So perhaps I was being maudlin and hysterical last week when I first arrived in France. My first official day of “sport climbing exodus” I followed Andy’s advice, but without the sad clown makeup. I packed up my climbing stuff and headed to the easiest area to find, walked up to a group of youngish people and said, in perfectly high school French, “Hello! I am American and I am here in France only with myself to climb.” They laughed and introduced their American-ish friend Allison.
Allison, it turns out, is the sort of person who will invite a stranger to drive with her to Ceuse for the weekend to visit her boyfriend and climb. After 2 days climbing in Gorge du Tarn with she and her funny French friends, we drove to Ceuse. It was pretty epic, speeding up and down these paved switchbacks with huge castles looming above us. We pulled into the Ceuse parking lot at about 3am and I immediately fell asleep in my hatchback bivy.
It was probably one of my more memorable drives. Here are some other road experiences I’ll not likely forget:
1997, from Houston to Sam Marcos with my entire family. I think this was the last time we all went anywhere together while living in the same house. We went to the San Marcos outlet mall to get new clothes for school or something, and Michael, who was 16, drove. We listened to Jerry Jeff Walker’s Great Gonzos album the entire time, and sang every song, and had a blast together. It was a great drive.
1998, from Bennington to Burlington, Vermont. My first time to drive in snow! I was in in my 1990 maroon Volvo, and with a girl I didn’t know very well who I was dropping off in Rutland. I was playing a Pixies tape, and their cover of “No Way to Say Goodbye” was on. I said “Do you know who’s song this is?” And that was when I first heard about Leonard Cohen.
2003, from a trailhead in the Cascades to a campsite in Eatonville, Washington, in a large type van with ten Cornerstoners, a field guide, and 2 Salvation Army staff. We had been pulled out of a 3 week backcountry trip early because Lax, another kid on the trip , had been lost in the mountains for over 24 hours. On that somber drive I learned all about the Vancouver Salvation Army War College, where young ministry workers go to live in poverty and minister to the urban poor. I also learned the Canadian national anthem. Then I noticed that the break line under the right front wheel was on fire, and was spitting flames out from under the wheel well whenever the brake was engaged. We had to stop at about 11 and wait for a few hours at an empty construction site for another van to come. We got to camp at 3am that time, too. Mikey Grant, who died in October 2007, was on that ride, and got us all to sing his favorite song, “I want you to want me”.
2005, from Durango to Ouray with Ben, the night we got married. We ate Chinese food in Durango and were planning to spend the night in Grand Junction. A huge snowstorm was on (the “storm of April 2005” and I swear they still remember it and mention it on Colorado local news programs every year) and we were in the mountains on 550 in a rented Buick without chains. There was almost no one else on the road, it was snowy and slippery and….mountainous. We could see the wire story “newlywed couple fall to death in snowstorm, buick”. Finally we got through it and saw the lights of Ouray, which is still, to me, the most beautiful sight on the planet.
2005, hitch hiking from somewhere totally random to Mae Sot, Thailand, I got a ride in a clean pickup truck (the Toyota Helio, which is the southeast Asian version of the Tacoma) from a clean cut guy who said he was a police man and probably was. He drove very fast, but screeched into the parking lot of every Buddah shrine (and there were half a dozen or so) and jumped out to pray. I considered not getting back on the road with him at every one, but Buddah assured me it was ok. Obviously I survived without incident.
2009 – From Batticoloa to Colombo in Sri Lanka, in a small van with 7 Sri Lankan journalists and my Austrailian friend Rebecca, on the night that the Tamil Tigers flew a plane into the Sri Lankan tax bureau building. We got calls from town, and took our time getting back and sang “Rivers of Babylon” over and over. The Lakans had funny interpretations of the English lyrics: “carry us away to the sticky tree, and fire us off the something.” I think this was the ride in which I dropped my cell phone into a pit toilet.
Anyway, France is great. I finally sent a 7a, which is supposedly an 11d but dude, here is my interpretation of the French grading system:
5a-5c+ = 5.8 or 5.9
6a-6c+ = 5.10b
7a,a+,b = 5.12b
7c = 5.14
8a = something people on the tv do