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Thread: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

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    Default PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    I said I had some stories to write about from my experience at PBP 2011. Although it still needs further work, here is my first attempt.


    Thai Pham

    My riding bud, Ren, and I had pulled out for Tinténiac. It was early miles after a stop. The muscles wanted to groan and ache and complain. We spun easily until some warmth returned to our legs and the muscles became more agreeable. Dusk was approaching and we slipped off the main route to a side street entrance and began another ritual of prepping for the second night. Make sure the vest and reflective bands were in place. The batteries were good in the rear taillight. Headlights switched on. After a wool skull cap was slipped on, the helmet strap was snapped up, the clicks of the cleats meant we were rolling.
    Nice gentle rollers agreed with us, until we glanced up to a church looming on a large hill. Ren asked “Think they’ll show us that church?” “Off course………” I replied. Tired legs don’t like yet more steep hills any better than tired minds like seeing a church steeple at the top of a hill on a long ridge. But F it here we go.
    Chains chunks (Campagnolo chunks to me….Like A BMW motorcycle clunks into gear) onto the little 34 ring and I pop the right mouse ear to drop down on some smaller cogs in the rear. And then I settled in.
    Find the rhythm and find the mantra and let your mind float away to earlier days of riding a new frame or a distant love or a passed soul. The hill gradually melts under our power and we pop onto the false flat of the village and sweep gradually to the left. And the church is getting nearer and framed by a black menacing sky. The wind smacks me in the face but we are on a flat and rolling pretty good. There’s someone in the street clapping and encouraging us with ”Bon Route!” or “Bon Courage!”. Then an animated Frenchman tries to get my attention. He’s raising his voice , swinging his arms and pointing to my bike. Something is terribly wrong! I stop immediately. The man runs over and says “Your light! Your Lights!. Nobody can see you. You may get hit!” I had forgotten to turn the front light on. He was right! And I thanked him in the only French I had mastered, “Merci Beaucoup”. We mounted up and spun a few feet and the rain poured down in an instant. I live in the South with its 100 degree days and cooling evening pop up storms. But this was a cold, cold rain. The entire change in climate had been a total shock to my system. I was wet and cold all the time and this was not helping at all.
    Ren is a smart rider. He immediately said “Let’s hole up for a while.” I’m a bull-headed rider and said “Let’s ride!”. Then a huge bolt of lightning zipped through the sky and zapped a radio tower with an instant crack of thunder which meant it was really close . Ren had suddenly graduated from smart to genius in a millisecond. I laughed and said,” Ren you right! Let’s hole up.”
    We found an alcove of a shop with an ancient stone bench. There we could see a dramatic display of lightning skitter through the sky. We could also see other riders continuing of their way. Faces full of bewilderment, fear, determination and suffering. Some looked underdressed but they may have been used to the colder climate. None looked happy.

    But we were happy for the time being. We discussed how the storm would quickly dump its energy, blow itself out and collapse. Then we’d be on our way with a little rest. We watched as the stone gutters swelled with the run-off and the little rivers swept down the hill. We watched the walls of wind force the sheets of rain whipping back and forth across the street which further convinced us of our wise decision. A couple of premier pud knockers pretending we had the wisdom anciens. We’d learn the hard way and in these events time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking …. Into the future.
    Sure enough the storm blows out, we mounted up and finally got a good close look at the church. We crested the top and it was payback time!. Downhill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    But the downhill, was a little bitter sweet. The road was slick, the sun was setting, and the terrain unfamiliar. You couldn’t let it all hang out but you could sure let the Bon Temps roll and sit up and relax a little.
    We proceeded down to the flat valley floor after climbing over the ridge. We whirled along at a decent pace and came up to the roundabout with warning signs and flashing lights and a gendarme yelling at us to slow down but we could proceed with caution. Then another mile down the road was a fresh assembly of numerous officials.
    Some uniforms were standing guard. Other small groups consulting, inspecting , interviewing and taking notes. There was a large truck askew to the left. It looked likeone of the “shit spreadersr” we had been seeing all day. It’s used for fertilizing in the fields. And there seemed to be a lot of fields in that area of France. You can’t get away from it. So you better figure out how to deal with the scent. Like living close to a paper mill or the pig trucks in Eastern North Carolina. Of course North Carolina has its share of turkey and chicken houses too so I’m used to a lot different exotic scents.
    But these spreaders are huge lumbering vehicles with big hefty diesels that gradually wind them up until the really get going. Massive momentum flying down the road to get another load boaked for the day. They have great drivers. They were always courteous and patient in waiting until they could pass safely and a lot gave a wave or a “Bon Courage!” out the window. I glanced to the left and the truck was swerved over to the other side of the road. I always like to know where the edge is and what it looks like. I ride to the right and don’t try to live out by the yellow line. So after quickly taking in the truck my eyes returned to the right.
    Then I saw it and my heart stopped. A sliver tarp with some broken carbon tubes sticking out. I looked away but glanced again and saw more under the tarp. I thought I’d cry and puke at the same time.
    I straightened up like being hit by electric shock and just kept pedaling on looking straight ahead. Just pedal. Just breathe in and breathe out. Slow, smooth and strong. . Slow, smooth and strong. . Slow, smooth and strong………………..
    Ren pulled up next to me. “MAN!!! Did you see that!” “Yes.” I replied. “Wonder what” Ren puzzled.
    “That was one of those shit spreaders.” Man they go fast don’t they?” Ren commented rhetorically. .
    The conversation was on. On the long rides it’s great to have a partner or group and an event. You can chat away about the event for miles. Dissect it from any angle. Use it as spring board to tell other great road stores. Kind of like telling stories on any long journey before TV and personal audio/video media centers in the back of a car, a bus, a train or a plane seat. The beauty of the bike for me is it seems to bridge those two worlds. You travel at a pretty fast speed and yet you’re tethered to the earth and the smells and the terrain and the rain and the dirt. It is my grounding rod.

