Editor's note: Jim Caple spent two weeks on Page 2's dime, traveling through Europe for a firsthand look at, to name a few, Wimbledon, the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and how far he can carry his wife.
LONDON -- The World Wife Carrying Championship was nothing compared to lifting my suitcase after two weeks in Europe.
There are just too many souvenirs to pack. A coffee mug and T-shirt from Wimbledon. Multiple T-shirts from the World Wife Carrying Championship. A cap and Stage 4 map from the Tour de France. A red scarf and sash from the running of the bulls.
By the time my flight touches down in Seattle, I will have covered almost 15,000 miles on my Lost in Translation tour of European sports, traveling by plane, train, car, bus, ferry, subway, bicycle and foot across five countries. I toured three of the cities that bid for the 2012 Olympics -- London, Paris and Madrid -- and though no one offered me a bribe, they didn't need to. I experienced enough on my own.
I saw Maria Sharapova take the court at Wimbledon and Lance Armstrong take the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. I raced with my spouse on my back in the Wife Carrying Championship in a remote village in Finland and tried to run with the bulls in the streets of crowded Pamplona, Spain. I drank with Finns, Germans, Irish and Estonians under Finland's midnight sun, was offered more food than I could possibly eat by Spaniards in the afternoon heat of a bullfight, and sang "Beautiful Day" at sunset with 78,000 Parisians at a U2 concert at France's national football stadium.
|Jim Caple's Lost in Translation tour
See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out
I'm scheduled to come home today, but I'm tempted to dash up to St. Andrews for the British Open first. We already have a writer there though, and besides, it's time to go home, if for no better reason than to mow the lawn.
My suitcase is close to bursting -- I have so much dirty laundry that airport security may confiscate it as hazardous material -- but it's my mind that needs an extra bag for all the memories. I take a sports tour every summer, and the lasting memories are not of the games but of the people.
I met Ireland's Julia Gavin at the Wife Carrying Championship in Sonkajarvi, Finland, where she was competing for the third time. She was in a horrible car accident several years ago and doctors told her that she might never walk again. Trapped in her hospital bed, she passed the time by reading the Guinness Book of World Records and found an entry for bogsnorkeling in Wales. Bogsnorkeling is a strange and obscure sport in which competitors literally race underwater through thick, disgusting bogs while using snorkels to breathe.
"I swore then and there, if I ever walk again, I'm going bogsnorkeling," she said. And sure enough, she not only soon was bognsorkeling, she went on to become the ladies world champion in mountain bike bogsnorkeling.
"The bike is filled with lead and the tires are filled with water and it takes two men to carry it,'' she said. "They lay a track of carpet at the bottom of the bog and you ride on that while breathing through a snorkel."
And how many women were competing for this championship? "Just me and one other. But I beat her. I won."
That's the proper spirit. Julia weighs well over 200 pounds, and she and her partner finished dead-last in the Wife Carrying Championship. But I like to think of them as the Irish champions.
Mitch and Patti Wallace are Tennesseans who currently live and work in London. Wanting to experience as much of Europe as possible while they are here, they traveled to Pamplona to run with the bulls. Or at least Mitch did. Patti grew up on a farm and didn't see the need to go out of her way to run in front of a dangerous animal. In fact, she seemed a little disgusted by the whole thing. But after seeing how exhilarated Mitch was after the run, she said she might run as well.
|LOST IN TRANSLATION|
Take a look back at Jim Caple's European vacation thus far:|
While England slept
Strawberries, cream and Maria
Get off my back, honey
The amazing race
French fried over Olympics
A pit stop at the Tour de Lance
Riding a bike ain't easy
Bulls, blood and beverages
Running (sort of) with the bulls
For this couple, a few days in Pamplona were a welcomed escape from the reality they would return to back home.
The London bombings that killed 50 people occurred the morning after the city captured the 2012 Olympics bid. In less than 24 hours, the city experienced the best and worst humanity offers -- the Olympics one day, terrorism the next.
What's refreshing is that I saw more indications of the Olympics in London Tuesday than I did of the explosions. Had it not been for the newspapers and the unusually low ridership on the tube, I wouldn't have been able to tell that anything had happened. Tuesday was a gorgeous summer day and residents and tourists alike filled the streets, parks, museums and restaurants. But what else could they do? You have to move on.
Sadly, almost every level of society warns us to be afraid, from parents who won't let their children walk a couple blocks to school to a confusing color-coded terror alert system that appears to be based on the old Astros rainbow jerseys. Forget terrorists, it's to the point where we're even afraid to drink the water from our taps.
Sports is a welcomed exception. I never feel safer than when I am at a game, and it's not just because sports are a happy diversion from the worries of everyday life. Sports also inspire us, challenge us. We need them. The 1914 Tour de France started hours after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, and as soon as the world finished slaughtering its soldiers in the trenches of World War I, the Tour started up again in 1919. Nearly nine decades later, the Tour goes on, led by a Texan who overcame cancer in his testicles, lungs and brain.
We watch Lance attack the mountains on his bike and we feel a little stronger ourselves.
A Frenchman offered to drive me to Lance's hotel one night on the Tour route, even though I didn't ask for a ride, or even want one for that matter. But that wasn't unusual. From Finland to Spain, people everywhere were helpful and welcoming. Although maybe not that one waiter in Paris.
That's the beautiful thing. Despite our fears, all across the globe there are friendly people willing to offer a seat or a meal or a helping hand. The best news is that you don't have to go to Europe to find them. Wherever you live, all you have to do is step out your front door.
It's a big, wonderful world out there. Don't be afraid to see as much of it as you can.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale now at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.