The Problem With Paris.

Last week, I was in Eastern Europe. I’m still mentally unpacking all of the beauty I saw and all of the beautiful people I met there. 

But getting there…was not so pretty.

Specifically, Paris.

When I saw our flight itinerary and realized we were going to be flying through Paris both coming and going, I groaned with missed opportunity. How could one land in Paris and never see anything but the inside of the airport? It just wasn’t right.

However, the airport staff, and the airport itself, assured me that we missed nothing.

Our flight to Paris began in Atlanta at 4:45pm eastern, 3:45pm central. It ended at 6:00am Paris time, which was 11:00pm central, meaning that it was *not quite* my normal bedtime yet. Our seven hours of lost time was exactly our seven hours of should-have-been sleep. Which was quite disorienting. 

We were herded in line with a bunch of people to go through French Security, which I wasn’t expecting, as we were just going from one flight to another. We had literally just walked off a secure airplane but apparently that’s enough time to get naughty enough to need to be subjected to a full body cavity search. 

I did not get a full body cavity search. But I might have preferred it.

My friend Kelly was in front of me, so I followed her lead as she followed the lead of those in front of her (security instructions are difficult to read in French.) I put my locked carry-on on the belt, then I put my camera bag on the belt, then I took off my watch and put it in a tray. Kelly walked through the scanny machine. As I glanced over to see if it was my turn, the blond haired whatever-the-French-version-of-TSA lady landed her icy stare on me. 

She was on the other side of the conveyor belt and she pointed to my camera bag and started speaking rapid fire French. Or maybe rapid missile French. Whatever it was it definitely didn’t sound friendly.

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I did the wide-eyed dumb American stare and head shake and murmured something annoying like “What was that?”

She switched to thick English. And pointed to my camera bag. 

“Any laptop? Tablet?!”

”No.”

She looked at me with hatred and suspicion and downright disbelief.

“NO TABLET EVEN??”

“No.”

She shoved it through with a huff.

I walked toward the X-ray machine. 

As I got to it, the luggage scanner machine started beeping and Kelly’s carry-on came backwards on the belt. Another angry French woman started yelling.

“Whose bag is this? There’s a Laptop in it!! Must be taken out!!”

“Oh, it’s my friend Kelly’s. She’s already over there. KELLY! Come back!!”

As Kelly came back and fished her key out, I realized I should probably do the same. Because there wasn’t a laptop or tablet in my camera backpack, but there was a laptop in my locked carry-on.

Whoops.

So we both unlocked our cases and began pulling our laptops out.

Kelly put hers in the bin and all was fine.

But oh.

When Angry French Officette Number One saw me working at my bag, she descended upon me with the fury of the Frenchmen who shoved Marie Antoinette under the guillotine.

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“YOU said no! You said you didn’t have a laptop!”

“You were asking about that bag and I wasn’t thinking about this bag. I’m sorry.”

My mistake was the last word. 

She was now chopping off all the gentry’s heads.

“SORRY. You SORRY, huh? SORRY!! No. Take bag! Go stand over there!”

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I was confused and hesitated.

“OVER THERE!! You think about what you have done!!”

She shoved my stuff at me and pointed me toward a bench in between the two lines.

I walked three steps backward and waited for my turn to be burned at stake, pondering poor Joan of Arc, who led the French Army to an impossible victory and they still burned that poor teenager on a woodpile. She prob had a laptop in her carry-on, too.

Kelly came and stood by me, a loyal fellow enemy of the state to the end. She whispered to me, “Ignore her. She’s just an angry person. It’s not your fault.

After a few people went by and a few glares in my direction, she shoved a few bins, made room for my stuff, and angrily waved me back.

I put my bags back on the belt, NOT saying I was sorry, NOT making eye contact, as she berated me repeatedly in her loud angry rant.

“You remember now? How about now?? YOU REMEMBER NOW YOU HAVE A LAPTOP??”

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And I nearly sprinted through the X-Ray machine before she could lock me up in Bastille.

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We wound our way through the insanely circuitous airport and found out we had to ride a shuttle to our next gate. We waited for the shuttle for five minutes, and then had a ridiculous nearly-hour-long shuttle ride, as our gate was the previous gate and we had to do the full circle of the monstrosity to get back to it.

During this ride, we were all laughing and enjoying the ridiculous situations I seem to find myself in. Perhaps a bit loudly, we were discussing and laughing about Angry French Officette Number One. There were a few quiet, sullen looking people on the other side of the bus. None of them seemed to be paying us any attention, but I did observe that we were being much more interactive and loud than anyone else.

