November. I arrived in Font in just in time for the ideal perfect fall
conditions which turned out to be the perfect timing for the arrival
of what was to be the worst and darkest winter that has befallen
northern Europe since the 1960’s. And so the story goes... I
debated between waiting it out or going to the sun in Spain or even
to Germany to get an early start to training for next year’s
competition round. After a lot of procrastination and pro/con lists I
had finally made a decision. I was going to Spain. Screw the rain and
climbing alone and lets just forget about training for now. My good
friend Claudia was in Spain and so was the sun and I wanted to see both.
The next day I went to drive to the only local Internet spot which I
know of, a McDonald’s which is considerably different from the
average Mc’d’s in the states. A little cleaner, more upscale but
not enough to make me feel guilty for sitting freely in there
poaching the internet. Claudia was going to get some good news! But,
things didn't go as planned. After being here for so long and having
experienced so many epics, i have come accustomed to the way things
work. I make a decision and sometimes, life decides otherwise. That's
OK. I mean, I don't need the sun to survive. I don't needddd dry
rock. But friends... Hmm. Well yes, friends are nice.
My big red home on wheels decided to pee out of a spot which it
shouldn't be. A long trip to Spain was clearly not in our fortunes
and mechanical talk replaced the awkward conversations gaps that are
usually filled in by weather updates. Look out the window, it’s
raining. Who cares. My van is raining. Again, who really cares. I am
not quite sure if I cared. Besides, one never knows what is good or
bad for them until later.
getting towed. again.
At the mechanics, the keeper who was a
somewhat overweight man stared at me in his dirty overalls with the
kind of stare that makes you feel 2 feet tall. I tried to brush it
off and continued my one way conversation in broken french about my
mechanical symptoms for what seemed like an eternity. He finally
admitted after ten awkward minutes that he wasn’t the mechanic and
the real mechanics wouldn't be there until Wednesday. I wondered what
was up with the dirty overalls and why he didn’t kick me out
earlier. This started some kind of vicious cycle with other mechanics
who I visited and I have concluded that french mechanics either don’t
want to work, don’t like strange red vans littered with pine cones
and lapis brushes or maybe, just maybe, they don’t understand
British made vehicles that behold french engines. Eventually I gave
up and fortunately, after a month, the leaking subsided to a mere
dribble but I was not trusting the road worthiness of my van anymore
and so we were to stay put in Font for the cold and wet winter.
December. I became accustomed to following random people around
the boulders similar to how a cat chases a mouse. After some time I
met some cool locals who became the sort of friends that you might
actually hang out. Unfortunately it seemed as fast as they had
entered my life, they disappeared just as quickly. Not remembering
anything that I did that would be considered offensive I decided to
not take this one personal. People come and go and then,well, we die.
Event after event stirred a mental struggle between wanting to
stay and wanting the comforts of home and friends. At this point,
spending the apocalypse and Christmas alone, seemed unbearable. This
proved to be my hardest time in Europe. Ditching the van and the
European dream seemed more inviting than all the sandstone boulders
that Font could have offered. But somehow, barely, Font won. We
stayed. And thankfully, things only got better.
It was now very cold, very wet and I was
getting warnings from older french ladies about a killer that was
nearby that had tied some poor girl to a tree and well, must i go on?
That shit is bad for the soul to hear. I smiled politely as they
spoke and watched them as they acted out the drama. I thanked them
for caring and promised that I would not let any strange men into my
van. I continued my day with a smile on my face, not because they
gave me a huge bag of Kinder chocolate bars, but because they
reminded me the kind of old ladies who say that type of thing that i
have encountered throughout my whole life. Sure bad things happen but
I am not about to start living with a mask of fear over me.
But there is a bit of truth in everything and in the end part of
me listened and of course, part of me didn’t. I decided to
change up my camping spot a bit more and one evening I stayed in a
new spot. It could have been the heavy rainfall that made the
atmosphere just plain spooky but something didn’t feel quite right.
Sure enough, as I was delaying going to bed a random car pulled up: a
man walking his dog. I immediately felt fear run through my veins for
unknown reasons and i searched for all tools of defence that i had
nearby. Knife, check. Heavy frying pan, check. Yes i am prepared..!
Minutes later i hear the scuffling of feet outside my van and then a
quiet knock. Shit... what did i get myself into...! He said hello and
sitting as confidently as I could, i responded in the deepest voice
possible, ‘hello’ followed by a rude, ‘what do you want?’
After staring at each other for a few minutes through a foggy window
eventually he cowered away. I guess he couldn’t tell how tall I
really was. Minutes later he drove off. Quickly after that, so did I,
thankful to be OK.
A snowy winter indeed
came around bringing with it more cold, snow and ice. It was
freaking freezing. It felt like Montreal. It was so cold that the
fuel in my stove, my main source of heat had turned to slush and
failed to work. Days started late and ended early as the suns
appearance was just that. We spent our days walking through the leaf
covered forest and later huddled at the Fontainebleau library or at
Bloc Age which became my place to go.
one of the coolest climbing families of BlocAge
is a local co-op style gym which became my second home outside of
my van. It had heat, water, dry holds. It is the kind of place where
everyone knows your name and that brings a smile to my face the
moment I enter. In the beginning I was known as the Canadian but now
i am known as Thomasina which feels rather welcoming. There is a
feeling of a second family. It’s small but packed with psyched and
motivated climbers who support each other, something which I yearned.
