Craig & Linda Goring sent us this Christmas letter in December 2000, and I couldn't resist HTMLizing it for posterity. - Eric
The Year of the Islands-The Day of the Fox
It was a crazy good year-and if ever there was a year we should put to paper, this may be the one. We greeted the New Year amidst an eclectic crowd on Key West’s Duvall Street and then toasted the first sunrise of the Millennium with several generations of family on Cudjoe Key, where Linda’s brother and family are living and operating their hardware store. We rented a car and drove to visit friends Dave and Peggy Beller on N. Hutchinson Island off the East Florida coast, and Lamar Muse (and Trouble!) on Georgia’s St. Simon Island. Arriving in Miami to fly home, we found our flight had been cancelled. United made it up to us by bumping us to business class in a 777 that left later and arrived earlier than our scheduled flight. The year had promise.
February found us on the slopes of Brundage Mountain, Idaho, where we happened upon our erstwhile-ski-instructor turned friend, Ann Eberly. She casually invited us to join her and husband Don in New Zealand and sail their boat from the Bay of Islands to Auckland for the America’s Cup. We were tempted so sorely it hurt, but we knew we must mend our ways and stay home and work. Then she mentioned the free tickets, Don being a retired United pilot. Then she mentioned first class. It was becoming painful. We succumbed. New Zealand was everything we had been dreaming for decades it might be, and then some. We had some great sailing, enjoyed the races and the victory celebration, and then rented a car and toured the islands. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our time there, the country, the scenery, the people. No bunghy jumping, but we did some swimming, hiking and spelunking-and even paraglided from the top of the hill above Queenstown. It was spectacular.
In May Craig went to Puerto Rico on a job. Among other work, he suffered through some scuba diving and taking the helm of the 80’ submarine he went to work on. Linda spent the time having her leg operated on after infection set in from an injury on her motorcycle a month earlier.
We took a summer excursion on our dual sport motorcycles into Canada, where we joined a group we had done a similar trip with the summer before. It involved on- and off-road riding into some beautiful, remote areas. Every night we set up camp near hot springs and were treated to some great cookouts and good companionship. After sharing an experience like this with people, they become a special sort of friend. In one of the more remote areas, Craig stayed on his bike through 2½ revolutions off a bank. After a boom truck plucked up and set the bike aright, a shaken, but otherwise okay, Craig climbed onboard and continued on. When asked over the campfire that night what he remembered and saw, Craig replied, "blue, green, blue, green, blue, green."
We were barely home for a week when we boarded a flight for Munich to climb on the motorcycle we store there and head south. We spent the first night in a Gasthaus in a town south of Munich where Franz, the proprietor/chef, and family have become friends we revisit each trip. Then we headed over the Alps on passes that have not been open to us on our spring tours. After playing around these beautiful areas for a few days, we jumped on the autostrade and expressed ourselves to Livorno where we booked an overnight passage to Sardinia. We were surprised at how far off we were on our expectations for the island. Although much larger than Corsica, it is traveled in much less time, and whereas Corsica’s beauty is utterly astounding, Sardinia has a beauty one has to learn to appreciate. Someone said you go to Sardinia for the beaches and the archeology, and indeed they were impressive. Outside of those, we probably enjoyed most our ride around the interior mountain towns, but we did cut short our stay there to head back to territory known and loved: Corsica. The whole sum of our stay in Sardinia was worthy payment for the incredible ferry ride into Bonifacio on Corsica’s southern tip. We climbed up into the old city, and then rode north to Porto-Vecchio for a good dinner and good night’s stay, absolutely glowing with the warm feeling of being back in Corsica-not knowing we would be awakening in the morning to The Day of the Fox.