As an older French lady hobbled between us to get off the bus, she spat one word at us with venom.

I don’t know what the word was (alas, my Googling didn’t help either) but I gathered the meaning by the hateful undertone in which it was delivered.

And I found myself humbled. Not by Angry French Officette Number One, but by the  quiet old lady.

And swore from then on to be subdued, mature, European Rachel.

(Which lasted approximately 1 day.)

(Good thing Eastern Europeans seemed to love me for who I was.)

On the way back through Paris, it all went wrong again.

We had just come from the Croatia airport, where my friend Nikki left a water bottle in her bag. The security man politely and kindly said, “Excuse me, but you seem to have left a water bottle in your bag. Could you please remove it?” 

I rolled my eyes at how easy her life was.

But the second we stepped literal foot into Paris, we got screamed at. For stepping off the line on which we were supposed to walk from the plane to the terminal.

When we arrived at hell-also-known-as-French-Security again, with much fear and trembling of running into my friend because she certainly would remember me nine days later (I dreamed of the second round of “YOU STILL SORRY?? YOU REMEMBER NOW?? HOW ABOUT NOW!?”)  But mercifully we didn’t see her, and mercifully (for me) it was Nikki that got screamed at this time.

They had the conveyor belt running too fast and the guy in front of me took too long to get his things off. Everyone’s bins started jackknifing and watches and iPads were about to start flying.

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But somehow, even though Nikki was behind me, this was all her fault.

Angry French Officette Number Three started screaming “Your valise!! YOUR VALEEEESE!!  YOU!!! Take your valise off NOW!!”

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At that moment, or maybe it was after it took us an hour and forty five minutes (and 10,000 steps and two shuttle rides and two sets of incorrect directions by unhelpful French Airline Employees) to find our gate, or after we had a three hour layover in which we were going to get lunch but by the time we found our gate they were already boarding so we didn’t even get a bottle of water, or maybe it was when two out of three of us got pulled from the boarding line and it looked like we weren’t going to get to fly but they just wanted to do another security interrogation on us…whenever it was, Nikki and I made a blood oath that we would never visit Paris, never fly through Paris, nay, never meet a Parisian again, if we could help it. 

Sure, they may have cool buildings. But they’re not worth the Angry French. Pictures of the Eiffel Tower will do just fine for us.

Hashtag, Thunderhike.

I gave a speech this weekend to the AHTS (Alabama Hiking and Trail Society) about nurturing and encouraging children’s love of hiking. It’s way too long in its current format to share here (it was 45 minutes – perhaps the longest I’ve ever talked at one time ever), but in the process of writing it, and in particular in the process of writing the FAILS section, I found a story I wrote last fall but never shared here. And it really deserved sharing.

Our family stays at the Oak Mountain State Park cabins for a week every November, at that idyllic time of peak fall colors, crisp fall temperatures, and in general manic magic that happens when Alabama is no longer 100 degrees. This past year’s trip had been spectacular in every way. The weather couldn’t have been more lovely, we led hikes every day, we used the cabin canoes constantly, and we enjoyed every second.

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We had one last hike scheduled on our last day there, and it was to be our longest hike – a crescendo of perfection, if you will.

I never checked the weather. I had been lulled by the beautiful weather of the prior 6 days, and had also gotten used to life with one wobbly bar of cell service and no wi-fi in the cabins, and had very nearly become rustic in my addiction to information. The skies were blue! And the wind was so nonexistent that the lake was a gorgeous mirror! I vaguely remember Chris saying that it was supposed to rain that afternoon – late that afternoon – but that’s all I knew. 

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We gathered a few friends and drove up to the top trailhead so that we could one-way hike back to the cabins – because what could be a more delightful way to finish our week than a downhill one way hike on a lovely day. 

As we approached the trailhead, I noticed the sky looked awfully gray all of a sudden. I pulled up my radar. There was rain coming, but the storm was well to the west of Tuscaloosa. No way was it going to catch us. I checked the written forecasts again – they were still saying late afternoon. And it was only 10:15. We were FINE.

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We started hearing thunder about two miles in. 

“That was totally an airplane, right? There shouldn’t be thunder yet.”

I pulled up my radar again. “It’s still west of Tuscaloosa. Surely we’re okay.”

But I noticed that storm was moving much more quickly, as if it had an appointment with a group of people in the woods that it didn’t want to miss.

We have several kids that REALLY don’t like thunder. They immediately looked at me with accusing eyes, asking what have I gotten them into and should we head back?

