Author J Michael Jarvis writes from his experiences as a professional jet pilot, yacht captain and global adventurer. He has thousands of true, remarkable and often hilarious stories of how he mucked things up. From roller-skating across France as a teen, to escaping pirates as a yacht captain in the Caribbean Sea. Or flying Sir Richard Branson and Chuck Yeager from some of the world’s most remote airports. Jarvis has lived a life even the most imaginative writers can only begin to fictionalize.
Jarvis is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Science. He is a captain of both air and sea, carrying an FAA Air Transport Pilot license and a US Coast Guard Master License. These enabled his experiences of commanding yachts and airplanes from North and South America to most Caribbean islands nations.
A surviving passenger of a 1985 airplane crash, Jarvis has lived under his own version of the old pilot’s adage: “any landing you can crawl away from with broken arms and legs—on fire—is a good one.” Jarvis continues to fly and write about his adventures on the sea and in the sky. His humor is both inspirational and thought-provoking, with rare insight into the generosity we are given with each extended day of our fragile lives.
An active member of Southern California Writers Association, Jarvis lives in his birth town of Newport Beach, California. He is happily married with four adult children.
The Sell Sheet
Title: “French Roll”
SubTitle: “Misadventures in Love, Life, and Roller Skating Across the French Riviera”
- Author: J MICHAEL JARVIS
- Genre: MEMOIR
- Paperback: $14.99
- Print length: 308 pages
- Formats available / ISBN:
- 978-1-7345469-0-3 Paperback
- 978-1-7345469-2-7 Hardcover
- 978-1-7345469-1-0 Kindle eBook
- 978-1-7345469-4-1 iTunes eBook
- Publication date: February 5, 2020
- Available wherever books are sold
- Territories sold: US, UK, EU, India
- Testimonials / reviews from Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084JQR7S2)
- “Like some of my favorite writers Stephen King, Graham Moore, James Baldwin….etc… Jarvis’ story illustrates what we are capable of doing for love or other reasons and the myriad of unexpected consequences ,trials and tribulations which happen we start on that journey.” ~ R. Morrison
- “Full of adventure, trials, heartache, pain, and young lust.” ~ L. Pierce
- “…A must read for any young adult considering a gap year before college or any recent college grad looking to find themselves as they approach their life ahead of them.” ~ B. Frisbie
- “Jarvis writes in a way that pulls you into his wild adventures, dragging you adrenaline-sweating down ski slopes and pulling you up stunning vistas along the French Riviera. Yet his teenage exploits, more than just being thrilling (not to mention hilarious) to read about, underlie a coming-of-age tale with serious heart. This book is fun, humorous, and sincere – and highly recommended.” ~ K. Harris
- “Jarvis is an incredibly captivating storyteller. French Roll is a unique coming-of-age tale you just won’t want to put down. And the fact that it’s a true story makes it all the better! Since I’ve finished it, I’ve added it to my stack of books on my coffee table. It’s become a topic of conversation for everyone who visits!” ~ S. Baron
- “Beautiful, fast paced, and moving, this lovely book captures the exuberance of youth, the joy of chasing dreams. A perfect read for shelter-in-place, it reminds us of the bountiful world waiting to be discovered. A pleasure to read, highly recommend!” ~ C. Bef
- “Two Thumbs Up! By the end of the first chapter, I wanted to race through this book cover to cover. But facing indefinite government imposed Hunker Down, I forced myself to pace the trip over the next week and a half just to live another day on the road with the author.” ~ C. Gables
- “[French Roll] was rousing, had such gusto for life, and so many surprises.” ~ J. Tracy
- “Jarvis has done a masterful job taking creative chances and turning them into pure fun and entertainment. This is a terrific book that doesn’t disappoint. French Roll has voice, presence, entertainment value, great characters, and reads like a charm. So, what the heck are you waiting for? Buy it.” ~ Lisa P.
- “Adventure after adventure, I couldn’t wait to find out what might happen next. ” ~ Michelle O.
