Oct 10, 2023
Welcome to part 2 of Paris Brest Paris with James Gracey. This episode concludes James's intense 1,200-kilometer ride filled with unexpected obstacles and unexpected friendships. Faced with numerous challenges, from illness to malfunctioning electronics, James's determination powers him through, making his journey a testament to sheer grit.
Halfway through, with 600-kilometers still to go, he contemplates quitting but finds encouragement in the unity of fellow riders. Each twist and turn loaded with his physical and mental endurance eventually leads to the finish line. As he crosses it with newfound friends by his side, James's story evolves into not just an adventure, but a celebration of camaraderie and the human spirit. Don't miss out on this extraordinary account of grit and determination that will surely inspire.
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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:
[00:00:00]Craig Dalton (host): Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport
I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.
This week on the podcast, we've got part two of my discussion with James Gracey. And his Perry Brest Paris ride in 2023. If you haven't listened to the episode last week. Press stop or pause. Go back and listen to that episode because we're going to catch up with it halfway through. James is about 600 kilometers into Perry, breast Paris. Uh, 1200 kilometer ride from Paris to the town of Brest in France, back to Paris. Let's jump right in midstream to my conversation with James Gracey.
[00:01:02]James Gracey: So the way out
[00:01:03]Craig Dalton: to breast is your first 600 kilometers. And this is a distance that you've now done pre once previously before. Yeah, I'm a, this is all you're
[00:01:12]James Gracey: ready to go. So
[00:01:14]Craig Dalton: did you, did you sleep at all on the first six? I
[00:01:16]James Gracey: slept, uh, Lodiak is the, is the 400 K point. It's also where the bag drop point was and so unfortunately one of the gentlemen that is Responsible for san francisco randonneurs.
He's he runs the organization Uh, and I think he's affiliated also with rusa He got sick and so he's coming over to do the ride He has gone way out of his way to make sure everybody has what they we took 106 people from san francisco Which is a huge contingent bigger than most And he, his name is Rob Hawks, and he got sick, uh, like to the hospital in the emergency room, sick when he landed.
And so he had, uh, he had some hotel rooms in Lodiak that he was, when he realized he's not going to be able to, to utilize them, it was two days before, and I was sick. And so I was up at two in the morning being sick. And I got. noticed that these hotel rooms were available. So, because I was sick, I was like, done.
I'll take, I'll take them both. They were both in Lodiak the first night and then the second night coming back. And so I did grab all my gear, my drop bag, go to the hotel, took a shower. And uh, lay down for like two hours.
[00:02:39]Craig Dalton: And we, so were you, was it going to work? The math going to work out that you were going to be in the same hotel the next night?
[00:02:45]James Gracey: Yeah. I just left my gear. Oh, that's amazing. Yeah. So it saved me a little bit of time. So I didn't have to go check in to get gear. Yeah. It, it didn't work out quite that way because I was so far behind when I returned to Lodiak. I had to go to the hotel, get my gear packet, no shower. I changed kits. And went, uh, and had to go back and drop the bag because they're leaving.
The bag drop people are leaving. That's how close we are. And that's one of the bigger problems with starting at the end. That when it's at the end, if you start at the beginning and you fall six hours behind, no big deal. There are people that are, you know, twelve or thirteen hours behind you still. But when you start at the end and you get hours behind, you're at the end.
And they are closing down the control station. Um, what was your,
[00:03:34]Craig Dalton: what was your kit set up? Like, it sounds like you brought two,
[00:03:37]James Gracey: two sets of. I had three, I had one for one for each day. And I planned on, I planned on changing them. And, uh, they were just my regular road. Yeah. But just for
[00:03:46]Craig Dalton: like general cleanliness
[00:03:48]James Gracey: and yeah.
You want to get out, you want to get out of that. And, um, like I was in my, my second kit for 40 hours or something like that. Um, coming, coming back. And. Yeah feels pretty gross. So if you're
[00:04:04]Craig Dalton: back in what was the town called? Lodiak you're now i've done 800 800k, so you got 400k to go. Yeah somewhere along the way.
I got a message from you That made it sound like you're done Yeah,
[00:04:19]James Gracey: uh after after uh breast It was kind of evening beautiful sunset and we're leaving breast and i'd been sick. I got sick the friday before the ride Probably because we were just out I just came back from the event and I was not having oysters and lots of seafood and lots of pate and lots of stuff that I just didn't agree with.
Um, or didn't agree with me. And so I was sick Friday, Saturday and Sunday, uh, before the event. And I just can't keep anything. Anything that comes in, that I put in, comes right back out. And, uh, then that continued for the first day. Anybody I'd ride with, I would get in a groove riding with them on the first day, like with two or three people.
And I might ride with him for 45 minutes or an hour, and then I would say, I have to go. Like, I gotta go be sick. I have to go be sick, and I would let him go, which stunk. And it kind of kept getting worse and worse. And I'm trying to eat and drink as much as I can, especially fluids. And, uh, after breast, there's this, there are two secret controls.
You don't know where the control is. And it's to keep people from cheating. My thought was probably like yours is now. Why would you do that? Why would you sign up for this self inflicted thing and cheat? Apparently it happens. I don't know why you would do that. Just do the ride. So in the second control, the secret control, I had a fever and I can't keep anything in me and I'm super dehydrated.
And I even took pictures of like this dehydration that you can see in my face along the way. And I'd probably lost 10 or 12 pounds by that point, is my guess, from the Friday before I went to the Secret Control. I got to that point where I'd tried to think about, you know, a month ago and two months ago, of what are you going to do when you have all the reasons in the world to quit?
Like, are you going to push through and what are you willing to trade off for that, for that, at that time? And I, I knew the answer. But I capitulate. And I, uh, and I, I went to the secret control. Um, when I had a fever, I was like, my wife had just texted me that the kids had COVID. And I was like, no, you're COVID.
