My brother asked "what for?". I said the question is wrong, the right question is "why?". And the answer is simple: "because I can!"

Alan Silva
Randonneurs Portugal Nº 20210599
Paris Brest Paris 2023

José Ferreira Randonneurs Portugal Nº201300045 Paris Brest Paris 2019

But, before anything, my eternal gratitude to the volunteers. Such an event is impossible without them, yet it is essentially a business, and I can be a difficult client as you’ll see.

I’m a bloke from Macapá, Brazil, a city on the Equator line, but had moved to Europe in 2005 and lived mostly in the UK, with a two year stint in Brittany and now between Algarve (Portugal) and the UK.

My plan was simple: I wanted to “enjoy” the ride, paysage, the riders companionship, the French food (not at the controls of course) and not be sleep deprived. So I chose the 84h time and left at 6am, Monday 21st August. It’s a long reading, be warned. Did I succeed? You judge.

# Introduction

I opted to arrive a day early. My intended start was on Monday, the 21st, and reaching my destination on Sunday would have been acceptable. However, my desire was to immerse myself fully in the atmosphere and connect with as many friends as possible, so I arrived in Rambouillet on Saturday.

Nevertheless, what was initially meant to be an enjoyable experience swiftly transformed into a source of stress: my vest was the incorrect size. I believed I had learned a few lessons from my first PBP, including the fact that the organisers tend to misjudge the sizes of jerseys and vests. In particular, jerseys tend to be one size too small, while the vests are one size too large. Given that I wear size S, I requested a jersey in size M and a vest in size XS. Despite this, I was provided with a M-sized vest, sparking my first challenge. I ended up wasting around an hour in queues, often in the wrong ones due to inadequate signage. To my dismay, I discovered that they had run out of size S altogether! I strongly declined the M-sized vest and approached one of the head organisers. He advised me to return the next day, assuring me that they would search among the materials of non-starters for an XS-sized vest, and indeed, this proved to be the solution.

My journey included an overnight ferry ride from Newhaven, England, followed by a train journey that covered more than half the distance to Paris. From there, I cycled 70 km from Vernon to Rambouillet, all while fasting. It was only when I eventually chose to put my troubles aside and joined the Portuguese group that I experienced a significant breakthrough. I was kindly invited to lunch by Filomena and Pedro Alves (V013), and at last, I broke my fast. Following this, we embarked on a shakedown bike ride and indulged in a photo session, during which I proudly donned my PBP Portuguese Jersey (hooray!).

I also found time to meet with Tor Hovland (L197) and have more food in a bakery while still searching for a place to stay overnight! I eventually found a room 30 km away and headed there. However, I had a puncture and the sealant was not enough to fix. I had topped up the tyres with sealant days before, but I didn’t do the right thing, which would be to set a new front tyre. Fixed a tubolito, after removing a ton of dried sealant in my front tyre and 5 km later I had to come back because I simply forgot my backpack with EVERYTHING! And then the tyre was flat again! I definitely gave up on tubolito (I hope Pedro Alves is not reading this… 🙂). Normal tubes from now on (which I also had) and I planned to change the tyre the following day.

Sunday, another 30 km back to Rambouillet, under the fear of a flat tyre and concerned with my sunscreen options, I stopped to buy the worst possible sunscreen ever made. I graduated in Physics but all that for nothing when I choose a “water repellent” sunscreen. I was looking for a dry, not oily sunscreen but what does “hydrophobic” mean, you nincompoop!

Anyway, solved the vest pending issue, had a nice lunch with Fintan (X001) and his Irish friend and it was really really great to see the start, see several other friends like Nick J (A140), from Cambridge, Alan P (A189), Marijke (A180) and enjoy the party. I had dinner and by then I was told showers were not working…

I went to see a mechanic, a German who was also taking part in the PBP, his 6th!, starting at the same wave as me, shamefully, I forgot his name. I was looking for a new tyre but in the end I decided to take my chances since I didn’t want the same Conti GP5000 S TR I had and I swore never to use it again. I have stocked at home the “new” GP5000 AS (All Seasons, the same old original GP5000, nearly perfect tyre IMO). I bought an extra tube though.

Then, finally to get my place for the night, in an improvised dormitory and without a sheet (I had to make up something once the room got cold). But niggles were not over. I befriended Gwyn (Z025) from the Philippines. We put our chairs (each bed was given one) near a socket to charge our electronics and stash our stuff. Once both turned to tidy things for the night and the ride, Gwyn told me: “Alan, your chair is gone!”. What? I had a fit… all my stuff was moved over his stuff in his chair and I asked out aloud who could possibly have done such a despising thing? Nevertheless I went to find another chair.