- “His dangerous exploits kept me on the edge of my seat and I looked forward to each day’s escapades. I appreciated the teen angst, as well, and enjoyed reading about his romantic entanglements. An inspiring story of self-revelation, not to be missed!” ~ Christi
- “Had me hooked from the get go! From living in the German alps to crossing France on roller skates he had me captivated with all the fun wild stores that made me feel I was there… Beautiful written and wonderful story teller.” Amy S.
- ” …Bold, gaudy and gusty! Wonderful erudite presentation that life is always more fantastic than fiction can ever be.” ~ David H.
- “I laughed out loud many times and enjoyed every moment of it!” ~ Amazon Customer
- ” Great read! Finished in two days. Fast paced adventure and very original story. Highly recommend!” ~ Amazon Customer
An authentic adventure. An unimaginable mode of travel. Will roller skating 800 miles across the French Riviera make the man, or break him?
From the icy peaks of Germany to the steamy beaches of France, the true story of a young man chasing his passion, finding his inner self, while roller skating across France begins when Michael, 19, gets a letter from his girlfriend asking him to meet her in Barcelona. He quits his daredevil job at the top of the German Alps and plots a risky two-month solo trek across the coast of southern France—on roller skates. Even being chased down impossibly steep mountain roads by tour busses and ritzy sports cars can’t keep an American teenager down, especially when he’s delivering an engagement ring… and a dark confession.
He leaves his alpine friends behind to follow his California girlfriend somewhere in Spain. With a backpack, ski poles, and roller skates, he sets out to skate from Italy to Spain, making new friends and experiencing every inch of beach in the south of France.
It sounded like fun. And it was supposed to be easy.
But his first day on the road nearly kills him. And the next day, and the next. Barreling at uncontrollable speeds down a corniche road built by Napoleon through a tunnel lighted only by the maniacal tour bus on his tail, terror quickly replaces the fun he fantasized about. Michael realizes the endeavor is too risky, even for an invincible teenager.
When disaster strikes his love life and a spectacular wipeout leaves him a heartbeat away from roadkill status, Michael must emerge from his tenderfoot life to understand that growing up doesn’t mean growing alone.
Rolling over every inch of the French Riviera, the author shares a rare look at beaches undiscovered by tourist guides, pristine gems too small for hotels and too far from train stations. European history, art history, and French culture come together in this off-the-grid tale of living in the moment, creating your true self, and living to write about it.
— CHAPTER 1 —
ON THE EDGE
Do not look for approval, except for the consciousness of doing your best
The rucksack of dynamite pulled on my shoulders with each step through the Alpen tunnel. Chilling panic shot up my neck each time I bumped the bomb against the icy rock wall. My mountain boss led the way, his red jacket barely visible in the dim light of the fitfully working bulbs, goading me to keep his pace. The two of us had trekked high into Tyrolean territory through secret passages inside the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, where we would burrow through snow tubes with the explosives and blast off the top of the mountain.
It sounded like the life of some super-spy or special ops soldier, but I was a long-haired California kid still sporting surf trunks under my layers of ice climbing gear, far from the surf and sand I called home. I had always assumed I’d be a smart, sensible man by the time I turned nineteen. Instead, I was volunteering for avalanche duty, another goal in a series of unhinged, self-validating missions, apparently nowhere near to giving up my conviction that I could do anything, needed no one, could take on the world on my own two feet. The ski season clock was ticking a countdown to summer—I’d already hit that snooze button of growing up several times.
It was time for an awakening.
We climbed for an hour, beginning at the padlocked doors of the Schneefernerhaus, the enigmatic hotel clinging to the limestone cliffs of the Zugspitze. The desolate hideout overlooked a glacier high above the tree line, an ideal supervillain lair for some literary love child of Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie. For that one cloistered winter of 1980 (because surely I never planned to return once the ice released me from its clutches), I was calling it home.
My foot slipped on an icy stair in the tunnel, and I dropped a knee hard to concrete, ripping my pants. I struggled to my feet under the weight of the loaded backpack, changing my gait to favor the nonthrobbing knee. An icy draft rushed into the tear in my pants and froze a smear of blood on the outside.
