Thursday, May 22, 2008
Travel… we’ll where to start with this. Leaving Colorado Springs on Monday we were all alive with anticipation of the trip and the adventures to come with the seemingly endless waiting for that moment to arrive. It didn’t take long to get into the thick of it all. Keith Lauren and Whitney took off for Denver early Monday morning and I followed not far behind. Anxious a bit nervous of traveling alone and really having no idea of what to expect, I loaded into my dads car and hit the road to the airport. Keith called in a frantic voice, saying that his passport had been misplaced and not far behind that Laurens flight had been canceled. The adventure had begun. I had been expecting that this would be the crux of the trip. Airports and the notoriously bad airline industry had left me feeling a bit jaded. It was simply time to press on. Whitney called me, “ looks like it’s you and I in Marseille.” My first flight was delayed by 30 minutes and I was looking at having a total of five to make my connection for Paris. Calmly I pulled myself from the airport floor and asked the ticket counter if they thought I would be all right. So it goes was all I could say to myself and in my mind I had to keep telling myself to go with the flow, repetitively I usurer in a new mantra. To my delight, as everyone else, Keith found his passport; Lauren however had been completely shamed. We pressed on. Missing my connection in Paris left Whitney solo in Marseille four extra hours but I made it through the crowds and onto the plane, I was ecstatic to say the least when I saw her in the Marseille airport. Climbing is a broad term: as a verb it describes the action but really it’s all of the things that are encompassed in the experience. My fear was dissolved when I finally ran into someone I knew but really it wasn’t so much fear as it was anticipation of going into something so foreign and unknown to me. I had never been to Europe and immediately I was immersed into the hustle and bustle of the busy crowded streets, and lack of vocabulary in the French language. Whitney had already picked up the car and we both had no idea of where we were in Marseille or where we needed to go. “ I don’t really know how to drive a stick shift,” she told me. Six stalls latter and a grand total of half a mile out of the Marseille airport we pulled a Chinese fire drill in the middle of traffic in the middle of a European roundabout. I took the wheel and knowing nothing about signs or about the language, nothing about speed limits I headed into the heart of the bustling Marseille. Marseille is a port city on the Mediterranean diverse and ancient, with a population of over two million people. We headed down to the old port, one of Europe’s oldest, dating back to the Roman Empire or sometime before. Easy driving led us into rush hour traffic, crazier than anything I have ever driven in. In search of Hotel HM, we continued into the heart of the ancient costal city. Large cruise ships, crazy motorcycle drivers cruising down the center of two lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic; we were both exhausted after twenty hours of non-stop traffic. I continued to quietly mutter my new mantra, just go with the flow; it is what it is. We must have hit every street in the heart of Marseille, driving through this madness was unbelievably stressful, yet very exhilarating at the same time; it is what it is. The streets of Marseille are filled with people crossing streets, vague stoplights that mean nothing, buses, people, motorcycles, people, one way streets, pylons, streets that lead to more narrow streets. I was in the thick of it all, wanting nothing more than to find a place to relax, unwind, sleep off the heavy burden of travel encompassing my mind and body. After driving in crazy circles for over two hours, stopping by the police station for directions and eventually finding a subterranean parking garage we were able to settle in for the night and to acclimate to our surroundings. That first night was filled with the sounds of the city. Our French veranda opened up to the tumbled, cobbled streets of Marseille. Police sirens, yelling people, partying youth and screeching cats. I was awake but more than happy to take it all in. I fell sound a sleep, waking at odd hours with untapped energy; a woman walked the night street in clogging shoes on cobbled stones. We imagined the vacant sounds to be soothing, knowing we had a place to rest and to wait for our companions to arrive the following day. As light broke in Europe, night fell at home. My thoughts wondered to our friend still sitting in travel limbo, my family back home and the experience I had been a witness to in the fast pace world of Marseille. My adventures in driving the day before allowed me to take in the small cafés, neon lights of the pharmacies, small Internet cafes, and numerous bakeries. The craziness paved way for the logic of it all, as we ventured into the city on Wednesday. Before leaving I had vivid dreams of a world of tile roofs, ancient architecture and shuttered windows; immerged in an unfamiliar world. I was not disappointed to see that my dreams had come true, for better or worse, this was the adventure I had wanted and the experience I had hoped I would receive. We visited the Grand Cathedral of Notre Dame, walked inclined streets lined with ancient doors, indulged in the delicacies of European cafés, and ate French bread and submerged ourselves in the culture. The pace of life is fast but slow at the same time, an oxymoron of sorts, like the tortuous and the rabbit. People walk with purpose but take the time to buy a fresh loaf of bread for a long lunch in the square and to enjoy the pleasures of life. I witnessed only the hustle and bustle because of the numbers, not because of any hurry to live life at maximum speed, like I often do in America. I made sense of it all, there are similar shops such as community bakeries, or boutiques on each Rue, or street, and there are communities within each block. My experience in Marseille gave me insight to a broad world, and my understanding came with my short time there. When I slowed down so did the pace of life, and perhaps that is the meaning of it all. Perhaps that is my mantra, just perhaps, my experience here and my days of travel are all part of the greater adventure that climbing has to offer. We picked Keith up and soon there after, Lauren. One more night in Marseille we headed on our way. I spoke of my past, my present, and my moment with a late night beer with Lauren on our last night in Marseille. The beginning of this trip provided a greater perspective to my life, to my time here. Sitting here in La Palud under cloudy rainy skies, still not having touched a rock, I’m all the better for letting things beyond my control be just that. Perhaps we all could live better if we just let it ride, let ourselves feel uncomfortable but free to experience our experiences. Climbing will come, if only for a day, it really does not matter, I’m better for the hardships, I’m better for the time I’ve spent getting to know my friends. I’m better for having placed my self in this moment in my life. I know that our days of adventure are on the horizon. We just finished driving through the Verdon Gorge, stopping in for another cup of coffee under a rolling mist of fog, bright blue water beneath and bright blue skies above the mist, currently obscured to our eyes. A cloud is just that, a shroud of doubt and uncertainty, a blanket of emotions and a veil to be lifted. I’ve been ancy, pacing in my mind and tapping my fingers on a table of expectation. When I think back to this trip it may not be the climbing I remember, yet I’m sure it will be the conquering of a time of uncertainty in my life. If we can succeed in these moments of wet drought, we can succeed anywhere and over come any of the stagnate obstacles of our lives. This trip for me is not about the climbing, it is more about sharing this time with some of the best people in my life. Six years ago I lost my best friend in the world, I talked at length with Lauren our last night in Marseille about the meaning of this trip to me. I feel that by conquering my fears of the tumbled streets of Marseille, and to play in the clouds like children I will become all the more seasoned. As she put it to me today, “ I hope you are never crushed by your own spirit, I hope you always hold onto your child like mentality.” I know that if anything should come about this experience for me, I will be able to hold on without letting go. Climbing shall come soon enough. It has been sometime since I have opened myself to the world, six years to be exact and it has been sometime since I have felt my best friend Clay’s presence over me simply because I have neglected to open up and accept, not expect. Six years or sixty, this has already been an experience I will never forget, and really it has only just begun.