Robin Williams Still Making Me Laugh

I wish we could have had a Robin Williams Week (like Shark Week only funny) before he died, when we could have watched his old clips and laughed out loud. Instead it took his death to appreciate what a truly talented person he was. I also remembered I have a lot in common with him. We are both politically liberal, Californians, cyclists and huge bike racing fans. 

Of course his fame made it possible to ride in the team car behind Lance Armstrong when he was tearing up the Tour de France.  (He subsequently expressed his disappointment in Lance and still loves cycling.)

I am enjoying old interviews with Robin Williams because 1) he talks about cycling, 2) he shares my disdain for France. (My recent adventure has confirmed that I have had enough of France and French attitudes for a lifetime.) For example, on Fresh Air they replayed a 2006 interview between Terry Gross and Robin Williams and this line almost took me off the road, “When I speak French in Paris they say to me ‘Stop speaking French. No. Speak englais.’ Then they give their baby a cigarette.”

He really lets loose on The Daily Show. Check out the second interview where he riffs on the French for much longer. 

And go ahead and laugh out loud. It is the best way to honor Robin Williams.

War Horse as Act of Remembrance

Winding up my Tour de France adventure, I enjoyed my last 24 hours in London. I stayed at the exquisite Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington. They sent me an email a few days before my arrival asking if there was anything they could do to enhance my experience. My friend suggested seeing the stage production of War Horse. The concierge efficiently fetched tickets and after an afternoon of fossicking around bookshops in South Kensington, I duly trundled off to New London Theatre on Drury Lane to see the play.

I tried to read to the book by Michael Marpurgo and got emotionally swamped. It is told in the horse Joey’s point of view. And like Black Beauty it is gut wrenching. I may have seen about 5 minutes of the Steven Spielberg movie and could not stand the idea, again, of horses suffering even if make believe. Afterall, they did suffer cruelly in World War I, as did people. So I was a little nervous about seeing a stage production. I was also curious about how they would handle the staging and the horse characters. 

Wow. I mean WOW!!!!  Just the puppetry was worth the admission price to witness. It is amazing. I have since found an awesome Ted Talk that describes how they created Joey. Please watch.

The play beautifully illustrated the complete stupidity of World War I. While it is not unique among wars (all wars are stupid), it is the first where technology completely bamboozled strategists. I can understand sending the cavalry in once against machine guns. But again and again? Stupendously stupid. It was all the more poignant for me because of my Grandma Hazel Olson’s beloved horse sold to the US Cavalry. I can only hope that he never made it to Europe–that maybe his high spirits made him too difficult to work with or too attractive to some officer who was on active duty at the Mexican border. 

It is a very moving production, even more thrilling seen in a smallish theater with actors running by right in front of our seats. I realize War Horse has been on stage and travelled the world already so I am not on the cutting edge of theatre. If you have not seen it, make the effort. You will be richly rewarded.

Researching and honoring my great uncle Frank Denham on Le Tour Adventure was worthwhile and added some emotional depth to my experience. I am not going to stop learning about the war either. My favorite conversation on the topic was with my cabbie who gave me a lift from the train station to the Ampersand. With his East End accent he held forth on a number of topics. I told him about my interest in World War I and he said the machine gun was invented by an American living in London, but the British officers did not want to use it (at first) because it “wasn’t cricket.” (meaning that as gentlemen it was not the proper way to conduct warfare). I responded, “But the Germans have never played cricket.” We both shared a rueful laugh. 

All of this remembering while the conflict in Ukraine results in a civilian jet liner shot down, and Gaza rages on; it is a wonder to me that mankind has not wiped itself off the earth yet. Perhaps the reason we yet remain is found in the sparks of creativity that still ignite in puppeteers and writers and many others who choose to spend their energy creating beauty and celebrating truth rather than the dark arts of war. This is the path I choose.

World War I Memories Everywhere in this Part of France

World War I memorial and cemetery for allied troops in Arras.

World War I memorial and cemetery for allied troops in Arras.

You cannot travel far in this part of France without seeing World War I memorials large and small. The graveyard and memorial in Arras was especially moving. 

IMG_1285I was able to go to the Cathedral in Reims (another Notre Dame) and meditate on Uncle Frank Denham for a few minutes. He is not forgotten. 

The Tour television coverage in France includes many quiet moments with the helicopter camera hovering over World War I memorials. I hope the coverage in the US is doing the same. IMG_1288



Ready to Go!

It is 7:45 a.m. and I am all ready to go. I do not actually need to leave for my last meeting with the tunneling engineers until 8:30 a.m. I leave for the airport at 11:00 a.m.

My bags are packed, I'm ready to go. One month with Rick Steve's luggage. The elephant bag will fold back up and be stowed away once my Trek bike ride is done.

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go. One month with Rick Steve’s luggage. The elephant bag will fold back up and be stowed away once my Trek bike ride is done.

