The Lac d’Annecy isn’t such a beautiful place from a windowless conference room. I was locked in with a few dozen bikes and the same fluorescent lights that make a summer day indoors as miserable in Cleveland as it is in the French Alps. The room was stuffed with hot, lathered air from hours of wrenching on bikes. I was dialing in every spoke and screw before the Etape du Tour, a 90-mile sufferfest for thousands of riders tackling the hardest stage of the Tour de France. This is not the most glamorous part of the job.
DanF, my co-guide, is the Obi Wan of Trek Travel. He was delivering lunch, and found me working away in my shop apron and underwear. Guide life is textured by a range of magical moments: summer night swims in the lake, a shared bottle of wine in an alleyway bar. It’s a job (a lifestyle) that enters a dream state easily. These moments happen upon you like a tide that, before you realize it, sweeps you into a surreal world of sapphire sea views and castle-top parties.
This was not one of those moments. DanF’s lunch was a batard served with tins of greasy fish in mustard sauce: Exactly the kind of thing you want to crack open in a warm, confined room. This was an absolutely dog’s breath meal. The fish are neither liquid nor solid, rather a kind of oily gelatin that never leaves your fingers. We ate while watching an illegal broadcast of the NBA Finals on my laptop, and DanF dripped mustard sauce on the keyboard.
That meal lifts higher into the echelon of my favorite guiding meals despite the many moments of instagram fodder from years of guiding. Those yellow, pungent fish remind me that this was the same trip when DanF taught me the essence of guiding: how to discover spontaneity in a trip, how to unveil the nooks and crannies that hide France’s subtle delights. It was the trip when we camped on the lakeshore with a van full of Czech paragliders; when we ate troughs of pain au raisin.
Not everything about guiding is poignant or romantic. And not everything you love about travel has to be beautiful.
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