I didn’t sleep well but it was better than nothing. I asked for a non-smoking and non-snoring room 😁 and actually I got that! By 4am everybody was up and moving. Got all my stuff ready and dropped my bag in the luggage room and went for breakfast, something that I usually don’t do. Somehow I got this weird habit, learned from Nick W (from Cambridge), to go fasted until lunchtime, even if riding a 100 km. I don’t know if switching my engine from “diesel” to “gasoline” would have implications for what happened later that day, but it could be… Or would it be one of the French idiosyncrasies? They have some awkward laws and rules like: you’re forbidden to eat at your desktop 😨 (yep, you’re a child until you prove the contrary), but don’t ask me how they enforce that. I suspect they also have this hidden rule where toilet, sink and soap cannot co-exist in the same room. I’m not a hypochondriac or a germaphobe but I like cleaning my hands, with soap, of course, after the toilet and before meals.

At the start with João Pombinho

# The Start & Day 1

Finally, headed for the start, got my first stamp and met João Pombinho (+104). He had just done RAAM and was there just for fun I guess. Really nice to learn a few things with him and chat, then get our picture taken by a pretty German girl (and Germans were a constant in my ride BTW) and so we were ready for the start at 6am.

You may have noticed by now that I may be a “tad” grumpy but I can’t fault the organisation of the start. Hugely much better than in 2019. No stress and on time, we followed a paced car for nearly 40 min.

The weather was great and even though it had quite hot afternoons and a bit of rain in the end, the wind was tamed southbound most of the time for over 4 days.

Once freed from the reins of the pace car we were soon at peloton speeds above 30 km/h. Eventually it got sparse and, believe me, I left João behind when I tagged with Manuel (+150), a quite nice and gentle German with a familiar Portuguese name, doing his 4th PBP. We worked well even after the first faux-control in Mortagne-au-Perche. However halfway to Villaines-la-Juhel we split, but 20 km to Villaines I started to have colic, reduced my pace (it was quite hot by then) and almost caused a crash when Manuel caught me. I told him to keep going when I went to answer nature’s call, a first for me on a ride. Felt a bit better and resumed the ride, getting to Villaines in about 7 hours of ride, with all the stops included!

The food at the controls was upsetting, to say the least, but I knew it would be that. I have planned to ride to my Airbnb stops overnight and do as fast as I can during the day to save time for at least one 3 course meal in a proper French restaurant. It was all in the schedule for that Monday evening but I still needed food so I had soup and other things after the control in Villaines, on the way to Fougères.

Despite the brazing heat, the pace was fine and I got to Fougères, nearly 300 km, in less than 12 hours. I caught up with João Pombinho (who had overtaken me at some point) and found Fintan, which happened several times during PBP. Nevertheless, I had to use all my saved time for a good cause: to save my PBP ride. My unsettled bowels cost me a good time in toilets and then seeking the medical staff. I guess I spent more time in toilets than the guy who finished PBP first spent off his bike.

Another great point for the organisation. They not only helped me with my issues, they also lifted my morale with a good mood and nice chat once they knew I was from Macapá, Brazil, but had lived in Brittany. I followed their instructions to the letter and unless I had a fever (which fortunately never manifested), I should be good to keep going.

So, all those 90 ish minutes I saved for a nice dinner had to be used in toilets, medical and pharmacy (where I got a proper, quite expensive, sunscreen). Yet, that paid off. I reached Tinténiac and could only grab bananas. I got to Saint-Méen-le-Grand by 23:40, but lost some time finding my host address, yet in good time for him as well. Excellent accommodations but I wasted an hour faffing before real sleeping. I decided to sleep till 6am, instead of re-starting at this time. I had a good 5 hours of excellent sleep, however I was slow in the morning and only resumed the ride by 6:40, now already 40 min late in my schedule for Tuesday.

# Day 2

Soon in the morning I joined some riders like Anniina (Y151), from Finland, Guillaume (Z095) and his wife, from France and David (W259) from Spain, but living in Brussels. Chatting really helps time to pass. We arrived together at Loudéac. I was now doing some maths since I realised I wouldn’t be able to recover the lost time and would actually lose some more. I lived in Brittany for 2 years but I had “forgotten” how hilly it can be. I had planned to be in Carhaix by noon, but got there only by 13:00, where I bumped into the second Portuguese of our gang, Jorge Nabais (T085), already on his way back, and then my friend Noel, who was already waiting for me for an hour or so. He’s a tough seasoned Breton rider from St Yvi and would accompany me till Brest and then Pleyben. But I was feeling weak and a bit tired of only eating bananas, apricots and white rice (if any, at the controls). It was hot in Brittany but not as much as the day before. We climbed Le Roc’h fine and kept a good pace downhill, with a traditional stop at Sizun for refreshments, where I also bought ice cream to share and couldn’t feel happier for the little helper who was giving soft drinks and water away, when he got an ice cream bar as well.