I should have stayed in bed.
I could have been cozy under piles of down comforters, waiting to watch another sunrise over the Alps through the dorm window, peeking at me from beyond the well-greased machinery of cable car number three. But the magnificence of the five snowcapped countries outside my window begged adventure, and I wasn’t one to ignore their demands. I often climbed out the window onto the cable car catwalks to a secret balcony, where I’d dangle my legs and play my harmonica to the Alpen peaks in the distance. Most nights began with two beers and the twelve-bar blues, and ended with six or more letters written by a flickering candle in a wax-covered Chianti bottle.
The letters of my routine days read like cliffhanger adventures for the folks in California. I penned intrepid episodes of a world they could only imagine, a life even I could barely believe I was experiencing. My frank stories surely freaked them out. I scribed loquacious letters to Carla, the stylish San Francisco correspondent I met in Munich. I declined important invitations such as job offers and being Guy’s best man back in California. And I desperately tried to express my helpless sorrow to my sister Julie with a baby boy in her belly and a softball-sized tumor in her head.
But most of my letters were to my darling Carrie. I gushed over how I missed roller-skating the beaches with her. I rambled on about how wonderful our life together would be once I returned, and I dropped hints about making her mine till death do us part.
Even my readers recognized I didn’t belong where I was. My mountaineering adventures were a fix, an episodic high for a teenage adrenaline junkie desperately avoiding his greatest fear. I ruminated on these assessments while keeping pace with Der Spiegel’s red coat in the tunnel darkness, following the collage of award patches across his broad shoulders.
After my enthusiastic ja to volunteering, Der Spiegel sat me down with a couple of forty-year veteran Tyrolean mountain men in a dimly lighted booth at the back of the employee lounge of the Schneefernerhaus.
Trapped in the café booth by these burly figures and feeling rather puny alongside them, I puffed up my chest, drank a warm morning beer, and choked on the secondhand smoke belching from their prized fourth-generation Meerschaum pipes. A round of breakfast Jägermeister arrived at the table, making me wonder if there might ever be an inappropriate time for shots in this mountain life.
It was there they gave me the Avalanche Talk—in German. Though I had become fluent after five years of studying German, the thick accents of the Bavarian and Tyrolean mountaineers left me reading body language for clues. The Avalanche Talk was like planning a bank heist or a coup d’état. A storm had hit unseasonably late, and we would be avalanching from an awkward location. Awkward meant dangerous.
Still, the boss was going, and I was comfortable putting my life in his hands. To say the Alps were his home was an understatement. Through my California eyes, he was the Alps.
The men methodically explained the coming tasks in throaty, five-syllable words beyond my fourth-year German vocabulary. There was an audible tension in their gruff voices and rare and genuine concern on their ruddy catcher’s-mitt faces. I took notes, from which I would later translate unfamiliar phrases from a pocket dictionary: “hazardous duty,” “blow up the mountain,” “extra pay.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being set up for something the career alpinists wanted no part of. But I agreed. Der Spiegel gave me his customary heavy slap on the back, and so it was done.
We met before sunrise in the employee lounge. The 1930s hotel was deathly quiet in the predawn dark. Its zoetic gallery of German history, frozen in time with handcrafted furnishings and gilded Nazi-era artifacts, hinted at adventures and dangers, isolation and secrecy. The Schneefernerhaus is the fantasy of every James Bond film location scout, but that morning it was just a place where a grumpy teenager was told to be at five o’clock sharp.
Der Spiegel tucked a flashlight into his armpit, preparing to fill two heavy canvas rucksacks for the hike. I reached for the heavier of the two bags, respectfully offering to carry the load.
“No, this rucksack is for you,” he told me in German.
Why would I carry an empty backpack?
Armed with antique keys on a rusted steel ring, he opened the padlocked doors to the far reaches of the Schneefernerhaus, places I had failed to access despite months of late-night snooping. Exposed to the elements, the formerly grand dining room hadn’t hosted a party since 1965, when the Great Avalanche had swept an entire section of the hotel, along with ten of its guests, right off the face of the cliff.
