Stage 7: Never Give Up

Oh my spirits flagged midday. I had a successful shopping excursion to get warmer clothes for the Alps. Just as I gave up on France having sunshine it popped out for bit this afternoon. Since I packed for the weather I experienced in Europe last July, I have plenty of sundresses and not enough long pants and layers. Thanks to a big sale at Go Sports I have a ski jacket and a hideous pink turtleneck (both will go to Goodwill in Paris before I fly home). I also received kind help from a couple from Perth in the pharmacy who recommended the Strepsil for my throat and shared their around the world travel plans. 

When I got to the train station I learned that I had 2 trains and a bus to get to Nancy. I took a deep breath and dove in and it all worked like clockwork. I checked into a better hotel and turned on the television for my daily ritual of “how many kilometers to go?” I waivered for a bit in my room. I could not figure out what day it was, what stage. I looked out the window and wondered, “Why am I doing this?” And then I started out and I met a lovely couple from South Africa also staying at my hotel and walking to the Tour finish line. 

With about 3 hours to wait, there was already 2-4 people deep along the barricades before and after the finish. I picked a spot just 20 feet after the finish with only 2 people deep. I set up my REI chair and did some knitting. Now that I have seen the caravan a few times it is easy to just relax and enjoy the atmosphere and not stress over catching stuff. Interestingly they do not toss swag near the finish line. I guess even though there is an hour or more before the racers arrive, they do not want to have any hazards on the course.  

I love being small and slipping through the crowd to get to the finish in the first place, and then my height is a disadvantage. Once the crowd starts to squeeze in I wish I were as tall as my brother Dean (+12″) and as broad shouldered so I could hold my ground. Ah well, crowd behavior is similar the world over. The finish was so close everyone around me called it for Peter Sagan. He is a favorite with fans and even has his own hard core fan club. (In fact they were so noisy with the air horns during the awards presentations that the gendarmes hustled them out of the VIP section.)

Even the actual winner Matteo Trentin thought Sagan must have won. Until the officials told him he won. The photo finish is my inspiration for today. Never give up. 

I stopped for a bite to eat on my way back to the hotel and I realized that whatever day it is, tomorrow I am headed to Mulhouse and will see Harriet and Brian and Grace and Nora. I am loved and they are adored. I am getting my second wind. Life is great. 

Watch this video for one of the most thrilling 1 kilometer of the Tour 2014:

The Tour de France Fan Tribe

Whilst I am traveling around England and France chasing the Tour de France, I am part of a unique tribe. We are not just cycling fans, we are keen enough to spend our vacation time and our savings to traipse around the countryside, stand in the freezing rain for the privilege of seeing the peloton go by in about 30 seconds.

You can usually recognize the tribe by their clothes. Many are wearing bicycle kits with team jerseys or Tour de France leader jerseys– telltale signs on trains and on sidewalks that these people are following the Tour. 

 A tribal subgroup is the English speaking fans who do not speak much French.  Today I met Greg and Lorrie from Cincinatti, Ohio in my hotel breakfast area. They stood out in the freezing rain on the sixth section of cobbles yesterday. (Hopefully Lorrie will guest blog and share her photos). “Our clothes may never dry, “ they said like happy fans able to partake in the suffering on Stage 5. 

 At the start of Stage 6 in Arras, I found myself standing next to Mark and Jessica from the Lake District in England (see photo). They were going to just follow the Tour in Yorkshire and then they went to London, and then they found themselves driving their car onto a ferry to Lille and now Arras.  We traded information like news starved sports fans that we are. They got soaked on the first set of cobbles and spent the day waiting and wondering what happened to their favorite rider Chris Froome.

 Thank goodness for Twitter and Facebook, Bicycling and Velo blog sites, and other English speaking fans. Together we piece together how the race is going.  Everything in France is in French only, of course.

 When I got on the train to Paris, I noticed a young man who was also following the tour. As we disembarked he caught my eye and gave me a knowing look that said, “The Tour, right?”  We had a brief conversation. He is from Australia and is wrapping up his Tour today, spending a few days in Paris before heading home.

I did not make it to Reims in time to see Andre Greipel win his first stage of this Tour de France. Although crosswinds split the peloton, all the leader jerseys remain the same. At dinner a friendly couple from Boston just happened to be from in the area and decided to watch the finish. They loved the experience catching swag off the caravan and then seeing the front group race for the finish. 