We breakfasted outside at one of the many cafes surrounding the old town square, then leisurely packed and rode north and into the interior. The roads were old, rough and tightly curved compared with Sardinia’s well-paved sweepers, and we reveled in them. The scenery was varied and awesome. It was just a great day and seemed to get better and better and better. When we came to the decision point to continue on our planned route up the mountainous interior or detour off to Filitosa, a site Linda wanted to visit, Craig readily acquiesced. The sweet road and scenery rewarded us for our choice. At Filitosa, we walked over the prehistoric site of the first inhabitants of Corsica, encompassing some eight thousand years of history. We touched the stones, climbed into the caves, marveled at the monolithic menhirs, but were most touched in some elemental way by the light which cast it into some magical space. It is unexplainable, but places it to me alongside Assisi as one of those spots one should see during one’s life on earth. The spell lingered with us as we rode back up, pausing to look out and back to the valley and ocean beyond, illuminated by sun rays through a passing cloud. After gassing up on the main highway, itself not much more than a backroad, we headed back deep into the mountains, our progress frequently punctuated with Linda climbing off the bike to take yet another picture of a most amazingly beautiful spot. It was nearing dusk as we approached our destination and clouds were roiling ominously. I remember thinking, if only we can get a room and food, it will be the perfect end to a perfect day; if we can’t, it’s going to get pretty miserable. Finally we saw the town of Zicavo carved in the steep hillside. It looked dark and ominous and we both muttered simultaneously, "Mordor."
At some point we realized we’d been to Zicavo before, but had approached it from another direction. We took half pension in the same establishment as previously, a little hotel run by a Corsican couple. Madame, looking like an aged, short Elvira, told us to show up for dinner at 8, while Monsieur checked us into our ground floor room and told us where to secure our bike. We flung open the shutters and windows and walked out on the patio with its view over the steeply dropping hillside. We decided to take a walk, and as we climbed the steep street back to our hotel, lightening was flashing and the first big drops were beginning to fall. We noticed few lights on in the town and that ours were the only open shutters at our hotel. No other guests, we thought. We found our room to be without electricity, as was the whole town, but a hotel generator was soon fired up and we took showers and, going up for dinner, were surprised to see the dining room full. It was a wonderful meal. The room was filled with the ambience of dim lighting, delicious smells and the clinking of glass and cutlery, while outside the windows lightning flashed and thunder rolled. Sated, we took the last of our red wine to our room to sit on the bed and watch the storm. Shortly, we were asleep. Linda awoke with the feel of a wet nose on her bare arm and a shadow slipping silently from the side of the bed. Sitting up, she realized the hotel generator was off. She lay back down. Shortly, she felt a pressure at the covers by her feet. She sat up groggily and exclaimed, "there’s a dog in the room," waking Craig who grabbed the flashlight. There was nothing. "I must be dreaming," she admitted, and took the flashlight to go to the bathroom. As the beam illuminated an animal against the far wall of the bathroom, she realized, "it’s a fox!" He looked cute and bewildered. Linda climbed back in bed, Craig yelped at him, and the fox padded quickly back outside. That was weird, we agreed, must be the storm, and snuggled back to sleep.
Linda awoke with a start. "What the…" Craig had said. Then "Get out of here! … He’s got me. He bit me. He won’t let go." It was so dark she couldn’t even see Craig. "Get the flashlight." "Where is it?" "It’s on the floor by me," Craig replied, "but first you have to close the window. We can’t let him get away." Great. Closing the window, Linda started groping on the floor by Craig’s side of the bed, realizing the fox was somewhere near her face. It was dark, dark, and although you couldn’t see him, the smell was strong. Finally she found the flashlight and got it on. "I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!" "Grab him by the back of the neck." She did. It felt awful. It had no effect and she didn’t want to shake him; his teeth were locked into the back of Craig’s shoulder. "I don’t know what to do!" "We’ll put him in the water." We’re not home, Linda thought, what’s he talking about? "We’ll take him in the bathroom," Craig said as he supported the fox with his other arm, Linda’s grip still on the back of its neck. We worked our way in, the beam of the flashlight flailing around. "Give me the flashlight and spray him with the shower wand." She did. No effect. She turned the cold on full and put it right to the fox’s upturned mouth. He’d have to let go or drown. He let go and dropped. We backed out, Craig with the light, Linda with the shower wand fending off the advance of the fox. Throwing in the wand, we slammed the door. And there we were: naked and bleeding in the dark, fox and running water on the other side of the door, but considerably better off than a short while before. Pulling on clothes, we started out into the dark, silent halls and stairways, looking for help, finding it hard to believe we hadn’t woken the whole building. Finally finding an unmarked door next to the lobby, we opened it and went in. A young man started out of bed. Remembering very little French, but for some reason recalling the word for fox, Linda shined the light on Craig’s bleeding back and said, "Renard, Renard." "Renard?" the man replied with disbelief, "No."