That's where the fever is coming from. And, uh, cause we had just seen each other two days before. And I was like, this is, you know, I have children. I have to get back. I do not need to be in a French hospital for a month because I've, you know, Tried to tough it out. And so I went to the control, uh, uh, officials, and I said, I need to withdraw.
And, uh, I was really concerned about the fever. And, and he said, he said, Okay, what's your number? And I gave him my number, and he said, All right, we're going to withdraw you. And I said, what do I do? And he said, you ride to the next control. You ride to the next control. And I was like, can I sleep? I was really tired, can I sleep here?
And he said, no, we're closing. The other problem with being at the very back. He said, we're closing in an hour. You cannot sleep here. And you cannot stay here. Because when we lock the doors, you cannot be here. I was like, well, the next control is Carhay. It's 50 or 60 miles away. I was like, so, if I quit, I still have to ride?
This is at 10 or 11 at night. And he said, yes. , that's what you do. And I said, well, take my name off the , take my name off the list, I rescinded
[00:07:40]Craig Dalton: by
[00:07:40]James Gracey: quit. And I'll decide. I'll decide when I get there. If, uh, if there were, that's still the case. 'cause I am close. And I just couldn't, I couldn't overcome thinking like what I'm risking.
And I just drank and drank and drank. And I think I, I think I didn't have a fever. I think I had, I was hot. Because I didn't have anything to cool me off. Yeah. 'cause I was just super dehydrated and so I kept drinking and drinking and drinking. And then by the time I got there, uh, to Khe, I laid down and I, I think I sent you the video of like all the people laid out all over the place.
[00:08:13]Craig Dalton: Yeah. It's pretty amazing. Just like people just, it's unbelievable falling asleep with their head next to their food on the table, anywhere laying on the ground.
[00:08:23]James Gracey: They had, there were, I didn't see, I saw one person with their feet in the street, like on a highway, like their feet are over the line. And you're like, wow.
As you go and you move your feet. Somebody told me they saw a head over the, head with helmet over the line. Like they just got over as far as they could go and they kind of fell over and went to bed. And so I got to Carhay and I laid down in the cafeteria on the ground with flies everywhere. And for two hours and I woke up and I felt a lot better.
I'd had, I'd had a meal. I'd had a lot of fluid. And I was like, at that point, you know, my plan was I don't have to, don't think about what, how far you have to go. Don't think I've got another 400 miles or whatever it was you think. I just got to get to the next control. And then from that point forward, it's, I just have to get to the next control, whether it's 70 miles or 100 miles.
Right. I just have to, if I can just get there, then I'll make a decision. Yeah. So
[00:09:20]Craig Dalton: you're, as you said before, you started in the tail end group, presumably everybody around you, you're starting to see like the really back of the bus.
[00:09:31]James Gracey: We're seeing in the back of, of even the people that left 12 hours before me are now back with us.
And they're in a terrible, they're in a bad way. Yeah.
[00:09:41]Craig Dalton: So are you, are you riding with some of these guys and girls? I'm riding
[00:09:44]James Gracey: with, I'm riding with some of them. And we had, uh, I mean, it's pretty interesting, ride baits for a while. Uh, that I'll, I'll, I've, I've, I wish them all, I wish them all well. I did get told at one point I had been riding with this one, uh, uh, randoneur that I was, kept riding in front of him.
And he won't get on my wheel. I'm like 40 feet in front of him. 30, 40 feet. I mean, he's getting zero benefit, but he's matching my pace. Like, if you want to get the benefit out of this, you have to ride right behind me. I don't know how it is where you ride, but that's what you have to do, or you may as well just ride by yourself.
Because I'm also having to talk loudly so you can hear it way back there. And so this went on for... 7 or 8 hours. I mean, long time. A long ride. And at one point, I got, and this, we went back and forth and back and forth. We'd kind of split up and then come back together somehow, or I'd see him somewhere else.
And at one point, we're about to drop down into a, into a, um, control. And I see, I see on my Garmin that we're about to descend for a bit. Even if it's 200 or 300 feet, I don't want to come back up it. If there's no food there, because it's closed. Then I got to come back up because there's a
[00:11:01]Craig Dalton: McDonald's right because you're already feeling like you're on the bubble of maybe
[00:11:04]James Gracey: I'm on every control.
I'm like, I don't know how this is going to work out, but it was getting better and better. And I was like, I told the group, I said, I'm going to that McDonald's and haven't had McDonald's in a dozen years. Easy. Because I quit and they realized fast food is bad for you.
[00:11:21]Craig Dalton: They were probably all like Americans.
They all eat McDonald's. McDonald's draw of the Golden arches was
[00:11:26]James Gracey: too much. It was too much. I saw people in there and it's just across the highway. So I went over there and I got a big Mac and fries. Okay. That was amazing. And I sat down and then a Japanese man came in next. I said, you guys go ahead. I'm going to eat.
I need to eat. And I don't want to have to come back up this Hill. To a closed McDonald's. Maybe like I would be devastated. It would be the end. And, uh, then a Japanese man came in and sat, uh, he couldn't figure out the self kiosk. So I walked him through it. And then while he was waiting on his order, I said, Come down and sit next to me.
He didn't speak any English. He spoke a little bit. And, uh, he took his helmet off. And as soon as he sat down, he burst into tears. And I said, I said, It's alright, man. I'm in the same place. I'm just not crying. I don't know if he understood, and he just, the only thing he muttered was, this is so hard. This is so hard.
And I said, I know, but you're going to eat your meal. I just had mine. I'm going to sit here with you, and we're going to start together, and you're going to be fine. And, and that's, and that's what we did. Right? And he was like, I mean he wasn't, he hadn't lost his mind, but he was hurting, and we still have a long way to go.
