In early May, I hopped on a plane in Orlando and was headed due east over the pond for (what was supposed to be) a month long adventure in France...
The first week overseas was spent in the Southeastern French town of Montpellier for FISE, a massive action sports festival. Over 500,000 people come out to watch BMX, Wake, Skate, and Rollerblading…yes, rollerblading. To say it’s a gongshow is an understatement. I ended up 4th among the Pro Women but spent much less time actually at the festival than exploring Montpellier and the surrounding Mediterranean area. That first week consisted of exploration, endless croissants, cheese, standoffish wait service, and wine...lots of wine.
France in particular is neat, but I have a deep admiration for anything rich with history and historical significance. And Europe is just that.
|Public bikes in Montpellier - We're confident we hold the record for kilometers ridden in 24 hours|
|Bicycle adventure to the Mediterranean|
The purpose of my trip was to spend three weeks following FISE RV-ing around France and Spain, riding at dozens of cableparks with my babe friend Dom Granger for the Unleashed Wakeboard Magazine “Road to Ropes” tour. Two chicks on an epic Eurotrip wake adventure – it seemed too good to be true... Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to ride for at least a week and was contemplating even flying back to the states to get my knee looked at, I decided to take a few days to explore more of France on my own, rest my leg, and see if my knee felt good enough to join Dom.
So, Bob and I rented a car and headed Biarritz, a small coastal town on the Atlantic coast of the South of France. After a pit stop in Bordeaux (for.... a glass of Bordeaux, of course!) we made it to Biarritz, and spent Tuesday and Wednesday exploring, EATING, and, you guessed it, drinking wine. I wrote, felt sorry for myself because of my fun-inhibiting knee injury, and took photos while Bob surfed. Biarritz is a very neat little medieval feeling beach town, and despite being 40 degrees and windy half of the year, is littered with world-class surf spots.
It was definitely the most beautiful day we’d had since arriving to Biarritz, and the beach was quiet and beautiful. After about an hour by the ocean, Bob surfing, I shooting photos, we decided we’d head back to Biarritz to relax for the rest of the afternoon before we had to leave the following morning. Upon returning to the car I immediately realized everything was gone and collapsed to the ground - my purse with my new macbook (yes, the one I wrote about previously), credit cards, cash, planner, and medication, as well as my backpack with my new wetsuit, two GoPros, my journal, my passport, and some other clothes. Bob’s pants were also gone with his credit cards, ID, and iPhone. With literally no cash, no ID, and Bob without pants, we frantically looked for a police station for over an hour. After difficult communications with some locals, we found a “Poste de Police”. While waiting to speak with an officer, we met three other groups who had also been robbed – all surfers, who’d been at different surf breaks along the beach road, each having their cars robbed while in the water. These vandals stopped at every beach break for a stretch of 50 miles, wiping out each parking lot they came by.
Despite the stressful situation, the strangers were incredible friendly and sympathetic. The police were also very helpful despite the language barrier. This was only the beginning of the hundreds of helpful, caring people we would encounter in the next 24 hours. We got our police report (in French) and were on our way. Driving back to the hotel in Biarritz we literally had NO MONEY, so at every toll we had to get out of the car and ask the car behind us for money - quite humbling. Though devastated, violated, and out $3,000, I was calmed by the fact that I still had time to get to an embassy at some point before my flight home and get a new passport. “I have emergency medication in my suitcase,” I told my sister as that was the first thing she asked when I called to explain what had happened. And then panic set in when I realized I had moved my emergency medication to my backpack just hours before being robbed. It was all gone.
To be clear, I won’t die if I don’t take my medication every day. It wasn’t a matter of me dying on the spot in France if I didn’t get it. Here’s the concern – I can go about 48 hours without taking my meds, and I will likely be fine. Anything beyond 3 days becomes a dangerous situation because anytime you take too low of a dose or miss a dose, it gives the Leukemia a chance to replicate and also become resistant to the medication. Even missing one dose a month has an affect on my counts when I have tests done.
