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lemons at lemans

 From LeMons to Le Mans,  

Eyesore Racing's Victory Tour

Part 1: Le Mans Night Practice 

by Dave Coleman

 

lemons at le mans 

Northern France is, in a word, Iowa. The two regions share endless rolling green fields and countless thousands of acres of richly productive farmland that are both at first pastoral and bucolic and then, after a few hours, mind-numbingly monotonous. It's bad enough that the roads criss-crossing France's vast baguette farms and cheese fields are laid out in the pattern of a bullet-riddled sheet of laminated safety glass, but the navigation system we're relying on is stuck in French, and we've therefore been unable to find the hidden sub-menu that takes it out of wander-around-in-the-fields-for-fucking-ever mode and puts it in the just-get-us-there-already mode.

The tension of this mildly frustrating situation is made dramatically higher by a few mitigating circumstances. First, there are nine of us traveling together--an extended Eyesore Racing family squeezing every last drop of value from our 2010 24 Hours of LeMons season championship prize (a most-expenses paid trip to Le Mans)--and getting this group to move anywhere together is like using cats to herd other cats. Second, we're split into two cars, with the lead car following the aforementioned French navigation system and the second car following behind with nothing more than printed Google Maps directions that insist we're going the wrong way. Third, our electronic ineptitude has rendered most of our cell phones useless on this continent, while keeping just a few of them merely expensive and unreliable. Finally, in spite of being pretty damn sure we were going to win this prize way back in early December, we failed to book any kind of Le Mans sleeping quarters until just a few weeks ago. It is estimated that 250,000 spectators come to this race each year, all of whom booked their accommodations well before we did. As a result, we're sleeping in a delightful French farmhouse turned bed and breakfast that just happens to be an hour and a half away from the wrong end of the city of Le Mans.

lemons at lemans

So, not only are we stuck in a video loop of farmland, painfully quaint French village, traffic circle, farmland, etc., and not only is Thursday Le Mans practice about to start while we continue to be nowhere near the particular farm we need to check into that is itself nowhere near the practice session we want to watch, but the cellular communications blackout is preventing us from forming any kind of Plan B as the Plan A of check in and go watch some practice becomes less and less realistic with each passing hour. 

When we finally reach our farmhouse, the air is thick with a mixture of frustration, hunger and exhaustion. After a year of battling for the prize, months of planning the trip, and weeks of swarming around Europe, Le Mans is happening somewhere in the distance and we're not there.

chinese at lemans

Thursday practice runs from 8 pm to midnight. It's after 8 pm now and so far it's taking twice as long to drive anywhere as we thought it would. It should take 90 minutes to get to Le Mans. If you do the math, it doesn't look good. Not only do we not do the math, we hardly realize what time it is. The sun sets, this time of year, sometime after 9:30, so it still feels like mid-afternoon.

Undeterred by reality, I open my shitty netbook, connect to the farm-quality wifi, and look up dining options along the Mulsanne straight. If there's ever any chance we'll be able to just show up without reservations and dine on the Mulsanne (unlikely), Thursday practice is our best bet.

I find a guide suggesting a bad Chinese restaurant that was actually in Steve McQueen's plotless masterpiece Le Mans (back before it was a Chinese restaurant), and giving long-form old-man-on-the-back-porch-style verbal directions. With no printer and no functioning smartphone, I take a picture of the directions on the laptop screen so I can read them off the back of my camera and announce that I'm headed to the track. Bitter Dan, Jay and Kyle are dumb enough to join me, while the lady-folk and Ryan stay back to eat, relax, and pretend they aren't missing anything.

With no address for the track itself, or even for the bad Chinese restaurant, programming the French nav system is trickier than normal. I can't find any way to set the city center as a destination, so we end up navigating to 1 Whatever Street Comes First Alphabetically, Le Mans, France. Thoroughly frustrated by the meandering route the nav has been choosing so far, Bitter Dan grabs the pre-printed Google Maps directions and jumps in the passenger's seat. Before leaving, I ask our hosts how to get to Le Mans. They don't sound like they go there very often, but the directions they give (turn left out of the farm and follow the signs) sound simple enough.

Within 5 minutes we're already thoroughly lost. I turn left, as directed by the locals, and within 100 feet Bitter Dan is pointing out that I'm an ass-hat and his printout says to turn right. My navigational success rate so far suggests he might be right about my ass-hattery, so I make a U-turn and head the Google way. Less than a kilometer later, the French nav system pops up and suggests we hang a gauche on a twisty little 1-lane farm road. Unable to resist such an entertaining suggestion, I immediately switch navigational strategies for the third time in three minutes. Nobody seems to notice that this is a bad idea.

lemons at lemans

Finding the largest city in a 200-km radius shouldn't be that hard, but it turns out everything in France is hard. The roadside is littered with signs telling you what town you are not in, what the speed limit isn't, not to drive backwards up entrance ramps, not to drive down entrance ramps and then turn left into oncoming freeway traffic, and even huge, billboard-sized signs announcing the existence of chemistry. There are very few signs telling you what road you are on, however, or what direction that road is going. Instead, traffic circles are marked with arrows saying which town is in each direction, and freeways are marked with, well, almost nothing. 

Some of the signs say Le Mans, so we follow those when we can. Others point toward the town of Anus (can't remember what it was really called, but that's close enough), which is on Dan's Google printout and seems to be in the right direction, so sometimes we follow those.

While you are at it, check out parts 2 and 3 as well!

