Unlike some who lived them, I remember plenty about the Sixties.

Not only because it was a seminal time in my life but the only haze I was in during that decade came from my summertime duel with hay fever, compounded no doubt by prolonged chlorine exposure working at a swimming pool.

In the summer of ’69, though, I had bigger plans thanks to my parents buying into the idea that me traveling to Europe for six weeks before my 16th birthday was a good idea. How that sales job was won is lost to time, but I’m sure it was based on others from school going too and my French teacher chaperoning.

So a half century ago (say what?) we drove from Sterling, Ill., to New York, where on a rainy July 20 night we watched from our hotel as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. The next morning, I stepped onto a ship bound for Le Havre, France, one small step for a teenager and one giant leap toward manhood.

It was my first time away from home, a town of 15,000 in northwest Illinois, rich in corn and love for the Chicago Cubs. Europe or the Cubs? In 1969, that was something of a toss-up since my childhood heroes – Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams – were clearly on their way to the World Series for the first time since 1945, when my dad famously tried to stay on board his Navy ship during a typhoon in the Philippines to listen to a series game vs. Detroit.

The Cubs won a doubleheader at Philadelphia on July 20 and were five games ahead in the National League East when I began crossing the Atlantic without the benefit of a hand-held device to instantly relay scores (say what?).

But the main competition was the Mets and they, even for the forlorn Cubs, were hard to take seriously. Plus there would be an entire month left in the season when I returned, plenty of time to relish in the lead-up to the playoffs.

I knew next to nothing about traveling or anything else, especially when compared to the students who joined us from New York and elsewhere. But honest naivety works too so I went with that as we traveled to Paris then to our main destination Evian, a small resort town on the French-Swiss border.

We lived at a school, took classes, endlessly listened to “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and made side excursions to places like Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, and Bern, with its famous bear pit, and finally Geneva, on a Sunday before we were leaving for a few final days in Rome.

There was a rule — that today would be a lawsuit in the making when children are involved — about the tour bus leaving without you after a certain time limit. This typically would not have been an issue for me, but just before the trip to Geneva, I had purchased a watch. The kind that needs to be wound, which I forgot to do and only remembered after returning from a leisurely solo stroll along Lake Geneva and realizing that my group was gone.

Although I’d grown up some that summer, to say I was prepared for my home alone moment would be a major stretch. I had no French (or Swiss) money, having exchanged it already. My French speaking confidence was minimal at best. I didn’t even know the metric system well enough to realize that the 45-kilometer posted distance back to Evian is basically the equivalent of a 26.2-mile marathon.

Walking was all that made sense to me at the time, although it makes almost none now. I was asked later if hitchhiking ever crossed my mind, but it hadn’t.

The walk took hours. I walked through a rainstorm. I walked across the border — without my passport or anyone asking questions. I took a bunch of photos until realizing how far I had to go and deciding I had more to worry about.

When I finally returned around dinner time, there were people watching for me like sentinels. They rushed me to my dorm, where a nurse checked me out, pinched my cheek and declared me to be a “brave American boy.”

Or stupid American boy, as I saw it, faced with trying to convince way too many people not to tell my parents about my misadventure.

The good news was upon returning home, by plane from Rome, the Cubs still were in the first place as they’d been during my entire trip. By my 16th birthday in late August, the lead had shrunk from nine games over the Mets to four.

But we were flying our large Rub-A-Dub-Dub Hurray for the Cubs sign outside my bedroom window every game day and certainly that was stronger than any goat curse or black cat.

Or maybe not. For everything I vividly remember the Sixties, September 1969 remains an intentional blank. Don’t even try telling me what happened.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8053. Follow him on Twitter @jeffmetcalfe.

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