Le Mans: A Trip I Will Never Forget

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a race that was first incarnated in 1923, and thus one of the few races that carries the most history when compared to others. It is a grueling test of men and machine, when both are pushed to the maximum and even when they break it is important to never give up. It proves strength and endurance, and is one of the most visited races in the world. Even though it takes place only once a year, and somewhere in the backyard of France: Le Mans.

The city of Le Mans is located roughly 150 km West of Paris, and when you happen to come from a small town in the very East of Austria that is quite a journey to undertake by car. In fact those are 1,500 km in one direction alone. And yet, when June 2019 rolled up, I decided to undertake this challenge and hit the road.

Dunlop at Le Mans
Dunlop at Le Mans

Luckily, I managed to sweet talk my road tripping better half into this as well. You know her as Barb, she featured on this blog before - mentioned many times in my first Glockner trip, as well as sharing her own stories from time to time. Even luckier for me was that she lives in Stuttgart which was a very convenient halfway point as it was, pretty much halfway between my home town and Le Mans.

This is one of the few trips that are daunting to look at from a distance but once you take them, most things work out all right and it becomes a trip of a lifetime. It is one of the few trips that I came back with feeling more relaxed than ever, more myself, and would say I return with only good memories.

Which is actually funny to write because the stay had been anything but a luxury hotel and we really did not have the best tickets. In fact, neither Barb nor I had been camping before, and the words Le Mans and Camping simply go hand in hand. The only French word Barb knew was bakery, meanwhile, I at least had a not always consistently taken Duolingo French course to rely on ...

So in the end, we ended up in a country where the motorway toll only accepted my VISA card, I only understood half of what was written on the signs, the most communication I had in French was "two coffees and a croissants please, no sugar" and Barb refused to touch the toilet with any part of her body. I had to pile two sleeping bags onto each other because I lacked an ISO mat, and could still feel a stone sheer off part of my hip bones. The first night was spent in temperatures near 10°C ... in the midst of June.


a heroic shot of yours truly

And yet, I fondly remember this as one of my favourite road trips I took in 2019. But why would I write that when there was so much hardship involved?

For one, it was a dream coming true. Ever since I watched a plucky 919 Hybrid Porsche cross the finish line in first place after completely breaking down and already been given up for dead, I decided that I would visit Le Mans!  I want! I want and I want!, was all that I could hear inside my head. It showed endurance and strength, and to never give up, which was a message very important to me back in 2017.

Then Le Mans never seemed real before. So far it was a race that simply took place on the television and that was about it. Sure there was a city called Le Mans with the Circuit de la Sarthe (not my cat) somewhere in France - a country I had also never visited before. But I would never touch it, it was just in the television. At least until I stood at the end of the start finish straight, and when I stepped into the gravel pit of shame, and got whistled at it for it. Suddenly, Le Mans was real, it was a real place, and more important one that I was at. One I could look at, touch, and take a bit of gravel home with.

Furthermore, it was an adventure. Not only that it had to be done but there was so much absurd normality happening and the trying to camp for the very first time. It also has a certain ring to it when you say "yes, I drove over 1.500 km to Le Mans." In fact, Barb and I spent a lot of time looking at the number plates of other cars to see if anyone had come further. Our eyes were peeled to find a number plate with "H" underneath the EU stars, or anyone coming from Austria but with "EU" next to the flag - my neighbouring district to the East. All of this with no avail.

Camping for the first time had been an adventure in itself and I am still convinced that part of my right hip bone is simply gone. However, there is a very relaxing component to it as well. All of the sudden you slow down. Sure, hearing someone drop the base in the distance isn't quite what you have in mind when you think about "camping and reconnecting with nature" but life becomes a lot easier when camping. When you don't have anything to do in the evening anymore, you turn in early. You annoy each other with silly camping lights, and enjoy the sun going down and that every night. And because your mind is not busy chasing one task after another and trying to look at the best sights in the area, you become positively stupid - but in the most relaxing manner because your mind wanders and doesn't feel hectic for once.

Le Mans Camping AA Expo
Camping in Le Mans - sundown 

This also means that you can have the greatest and most non-sense conversations. This is what happened to Barb and me. I don't think that it had taken less than a night before we had daily jokes about her gradually slipping down her mat during the night. Or when we simply bounced stupid ideas for fanfiction of each other - save in the knowledge that no other German speakers were near, or so we hope until this very day. In the end, life was a lot simpler.

Furthermore, no matter who you meet they all are friendly. After all, there is a huge uniting factor already given: the racing. We quickly befriended the Swiss people who camped opposite of us, had hilarious Scottish neighbour to our right. The atmosphere was always relaxed but the best experience is if you stay the night from Sunday to Monday. While almost everyone packs and heads into the nearest traffic jam home, a few people remain and the atmosphere becomes calmer and a bit homelier.

There are a lot of reasons I positively remember when I look back to my road trip to Le Mans. Funnily enough, I don't really remember the race. It is already hard to keep track of it on television, impossible if you are on the track yourself. However, that almost always happens when you watch a race in person. I could not tell you who won 2019's Le Mans - even though, I can list you all of the 10 prior years. When you visit Le Mans in person, the experience you are getting is so different from any other race.

Le Mans is among the trips that I will never forget, it is also one of the trips I want to re-do when the time is right. At the same time, I am afraid to do so because trip number two might not live up to the good memories I already have of Le Mans.

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