I started PBP in the third wave of 90 hour riders, at 2210 under a light drizzle of rain that turned the narrow tarmac until a slick, dark avenue of cold and danger. My legs felt weak, the crowd of 100 riders who surrounded me wore on my nerves. I kept on expecting one of them to do something stupid, go down and take out a dozen of us in the process. Two hours in, nearing midnight, I started to doubt if I would even make it1 as far as Brest.
Then, we entered another village, with a cafe staying open well past its regular hours. It was a bright, warm oasis in the midst of this freezing hell, and I signalled to pull out of the paceline, leaned my bike against a wall and went in.
The place was crowded, and I slowly edged my way to the counter, but before I could order, a local spectator cut in and got the barkeep's attention to order a cafe before me. Before I could protest, he turned to me and asked, "Voulez-vous une cafe, aussi?"
I gave a slightly testy "oui" and he replied back, "it is my policy to only buy a cafe for riders who will finish. If you promise to finish, then I will buy you a coffee. Do you promise to finish?"
And I looked at him and once again said "oui." So he turned to the counter and ordered another coffee, handed it to me and said, "bonne courage, randonneur."
So I let him pay for my coffee. Then four days later, I finished Paris-Brest-Paris. It seemed like the honorable thing to do at the time.