I feel like I did on my first big trip at 16 when I spent the summer with Teen Missions. Excited, a little sick to my stomach, and easily emotional. (Keep all Hallmark ads away from me!)

I spent a lot of time on the phone with Air New Zealand last night trying to address the extra baggage charges, since I am no longer taking my bike I no longer need the extra bag. Fran let down the Air NZ side with very poor service (no call backs as promised, and poor communication skills). They have a nonrefundable policy on the extra bag charge; however, when I called to inquire before booking my ticket I recall the agent telling me that I could always change my mind when I got to the gate. Ultimately the usual excellent service prevailed and I was refunded for the bag one way. Guess that means I can haul home A LOT of souvenirs!

I will mainly be blogging from for the next month. See you over on that blog. Encourage your comments.

Fun and Easy Zone

Mara challenged me to keep my Le Tour Adventure fun and easy. Here is an update.

I took K2’s advice and ordered the Rick Steve’s luggage: both the daypack and the roller/backpack. The size forces you to pack light; however, I will not miss the second pair of jeans when I am carrying it from train station to my hotel and back. Still to do: a practice pack and walk around town this week.

July 1918 World War I; Wikipedia; Google Images

Wikipedia; Google Images

My friend Jim narrowed down where Uncle Frank likely died. I will double check on any available websites I can find. The Germans made a big push into France in Spring of 1918 and the French and American forces pushed back in July 2018. He likely died in Chateau Thierry and the Second Battle of the Marne.  When I am in Reims I will be as close as I will get to the area where he likely fell. If time and bus schedules allow I will go to Chateau Thierry. And if they do not, I will light a candle and remember him at the Cathedral in Reims.

Dust in the Las Vegas area kicked my sinuses up. And this weekend I have had tummy troubles. So I have some training to do on Trixie the road bike to regain some form.

Jens Voigt winning a stage after a breakaway.

Jens Voigt winning a stage after a breakaway.

Ray helped me clarify my stake for the trip: Enjoy a once in a life time adventure and meet amazing people.  Some people I would love to meet: Mark Cavendish, Jens Voigt, Fabian Cancellara, Greg Lemond, and any amazing person Providence puts in my path. Like the Canadians I met in Givors last year who inspired this trip.

I discovered the Imperial War Museum will reopen its galleries with a special exhibit in London July 19. I will make time to visit on my way through London at the end of July. Right after I tour Buckingham Palace‘s state rooms.

I discovered a great author–Australian John Baxter. He is the author of many books on Paris. A exemplar storyteller, his books are a delight to read. What I really love is he encourages you to be a “flaneur” — to walk without necessarily any purpose. So instead of making lots of notes while reading Paris at the End of the World, or The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, I am going to let go of an agenda for my free day in Paris.

Bill Reid shooting photos at Ag Art day.

Bill Reid shooting photos at Ag Art day.

Yesterday my friend Bill Reid gave me a photography tutorial during an Ag & Art at Chowdown Farms in Esparto. His help was greatly appreciated after giving up in frustration with the official “Blue Crane Digital” instructional video. It may have well as been in French.  There are also many excellent videos on YouTube. (Hooray YouTube!)

With just a little over a week before I leave, I am getting very excited. I cannot let my mind wander yet! First there is some more consulting work to do and some more prep.

Countdown to Adventure

With some sleep I was able to recover my enthusiasm for my Le Tour Adventure. I am getting ready to launch.  My stake is to enjoy a once in a lifetime adventue and meet amazing people.Tour de France 2014 route

Several people have asked where I will be going. Below is my itinerary. Please provide suggestions for what I might want to see or do along the way.  I will not be taking my folding bike, so I will be moving by foot, train and cab/bus. I note the kilometers the Tour de France pros will be riding for each stage.

July 1 – Day One – Flying to London on Air New Zealand

July 2 – Day Two – Arriving in London and taking train to Cambridge; staying at Christ College and walking around town.

July 3 – Day Three – Train to Leeds; meeting up with Trek Travel group at Hotel by 3 p.m. (Now on “Trek Time”)

July 4 – Day Four – Riding with Trek Travel; social events

July 5 – Day Five – Riding with Trek; viewing finish of Stage One, 190.5 km, Leeds to Harrogate

July 6 – Day Six – Riding with Trek; viewing race Stage Two, 201 km, York to Sheffield; travel to London

July 7 – Day Seven – Viewing the Stage Three finish in London; 155 km; Last night with Trek Travel

July 8 – Day Eight – Eurostar train to Lille, France for finish of Stage Four; 163.5 km

July 9 – Day Nine – Stage Five; 155.5 km; start in Ypres?? or finish in Arenberg Porte de Haunait??; lodging in Saint-Nicolas

July 10 – Day Ten – Stage Six; Arras to Reims; 194 km; Finish in Reims

July 11 – Day Eleven – Stage Seven; 234.5 km; Finish in Nancy

July 12 – Day Twelve – Stage Eight; 161 km; Start in Tomblaine?? Finish in Gerardmer?? meeting the WatLoves (Harriet Watson, Brian Lovell and girls) in Mulhouse!

