PARENTING, TRAVEL, AND LITTLE JOYS
In 2004, I graduated from college and came to Europe for a 6-week backpack adventure with my then-boyfriend (let's call him Sam). It was sort of a speed-race around Europe on the train, with a whole week in France at my urging. I learned what I like about traveling (markets, trying languages, walking around) and what I don't like (museums, reading Rick Steve's tours of museums out loud, historical tours, reading historical tours aloud from books).
One day, we ended up in some little town in the French countryside. When we left the hotel in the morning, I asked, "are we doing anything today that would make it stupid to wear a skirt?" "Of course not!" he replied. So I wore a skirt.
It turns out the secret plan was to get to this town and go on a ten-mile bike ride through the French countryside, which would take us through some other little town on a round-trip route. There were bikes to rent at the train station, and they came with laminated maps attached to the handlebars to show you the route.
Here's where I tell you that I don't like riding bikes. At all. In fact, before this French adventure, I hadn't been on a bike since third grade, when I fell off my bike on the street behind my house. That day, I broke my two front teeth in half, got 94 stitches in my re-created lip, and bent 3 other teeth out of place. It wasn't the best. So bikes and I really don't get along that well.
Also, maps. I will give a map a try. And it turns out, now that I've traveled a lot on my own, I can do pretty well with a map. But I really have to try. I have to be like Joey from FRIENDS and "get in the map". I have to remember landmarks. I have to turn the map to face the direction I'm going. I can do it, but it doesn't come naturally by any means.
So there I was, with a bike, and a map, in a skirt. Sam decided that he should go first, and I could just follow him. "If you get too far behind, ring your bell, and I'll slow down." The route on the map seems simple enough: it's basically a square. To be fair, there aren't any street names on it, but there also don't seem to be that many streets. So it should be cool.
I want to add here that the ride was absolutely beautiful. There were fields of blood-red poppies blowing in the wind. The skies were perfect like you see in Renaissance paintings. There were fields of lavender that smelled amazing, and white ponies running in the fields. The scenery was truly fantastic.
But it was kind of hard to appreciate. First, I was learning to ride the bike. With skills at a kindergarten level, I kept turning the bike every time I turned my head.
And then let's add that this bike wasn't exactly ready for the tour-de-France. If the bike were a horse, it would have been on its way to the glue factory. The wheels were wobbly. That map never stood a chance at staying attached to the bike. I finally gave up and left the map somewhere along the road. And the seat kept sinking.
After two minutes, the trip turned uphill. Slightly, sure, but I was still sweating away and swerving all over the place. And then the seat started inching down. Inching and inching, and the more I pedaled the lower I got. Pretty soon, my knees were hitting my elbows as I tried frantically to keep up. Sam was getting smaller in the distance. I started ringing the bell. I'm not sure how to describe the sound but think about a tin can that you flicked with your fingernail. "Thunk".
Great. I'm basically riding a Big Wheels, and my bell may as well be a Thumbelina trying to yell her way out of a paper bag. Of course in all this, I had my skirt gathered in my lap so that it wouldn't get caught in the wheels.
And then the wind came. Skirt over face. If you don't know how to ride a bike, and then suddenly your entire view is just pink darkness, the results aren't good. I waved my arms around Kermit-the-Frog style trying to get the skirt back down, but it kept flapping up. The bike was teetering everywhere, the seat kept sinking, and my stupid bell was no use. Sam was long gone. I stopped to raise the seat and decided that the skirt would just have to fly free. If anyone drove by, they were just going to have to run the chance of seeing my polka-dot underwear, because otherwise, I was never going to get anywhere.
A few people did drive by. They looked, they laughed, they honked. And then one of them drove off the road. Not in a tragic way, just in a "oops" sort of way. Well, that's what you get for looking, dude.
I kept stopping to bring up the seat every time it got all the way to the bottom. I can't imagine how muppet-y I must have looked on the bike, with all my limbs flailing everywhere. Once I made it over the next hill, I saw Sam in the distance, and I decided to go for a heroic catch-up. I rode my darndest. Picture Shadow dragging himself out of that mine at the end of Homeward Bound. It was epic.
But the seat kept sinking, and I had to stop again. Sliding to a stop at the next field, I was yelling ahead. No dice. I stopped to fix the seat, and a white horse came over to say hello. I pet his nose. Who cared about the bike? Things were cool.
I realized the bell had a bunch of straw stuck in it. Helpful. So I cleaned it out, and tried a few serious rings to get Sam's attention. I did not get Sam's attention. But I got the horse's. It freaked out and jumped over the fence.
About a half-hour later, I made it to a fork in the road where Sam was waiting. Having caused a car accident and an equine escape, I was proud to have just arrived in one piece. We made it to the end of a thankfully flat road, to the town in the middle of the loop.
The town was about 1 square mile. It was completely quaint, with little family restaurants, laundry lines, family farms, and small houses. It had loudspeakers in every tree and on every light pole. They were all playing "Eye of the Tiger" on loop, for seemingly no reason at all.