Saturday, January 31, 2015

PBP 2015 - Planning Logistics

It's hard to believe that I've not posted once yet in 2015. With heavy work and family demands as well as a string of terrible cycling weather, it's been hard even to get out for a ride these days. I have had a chance, however, to drill down into some of the details related to PBP to aid with my long-range planning. The release of the full event brochure in mid-January has helped me to visualize the course and has reinforced my decision to start with the 84-hour group on Monday morning.

Transportation.  I am generally not a package trip, travel agent kind of guy. As a result, my first inclination was to assemble my logistical plans for PBP a la carte, shopping around for the best deals and customizing hotels and flights to best meet my specific need to arrive with all of my gear in one piece, well-rested to take on the event itself. I'm no stranger to budget airlines and often prowl sites like Kayak for the lowest fares, cross-referencing airline sites for baggage charges and hidden fees before finally purchases tickets. As I began that process this time around, I also factored total travel time, number of stops and ground transportation from the airport to the hotel into my calculations. Between New York City and Paris, the difference between a non-stop and multi-stop flight can add up to $400 - $700. Yet a multi-stop flight also adds from 3 - 10 hours to each leg of the journey as well as the possibility that bicycle and rider do not arrive at the same destination at the same time. An additional factor in my planning has been the ground transfer between Charles de Gaulle Airport and the hotel.

In 2009, I hauled a 50lb. bike box along with a small carry-on bag and suitcase from Heathrow Airport to an apartment in central London on public transportation. As a long-time New Yorker, I was not averse to the idea of a long subway ride with multiple transfers, but in reality, the schlepping of heavy and awkward containers up and down countless stairs was not something I would like to repeat. Also, I soon discovered that not all trains are created equal in London and some of them were quite small and awkward to navigate. Above all, my physical condition following my 2010 accident includes vulnerabilities that I do not want to aggravate before even arriving at the PBP starting line. As a result, I've decided to arrange a non-stop flight along with ground transportation through Des Peres Travel. While this requires that I spend a bit more money than is absolutely necessary to get from JFK airport to my hotel, I am confident that this will be money well spent. As I learned a long time ago, sometimes a bargain is not quite a bargain.

Accommodation.  Several years ago, my family and I spent a week with friends in the Parisian suburb of Versailles, which lies just 10K from the PBP start. As a result, I was thinking that I would just establish a beachhead in that small city within easy striking distance of both Paris and the event start. I began to reconsider this plan, though, as I thought about all of the excitement and pre-ride community that builds in the immediate area of the start as riders pour in from all corners of the globe to prepare for the big event. Having missed out on this fun on LEL in 2009 when I stayed at a friend's apartment in central London, I decided that for an event like this, spending the days and nights immediately preceding and following PBP with fellow participants should be the best way to go. As a result, I've decided to reserve one of the hotels within several kilometers of the start through Des Peres Travel as well. Sure I could find a cheaper place to stay, but how often do 5000 riders come together for an event like this? Every four years, I suppose, but for my first PBP, I'll be taking full advantage of pick-up rides and the opportunity to hang out with people I see far too rarely. Paris is also a quick train ride away, so a trip or two into that fair city is a real possibility as well.

Support.  I like to think of myself as a fairly barebones type of cyclist. Since I will not have any personal support en route and based on all I had heard about the time suck at the PBP controls due to the vast volume of riders, I thought that riding self-supported through PBP would be my first choice option. After carrying all that I needed for three days around Lake Ontario this summer during the Lap of the Lake 1000K in a rear Ortlieb pannier, it seemed like a no-brainer to do the same for PBP. Connecting with PBP anciens who used the Des Peres drop bag service, I have begun to reconsider my options. I've tentatively signed up for a drop bag at Loudeac, but may change my mind after riding around and weighing my fully-loaded bike this spring. Riding a hilly 200K in potentially hot and humid weather is tough enough without adding an extra 10-15 lbs. to the load. We'll just have to see if the weight savings justifies the cost and potential time lost.

So, all in all, I am taking a far more deluxe approach to travel with PBP than is my customary style. While the cost is a bit hard to swallow, I am confident that there will be more than enough details related to PBP itself to obsess over. I am not planning to arrange any on-course hotels, but rather casting my lot in with the accommodations provided at controls along the way. While I'm open to the possibility of arranging something during the ride should the need arise, having to coordinate and plan for a specific arrival time sucks a bit of the joy and spontaneity out of the ride for me. I'd much rather arrive at the starting line well-conditioned and well-rested with a general plan for approaching the route without being locked into any specific demands along the way.