I had two options – stay in Biarritz and try to get this rare, very expensive ($$$$$$$) medication within two days – which was very unlikely. OR head straight to Paris for an emergency passport and fly straight home. It was Thursday evening; Paris was a 7-hour drive, and the embassy was only open for emergency passports from 8am-10am on Friday. They would not be open again until the following Tuesday as it was a holiday weekend, by which time it would be too late for me to get my meds. Every timing variable that could have went wrong at this point, did. So after weighing the options as thoroughly as possible and getting advice from many many people via Facebook and social media, Bob and I made the decision to get in the car and head straight for Paris. Luckily I had $200 cash left in the room, so we'd be able to afford gas for the journey. As the doors closed at the currency exchange in Biarritz, I traded in my last Dollars for Euros and we headed for Paris with 167 Euros.
On the way out of Biarritz, we parked the car and watched the sunset on the coast. We were parked next to two gentlemen, a.k.a. French Hippies, also enjoying the sunset and some “extra curricular activities” in their van. They came out to chat and we briefly told them what happened. We exchanged laughs and before leaving one of them said to us, “Hey man, they can take your things, but they can’t take the good times!”
|Hossegor - shooting photos whilst getting robbed...could be worse?|
|THE GOOD TIMES|
Bob called Delta and pushed his flight back a few hours, and we drove through the night to the capital city. We peeled straight into the US embassy at 8:30am and Bob dropped me off - unshowered, no makeup, smelly, and blood shot from pulling an all-nighter. The only form of ID I had was an x-ray of my knee from the day before. Entering through metal detector on the way into the embassy, one guard said with a wink, “Get a good look at her knee when she goes through”. We all had a good laugh. Though they see stolen passports often, the embassy officials let me know this was a first for them - a girl with nothing but an x-ray with her name misspelled and no money to pay for her new passport.
Though the process took 5 hours, the people working at the embassy (picture a DMV on steroids) were very kind and made the experience about as pleasant as possible - like very bizarrely helpful and understanding (I guess it helps when you don’t even have a speeding ticket on your record).
Around noon I walked out of Embassy, exhilarated, with a new emergency passport and a grin from ear to ear. A nice French guard approached me and said “Are you Alexa? Your friend has been waiting for you.” Not having a phone, and no means to communicate with me for the previous five hours, Bob had been driving laps around the embassy in the middle of the busiest intersection in Europe. He eventually found a parking ramp a mile away, spent our remaining $14 Euros on parking, made friends with the guards, and slept in the lawn in front of the U.S. Embassy. Where were the MTV cameras now?! (haha)
“Ive found all your stuffs medicines and ID” with a name and a phone number.
Delusional from lack of sleep, I thought my brain might explode. I called the number and in broken English the person on the other end said:
“I know, it sound strange, but I found your things (minus the cash and electronics) in a trash pile at the beach in Hossegor. I look you up on Facebook and see people very concerned so I find your email. I see you are in trouble, how can I get you your medication?”
Confused, skeptical, but hopeful, I told him that there was no way for me to get back to Hossegor but my friend Dom was actually driving through Hossegor THAT EVENING. Dom, who speaks French, called the stranger to confirm location, and with zero hesitation, agreed to meet him and pick up my things. Trains and flights to the south were limited, and I didn’t want to risk the chance of traveling that far not knowing if what I needed was actually in my bags. So, I made the decision to stay the night Paris (insert "One Night in Paris" joke here), and fly to the US the following morning. It was a hard decision, going home not even halfway through my adventure, but I thought it was the right and responsible thing to do.
|Unplanned, yet convenient, sunrise sightseeing on the way to the Embassy|
That evening I found out two of my friends were also in Paris for the night and was able to meet them (and celebrate their day old engagement). Having no money, they treated me to dinner and brought me to the Eiffel Tower for a quick glass of wine. It was stunning. Having not slept for 50 hours, I was delirious, gross, tired, bummed, and in pain, my knee the size of a basketball…but the sight of the Eiffel Tower, lit up in the Paris sky, was a perfect ending to an imperfect trip. At this moment, the structure's stunning beauty, seen internationally as a symbol of love, travel and France, was now more than that - to me it was a symbol of life, love, and friendship.