And it has Farid. Farid has a smile that reaches ear to ear and he
climbs and plays a game of memory like a zen monk. He is surely one
of my most favourite people of all existence. Sure playing favourites
isn’t cool, but come on, its Farid. Magic Farid.
Do you know coffee?
Farid and I
And then there is Fred and Sandra. Fred is the El President du
Bloc Age and a known legend in these parts. He’s cool enough to let
a Canadian like myself buy a membership to their french co-op, looks
pretty good for an old guy and wears some pretty dank dancing shoes.
Sandra is owner of Gite Arbonne which is a gite beyond perfection
nestled amidst trees, singing birds and has an aura of permanent love
and acceptance within all of its pyramids. I don’t know how else to
describe this place which has become a home away from home for more
than just myself.
Sandra is a petite, beautiful woman with a wild array of dark
curls that that alternate between being tightly braided alongside her
head or propped up in a wild bun with random bits hanging out gently
from the sides. When her dark smiling eyes look at you they bring
with them a feeling of love free from all judgements. She is the one
to blame for my still being here, otherwise a plane ride would of
been mine long ago. We received a text from her on one of the coldest
days in January that urged us to come to her house because it was too
cold outside. That was the middle of January and currently it is
March and we are... still here. The winter was long and my recurring
questions of leaving were brushed off with ‘no, stay. if it isn’t
you, it will be someone else and you are perfect.’ These are the
kind of words that would make anyone feel welcomed. So the next few
months our European lives improved drastically. The once dominating
thoughts of leaving subsided to a mere whisper. Cedar has the 4 girls
of Sandra to play with and is learning french. Christine, Sandra's
mom who the kids call Kiki, has since become my Kiki as well.
a normal day at the gite Arbonne
Fete de la roi
My adopted family go ice skating with Kiki! Theres more to life than climbing!
As it got warmer, thoughts of returning to van life entered. As
much as I love living with my adoptive family, it is their house and
surely it isn’t cool to stay here much longer. It was around this
time that my big red van decided to take a final plunge towards
eternal death. While blue, black and grey smoke sputtered through the
exhaust, the motor decided to run in a sort of unreliable cutting out
sort of fashion. Every attempt to drive it ended up in some sort of
adventure that I was pretty tired of. To fix it would be the price of
2 plane tickets and so the dilemma to stay or go reentered my
thoughts. The good weather was about to come here as were the World
Cups which I had wanted to do. To leave without having had a chance
to climb much outside seemed almost too sad a story to fulfil as did
passing up the chances to do the World Cups, something which was
drifting from my thoughts before they had even started. But reality
was knocking at my shoulder. I hadn’t gotten permission to compete
yet. I couldn’t go climb as I wanted because my van was dead. How
was I to buy a new van when my bank account was in the negative. My
feelings fluctuated between despair and a baseline of acceptance.
Hmmm. smells bad.
'oui, c'est mort'
One morning I was having a bit of a hard day and was in a bit of a
foul mood mainly because of the situation with van and not having the
freedom to climb where and when I wanted. As i looked at Sandra I
apologized for my crankiness and she looked at me with the deepest
respect and said in her sexy french accent, “I know who you are”
with a gentle smile that reassured all insecurities inside of me.
So the past few months, rather, my whole European stay has given
to me many opportunities to be free of the chains of unhappiness,
stress and self loathing when things don’t go my way. This freedom
is more powerful than any send because it’s liberating and only
becomes stronger with more and more practice. Some days accepting
what comes is easier than not. I can shrug it off, breath and keep
walking or I may drown in it. In the end it is up to only me.
So, despite my dead van and the inability to climb where and when
I want, I am truly grateful for my stay here. Sandra and BlocAge have
been my saving graces beyond imagine. I didn’t buy a plane ticket
home yesterday nor did i buy one today. Even though some people have
told me that I am the most unrealistic person they know, I don’t
care. I may not have any money. I may not have a car. I may not have
a way to get to the competitions that I signed up for. But... I am
not ready to stop. I got ideals. And in my back pocket there is
a some kind of dream. And those dreams are powered by some sort of
faith in something that I know nothing about but fully trust. And the
more i distress from everyday events and random “reality” checks,
my life improves. I breathe, I relax. I can look up and see the trees
touching the sky. I hear the birds talking. And those birds sing
a song to me that says keep on truckin’ and keep on trusting. I
ain’t lookin’ for some gold medal but I am looking to strengthen
that little ball inside that is OK with things just as they are,
climbing or no climbing, friends, or no friends, car or no car.
I ain’t worried. In the reality that exist outside of the head,
life is pretty dang good.
Visiting Dave and Cedar playing a serious game of guess who