Uh, and uh, so we, then we left and when I got down to the lane was the next control, the person that I had been riding with, that's behind me said the control is closed and you're screwed. Do you die? He said the control is closed. I said, well, that's, I mean, it's fine. I'm going to finish. My goal was not necessarily to, you know, I would love to make 84 hours, but I'm just going to, I'm going to finish it and I'm not going to finish it if there's no food and I got to come back up this hill.
So I know where I need to be. He said the control's closed and I said, Alright, well I'm gonna go and, and lay down and get some, get, and sleep. I'm gonna sleep for, you know, 30, 40 minutes. And he said, well the control is closed. Why don't you come with me? And I said, No. You're not helping me anyway. And so I, I, uh, he went on and then I went into the control and the control was not closed.
The control was open. And I think he just wanted me to sleep. Drag him around. I don't know. It was the only, it was the only not super awesome experience that I had. Yeah. And so I got my, got my thing stamped and I was like, there were some other people there. I was like, I know I'm tired, but you just heard what I just heard.
There were some San Francisco guys there. And he goes, yeah, he said it was close. It was not close. All right. Maybe he was dreaming. Somebody else later at another, I think even our last control or control before last. was devastated, sitting there, losing his mind because the control is closed. And we're like, it's not closed.
It's right there. It's open. He goes, no, it's not. We're like, it is right there. It's open. He goes, he goes, no, I DNF'd. I'm not finishing because it's closed. And we're like, it's not closed. It's right, it's right where the lights are. He goes, what? And it's, and then he started muttering a bunch of stuff that made zero sense.
Uh, and so I got some sleep. And I woke up, and one thing somebody had told me before you, before we even started any of this was your body, as I don't know if I can sleep in the grass or sleep in the day, and they said your body will put you to sleep, you will go to bed, and your body will put you there, and they were right, like you can go to sleep anywhere, in the grass and rocks, I have a picture of one guy literally sleeping down the stairs, his feet are on, three stairs away from his head, And it cannot, it can't be comfortable.
But he's sleeping. He's just asleep. And so I slept, I woke up, and there were, uh, four, uh, SFR guys that were about to take off. Uh, it was, uh, Ed, Misha, um, Matt, and then one, and then one other San Francisco, Randall Nair guy. And I was like, you want to ride together? And we still had maybe 200 miles to go. to maybe, maybe even a little more than 200.
[00:15:36]Craig Dalton: crazy. Like I can't even get my head around, like being that it, you know, in the pain locker. And then And then
[00:15:43]James Gracey: like, you know, you have 200 miles to go. We don't think, we don't ever talk about like, Oh, we only have 600 more miles to go. We have more miles to go. Yeah, we just have to get, we have to get to the next control.
We just got to get to the next control. And we rode together through the night. Uh, and it was awesome. It was one of my best night rides ever. That, uh, uh, emotionally that I've ever had. It was awesome. We were making good time. It was a beautiful night. We're all laughing. Having a, um, a good time. We're all, uh, fed.
And we all have fluids. And making stops where we need to stop. And get a sausage or a coffee or whatever. And it was awesome. Um, and then we got to two controls to go. And there was a storm coming in behind us and I'm showing them on the radar like this is coming It's really thin. It's gonna like it's gonna blanket us with water and lightning for like 15 minutes So let's get under that tent and go to sleep For 15 minutes and they said no, I was like well, I Think we should stay dry.
I think it's important because if you get wet after you know, you're gonna get blisters It's gonna be very uncomfortable Things are going to start rubbing you in the wrong places. Like you could have a whole host of new problems because you're wet and it hasn't rained yet. Yeah. And so then they, we traded like we compromised.
Uh, Ed was the, was, um, uh, did the most compromise. He said, all right, I'm going to go get a sandwich and a Coke. You sleep. I'll wake up in 15 minutes. And if it's not raining, we're leaving. And I was like, done. So he did that. Uh, and Matt and Misha, we're all, we were still all there together. And, uh, they were stronger riders than me, so I need them.
So he kicked me to wake me up, and I was like, let's go. And, uh, it kept getting, then it got light, maybe two or three, two hours later. So the
[00:17:35]Craig Dalton: rainstorm, did it materialize?
[00:17:37]James Gracey: No, it didn't rain. I told him it was going to rain and showed them the radar.
they're stronger than me, so they finished before me. I was like, I was on the ridge by myself. The rainstorm was right behind us. Like I'm watching the lightning storm roll in. And the lightning storm went around just like that. Sounds like you
[00:17:58]Craig Dalton: just convinced these guys you needed a 15 minute nap.
[00:18:01]James Gracey: I need 15 minutes, yeah.
But they were, they were cool with it and we all left together. Uh, and we met up with another SFR guy named Noah, who's a really strong rider. And, We were rocking through the middle of morning having a great time. Was
[00:18:17]Craig Dalton: this the most simpatico group you ever found? Yeah, throughout the time. For sure.
[00:18:20]James Gracey: Yeah, without them I wouldn't have finished.
Like if it hadn't been, if it hadn't been for them and their enthusiasm to finish um Like Ed had done it 12 years ago and didn't finish Uh, it was Misha's first time. It may have been, I don't remember about Matt Um, but they had a lot of energy and enthusiasm and like hey, let's all We're better off together than we are separately, so let's figure out a way to do this together.
Even though Misha was so fast, and he was in like Teva clip ins, he was so fast. We would all start together, and he would take off, and we just wouldn't see him again until the next control. We'd catch up at the control, or at stop, and then we would all leave together. He would, he would take, he's like, I'm just riding my pace.
