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Leah was very much the modern American cyclist. She very much believed in technology, and the newer something was, the better. She had first started riding distance back in the states, when she lived in that epicenter of double centuries, California. Then, when she moved to England, she got into Audax. One thing about Audax riding, though: it ruthlessly sorted out the wheat from the chaff. If anything stood up to Audax, it was a solid piece of gear.
Leah had joined a local Audax club, and had been riding brevets with them for two years. Her reward for this dedication was her qualification for the greatest ride in the world, the Paris-Brest-Paris, now less than a week away. There were only a few more hours until her long awaited holiday would start when the phone call came.
"Leah, this is Norma from across the street from your house. I just got home from work and fire-men are here. The house next door to yours caught fire today, and it looks as if your shed has burned down. Your house is OK, though."
Leah sat in stunned silence. The shed has the bikes in it!
Her boss told her to go ahead and leave, and she rode the little commuter bike home as fast as she could, startling herself by turning into traffic for the first time in two and a half years. Guess I'm pretty upset, she thought.
When she got home she found the damage was no worse than her neighbor Norma had reported, and as bad as she feared. Her house was fine, but the little garage where she had her bikes was a complete loss. The demise of her carbon fiber Trek she had brought from America was bad enough, but the loss of her Fuquay, with it's 853 frame and super light wheels, was too much. It was the bike she had bought here in England after she started riding brevets with her new club mates. It was built and set up just the way she wanted, and she felt there wasn't any distance she couldn't ride on it. She had been training for two years to ride in the Paris Brest Paris next week, but now that didn't seem possible.
The insurance man said she was covered and that it would all be replaced, but it would take time to make the adjustment and cut the check. Leah grabbed her charge card, took a deep breath, and began to make phone calls, but she was unable to find anyone who could replace her special built bike in less than 24 hours. Finally she made one last call.
Pops, I won't be bringing the Moulton by this evening to drop off for overhaul. My shed burned up today, and destroyed all the bikes but the Moulton, since I had it at work with me. I guess I won't be leaving for Paris after all.
But Leah, replied her mentor, you've been training for the PBP for the last two years, really ever since you got the Audax bug. Your spot on the club trip is all paid for, and PBP won't happen again for another four years - why wouldn't you go?
Pops, my Fuquay, it's not even recognizable, much less rideable. It's the bike I've done all my training on, all the brevets on. The PBP is almost half again as far as I've ever ridden, and we're supposed to leave day after tomorrow. I can't just hop on another bike and take off on a 1200 km ride!
Leah, Audax is as much about mental toughness as it is about cycling. I'll be closing up the shop in another hour, why don't you swing by about that time and we'll discuss your options: I've got a suggestion for you.
Leah had met Pops shortly after she had moved to England from the States. She still remembered their first meeting - her new friends in the bike club had told her that if it was possible to put mud-guards on her eyelet-less American sport bike, Pops would find a way. The old guy had suppressed a chuckle, stroked his chin, and then rigged up some beautiful little alloy brackets. Leah had found out that Pops wasn't just an old guy that ran a bike shop; he was a passionate cyclist. He had come within three hours of the record on an end to end in his amateur days, and then with Jack Taylor's encouragement had gone on to race on the continent. When he retired from professional racing, he'd come home to open the shop, coach amateurs, organize rides, work with the CTC, and basically get involved with almost everything related to cycling at one time or another. He didn't just sell bikes at the shop, either; cyclists in the area went to Pops for every-thing from hearing the first hand story of Burton's record twelve to having Pops give ratings of German hostels. Still, Leah didn't see how he could help now.
When Leah arrived, she laid out her woes to Pops, arriving at the same conclusion that she guessed her PBP effort was over before it started. Pops replied simply, Have you kept a training log like I suggested?
Sure, said Leah.
You said all you're training mileage was on the Fuquay that's now destroyed - is that really true?
Well, I'd ridden the Trek a little - but it's no Audax bike, and besides, it's been burned up too.
Let me ask it this way: which of your bikes have you put the most mileage on in the past year?