The west wing surrounded us in biting cold. I bumped something at every corner, but Der Spiegel slipped through the darkness like a cat. Dim morning light refracted through snow-frosted tables and chairs, haphazardly stacked and perfectly preserved in these hypoxic altitudes. This was long-term storage, an open-air tomb of tragic memory where outdated equipment was left to rest for eternity.
Beside the stacks of furniture lay disaster rescue gear: shovels, locating poles, stretchers, cables, and come-alongs. A wooden casket was propped against the rock wall, a sobering reminder of how fragile life in this numbing climate could be. Snow dusted the casket’s cracked black paint, and the way it stood at attention—ready for something to jump out—sent a chill through me that could have frozen a candle in midflicker. A shriek like a ghostly warning filled my head: the last people to enjoy this space, on May 15, 1965, had died a horrible death.
Der Spiegel paused. His sigh was heavy even from across the room. I stood in silence as he gazed down the slope.
“I was your age when it happened,” he began. “We were frantic, harpooning the snow with only the most cynical hopes of finding survivors buried deep. There was just so, so much snow. Everywhere snow. White, and nothing else. We used these harpoons. The rescuers yelled at me to lunge deeper into the snow. ‘Lunge with all your might!’”
He shook his head. Between deep breaths, he continued. “And I wanted so badly to find a survivor, to save a life. But I was so scared. So much snow. The harpoon, it would go right through a survivor if I hit one. Maybe I would kill them instead of saving them? My father was the boss back then—the job I have now. ‘Lunge harder, lunge deeper!’ he yelled at me. I still have nightmares of throwing a javelin into a dark crowd from a stage, but to find a survivor, you had to hang onto the javelin, your hand unaware if you would find or kill a survivor.”
An awful taste hit the back of my tongue, but I managed to keep it inside.
“It would be days before we found them. Fifteen bodies, no survivors. Their faces were poked with holes, their backs gashed by picks and shovels, arms and legs frozen solid, broken and twisted like mannequins thrown into a box. I was just a boy the day that it happened.” He paused, looking me straight in the eye. “But not the next day.”
Another sigh, shorter this time. “Some say I dynamite for avalanches too much, but I can’t let this happen again. Not after what it did to all those people. Not after that effect on Dad. And not after a storm like last night’s.”
He straightened. “Okay, Herr Jarvis, this way. The tunnel is in the back.”
Heavy steel buttressed a thick wooden gateway to what I could only imagine was some bloody-toothed, wooly monster’s cave. Der Spiegel used a ridiculously oversized skeleton key for the padlock and heaved the door open on squeaking hinges; my anticipation of a sinister screech was richly rewarded with a sound right out of an old horror movie. Behind the door lay blackness. He threw the lever for the electricals, a knife switch like in Frankenstein movies, illuminating bare bulbs and exposing wiring along the low ceiling tunnel. Cold, stale air wafted from the passage.
My apprehension transformed into huffing, puffing, and a little high-altitude vertigo in the tunnel’s twists and turns. After a while, Der Spiegel turned around and stood still as the tunnel air. He pointed at a white line painted across the floor and held up his hand; I was not to cross. Arrows and words were painted on either side of the line: Deutschland and Österreich. The international border of Germany and Austria apparently ran directly through the center of the mountain.
“We now enter Austria. Did you bring your passport, Herr Jarvis?”
My expression told him I hadn’t.
Had I missed something during the Avalanche Talk? Was I breaking international law? Was I ruining the mission? Would they toss me in the clink if I crossed the border without my papers?
Watching the mild panic rise on my face, his expression morphed from deadpan to a huge smile. “Ha ha, Spiegel. Oh, that was a good one. What’s next? The Von Trapp Family Singers come out in their drapery costumes?”
But no, not the Von Trapps. He had something even better. The next steel door required the largest of his ridiculously oversized skeleton keys. Acrid funk filled the tunnel, and our flashlights revealed a room full of dynamite.
Only then did I understand why I carried the empty rucksack.
— CHAPTER 2 —