And the night went on. The Monsieur and Madame appearing. Getting across that the fox was in the bathroom with the water running. More people arriving. Realizing Linda had been bitten on the arm. The water getting turned off, the generator fired up. The doctor. The kitchen. Dressing our wounds. Assurances there’s no rabies in Corsica. Prescriptions for tetanus and penicillin for Linda. For Craig, who is allergic to penicillin, tetanus only. Attempts to phone home. Reaching the Group Health consulting nurse and confirming Craig’s need for an alternate antibiotic. The doctor’s stubborn refusal. The doctor, the Monsieur, Craig and another fellow outside our room door discussing what to do about the fox: they wanting to let it go, Craig insisting not. A head popping out a guest door shouting, "Shut up! Shut up" and retreating back in like a cuckoo clock. Going in our room to retrieve our things and hearing the fox ballistic in the bathroom. The wild stench. The firemen arriving, opening our window, opening the bathroom door, retreating to watch through the keyhole from the hallway as the fox escaped. The helpless feeling that our fates were sealed. Back in the lobby at 3 am, generator off, candles lit-the Monsieur, the Madame, the doctor-eating ice cream, debriefing. A fresh, clean room-upstairs! Trying to wash off the smell, scrubbing under nails. Finally holding each other between clean sheets, shutters closed, slipping into sleep.
We awoke late the day after the fox. The last to arrive for breakfast, we were greeted with good humor and smiles. Everyone knew. It was a great opener. We got to know the Englishman who had been driven down by the storm from hiking the crest trail with his son. His comment: "Ask them the fox’s name. There’s a reason they didn’t want to kill it." And the young English couple who had similarly retreated from the trail. He spoke excellent French and offered to accompany us to the pharmacy in the next village, which he did in a car with Marie from Paris and her husband, who crossed himself at every blind corner. The pharmacist’s bookkeeper went to find the doctor on his calls to get a prescription for Craig’s antibiotic. The doctor still stubbornly refused. No penicillin, no antibiotic. He was fundamentally French. She took us to another doctor’s door, just around the corner, which opened to an empty waiting room. We knocked on the inner door and went in. The doctor sat at his computer behind his desk. There was no one else there. He agreed Craig needed an antibiotic and wrote the prescription. He did the computer research and confirmed there was no rabies in Corsica, but allowed that if we did want to take the preventative treatment anyway, we would have to go to the hospital in Ajaccio and it was a lengthy and unpleasant affair. It was not an easy decision. All logic told us we were fine, but emotionally we couldn’t help but think we didn’t want to be the first case of rabies in Corsica. When we asked the doctor if he would take the treatment, he said he would not. We chose not.
We continued up the Corsican interior, encountering evidence from the storm: roads covered with pine needles and fires still smoldering from lightening strikes. We spent several nights in our favored coastal town of St-Florent, taking a day trip around Cap Corse. The roads, the weather, the scenery were all beautiful, the people were wonderful and the food was good. But every molecule of our experience took on a heightened sense after that one night. Ferrying back to Livorno, we fast tracked across the North Italian plains to the Lake District, then made our way slowly back through the Alps, taking some of our favorite, little-traveled back roads and finding some new and equally beautiful routes. We had planned to sell the bike after this trip, but when we put it back to bed in Munich, we realized we would not. It’s just too good.
It’s been quite a year. Between trips, we have been very busy with projects and work. We’ve had great fun flying and working on and even cruising a little in our boat. We are looking forward to joining friends on a Christmas cruise to Victoria. Then we plan to stay home for awhile-on our island-and make progress. But we’ll probably head off to slip down the slopes some, and who knows what that might lead to . . . ?
Life is good.
Love to you all,
Craig and Linda