I forget which one of the Cape Randonneurs described the meal provided at the Arrivée as worthy of army canteen rations but the description was completely accurate. The chicken was bland and the pasta limp, but I ate it all the same. My body needed the fuel and I couldn’t be bothered to go out in the rain searching for something more palatable.
On the table in front of me was my plastic wallet. All this now contained was the photo of me and Ben, and a small slip of white paper saying something like “Well Done” – it may have indicated my finish time on it somewhere too. The actual brevet card was now part of the ACP process, collected up after being stamped, hopefully to be returned at the end of the year with finishing medal and other paraphernalia.
I gave up on the pasta and ate the muffin instead. It was thick and sticky, like those you get at filling station counters, with an expiry date close to the end of the universe. Crammed onto the long wooden benches all around were groups of riders celebrating and taking pictures of their friends. I felt a little sad not to have finished with some of the other Cape riders and been able to celebrate together. I made up for this with a few messages to Yoli after which, with nothing more for me at the velodrome I headed back to the bike park. I was looking forward to my hotel, a comfy bed, and a long sleep.
A handful of other riders were making their way soggily up the ramp, the rain continuing to fall. The ending may have been rather damp but conversation was lively and spirits high as we rolled towards the road where it had all started. Even with some quite heavy downpours, it was really quite pleasant to make my way back to the hotel – for the first time in four days there was no time pressure, I could just amble along. Also odd was to see cars and pedestrians going about their ordinary Thursday business – I was just another cyclist again, no more cheers of encouragement. It was all wonderfully normal.
Back at the hotel I dumped my bike in the conference room – the plastic sheeting with which it had been covered now made perfect sense as all around were filthy, dripping machines. I needed sleep, but I needed to reward myself too. I quickly checked into my new family room (with space for Ben and Yoli who would be arriving later) and headed to the bar. It may have been mid-morning, but I was due a beer. Several of the staff from the hotel congratulated me as I sat enjoying probably the best glass of Leffe I’ve ever tasted. It was exactly like every other glass of Leffe of course, but I wasn’t, and this moment wasn’t.
The beer worked it’s magic, my eyelids grew heavy and I trudged off to the room. After showering some of the stink off, there was one last card to open before sleeping. The envelope read “open at the end of your ride” (or something similar). Inside was a hand-made treat that Yoli and Ben had constructed for me. I drifted into unconsciousness with the biggest smile on my face.
I was out cold until Yoli and Ben arrived at the hotel around 3pm. I was pretty sleepy for most of the rest of the day too, although I do remember we went for a nice evening meal at my favourite pizzeria back in St-Quentin center. I was quite surprised how recovered I felt by the next morning – the pain from my knee had eased considerably, and a good night’s sleep had chased off the worst of the fatigue. Whilst Yoli visited nearby Versailles I tackled the final bicycle related act of my PBP – dismantling Jolly and packing her back down into the bike box. Ben sat playing games on my tablet as I pottered, cleaning some of the worst of the crud off with wipes before stowing parts in their respective spaces. I felt a strong desire to leave the registration plates on the bike, but they wouldn’t be staying on when back home anyway so I snipped the cable ties and stashed them with my other memorabilia from the ride.
With the mechanical work done, Ben and I grabbed a very welcome swim in the hotel pool. It was a glorious sunny day and the cool water soothed my muscles wonderfully. A beer bought by a couple of Randonneurs from Singapore capped off the morning almost perfectly, which I was sipping on just as Yoli arrived back. With an afternoon free we acted like any good tourists would, and went off to central Paris to enjoy the sights – and also get another beer of course, a proper sized one this time.
Spending time with my family really was the perfect way to celebrate the culmination of a three and a half year obsession with PBP. Without their love and patience I’d never have been able to prepare thoroughly enough to succeed at such an all encompassing physical and mental challenge. PBP was also the spark that inspired this blog, which begs the question what happens to it now? The immediate answer is that it’s too early to tell. One thing I am certain of though – the end of PBP is not the end of my passion for riding, or writing. So watch this space … the ride may be over, the journey most definitely is not.