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Climbing High in La Mancha©

 

 

Étienne Haute-Montange sat in the Aéroport Marseille Provence. He had two hours to kill before heading off to Letongaloosa to enroll at Letongaloosa Community Junior College, the town’s center of higher education.

In the last 28 days, after completing his final professional time trial, the newly retired French cyclist had spent his time bike-packing around Provence.

He had put everything he would need on his bike frame and set out for the week to retrace all of his favorite routes. Étienne wanted to relax and think. He needed to figure out where the next stage of his life would lead.

Two days into his trek, on his way to the hidden village of Goult, he stopped on his favorite old roman bridge, Pont Julien, to take in its height and its spectacular views. As he gazed, his cell phone rang.  The message put him on the path to his next great adventure.

In the early 1980’s , Étienne was working on his grandfather’s lilac farm when news came that he had been accepted into a business program in the United States at La Mancha University. He didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay at home and compete–climbing high into the mountains.

In his imagination, Étienne was a decade into his career as a competitive cyclist.

There are competitions and races throughout the world, but certain locations are synonymous with cycling. Étienne knew he’d be a part of it all someday so he tried to learn as much as he could about the trails, the climbs and the cyclists in those races. He knew he could learn more about the lilacs, the farm and his fate if he stayed in Provence. He was right.

Within a few months of packing up and setting out for La Mancha, Étienne was back riding through the tall, deep flowers and the high roadsof Provence. But not before he had made a longtime friend in Zimmy Tarbox.

Zimmy Tarbox was in the graduate program in the Department of Entomology at La Mancha U. He met Étienne on a campus bike trail while searching for beetles. Étienne was standing on a bridge that overlooked one of the university’s highest points.

The view included lilacs, which are hard to find in a small Midwestern college town. Étienne came to the bridge when he felt homesick.

The two students struck up a conversation. Zimmy, was about to capture a cockroach he had spotted on the rail of the old bridge.

“What’s up?” asked Étienne. Zimmy smiled as he snagged the insect. He was planning to measure the space between its eyeballs.

“What in the world are you doing?” asked Étienne looking down at the small cage and the large bug. Why would anyone want to capture it?

Zimmy explained that he was studying the anatomy of the bug and that he must successfully identify all of its parts for his midterm exam. In turn, Zimmy learned that Étienne’s true passion was cycling, not business, and he really wished to return to Provence.

The two became good friends over the next few months. Zimmy became well-versed in the highest climbs in Provence, and Étienne learned the best way to obtain the measurements of a baby cockroach without harming it.

After Étienne returned to Provence the two kept in touch–a friendship that lasted through the years. Zimmy went to Provence to celebrate Étienne’s win in the Tour de Fleur and Étienne went to Cuba when Zimmy and Kate made their big rainbow beetle discovery.

So when his cell phone sounded as Étienne was standing on that bridge in Provence, he was delighted to learn that he would soon be heading back to La Mancha to see his old friend. 

“The university is offering a summer cycling course for La Mancha and Letongaloosa residents. They need an instructor. Kate and I think you’d be a perfect for the job. What do you say? ”

 

Even though it was only for a few months, Étienne was delighted.

“Of course, my bug-loving, friend! See you soon!”

So now Étienne was waiting in the Aéroport Marseille Provence eager to follow the next stage of his adventures–in a small Midwestern town.

 

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Dr. Larry Day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co 

 

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