Leçons de France (lessons from France)

August 22, 2007

Leçons de France (lessons from France)

Riding in the Route de France was like a Science Fair experiment gone wrong. I had to do one of these projects every year growing up, so whether it was through catching meteorites in a wading pool in my backyard or making soap from lye with my dad and then testing it, I know all about controls and variables. The rules are simple: in an experiment, you can only change one variable, and the others must remain constant so you can observe the effects of those singular adjustments. Unfortunately, in this particular experiment, the designer appears to have forgotten the cardinal rule of the scientific process, and changed all of the variables, rendering the results absolutely impossible to analyse.

This was my first European racing experience, so it was expected that I might feel a little bit different. In the States, I am just starting to grow accustomed to the way that my legs feel in different situations and to which things I can and cannot do. Unfortunately over here I have had to start over in developing my self-knowledge. I can't even pinpoint what it was that caused me to feel different in the various situations.

It could have been the fact that I am eating different food at different times here, that I just survived my first trans-Atlantic major time change, that I am racing with an entirely different group of teammates, that I am racing for an entirely different staff or it could be that I am all of a sudden measuring things in kilometers. The racing style is not the same here either, and I not only don't know my competitors' weaknesses and strengths, I don't know their names, and even if I did know them, I could not begin to pronounce them. And we are racing at a funny time of day, and we aren't staying in a homestay, we are staying in hotels, and we aren't even staying in one hotel, we have to keep moving and sleeping in different places.

Add all of this to the fact that on the plane ride here I tried to internalize for the first time that I was actually going to Europe, race or not, for the first time in my life, and realised that I couldn't. I was still too deep in figuring out what the heck I was doing or where I was going next. I'm maybe processing back at Nature Valley or Nationals somewhere. My head ought to make it to Europe in roughly December. It'll be a nice vacation from school whenever it does.

So I have only one recourse to combat the fact that someone somewhere is playing mad scientist with my life - to follow some advice and just focus on moments. They tell me that it is too easy to have an entire career pass by without being aware of moments, so I try to catalogue them at least, even if I can't seem to figure out the big picture of what is going on around me.

The bouquets of flowers are bigger here. I really want some. The trophies are stranger.

There are people who like to take photos. They make me nervous. I try to hide on the other side of the car from them. I want to tell them 'leave me alone, you are scaring me', but I don't speak French.

Although I did learn to say 'I would like an apple', and successfully request and receive one from a purely French speaker. I also learned how to say cheese and mustard.

Laughing about the fact that mustard is "moutard" made me realise that I am not only the loudest person in the US, I might be the loudest person in Europe too. Maybe in the world - this is a good contest for me.

Another good contest is seeing who can catch the most dead bugs with the warming oil on their legs. As this was my first warming oil experience I learned that also sometimes when you stop riding, the oil will start to burn, and that jumping around saying "it burns, it burns!" doesn't help it to stop.

Another person who is loud sometimes is Laura, our soigneur. Not only was she loud, but she was my refuge. When I was done each day with counting down how many kilometers I had left to be scared for, I could think about getting a rub from her. They say that massage removes toxins from your body, but it is actually a process for your entire self and well-being, as you can say anything to her during your half-hour window. Maybe she is a wonderful listener, maybe she was just a paid captive audience, but Laura was one of my saviors these last eight days.

Some people here will not eat the center part of their bread. I think this is strange, because I like to only like to eat the center part of my bread since I think it tastes better. French bread has a disappointing quantity of center part.

I can still sing sometimes in European pelotons (ask Meredith, I take requests) but I am a little more afraid that someone will take that as good enough excuse to put me in a ditch to shut me up.

Nutella has a special kind of gravity that is not only attracted toward my mouth, but also toward all of my other personal belongings. This is more surprising to me than to anyone else who has tried to live with me.

Whether your competitors speak English or not is an unknown quantity, but it's virtually guaranteed that they will not understand the phrase "jerkface", meaning that I can mutter it at anyone who cuts me off with no fear of retribution.

If you are at the front, you are winning, if you are at the back you are losing, and what you are winning or losing at is the cross-winds game.

To give me a wonderful boost the last day, it is indeed possible for my older brother - who flew into Stockholm to bike tour Europe about a month ago - to somehow miraculously make it to La Bresse to give me a hug, pannier and all before the start.

I suppose that life goes on, whether you are able to process it in complete paragraphs or not and you can still have a wonderful time even if you can't figure out if you are coming or going. Life is always teaching lessons - maybe the grand lesson here is that I don't have to be able to understand a situation, I just have be able to enjoy it. Every night before I go to bed, I make a list of three things I am grateful for that happened that day. The lists keep getting stranger. But I see them in no danger whatsoever of stopping.

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