Monday, April 20, 2009

Our French exchange student and a bike ride

Saturday night -- very late Saturday night -- Jeanne and 10 other kids arrived together from France. There are three adult chaperones. Everyone is staying with different families from The Hudson School (in Hoboken) where Julia attends. The French students will be here for two weeks.

Jeanne is 14 years old. She's acting a bit shy, but I'm sure it's because everything is new here. She's a delight, and she's quite willing to try everything. Julia has gotten her to laugh many times. She speaks very quietly with Carol and me. Julia speaks French very well. Jeanne speaks English fairly well, but sometimes we speak in French. Carol's French sounds bad to my ears, because I'm such a darned perfectionist. Carol mixes French and English in the same sentence and pronounces some French words with a Spanish accent, and she mixes up tenses etc. But she's a more effective communicator than I am, because she's willing to try anything.

Carol and I took her to Whole Foods and helped her plan her lunches for the week. We let her try many foods, and she chose three French cheeses. We could learn a lot from her!

Julia and her girlfriend Vallie went with her to the Village Trattoria in Maplewood. They had a good time and met up with some kids who go to Columbia High School, the school Julia used to go to in Maplewood.

Then Carol and Jeanne and I took a bike ride. Jeanne said she's entering a triathlon in June.

The bike I loaned her is a really nice bike, but it's at least 30 years old, and Jeanne was too scared to try shifting the gears with the downtube shifters. Kids are spoiled, huh? So she stayed in the gear I put the bike in, which was a medium gear. At first, I wasn't impressed with her pace, but then I realized I don't know anything about 14 year old girls and what they're capable of. I thought maybe they don't go very fast. After a few miles, we headed up a long hill. That's when Jeanne began to shine. She's 5'2" (1.57m) and she probably weighs 90 lbs (41 kg), and that physique gives her a hill-climbing advantage. She just kept her pace and scooted up that hill like it was nothing. "Tu es forte et vite!" I yelled. ("You are strong and fast!")

I was hesitant to tell Julia, because Julia's heavier than she thinks she ought to be (which isn't true) and seems to feel bad about not being a fast cyclist. I told her how it went, and she was pleased to hear it.

Jeanne declined to have any toe clips on her bike. I refuse to ride without them, and she'll benefit from them (or cleats) eventually, but it's even more impressive that she climbed the hill so ably without them.

Here is the route we took. It's 11.7 miles or 18.8 km. I bet she doesn't know it's that far. I plan to tell her.

In the evening, Julia and I had a rehearsal to attend, and Carol had another rehearsal to attend, so Carol dropped Jeanne off at Donna's house. Donna's son Corey goes to Hudson School, too, and they're hosting another of the French students, so Jeanne ate at their barbecue. I hear she had a nice time, and she was able to translate for everyone, because their student, Clement, doesn't speak English as well as Jeanne does.

This morning, Jeanne and Julia left early for school, as they will do every morning. They were out of the house at 6:55.


  1. Spoilt kids indeed! What are downtube shifters? When I was a kid bicycles didn't have gears! ;-)

  2. Downtube shifters are shifters (gear shift levers) that are mounted of the downtube of the bike. See this picture.

    You have to reach down, which would be distracting and maybe scary if you're inexperienced.

  3. Hi Tom,
    This is a fun blog...I've just ordered (but have not yet heard back from the bike shop) a bike...hope I won't be sad I didn't go for a road bike...the decision was mainly b/c of budget...the low end road bike was a few hundred more...I got the Trek WSD 7.3

    I spin a lot but this is my first time back to biking outside. I'm doing a triathlon on September...not for time, but to finish.

  4. DoulaMomma, that looks like a fantastic bike. No compromises. You won't be sad at all. It's going to be great fun! And it's not cheap, so it's funny you speak as if it is. Why don't you come ride with Carol and me? Which shop is getting it for you, and when will it arrive?

    So what's your question?

  5. Hi - am getting it at High Gear in Millburn, tho. I visited their store further west too...I'm feeling better - just stopped in & got the straight bars (?) to put on the should come in/get fitted later this week. I am excited & would love to ride with y'all! Time to get out of the gym & use a real bike!

    My question was just about having only flat handlebars for riding on terms of hills...

    thanks, Tom

  6. hey - I thought I'd give an update:
    I picked up my bike yesterday (I ended up being out of town for almost a week, unplanned) & took my first ride today...12.5 miles around a 3 mile loop in the reservation, getting the feel for the computer, cadence (trying to stay at 80+), starting to learn about shifting gears (though I kept the left gears in 2 the whole time since it was flat more than not)...I didn't crash or fall over, remembering to clip out before stopping...and it was fun!
    One of the guys, Nick I believe, spent a while with me teaching me some basics about positioning for downhill etc & it was super helpful.
    Strange comparison, but it felt a little like what I enjoy about skiing...playing with balance & technique, seeing the scenery go by, a little fear/adrenaline, testing myself to see if I can NOT slow down out of fear...I liked it!