But he was, uh, had a great attitude. Uh, and then, maybe, maybe four, four or five hours before the finish start raining. And then the rain, if it had rained two days earlier, it would have been a different ballgame. But because you know, you can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel. You, uh, you're motivated and they, they had stopped for coffee.
So I went on and they're faster so I figured they would, uh, catch up with me at some point. And then I rode with, uh, I rode with One gentleman from, um, Thailand and one from Indonesia for a while that I think they'd kind of lost hope a little bit. They were, uh, they'd missed their cutoffs by a ways. We saw people and were talking to people that had, their deadline, their, like, time to finish is literally within an hour.
And we're a hundred miles away. And they, all they could talk about is, I have to get there, I have to get there. I'm like, slow down. You're not making any sense. You're all over the road. People were, in the last 12 hours before the finish, people are not making any sense. People are not speaking in complete sentences.
People that clearly speak English are not speaking, are not speaking English. They're making up things in their head and telling you about them like they're real. And all they said, the only, the only cohesive, Sentiment with all of those people is I'm gonna finish. I'm going to, like, even no matter what they're talking about, rainbows and unicorns or shiny pennies or whatever they got going on in their brain that's not working out because they need some rhodiola, probably, they consistently say, this is, one guy said, this is the, this is the time.
This is the year. He said it in like kind of French English. This is the year I'll finish. Yeah. This is the year. Like, yeah. Like he had done this several other times. I had not finished and he was probably 15 years older than me. I'm 51. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah,
[00:21:11]Craig Dalton: it's so interesting I mean you and I talked about this a little bit on a bike ride one day just Even with Ironman's and different things that we've done.
I've always known the finish line was there and within my capabilities, but 1, 200 kilometers In that timeframe, so much can go wrong. Whether it's physically, mentally, mechanically. So
[00:21:33]James Gracey: much can go wrong. Yeah. Like some things just are beyond your control and it's unfortunate. Uh, and it's, it's, there are so many opportunities for something to go catastrophically wrong or just to eat up so much time.
You're like, I've spent six hours on the side of the road trying to fix this problem and it's not fixed. Yeah. And now I'm exhausted from trying to fix the problem. Yeah. And I haven't made it a single additional mile. Yeah. None of that ever happened to me. It does happen. Like I did see people that happen.
We had the event, um, in the end had about a 40 percent DNF rate, which is, they have 4, 800 finishers out of 8, 000. Okay. And was that
[00:22:13]Craig Dalton: because it was hot this year or is that pretty average?
[00:22:16]James Gracey: I think that's even higher than average. I think the average is like 33 or 35. It depends on where you're from. Some people dropped out because it was hot.
It was like maybe 90 the first day, maybe, maybe a little more than that, 90 Fahrenheit. And one guy talked to after the race was over. He said, I dropped out. I said, it was too cold. He was 81 and from Thailand. And so he's, you know, it needs to be 90 for him to ride comfortably. Right. Not, not 80. And he said it was too cold.
It was way too cold. And then he just dropped out. So you didn't have any mechanical
[00:22:49]Craig Dalton: mishaps. You largely, you know, you, you. You found yourself in the hurt locker physically at certain points, but you kind of just did what you need to do, right? You don't know exactly what the answer is. You just know don't go fast
[00:23:02]James Gracey: and hydrate There's no reason to go fast and that you can't ride if you don't drink.
Yeah So you didn't
[00:23:08]Craig Dalton: you're you're sort of now within 50 miles of the finish line Yeah, you did mention to me you had some some issues.
[00:23:14]James Gracey: We had some yeah So I sent you a text at one point said I think I just sent it to you I was like, and my wife, I'm like, I'm pulling out. Like, back, right after breast. And then, we rocked through the night.
I mean, we, we slept for the last 37 hours. I slept maybe an hour. And moved a lot. Like, there was not a lot of sit down. And we were working together well, and doing it the way you're supposed to be doing it. And having, like, these really great feelings of camaraderie. And, and, even though it's self reliance, like, you're doing it.
With the friendship and camaraderie of others that are like minded and close to the same, uh, physical capability. And it was awesome. And so I got to the last control in Drew. And I was like, I have three hours left. And now it's only 30K. It's like we're maybe a little more, maybe like 24 miles. I have three hours.
I'm gonna, I'm like, I was elated. We had worked really hard to get there. and have been raining for a couple of hours, but it's only 24 miles. And, so I texted everybody I knew basically. I was like, I'm going to make it. I can't believe it. Like, my brain is coming back together. It's not in the middle of the night.
You're thinking all this weird stuff. And, um, I know what's going on. I'm, uh, I'm helping out with these, these two guys that I've been riding with and have been raining for a couple of hours, but it's only 24 miles. So I sat down, had a meal, which was awesome, and, uh, the two guys I was riding with, only one of them wanted to continue.
They'd both missed their time cuts already, and so one of them was going to sleep. Uh, and I'd had a flat repaired. They had a mechanic station there, and I'd been riding a probably 10 pound flat for 10 miles. Because I didn't want to stop and do it in the rain. You've got to get it all out, and it's like it would have taken forever.
And I was hoping that there would be a, um, And so we left, and when I got my bike from the, from the shop, my Garmin's not, not working. It just wants me to delete everything. And I turn it on, turn it off, turn it on, turn it off. It's like, I don't know, it's, I've been following signs. There are signs that say either Brest or Paris the whole way.
There's probably 20, 000 signs on the route. Were you trying,
[00:25:35]Craig Dalton: were you, I'm just curious about this little detail. It may seem super minute, but how were you trying to keep your electronics powered along the way? I had batteries.
[00:25:44]James Gracey: I had a battery, I had two solar chargers that were battery packed just in case.
