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PBP: A Defining Moment

By Marty Kaplan

The memory is hazy now, like much of the return trip from Brest, but it was the middle of the night, it was bone-chilling cold, and I had just seen something while riding through a village that concerned me enough to want to inform an official.  Fatigue plays tricks on you, especially after 500 miles in the saddle, so it’s hard to know whether I really saw something, or made it up from fragments of data.  There’s a lot of that during PBP.

As I rode out of town and back into the still, cold night, I kept lookout for the PBP motorcyclist I had seen patrolling the route. As if by magic he appeared, and after I told him what was on my mind he assured me he’d look into it.  He must have sensed my impatience to get moving again because he then tapped my shoulder lightly and asked if I was enjoying the ride, the French countryside and the people of France.  I took a deep breath and realized in that moment that indeed, I very much was.  It was as if, by pausing, that I slowed down enough to catch up with myself.

And then he gestured to the red speck of light in the dark night sky and asked if I had ever seen anything quite so beautiful.  When I looked up I realized I was seeing something that human beings were seeing for the first time in recorded history – the planet Mars, the closest it had been to the earth in well over 50,000 years. 

We randonneurs are a tenacious, goal-driven, hard-headed lot.  We’ve trained hard, planned hard, and we ride hard.  In the push to make it to that next control and to that glorious finish, it’s all too easy to let the moment we’re in pass us by.  Assuming motorcycle guys aren’t going to magically appear at just the right time to tap us on the shoulder, what simple practices can we put in place so we remember to take that deep breath, to relax those weary, stress-filled arms and shoulders, to engage all our senses and look about us with fresh eyes, and to feel gratitude for the life force that flows through us and connects us to each other?  What can we do to put ourselves into this very moment

What I’ve learned is that I can get there by simply having that thought.  The trick is to remember, in the rush, in the urgency of things, to simply do that.  We’ve come too far to miss the very moments for which we’ve worked so hard, so make it a practice to tap yourself on the shoulder.  Have a wonderful ride, and while you’re out there…take a deep breath or two for me.