10 April 2012

American again

I have returned from traveling in Belgium
10 ways I know I am back in the United States when...
  1. I reach down to plug in my laptop and realize it won't fit because the adapter is still on the plug end.
  2. I get straight to the business of ordering my chicken burrito at the airport without any formal greetings.
  3. I am free to ride in a car on the freeway without reading every single sign on the highway in panic mode.
  4. I don't pull my shoulders in while driving on local roads (as if it will help the car squeeze through).
  5. My sleep remains filled with dreams of roundabouts and white-lined pavement speeding underneath my car.
  6. I have strange cravings for toasted blueberry poptarts. Maybe it was the waffles?
  7. I do not have cravings for french fries (well satiated).
  8. I'm entertaining the idea of drinking water rather than beer with a meal, okay maybe wine. 
  9. I'm weaning myself off daily chocolate.
  10. I miss modern interior design. 

The five most common phrases I learned in Belgium:
  • Wow this is beautiful.   [countryside]
  • Whoa!   [the one word that sums up passing trucks on small roads]
  • No chip.   [pointing to my credit card]
  • Lost again.   [navigating Belgium]
  • This is so good.   [happy moments sipping beer]
Now if I could learn to say these phrases in Flemish!

I flew home yesterday, across the Atlantic ocean, over our oh so beautiful American landscape, finally arriving into LAX airport after a 23-hour journey. Thursday I will begin my 2-day drive back from California (where my family lives) to my home in Denver, Colorado. I will drive through Nevada, Arizona, and Utah to reach Colorado. All these states have the same language, much the same culture and food, all the same road signs; only the alcohol consumption varies slightly (eh-hem Utah!). The wind-swept brown plains of Nevada, white church steeples of Utah, and a noticeable lack of oxygen in Colorado mark my progression east. America is pretty-much one big congruous country, linked by one McDonalds after another. 
From the heart of Belgium within a 2-hour drive I could arrive in the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, or Germany. Yet this small area on our planet encompasses 5 different languages, many different accents, varied cultures and food, and hundreds of choices of beer! If America is the land of plenty, western Europe is the land of options.
Did you read Ted King's honest personal account of his race at the Paris-Roubaix last Sunday? (Done and Dusted). In the post on his blog he quotes his Liquigas team bus driver as saying, "to win in the north, you must live in the north." The statement reeks of truth, yet watching from a distance or looking at the region on a map gives no indication of how truly different the cycling is in this region of Europe. What could be so tough in a seemingly small flat region that would require taking up residence to win a bike race? I admit I don't understand, but history tells us it matters. 
To walk upon these roads, to drive upon these roads, and especially to ride upon these roads on two wheels is truly brutal cycling. If you have revered the riders over history who have triumphed in these races, seeing the páve in person will cement your sense of awe. The cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix are huge. I was routinely asked, "Why is someone from Colorado here in Belgium to watch cycling?" They could not understand coming so far. But I had to come in person to understand the mythical status. 
Getting to Belgium is easy, getting around Belgium is a bit challenging. You can do it though; Join a tour if you do not have hours to plan or guts to make it happen for yourself (plus nerves to navigate on your own). Gather some friends together to share driving and accommodation if possible, come alone if needed. I learned so much and am so glad I came to Belgium/France to see the Spring Classics, the experience has greatly broadened my love of this sport. 
A few last generalizations about my take on Belgian cycling: I appreciated that I commonly saw young and old cyclists alike cycling in full kits of their favorite team, I wish we did that more in this country. Also cycling is so popular in Belgium that it matters little what type of bike you own. I also perceived no differentiation between generations in age when it came to cycling and having fun. Everyone easily joined together in celebration, for me this experience in particular felt refreshing. I had more fun on this vacation then I have had in years. 

The relaxed accepting demeanor of the Belgian fan that Ted King conveys through his story of the family who gave him a ride home from the race, best sums up my experience of my own travels through Belgium. After suffering a flat tire with no team support car in site, American Ted King (Team Liguigas) finished his Paris-Roubaix, heading to the city of Roubaix, in a family car with 3 generations of Belgian cycling fans. 
Now to work on my next post .... sharing pictures and a story from our day at the 2012 Paris-Roubaix. Very memorable indeed and so FUN.