Like, I kind of did it the wrong way. I had three lights of just the little trail, I forgot the name of the brand, but it's a mountain bike light that lasts about four hours on low. So I had three of those just in case, because if you don't have, if one of your lights goes out and you get stopped by control, you have to...
Joe Davis, Speaking: Wait for it to charge before you can, Craig Perkinsland,
[00:26:09]Craig Dalton: Speaking: Because, it's illegal to ride
[00:26:10]James Gracey: in that area. Joe Davis, Speaking: That's right. Craig Perkinsland,
Speaking: Right, And on the, on this ride without, without a tail light, a headlight and um, reflective gear. And so I had three taillights, three headlights, two big battery packs, and my bike probably weighed 15 pounds too much. And, uh, so everything, you know, was staying charged, I've got the Garmin charge, I've watched charge most of it kind of messed up one day.
And So we leave and it's not working and I said, all right, well, it's not, I can't get this right. And so you just follow the signs. I've been following signs. Literally, I could have done it without a Garmin, without directions at all until that point. Yeah. And, uh, we had been warned that people will steal the signs.
Okay. That as a souvenir. So you get a sign, they give you one of the signs when you, when you pick up your, when
[00:27:00]Craig Dalton: you pick up your bag,
[00:27:03]James Gracey: because then they will steal them all in the same place, right next to the end. Right. Right. Because that's where they all are. They're done. They go back on the course and they grab one.
And so I'm riding with a, uh, a gentleman from Thailand and we're following, uh, a man from France. I don't know where he was from in France, but he didn't speak any English. And so we're following signs, following signs, and all of a sudden there's no more signs. So it's me, the guy from Thailand, the guy from France, and two people from Germany, a husband and wife team.
Um, we realized. Nobody knows where they're going. Nobody's electronics are working. There's no, I see zero signs. And you're just in farmland. And, we're like, alright, well, how do we get back to there? So we started, all of us started going to a, in a direction of a, that we thought, and we got up there, and it's not, it's not the right way.
There's no sign. So we realize we're lost. And the gentleman that we were following, because I'm just following, and so you've been doing it for,
I'm following the guy in front of me and then the people he's following because he doesn't have electronics. The woman, uh, it was a husband and wife team. The woman has Shermer's neck, which I'd never heard of until two months ago or three months ago. What the heck is that? And I've never seen it. So at the very end, I saw maybe a dozen people with it and it's where it's a condition that you can't hold your head up anymore.
So your neck muscles are shot and they're not firing and all you look at if you're on the bike All you're looking at is your pedals. You can't even pick your head up to look past the handlebars You can see you can see your pedals your handlebar and your wheel, but you don't know where you're going If you have to take a right turn, you can't do it She is holding your head up with her fist under her chin.
That's incredible And her husband is giving her directions from behind her a little to the right A little, a little, uh, because you can't really, I mean, she's been awake for, you know, three and a half days. And so, we're like, we're following the people with Shermer's neck, and nobody has electronics, and there's no signs.
We don't know where we are. We don't know
[00:29:14]Craig Dalton: where we are. I can't even imagine how demoralizing that would be. It
[00:29:17]James Gracey: was pretty bad. Yeah. Uh, I don't have any, I go, uh, I cannot get anything on my Garmin to work at all. And it probably, it's from, Like, right now, if I were in the same condition, I would say, Oh, you do this and this and this.
And, like, logic's kind of going out the window. I think we're going to miss the, we're going to miss the cutoff. I look to see how far, the start and finish town is Rambouillet. And I look to see how far Rambouillet is. And it's, I only had 24 miles from Drew to Rambouillet. Well, now it's like 27 miles. And I'm like, Oh.
By, by, like, Apple Maps. And I said, I'm just gonna ride back. I don't know what you guys are doing. The charmer's neck and husband, they left, going in one direction. And we're not going that way. Because it's not the direction of the finish town. I don't know where they're going. So we rode back to where we think we got lost.
And we're riding around. The guy that only speaks French is trying to get his garment to work. We're all worried because he and I are in the same group. We're both about to miss cutoff. The other guy... Uh, from Thailand had already missed it. And, I got on my, on my phone, just directions back to, back to the start finish line.
I was like, I'm just gonna follow this. I said, this is what, I point to the guy from France, I said, this is what I'm gonna do. You can come with me if you want. And he said, no. He said, come with me. Come with me. I said, but this gets me there, and this has me getting there 15 minutes late. But I know, you know, it's, it's doing it from a, from a bicyclist perspective and I can probably go faster than that.
Has me there 15 minutes late, but also it has like seven, you know, construction zone things going on. I'm like, this is, I can't believe I've worked all this all for the last three days and qualification and giving up time with my family. It was kind enough to let me do all this and I screwed it up in the last like 20 miles.
Yeah. And I'm going to miss it. I'm going to finish, but I'm, I'm so close to completing it in the cutoff time. Yeah. So we're panicked, and he said, no, he's motioning, just follow me, just follow me. So he literally starts going down a pedestrian path that no bikes are allowed on, or cars, because it's like a sidewalk, going through fields, going in the opposite direction of the finish town.
And I see it on my phone, like we're going the wrong way. And he's like, just follow me. And so I'm, I'm like, all right. Do I go with Apple Maps? I don't trust, I don't trust for many reasons. Or do I follow this Frenchman who is pretty emphatically saying, follow me, I, I know where we are. And so I followed him, and we went maybe two or two and a half miles on pedestrian paths, where Apple's saying like, you can't be on this path.
And then, we're still gonna get there late, according to Apple. We're still gonna get there late, we're still gonna get there late. And then finally we pop out on this road, and I see other cyclists. So we're back on the path, and so, okay, so we're back on the path, but Apple says, I'm gonna miss my, miss my time cut by 15 minutes still.