July 13 – Day Thirteen – Stage Nine; 170 km; view finish in Mulhouse

July 14 – Day Fourteen – Stage Ten; 161.5 km; view start in Mulhouse; travel to Lyon

July 15 – Day Fifteen – Rest Day for Cyclists and me; meet up with Thomson Tours in Lyon for Alps spectator tour (from here to Paris I’m on “Thomson Time”); travel to Albertville

July 16 – Day Sixteen – Stage Eleven; 187.5 km; View finish in Oyonnax

July 17 – Day Seventeen – Stage Twelve; 185.5 km; Option to visit Chamonix or find Irish pub in Albertville to watch tour on tv and rest

July 18 – Day Eighteen – Stage Thirteen; 197.5 km; Viewing race from the “Col” (on the mountain)

July 19 – Day Nineteen – Stage Fourteen; 177 km; View the finish from the start in Grenoble

July 20 – Day Twenty – Stage Fifteen; 222 km; Travel to Lyon with Thomson Tours and on to St Lary-Soulan (watch on television)

July 21 – Day Twenty-one – Rest Day; Relax and write in St Lary-Soulan and meet Thomson Tours Pyrenees & Paris spectator tour participants

July 22 – Day Twenty-two – Stage Sixteen; 237 km; View finish in Bagneres de Luchon

July 23 – Day Twenty-three – Stage Seventeen; 124.5 km; view from St Lary-Soulan or take cable car to finish

July 24 – Day Twenty-four – Stage Eighteen; 145.5 km; View on mountain at Hautacam

July 25 – Day Twenty-five – Stage Nineteen; 208.5 km; View start in Maubourguet

July 26 – Day Twenty-six – Stage Twenty; 54 km; Watch time trial on television; travel to Paris

July 27 – Day Twenty-seven – Stage Twenty-one; 137.5 km; Watch finish on Champs-Elysees in Paris; dinner cruise on River Seine

July 28 – Day Twenty-eight – Rest day in Paris

July 29 – Day Twenty-nine – Travel to London on Eurostar; stay at Ampersand Hotel

July 30 – Day Thirty – Quick trip to Imperial War Museum to see new WW1 exhibit (if time permits) and then to Heathrow to fly home

I have ordered a new Rick Steve’s roller bag/backpack and I am borrowing Tevis’ backpack. I will try out both while shopping in Davis and decide which one to take. I bought two excellent Michelin maps in Washington DC. I will take up UK Sarah’s offer to go over the logistics with me. (She speaks French!)

Looking forward to your pointers!



July 14 – Day Fourteen – Stage Ten; 161.5 km; Start in Mulhouse

Laughing is Better than Crying

If a bad dress rehearsal means a good opening night, then maybe this “trial run” for my Tour de France trip is a good omen. This trip is full of mishaps. Some of it unavoidable, like the thunder and lightning showers. Some of the challenges are completely self made, like confusing Greenville, SC for Greenboro, NC. As I write this I have averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night for 3 nights in a row, so I am highly emotional. I have driven for hours, sometimes in torrential rains made blurrier by tears. Two life line calls to fellow Panthers have saved me and quickly turned tears to laughter. And I have made some big decisions about the logistics of my Tour de France trip.

Can you guess what kind of tree this is? Answer at bottom of post

Can you guess what kind of tree this is? Answer at bottom of post.

Here is a taste. The plan was to catch a 7:00 a.m. flight on Wednesday to North Carolina via Las Vegas. My bad, I stayed up until midnight finishing The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I told myself it was because I did not want to tote a heavy paperback around. Really I just had to know what happened in the final chapters. (Recommended by David Sedaris; it is a modern version of Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.)  I got up at 4:30 to barely make my flight and then bad weather on the East Coast delayed our flight to Raleigh. The US Open golf tournament is happening in Raleigh so a big group of us descended on the Dollar Car Rental counter. They had only two employees and a very antiquated computer system. While I waited in line an hour, I called the hotel to push back my reservation and discovered my first major logistical error: I planned my trip around Greensboro, NC when in fact I needed to be 4 hours south in Greenville, SC. Instead of tasting the culinary delights of the restaurant “17” chef, I would be driving until 1 a.m. to reach my hotel tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The next morning my first life-line was Mara. She ignored that my laugh bordered on hysterical and complimented me on my lightness. “You seem to be able to laugh about it.” Yes and I was on the verge of panic. I took my Brompton out to ride in the hills around the hotel earlier that morning and thought I was going to die. I wanted to quit almost immediately. I pushed myself way past what I thought I could do and then pulled over the side of the road “to take pictures.”  I thought about turning around and then remembered my sister-in-law Heidi’s practice. When she rock climbs to the place where she really does not think she can go one inch higher, she takes a rest and then pushes herself a little further before rappelling down. After my rest I pushed myself up one more hill.