With Jorge Nabais at Carhaix

We reached Brest with plenty of time to spare. My initial plan was to depart fairly quickly, and so we did. However, a few kilometres later, I had to take a detour to find some food and ended up stopping at a McDonald’s. While it might not be the finest dining choice, it offers predictability, and I must admit, the fries are quite enjoyable—except for the ones at Newhaven (which were the worst I’ve ever had). At this point, I allowed Noel to continue on without me, and I accepted my unfortunate situation.

I was on familiar roads and I knew it would be hilly till Carhaix again, where I got around 23:00. Quick at the controls, just picking bananas and drinks, I knew now that I’d reach Cléguérec for my Airbnb night very late, towards 2am, since I had like 55km yet to cover, but then step in the best host you could have asked for: Didier. He not only was there awake waiting for me at 2am, but he also had fetched some food including activia yoghurts. The direction given by Airbnb was not right for the second time (don’t use it, copy the address and search in Google) so I lost some 10 min locating his place which was actually just on the route! I also decided to spend some time washing my kit since I took only one with me. In the end I slept for a good three and half hours, awoke by 6:45 and left by 7:15, just 1:15 behind the schedule but with only 300 km to do on Wednesday I found this a good compromise.

# Day 3

The usual company I’d have would be the letter groups that started on Monday morning but then a rider from group K was on my wheel… Got to meet him and know his story. It was Syukur (K085), from Malaysia, worried about time because he had a fever on the first day and was behind his schedule. However, I told him it would still be possible since his timeout would be next day by 12:30 so he had like 30ish hours to cover 470 km. Not sure he made it, the tracker last check says Villaines just after midnight but the tracker is not that reliable so, I hope he had managed to get to Rambouillet, because even out of time, you still get a medal anyway!

And that was the drama of some Brazilians I ran into. This was in particular for a couple, Alexandra (S228) and João Guilherme (S229). She looked quite fine but he was a bit haggard. And I say that because I’ve been there, struggling with the lack of sleep and tiredness, back in 2019.

This is actually something that not only I noticed, but overall, women looked more sounded at the end than men. My theory is that women doing PBP are not reckless like some men so they come really prepared for the task.

During my third day, I started to eat normal food again and was able to keep a good pace, especially when I left Brittany and the roads became more undulating than hilly. I had a proper breakfast in Loudéac and then Tinténiac for lunch, when another awkward thing happened: I went to the toilet (but just for pee and chamois cream) and when I came back my water bottle was gone! Just the lid left. Well, I found this amusing rather than irritating, so it meant as well that my mood has finally flipped.

All that stress… now converted into energy into my legs. I used this formula:

E = m x c^2

But that’s not the Einstein’s one, that’s mine and it means: Energy (or Estresse if reading in Portuguese) is:

E = (m)adness x (c)rankiness^2

Being able to eat normally was a huge relief as well. Back to Fougères and I was really enjoying the ride, despite the heat, which I was not really caring anymore. I could enjoy the stops where families were offering wonderful homemade cakes and drinks.

On the way there I met Vincent from Singapore and could clarify two curiosities of mine: 1) Where do you guys do the brevets? “Obviously, in Malaysia”; 2) Why are most Asians riding with leg warmers under the high sun? “Well, this weather is cold for us”, he said, but added that being merino, it does feel comfortable even when it’s hotter than it was.

Hugo on his way back, in a lifted spirit

After the control, I eventually caught up with Fintan again. He was riding alongside Gillian (X112), who seemed to effortlessly conquer climbs. I also caught up with Hugo Brito (D230), who I knew was running short on time, yet his upbeat spirit assured me he would complete the ride. Such determination is truly inspiring and embodies the essence of participating in PBP. As we crossed the 1000 km milestone, we pedalled on to Villaines-la-Juhel, arriving in time for dinner. However, I decided to forgo the meal in order to make up for lost time from previous days. I carried some fruits along with the energy bars I had. Eventually, I purchased two galette saucisse to eat – one along the way and another before getting some rest.

I passed Moab (R044), a Brazilian also in the Portuguese team, on the way to Tinténiac at some point but I didn’t see him. He saw me later at the control in Fougères pouring water in my kit and body but again, I didn’t see him. He was another inspirational case where he did conclude in 89h55min!

