While they were meant as tokens of gratitude to be dispensed during PBP proper, some slipped away before I took the start. In particular they connected me to the pivotal controle town of Loudeac in Brittany. This magnetic attraction began before the ride, grew stronger during the ride, continued after the ride, and promises to continue doing so.
But we also wanted to cycle a bit of the course. My chain had done some sort of a Triple Salchow in transit and despite my own and the efforts of several vastly more qualified individuals refused a return to normal. So I was delighted when I walked into Cycles Mace in Loudeac to find a native son who spoke Canadian.
Jeff was a gem and was riding PBP as was Claris, the proprietress of Cycles Mace. The local Loudeac cycling club, drawing from a population of no more than 10,000 inhabitants was fielding 45 riders. This impressed as the San Francisco Randonneurs, drawing from a population region of between 5 million and 10 million, had only managed to equal Loudeac’s participation!
Several hours later I returned to find the Cycles Mace had solved the puzzle of my chain. When I asked the cost of the repair they would not accept payment. But the owner and the mechanic were delighted to receive the SFR magnets.
During PBP, 450 kilometers into the ride, I rolled into the Loudeac controle and gave the controle worker and her interpreter SFR magnets. As I left the controle on the exciting bumpercar/cyclocross course I heard the mechanic who had saved my chain yelling at me. When I stopped he came over and we hugged as he asked how his repair was holding up and I inquired about Claris and Jeff.
Somewhere after Druex I came upon a rider who was going too slowly to finish on time. He stared intently at his bottom bracket and it hit me that he was suffering from Shermer’s Neck. He spoke only Japanese but I motioned for him to pull over. I flipped his handle bars up and ran an inner-tube thru his helmet and around his shoulders. These improved his situation dramatically.
Up the road a bit I found a rider in a similar fix. He was French and spoke a fair amount of English. Patrick was from Loudeac as I learned when I asked him where he’d got his Cycles Mace cap. His aging Peugeot was not a candidate for bar flipping as all the bolts were rusted tightly. I went to work on making his helmet fit properly and attaching an inner tube to his helmet and shoulders. Apparently I was a tad too zealous as Patrick asked if I was trying to kill him.
Time was running out so I suggested Patrick follow my wheel to the finish. We worked out basic signals and made our way towards the finish as the grains drained the hourglass.
On our way we came across two fellows from the same club, The Haute Alps of Somewhere. One had Shermer’s Neck but knew what was happening as he’d had it in 2007. He couldn’t rotate his bars due to the cables but had fashioned an ingenious, artistic, and ineffectual cervical collar out of newspaper and plastic bags. He declined my inner-tube invitation but joined our “Shermer’s Neck Pace Line.”
As we proceeded at a slow and careful pace through the suburbs our gruppo grew as many riders had so very little left that they had slowed to a Shermer’s Neck speed.
We finished on time. The Japanese rider thanked me with the poignant, profound, and profuse thanks with which people of his culture transfer affection. I gave him and Patrick a magnet. I will see them again, this I know.