Monday, June 29, 2009

Liam's Ride with Lance Armstrong-Link to LIAMLIVESTRONG Video Clip

The last few of days have been incredible, but before I say more, let me tell you that today we met Lance Armstrong. It was not like a “hello, how are you” kind of meeting. It was an introduction that took place in the Alps, on the bike, and during the last kilometer of a very hard climb. Incredibly, Lance actually took the time to slow it down a bit, and we were able to ride over the top of the Col de la Colombiere with him. Liam will always remember this day -- Liam and Lance two fellow riders sharing their love of cycling on a perfect summer’s day in the mountains of France.

Lance is an incredible athlete and human being. I had never met Lance before today, but have always admired his athletic accomplishments, and his important work in the fight against cancer. Lance’s return to cycling is he saying to the world, “come on guys we can’t sit back on our heels. There is a lot more work to be done, now!” As an acupuncturist, working in the western medical system, I see many cancer patients for palliative care for complications from their disease and side effects of their treatments. People (individuals, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters) die everyday from this disease. The status quo is not acceptable. Much more needs to be done. Lance Armstrong and his foundation provide both inspiration and material support for this effort.

One of the goals for the Father/Son Tour is to bring awareness to the important work that needs to be done in the battle against cancer. We also want to bring attention to a proactive approach to health. Exercise and healthy food needs to replace some of the video games and junk food that are all too common in today’s lifestyle. Our hope is that some kids, or even whole families, will see our blog, and that it will encourage them to get more active together. What Liam is doing, in France, is extreme for a kid his age, but it all started with a passion, and some quality father/son rides that just, over time, started to grow longer.

I have to say that a lot of our inspiration came from watching Lance in July on the same roads that we met him on today.

Allez! Lance. Live strong!

Video Links-Col de Joux Plane and Hammering in Annecy

Friday, June 26, 2009

First Training day in France

There is a unique feeling that you get when you hit your first alpine climb on a road bike. The roads in the French Alps don’t exactly ease you into a climb. Instead, the tarmac typically slams you over the head with a 10+ percent grade as the chemin winds its way up into the clouds. The French Department or region just south of the Swiss border, known as the Haute Savoie, has many examples of these great climbs on low vehicle traffic roads. It was a perfect spot for Liam and I to begin our training in France.

This morning Liam tackled his first alpine climb on a good section of the Col de la Joux Plane. This is not a climb of the 2009 Tour de France, however, when the climb is included in the Tour-- as it was in 2006-- it is classified a category 1 climb. (This rating puts it in the category of the most difficult climbs, of those, that are still classified, but not with the very most difficult climbs which are considered beyond classification. A rating system is in place in order to give these climbs points. The rider with the most points will wear the king of the mountains jersey. It is a kind of race within a race.) Liam pays a lot of attention to the climbs because they are his favorite part of the Tour de France.

The climb of the Col de la Joux Plane starts just on the outskirts of the village of Morzine. In the winter the town is a thriving ski resort, but in the summer it is practically deserted. Today, it seems, the only tourists in town were a handful of mountain bikers and some very old, but hardy, Swiss hikers. It was a perfect day for a climb in the Alps, and we pretty much had the mountain to ourselves.

When we first hit the climb it was a bit of a surprise for Liam. He describes the sensation as “hitting a brick wall, and then having to continue to ride up it.” We broke the climb up, and rode it in quarter to half-mile sections. We would take rest breaks between the sections to admire the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below. Morzine sits at the confluence of six alpine valleys and the scenery is breath taking. The ascent up the Col gets you breathing pretty hard as well, so you need big lungs for this one!

About half way up the mountain, we ran into a horse. When I say ran into him, I mean quite literally because he was standing in the middle of the road. We said “Bonjour” and then stopped for a few minutes to feed him some grass. The morning sun with its particular light was making the contrast between the summer alpine colors of deep greens and blues really intense. The air here also has a freshness and quality that is found nowhere else in the world. This was a particular treat for two Southern California guys who are not used to the freshest of air.

We didn’t quite make it to the top of the climb today, but we are going to do it again tomorrow morning. The descent was fun, and Liam loves to conservatively “bomb” them. To my relief, however, even though he uses the term “bomb”; he is being really cautious and riding well within his safety zone on the way down. We dropped down into the village just in time for a great French lunch in the local cafĂ©. A description of our lunch would take up an entire blog entry of its own. (Our adventures in food will certainly be the subject of a Father/Son Tour dispatch in the near future.)