Well, with all of the brevet training I've done, I'd actually hardly ridden the Trek, so certainly not it, but now that you mention it, I've probably ridden the Moulton slightly more commuting than I've ridden the Fuquay in brevets and training.
So why don't you take the Moulton on the PBP?
Leah looked over at the Moulton. When she'd come to Pops for an inexpensive commuting bike two years ago, she hadn't even wanted to buy the odd looking old bike. Pops explained that while the little bike had seen a lot of miles over the years since it had been built, he had completely rebuilt, updated and upgraded the machine. He showed Leah the advantages of the bike: the light, super strong wheels, the suspension, the enclosed hub gears, and the way the saddle, pedals and handlebar were the same and in the exact same position that they were on her road bike. Finally Pops had told her to ride it for a couple of weeks and if she didn't like it she could bring it back. After the trial, Leah gladly paid Pops the modest sum for the used machine; she had found herself taking the long way home every evening! But ride a decades old commuter bike on the 1200km PBP? Absurd!, and she told Pops so.
Don't sell the Moulton short, Leah, counseled Pops. There have been time to distance records set on Moultons, they've been toured all over the world, and Tom Simpson told me he was pretty keen on them, too. Tell you what: leave the Moulton here with me, and we'll pick out a bike from the shop that might do for a PBP. Tomorrow morning, take the other bike out for about a forty mile ride and then drop by the shop. I'll have the Moulton ready to go and you can take it out for a forty miler. Then decide if you want to take a new bike to Paris, the Moulton, or wait four more years to ride the PBP.
On the following morning's ride, Leah was struck by the wisdom of Pops' suggestion. Pops had a degree in life instead of business, but he had counseled the same thing as Leah's old business school professor: gather enough information and the decision is easy. Leah turned her attention to evaluating the bike under her: could she really ride this strange machine 1200 km? It was a nice bike, to be sure, one of those generic alloy framed Shimano equipped bikes that every company builds these days it seemed. It was a fine, first class modern bike, Leah thought, but as she rode it she became aware of the subtle differences between it and the bikes she had put all the miles on in the last two years. It was little things, like the steering response, the bottom bracket height, the minimal resiliency, the feel as she accelerated, climbed, and braked. The bike didn't feel "one" with her the way the custom built Fuquay did, and it certainly didn't feel like the Moulton did, either. The STI shifting was fast and positive, but in the dark a rider couldn't tell what chainwheel/cog combination the bike was running in - that's why the Fuquay had barcons. And she kept grabbing the end of the bar to shift! Could she ride this bike for four days, tired, when an ingrained reflex action might be needed to see her through? Hmmm, she didn't know.
When she returned to the shop, she saw that Pops had been busy. The little Moulton sat there, glistening from the attention it had received. Pops hadn't just repacked every bearing, he had also cleaned and polished the alloy rims and stainless spokes, mounted fresh Primos, replaced the cables and brake blocks, cleaned the chain, put the torque wrench on every nut, and rewrapped the bars. In addition to that, Pops had rigged the Moulton up for Audax, mounting twin halogen lights to the handlebars on either side of the stem, rigged a mounting for the supplemental battery pack, and installed a second LED taillight. Leah, I hated to do so much work right before a big ride, but you know in the PBP you have to finish on the bike you start on - it's a rule from the old days.
Leah wheeled the bike out and started her ride. She recalled to her surprise that for all the miles she had put on the little bike since she'd bought it, she had never ridden the Moulton more than about twenty five miles at a time. She had used it as a runabout, and that's all she had allowed it to be. But it felt good underneath her, like the company of a good friend. She supposed Pops could switch her Brooks saddle and even the randonneur bars from the Moulton to a new bike, but it went beyond that. It wasn't even just her body being used to the Moulton's feel, either. She noted that she didn't tense up when the bike floated over bumps, and she trusted the little bike as she headed into blind downhill curves. The barrel shifter that Pops had ingeniously fitted on the end of the bar drop when they had upgraded the Moulton to the 7 speed hub gear the year before felt perfect, and the next natural gear snicked right into place every time Leah twisted the barrel, although it concerned her to have 17 fewer gears that the Fuquay.