And so we're, and I'm like, now I, now I see riders, and I just get, I say, look, I can pull us, just get on my wheel, just sit on me, and we'll go as fast as we can. We'll go as hard as we can until one of us passes out. And he ends up dropping off. And I take off and then the path, it still says I'm going to miss it.
I've been riding for 20 minutes, it still says I'm going to miss it. And then the path that we're on goes up a one way street the wrong way, which Apple Maps won't let you do. And so as soon as I get to the other side of that, it drops it by 30 minutes. It's incredible. And I'm going as hard, I'm like, I'm head down, going as hard as I can without blowing up.
Everything I got until that point. And I realize, like, I realize what has just happened and now I'm going to get there 30 minutes ahead of time. And I breathe, breathe for a second and still going hard. And finally I catch up with these, uh, these guys that are SFR, um, riders. And I'm just like, I'm about to fall over.
Like, can I just sit on your wheel? And they let me sit on their wheels, Hans and another gentleman. And I sat on their wheel until the finish line. And got there in time. I was there. And then I'm super worried about the Frenchman, who, if it weren't for him, I'd be on a highway somewhere trying to get back to the start line.
Yeah. Following Apple maps. Uh, and if it weren't for him, and he's in the same cutoff as me, so I did see him, uh, after he finished and he made the cutoff. And we had a great, we had a tearful embrace and it was, I was terrified I was gonna miss it. And I have all these emotions. And like, I was totally fine emotionally until I could even see the finish line.
I'm like, there it is. Like, let's just, let's just go to it. And then I got to the finish line and lost it and burst into tears. And my friend Ray is there and he's like, wow. . Wow. Because he, he finished, he finished in, in 80 hours I think. Something. Okay. Like he finished really fast. No, he finished in, uh, 74 hours I think.
Yeah. And so he had been there and gotten a night's sleep and, uh, and I was just a mess and I've never been like that. And maybe my first Ironman ever, cause I was, you know, I'd built it up in my brain that it was going to be this huge accomplishment and, and it was, it was, it was incredibly
[00:34:52]Craig Dalton: emotional.
Yeah. Understandably so. I mean, everything you went through to get there, to arrive in France in the first place, and then certainly everything you went through. Over the course of those 84 hours. Yeah. Like to finally like, not have to stress,
[00:35:06]James Gracey: to not have to, you know, pressure on you to like, keep going and keep finishing.
Yeah. And just where you can, like you didn't need
[00:35:12]Craig Dalton: to do anything. You didn't need. It's done. Yeah, it's done. Throw the bike
[00:35:15]James Gracey: down, pass out. I couldn't believe it and I made it. Uh, I did an 83, 83 25 I think. Okay. I had 35, 35 minutes to spare. So it was, it was close, especially considering an hour before that I was not going to make it and the time cut off at all.
[00:35:32]Craig Dalton: get the sense from some of your other riders that you knew, like Ray, like, did they get involved with groups that were like moving together throughout the entire
[00:35:41]James Gracey: course? Ray did for sure because he left at 90 hours and he said he, they had really good groups taking turns. And, uh, and that's, that's.
I mean, that's a good way to go. You know, it definitely is, uh, gets you going faster with less effort. Um, there were, there were large groups, probably, probably a lot of large groups from the 90 hour group. Uh, and then our group, I never really saw, I would see, there were, at the occasional control, or we'd leave an even, just a sandwich shop or something.
People would say, all right, I'm going to go, and then two minutes later somebody else would leave, and then 30 seconds later somebody else would leave, and 30 seconds behind someone is no benefit. Yeah. So we would have to say, stop. Like, let's all leave in two minutes, and there will be five of us together instead of five individuals spread apart.
And some people, I think, just want to do it on their own, and that's just where their, where their mind is, and where their, like, kind of their game plan is. I'm going to do it on my own. I'm like, okay. Yeah, but I need some help. , I need to ride somebody else. . Uh, and they were, uh, I did hear, I heard stories. Uh, I, I heard story of one person that had s schirmer's neck that put screws into her helmet and then taped, taped the screws and then taped the tape back to the back of her bag in the back to hold her head up so she could see.
And then one gentleman I had breakfast with the next day. from, uh, he was Irish. He had, he had a, not terrible case of it, but pretty bad, I mean bad enough that he said he had to, he stacked all of his spacers onto his head tube to raise his arms up so he could raise up enough to see it's not the right position.
And he said at one point he was looking at his fork and he said he looked at it for two hours in the middle of the night. He said, that's not my fork. That's not, somebody got, somebody while I was sleeping, came in here while I was eating, came in here and changed my fork to this fork. That's not my fork.
Who would have done that? Gone through all that trouble. That's a lot of effort. To change, take my fork and give me this other fork. I said, how'd you, what'd you do? And he goes, I had to go back through pictures and find a picture of me standing next to my bike with that fork. To convince myself like, oh, I'm just, Not in the right place mentally to make decisions like this, you know, magical fork theft.
Oh, yeah. And, uh, some stories like that I heard a lot of the next day. And a lot of Shermer's Neck stories of people that can't hold their head up. Yeah. And, uh, you could see, I didn't see any of, I didn't see any of this, but I did get told people would come to the finish line and it changes pavement. It goes from hard packed gravel to cobbles for 30 feet maybe.
to, to loose gravel dirt in, uh, maybe 200 meters before the finish line. It changes three different pavements. And people would see the finish line and raise their arms and and celebration immediately fall to the ground. Because they have no control over anything. They have You know, something that muscles aren't working on them or they try to raise their arm and race that they would just see him like fall over and they've now crashed 25 feet from the finish line from no, from no reason other than celebrating that they're excited and they don't realize things don't work and yeah, like muscles don't work, their neck doesn't work, their arms, shoulders are all pinched and locked up and he said people are just falling over.