It was a great first day in the Alps, and one that I hope Liam will remember for the rest of his life. I know that I will remember experiencing it with him for the rest of mine!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Paris- Reflections on an Old Friend

Arriving in Paris is like coming to visit an old friend. The main core of your relationship is just as you remember it, however, some catch-up is required to get to know the little changes that happen as time marches on. I think that sometimes we want places, and, for that matter, people to be frozen in a time, a place, and an emotional feeling. Unfortunately, in a fluid changing universe, to be frozen, leads to extinction. So, the relationship changes with each visit and continues to evolve in this dance of life.

My first visit to Paris was in the summer of 1984. It was a short visit and I have to say, that as a fifteen year old traveling alone, it was a little intimidating. That summer I had planned to start my first trip to Europe by meeting a friend from divorced parents who had a mother in England and a father in Greece. The English segment had been canceled, and the plan then changed for me to meet this friend in Greece a month later than planned. Keep in mind that this was before the airlines had been deregulated. At that time, a ticket to Europe was essentially interchangeable on any airline and to any destination. I had a youth hostel card, a eurail pass, and $800 spending money. There was no way that I was going to miss out on that much of what I had been planning for a year. I had changed my ticket from London to Paris, and really didn’t mention anything to either my mother or father. I flew from Nashville, Tennessee to Paris, France. And, that day, I met a friend that I will have for life. That day in 1984 I took one step out of the Gare de Nord train station, and after one look around, thought, “what have I gotten myself into.” I was a kid from Tennessee, I had never really been in a large city, I didn’t know the language, I was on my own, I was a bit scarred, but at the same time I had the feeling that this city and I were going to have a long, deep, lifelong relationship.

As with the first visit, each time I arrive in Paris I am a little intimidated. I think this effect is caused by the scale of the boulevards, monuments, and, quite frankly, the profound influence that this city has had on the evolution of western civilization. It is, as if, I am friends with an immortal Winston Churchill, or to make a better comparison Victor Hugo. Victor Hugo’s romantic work continues to have a profound lasting influence on western on art and literature. Paris continues to make a lasting impression on me, and I don’t think I’m alone. It is not the grand monumental aspects of the city, but rather the small peripheral interactions that form the lasting impressions. Perhaps, it is this contrast between the massive and timeless and the small and personal that has had such a profound effect. The small seemingly insignificant moments spent in this city have formed some of my greatest impressions.

Last year we were able to rent an apartment in Paris for the months of April and May. We moved our little cocoon to France for the spring. The biggest impressions from that time are a family picnic on the bank of the Seine dwarfed by Notre Dame, the boys racing small soap box cars below the Eiffel Tower, our afternoon family picnics in the shade of a single tree in Montsouris park, the boys’ rides on the carousel in the Luxembourg Gardens, the boys chasing pigeons in front of Sacre Coeur, and the family time together in our tiny apartment in the Montparnasse (the 14th arrondissement). These are all flashes of experiences in the past, but they have made lasting impressions on the person I am today and the bonds that hold our family together. It is human nature to want to grab these fleeting moments and not let them go.

We arrived in Paris today-- a forty year-old man and his eight--almost nine-- year-old son, and, as always, I felt a little intimidated. We rented a van at the airport and headed to the 14th. The feeling of a sudden nine-hour time change is always somewhat surreal. Liam and I spent the late afternoon and evening walking around our old neighborhood. We went to the park where we had spent so many afternoons playing soccer and having picnics, we walked past the old apartment on the Rue de General Leclerc, and up past the outdoor market on Daugere, by the entrance to the catacombs and back to the hotel near Montsouris park. The smell of the air, the trees, of the city can only be experienced here.

This trip our time in Paris will be limited to the first day getting over jet lag, and to the final day of the Tour de France. The city will be a backdrop for a very important fleeting shared experience between a father and his son that will last a lifetime. And, as always, I would expect nothing less from my old friend.

Liam's Travel day Blog

Well we are off! My dad and I were up and going at 5:30 in the morning. We got to the airport at 7:00 and our flight left Orange County at 8:15. The first flight was to Chicago. That is where we are now. As it happens, my aunt Brooke is having a baby here in Chicago today, but we don’t have time to go to the hospital before our flight leaves for Paris.

Now that school is out, I can to start helping my dad with the blog. I’m excited to get back to France. We were there for six weeks last year, but not during the Tour de France. This time I want to ride one of the time trials.

