I’m in Chantilly.
The one in France.
It’s just north of Paris, a short bike ride from the airport.
It’s 4:22AM (Tuesday morning) and I can’t sleep. Despite the Ambien I took seven hours ago. My neck hurts. A lot. Can’t find a comfortable position on this uncomfortable, saggy bed. My battered & traumatized brain won’t calm the hell down and my anxiety/stress level is way up. Despite the Lexapro I took 20 hours ago at the airport. Should I take another Lexapro? I’m gonna. Hang on…
OK, I’m back. Took the Lexapro. Let’s hope it works fast.
Why am I here? In Chantilly?
Well, I have a TBI (that’s a traumatic brain injury, and, trust me, they don’t use the word traumatic lightly).
Was on a bike ride: April 20, 2014. A beautiful Sunday morning. 11:47AM. And a very drunk driver hit me. And sped away. Was knocked unconscious, had a fractured skull and the TBI. Woke up four days later in the hospital. Didn’t – and still don’t – remember a thing about that day.
BTW: They caught the bastard. He’s in jail, two months into a five-year sentence. And no, I won’t say or write his name. Ever.
I’m a newspaper reporter.
Actually, used to be a newspaper reporter. Not sure what I am now. Got laid off by the Examiner three weeks ago. Nothing personal, they said. Circulation and revenue are down, we need to make some cuts. Sorry Marc, you’re one of the cuts. We don’t need a general assignment & enterprise reporter who also does a weekly humor column. We’re going in another direction. What direction? We’re not sure, but it’s a different one. Don’t ask so many questions. Thanks for all your good work the past 10 years. We’re giving you and everyone else we’re laying off a week’s severance pay for every year you worked here … up to 5 weeks.
So, there you have it, that’s why I’m here in France.
In Chantilly, starting an epic French bike trip.
And can’t sleep … without Maddie. I miss Maddie so much it hurts.
OK Marc, enough with all the whining. They get the picture. Get to the bike trip part of the bike trip.
Let’s just say it didn’t get off to the greatest of starts.
My flight from Philadelphia left at 8:50PM Sunday (that seems so long ago) and arrived at Aeroport Charles De Gaulle at 8:35AM Monday. Paris time. Tried to fall asleep on the flight, and did … 20 minutes before we landed.
Waited at the baggage carousel for my bike and my panniers.
They’re the bags you attach to each side of the rack on the back of your bike. They hold all your stuff. And you need a lot of stuff when you’re on an epic French bike trip. Pannier is a French word, and I’m not exactly sure how to pronounce it. The R might be silent. There are a lot of silent letters in French. It’s confusing.
My panniers rolled out onto the baggage carousel, but no bike.
Where the hell is my bike?
Why isn’t it coming up the baggage carousel? Everyone else from my flight had their bags and was long gone. It was just me – and my panniers – and no bike in a big, cardboard box. Started stressing out. Big time. How the hell am I going to go on a bike trip without a bike? You kind of need one. Otherwise it’s just “a trip.”
Is it gone? Lost? Stolen? Evaporated? Do I have to go into Paris and buy a bike? Is this an omen? Should I get on the next flight home? Can I just curl up in a ball in the corner of this airport and cry myself to sleep?
Finally decided to find the Air France luggage office, walked in … and there it was, my bike in a box. Sitting there. It seems the big, bulky, cardboard box was too big to go through the baggage carousel, something I should have figured out a long time – and a lot of stress – ago. Hey, give me a break; I have a TBI and just spent a sleepless night on a stupid airplane.
Dragged the box out of the Air France office, found a semi-quiet spot in a corner and started putting my bike back together. And had all sorts of problems getting the damn handlebars back on. I’m a pretty experienced cyclist and can fix flats and dropped chains and replace brake pads. This was the first time I’d ever disassembled and packed my bike into a box, and then tried to put it back together again.
You know, the Humpty Dumpty Syndrome. With a bike.
The pedals and wheels were a breeze to put back on. The handlebars were a different story. You have to thread this long screw down through the stem and into this little nut that you can’t really see.
My manual dexterity isn’t quite as dexterous as it once was. Neither is my patience, which wasn’t the greatest to begin with. Now, I get stressed out and anxious and impatient so much faster than I used to, which, like I said, was already pretty fast. Even with the Lexapro. Damn TBI.
Let’s just say I was anxious, stressed out & pissed off as I tried to get the handlebar screw back in place. My stuff was strewn about every which way, was mumbling curses to myself, as hundreds of people from all over the world walked by, staring at me like I was Crazy Airport Guy.
OK, they may have had a point.
Couple of times had to take a step back from my bike and the stupid handlebar screw, take a few deep, cleansing breaths and try to relax.
Finally got the screw in, the handlebars on properly and my bike back together, and could dial down the stress level. Felt a little better. Put the panniers on, put the handlebar bag on the handlebars and used a couple of bungee cords to attach my small knapsack on top of the panniers on the back of my bike. A guy I know, who’s biked across the U.S. and around Europe a few times, told me I absolutely, positively had to bring at least four bungee cords and a roll of duct tape with me.
