
SM: What did you expect? You are in the mountains of Norway, on the course of the world`s hardest triathlon. Did you expect sunny So Cal weather and tail winds?
Matt: Well, no, but, you know, just saying. I don`t know. I guess, maybe.

Transition 2, after 125 miles of cycling with 10,000 ft of elevation gain:
Matt: Wow it`s not cold! I can feel my feet. Can`t wait to run.
SM: Remember how Nick told you how important bricks were and you did one?
Matt: Yeah, of course, so I did one.
SM: Just wait and see.

After 3 or 4 miles of the marathon
Matt: My feel and ankles are killing me! wtf?
SM: See above conversation, dumbass.

From mile 5 to 15 I was feeling pretty good and able to keep a decent pace. Not as fast as I`d hoped to be going, but not just shuffling. When I reached the bottom of `Zombie hill`, a 3000 ft winding climb up to the checkpoint 4 miles up, my crew informed me that I was at risk of not making the cut-off to enter the mountain.

Matt: I can run up this!
SM: If you do, you risk being in poor mental health at the checkpoint and not being able to continue.
Matt: Let`s listen to Norwegian black metal on Max`s ipod. I`ll kill all the zombies on this hill!

At the mountain checkpoint, about 20 miles into the marathon.
Organizer: You missed the mountain cut-off by 10 minutes.
Matt: Shit!
SM: Shit!
Organizer: Don`t worry though, you would not be able to go to the top anyway. We have not let anyone all the way up for the last couple of hours.

Why did I not push harder if I was close to missing the cut-off? Well, my bike computer stopped working in the rain and I don`t wear a watch. I just had no idea I was close until it was too difficult to make up the time.

Matt: Let`s walk the last 10k.
SM: Hanging out is pretty cool.

So Max, Aidan and myself walked together for the last 10k and finished at the hotel 1000 meters above sea level. I was slightly disoriented and very sore, but not miserable. We had some great conversations about life and about adventure and about what it all means.
My goal time was 15 hours. Factor in the extra miles added to the bike, the headwinds and rain, and my decision to walk the last 10k, and that adds the 3 hours to make my finish time of 18 hours totally fine with me.
Next year?

04 August 2007

Norseman whoa.

insane. unbelievable. beautiful adventure. cold water. crazy swim. tough bike, tougher run. headwinds. euphoric. friends. mountains. long day. sore feet. amazing. epic journey. hardest day ever. 18 hour finish at 3000 feet, white t-shirt (I`ll explain this later). pain. stoked. just woke up and have to drop my international crew at the train station. more later. thanks everyone who sent kind words.

03 August 2007


Norseman full-iron starts in 7 hours.

My favorite part about traveling and about doing events (or adventures!) is putting myself in some unique situation and taking in all the ups and downs of the experiences the new situation produces. This race has been on my mind for over a year; those who know me know that is much longer than I am usually capable of thinking about something. Spending 3 days at race headquarters has given us the opportunity to feel the excitement build. It is very real now. It`s not the first time I`ve said, `this is going to be the hardest thing I`ve ever done.´ But that is not why I am here.

A friend of a friend asked me before I left, `Why something so extreme?´ And I never thought of it that way (seriously- despite the word `xtreme´in the name of the race). How did I answer? That as you approach the difficulty of something like this it`s feasibility becomes real. Suddenly it is a reason to go to Norway and a time to put myself in a very unique situation indeed. The `hard` part of it is harder than anything I`ve done, but not by leaps and bounds. During the lows I have an adequate bank of experiences to draw upon for motivation and during the highs I can experience something like never before. All this in one of the most beautiful environments I`ve ever been in. And with friends who traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to help make it happen.

We`ve already met lots of people, Norwegians are very excited that we came all the way from California to be here. They ask how long I have been a triathlete and how many times I`ve been here to do the race. I tell them that I never considered myself a triathlete and that I slept on couches for two months to save money to come here to do this race. They appreciate that we sleep in the gym and cook all of our meals.

Pre-race concerns are the obvious ones: Did I swim enough? Cycling is my strength, but did I ignore it too much to swim and run? Have my two weeks of traveling before hand make me soft? Will the stiffness in my left knee get better as the day goes on?

Goal 1: Finish the swim. Period. Goal 2: Make it to the mountain checkpoint before the cut-off (if the weather is bad, you cannot finish on top of the mountain and you finish out the run on flat). Last year all but a handful made the cut-off, the year before only the leader finished on the mountain top! It depends on the weather.

Am returning to this post now at 930pm, before I go to sleep. At the pre-race meeting this afternoon they announced that they had to move the swim deeper into the fjord due to some international triathlon governing-body rule about water temperature minimums. Now the bike is 12 miles longer! I don`t mind so much, but man, it`s already going to be a long day. The race starts at 5am local time, 8pm Friday night in California. Think of me before you go to sleep and again when you wake up!

02 August 2007

First look at the swim area!

City bikes on city ramp- Oslo

Oslo to Eidfjord

Yo from a pda getting free wifi. Pretty advanced considering we slept
in a shed behind a school last night.
Oslo was a great city to be the most stationary I've been in 2 months:
4 days. Saw a natural history museum exhibit about gay animals. rode
cityshare bikes to the viking ship and thor hyerdhal museums, a vegan
buffet, a sculpture garden,etc, etc.
Epic train/bus trip to eidfjord yesterday. This is a small town with
1000ft cliffs on 2 sides and a fjord on a third. Unfortunately it is
cold and rainy.
Met some of the race directors tonight, were impressed we slept out;
they were apologetic, but we explained that we didn't care!
Now we are comfortably chillin in the local community center/gym with
kitchen access and even a tv. Very nice indeed. Less than 60 hours to
race time! Definitely getting nervous.