Like, oh, person after person, after person celebrating. And they would just crash and they'd have to go pick 'em up. And then I can't imagine a kind of a worst way to . Worst way to end your 90 hour. Yeah. Uh, bicycle ride. It's crashing in the gravel and getting a bunch of rocks under your skin. A hundred
[00:39:42]Craig Dalton: percent.
So what do you, what do you do after finishing? You just go and crash somewhere and sleep
[00:39:47]James Gracey: for a day? Yeah. Uh, I didn't have a plan 'cause I didn't know, I didn't know what was gonna happen. Uh, I did have a vehicle there. Uh, Uh, so I went and stayed in the barracks. So they just open up a big room, basically, in, in one of the buildings and throw cots in there.
They have cots and, like, an emergency blanket. And I bought some, uh, I didn't, I didn't, I wasn't really thinking right. I ordered a pizza, but I don't think I ever went to pick it up. No, I went to go get a change of mind at a steak. And, uh, so I got some bottles of Evian. She rinsed off and went and laid down.
And then people, I went to bed at maybe ten at night. Forty nine to one oesophytoptics. there at five or you know, just before five in the evening and there were people that kept coming in for the next, I was there twelve hours maybe I left at maybe ten in the morning and people kept coming in you could hear them like shuffling around falling over cots and they've been out there for at this point, like four days or maybe even longer depends on when they left because if you are, it's an out and back.
So if you're 50 miles from the finish and you want to call it quits, there's nobody to call it quits too. There's not a control there. There's nothing there. You just need to ride ride on end. Yeah. And, and they kind of got, I think they were in probably pretty bad condition. Yeah. I slept, slept well, and then I went and had more food and I've been, I'm still eating, I'm still catching up on food and probably not fluids, but on, on food.
Yeah. Um, that it, it just takes a lot of time to put it back in you to gain your weight back.
[00:41:26]Craig Dalton: Such an incredible experience and accomplishment. Having done lots of big events, your Ironmans, your Leadvilles, where does Perry Breast Paris fit into the... It's pretty
[00:41:36]James Gracey: high. Yeah. Yeah. I didn't think that at the beginning.
And then I told, it may have been you that I told, that kind of the further I get away from that event, Um, the more special it is. Is becoming to me in my brain like remembering all of I probably have a I probably have a solid year's worth of writing stories Yeah in three days. Yeah, and some of them significant Some of them were like a very low point for me or a very high point for me or just seeing something I've never never seen I've been cyclist my whole life since I was 12.
I ever seen Schermer's neck And know what it what it was. That's all dozen of them people that I don't know, you know There were people that were definitely being dangerous at the end, but they don't know they're being dangerous. Like, at one point, we had to tell one, uh, one rider to get away from us.
Like, you were riding from the right line across the line to the left line on the other, on oncoming traffic. In fact, for every, you know, hundred meters you're, you're moving forward, you probably did 300 meters of riding because you're just going back and forth. And it's not a hill. It's flat, flat ish, and it's dangerous.
And so they, you know, they gotta, they need to be able to stop those. But when do you stop? How do you tell an official? You don't, I'm not stopping to tell anybody anything. I'm going. Like, we're close. I did hear of one gentleman that was, that was just non responsive, 100%. He's standing there, eyes open. He's not saying a word.
And he's just comatose. Yeah, and they pulled him. Yeah is what I heard and that probably is having people are the people are just it's in their brains They're gonna go and get this thing done. Yeah. And they like, I felt like I was really mentally prepared for it and these people are way more mentally prepared for it than I was.
'cause I, they're just not gonna stop to, probably to the point of being dangerous. Yeah.
[00:43:32]Craig Dalton: But I mean, there's gotta be a little bit of that in you, just inherently in signing up for something like this. You know, as you said before, you know it's possible. You've previewed in your mind the places you're gonna need to go and the pain you're gonna have.
Yeah. And you've said to yourself, Unless it's going to hurt me physically or my family, I'm going to keep going. Like, you're right. You're, you're sort of like, I made
[00:43:52]James Gracey: those decisions. You make the trade in your brains already, uh, of what it is that you're willing to give up to get to the next control. Are you going to do this?
Yes or no. And if you get to a point and you know, the answer is no, because I don't want to. Yeah. Be in the oncoming traffic. Yeah. Like if I were doing that, I'm like, all right, I'm going to finish, but I'm going to go to bed for until I wake up. I'm not going to set an alarm. I'm just going to go over to some grass somewhere and fall asleep.
And, and then you can come back and you can finish. Mind if I make you time, but you did it in a safer manner. Yeah. I definitely got the feeling that some people are not, they were, it's almost like the way that I have ever explained, uh, uh, drinking alcohol to one of my kids. Like my kids are in young, young teens.
So we talk about it. I'm like, somebody, like, you would never have, like, my son would never have ten beers. Ten. I mean, ten's a lot. But somebody with nine beers in them would. And it's not you anymore. Like, you are not making that decision anymore. It's the person with nine in them that's making the decision, and you gave them authority to make that decision when you had eight and seven and six, and, right, and back it on down.
It's the exact same thing. That person, if I showed them a video of themselves, Right now, weaving all over the road, they would make the decision to lay down and go to sleep. Yeah. But it's not them making the decision anymore. It's them, plus 680 miles, or 700 miles, or even further, and, you know, three or four hours of sleep in four days, with this tremendous physical exertion, and this tremendous physical expense.
Uh, so they're not making that decision anymore. It's whatever they have kind of predetermined in their mind as their break point. And their break point was pretty far. But, that said, I don't, I think, I, I did read an article that said it was an unsafe event. Like, they're, well, you put 8, 000 people on a bicycle, all at the same time something's gonna happen.