We are now in France. The flight was nine hours from Chicago. We rented a mini van and went to our favorite park in Paris called Montsouris. A year ago I used to play with my brothers in this park. It is beautiful and peaceful, and it is right in a huge city. Today it is windy in Paris but the sky is very blue and it is about 73 degrees. Tomorrow we unpack the bikes and get ready to head out to the alps and Provence to start to get ready for the Tour sections we will ride. But right now I have to go to bed. It has been a long trip.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Crystal Cove Hill Training

A few miles down the Pacific Coast Highway from our house is Newport Beach's best kept secret: Crystal Cove State Park. Crystal Cove is one of the last remaining stretches of coast line in Southern California that has been spared development and urban sprawl. The park has 4 miles of beach and about 3,000 acres of coastal terrain with several well maintained mountain bike trails. For the roadie (road bike rider) there is a good ten mile paved loop which is traffic free. An afternoon run or ride here brings renewal and lets the day's stress flow into the sand and out to sea. During our time away, this park was, perhaps, what I missed the most about Orange County.

Wednesday is a short day at school for the kids. I got home at 2:00, and Liam and I decided to hit Crystal Cove with the bikes for some hill training. It was a beautiful day with the temperature in the mid 70's. We got in a good 10 mile loop. It has been amazing to watch how Liam has developed as a cyclist. His bike handling skills and his sense of position on the bike are remarkable for an eight (almost nine) year old. After the first loop, we picked a quarter mile steep 10% grade paved path from the beach up to the coastal bluff. I looked at the path and thought that it would be good for a photo, but that we would have to find something a little more gentle for the hill repeats. To my surprise, Liam was having no problem with the grade. He is an animal!!!

One of Liam's goals for the trip is to climb Mt. Ventoux -- "The Giant of Provence." He has a photograph of the "Giant" above his bed. This is an epic climb. It is so steep and long that the mountain's rating is beyond classification for bike racing. Professional bike riders take over an hour to climb to the summit. The record is held by Iban Mayo at 55 minutes. When we first talked about climbing this mountain I had my doubts, but now I am starting to think it might just be possible. . .

On the way out of Crystal Cove, we spotted this rattlesnake. Tonight is a school night so Liam is getting ready for bed. He does, however, want to make sure that we blog about how "awesome" he thought the day -- and the snake -- were.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Travel Bargains Everywhere, Except...

Why is it that everywhere you look there are travel bargains, except when you want to go somewhere? I had been delaying the final purchase of our tickets until yesterday. There is always that nagging voice of comfort which says, "hey, you can get the best French wine right here in town, and you could easily follow this thing on the flat screen from the comfort of your living room." This type of internal dialog usually happens at night after a hard day in the office. However, last night it was happening for a different reason. I was in the process of finalizing our travel plans and everything started to go haywire.

When I first began to research our trip to follow the Tour de France, travel bargains were all over the Internet. I even saw an advertisement for $30 airfare to Paris. Thirty dollars! I knew the economy was bad, but wow! Last night, these incredible bargains were nowhere to be found, and they had been replaced with fares that, I have to say, were seriously making me reconsider the trip. It was like a bad version of Deal or No Deal. At the Air France website it looked like they had some reasonable fares, only to be replaced with extortion once you got to the booking screen. At one point, I actually had a reasonable fare in the checkout screen, but the dates were not quite right. I hit the browser back button, and suddenly the fare jumped by $2,000. Am I to believe that at that very second 80 other prospective francophiles were vying for the same seats? It was a similar story at Swiss, KLM, and Lufthansa. By midnight I was defeated. My eyes were blurry, and I had a bad case of internet search fatigue. I had promised Liam a trip to France for his birthday. Could I take it back?

The morning dawned clear in Newport Beach, and with it, so had cleared some of the internet haze. I found some--I won't call them reasonable--but doable fares from Orange County to Paris on American. We had to move up the departure date which means I will have to reschedule things at home, but this will give us some time before the Tour to acclimate and get our bearings. Instead of doing are final training in the Newport Coast hills, we will be heading to the Alps and the lavender fields of Provence. I suppose it is true that every cloud has a silver lining.