I wasn’t exactly sure how long the one way hike was, but I was pretty sure that we had time to make it to the cabins. Why turn around? Then we’d lose our net downhill.

Ten minutes later, a long, loud peal of thunder. I pulled it up again. The storm was now through Tuscaloosa and bearing down on us. And this storm had all the colors. Green. Yellow. Orange. BRIGHT BRIGHT RED.

Holy. Crap.

What the…

I gathered and gently warned the kids. 

“Okay. Just so you know…we’re gonna get wet. But we’re going to get off this ridge trail sooner than we planned, and we’ll be okay.”

…Because we were basically the highest thing for miles. Except for the trees. It’s never a good place to see off a cliffside when there’s thunder in the area. 

We started picking up the pace. We kept on our ridge, nervously listening to thunder, trying to push through to the trail that would lead us downhill. 

It began to rain on us around mile three. Noah began to get angry. He hates storms. He hates thunder. And, as he is in an extreme rule-following place right now, he DEFINITELY doesn’t believe in being in the middle of the woods during both.

We finally made it to the intersection and began to head downhill. The rain picked up, but not too bad. Then we turned on red, which was great because it was nice and wide and not steep like orange, but was also awful because it was nice and wide and there was no tree umbrella coverage happening. 

The red trail is usually a boring wide road trail, but thanks to the exceptional fall colors and the full covering of fallen leaves on the road and the vibrance of color that the rain lended to said trees and leaves, it was SPECTACULAR. It didn’t matter that it was raining and there were now visible flashes of lightning and the thunder was most definitely getting louder. We had found ourselves in Fall Nirvana.

At least that’s how some of us felt.

Err, I felt.

Noah, not so much.

By now, he also had to pee. Badly. And he doesn’t believe in peeing in the woods, either. So now he was Rain-Angry and Pee-Angry and REALLY Thunder-angry. Soon he would be Sploshing-Shoes Angry as well but I didn’t tell him that.

We had a couple of miles to do before our next turn, which would then put us a little over one mile from the cabin. So, basically, a lot of miles in the increasing storm.

The thunder picked up considerably. There were deafening booms surrounding us, and we were sure lightning was going to strike in front of us at any moment. Noah was now crying with a ferocity that only hatred toward his over-adventurous mother could cause.

I checked the radar again.

Not only had the storm sped up, but it had tripled in width. AND THEN IT SLOWED DOWN. Now it was crawling along my radar, and just getting wider and wider and WIDER. There was no point in finding shelter – this storm was going to stick around for a while. So I just told the kids that the only way back was back, and the faster we went, the less of the storm that would reach us.

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By the time we got to the Red/Yellow connector, we had arrived into the middle of the storm. Rain was now sheeting at us sideways, and the trail had immediately transformed into a rushing river.

So not only were we being deluged from the top down, we were also being sloshed from the bottom up.

Levi, Noah’s best friend, slipped and fell under the tide. He was now muddied completely and bawling. 

But somehow, for just a minute, Noah miraculously rallied. I thought he’d found a new person inside of himself. He held up both his arms in weight-lifting pose, let out a primal scream, and yelled “ONE MORE MILE!! WE CAN DO THIS!! LET’S GOOOOOOO!!!”

Then half a minute later, he cried “THIS IS THE WORST DAY EVER!!!”

We scaled a couple narrow, high ridges with a long drop to the creek at only a slip of the foot. We made it to the half mile mark. To the quarter mile mark. 

And finally, we saw it. The clearing. The promise of a cabin. Of warmth and dryness and coffee and hot chocolate. We sprinted for it, only pausing under the pavilion to take a selfie that might as well have been underwater, as wet as we all were. 

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Then we made it in. Noah passed out clothes to Levi and Luke, and I passed out clothes to the mothers. We turned up the heat, made hot beverages, got everyone blankets, and sent the kids off to have some recovery iPad time. 

The mothers sat around reminiscing about our fabutastic adventure. Kelly was on the end of the spectrum of “THAT WAS AMAZING AND SO FUN!!!” Christen, who’s a little more cautious, had made fantastic progress since the last time we got caught in the rain. She was staring out the window, holding her coffee, saying, “I never panicked except that one time when… ——— !!! WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING?? 

She squealed out in horror, the caught herself and started hysterically laughing. 

Kelly and I whirled around to see what was happening, and the big, oafy, old Ugly Duck of the lake (Rusty, as the kids had named him), was voraciously riding atop one of the tiny female mallard ducks, violently pecking at her neck and de-feathering her in the process.

