French Roll

Misadventures in Love, Life, and Roller Skating Across the French Riviera

FROM THE ICY PEAKS OF GERMANY TO THE STEAMY BEACHES OF FRANCE

When nineteen-year-old Michael 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 two-month solo trek across the ritzy coast of southern France—on roller skates. Even being chased down impossibly steep mountain roads by sports cars can’t keep an American teenager down, especially when he’s delivering an engagement ring… and a dark confession.

At the end of his adventurous gap year at the top of Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, he leaves his alpine friends behind to find his inner true self and his California girlfriend, 900 miles away. With a backpack, ski poles, and roller skates, he sets out to skate from Italy to Spain, experiencing every inch of beach in the south of France.

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.

Rolling through the Côte d’Azur, Michael finds the land of French girls and topless beaches will put his fidelity to the test. Fast women and fast roads torment him as he struggles to overcome the physical and emotional challenges of his journey to create a better man within. Seduced by the Gran Prix of Monaco, the nudes of Saint-Tropez, and the prestige of the Cannes Film Festival, he continues rolling down double-black-diamond slopes until he’s too far down the road to stop. If he can make it down the coast to rendezvous with friends, his lonely exploration of self might not be so agonizing. And if he can connect on a long-distance phone call with his girlfriend, he might finally know when and where they’ll meet, despite her father’s interference that keeps him skating blindly toward Barcelona.

Despite foot blisters the size of golf balls and steep double-black diamond hills, the casino police in Monte Carlo nor the red-carpet bodyguards at Cannes Film Festival can slow him down. Even a daring escape down the side of a cliffhanger apartment can’t stop his desire. Desperate for female companionship, Michael believes only his longtime lover can fill his empty heart. Meanwhile, the inspirational and provocative letters from the girl he met in Paris fill the void in his head.

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.

Explore a Riviera Unknown to Most

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.

Written by a professional jet pilot and yacht captain, this courageous and captivating ’80s memoir reveals the heart of a global adventurer with thousands of true stories, mostly about how he laughably mucked things up.

Inside French Roll

 

CHAPTER 1 — ON THE EDGE

Do not look for approval, except for the consciousness
of doing your best.
—Andrew Carnegie

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. …