No Camping, But Hoping For Karaoke With Belgians
The first time I found out that I would be going to France, I was drinking a margarita in the shower. It was my senior year of college, and I got a phone call telling me that I had been hired as a bicycle guide for an outdoor adventure company. It was probably a strong margarita, the kind we used to make with frozen limeade and cheap tequila in the blender. I was so excited. I was going to France. I stepped out of the shower carefully, reassuring myself that I had made a smart choice in using a plastic cup.
That summer, I co-led a group of a dozen 15-18 year olds from Paris to the Mediterranean on an unsupported bicycle tour. We shopped for groceries daily at local markets, slept in campgrounds each night and if time allowed, joined the Belgians and Germans for karaoke. One night we slept in an apricot orchard, and in another we were serenaded with a rendition of Hotel California by some young Frenchmen clad only in underwear.
On Sundays, locals out on long rides would catch up with us and chat, wanting to talk a bit about American politics or tell us about their region.
I saw the Mount Ventoux stage of the Tour de France. We went to the mountain the night before and I slept on the ground, on a rock, between several RV campers. We waited 12 hours for the riders to come through, and when they did, I freaked out. I hadn’t ever seen anything like it, what with the sheer number of rowdy fans alone, but when the peloton came through, I lost it, standing just feet away from the best riders in the world. People went wild, screaming and cheering, running next to the riders in crazy outfits, or barely any outfits at all. Afterwards, unfamiliar with the dilemma of leaving a mountain top with 500,000 other people, we ran out of gas and hitchhiked to the bottom in an RV that smelled like rotten eggs.
These are the interactions, landscapes and conversations that elude travel by other means.
I started working in a bike shop at 15 and learned that bicycles led people to connect and bond quickly. This trip took that perspective to a new cultural level. It was something that Tom, the owner of that shop, had told me about from his adventures bike touring. He told me often to spend money on travel and not stupid things like expensive clothes. The clothes go away, he said, the stories and experiences of travel stay with you forever.
I loved it so much, I went back again the next summer and did it all over again.
That was over 10 years ago.
The third time I found out that I would be going to France, I postponed my wedding. I had gotten a job as the production manager for a small commercial photography and video company called BrakeThrough Media. When the co-owners, Iri and Jim, mentioned that they’d be covering the Tour, I joked that I had experience working in France and that they should take me with them. When they decided to take me, I was beside myself.
So here I am, days away from my third adventure in France, engaged to a guy I met through bike racing, who was not only fine with rescheduling our wedding, but is supportive beyond belief. He would give anything to have this opportunity– an opportunity for a third adventure, a different perspective on bicycling in France– and is doing whatever he can to make it happen for me.
When I leave Saturday, I won’t be bringing a bike, nor will I have much time to ride one. I won’t be in charge of any teenagers, and there won’t be any camping. I’ll be wearing an engagement ring and media credentials, and driving a car around to find food or parking by the media room. I won’t be pulling a B.O.B trailer, but I’ll still move from town to town each day and lug around backpacks full of hard drives, laptops, and cameras. I’ll probably eat too many gas station sandwiches and be up too late and awake too early. Every day I’ll be behind the scenes, witness to a frenzy even greater than that which I first experienced many years ago on Ventoux. I might not get more than four hours of sleep a night, but maybe I’ll have time to enjoy a really good glass of bordeaux to make up for it.
And I couldn’t be more excited.