French Roll

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

French Roll chronicles the true story of an 800 mile journey across France—from Italy to Spain—through every breathtaking cove and village of the French Riviera. With harrowing tales of roller-skiing highways and hills of France’s Côte d’Azur, the author becomes a part of the culture with new friends, enemies, and an intimate knowledge of every meter of asphalt and sidewalk along the most gorgeous part of the world.

With tales from the depths of California, as a Glass Bottom Boat SCUBA show diver, to the heights of Germany’s highest mountain as an amateur Avalanche Technician, the story follows the gap year between high school and college that changed a life forever. Driven by adventure, love, and transcendent ambition towards growing up, the author’s philosophical and emotional journey parallels the bold challenge of traversing Europe on eight small wheels. Who knew doing something so crazy could be so smart?

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Look Inside

A sneak-peek at things to come. 

 

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. …

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