Another night of tossing and turning and not much actual sleeping. What with the whiplash, broken shoulder and back issues, it’s really hard to find a comfortable sleep position. Used to sleep on my stomach. Not now. Hurts my neck. Have to sleep on my side and don’t like sleeping on my side.
They have these things called whiplash pillows. They’re expensive and are supposed to eliminate the pain in your whiplashed neck.
They don’t. A lesson that cost me $200.
This makes three mostly sleepless nights in a row.
BTW: My clothes were sort of, mostly dry this morning. Spent about half an hour in the bathroom, drying out my underwear with the annoyingly unpowerful hair dryer. May have burned out the motor.
Left Soissons a little after 10AM. The plan was to ride to Laon. It’s only about 20 miles from Soissons, so took the long way. Headed east to Fismes, where I had some lunch … and fell asleep in a little park next to the church. Lay down on a bench by the church for a minute, it was sort of comfortable in a wooden-bench kind of way … and next thing I knew it was half an hour later. Hope this doesn’t screw me up tonight.
When I woke up, my neck was stiff. And sore. More than usual. The lingering effects of the whiplash. My lower back was also stiff and sore. More than usual. The lingering effects of the three compression-fractures of my vertebra. Did some yoga (Maddie was big on yoga and took me to classes all the time), felt a little better, and started riding. It rained a little, got wet, it stopped raining, gradually dried out.
BTW: Now pack all my clothes in the plastic bags you get at the grocery store, and then put them into my not-so-waterproof panniers. Better safe than soggy.
Got to Laon. It’s an ancient city perched high atop a cliff that juts up out of the flatlands below. The cliff is like 300-feet high and about a mile long. The city on top is filled with all these old, stone buildings, including the 12th- Century Gothic cathedral. It’s called Notre Dame. The towers of the church are decorated with dozens of statues of oxen. Oxen? It seems these beasts of burden hauled up all the stones they used to build the church and all the buildings and ramparts.
Got a room at a hotel near the train station at the base of the cliff. Took a shower, another nap, had something to eat and finally headed up to the top of the cliff to explore Laon. You can take the POMMA 2,000 cable car, but decided to walk the ancient steps. I’m not exactly sure what constitutes ancient, but I’m going to call all the stuff 500 years or older ancient.
It’s 297 steps to the top (I counted). Had to stop and rest and catch my breath four times. Stairs are tough. Should have taken the POMMA. Would have, but I’m a bit stubborn (get this from Dad) and kind of cheap (Dad, again) and it cost 2 Euros. Plus, one of the goals of this trip is to get my body back in shape, and taking the POMMA 2,000 isn’t going to get me there. Plus, all the riding and walking should tire me out and help me sleep better tonight. Maybe. Hopefully. Probably not. It’s worth a shot. My left ankle was throbbing by the time I got to the top. It’s the one that got broken. Forget the exact name, but it’s the kind of break where the muscle pulls away from the bone and takes a piece of the bone with it. Yeah, it hurts as much as it sounds like it would hurt. Feels OK when I bike, but starts to hurt when I walk a lot. Probably shouldn’t walk a lot. Or climb 297 ancient stairs.
Wandered around town, wound up at Notre Dame, noticed a couple of television trucks parked outside and lots of people milling around. Everyone was dressed up and seemed excited about something. The tourist office is next to the church. Went inside.
“Parlez-vous Anglais?” I asked.
“Yes,” the women said.
Asked her what was going on at the church: A free concert this very evening by the Orchestre Philharmonic de Radio France that was being broadcast on TV.
Although the concert was free, you needed a ticket.
“Can I have une billet please.”
Billet means ticket, and I have no idea if I pronounced it properly. Think
the T is silent.
She looked at me with a look that I can only describe as one of contempt, as if tickets for an event of such importance would still be available an hour before the start of the concert.
“We have no more tickets,” she said, shooting me another haughty look. “They have been complete for weeks.”
No way was I going to let the lack of a billet prevent me from hearing the Orchestre Philharmonic de Radio France play in a 900-year old church perched on top of a cliff and covered with oxen.
Come on, how often do you get a chance for something like this?
