July 22: Asson and Croc Ball

Still raining. Everything that can be described as laundry was damp. I woke up to the realization that I had left our towels from the spa out on the line all night, and they’d been rained on and were now even more damp than they had been before. I felt so completely stymied by the laundry situation that I decided to just wash everything anyway, regardless of the weather, and hope for the best. So I did a couple of loads in the washer in the laundry room, and then draped it all over the house – the stair railing, the bathroom door, the actual drying rack that we found upstairs, etc. When the house looked like a laundry basket had exploded in it, I felt like I’d done what I could. I hung the towels indoors too.

For breakfast the children ate a cereal called Croc Ball. I don’t normally buy cereal that is made out of high fructose corn syrup and chemicals, back in the USA. I mean, that’s not to say I’ve never done it, because I certainly have, but I don’t make it a practice. However, the food in France, even the processed crap food, is so much better than the processed crap food in America that I thought I’d give their chocolately crap breakfast cereal a try. There was no HFCS. In fact, there were surprisingly few awful ingredients and it claimed to be made from whole grain. So, whatever. The other thing that was awesome about Croc Ball was that it’s called CROC BALL, that it had a picture of a retro Mickey Mouse on the front for no discernable reason, and that the children huffed it down by the heaping bowlful. I’ll even confess that at one point during the week we ran out of white milk (this was actually after I determined that what we thought was milk was actually the French equivalent of half-and-half) and I let Sadie eat her Croc Ball floating in the French equivalent of chocolate milk, which has the charming name Candy Up.

Croc Ball and Candy Up. Rawr! And those children were worried they’d have to eat snails! Yet another reason to love staying in Maubourguet: there’s a pool, a bunch of awesome dogs, and Croc Ball!

Today’s plan was to drive to the small town of Asson, where the Tour de France would be having a feeding station. We thought we’d get there mega-early and get a rock star parking spot, and the kids and I would hang out in the town while Dan went out to climb Col du Aubisque, which was one he somehow missed during L’Etape and all the rest of his climbage this week. We arrived in the town and it was pretty deserted, but we knew we were in the right spot because of the yellow official Tour de France “turn here” arrow signs. We parked right off the street, right next to a 90 degree turn, and Dan started getting ready for his ride and putting his bike together.

I had brought a big bag of snacks for the kids, and their video games, prepared for a possibly long and boring wait. However, we almost immediately met another American family, and while Dan went on his ride, the kids and I hung out with Yvette and Tim, and their daughter Tate. They were camped out under a small overhang across the street, waiting for the Tour in all their Livestrong gear, and the kids hit it off right away. Yvette and I chatted about all kinds of stuff, and the time flew by. Being in a foreign country for several weeks, you find yourself very relieved and excited to find someone who speaks your language, gets your references, and can give you some news of the “world” back home.

The kids and I took one trip down the road to get hot chocolate and coffee at a little neighborhood bar/sandwich shop/candy store that looked like it might have also sold fishing bait and knives.

They seemed unaware of the Tour de France and unimpressed by the fact that they’d be getting a lot of business that day. Later I went down to use the bathroom and heard a British girl give an order for thirty sandwiches. What kind? “Mixed.” Rrrr-kay. That particular sandwich counter has probably not had a more lucrative day before or since.

Pretty soon Dan came back, having been able to climb Col du Soleur but not the other one. By this time traffic was closed and the street was starting to fill up. Across the street from us, a gang of rowdy German kids were dressed up like Mexican banditos, and the usual festive atmosphere that precedes the Tour’s arrival took over the town. Yes, it was raining and chilly and kind of miserable, but everyone was cheerful. Here's a picture of some goofy fans that kept singing boisterously:

Tate played so graciously and patiently with Sadie, so Sadie wanted to stay with her, but Benny and I went up the road a little bit to try and scoop up the maximum amount of swag from the caravan. He brought his American flag, and by the time the official vehicles were coming through, we were sort of between two heavy concentrations of spectators, in a great spot for hats, candy, etc.