She felt like she was climbing slower on the Moulton, but when she returned from the second 40 mile loop, she noted that they had taken almost exactly the same time. On top of that, even though she had ridden 80 miles that day, she felt fresher at the end of the second forty that she did the first!
"I'm taking the Moulton to Paris," she told Pops.
"Knew you would," replied the old man. "Come back in the shop, I've put together a kit of Moulton specific spares for your club's support van."
The van the club was taking for transportation and support arrived at Leah's place just before the sun the following morning, and Leah was down the walk with her bags before they got out of the van to help her.
"My, you're enthusiastic today, Leah," said Sean. "Heard about you're fire and was afraid you'd not be making the trip."
"Pops help me get fixed up," said Leah.
This group had been training together and traveling to brevets, and they had grown close the way that humans do when they share a test of self. Leah thought she could feel a collective sigh of relief at the news that Pops had helped her after the fire - if Pops had been involved, the Leah's PBP wasn't in jeopardy. This euphoria lasted exactly as long as it took Leah to walk back into her house and roll the Moulton out to load with the other bikes.
"Hey, looks like the fire melted Leah's wheels!"
"Oh Leah, you're not riding that!"
"Leah, look, we can go back by my house and pick up my old Audax bike, if you want."
Leah waived off their concerns and teasing, and said she'd stick with the Moulton, and despite some raised eyebrows and rolling eyes, they shoved off.
It was a good group, ten riders and three support crew, and Leah felt comfortable and confident with them. They had met and informally organized at brevets the previous year because they all generally rode the distances at about the same pace. At 29, Leah was over 10 years younger than the group's average. Old Ben, making his fifth PBP, had been involved with Audax the longest, while five of them were making their first go at it. Peter was their informal leader. Retired from the military, he still thought and planned with strategic precision. He had organized the group, arranged the training schedule, shepherded everyone through the brevets, and had their PBP so well planned that finishing in 84:15 was a forgone conclusion. While Leah enjoyed them all, her favorite riding partners were Robert and Charles, two Scottish brothers whose use of the English language when swearing or singing was like nothing the American had ever heard, and John, a quiet theology student with an indefatigable riding style, who was the youngest of the group and 7 years Leah's junior.
Leah had volunteered to drive with Ron, Sean, and Ron's wife Jane in the van with the bikes and gear a day early and set up in the campground. They'd be picking up the others at the train station the next day. Leah had gone in the van to see a little more of France, were she had been only once before. To her embarrassment, upon checking the Moulton among the other stacked bikes after the crossing, she had fallen fast asleep until they were almost on the outskirts of Paris! (Her mates said she was smart to sleep every time she could.)
Everything went as planned in Paris: they set up camp, picked up the others, did some sightseeing, and got lots of rest. The only thing out of the ordinary was the stir the old Moulton made at bike inspection before the ride: they had pulled her out and made her wait for the chief inspector to come. She was thumbing through her French phrase book, trying to say something like: "I promise my bicycle is in compliance", but before she put it all together she realized they just wanted to look the Moulton over because they thought it was interesting.
Finally they were finished with her, but on the way out she met a Japanese rider who shot a roll of film of her little bike. He was charmingly polite and enthusiastic, but all the attention was a to worry Leah. She began to wish desperately that she spoke French and Japanese - not fluently, but just enough to know if they had used the phrase "Crazy lady"!
Leah stared out across the sea of riders. She had only seen this many cyclists together once before, at a rally back in the States. It would have been a thrill for her, except that not a single one of the bicyclists she could see now was anyone she knew! Great, a half hour before the start of the PBP, and she was "lost". Still, she'd find her friends on the road, or at the first planned support stop. It was fun to hear cyclists excitedly chattering away around her in a half dozen languages. Well, nothing to do now but review the items she had brought along, then recheck the bike and her route card, and settle back to enjoy the moment.