Through our debacle hundreds of people, friends and strangers, of all nationalities, colors, and shapes, speaking multiple languages reached out to help. People in the US contacted friends overseas, overseas people contacted relatives who might be able to help, people sent links with information, phone numbers, addressees, and countless resources. And NONE of them went unnoticed or unappreciated. Every time I look back to think about it, I cannot help but become emotional. To feel cared for, to see people work together despite different backgrounds, and for people to put materialistic issues behind them and truly care about each other is the essence of life. People are always in search of meaning and purpose… THIS is the purpose. To love and be loved. If we all put the insignificant crap behind us - the problems we’ve created and put on ourselves - and simply focus on each other and eachother's well being, what a world this would be. (And what fun we could have!)
Short and Sweet
There’s no way I can ever thank everyone enough for their assistance and concern, but we appreciate it and can only try to pay it forward at every opportunity. Though we're out substantial money, the compassion and love we witnessed was worth the loss tenfold. Thank you for making my France trip more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
I arrived back in Orlando late on the 23rd. My baggage had been lost in transit (no biggie at this point), so I arrived back in the states carrying only an x-ray, three euros, and chapstick. When Tiff pulled up to the airport, I was standing on the curb in my pajamas with no baggage but one plastic baggie looking like a total lunatic – we laughed. I was happy to see her.
Though I returned with literally no possessions, I brought back friendship, life lessons, new knowledge, and a reinforced pride for being an American. As American citizens, we have SO many privileges, conveniences, and freedoms that are way too easy to take for granted. I try to remind myself everyday how lucky I am, but when you’re in a serious bind thousands of miles fro home and the stars and stripes get you back to freedom safely in a heartbeat, you can’t help but be filled with gratitude. I took my medication the moment I got home - not sure if anyone has ever been so excited to take chemotherapy pills.
My belongings that were recovered on the beach were delivered to my house in Florida a few weeks later with everything accounted for except my cash, Macbook, GoPros, headlamp and Bob’s iPhone. HOWEVER, for those of you dying to know: Bob’s pants were recovered (bittersweet for a pants hater like me).
My laptop, mentioned in a previous post, was the replacement for the new laptop I bought in December and spilled coffee on. I insured this new one when I bought it in January. Sadly, the insurance does not cover international theft. Hah.
|The Beautiful Dom Granger with my recovered belongings!|
Just enjoying the ride,
Over the past years I've done a bit of writing. Below is an excerpt from a larger project I've been working on. It's roughly edited, and I shortened it up quite a bit to make it blog-friendly. Hoping the idea still makes its way through the fragments...
Each morning, after a sunrise surf, I would head down to the common area and up the stairs to the yoga loft above the “lobby”. It was a small, open-air studio, just close enough to the beach to be filled with echoes of ocean waves and just far enough away that the surfer yogis wouldn’t’ be distracted by watching the surf roll in. Most mornings, the only people in the loft were the young woman yogi named Nicole, a Brazilian skateboard pro named Gunther, and myself. The intimate setting made for an awesome practice.
One morning we took some time at the beginning of class to work on meditation. We began by clearing our minds and rinsing them of any thoughts, good or bad. The point of the art is to think about nothing – easier said that done. I’d spent some time practicing mediation prior this trip, at the occasional yoga class and on my own, so I was decent at it, but not great. We were a few minutes into the meditation, and I was just becoming deeply focused (on nothing), when the lawn maintenance crew began ripping around the landscaping just below the loft. Based on the noise level, they may have had every electric lawn tool on the island of Bali. Though I was a novice, I saw this as just another obstacle to reaching full focus, and so I did my best to tune out the lawn crew.
The dawn patrol lawn patrol was on its second lap around the shrubbery when Gunther broke the silence in the loft and asked Nicole, “Can you tell them to stop??!” I noticed her chuckle to herself as she stood up and walked out to the balcony where she asked the maintenance men to stop…or at least delay their noisy activities 30 minutes. Ironically they were so loud that they couldn’t hear the yogi's request. After giving it a mediocre effort (and being less than upset when they didn’t fulfill her wishes) she stepped back into the room.
I understood immediately why she lacked disappointment. We were practicing meditation. The goal is to be able to enter a depth of focus to the point that you are able to block out all external diversions and eventually be unaffected by them. With that said, you can be aware of the things taking place in your external environment, but after becoming aware, you have the choice whether or not to engage in them. The current situation was the perfect display of that challenge. Your external environments does not need to be in a state of perfect calm for your internal to be - heck, you could meditate at Monster Jam! Nor does your internal need to begin in a calm state; the whole point is to get it there
The practice is about sifting through thoughts and throwing them all to the wayside for a period of time. On this morning we were being challenged, perhaps to the point that would be difficult for a rookie meditator to overcome, but the challenge was to concentrate completely on our internal selves without being distracted by the weed whacker roaring just feet below us.