Got in line, toward the back, and waited and waited. They finally opened the doors and we started filing into the church. “Look like you belong and have a ticket,” I told myself as I got close to the entrance. My plan, if someone asked for my ticket, was to go totally dumb American on him (or her). “I do not understand, Je ne parle pas Francais,” I would say over and over until they finally gave up and let me in, shaking their head in disgust and exasperation at the stupid American without a billet. Hey, we already have a reputation for being rude tourists, so why not use it to my advantage?
Amazingly, nobody asked to see my billet … and I waltzed right into the church and took a seat in the back, in the unreserved section. At least I think it was the unreserved section. Nobody said anything. Or asked for a billet. Waited for the start of the concert, and the sun started setting. As it did, the red and blue stained-glass windows got darker and darker and finally went black. It was quite beautiful and peaceful. My brain was calm.
The Orchestre Philharmonic de Radio France was wonderful. Their first number was something by Mozart.
The only problem was the cymbals. Holy crap were they loud. And hurt my head whenever Cymbal Guy crashed them together. At one point, Cymbal Guy smashed them together five or six times in a row. Thought my brain would explode.
Noise has been a problem since the incident.
And bright lights.
And lots of other stuff.
It’s a long list. Too tired to go into it now, but let’s just say cymbals are now at the top of the list.
By the start of the third or fourth song (I know song isn’t the right word, but I’m not sure what else to call it … Movement? Piece? Number?), was starting to get a little drowsy and soon it was like my chin was made of metal … and my chest was a magnet.
Third nap of the day.
Dreamed Maddie was sitting next to me in an ancient white-stone church atop a cliff. We were holding hands, listening to an orchestra, smiling. Maddie looked so beautiful. We were so happy. It felt so real.
And then my dream changed. We were on bikes. Here, in France. Fields of sunflowers. Smiled at Maddie. And suddenly, without warning, a car slammed into Maddie. She went flying.
Woke up with a jolt.
And started silently sobbing. The tears just streamed down my face, and dripped onto my pants. Couldn’t stop. Didn’t want to stop. The lady sitting next to me stared, looked concerned, whispered something in French, and handed me some tissues from her pocketbook.
“Merci,” I sobbed.
Maddie should be here with me.
But she’s not.
Murdered. By the bastard who hit us on April 20, 2014. At 11:47AM. She died at the scene from a broken neck. I was lying 20 yards away. Unconscious. Couldn’t help her … couldn’t hold her hand … couldn’t tell Maddie I loved her. The thought of her lying there, battered and broken, and not being able to do anything to help her … well, I just can’t get it out of my mind. Picture that scene all the time. Her lying there. Me lying there. Dream about it. And always wake up with a jolt, and in a sweat. And start sobbing.
I was so out of it and busted up, drugged up and foggy in the brain after I woke up in the hospital that they had to keep telling me Maddie was dead two or three times a day before it finally sunk in and I stopped desperately asking: “Where’s Maddie? Where’s Maddie? Where the hell is Maddie?”
Refused to believe it.
My parents told me, Maddie’s mom told me, a police officer came to the hospital to ask me questions and told me. He asked me what I remembered. “Nothing,” I said. “Nothing.”
We were on a bike ride, getting ready for our wedding-anniversary bike trip to the Loire Region of France. We’d been to France together once before. Six nights in Paris on our honeymoon. Loved it. Had been talking about a Loire bike trip for years and we were finally gonna do it. Were so excited. Maddie spent a semester of college in Paris and she did a four-day bike trip in the Loire with some friends. We were going to recreate her trip, and then keep riding to another couple of castles. Ten days on bikes in the Loire. It was going to be so amazing and so romantic. I was going to write a book, Biking the Loire, that we’d self-publish as an eBook. Maddie was going to take all the photos. She’s a great photographer. And the next year (which is now this year), we’d bike through the Dordogne or Bordeaux, maybe both if I could
get enough time off from work. Or maybe Provence. More eBooks. More romantic bike trips.
All of that’s gone.
And now, here I am, in a church in Laon, without Maddie, listening to an orchestra, the tears streaming down my cheeks.