Altogether, I was beginning to think my planned Le Tour Adventure was impossible. If I cannot figure it out in a place that speaks English and uses dollars, how will I manage in French and Euros? Mara asked me how I could make the trip “easy and fun”. She was right–I was making it a job.

The most obvious decision: leave my Brompton bike at home. It may fold up very small but it meets resistance on all forms of transportation. Southwest did not want to check it without a box! (first time that has happened). Today Amtrak did not want to let it on (no bike policy). I would have to lug around a heavy lock and heavy bike repair tools, plus keep my helmet for the whole trip.  Whereas if I leave it at home I can ship my bike shoes, helmet, bike gloves, and pedals home from London (Day 5 or 6 of my trip). I decided I am not taking the bike and now I am feeling some grief about making this decision. It is the right decision and I was really attached to the idea of taking it. I brainstormed where I might still miss my bike–Cambridge–and how I could rent a bike in those situations.

I really want to hire a valet to carry my stuff and wash my clothes. Instead, I am going to take one bag (borrowing Tevis’ backpack) and still pack very, very light.

I am going to do a lot of research about train schedules and study maps of France. I will keep my eyes open for other people following the tour (like the Canadians I met last year) so I can team up and maybe one of them will speak English and French.

Last night I got about 4 hours of sleep (read my review of Hotel Domestique on for full story) and I was feeling really emotional at 6 am when I stopped for breakfast-to-go and texted Connie to call me as soon as she was available.

I have some anxiety about traveling alone because of how other people react. Plus I have to pay a premium for single tours. The hardest part is not having someone to help troubleshoot when you get into a tight spot.  Traveling with UK Sarah last week and getting a little lost on the way to Fish Camp was fun. When I talked to my second lifeline Connie, she recounted her own solo European adventure and how people showed up as needed. I have experienced this phenomenon too and Connie’s reminder was helpful. Even on this trip, in Hillsboro, a 70ish man named Pleasure Sawyer saw me reading my map and began to regale me with stories about the area. I might have missed the giant peach water tower in Gaffney had Pleasure not talked my leg off.

I also planned a couple of visits with friends for this trip. Meeting up with Chris Kypriotis and his beautiful family in Asheville was fun and worth the effort. They treated me to Luella’s BBQ and I learned a lot about Asheville. It helped me understand the vast difference between Upstate South Carolina and Greenville and the greater NC Asheville community. I started picking up on it while listening to the car radio (the stations all still have local disc jockeys!). Now I am on my way to see my dear friend Carole in Washington DC. On my Le Tour I will meet up with Harriet, Brian and the girls. And possibly Susie in Paris.

I also ordered a car to pick me up and take me to Dulles on early Sunday morning. When bad logistical choices are all you have then a little bit of comfort is the best tonic.

Answer: Purple leafed European Beech.



Uncle Frank’s Sacrifice

Yesterday I learned quite a bit more about my Uncle Frank. Mom and I drove over to Santa Rosa and met up with her cousin Marilyn and find out more about Frank E. Denham’s history and gathered additional photos.

Frank E Denham circa sometime around 1915.

Frank E Denham circa sometime around 1915.

I am not a genealogy nerd. My aunt Betty does some research about the family and I am always happy to listen. However, I do not derive much of my identify from my ancestors. Nonetheless, I have found my Great Grandpa Albert Denham quite interesting. He came out to California in the late 1800s from the Missouri Territory. Then went back to Oklahoma for the land rush and then returned to the Fulton area near Santa Rosa, California in 1900. Family lore is that he said, “No land is worth shooting a man over.” (Implying this was the only way you could hang on to land in the Rush.) He was very conservative father to his daughters viewing both high school and dances as two great morally corrupting influences.  Come to think of it, his wife Nancy Elizabeth (Lizzie) must have had some gumption too as she traveled with him through these adventures having children along the way. At least there was a railroad by 1869.

Frank was Albert’s only son and looks like him in many ways. He 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. Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram is a non-fiction that reads like a great spy novel. The British come off looking competent, the Wilson administration not so much. 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.

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 his parents and sisters at the time.

Part of me really wishes he had lived and imagines how our family history might have changed. Then again, knowing my grandparents tumultuous at times relationship, my Mom might not have been born and so on. So best to trust in Providence.

Visiting his grave also gave me more information to aid in identifying where he might have fallen in battle.

Frank's gravestone in Oddfellow's cemetary in Santa Rosa CA

Frank’s gravestone in Oddfellow’s cemetary in Santa Rosa CA