Communication challenges abound. Most people have been super gracious about my lack of French vocabulary. I stopped at the Cafe de la Prefecture and tried to order a jambon sandwich off the board. The waiter said something to the effect of “no, no you want this” and he pointed to a special that I thought was erased. Sure, why not. It was a delicious sausage with a warm mustard sauce, fries and a salad. Other situations have been more stressful. Like taking the train to Reims through Paris and discovering with just 28 minutes until departure that I am in Paris Nord station and need to be in Paris Est station “five minutes away”.  Everything is 5 minutes away, except when it is 10 or 15! 

Other times no communication is attempted at all. I was shifted to another hotel without any email or attempt to communicate. Fortunately both hotels were fairly close to the train station in Reims. I have to credit Eurostar, for all the delays related to the recent repairs, they have done A+ work on communicating with customers. 

This is why travel is fun. It is not always easy and it stretches us. Even simple things like stepping into the pharmacy to get contact solution and throat lozenges. It took quite a while to communicate that I wanted Bonbons au Miel. Meanwhile I discovered that in France you can get flea medicine for your dog or cat at the pharmacy.

Honoring Uncle Frank: Anniversary of World War I

The 101st edition of the Tour de France is passing through many of the towns that I know better as battlefields from World War I. This is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the War to End All Wars. (If only.) As I will be following the Tour de France from Leeds to Paris, I am taking this opportunity to learn more about my great Uncle Frank Estel Denham.

My uncle Frank Denham of Santa Rosa, California
My uncle Frank Denham of Santa Rosa, California

In the last few months I have learned a great deal about him.

Frank was being groomed for working the family farm alongside his dad. Been reading about Germany’s machinations to distract the US from joining the Allies by ginning up conflicts with Mexico and Japan or both together in Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram (non-fiction that reads like a great spy novel). This explains why after Uncle Frank was drafted he was first sent to Mexico and then to Britain and ultimately to the front in France.

Private Frank Denham sent these postcards to his family from England.
Private Frank Denham sent this photo postcards to his family from England.

I learned from staff at the Oddfellows/Santa Rosa Cemetery that Frank was not buried until July 1921, a full three years after his death in France. They surmise that he was buried in a temporary mass grave until they could eventually ship him home. He was the first of the fallen sons of Santa Rosa to be returned. The article in the Press Democrat mentioned city flags would fly at half-mast, businesses would close and full military honors would be presented at his funeral. I hope it brought some comfort to my great grandparents and sisters at the time.

We determined that he was in England on July 12, 1918 and died July 29, 1918 somewhere in France. His gravestone reads “Co K 109, Inf. A.E.F.”  From reading various texts it is most likely that he was part of the Second Battle of the Marne and may have fallen near Chateau-Thierry.

If possible, I will go and pay my respects when I am on my way to Reims. If that proves too difficult, I will light a candle at the Cathedral in Reims.

You can read more about Frank E. Denham and what his loss meant to my family at


Planning My Tour de France 2014

I bought Frommer’s France Day by Day to help me plan my Tour de France 2014 adventure. My intention to follow the 21 stages of the Tour will take me through many regions of France. It made me chuckle to read the sections called, “Champagne in 3 days,” and “Champagne in one week.” At the speed of le Tour I will be lucky if I am able to stop and taste champagne at one winery.

I have watched Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggott announce the Tour for so many years I cannot count.  Paul provides a great many details about chateaus along the way, so I want to see at least one.

Landscape in Champagne, France.
Landscape in Champagne, France.

I took my Frommer’s with a country map to a coffee shop and began to look at the things I can do and see while I chase legends.

Stage 4 is the first on French soils from Le Touquet Paris-Plage to Lille. According to Frommer’s they call this region The North and Picardie. Tucked between the UK and Belgium, there are World War I battlefields, gothic cathedrals, birdlife and marshes.

Stage 5 from Ypres to Arenborg Porte du Hainart is still in Picardie and then Stage 6 moves on to Champagne with 194 km stage from Arras to Reims. Only bubbles from this region can legally be called champagne. Everything else is sparking wine.

Reims Cathedral
Reims Cathedral

Stage 7 is from Epernay to Nancy in Alsace and Lorraine. Luxembourg and Germany are across the border. The German influence can be found in architecture and food. Stage 8 finishes in Gerardmer nestled next to Parc Naturel Regonal des Ballons de Vosges. Mulhouse hosts the finish of Stage 9 and the start of Stage 10. July 15 is a rest day and then the race enters the mountain stages.