Day 6. Saturday, June 6, 2015 … Compiegne … 70 miles/290 miles … No amount of clenching was going to stop it

6 sink

Sleep update: The same.

Lexapro update: Didn’t take one this morning. Let’s see what happens. Hope I won’t be anxious about not being anxious. Crap, I’m getting anxious just thinking about not being anxious. That’s the thing: Once you start worrying about being anxious, you’re immediately anxious. Like when I get in bed every night and start worrying about not being able to fall asleep.


Today was a beautiful day of riding, about 70 miles from Reims to Compiegne. Once I made it out of Reims, stuck to the small, quiet roads, through vineyards, farms and a little town every 10 miles or so. Stopped in Fere and had some cherries and a banana. In Villers-Cotterets, got a sandwich (frommage avec crudités on a baguette) and a Volvic from a pastry shop. Then headed toward the castle in Pierrefonds. And yes, I do seem to measure my rides in snacks as much as in miles. Volvic is my favorite French “still” mineral water, edging out Evian and Vittel.

Decided not to go in the Pierrefonds castle and to just admire it from the outside. I mean, come on, this country is filled with castles. Can’t stop and see every one of them.

Nature is my museum.

Book title: Nature Is My Museum.

The last 10 miles of the ride were on a path, through some woods where all sorts of historic stuff happened. The armistice that ended World War I was signed here on Nov. 11, 1918, in a railway car that became a shrine. And then, on June 22, 1940, after the Germans invaded France and took control of Paris, the French signed an armistice (a surrender?) with the Germans. To rub it in, Hitler had everyone do all the signing in the exact same railroad car on the exact same spot where the Germans surrendered back in 1918.


Hitler got his in the end. The railroad car is long gone, but there is a memorial.


OK, something infinitely embarrassing happened in the forest between Pierrefonds and Compiegne. So embarrassing I wasn’t going to write about it. But I will. This is my journal of truth – even the embarrassing truths. So, here goes: All of a sudden, and without warning, I’m riding along and had to go. Really bad. Not in five minutes. Now! And no amount of clenching was going to stop it. Think it was the damn frommage sandwich.

Wheeled my bike a few yards into the woods, got behind a tree, pulled down my bike shorts, squatted and, well, you know what I did.

And realized I didn’t have any toilet paper.

But did have a few pairs of socks in one of my panniers. Picked out the oldest, rattiest pair and, well … you know what I did.

And from now on, will carry toilet paper with me. A big wad in my front bike bag and a backup wad in one of my panniers.

BTW: The toilet paper over here is pink.

BTWA: Remember to go easy on the frommage during rides.


Got a room at the Hotel Lion D’Or in Compiegne, took an extra-long shower (because of the incident in the woods) and did some sink laundry.

Sink laundry?

It’s what you have to do on a long bike trip and, I’m proud to say, I’m getting pretty darn good at it. With the help of my Genie.


Liquid laundry soap in a plastic tube they sell in the supermarche. Supermarche?
Oh come on, you can figure it out.

BTW: There’s a reason why I keep referring to “you” and am writing in my journal as if this was a letter or email to a friend. Years ago, early in my reporting career at the Examiner, an editor gave me some good advice.

“Don’t ever forget that whatever you write, people are going to read,” Joan said. “The victim’s family will be reading this.”

She was referring to an article I had written – and she was editing – about the verdict in a murder trial earlier that day. Guilty. I went with a feature kind of lead, something borderline inappropriate for such a serious matter.

Joan changed it.


“The man who was murdered has a wife and two children,” she said. “They’re going to read this. It could be the last thing ever written about this poor man.”

She was totally right and from then on, I always thought about the people impacted by what I was writing about. This doesn’t mean you can’t rip someone to shreds when they do something illegal or immoral, just make sure you do it in an appropriate and even-handed fashion and get your facts right. And be super-extra careful what you write about victims. I took this a step further in my weekly (and hopefully funny) columns and made them personal and fun, sort of like this journal (hopefully). The key is to connect with your readers. Is it working with you? And was that last sentence a little desperate?

Another lesson I learned from Joan was to always ask, no matter what horrible thing had just happened to someone: “Did anything good come out of this.”

Amazingly, the answer was almost always yes. No matter how horrible the situation. Wrote a series a few years ago on Leo, who was 73 and had just suffered a stroke. The story was supposed to be all about his recovery. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, loved to dance. The series was going to end with them finally back out on the dance floor and in each other’s arms.

Leo never made it. He had several more small strokes and, instead of getting better, he kept getting worse and further and further from the dance floor. And the worse he got, the more Mary Ellen took care of him. It turned out to be a love story.