The kids had heard Christen squeal and ran in to see what our next calamity was.

“MOM!! Rusty and that other duck are in a fight!! Oh! It’s over now. Rusty won, I think. Look at him strutting around!! His neck is so funny!!”

He was indeed walking the walk of the victorious, rhythmically gyrating his neck as he walked to show that he was absolutely The Stuff. 

Needless to say, Rusty finished off our day with a bang.

12, going on 27.1.

Guest Post by my daughter, Ali Callahan.

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So I decided to become an ultra marathoner.

An ultra marathon is anything over 26.2 miles. I don’t remember why I wanted to do it originally, but I have been training for a year. The first race I wanted to do was the Lake Martin 27.1 mile “fun run”, a trail race which my mom has done once and my dad has done a few times. So this year, Mom, a few of her friends, and I were signed up for the 27.1 mile fun run, and Dad was signed up for the 100 mile serious run. Nobody under 16 had ever done any of the distances at Lake Martin, and since I am 12, I was feeling kind of nervous about it (and a little impatient to get it over with,) until it got there and I felt -mostly- better. We were all staying together in a rental house on the night before the race and I went to bed really early.

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In the morning, we woke up at 5:30, filled our packs, tied our shoes, encouraged each other, and drove to the start/finish line. It was very cold so it was nice to find that the bathrooms were heated. We all got in a huddle in front of the start/finish line, then Mr. David, the race director, fired his gun in the air, and we all started running.

The race was divided into four sections, with an aid station between each one, and then a final 2 miles after the last aid station. It was easier to think about it as four separate trail runs than 27.1 miles as a whole.

First Eight Miles (0-8.2):

There were lots of water crossings and hills, and it was very fun because Dad, Mom, and I were together. However, there was a creek crossing and you had the choice of crossing on rocks or on a log. Mom wanted to cross on the rocks, but Dad and I wanted to go across the log. I stumbled and barely made it across and was about to tell Dad that he really shouldn’t do that because it would be worse if he fell in since he had like 95 miles left, but he was already halfway across. He stumbled in the same place I did, except his foot slipped, both his legs went into the water up to his calves, and he was okay but was frustrated at himself and went ahead for a bit – “to blow off steam”, according to him. At the first aid station I used the restroom, grabbed some pretzels and pickles, and we kept going.

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Next Five Miles (8.2-13.6):

I was happily skipping, singing, and talking to Mom and Dad. This was probably my favorite loop because we went through/over: a forest where there had been a controlled burn and had lots of burnt pinecones, a wide red road, a trail through tall reeds, and by a lake.

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When we came back around to the aid station and I did exactly what I did last time: used the restroom, grabbed some pickles and pretzels, oh! And stretched – it feels so good to do a backbend when you have been on your feet for four hours!

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Next Five Miles (13.6-19):

I was still very happy but tired. Dad was ahead of Mom and I now, because he left the aid station before us. There were way less water crossings. We didn’t think we would catch up to Dad, but we saw him at the top of a hill and I screamed “Dad!!”, and ran ahead until I caught up with him. When we got to the aid station, I got some Mountain Dew and a banana slice.

Next Six Miles (19-25.1):

The first couple miles were okay, but very hilly. Around mile 21, after an especially high hill, I got so tired that I was crying and I couldn’t think. It was so hard. So Mom pulled out her phone and played all my favorite songs, like “High Hopes”, “Hall of Fame”, and “Havana.”

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I barely made it back to the aid station where I got more Mountain Dew, the volunteers filled up my pack with water, and we left.

Last Two Miles (25.1-27.1):

I was better, but exhausted. It was more fun because Dad was with us again (he got ahead of us when I was crying, but we caught up to him at the aid station,) and the trail was super easy – it was just the first mile of the course again and back. At the one mile turnaround point, we had a group hug and we cheered and encouraged each other, and Dad kept going (since he was doing the 100), and Mom and I turned around.

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After one mile, we finished!

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We ate, drank, got our medals, and cheered our friends as they finished.

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The race took me eight hours, one minute, and 59 seconds. Afterwards, I was glad to be done, and sore. I was so tired the only thing that made sense to say was “ow.” It took a little while to feel satisfied – I had so many emotions I didn’t know what to feel.  The next day I felt better except for my shoulders, which felt like I had carried my cousin Andi for ten miles. But I was able to run/walk the last 1.5 miles with Dad Sunday evening as he finished his hundred miles.

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I think I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for other kids. However, I might do it again – if other kids did it with me.

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