Monday, June 29, 2009
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!
Friday, June 26, 2009
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 café. 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
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.
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.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
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
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
The "2009 Tour de France Father/Son Adventure" is inspired by a shared love of cycling, travel, adventure, and
During that summer we were able to travel down to
We were hooked. That first stage was an incredible experience: from the family hike up the mountain, to the wonderful picnic in the high
After that stage, we happened to stay at a hotel in Vielha,
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