Travels With Karen

In the years before the miracle of the GPS, navigation on our trips to France was assigned to Karen. At first glance, that would be…well, at second and third glance too, that would appear to be as sensible as asking Superman to deliver this here package of kryptonite. Geography, you see, is not a strength; navigation, a mystery. And so, with no GPS it was to be Karen, Rand McNally, and the Rough Guide; the maps open across her lap, the Rough Guide in hand. We would hie off into the countryside, me and a woman who spreads breadcrumbs to find her way back to the bedroom. At home. Oh, and she likes wildflowers.

Actually she is a wildflower fanatic (but I say that with respect), with an encyclopedic knowledge of wildflowers, and the ability to spot a single, dime-sized wildflower from a speeding motor vehicle, at 500 yards.


So I do.


Before the wheels have come to a stop, she’s out the door, crashing her way through high weeds and brambles. A few minutes later I can see her tiny figure out in the distance, two or three zip codes away, waving happily and pointing down. A few minutes later she is back, climbs into her seat, closes the door, looks at me and smiles.

“That was nice. We can go now!”

Once, in the Pyrenees, we were at the foot of Plateau de Beille and I was really excited.  Plateau de Beille  is a mountain with a ski station at the top. The road to the top is an iconic mountain climb from the Tour de France and it has to be the finish of a stage because there is only one road up; you can’t ride up and then go down. This would be my first physical contact with the Tour, of which we have both been passionate fans. And, because I was riding with a bike club back home, I was really interested in seeing what the ride up would be like.

We started up at the foot of the climb, and I guess for the first little switchback I stupidly thought, well this isn’t bad. Its only something like 15 kilometers, I might be able to do this.” Ha.

As the climb got relentlessly steep I told Karen, “If I could stop when I just couldn’t go anymore, I don’t think I could do this in a week. And these guys climb 3 and 4 mountains in a single day?”

So, I was busy being gobsmacked as we rounded a switchback, when it happened.


I knew the drill. And as it turned out, the flower in question was right there by the side of the road. She looked down, and sat down next to it, looking at me, her back to a large hillside. The little flower was blue.

It was quite astonishing, I was told. This little blue flower was really, really hard to find, and this was a really  special deal, finding this lovely little blue flower, that I think she told me was poisonous if you put it up your nose, or something like that. I’m standing there on the side of the road, and enjoying the stop because, from the previous Tour de France I can see the fading names of favorite riders  painted on the road, which is what the fans do. And Karen is enjoying her blue flower. Then I look up at Karen and her flower, and behind her, a vast field, a great swath of blue. Yeah, blue flowers. Like, acres, dude.

“Hey Kar, you really should turn around. I’m Just sayin”.

So there we were driving in the Dordogne, getting on evening, looking for a town with a restaurant and hotel, and off in the distance what appears to be a castle, which is exciting, but not unusual, because there are castles and castle ruins all over. I was busy reading road signs in heavy traffic as we approached an as yet unnamed town. And the castle loomed larger and larger in the distance.


“What now?”

She had the rough guide in her hands, flipping pages, and the map was on the floor.

“Stop! I mean go! GO!  We have to go there!”

“Why? What are you talking about?”

“Eleanor!  Eleanor of Aquitane! She was…uh…uh..she was BORN there, Yes! In that castle! Uh, no…no, wait,..”

 Flipping pages made a breeze, while Karen muttered, “She had her first,…yes!, She had her first child! No, wait…”

The Rough Guide is beginning to emit wisps of smoke.

“Oh, I don’t know!” she says in growing frustration, ” SOMETHING VAGINAL HAPPENED THERE!”

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