Being aware of the disturbance outside was okay; it was deciding whether or not we were going to let it bother us that was the challenge.
Awareness as it applies to negativity
Oftentimes, people striving to better themselves put themselves down for having negative thoughts. Regardless of what it's about, they believe that once the thought comes to mind, they’ve failed. “I’m a bad person for having these thoughts.” If this were the case, we’d be living on a planet where 99% of the population was doomed. Truth is, though we should do our best to think positively, IT’S OKAY to have negative thoughts, and if you wait around until the day when you don’t have them, you’ll most likely think you're a crummy person your entire life. What is important is what you do with the thought after it's come to you.
We all have the conscious choice to engage or not to engage in any particular thought. You can either let it go immediately, in one ear and our the next, or choose to engage and allow the thought to grow. Being lured into a negative thought allows this snowflake to hit the ground, begin to roll, and as you become more and more focused, it builds momentum. Growing rapidly in size, the tiny snowflake is now a giant snowball bound to crash at the bottom of the hill.
Engaging negative thoughts carries you farther and farther away from where you started, your original mindset, until you’ve lost sight of the breadcrumbs and can’t remember the way home. This is not only harmful, but also a waste of time. You can be disappointed in yourself for engaging in a negative thought but realize that next time you can decide not to feed it and get swept down the hill. Simply notice the snowflake and let it float away in the breeze.
Awareness as it applies to productivity
In addition to wanting to alleviate stress and increase positivity, I practice awareness because negativity it is a time waster. Being slightly obsessed with efficiency, my biggest fear is finding myself chasing my tail around in circles.
Simple example: In my last semester of college, being eager to finish and perhaps having some tendencies to overachieve, I bit off more than I could chew, taking five upper level classes at the same time. Shortly after committing to the heavy load, I could NOT stop dwelling on the thought of not getting good (perfect) grades in all 5 classes. I was so nervous, even having GPA of 3.8 at the time. I actually believed there was a chance I was going to fail the most difficult of my courses. Unable to slow the constant flow of anxiety, one day I considered the amount of energy I was expending on the idea of not succeeding. I was burning incredible amounts of perfectly good energy on the idea that I wasn’t going to have enough time or energy to do well. The semester hadn’t even started yet.
It was a truly contradictory thought when I actually stopped to think about it. I became aware of the situation and realized that the stress wasn’t helping me in any way; it was actually wasting precious time and energy. Then I decided that instead of burning one calorie, or whatever unit brainpower is measured in, on worrying, I’d instead save all of my energy to actually do the coursework. And it worked. I shut the what if part of my brain up and got to work. I got a 4.0 that semester.
Philosophical blabber aside, engaging in negative thoughts is bad for you, and, like a dog chasing it’s tail in a circle, isn’t going to get you anywhere. Regardless of how enticing the red apple of negativity is, following it will never lead you to happiness or any resolution for the short- or long-term. If it regards to an anxiety based thought, and you want to completely stop having it in the first place, you must DO something about it. There is absolutely nothing helpful about dwelling on anything, whether it's something you can control or not. If there’s something you can do: do it; if there’s not, let it go.
Negativity Be Ware!
Awareness is something I practiced long before ever stepping into a yoga studio or learning about meditation. But until the Bali lawn maintenance crew showed up that morning, I’d never seen it depicted in a situation involving others. It’s a helpful tool that can be applied in many ways and areas of your life, including anger, fear, loss, frustration, or just time management. For me, it’s been a helpful tool throughout my cancer journey and other various anxieties I’ve dealt with throughout my life. With that said, it is not easy, and like any skill, takes practice.
It’s important not to get frustrated if (and when) you can’t master it immediately. Your brain is a muscle and your thoughts are habitual – you must train your brain and kick your bad habits. With practice, it will become easier and easier, and eventually become routine.