“You can fix anything and solve any problem with bungee cords and duct tape on a bike trip,” he said. “And, for some reason, gray duct tape works best.”
“Nah, I’m just messing with you Marc, every color’s the same.” Nevertheless, have a roll of gray duct tape with me.
You never know.
At 11:36AM, finally rolled my bike out of the airport terminal … and into France. My epic bike trip had begun. And yeah, people look at you kind of funny when you wheel a loaded-up bike through a busy airport. Screw ‘em, they’re jealous. Had a map of the airport from the information booth, and all I had to do was find the periphery road. It winds around the airport and would take me to the D212 road that would then take me in the direction of Chantilly, where I planned to find a hotel and spend the night.
All the signs outside the terminal pointed to the A1, the French equivalent of a big American super highway/turnpike. Didn’t want to get on the A1. Not on a bike. It may be illegal. Definitely dangerous. And I’m kind of petrified of dangerous, traffic-filled roads. For obvious reasons. Went a couple hundred yards in every direction, around and around, looking for some sort of sign or side road that would lead me to the periphery. Nothing. Finally, frustrated and pissed off, which is the exact opposite of how you want to start off an epic French bike trip, started following the signs toward the A1, hoping for the best. From the map, this seemed like where the periphery should be. After about half a mile, and before I got to the A1, saw a road up above me, crossing over the road I was on.
“This has to be the periphery road,” I mumbled. “But how the hell do I get up there?”
Went a little further, hoping I’d find the access road up to the periphery, but again … nothing … and I was getting closer and closer to the start of the actual A1. More and more cars were zooming by. Was getting more and more nervous, anxious and stressed out. Turned around and rode back under what I thought – and hoped – was the periphery, and decided had no choice but to climb the steep, rocky embankment.
Started up and immediately realized it was a suicide mission. My bike, what with all the panniers and bags, my laptop, toiletries, underwear (five pairs!), must have weighed 70 pounds. Maybe more. There was no way I was getting it up the steep embankment. Not in my weakened, post-incident (I will never, ever call it an accident) condition. Sat down on the side of the road, fought back the tears, and tried to figure out what to do. Stuff like this never used to bother me or stress me out.
“So, Marc, how was your bike trip through France? Amazing, right?” “Well, I never actually made it out of the airport.”
“Voila!” I shouted after a few minutes … and took my panniers and knapsack off my bike and carried them to the top of the embankment, slipping and falling once, skinning my left knee. Hey, it’s not easy climbing up the side of an airport mountain in clip-in bike shoes. Went back down, super- extra carefully, got my bike and managed to push it up the embankment without falling. Barely. Reattached the panniers and bags. Bungee cords in place.
Mission accomplished. Off I went.
The road was the periphery. I think. Must have been. Rode a couple miles, past a bunch of big hotels, came out the other end of the airport on the D212 and headed north to Chantilly. My back and neck only hurt a little. Felt good to be on a bike. In France. Finally. As soon as you ride into Chantilly, you turn a corner and there it is … this amazing French castle. Then again, all the castles here in France are French castles. Or chateaux, as they call them over here. And they’re all probably amazing. It’s not like some rich king or duke or marquis is going to build a small, boring castle. All the other kings, dukes & marquis would mock him relentlessly: “Hey Henri, your chateau is merde.”
There were moats and gardens surrounding the chateaux in Chantilly, and turrets and spires all over the façade. Felt a little better as I sat in the gardens and tried – somewhat successfully – to relax.
And then I got sad. Really sad.
And tired. And thought about Maddie. She should be here with me. She’d love Chantilly.
Started this journal 23 days after the incident. This was about the time the fog in my brain lifted enough for me to begin to process my thoughts and write them down in a somewhat clear and coherent way.
My neuropsychologist thought keeping a journal would be a good way to help me organize my thoughts, deal with my depression, anxiety and stress, retrain my brain and eventually help me get back to work at the Examiner. The neuropsychologist was right. Keeping a journal helps. Now, writing in my journal is a habit, something I have do every day to try and make sense of everything that’s happened and is still happening to me.
BTW: Never knew there was such a thing as a neuropsychologist until I started seeing one. Did you? Didn’t think so.
I’m definitely still in recovery mode, mentally and physically. Had 19 broken bones. I think. Was never clear on the exact number. What’s the difference if it was seven broken ribs or eight broken ribs? It hurts the same. A lot. Let’s just say stuff was busted up from head to toe and what wasn’t broken was bloody and/or bruised & battered. My biggest issue right now is this damn TBI. It’s a bastard. And I may have a little PTSD mixed in with the TBI, according to my neuropsychologist. Yep, the TBI/PTSD daily double. And, I have all the depression, anxiety, insomnia and stress-related issues that come with TBI/PTSD.
It’s now 5:44AM and I’m going to close my laptop and try to sleep for a couple of hours. It’s been a long couple of days. Hope some of the above makes some sense, as I’m a little delirious, what with all the sleep deprivation.
I also have a new Biking France Blog, with stories about all my new and real French biking adventures. Here’s the link. Thanks. OK, now get back to the Numbskull.