13 March 2007

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Several times a week, I start off the day by walking up the mountain. From our house to the lookout at the top of Mt. Columbier (at least that's what we call it) is a little more than one mile each way, but the elevation is brutal. At three points on the walk, the grade is ridiculously steep. And even early in the morning, parts of the route are in full sun. I have no documented facts, but I am confident the road grade exceeds US roadbuilding standards, and would be entirely impossible to traverse in either direction if there were snow or ice. In fact, the road is dangerous in the rain even with four wheel drive. Though the concrete surface has been roughened (they draw a rake across the concrete before it fully hardens, creating deep grooves in the roadbed perpendicular to the line of travel) we have learned to forgo the walk after a rain because the downhills are too slippery.

At the end of the outbound section of the walk, one is rewarded with a lookout platform with a tile mosaic identifying all the islands one can see to the north and west. Principally, they are St. Martin, Anguilla, Forchue, and several smaller ones the names of which I can not recall. The view to the east and south is of the mountains of St. Barths, with names and heights, the tallest of which is Mt.Vitet at 281 meters (approximately 922 feet).

Nevertheless, my Reason For Living decided this walk was not difficult enough. So she started jogging on the downhills and at the few level spots. Then she extended the walk by passing up our road on the way back and adding an additional mile out and mile back.

I refused to jog, claiming ancient injuries might return were I so to strain this ancient structure. But I had to compete somehow, and did so by extending my walk even further than hers. In time, I was actually walking to the airport and back, some 5.5 miles. I did that three times in the last two weeks.

But the airport walk has some serious hazards beyond the grade of the road. While the hills in that direction are not as steep as the Columbier hills, that section of the road is much more heavily travelled, narrow, and virtually without shoulders. The result is the cars and trucks zip by inches from a pedestrian's elbow. Moreover, there is no tree cover, and the walk takes almost two hours--a long time to be in the sun under any circumstances.

The last time I did this walk was a week ago and that was the last time I will do it.

I was on my way back from the airport, having struggled through some 3.5 miles of punishing terrain, and the sun (duh, this IS the tropics, didn't I know that?) was killing me. My bandanna headband was totally soaked and no longer keeping the sweat from my eyes, which were stinging badly. At at a point in the route where there was no shoulder but for about six inches of weeds hard up against a huge rock, where the road was turning left ahead of me, I used my shirt to wipe my face. Bad decision. I knocked off my glasses. I was afraid to bend down to look for them because that would involve taking my eyes off the oncoming traffic, not to mention sticking my behind out into the roadway. I was afraid even to move my feet lest I crush the glasses, and if I moved even a pace or two forward or back, I would widen the search area unacceptably. So I bent over at the waist, combed the weeds with my fingers for what seemed like forever but was probably no more than two or three minutes. Looking for your glasses without your glasses is tough enough without the sweat in your eyes and the distraction of the speeding traffic less than a foot away. Coming up with zip, I knew I was in big trouble. While the glasses could not have gone far, they were invisible to me--small clear plastic ovals in thin wire frames, tangled in some brush. But I could not conceive of abandoning the search. I needed help. I had no phone, and could not leave that spot.

So I did the only reasonable thing: I got down on my hands and knees to search.

That had a dramatic effect on the situation. Traffic in both directions stopped at once. The very next oncoming vehicle came to a halt and the truck passenger hopped out and came to my aid. In passable the English he asked if I was alright. Was I ill? Did I need help? I told him I lost my glasses. He nodded, turned and called to the driver of the truck and said something in rapid French that ended in "la lunettes." The driver exited the truck and in a moment there were three of us searching the weeds. One of the guys found my glasses ten seconds later.

The guys from the truck offered me a ride home, which was in the opposite direction of their travel.( More than that, I was soaked in perspiration and would have had to squeeze in on the bench seat of their tiny truck.) I politely rejected the offer and struggled home on foot, overheated, dehydrated, and leg sore. Several cars going in the same direction that I was going, and who had also stopped when they saw me on my hands and knees, slowed, offered assistance and inquired about my health (the only real question was my physical health. As to mental health, nobody could have any doubts. "Only mad dogs and Englishmen ... .")

On the other hand, there is the matter of bragging rights. You simply cannot say you walked to the airport and back if you hitched a ride home. Even in France.

But from here on in, I will visit the airport only by car. For my morning walk I will stay on the less travelled road to Columbier point. And to increase the exercise level, I will emulate my beloved by upping the pace of my walking stride and maybe even try jogging on the few level areas and the downhills. Maybe by the time I depart, I'll even be jogging up a few of the lesser hills if no parts fail.

Hey, it's like the old days training for the marathon in Central Park: the faster you go, the faster you get home. If I fall apart ... . Well, we'll see.

A bientot.

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