Exhilarating Moment Number Three?

By Janey Womeldorf

Exhilarating Moment Number Three?

I have felt truly exhilarated twice in my life.

I have always loved France – the country, the food and the language – and studied it for several years in high school. In the three decades since, I have dabbled in French language tapes but regretfully, nothing stuck.

One day, a local college catalog dropped into our mailbox and in a moment of wild abandon, I committed myself and my credit card to a semester of French. That fall, I returned to the classroom for 90 minutes, twice a week, to parler francais. I was the nerdy Francophile soaking up every musical word from the edge of my seat, and I hungered for more.

I got it when I turned 40.

My life was blessed, but pangs of unfulfillment gnawed at me. On the one hand I craved adventure; on the other I feared it. When had I lost my spark and spontaneity? One afternoon, I stumbled onto an article about studying abroad and couldn’t shake it. Four days later, with my husband’s support and a bucket of courage, I booked myself two weeks at a language school in eastern France. To push myself even further outside my comfort zone, I passed up the hotel or single-apartment option, instead electing to live with, and even more daring, eat all evening meals with a local family. For a 40-year old, health-conscious, (a.k.a. picky) eater, who, by the way, doesn’t like meat; I expected to go hungry – often. Adding to my angst was the slew of fried chicken jokes from my loving husband and sister. My finger quivered as I hit submit.

That summer, for two glorious and, as it turned out, chicken-less weeks, I lived, breathed, read, studied and spoke French until my head hurt. I went to class in the mornings, lunched on crunchy baguettes, conquered the local bus system and browsed French markets on sunny afternoons with my newly-found sisters – a group of five women – all of us searching. We hiked, we rented bikes, we explored and we bonded. I soon ditched the bus in favor of walking to class, becoming powerless to daily, flaky croissants from the local boulangerie on the way. I savored every bite and step of my four-mile-each-way commute – two miles downhill, then two more along the banks of a mountain-framed, picture-perfect lake. At nights, I delighted in my four miles back, especially the caloric burn of the last two uphill.

As for my family, I struck gold – she was a gourmet cook, and he was a wine connoisseur. Every night, I feasted on home-grown vegetables, freshly-caught fish and decadent cheeses, all paired with a different wine carefully selected from my host’s cellar. I was in my element. I lost weight, I felt fit, French rolled off my tongue and when the class ended two weeks later, I could barely wait for my husband to arrive for our pre-planned vacation.

He was flying into Geneva, Switzerland, so all I had to do was catch the train from France to Switzerland, locate the city-center Hertz office, rent a car, drive to the airport, navigate the parking and meet him. With no GPS or phone, just a map, directions and my new French-language skills, I hugged and thanked my French family, and set off.

Five hours later, I strolled into the Geneva airport, oozing with pride, rattling my car keys triumphantly. Every cylinder in my body sparked, and my confidence was on overdrive. With no cell phone or computer, my husband and I had barely spoken in two weeks, and I was fit to burst. I had worn jeans, sandals, and a seductively-snug, white sleeveless t-shirt to complement my leaner, tanned body and sun-kissed hair. His mouth dropped and eyes bulged when he saw me and we couldn’t stop hugging. I exploded with excited conversation, and my chatter was unstoppable. Suddenly he stopped, took a step back, and declared:

“Janey, this is the most alive I’ve ever seen you.” He saw what I felt – I was on top of the world.

Exhilarating moment number two:

We were travelling to the Grand Canyon and hoped to book the mule ride into and out of the canyon. When I called to book, we were devastated to learn all the rides were full. We had no choice but to lace up our hiking boots and hike down.

We arrived at the summit early, and heeded the park warnings signs indicating the furthest point one should attempt in a day. Two hours later, we reached our goal and rewarded ourselves by devouring lunch overlooking the Colorado River. But here’s the thing about the Grand Canyon: Going down is the easy part; the real challenge is the brutal trek back out when you’re hot, thirsty and your legs already feel like lead. Spirits were high though as we set off. At times, we would glance up towards the rim until we realized it was soul destroying – tourists the size of ants. Conversation trickled to words as we focused not to let our throbbing feet make any clumsy moves. The sound of hooves startled us, and we stood to the side to allow the mule riders to pass us, also on their way back up. The last rider jokingly shared that he could no longer feel his butt it was so numb. Laughter ignited a much-needed burst of energy and suddenly glad to be hiking, we trudged on. Four hours later, we reached the rim physically exhausted but triumphant. We hugged tears of pride and exhilaration and to this day, it remains the most physically challenging thing I have ever done.

Our need for exhilaration is not done yet – life is too short. We plan to return to France next year for a self-guided, biking, wine-tasting vacation along the Loire. This time though, we’ll stay in hotels. Tempting as the host-family vacation is, I got away with no fried chicken once and don’t want to push my luck.

Some things are just too exhilarating.

About this writer

  • Janey Womeldorf Janey Womeldorf once went to work wearing different shoes. She now freelance writes and scribbles away in Orlando, Florida. It’s probably best.

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One Response to “Exhilarating Moment Number Three?”

  1. Janey, reading about your adventures makes me want to take off on my own. Wonderful memories.

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