    .

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    And part two to come in under the 10.000 character limit per post.

    But I breathed a heavy sigh. “Ren did you look right?” “No Man. I was looking at the truck.”, he responded.
    “Why?” , he responded in due course.
    “Because there was a silver tarp with a broken frame poking out.”, I explained.
    “You think someone wrecked their bike”, his curiosity peaked.
    “They don’t put tarps over broken frames. Someone died.” I answered.
    Then the conversation ended. I said a Hail Mary, the first of many to come over the rest of the ride.
    We rode in silence. Other official cars came past us heading to the scene at high speed. We encountered the first group returning from Brest. The semi-pros or hot amateurs or who ever can hold speed for so long.. And they were f’n flying. If you’ve never been around that kind of speed it is impressive and awe inspiring. And here I was groping around at the back chasing cut off times.
    We rolled into a secret Control but I joked it wasn’t so secret with a guy in the middle of the street yelling out its presence. We chuckled and got the cards stamped. We cornered an official and explained we’d come upon an accident. They knew and were handling it. Ren pressed and got confirmation from a quiet and saddened official that there had been a fatality. And the official firmly made the point that was enough information to be shared and to be on our way.
    I vowed I’d say a prayer (Hail Mary) for the fallen rider every time I saw a cross on the route. The South is all about “Ole Time” Religion, but the French have had that down for centuries and centuries. There are a lot of crosses and road side novena’s in Normandie and Bretagne. LOTS!!!!!!!!!!! And I said a lot of Hail Mary’s. And when I prayed I thought of the rider, and my sister and my Mom and how much I hated death. That it really defiled such a sweet thing as life.
    The facts gradually filtered in, caught traction on the internet and spread through the community of worried wives , friends and family.
    His name was Thai Pham with the DC Randonneurs. I think I may have ridden with him or then again maybe not. The name certainly appeared to be Vietnamese. I remember riding with a Vietnamese gent in NC. But on long rides with a swirl of riders, coming and going, sometimes it’s hard to remember if you shared some hard miles and a story on the road with a particular individual.
    If Vietnamese, he might surely be Catholic and the Hail Mary’s were truly appropriate. If not, perhaps his deity can convert them to the local currency and know we are thinking of him.
    After the event, my wife’s friend Yvonne, who visited from Sweden. wanted to see Sacre’ Coeur, the only thing on her “sight-seeing” list. So off we went. My legs were dead and my energy drained. We headed into the city, ate lunch in the shadows of Notre Dame. The girls had tired of me hunching and squinting and mumbling “Esmeralda..”, so we crushed into the Metro and headed to the Basilica. We hiked from the metro stop and up a number of steep side streets with my legs complaining every step of the way. We found the even steeper two hundred stairs and headed up. Resting a little between sets of stairs, we made progress until we looked out to the south where Paris was spread out from horizon to horizon. I forged ahead and entered Sacre’ Coeur and decided I would say my final prayer for Thai and one more for my sister and mother.
    We have a number of religious icons on our south wall and door at home. But I did not have a Crucifix although I had meant to purchase one many times. Now was the time I decided and headed into a shop run by the Sisters of The Sacred Heart. I searched and vacillated whether to buy one here or get one at a more economical cost at home. Yvonne entered and we both decided on one that had a particular charm. The shop was closing as they were preparing to have Mass. I was lucky as the card went through this time and was the last purchase of the day. I thought, “I have to get faster. I’m tired of chasing the control times.”
    I made my purchase. I wandered stunned as I tried to comprehend the beauty of the art inside the Basilica . And I said my last Hail Mary for Thai.
    When I got home, I mounted the crucifix over our door. I drilled the pilot hole and screwed in a brass hook. I mounted the Cross and it swayed to and fro in a nice fluid rhythm and at a good Rando cadence.
    I watched it for a while. And then I drifted away. When I came back fifteen minutes later it was still rocking back and forth. I woke my wife who was already starting to awake since she was still on French time.
    “You’ve got to see this”, I exclaimed. She wandered into the den and wiped her bleary eyes. I pointed out the Crucifix and explained it has been rocking back and forth for a good twenty minutes. She watched for five minutes more.
    I finally said “It’s Thai riding….”
    She said “It could very well be.”
    The Cross finally stopped rocking many minutes later. But as it finally came to rest, I swear I saw the slight gleam of a faint red tail light as it rounded the last bend on the climb to the Control in Heaven.
    Ride on Brother! Ride on…………………

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    Spellbound.

    Thank you

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    Well written!

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    Quote Originally Posted by Rico View Post
    The Cross finally stopped rocking many minutes later. But as it finally came to rest, I swear I saw the slight gleam of a faint red tail light as it rounded the last bend on the climb to the Control in Heaven.
    Ride on Brother! Ride on…………………
    I get the chills reading that. Beautiful but sad.

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    That's sad. I feel for his family and friends.

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    deeply saddened that someone will be so missed.

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    Sad, but captured well. Thanks for sharing.

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    Poignant ... and sobering

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    Thanks for sharing Rico, great story.

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    Well written and sad on many levels.

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    Default Re: PBP - Thai Pham Part One

    Powerful. Our energies are passed along.

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