The Etap float was passing out rain ponchos. We scored some mini sausages for the Chihuahuas at home. Benny alternated jumping up and down like a lunatic and then running for stuff, sharing nicely with another little boy who was there with his grandpa to see the Tour. No English, but you don’t need language to say “I got the last one, you take this one.” I’ve been talking a lot to Benny about how he’s representing not only himself and his family, but also his country. I hope a little of that is sinking in.

After the caravan, we went back to check in with Dan, and then headed back up the road to wait for the cyclists. We were hoping we’d see them with their food bags and getting water bottles from the cars, etc. Benny and I climbed up on a stone wall beside the road so that he could wave his flag without murdering anyone accidentally.

He gets very enthusiastic with that flag, and I could just see him clotheslining someone in the race and making international coverage for all the wrong reasons. With Benny high on the wall and me up there to keep him from falling off, I had little hope of us catching a bottle, since they usually land in the ditch. However, one of the Garmin guys threw a bottle straight at Benny, which was very exciting – maybe he saw the American flag. Unfortunately the ground up behind that wall was knee deep in brambles and thick undergrowth, so while we were hunting around for the bottle an Australian dude jumped up and started hunting too, and he found it first. All’s fair in collecting Tour de France refuse, but I do know that the Garmin rider sent that bottle straight at Benny, and I guess that’s pretty cool in itself.

After the race, we said goodbye to our new friends, and then we had to wait until the barricades came down so we could get the car out. After that we sat in a bizarre traffic jam in a nearby town, the result of rerouted trucks trying to get through tiny alleys because of Tour-related road closings.

Dan had been seeing these posters around the little towns advertising the Tour’s 100th year in the Pyrennees. It was a retro style poster showing a woman on a bicycle ascending Col du Tourmalet in front of a bunch of angsty men. The woman in the poster was supposed to be some woman that went up the mountain on a geared bike as a demonstration of the effectiveness of gears, while all the men were riding fixies. Anyway, Dan had decided he could not leave the area without this poster, so we took advantage of our stuck-ness to investigate some local bookstores and presse stores, but no luck. Even the tourism office had nothing for us. Eventually we went to the main tourism office in Tarbes and they gave Dan two copies of it, which was awesome! Very satisfying.

After extracting ourselves from the Tour traffic, we flew homeward to catch the rest of the Tour on TV. We got to see Contador and Schleck battle it up Tourmalet in the mist with incomprehensible French commentary, and while I wish Schleck had been able to get away from Contador on that climb, I do enjoy the Specialized commercial that came out of their rivalry. Speaking of French commentary, there’s this really whispery, throaty guy who always sounds like he’s right beside a golf green trying not to disturb a putt. Having listened to him on the radio for many stages, Dan finally saw him live and reported that the reason he sounds like that is because he’s completely ancient.

For dinner, we intended to try a restaurant in Maubourguet that our hosts had recommended, but when we arrived they were not open yet. I scooted into the Petit Casino grocery store and picked up a few supplies and made dinner at home. More St. Marcellin cheese and ravioli in the grocery store, but instead I finally decided to try some of the strange, irregular saucisson that we’ve been seeing all over France. It looks like it’s wrapped in paper and covered in flour, and I’ve been curious about it since we arrived. I bought one and Dan and I ate some of it; turned out a lot like summer sausage but maybe a little spicier and a little stranger. I’ve seen people at stages sitting there with a knife and a sausage just eating away at it – I guess I can see doing that, but it’s a little too wild for my taste. Tastes like it might be partially made out of wildebeest or something. Definitely more gamey than your average Pepperidge Farm.

The laundry was still damp at the end of the day. I put the towels back through the washing machine and washed everything else. Now most of our clothes were wet and we had no guarantee that there would be sun in the morning. I saw visions of us rolling into Paris with a suitcase full of wet clothes. Oh, but wait. We still had no place to stay in Paris, thanks to Michael Padnos and his double booking. In spite of trying earnestly to book something with some agent who was in Hawaii, and various other efforts, we had no luck. Wet clothes, no home for next week, Schleck owned on Tourmalet, and all kinds of bad news coming in from home. Dark days in Gascony.

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