Bike ride through France required pedal, mettle

Theresa A. Furnari, The Daily Record Newswire

As any good attorney knows, preparation, especially for the unexpected, is always an arrow in your quiver. It turned out preparation also was critical when we participated this summer in one of the storied events of long-distance cycling, Paris-Brest-Paris or PBP.

PBP is a 767-mile ride from Paris to Brest, which sits on the Atlantic Ocean in northwest France, and then back to Paris. PBP has run periodically since 1891; we rode the 18th edition, with nearly 6,000 other riders from 50 different countries. Each rider must complete the course in less than 90 hours, with participation verified by “control” stops in towns along the way.

Our preparation for the event began years before. Although both of us had cycled since we were young, we started ultra-distance cycling in 2009. We rode thousands of miles to get ready, with 16 rides of 100 miles or more the year before leaving for Paris in August, including a ride of more than 600 miles in July 2014.

The start of PBP was unforgettable. The streets were lined with residents, wishing us “bon voyage,” “va vous,” (you go) and “bon courage.” Motivated by this support, a cool night and surrounded by other riders and a beautiful countryside, we rode for the next 25 hours through a variety of small hillside towns where children greeted us with high-fives as we rode.

That carried us for 287 miles, but the first of our serious hurdles came when we reached our first rest stop. Once we accomplished the feat of finding our hotel (the clock never stops), we discovered that it did not have any functioning outlets to charge our lights and other electronic equipment. Not only was our “rest” shortened by getting in and out of the hotel, we now had to figure out how we would preserve our lights.

Leaving the hotel at 2:05 a.m., we resorted to replacement batteries and dimming our lights when we slowed going up the many hills. We had to repeat this strategy through the balance of the ride, since our only hope to recharge was the same useless room after riding 200 more miles.

Before the sun rose, sleep deprivation was setting in. So, to keep going we started taking “ditch naps” on the side of the road for 10 minutes, waking surprisingly refreshed. (In the office that’s called a power nap.)
During the leg into Brest we tackled our biggest climb, the Roc Trevezel. It was here that we were happy for all of the climbs we ride in the States. The Roc was hard but nothing we had not experienced before. The views were beautiful and the downhill was long and steady.

As the hours wore on it became more amazing to see residents continue to cheer for riders and offer food, drink and or a smiling face. One of the more memorable moments was when a little girl frantically rode her bike down a side road to reach our route. Upon reaching us, she leapt onto a stone wall to cheer. Patients from a rehabilitation home also sat by the road to cheer. These moments, the likes of which happened around the clock, made the ride so special.

All the miles we logged in preparation allowed us to keep pushing our failing bodies, buoyed by the crowd support. With less than 150 miles to go, we stopped for wonderful crepes in exchange for the promise to send a postcard from Baltimore, a promise fulfilled as soon as we returned.

As the sun set for the last time on our ride, with about 100 miles to go, the will to succeed was challenged by the difficulty of the task. Exhaustion and muscle fatigue were setting in. Our supply of ibuprofen was exhausted and our knees and ankles were on fire.

But we had enough lighting to keep going through the night, which allowed us to push on. Although we were separated heading to our last control and not knowing who was ahead of the other, we were able to regroup after arriving there.

The rain came in the last 45 miles. With so many miles behind us, this distance seemed simple to achieve in five hours. But on the road this seemed doubtful as we plodded along. Knowing that even a slow pace would mean success, we limped along. When we arrived back at the finish line with almost 80 minutes to spare, the sense of accomplishment could not have been greater. Thorough preparation and adaptability as circumstances changed served us as well in 88 hours of riding as they do in the courtroom every day.

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Theresa A. Furnari is a family magistrate in Baltimore City Circuit Court. She is an active member of the Baltimore City Bar Association and the Maryland State Bar Association and her community association. She can be contacted at Theresa.Furnari@mdcourts.gov. Gardner Duvall is a partner at Whiteford Taylor Preston LLP in Baltimore and co-chair of the firm's Product Liability and Toxic Exposures practice group. He can be contacted at gduvall@wtplaw.com

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