"HEY, a Moulton!"
Leah turned with surprise when she realized that the language was English, and it was being addressed to her!
"See, Michael, I told you I'd seen another rider on a Moulton."
"Wow, Steve, look at that!"
Riders around Leah parted and squeezed so that the two men who also had small wheel bikes could come along side of her. She smiled and greeted them.
"G'day, I'm Steve and this is Michael. We're two of three riders in the Australian Audax contingent on Moultons. Pleased to meet another Moulton rider."
Leah introduced herself, and explained to them she was an American expatriate living in England.
"We've taken some guffaws and funny looks by coming on our APBs, but to ride the PBP on an F-frame - wow! Just how old is it?"
"I don't know - the man who built it up told me all about what model it was and where it was built, but I don't remember now."
"That's okay," said Michael, "Moulton designations are even more complicated than models of SMLE's."
Leah had no idea what this meant, so she redirected the conversation. "I saw a guy in wool here on a bike with Cambria Corsa gears and sew ups around his shoulders, so I'm a long way from any retro award."
"Well, the Moulton is certainly a fine little machine, and you've got yours in great shape for the ride. Is that a four or a five speed hub?"
"It's a seven," said Leah.
"How'd you get the rear drop outs spread out?"
"That guy that set it up for me has a bike shop and does frame repair; I don't know, he just did it. Sometimes I think he just does stuff to see if it can be done. How about these bikes you guys are on? These are the modern Moultons I've seen in the magazines, aren't they?"
"Right, these are spaceframes. Paul, the other Aussie Moulton, has a Jubilee, maybe you'll see him some-time in the next four days. I haven't mucked with my APB much, just the aero bars and road tires, but Steve has built a whole new machine out of his. Despite all the teasing, I feel I couldn't be mounted better for Audax than on my APB. Taking an F-frame on the PBP, though, that's very Woodburn-esque."
"Huh?" Leah asked.
Steve and Michael spent the few remaining minutes before the start filling Leah in on Moulton history. The time passed quickly, and soon Leah found herself setting off with the others into the unknown.
Leah finally had a reunion with her group at the first stop they had planned, a three hour layover at Tintiac. Leah arrived early, and caught a little extra shut eye before the others arrived. While some rode slower but took fewer or shorter breaks, and others rode faster but were off the bike more, they were as fairly well matched as a group of ten could be, and rode in contact with each other on to Lordac, where "General" Peter had a longer stop planned. The little Moulton was rolling along splendidly, and Leah was in high spirits, helped no doubt by the tailwind they had picked up on the way out from Paris, which pushed them ahead of schedule. The ride was going well for Leah; she was keeping hydrated and nourished, her training mileage was standing her in good stead, and on top of that, she just wasn't feeling the "road fatigue" riding the Moulton that she did with long hours on her diamond frame bikes.
Their wonderful support crew had their bags set out for them and a table full of food ready as they arrived. Most of the group ate and bedded down, but Leah felt good and hated to waste the tail wind, and so decided to push on. She checked in with their crew chief about rendezvous points down the route, and then went over to her personal supply bag.
"What are you doing," asked John in a quiet voice Leah guessed was out of consideration for the riders now dozing off (even though there was little chance mere conversation would wake them!)
Leah smiled at him. "I'm feeling great, stronger than I've ever felt on a brevet, and while I don't want to push too hard and fatigue myself, I think if I lay down to rest I'll loose both the energy I have now and this great tail wind."
"I know what you mean," replied John, continuing in his hushed tones. "It concerns me that this tail wind has doubled in the last four hours. Anyway, mind if I tag along with you for a while?"
"No, not at all," said Leah. "I'll be ready in just a few more minutes."
When she was about to be transferred to the UK, Leah read every British book she could. John reminded Leah of Alleyne Edricson in Conan Doyle's "The White Company", and seemed to her to embody everything good about the English. Leah was happy with the offer of his company as she set off ahead of the rest of the group, and hurriedly finished her preparation to leave. Then suddenly and without knowing why, she replaced all her batteries with fresh ones ahead of schedule, and packed away in her on-bike bag far more energy bars and drink mix than she usually carried, another pair of clean shorts and some more fresh batteries. 'Some concern about the rendezvous?' she asked herself.
