The Ribbon of Road Ahead (An Excerpt)

There were cars parked solidly along the street we followed to get out of this village. In spite of the sock incident, it was still early. Not too many people were driving yet. I noticed a small, dark-colored car coming toward us. Suddenly it pulled over and parked right alongside another car. We would call it double-parking. The tall, handsome driver got out and approached us.


“Clupny?” he asked.


I was shocked, but I responded, “Yes.”


“What the f***? You know him?” asked Linsee.


“I am Mathieu. You stay at my gite tonight.” His French accent sounded seductive.


Oh wow, I thought. What is this about? Who is this guy, and how does he know my name? We are not staying in this village tonight. Where is the nearest convent? We would be safe there.


Then he leaned down and kissed me on both cheeks like I was his long-lost favorite aunt. “Carol Clupny, yes? You eat dinner. You like ice cream.”


Now I knew. A few days prior, it had been my turn to find lodging. I’d emailed ahead for reservations, writing, “Need two beds for American women.” The gite owner responded, “You want eat?” referring to demi-pension dinner and breakfast. I wrote back jokingly, “Yes, and I like ice cream!” Mathieu was the gite owner, yet how did he pick me out of hundreds of walkers he might have seen going to Manciet that day?


“See you two hours. I go get ice cream now.” He got back in his car and drove off.


Puzzled by the awkward interaction, Linsee and I walked away from the village streets and out into the countryside. There was so much mud. We took a wrong turn and walked an additional muddy kilometer or more out of the way, meaning we had to walk that distance to find the correct route. We walked along rows of Armagnac grapevines. More than once we were doused with whatever the farmer was applying to the grapes from his large spray rig. There was no way to avoid the tractors. I hoped the drivers would shut off the spray for just a few seconds—that didn’t happen. On one slippery slope, Linsee fell, and a nearby walker—an elderly Frenchman—raced to help her up. It looked like they were mud wrestling! I didn’t want to laugh as I waited for the take-down. There were also cultural considerations. I did not want to insult the French hikers. She managed to not take him down into the mud. Shortly, she fell again and, as a result, added five pounds of mud to her fifty-pound pack. Trying to keep our spirits up, we chatted about cute Mathieu and speculated about how he’d identified me.


More French-speaking walkers joined the mud path as we were descending another hill. Glances kept coming our way from their side of the trail. I realized they were talking about us, yet not knowing their language inhibited me from comprehending what they were really saying. With context as my guide, I was fairly certain these experienced French hikers had commented on my muddy pants legs and Linsee’s mud-covered clothing, worn-down trail shoes, and overfilled pack.


“Perhaps a few changes would make your hiking experience more pleasurable, madame,” I imagined them saying to her.


“I am fine!” my imagination had Linsee snarl back.


I’d had some suggestions for Linsee from the very start—I’d done long-distance walking before, after all. But it didn’t take long for me to get it that Linsee had planned her trip and wasn’t changing anything just because I mentioned it. I took to saying, “This is a suggestion. It’s only a suggestion. You can choose to follow my suggestion or not. In fact, you don’t have to listen to my suggestion. You can pretend I am talking to myself, because that’s what it feels like when I make a suggestion.”


We arrived in Manciet late afternoon. Mathieu’s gite was hidden down a back alley, and we asked for directions to find it. He saw us coming and opened a window to yell, “You are here! The famous Carol Clupny is here!” We walked around to the front of the building, which now faced a blocked-off street.


Behind the nondescript door in an old boulangerie (bakery) was his gite. He showed us where to put our muddy boots and hiking poles. Then he grabbed my pack and took it to a bedroom. Linsee was left to carry her own. As I followed him up the wobbly set of stairs, which would not have passed any inspections in our country, I heard music, very familiar music. In fact, it was one of my favorite walking songs: “The Road Goes Ever On.” I became even more freaked. It was way too weird. Mathieu could tell I was uncomfortable.


He laughed and said, “You, Carol Clupny, are famous. I watch your movie on YouTube.”


Further discussion in broken English revealed that, when I’d made the reservation, he thought the name Clupny was unusual. It did not sound American, so he Googled it. My Camino slideshow, C-Team Walks—the one I’d shown after the previous year’s walk, at the Parkinson’s conference—came up.  He knew I had Parkinson’s disease and that I moved slowly. He had watched it and enjoyed the music. In fact the music I had heard was playing from the video on his handheld device. That explained part of the mystery. His identification of me walking along the street was yet to be solved. I asked to see his phone and looked at the tiny pictures of my slideshow whipping by, and then I looked at myself in the mirror.


I was wearing the very same clothing combination: pink hat, tan long-sleeved shirt, red t-shirt, green shorts, and blue backpack, same as one year ago on the Camino Frances. No wonder he had known my name.


Carol Clupny

When Carol Clupny was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at age 50, she took to the road, literally. Walking over 1000 ...more