Difficult experiences are not fun, but each one is an opportunity for us to practice awareness. Life doesn’t get easier, but you can get stronger.
So be aware of your internal environment and your thoughts. Be aware of your external environment and what’s happening around you. You should always be aware, but remember you always have the choice in which thoughts to engage in. Challenge yourself and choose wisely.
|One of those sunrises that just keeps getting better and better....|
|More like a FUNrise!|
|Rice hikes, historic temples, etc.|
|Those monkeys are nothin' but trouble!|
|Managed to have a little fun, too.|
|In the clouds|
|Typical street in Ubud - magical.|
|Liquid Force Free For All - Wake Island, Sacramento, CA|
|Sunrise to sunset, Bali was magical.|
I returned to Orlando from Aspen, CO late on New Years Eve, and rang in 2015 sound asleep in my bed. On New Years Day, Tiff, Steve, and our friend Heather cruised down the street to the Citrus Bowl to join our fellow Gophers watch Minnesota take on Missou. Even though we had phenomenal seats in the 8th row on the 50 yd line, we somehow we ended up on the field for the entire second half, but that’s another story. Anyhow, I was beat from my Aspen escapade, so that evening as the gameday bowl party rolled on, I headed home and then made my way to the gym or a late evening session. As you can imagine, the gym was fairly quiet at around 9 o’clock on New Years Day, it was only me and 3-4 other people in the main cardio room. I was on a Stairmaster climbing to heaven, when something caught my eye. I looked to my right and there was a tall kid, prob 18-19 years old, lying awkwardly on the floor next to me with a dazed and confused look on his face. In a split second, I looked up to the front desk, which was only 30 feet from where he lay. The guy working didn’t move a pinky. I jumped down off of the machine and quickly asked, “Did you just pass out? Are you okay?” The boy, very confused, replied, “Yeah……I think I was trying to get to the bathroom.”
I propped his 6 foot 4 inch frame up on mine and walked him to a chair near the front desk area. Glaring harshly at the guy behind the desk, I said, “Umm HELLO can we get a water or a Gatorade for this guy?!!” Annoyed, he said yes and leisurely grabbed a Gatorade, completely unconcerned with what was happening. The kid’s name was Brendan, and as he regained his brainpower he said, “I was sitting here and yelling at the guy at the front desk for help. I needed water. He did nothing. That’s when I got up to go to the locker room.”
Just then the desk man brought the Gatorade and returned to his perch, where he continued to take selfies, seriously, and didn’t move an eye from his phone to check on us, or anything else happening in the gym, for that matter. Needless to say, I was infuriated. It is absolutely sickening and deeply saddening to witness our human race completely lose respect and care for each other. We are SO worried about our social media fame, knowing what other people are doing, and/or caring about how we're being perceived, to take a step back and care for each other. It’s upsetting.
After admitting to me that he’d been partying the night before, I gave Brendan a brief lecture on dehydration and the science behind water and electrolytes. For the next 30 minutes, I completed my workout and periodically came back to check on him. When I was ready to leave I asked where he lived. “Just down the road on Michigan Street,” he informed me. After minutes of banter, demanding to let me take him home, he wouldn’t accept the offer, and newly hydrated Brendan drove home. Having had enough excitement for one day, I headed home as well.
Halfway home, I saw a large dog running back and forth across Michigan St. Worried for his safety, I wanted to see if he had a collar and return him to his home. I parked three different times and coaxed him for a half hour before he came to me. No collar. Long story short, I brought the dog home, and Rod Stewart, our Jack Russell, had a new, large, friend, “Ritchie Cunningham”, for the night.
That night I posted on Craigslist, Facebook, and multiple local and national lost dog websites in hopes his owner would emerge. Nothing. The next day, Tiff and I went into the SPCA to see if the dog was chipped – he was! We were so excited, until an hour passed and the vets still couldn’t track down the owner; although he was chipped, the owner had failed to register any of their information on the account. There was obviously no way we were going to leave Ritchie Cunningham at the pound, so we brought him home and advertised him to our dog friendly Facebook friends. Near the end of the day, our big-hearted neighbor, Kyle, took him. Ritchie had found a home.