She and John headed out in the freshening tail wind, joining and leaving pelotons and flying through the French villages. The crowds of riders had thinned appreciably, mostly because of planned rest stops, but Leah and John flew on, Leah pushing the high gear on the little Moulton for much of the way. She was still surprised, however when they rolled into the control at Carhaix in little more than three and a half hours. When they got off the bikes, they immediately knew why: the wind was practically whistling around them!
Leah, said John, when I was little, my grandfather would tell me stories of when he was in the Royal Navy. I remember him telling me that during his days in the Pacific, a strong east wind like this usually blew in trouble. Let's see if we can get a weather report.
The report they received confirmed the knowledge of John's grandfather, but a quick calculation told them if they could maintain their pace all the way to Brest, they might just beat the expected rain. Do you feel up to it, asked Leah? It would mean riding all the way to Brest with only the sleep we got at Tintiac.
Yes, but at the speed we've been going, we'll be in Brest in under 30 hours after we left Paris! That alone gives me enough motivation to try it!
Leah admired the attitude of the young man, and they set off as soon as possible. They began to meet the first of the riders coming back from Brest, slowly grinding along into their fierce headwind, and shouting at each other in several languages about taking pulls. As Leah and John topped Roc Trevezel, they realized they could no longer see the stars. Later, as they started to climb the hills outside of Brest, the wind dropped and an eerie stillness descended on them.
Suddenly, a motorbike pulled along side of them in the dark and a man began shout at them in French. John replied "Oui! Oui!" and the rider was off again.
He said there is a terrible storm coming and they're recommending all riders seek shelter, said John. The control is only a few miles ahead of us and he said if we possibly could, we should sprint to get there!
Leah lay quietly, pondering their arrival at the Brest control just before the wall of rain. She could still hear John's shout when the first of the big, cold, wet drops hit them, and the man yelling at them in French as they got to the control building. Still, they had hardly gotten wet. Why were they the last ones in before the storm hit? Dumb luck? Planning, preparation, and execution? Perhaps Simpson, cycling's martyred patron of hill climbing, granted special protection to the old Moulton up that last hill? She heard John stir on the next cot.
"John, you awake yet?" asked Leah.
John took a few moments to gather his wits, and then asked, "What time is it? Ugh, I'm stiff."
"It's just past noon on Wednesday, although you'd never guess the time from the dark outside. I guess you've slept about eight hours. I've been up a couple of times. John, it's been raining like Noah's flood outside! There's only a few hundred of us riders here at the control, and I don't think anybody has come or gone since we got here. The power and the phones have been out for hours. You'd think we were inside a hornets' nest with the way everybody's running around and talking. It's apparently the worse storm ever; people are blaming everything from European unification to football hooliganism. There's a fellow from Canada who said one of the control workers heard on a little battery powered radio that an unusually high ocean temperature in the mid-Atlantic has caused a tropical storm-like weather cell to hit Europe - something about global climate change. The report said limbs have been broken out of trees hundreds of years old, and an old Roman aqueduct even washed out! There are rumors that they'll call the ride and do it next year."
John took a moment to absorb all this, and then asked, "Has there been any news of our group?"
"Not that I know of. They told me that before the phones went out there was a report that most of the Audax riders are holed up with locals where ever they were when the storm hit. There are apparently even riders on the outskirts of Brest who couldn't make it here. Nobody knows who's accounted for and who isn't."
His concerns over others discharged for the moment, and being a very practical young man, he asked, "Is there anything to eat here?"
Over their meal they got pretty much this same scanty information over and over, confirming that the PBP ride was in chaos, although still an active event. Not knowing what else to do, they prepped their bikes and themselves for the return. Leah helped John work some stiffness out of his neck and shoulders and was pleased to discover that she herself felt great. One silver lining in the storm clouds was that with so few riders at the Brest control, there was actually warm water for showers. She hummed a little as she put on her fresh shorts and rebraided her blond pony tail.
