Bordeaux to St. Émilion

July 5th, 2017

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Leave it to me to have a panic attack on a wine tour. I’ve had panic attacks on and off since I was little, and they’re infrequently triggered by anything obvious. I’m fine one hour, and the next, I notice a slowly growing discomfort, usually in my throat, getting worse and worse–like I can’t fully swallow all the way. Once the nausea comes on, I usually know what’s up. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve been in therapy since I was 19.  But I’ve never quite gotten rid of these waves.

I thought the heat of the city was making me feel woozy–it was over 90 degrees that day and we’d walked through the streets to make it to the tour bus. We were set to head out into the countryside for some sightseeing and wine tasting. Anything involving a bus and a tour guide is really not my jam, but I didn’t want to be a killjoy, and my friends were right–we’d see more of the area this way.

Still, by the time I took my seat next to Helen on the bus, Mr. Panic was there, acting out in full swing. I told Helen what was up and she said what any friend of 10 years would say. “It’s cool, I’m right here next to you, girl. No one on this bus needs to know but me.”

With the pressure of ruining the day off my chest and trusty Helen by my side, I tried to figure out what was causing my shaking hands and the feeling like everyone around me was yelling.

I looked around at all the happy tourists on our bus, and as usual, recognized that I wasn’t one of them. I hadn’t planned a calming week of rest and sipping wine, I’d come back to demolish what was left of my kneecaps through 34 days of walking with 14 pounds on my back. I came back because I’ve never been able to find contentment in the simple structure of sightseeing. How does everyone else do it? Why does everything with me have to be such a big damn deal all the time?

My panic attacks break–like clockwork–if I can make myself cry. Even if I cry the tiniest bit, a flood of endorphins sets everything back to normal within seconds. As things started to settle and we took to the highway, I tried to pretend for a moment that we were actually on the Garden State Parkway, and any minute, we’d get off exit 151 and I’d head home. That seemed to help a bit.

Once my brain stopped torturing me, I fell into line with the rest of the sheep and we explored the tiny town of St. Émilion. Our guide explained the churches, the history of the town’s wine industry, and then told us to meet them back at the bus after lunch or they’d leave us here with no way home.

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The four of us tucked into a small cafe to grab sandwiches–a bit of a feat for me. A year earlier, I’d come down with a mysterious illness that has yet to be diagnosed. After tons of blood tests and seeing a handful of specialists, nothing. The only thing that seemed to give me some relief was giving up gluten, haters be damned. My energy returned, my joints stopped aching and I no longer looked four months pregnant all the time.

But I was about to head off in the land of wheat. On a Spanish hiking trail, you are kept alive by two main staples: bread and ham. Without an actual wheat allergy, I had to give it a go, and Europe seemed like the right place to do it.

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I cannot explain to you how amazing it is to have bread after a year without it. Bread and wheat are celebration foods–cake, beer, baguettes! We sat on a grassy hill with our French delights and kept an eye on the bus that threatened to leave us behind.

We later toured the winery and got to try some fancy glasses of wine way out of my price range, but I was never quite able to drop into the moment. I was in a room full of people about to go on with their lives the same way they did before, and I envied them, maybe even resented them for it. My life was about to stop for a while. How do you pretend that everything’s normal when you’re about to renounce all comforts and any semblance of a schedule for the next five weeks?

Until August 9th, there’d be no “weekends,” no sleeping in a room by myself, no refrigerator full of groceries, no change of clothes other than the two dirt-encased outfits in my backpack. I knew I’d adjust, I’d accept my new life just as I had last time about two weeks into the hike, but the pain of change was still ahead of us. And I struggled to sip wine at a time like this.


I know I sound all doom and gloom in this post, but I actually was holding myself together quite well amidst all of this. You probably wouldn’t have known all this was racing through my head just by looking for me.

Still, I sighed some relief when the bus dropped us off back in Bordeaux. The four of us found another delightful restaurant on a square and headed back home for a final night of rest.

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Before bed, we sat up talking late into the night with our bottles of wine from the grocery store. Sitting with amazing friends on a floor of a living room is far better than any bar in the world. Five stars on Yelp, would give it six if I could.

When it was time to say goodnight, I fell asleep for about two solid hours, only to open my eyes to the sound of creaking floors and a settling house. With the Camino on my mind, I lay awake until the wee hours of the morning.


6 responses to “Bordeaux to St. Émilion”

  1. What beautiful photos you took of this launching party before the Camino. Didn’ t know about this part of your trip. Sorry you have a gluten sensitivity like I do. Also didn’t know you had panic attacks. It sounds very difficult. I hope you find some relief so that you don’t always suffer them but maybe it’s why you are so talented and sensitive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just left Bordeaux this past weekend and really loved the St. Emilion tour. I’ve had previous boughts with anxiety and seem to do much better when things are in structured and planned environments. Like you, mine used to come on for no reason, but after further investigation, this seemed to happen due to to environmental stress that was beyond my control. Now, I try to plan as best as I can to enjoy the experience. I think you took the same tour that I took about a month ago (Oyphessus is the company, I think).


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