Nerves are on edge at my hotel. One rider was collecting his thoughts in the dining area, staring out the window. We chatted about the stress, waiting for our 6pm or later departure this evening to begin Paris Brest Paris. He let on that he was seeking to "rewrite history" since he failed to finish last time. He is a gentle soul, and I began to understand that I wasn't the only one with pre-event jitters, or perhaps more honestly for me at least, pre-event fears.
Next, I took a walk into the small, older village that is at the heart of this modern complex. The church, of course, is the center of the center. Nearby at the fruit store, I encountered another rider who openly conveyed his anxieties. He is in the 84 hour start, which is tomorrow. Given he needs only 84 hours, he must be fairly fast. No matter, watching the 90 hour folks getting ready to leave had him second-guessing his start choice. I began to realize that all of us are nervous, regardless of our talents. He was struck, he confided, that after a year since since his first brevet, it was finally here. I did my best to reassure him his start time choice was the right one, but I am permeated by so many similar choice/doubts I don't honestly know whether I was reassuring to him, hollow-sounding, our whether he even heard me through the din of our mutual doubting.
And then at the patissierie, the Tall Blind Man nearly stumbled over the small child's scooter. Recovering, he went for the exit but walked into my chair and me instead. Too startled and handicapped by my poor French I didn't assist him, allowing others.
And that is when it hit me like a ton of bricks just how much anxiety I was carrying. Moved to tears at last, I set up the Tall Blind Man's daily challenges to buy a baguette against my obsessing with whether I should pack this or that item or leave them behind. Will my knees hold up? My ankle? Will I stumble on this or that self-doubt?
Paris Brest Paris is "mythic", as some say, but it is also self-indulgent. It is just riding a bicycle as a self-chosen challenge. It is not the marathon of unchosen obstacles the Tall Blind Man confronts.
Nevertheless, as I said when I first posted over three years ago, I wanted to explore my limits and my beyond-the-limits. I will get that chance starting this evening, and one thing is clear already: it is primarily about the mind and soul. The body will stumble along the best it can.
Note to my mother who may worry reading this: I think what I've expressed here is normal. I started to self-censor, but why? It is obvious that I am not alone in my doubting. Some cope by bantering, a few by continual bicycle marveling, others ride their bikes.
The calling out to departing riders "Bon Courage" I just heard outside my window reminds me of the other reason I sought out this challenge: making connections.
Soon I will be on my bicycle, pedaling away from doubts and toward a healthier self-exploration...with six thousand other riders and several thousand volunteers who are making it all possible.
UPDATE: A few hours later, I am restored and eager. Off to the start line to rally to Brest and return!
For whatever challenges you face, Bon Courage!