I'm hard at work on the new book and thrilled about today's Salt Lake Tribune article
, but I want to jot down one of my France experiences before I forget to.
On the only night that I camped far from my car I was awakened at 2:30 a.m. by loud thunder. I hadn't installed the rain fly on my tent. I was so tired that I decided I'd just try to go back to sleep and hope the storm passed quickly. It didn't. Bright flashes were followed, often within one or two seconds, by earsplitting crashes of thunder. My face was being sprayed by a constant mist from the water coming through the nylon taffeta walls. At 3:30 a.m. I decided that I might as well pack everything into my car and drive to my first scheduled destination for the next day because sleeping was out of the question. The storm was only gaining strenght. I still had 75 K to go and now was as good a time as any to do it.
I reached for my shirt which was with my other things near my feet, just off to the side of my air mattress. I was surprised to discover that it was soaked. I accidentally left my flashlight at home and had decided not to buy one in France because the prices were outrageous, so I felt around a bit more in the dark. The water at that end of the tent was six inches deep. A subsequent lightning strike gave me a brief visual of how bad things were. My shoes were floating around like two little boats. That's when I remembered that the floor and bottom six inches of my tent are made of impervious Polyethylene. I was on a slope with my head high. The tent was essentially filled to the brim. Sheesh. This storm was worse than I'd thought.
It brought a smile to my face when I put my feet into dry shoes. It was just the sort of minor victory that I needed at that particular moment. (Note to self: Bouyant shoes = nifty camping idea.)
I gathered up as much of my stuff as I could and headed out into the night. Still disoriented, I took two steps and landed in a puddle that came halfway up my calf. So much for the dry shoe victory. After some recognisance I figured out that the only way back to my car was through what had become a lake. I waded to the other shore, climbed a staircase, and reached my car.
I was camped at a rest stop on the Autoroute. I put all of the soaking wet stuff on the roof and hood of the car and drove slowly to the gas pumps which had an illuminated canopy over them. There were already a number of people there waiting out the weather, but I was the only one who had come up with the idea of covering my car with clothing and supplies so I got lots of stares. I got even more when I climbed out of the driver's seat wearing nothing but a pair of soaking wet boxers.
A sight like that might get you a ticket in America. In France it earns you a brief glance followed by a disinterested shrug. These people have already seen it all on the beaches. If you don't have some sort of implant they aren't impressed.
I opened the hatchback, toweled off with a t-shirt, and got dressed. Then I wrung my soaked belongings out as best I could. There was nowhere to dry things except on the backs of the seats. I hope my rental car company isn't reading this. They are probably currently rethinking their unlimited mileage policy while vaccuming baguette crumbs out of every little crevase in that Citrone. At least the rainstorm had cleaned the chunks of sod that got thrown all over the vehicle by the spinning wheels when I got stuck in wet grass. (Except for the few that somehow landed inside the car. I swear that some of that magic mud broke the laws of physics. I should have thought to bring a sample home for study.)
Once I had everything in reasonable condition I got back in the car and returned to retrieve my tent. I knew about the wading I was going to have to do, so I went barefoot this time. I reached my camp spot and started taking things down, but the tent was too heavy to budge. It's a really cool model with the springbars built in. I can always set up in less than thirty seconds and take down in a minute and a half or so. That is, when it's not doubling as a wading pool.
Eventually I rolled it onto its side and got the water drained out. Then I collapsed it, but not in record time. Back at the car, I shook my little bedroom out and stowed it in its usual spot. Then I got behind the wheel of my trusty steed and headed down the road. Windshield wipers beating an accompanyment to a very groovy French rock station, I arrived at my destination to start the next day's research. It was still very early so reclined my seat. I didn't have another coherent thought for at least an hour and a half. It's a night I'll never forget, though I'm not sure I can completely remember it, either. Just another day in a very unusual and eventful trip to France.
Hopefully I'll find time to share a couple of other stories over the next few weeks.