I arrived at Alençon, 40 km after Villaines-la-Juhel, for my last night at an Airbnb room. Got there by 23:15, bed by 0:45 and slept till 6:45 and left by 7:15 on Thursday, with just a bit more than a century to cover.

# Day 4

Once again caught up with Alessandra and João Guilherme in Mortagne-au-Perche. Time was running out for them, but I had full confidence they would complete the journey, coming hell or high water. As I approached Dreux, the last control before Rambouillet, the weather was turning and there was a gentle drizzle. I did the control without faffing, and then I made the decision to explore the town for a quality restaurant where I could enjoy the meal I had been longing for. And so I did, accompanied by a fine glass of wine. However, I had to resist the temptation of dessert.

Near the end, I ran into another Filipino cyclist, Arnold (X027), who believed he was running out of time. I knew he still had time, but we made the decision to collaborate. With that, I pushed myself to sprint towards the finish line, just to see what I still would have left in the tank.

I ended up covering an additional 16 km. While some were due to detours for Airbnb accommodations, most were simply due to my own errors. For example, I went in the wrong direction from Mortagne-au-Perche back to Villaines, and this wasn’t because I was sleepy or anything; I just found myself wondering why I was encountering the same riders again. Another blunder was riding back to the Fougères control from the pharmacy. I had forgotten my wrist brace there, which I could never locate again (I had injured my left wrist quite badly in a minor car accident in early July).

I completed the journey with a strong sense of accomplishment, feeling content, yet not experiencing any extraordinary emotions. I didn’t even feel much pain, just some soreness and the usual expected discomfort. The realisation only truly hit me later, when I observed the riders who arrived after me, and one of them broke down in tears… It was then that my own emotions welled up, and I too shed one.

The bicycle didn’t give any trouble, just perfect like the first time, yet 4 years and 55,000 km later. Neither did my electronics, in special Wahoo (perfect this time!), which was a good source of stress last time.

This is PBP, just a few kilometres from the end!

# Epilogue

On my way to the campsite where my family was waiting, I encountered Martin, an Australian living in the UK who had volunteered at Brampton for LEL 2022. It was widely acknowledged that the food at PBP controls was lacking, especially when compared to LEL, according to those who participated in both events. Martin explained that the food service at LEL was outsourced to a private professional catering company. Despite my reservations about certain road conditions in the UK, which actually ended up costing me dearly when I had to replace a broken integrated carbon handlebar, I am seriously considering doing LEL again, primarily for the quality of the food. I aim to approach it with the lessons I hope to have learned here at PBP: prioritise a faster pace, yes, but also allocate longer periods of rest, using all the available time.

I might even entertain the idea of turning this into a business proposal for those whose aspiration is to undertake PBP, though it’s worth noting that only some of our childhood dreams come at an affordable price. In fact, if you find yourself asking about the costs, it aligns with Pedro’s perspective: if you require 90 hours to complete it, then you’re not adequately prepared for the challenge (with exceptions, as Moab has shown!).\

Comparing this experience with my 2019 ride, yes, I managed to complete it in under 3 days, but at what cost? Two weeks of recovery? Profound fatigue, sleep deprivation, and a plethora of sores and pains? No, I would not go through that again. I’ve slept more in my first night than in my whole 2019 PBP. I’ve also come to realise that some who didn’t make it within 90 hours might paradoxically be capable of achieving the 84-hour mark. If you hold a dream of participating in PBP and seek further insights, I’d be more than happy to have a conversation about it.

A heartfelt thanks to my fellow Portuguese riders, whether they hail from Poland (like Pawel, L032) or elsewhere, and a special appreciation to Filomena and Pedro. Without their efforts, we wouldn’t have the Lusitanian brevets.

Rest/sleep summary

Arr, Bed, Awake, Left

23:40, 1:00, 6:00, 6:40, 7h break, 5h sleep

02:00, 3:00, 6:30, 7:00, 5h break, 3h30 sleep

23:15, 0:45, 6:45, 7:15, 8h break, 6h sleep

Kit used:

– Summer long sleeve white jersey with base layer (OK)

– Assos Equipe bib (same from 4 years ago) with white knee cooler, first day only (OK)

– Gore Shakedry lightweight rainproof jacket, only one night and under light rain at the final day (OK)

– Aero mitts mostly, leather gloves only in late night (OK)

– Old Shimano MTB shoes, brought from Brazil, so likely 20 years old, repaired by a shoemaker in Cambridge — yep, they still exist! (OK)

– Summer cap (OK)

🎷🐛 866.28 new kilometres

🏘 Completed 25% of Lormaye

🏘 Completed 25% of Vidai

— From