“Did any good come out of this?” I asked Mary Ellen.

“Yes,” she said. “I love Leo more than ever and am so grateful that I’m here to take care of him. And our children have been so supportive and we’re all even closer as a family than we were before.”

So, did any good come out of Maddie’s murder?

Not yet.

BTW: The paper I used to work for is the Bucks County Examiner. Bucks

County is just outside of Philadelphia and has lots of history and arts. It’s where Washington crossed the Delaware and where James Michener grew up. I know the Washington part because there’s a town in Bucks County called Washington’s Crossing and they re-enact the crossing every Christmas. Covered it four times. Twice it was beyond cold and my fingers were so numb I couldn’t take notes. Know the Michener part because there’s like 12 things named after the guy: a museum, a library, roads, etc. Never actually read one of his books, but plan to one day. They’re longer than Lonesome Dove.

When I started at the Examiner, it was the fourth largest paper in Pennsylvania, with a circulation of about 125,000. We had a Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. bureau. We had 26 news reporters and seven sports reporters. It’s still the fourth-largest paper in PA (I think), but circulation is now less than 60,000 and our Harrisburg and D.C. bureaus – along with more than half our reporting staff (including me) – are long gone. In other words: we’re a fairly typical newspaper. It’s heartbreaking.


OK, so before I got distracted, was about to explain sink laundry. You can only pack so much stuff in your panniers. This means you have to do sink laundry every day or two, especially your smelly, disgusting bike clothes. Packed two complete bike outfits: socks, shorts, jersey and gloves, and am diligent about washing the stuff I wear every day right after that day’s ride.

Trust me, bike shorts stink after 40 or 50 miles in the saddle. And bike gloves, for some strange reason, smell even worse than bike shorts. How is it possible for your hands to stink worse than your butt? And yet, they do.


They’re everywhere over here, even in the small towns like Compiegne. They call them Lavaries. They’re time consuming and expensive, like 10 or 12 Euros to wash and dry one load, so I’m only going to go to one every week or 10 days. That leaves sink washing between the Lavarie days.

Step one: The pre-wash.

Actually, prior to step one, you have to figure out how to stop up the sink so you can fill it up with warm water. Some sinks have working stoppers, some don’t. Think some hotel owners remove the stoppers just so us bikers can’t wash out our bike clothes in the sink. They’re a little obsessed with limiting the use of water and electricity over here. Which is probably a better way to go environmentally. Fortunately, the sink in my room in Reims has a nice rubber stopper. In a pinch, I’ve stuffed one of my dirty bike socks in the drain. It sort of works.

OK, next comes the pre-wash. Put a little Genie in the sink and fill it up with as much warm water as you can, put in your clothes, swish them around a bit, and soak the stink out of them for about 10 minutes. Usually take a shower while waiting.

Then, you drain the water out of the sink, fill the sink back up and wring out the bike clothes … drain the sink, fill it and wring stuff out again to get all the soap residue out. Two times usually does the trick.

Then, really, really wring every last drop of water you can out of the socks, shorts, jersey and gloves. This is my upper body workout for the day.

And finally, find a way to stretch a bungee cord or two across the window, hang your clothes on the bungee cords or on a hangar that you hang on the bungee cords.

Voila, clean and eventually dry clothes.


Was running a little low on underwear and T-shirts, so did a second load of sink laundry today: two pairs of underwear and two T-shirts. OK, my chores for the day are done.


So, what with all the clothes hanging up to dry, my small hotel room feels even smaller. Have noticed that all the rooms in all the hotels in France that I seem to stay in, you know, the cheap ones, are pretty much the same: Small, and dominated by a fairly large bed that almost always sags in the middle. Maybe they make the beds this way over here. And there’s always this long, skinny pillow that extends all the way across the top of the bed and is folded into one of the sheets.

I call it the log pillow – and log pillows are useless.

Every room also has a large wooden chest, an armoire.

The only reason I know these large, wooden chests are called armoires is the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine buys an armoire and Kramer has to guard it on the street. Then some street toughs steal it from Kramer while Jerry and George are getting soup from the Soup Nazi. Classic episode. For extra credit: What are the names of the two street toughs?

It’s strange, but everything you come across in life relates to something that happened on Seinfeld.

Even here in France.

I’ve also learned that there’s always a “regular” pillow or two in the armoire for the guests who hate log pillows. Keep that in mind when you’re in France and discover you hate the log pillows.

BTW: Bob and Cedric were the names of the two street toughs.

In Chapter 7 we learn the secret of Marc’s name … see if you can figure it out

One thought on “Day 6. Saturday, June 6, 2015 … Compiegne … 70 miles/290 miles … No amount of clenching was going to stop it

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