It's not gonna be good. And that's just the law of probability. Like, I don't think anybody has died doing the ride in, maybe the last one was 2011 or something. And yeah, that's, uh, that's not, that's not bad. It's not like people are dying on it all the time, or even end up in the hospital, uh, to my knowledge.
And for that reason, I think it's, you know, even though there are dangerous things that are happening, it seems to be like pretty safe event. Where you think
[00:46:28]Craig Dalton: about the equipment available, the nutrition, like all the stuff.
[00:46:36]James Gracey: It's, that's one of the things that draws me to it, to that specific event, like I feel like I feel accomplished as a rider for having done it and haven't gone through some peaks and valleys and a couple of significant valleys for me, like, I feel that makes you feel accomplished if it was just the easy peasy and I sat on somebody's wheel for 760 miles, like I probably still felt accomplished actually,
[00:47:00]Craig Dalton: it's a long way, but
[00:47:02]James Gracey: But doing it on, uh, what is probably a 40 pound bicycle, probably with solid, probably more than that.
It's the same amount of climbing that they 40, 000 feet. Yeah. Uh, with whatever they had available to them and whatever, I mean, I've got heart rate and Garmin and I know the, I know, I see what is coming. I see the hills that are coming up through technology. I've got a relatively light bike. That is, you know, probably one of the, uh, it's probably a fantastic bike for this particular event packs, rain gear, technical gear, super stiff shoes, all
[00:47:44]Craig Dalton: your bag of
[00:47:45]James Gracey: modern medicine, I've got everything, a big, big top tube filled with rhodiola and, and salt tabs and like, uh, like all kinds of stuff.
I can't imagine having done something like that 130 years ago. And and and finishing. Yeah, it's unbelievable to me that I mean people had some grit to be able to To do that like What distance or what level of complication or elevation would you have to accomplish now for it to be equated to that? I don't know.
Yeah, but it's definitely further with a lot more climbing. Yeah definitely to match the same Tenacity that they had to go and yeah and say i'm gonna go do that. I mean, it's
[00:48:31]Craig Dalton: unbelievable. It's unbelievable Yeah, it's I mean, it's just like everything It happening every four years Yeah, the sheer challenge of what you undertook.
It's just amazing. Congrats for
[00:48:42]James Gracey: yeah. Thank you. Thank you. It was, it was, it was awesome. I would love to go back and do it again with friends. Uh, as you and I talked about, it's a difficult, it's a difficult event to do with a friend, I think. Yeah. Because at some point, if you're one mile an hour off of the other one, you guys, you have to split up and go on your own.
Um, and for, and that's the only reason it would be, it'd be difficult be, be fun to do the purveys together. It'd be fun to do the training together and be fun to make an adventure out of it together. Uh, and be, you know, as partnered up as you can, just like a cycling race. And then when it comes time to like, Hey, this is not working out for one of us.
Yeah. The other one has to understand and yeah,
[00:49:23]Craig Dalton: no, I think you, you just, you have your own journeys in these events. You have your own, it's your own, it's your own thing. Whether it's these big gravel events or per breasts, Paris, it's just like, Hopefully, I mean, I think that's the beauty of it. Right? You, you get to the finish line, you've all gone through your stuff, whatever that stuff was, but you were out there together.
You saw the same things and you come back and you can revel in that shared experience, even though you weren't riding side by side. Yeah. Like
[00:49:47]James Gracey: the guys that I rode with the last day, basically, if I saw them right now, I might give them a big hug and I barely know them, but we did that thing. We did that together, especially at the end.
And, uh, and have that shared experience and can laugh about it and they all have their own lives to get by. It's not what they do for a living. Yeah. You know, it's a, it is a, it's a hobby. It's a, it's a good hobby. It's a athletic, it will help you live longer. Uh, but in the end it's just a, it's a, it's something you're doing for yourself as much as I tell my kids I'm doing it for them.
I want to be around to help you guys later. The way I'm going to be around is stay fit.
[00:50:27]Craig Dalton: Yeah. Thanks for sharing the story. Thank you for
[00:50:29]James Gracey: having me, Craig. It's, Craig and I've been friends for 20 ish years and, uh, and it's, I'm super, uh, happy and, and really honored to be on your podcast. Yeah. A lot of people follow you and, uh, like even when Craig and I have been in different areas of the world, people said, are you Craig Dalton?
Are you Craig Dalton? You have your, your gravel ride jersey on and they're like, do you know Craig Dalton? And one time you had to say, I am Greg Dalton. Right? I'm like, all right. It's, uh, so it's, it's fun to be a part of that. Awesome. Thank you very much.
[00:51:02]Craig Dalton: You're welcome. I appreciate having you. Um, I was stoked to document some of this journey cause I want your kids and family to listen to it and hear all your stories and all of our friends.
And hopefully everybody else out there will check out Peri Express Paris. There's a lot written about it. There's a lot of resources and you can see the journey that many people went on this year in 2023. Yeah.
[00:51:23]James Gracey: Yeah. Thanks Greg. Awesome.
[00:51:25]Craig Dalton: Thanks man. Yeah.
That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel rod podcast. Big, thanks to James for coming on and telling us all about Perry breasts, Paris. I hope like me. You enjoyed learning a little bit more about the sport of randonneuring and such a story to event they have there and France. I forget if we mentioned it during the show, but it only happens every four years. So it's such a big deal. To arrive at the start line and get to the finish line. It's definitely one of those bucket list events. I was thrilled to get James on the microphone to talk about it as I wanted to document his experiences. So you could share it with his family first and foremost, but also to all of you. If you're able to support the podcast, please visit find me a coffee.com/the gravel ride or ratings and reviews are hugely appreciated. Until next time here's to finding some dirt onto your wheels