Two days later I got a call from the SPCA. They’d tracked down the owner who then called me to get my information to come pick up the dog. I was pissed. Though fired up, I calmly lectured this person. “So, your dog was missing for three days, and you didn’t post a Craigslist ad? Or check with the SPCA? He was running wild on West Michigan Street!” “Well I live on East Michigan, so he’d only went a couple miles then. I mean he has a chip.” he responded. I wanted to punch him through the phone. “Okay, well you can come get him, but I don’t want to give this dog back to you unless you’re going to take care of him. Having a dog is a responsibility.” He, unemotionally said “Yeah, whatever” and I grudgingly gave him my neighbor Kyle’s address to pick the dog up. Just before hanging up, I asked him, “What’s your name?” “Brendan,” he said.
I couldn’t believe it.
Orlando’s population is upward of 250,000. I’d never seen this kid before at the gym, he passes out, and I get him home. Driving home I find a dog 3 miles away on Michigan St and for some reason take him in. Find owner. Owner is Brendan from East Michigan Street. The irony was unbearable.
Here's where it gets out of control: As I sat down to write this post, I was looking through my most recent writing folder on my month old Macbook Air and thought to myself, “Why don’t I have these files backed up? I can’t imagine losing them if anything happened to my computer! All of that brain power down the drain.” So, I immediately backed up the files via Dropbox, and as I did so, made a swift gesture reaching for one of my handwritten notes when I knocked my entire mug of freshly brewed coffee onto the keyboard of my laptop. Mug FULL of coffee directly INTO my brand new $1,000 Macbook Pro. It was too ridiculous for me to even get mad.
Despite hours of effort to drain, dry, and revive my laptop, it is done for (that’s “donzo” for you Millennials). When I went in to the Apple store, the worker confirmed my fate as the first thing he said to me after I showed him the computer was, “Mmmm, smells good - French vanilla?
It was Hazelnut, but thanks.
So, one thousand dollars later, I’m writing from my old slow laptop risking explosion, and after all that, there’s not even any real point to this post; I wrote it mostly for amusement. However I will leave you with this closing note: Please take responsibility for and care for your belongings, your dog, your computer, the people around you, and yourself. From Brendan to the guy at the gym front desk, both were irresponsible and disrespectful not only of others, or their dogs, but of themselves. We’ve all got things to work on; Let’s start ironing out the wrinkles. Now.
Just as I returned from Barbados, I was nominated by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as North & Central Florida Woman of the Year. I was one of three women and four men to be asked to take part in the 10 week Man/Woman of the Year fundraising campaign, which was to kick off on Feb 19. Participating was going to require endless amounts of work, energy, and time - a full time job in itself, really. It was looking as though “The Year of A.Score” was going to end before it had even began!
Despite being in over my head managing work, wake, and fundraising 24/7, throughout the same ten weeks I managed to have a few adventures as well… Imagine that! I made a weekend trip to Nashville to drink green beer with some Tennesseans, checked off a bucket list item by attending a Molly Hatchet concert, celebrated my buddy Shane’s birthday at his annual Clear Lake bash, made appearances at multiple Liquid Force Free For All’s at some of Florida’s finest wake parks, attended Tortuga Music Festival in Ft. Lauderdale with my pal Chase after which I took him shredding at OWC (video below), turned 24 years old, and bought myself my first Chevy Silverado.
|I will find a vineyard in any geographical location, even Nashville.|
|Molly Hatchet - a dream come true!|
|Liquid Force Free For All. See you at a park in 2015!|
|Chase & Mama Rice at Tortuga <3 // Homeboy, Church|
|My friend Shane. // My friend Shane laughing. // My friend Shane surprised.|
|My friend Shane's party.|
|One of the many donations for the LLS Grand Finale auction. Thanks, Shecks!|
|My supportive and damn good looking crew at the Grand Finale Gala.|
|The first cut is always the hardest!|
|"Rubbin' one out."|
|The finished product -"William Bass"|
Until they do.
After 15 minutes passed and we hadn’t moved an inch, we began to sweat a little. As the clock ticked away, our dream of making it to the airport began to fall apart. We phoned a bait shop located a couple miles up the road. They let us know there’d been a wreck and the road wouldn’t reopen for 2 hours. The dream imploded. Barbados would have to wait.
|Waking up in a hammock in Islamorada instead of Barbados...could've been worse.|