If a bad dress rehearsal means a good opening night, then maybe this "trial run" for my Tour de France trip is a good omen. This trip is full of mishaps. Some of it unavoidable, like the thunder and lightning showers. Some of the challenges are completely self made, like confusing Greenville, SC for Greenboro, NC. As I write this I have averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night for 3 nights in a row, so I am highly emotional. I have driven for hours, sometimes in torrential rains made blurrier by tears. Two life line calls to fellow Panthers have saved me and quickly turned tears to laughter. And I have made some big decisions about the logistics of my Tour de France trip.
Here is a taste. The plan was to catch a 7:00 a.m. flight on Wednesday to North Carolina via Las Vegas. My bad, I stayed up until midnight finishing The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I told myself it was because I did not want to tote a heavy paperback around. Really I just had to know what happened in the final chapters. (Recommended by David Sedaris; it is a modern version of Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.) I got up at 4:30 to barely make my flight and then bad weather on the East Coast delayed our flight to Raleigh. The US Open golf tournament is happening in Raleigh so a big group of us descended on the Dollar Car Rental counter. They had only two employees and a very antiquated computer system. While I waited in line an hour, I called the hotel to push back my reservation and discovered my first major logistical error: I planned my trip around Greensboro, NC when in fact I needed to be 4 hours south in Greenville, SC. Instead of tasting the culinary delights of the restaurant "17" chef, I would be driving until 1 a.m. to reach my hotel tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The next morning my first life-line was Mara. She ignored that my laugh bordered on hysterical and complimented me on my lightness. "You seem to be able to laugh about it." Yes and I was on the verge of panic. I took my Brompton out to ride in the hills around the hotel earlier that morning and thought I was going to die. I wanted to quit almost immediately. I pushed myself way past what I thought I could do and then pulled over the side of the road "to take pictures." I thought about turning around and then remembered my sister-in-law Heidi's practice. When she rock climbs to the place where she really does not think she can go one inch higher, she takes a rest and then pushes herself a little further before rappelling down. After my rest I pushed myself up one more hill.
Altogether, I was beginning to think my planned Le Tour Adventure was impossible. If I cannot figure it out in a place that speaks English and uses dollars, how will I manage in French and Euros? Mara asked me how I could make the trip "easy and fun". She was right--I was making it a job.
The most obvious decision: leave my Brompton bike at home. It may fold up very small but it meets resistance on all forms of transportation. Southwest did not want to check it without a box! (first time that has happened). Today Amtrak did not want to let it on (no bike policy). I would have to lug around a heavy lock and heavy bike repair tools, plus keep my helmet for the whole trip. Whereas if I leave it at home I can ship my bike shoes, helmet, bike gloves, and pedals home from London (Day 5 or 6 of my trip). I decided I am not taking the bike and now I am feeling some grief about making this decision. It is the right decision and I was really attached to the idea of taking it. I brainstormed where I might still miss my bike--Cambridge--and how I could rent a bike in those situations.
I really want to hire a valet to carry my stuff and wash my clothes. Instead, I am going to take one bag (borrowing Tevis' backpack) and still pack very, very light.
I am going to do a lot of research about train schedules and study maps of France. I will keep my eyes open for other people following the tour (like the Canadians I met last year) so I can team up and maybe one of them will speak English and French.
Last night I got about 4 hours of sleep (read my review of Hotel Domestique on http://americanjulie.com for full story) and I was feeling really emotional at 6 am when I stopped for breakfast-to-go and texted Connie to call me as soon as she was available.
I have some anxiety about traveling alone because of how other people react. Plus I have to pay a premium for single tours. The hardest part is not having someone to help troubleshoot when you get into a tight spot. Traveling with UK Sarah last week and getting a little lost on the way to Fish Camp was fun. When I talked to my second lifeline Connie, she recounted her own solo European adventure and how people showed up as needed. I have experienced this phenomenon too and Connie's reminder was helpful. Even on this trip, in Hillsboro, a 70ish man named Pleasure Sawyer saw me reading my map and began to regale me with stories about the area. I might have missed the giant peach water tower in Gaffney had Pleasure not talked my leg off.
I also planned a couple of visits with friends for this trip. Meeting up with Chris Kypriotis and his beautiful family in Asheville was fun and worth the effort. They treated me to Luella's BBQ and I learned a lot about Asheville. It helped me understand the vast difference between Upstate South Carolina and Greenville and the greater NC Asheville community. I started picking up on it while listening to the car radio (the stations all still have local disc jockeys!). Now I am on my way to see my dear friend Carole in Washington DC. On my Le Tour I will meet up with Harriet, Brian and the girls. And possibly Susie in Paris.
I also ordered a car to pick me up and take me to Dulles on early Sunday morning. When bad logistical choices are all you have then a little bit of comfort is the best tonic.
Answer: Purple leafed European Beech.