When Carol was twelve, she made a road trip with her older sister and her four kids. Somewhere in Missouri they looked back at the trailer that housed her sister’s dog Heidi, and didn’t see her. With a happier ending than a similar event in National Lampoon’s Vacation, the Crisfield clan hung a U-ee and found Heidi bounding along the highway, her leash that she’d used to somehow manage to open the door to the trailer bouncing behind. The original trip planned to Alaska had to be abandoned in British Columbia, when that same trailer busted an axle on the Alaskan highway. I’m happy to report Heidi was safe, though covered in leftover coleslaw that had spilled out of the fridge when the axle broke. A Native American guide fixed the axle and let Carol’s niece ride his horse during the repair, adding, “when you’re done, just get off; he’ll find his way home.”
It’s been almost six months since riding the French rails for two weeks, and about a week until the adventure resumes, this time for a much longer and broader trek. When I leave again it will have been almost a year of living alone. During this time, I delivered much of Carolyn’s personal effects to her family and one of the Jeeps to her high school friend. Her closet is empty, and so is the garage, as the local PBS affiliate picked up the second Jeep, which Carolyn had owned for twenty years. I am now Wheeless in Seattle by choice. Yet, with all those material possessions gone, my experience so far is that our home is more filled with Carolyn’s spirit than before I left. France brought Carolyn so close to me again that I can practically feel the warmth of her breath on my shoulder. I can talk to her now as if she is standing right next to me, instead of pretending she’s channeling through that fish wind sock out on the deck. (I still talk to the fish, though.)
Today ends the le flaneur or wandering part of the trip. My destinations today and tomorrow are all proscribed by the objective of getting back home. Toulouse was one of two cities that would get me to Gare Montparnasse and my bus to Charles De Gaulle airport. I could have chosen Bordeaux, but I knew my way around Toulouse better. Plus, Danielle had said she’d be returning from Paris early that evening, and perhaps we could get together one last time.
I love train timetables. I also love maps, especially road maps, but I get easily confused. Something to do with spatial orientation. But a well-printed (preferably in a tight, cozy agate font) train timetable is a thing of linear beauty, a minimalist’s rendering of the day ahead with a precision down to the minute hand on your watch.