Turning her attention to the bike, her affection for the little Moulton grew immensely as she released that she had just ridden a personal best ride and also how very nearly they had missed the storm, some of the few riders to do so. She began to fully appreciate the genius behind the bike: the light, sturdy wheels, the low baggage, the step through frame, the smooth ride (especially nice for riding in the dark when you don't see the bumps) and great handling. Sure, John had done the same ride alongside on a diamond frame bike, but as Leah compared the comfort and efficiency of this ride to other times she had ridden 600 km, she began to wonder why everyone wasn't riding a Moulton. Leah took the extra steps to check her suspension, finished repacking her kit, and said "Lets go check the weather."
The skies had lightened a bit, and the rain was slackening. The most wonderful thing, though, was that the wind had turned around and was now ripping back to Paris!
"The wind's switched. We just caught the edge of the storm, not the center. It's going to let up," said John.
"We've had really good luck using tailwinds," offered Leah. "Be a shame to waste this one."
They had quickly pulled their wet weather gear on. With the phones out, the officials didn't know if they should prevent them from leaving or not, so they shrugged and let them go. As they had mounted and Leah lead John out, a man ran over and took Leah's picture, then shouted, "Bon chance, Audax!"
They had once again guessed correctly. The rain let up quickly and by evening Leah and John were flying along under blue skies and white, puffy clouds. They had begun to meet riders heading into Brest, but those still heading west were having to scratch out every inch into the wind. From the bridges they crossed they looked down on swollen, raging rivers, and most of the fields had standing water. Just before dark they met their own group riding in a tight pace line. They were damp, wind blown and seriously behind their pre-ride schedule, but committed to push on to Brest before any decisions were made. Their only serious complaint concerned Scottish folk songs. "If Robbie and Charlie sing 'The Cleaning of Gordon's Barn' one more time∑"
With all the rest they had gotten at the control, Leah and John rode straight through the night, only stopping briefly for food in Loudeac and Fougers. There were a few more riders headed their way now, too, trying to make up for lost time. In their brief meetings, they heard tales of riding through crank deep water, waiting out the storm in cafes and private homes, and riders turning their bikes over to pour the water out of the frame before starting to ride again! Several of the riders they met marveled at Leah and John's good fortune, to which John would reply in Peter Lorre imitation, "We have two letters of transit, signed by General De Gaulle, can not be rescinded."
They were making their plans on the fly, but hoped to reach Villaines early Thursday morning before stopping to rest. Just as the eastern sky began to lighten, they hit a particularly rough section of downhill pavement, probably washed out from all the rain. Leah was about to comment on the benefits of suspension when there was a twinkle in the headlights and the sickening sound that every cyclist hates: glass being broken by tires.
Leah assessed the damage with one of her headlights. The broken glass bottle and the smell of liquor made Leah guess that it had unknowingly dropped out of the bag of a PBP rider just ahead of them. No matter where it came from, it had flatted John's front tire and her rear one. Worse, though, Leah's tire tread was cut through the cords.
They both had spare tubes, so they went to work. As John patched his front tire, Leah began to work over her little bike. She dismounted her wheel, and patched and reassembled it. As she began to reinflate the tire, she found it was much worse than she thought. Before she got it up to full pressure, the carcass began to bulge out, and she stopped and reduced the pressure back down.
"I don't think this will hold, John, and my spare tires are on the way to Brest in the group support van. You might ought to go on."
"Nonsense, Leah, we've plenty of time to get to Paris. Let's just try to make it to Villaines." They broke the tire back down and inserted a folded bill to act as a boot, and then reinflated it as much as they dared.
The little Moulton rode along gamely with the underinflated tire, but the small diameter tire's thumping never let Leah relax, and she wondered at every rotation if the next might bring a blow out. In the hour it took them to get to Villaines, Leah was mentally worn out.