As I was downloading the first picture for this post, I came across some photos we had taken in Pasadena at the 2009 Tour De California. There is a good shot of the family, a shot of Lance and Levi, and a picture of Liam with Lance's bike which was stolen and then recovered by the police in Sacramento during that race.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Prologue- Liam's Introduction to cycling

The "2009 Tour de France Father/Son Adventure" is inspired by a shared love of cycling, travel, adventure, and France between a father and son. When my son Liam was six years old we lived in Switzerland for one year in 2006. I watched Liam develop a love and a passion for all things cycling. Liam is a natural athlete and even at 6 he was riding 10 to 15 miles on his bike and had no problem running a 5k in under 30 minutes. It was no surprise that he developed an interest in European cycling and in particular the Tour de France.

During that summer we were able to travel down to France and Spain and follow some of the 2006 Tour de France. We took the whole family: myself, my wife, and our three boys at the time ages 6, 4, and 2. We called ourselves Flan Nation. We piled into our purple Renault Espace van and drove all the way down Spain from Switzerland. I had spent a year in high school as an exchange student in Catalunya, and I felt that this region of the Pyrenees would be a great place to start our Tour adventure. For our introductory stage I had chosen a mountain top finish in the Val d’Aran. It was a great venue for Flan Nation to experience firsthand what it was like to be part of this wonderful celebration of sport and human endurance.

We were hooked. That first stage was an incredible experience: from the family hike up the mountain, to the wonderful picnic in the high Pyrenees, to the rowdy Basque spectators we befriended along the way. The riders came through in a blur (it is hard to imagine that they can move up a mountain that fast). We were able to see the race snake its way up the switch backs we had just spent all morning hiking, then pass our little picnic spot. The actual pass was over in just a few seconds, but it is just a small part of the whole greater experience. We were starting to be woven into what is the fabric of the race. It is a great tapestry of sport, human emotion, beautiful scenery and friendships formed with fellow spectators that transcend language and culture. Liam got this at 6 years old. He understood that the Tour was more than just who won or lost. It was a tradition and a celebration of life and the human spirit.

After that stage, we happened to stay at a hotel in Vielha, Spain with the Discovery Team. I say happened, but it was actually more of a product of not planning where to stay that night and seeing the Discovery vans in the hotel parking lot that made that hotel an attractive option. Were we stalkers? I don’t think so, apart from Liam saying “Where’s Hincapie?” a few times at check in. We ended up having dinner that night with the team and seeing them again at breakfast. I know of no other professional sport where you can walk in and literally join the players for a meal. That is cycling--- a sport that is right there, accessible, tangible, real. We met Johan Bruyneel that night, and in the morning he told Liam that the Team was going to do something special for him that day. I don't know if that is exactly what he said, but that is how Liam remembers it. Before we left the hotel Liz Kreutz, now Lance Armstrong’s personal photographer, took a picture with our little camera of the family with George Hincapie. We all loaded up into our purple van and headed back into France. We had planned to go all the way into the stage finish at Carcassonne, however, we got stuck just across the border inside France. The roads had been closed for a few hours due to the approaching bike race. We found ourselves in a little French town at the base of the Pyrenees. The only way through the town was a round-about that had been closed due to the Tour. Nothing to do but pull the car off the road and find a good spot to wait and watch the Tour as it rolled on through the beautiful countryside of France. It is the best type of traffic jam you can imagine. We found a spot on the front of the round-about to stand and wait. It was a beautiful sunny morning. You could see the local cafe coming alive and the old timers playing their morning game of boule. There was a very official French Gendarme in uniform, most of the locals and, of course, all who had been stuck by the road closure. It was a random unexpected turn of events, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Liam was wearing a little Discovery jersey which he refused to take off. His little brother had a little TDF yellow jersey. I guess that with the kids in tow we became easy to pick out. When the race came through Discovery was on the front riding hard with Johan in the team car just behind. They actually waved to us. When I later said how remarkable that was, Liam didn’t seem the least surprised. According to Liam, they were planning something special just for him (the team's most dedicated six year old fan). It was an incredible sight to see the river of bike riders part and flow around that round-about. That day Yaroslav Popvich won the stage into Carcassone for Discovery, and that was my son Liam's introduction to cycling.

Now, three years later, Liam is 9 and he is biking 30 or 40 miles without missing a step. He actually beat me in a five mile trail race the other day. On that day, I decided that the time to return to France had come. Father and son will experience the celebration of endurance and human spirit again. This time for 21 days over 2000 miles with bikes in tow we will weave ourselves into the fabric of the tapestry that is the Tour de France. We will be blogging about the adventure and sharing our experiences. Father and Son --- building bonds with their common love of sport and adventure.