Part 2

Part 3

Page 1 of 3 Next Page
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Comments
bigdave
bigdavelink
Wednesday, June 22, 2011 10:07 PM
Come on Dave. Surely the owner of the place you were staying at spoke English and could have changed the language on your GPS. Haha good story.
jamal
jamallink
Wednesday, June 22, 2011 11:37 PM
jeez next time bring me along as a tour guide and translator.
Shifter Kart
Shifter Kartlink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 6:52 AM
gotta love Dave' articles.
Anus? more likely Avus. still LOL
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 7:16 AM
Nothing like getting hopelessly lost...at least you didn't get lost in the middle of LA and take a wrong turn down the ghettho trying to find Venice Beach. I was very worried I'd be raped and left for dead in an Aveo rental car.
spdracerut
spdracerutlink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 8:52 AM
Fock, 13.20 euro for a chicken salad? That's more expensive than I remember. I shoulda snuck in Kyle's lugguge. I could've been translator and navigator too.
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 10:54 AM
Sounds like you needed the linguistic skills of one Lt. Aldo Raine :)
rawkus
rawkuslink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 11:25 AM
The writing is just so good. I got lost in the moment and felt as if I was there!
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 11:39 AM
Wow, I'm really sorry I transported you to such a dark place. Hope you at least enjoyed the beer...
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 12:54 PM
Ze description of ze salad, being in French and all, makes it sound so delicious. I'm sure that salad was overwhelmingly laced with the taste of bitter disappointment.

Did you at least have fun driving like a local?
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 1:15 PM
The French drive like they fight wars. I drove like an Italian...
rawkus
rawkuslink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 1:28 PM
A dark place without a doubt. Winning this trip sounds like winning the keys to a German palace for a weekend only to discover it was Hitler's summer getaway.
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 2:14 PM
@Dave: You must teach me. Not many Americans can drive like an Italian and live to tell the tale. Did Mazda say anything when you returned the car with tire donuts down every side (maybe even the roof) and copious spittle on all the windows near the driver?

@rawkus: Other than some curious appliances, I'm sure Der Fuehrer's summer getaway was quite nice.
Aaron LaBeau
Aaron LaBeaulink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 2:39 PM
The same buddy I did my redneck roadtrip with was also along for an adventure to France. We went to the south to admire the titillating sights. When we collected ourselves for dinner my friend ordered Fish (Poisson) naturally because of the close proximity to the ocean.

In my limited understanding of French I couldn't make out the words but the waiter was emphatic on repeating that he was bringing out a Poisson...

Well, we eventually figured out what he was being so emphatic about. He brought the fish with the scales and head attached. After this experience he didn't mind the baguettes so much.

To borrow from Dickens a bit "It was the best of food and it was the worst of food." I found the fries to be particularly awful; not that I tried a huge smattering. I suppose it would be like going to Italy for the pizza. The more we stayed away from the Applebees places and stuck to the simple bakery in the front restaurant in the back, the more we enjoyed the food.
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 2:50 PM
The French slather their frits with mayo. Disgusting.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 6:07 PM
Actually Aaron, the pizza in Italy is amazing, just like most of the food. The pizza in France, on the other hand... Well, that's for the next installment.
Der Bruce
Der Brucelink
Thursday, June 23, 2011 8:23 PM
Italian pizza - good. French bread - good. German pastries - die schmecken gut. French women - higher percentage of beauties!
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Friday, June 24, 2011 8:27 AM
Coleman, that was less than a week ago after competing at SAE West. And we had no GPS. Fortunately we did figure out how to download Google maps on to my phone and we found our way. Thank you Google!!!
jeffball610
jeffball610link
Sunday, June 26, 2011 10:47 AM
Everyone needs to take a road trip like this at some point in their lives. It's Man-ditory. Think it was on the top 25 things a guy should do from a SCC Mag a long time ago.

So you can't use your phones, the Nav sucks, but the laptop works fine. Does it not get Google or any other Mapquest type sites to find your way? We need to learn to use technology in America, or we're gonna lose to the world.
Dave Coleman
Dave Colemanlink
Sunday, June 26, 2011 11:12 AM
Where do you think Google comes from, the air? It comes from either a cell signal or someone's wireless modem they're willing to let you use. Try finding one of those when you're in the middle of French farmland and you don't even realize you're lost.

Trust me, we aren't going to lose the technology race to French farmers...

Actually, we had 2 iphones in the car that would work, for a fee, but we didn't realize we were lost until it was way too late.

-D
Rockwood
Rockwoodlink
Monday, June 27, 2011 7:29 AM
I remember the data rates weren't the greatest in the world over there. Things may have changed, but I know iPhones (and other "smart" phones) can gobble data at an alarming rate, so I'm sure using your phone was minimized there.
Chris
Chrislink
Tuesday, June 28, 2011 8:43 AM
Aside from all the other comments about travel tips, let me say that Dave makes me laugh. I know from his frustrated ramblings that I would have been right there with him waffling on whether to trust the map, the GPS, or follow the geese migratory patterns.

Dave, from a guy who had a SCC subscription starting back before Oldhem (sp?), thank you for continuing to write for the masses.

Now, My wife has this CX-7, and I wanted more power from it....
destrux
destruxlink
Wednesday, December 28, 2011 1:32 PM
I like pickled herring... :/

Crousti
Croustilink
Tuesday, January 10, 2012 7:36 AM
That quite well defines "navigating in France".

dont worry, google maps can even get you lost in big cities. By just ignoring that some roads do not exist, or are 1-way only, mainly.

"Pommes de terres au four" means oven baked potatoes BTW.

hope you liked the trip :p
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