As they approached the town, John took the lead and motioned for Leah to follow him. He left the PBP route, and rode to the cathedral. Dismounting without a word, he headed straight inside. Leah took a moment to inspect her tire, doubting she could find a decent spare in France. She mumbled she'd probably be stuck there for the next 24 hours until her group's support van arrived. Why didn't I carry one along, she thought angrily, they aren't that big. She resigned herself to the fact that her body, which an hour ago felt great, was now filled with a dull fatigue, then she headed in after John.
"What are you doing," asked Leah, as she walked in, finding him kneeling down, with his hands folded and his eyes closed.
"Shhhhh," replied John, not opening his eyes.
Leah stood there, shuffling uncomfortably in the huge old building for the few minutes John was motionless. Then he suddenly rose, smiled at her, and said with a laugh, Come on, don't just stand there!
They rode on in to the control and checked in. The officials were try to regain control of the ride, and were very interested in where they had come from and how many riders they had seen on the route. As they walked away, an old man walked up to Leah and asked her something in French. When John answered him, the old man embraced Leah and said something else, then hurried off!
"What was that all about?" asked Leah.
"He was wondering how your tire got in that shape, and if you had another one. I told him about the glass, and that's when he embraced you and then he said to wait here and he'd be back in 10 minutes."
They crossed the street to a small cafe and began eating everything on the menu. True to his word the old man returned, carrying a small tire, which he presented to Leah!
He spoke to John, and pointed to Leah. "He wants me to translate for him, Leah."
The old man said that he had been a courier in the resistance during the war, and was caught by the Nazis in the fall of 1943. Because of what he was carrying when he was captured, they thought he knew more than he really did. They vigorously attempted to motivate him to discuss what they thought he must know, and then sent him to a concentration camp where they'd try to extract a little more information every so often. (Leah gave John a puzzled look. John added, "Well, I'm having a little trouble translating his exact words, but you probably get the idea.")
He said if the liberation had been a month later he probably wouldn't have made it. Later, in a French hospital, a lady whose husband had been killed in the war brought down boxes and boxes of old magazines for the men to read. In the stack was thirty years of Le Cycliste, and the old man said he'd been fascinated by the writing of a Paul de Vivie, who had written under the name of Velocio. Following the advice he read in the magazines, he recovered both his physical and mental health after the war and among many other accomplishments had ridden the PBP in the 1950's.
The old man continued that Velocio sometimes wrote about a small wheeled bicycle of which he thought highly. When Moultons came on the market in the 60's, the old man had bought one and ridden it for years. The tire was a spare the old man had at his home, and he said Leah was welcome to have it.
Leah unwrapped the paper from around the tire, and began to peel away the latex the old man had brushed on it years before. Hmmm, never heard of a Dunlop Sprite, thought Leah, but, hey, it's the right size. In way of thanks, she stood and offered her hand in warm American style, only to be embraced by the old man once again.
As Leah and John finished the repair to her little bike, she said, "That turned out well!"
"I'm not a theology student for nothing," replied John.
When Leah was awakened by the control workers a few hours later, she found her bike ringed by giggling children. She looked over at John. "What's up?" she asked.
He spoke briefly to the children, then said, "You have your picture in the paper or something - anyway, they think you're famous!" As they prepared to leave, a smiling man handed Leah a paper. She looked at the picture of herself, the one that had been taken as she left Brest, and then handed it over to John. "What's it say?"
John puzzled out the French slowly, and then began to laugh. "Oh, Leah, you ARE famous. It says here that when the storm hit, the riders in the front all had to be picked up off the course and hauled back to the nearest town looking like wet cats. The president even put out an emergency call for the French people to take in every cyclist. With the wind and rain there wasn't a single rider actually making progress on the course for over seven hours.
"As the storm raged on, the ride organizers feared massive abandonments and a PBP disaster; then they saw you leave for Paris on your little Moulton! It says here in the paper, 'First rider back on course!...Worst storm in hundreds of years can't dampen Audax spirit...American woman starts return leg, exhibiting the brains, skill, and endurance that have made the Paris-Brest-Paris the ultimate cycling test in the world...Rider gives courage to others to not abandon...Cycling Lindberg points small bike toward Paris...'"
