My training routine: French virtually every day, using tapes and books, and once a week lots of help from my friend and actor, George, who was raised in France and who coaxed, prodded, nudged, teased and educated my miserable pronunciation and enunciation into something far more understandable than I could produce studying alone. Cycling almost every day: starting in March, with ice still on the local roads, riding my Trek hybrid, finishing with three weeks of loaded riding (a gallon of water in each pannier) on my lovely new Cannondale Touring II, up and down the Berkshire Hills in Massachusetts where I live. People, following the normal after-work activity of walking their dog, sometimes watched me ride up a nearby steep hill (9% grade), turn around and coast down, ride back up. A minimum of three times to gain 1000 feet of climbing. They could only have imagined that Sisyphus had chosen an odd contemporary body in which to visit their neighborhood.
I noticed that the closer I got to leaving, the more people told me some variation of this: “You’re so brave,” “You’re crazy,” and “Aren’t you afraid?” Now, these are all the same thing, with different words attached to the pronoun, and none are true, but all are, I think, a response to the notion of a woman, particularly a grey-headed one, travelling alone on a cycle. I don’t consider myself brave, crazy or afraid, so I responded: “If I have a culture crisis, I’m in France (not Arizona), and if I have a health crisis, I’m in France (not the US) and if I have a food crisis … well, you get it, I’m in France.” The food part was to come back to haunt me. Interestingly to me, a large number of women were quite intrigued, offering great encouragement and enthusiasm, and sometimes their own stories, even if they often thought cycling as a mode of transportation a bit outrageous, or at least not for them.