Stuck in the Pyrenees Mountains on an Oversized Roller Skate
If you want the Cliff Notes version of this story, here it goes:
I got stuck in the snow in the mountains of France and broke every rule that you are taught as a child.
If you want the detailed version, then read on:
February 5, 2018 I was supposed to fly from Nice, France to Toulouse, France. Back in November I crossed France off my list. Why is Katelyn back in France?!?!
I am back in France because Nice, France is the closest airport to go to the country Monaco and Toulouse, France is the quickest (or so I thought) hub for me to get to Andorra (No, Andorra is not in Africa).
I had it all planned out. My flight was supposed to take off at 13:40. I was supposed to land at 14:50 and there was a charter bus to Andorra at 15:30.
Then my flight got delayed. My flight didn’t take off until 14:30 and I landed in Toulouse at 15:20. I ended up missing the only bus that goes to Andorra that day. Being the resourceful and flexible person that I am, I decided that I would just drive myself. It is only a two and a half hour drive. Plus the rental car ended up being cheaper than the bus ticket anyway. A blessing in disguise!!!
So I get into my first rental car and am all settled in, then I notice it is a Manual. In December, I learned to drive a Manual in the Sahara Desert on an old truck. I wouldn’t say I am exactly confident in my Manual driving abilities. For fear of destroying the clutch of this Fiat 500, I go and ask for an Automatic. The ladies working behind the counter have a good laugh, but give me a new car. They ask me if I need tire chains, but I am not sure, so I say “I don’t know. I’m driving to Andorra. Do you think I need tire chains?” And they tell me I should be fine without them (HAHAHAHA).
I move my belongings into the new car, hookup my phone to the Bluetooth, start playing “Hot Country” on Spotify, and am on my way.
The drive goes smoothly for the first two hours. I am just jamming to some Florida Georgia Line and LANCO, enjoying the lovely small towns of France, and the amazing views of the Pyrenees Mountains.
Then I start seeing warning signs. I don’t speak French but Avalanche is the same in English and French and I know it is not good to get under one of those. There are also some graphic signs showing cars sliding off the edge of the mountain. Lovely. I see cars much smaller than mine continuing the journey and the roads are completely manageable at this point, so I decide to move onward.
I continue driving and begin to see signs with a graphic showing tires with chains on them. Some people are pulling over to put chains on their tires but more people are just continuing up the mountain sans-chains.
Not wanting to kill my momentum, I continue up the mountain. Everything was going fine until some dufus decided to park his car on the road and run into the store, causing everyone to have to stop and wait until they could go around him. When my turn came, my car was just not having it. I couldn’t catch any traction and I basically slid up the hill (yes, you read that correctly). When I made it to the top of the hill, I saw more people putting on tire chains (Thanks, car rental workers). I decided to pull over into a restaurant parking lot and see if I could get some tire chains or if they thought I would be ok continuing the journey without tire chains.
The man working at the restaurant looked at me like I was an idiot when I asked if I could continue without tire chains, which was a fair assessment on his part. I then asked if there was somewhere that I could obtain a set of chains. He directed me to a garage down the street. I said one of the only French words I know, “Merci.”
Then I remembered I had not eaten all day and I was standing in a restaurant. I asked the man if I could order food and he said they didn’t have any food. Weird. Maybe not serving food is a French restaurant thing. Confused, I walked out of the restaurant to head to the garage.
I try and move my car from the parking spot but I am stuck. My tires just keep spinning, no matter how slow I step on the gas or how many times I try to rock it onto some traction.
The man from the restaurant gave me a phone number for the garage, but I just assume they don’t speak english. I get out of the car to go ask the man in the restaurant if he could talk to them for me, but I run into this man, in a fluorescent orange jumpsuit, on the way back to the restaurant. I ask him if he could help me. He tells me the garage is already closed.
This is not ideal, because there is not a hotel around and freezing to death in my useless Renault is not high on my bucket list. Also, I can’t move my car or continue driving to Andorra, so I am stuck in this little village.
Now what I do next is not the smartest thing I have ever done (Sorry Mom and Dad), but sometimes you just have to have faith in people.
Marc, the second man that helped me, says something in French and motions for me to follow him. I collect my bags and follow him up the street of this little village. He leads me to his apartment and gives me his spare room. The apartment is very empty, which makes me a little nervous. I can’t understand him very well, but I ascertain that he is on a temporary work assignment near the village for four months. He also shows me a picture of when he was a child with his sister. This eased my anxiety a bit.
I set my stuff down and we walk back to the restaurant. Marc asks the man in the restaurant for two sandwiches and somehow the restaurant magically has food now. Marc and I sit there, eating our baguettes with ham and cheese, washing it down with a 1664 (a french Beer). Marc adds grenadine to his beer. I thought that was interesting but it kind of made me laugh and even more at ease about the whole situation. I try to engage in some small talk with him but the language barrier is too great. I learn that he is divorced and has three kids, that are older than me. That is all I am able to understand.
After we finish our sandwiches and beer, we head back to the apartment.
I go to my room and Marc FaceTimes with a man. This makes me nervous too. What are they saying?? Are they plotting my murder? I try to use the speaking translation function on my phone but it doesn’t work. I also start to think of every person I know that speaks French well. Maybe I can send them a voice recording and they can tell me what he is saying??? No one gets back to me in time.
I decide I will just barricade myself in the room until morning. I stack my bags in front of the door so that they are jammed up against the wall and you can’t open the door. I also messaged my friends my location and snuck a picture of Marc, so they knew the last person I was with.
My gut was telling me I was fine and that Marc was a friendly guy trying to help, but my head was second-guessing my gut. I laid awake until about 01:00, listening for any signs of footsteps coming towards my room, with my camera tripod next to me should I have to protect myself.
I finally was able to fall asleep around 01:00, but I woke up every hour or so.
I woke up around 06:00 (phewww I didn’t die) and noticed the snow had stopped, so I got ready to leave. Marc was already awake shoveling all of his neighbors driveways and the pathway up to the restaurant. He was such nice guy.
I Google Translated a Thank You note and put it on his laptop keyboard and left the apartment.
My car was covered in a solid foot of snow. I cleaned off my car, turned the defrosters on, and decided what I was going to do. I decided to just head back to Toulouse, turn in the rental car early, and take the bus to Andorra today (Tuesday, February 6). If you look at the picture of my Bitmoji, you can see I was SO FREAKING CLOSE to Andorra.
I waited until I saw a plow go by and I followed it at a safe distance down the mountain. I did not encounter any real issues getting back down the mountain. I wish I could have taken pictures of the landscape because it was extraordinarily beautiful. I was too tense though. The kind of tense that makes your shoulders sore.
I eventually made it back to the airport, turned in the car, and waited for the bus to Andorra.
I did eventually make it to Andorra.