Leah's jaw dropped!
"But John, all we did was ride with the tailwinds and leave when the storm was almost blown out! And you were with me the whole time - I didn't do anything you didn't do as well!"
"Do you want to tell the entire nation of France that, Leah? I think it has a lot to do with this image of you on that little Moulton against the huge storm that's captured the public's imagination. Maybe the organizers are making the most out of the unlikely event that a woman on a three decade old Moulton was the first one back on the course in an effort to inspire as many cyclists to stay in the ride as possible; you know, 'If she can do it∑'. Perhaps you shouldn't belittle your ride: you were well prepared and recognized opportunities of which you were bold enough to take advantage. Anyway, looks like you're stuck with this one," laughed John, pointing at the circle of wide eyed children.
They headed out of Villaines in the beautiful mid-day Thursday weather, seeing more cyclists on the road now. They joined small pelotons and made good time, still benefiting from a tail wind. The replacement tire, which Leah had feared would be a mushy handling, hard-to-roll child's bike tire, was working great, too; Leah thought it couldn't have been better if it were designed especially to go on the Moulton. Between the new tire, the tail wind, the rest they had gotten, and Leah's new found fame, all her aches had disappeared, and she once again felt great. I guess Pops was right, Leah thought, Audax is as much a mental test as a physical one. Maybe that's why that silly picture is important. Still, while it never failed to make John laugh, Leah wasn't comfortable with the little kids pointing at her and shouting and running along side as they went through towns. Leah also began wishing she got a franc for every time she heard "Viva la Moulton!"
They arrived in Paris just after 7 PM Thursday, less than 70 hours after they had left, and thanks to continuous tailwinds, some 15 hours before Peter's original plan. Even though Leah was finishing the ride 17 hours after the first riders (making it the slowest PBP in decades), she was easily the best known rider, and a favorite of the crowd. As they approached the finish line, camera flashes and cheers greeted Leah and her little bike, and she was made to give a brief interview after she crossed and pose for pictures with the Moulton.
When it was discovered that they had no place to stay since they were so far ahead of their group, a nearby hotel offered to put them up free. "As long as they have hot showers," said John, as always showing his sensibility.
They had no luggage of course, but as Leah and John rolled their bikes up to the front of the hotel, the bellman stepped out, picked up the Moulton, and carried it into the lobby.
Leah would have memories of her wonderful PBP for the rest of her life, but she was happy to return to England where she was just another cyclist riding an old Moulton to work five days a week. Pops' eyes lit up when he saw the Dunlop and he said it was a shame to wear it out commuting; so it was returned to a latex sheath and replaced with a new Primo. Other than that and a little oil for the rear hub, the Moulton needed no work, repair, or change to return to it's former life. When Leah got her insurance check, she haunted the bike shops, surfed the web, and laid in bed at night reading back issues of cycle magazines, ultimately buying a Moulton NS to replace the bikes she had lost in the fire.
Despite the storm, all of Leah's British Audax club mates finished the ride just before the 90 hour mark, along with over 75% of the riders that headed out from Paris four days before. Finishers would take great pride in their ride that year, referring to it in their reminisces as "the year of the big storm" (although it would be known by the organizers as "the year of the Moulton"!)
John returned to school, and Leah hadn't heard from him for several months when during the next summer she got a letter. "I'm on my way to East Africa, he wrote, where I'll be working as a graduate assistant in a seminary for the next year or so. You're welcome to ride the Moulton down for a visit..."
...but that's another story.
P.S. Well, there it is, all 16 chapters. I hope you enjoyed it. I am of course indebted to Tony Hadland's books, and also numerous sources on the PBP including the story written by Sheldon's wife. Thanks for reading, and I hope that when we get to ride our Moultons together some day we have better weather than Leah!
|Articles by Sheldon Brown and others|
Last Updated: by Harriet Fell