You Could Fall Down!

Recently I watched the YouTube film, Long Shorts.

The story in the film follows the 2021 season of two professional ultra runners, Francois D’haene and Courtney Dauwalter. They are two of the best ultra runners in the history of the sport.

Part of the film covers the biggest and most famous ultra race in the world, the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc. UTMB, as it is known, begins and ends in Chamonix, France. Beginning in downtown Chamonix, the race then goes over a lot of big mountain trails to Courmayeur, Italy. From Courmayeur, the race goes over more big mountain trails to Champex Lac, Switzerland. In keeping with the theme, the race then goes over even more big mountain trails back to Chamonix. The circle route is about 106 miles and has about 33,000 feet of climbing and 33,000 feet of descending. UTMB is the biggest and most famous ultra race in the world because it generally has the deepest and most competitive field among pro runners. It is not known for being the hardest race in the world from a physical standpoint, although it is certainly one of the most difficult. It is however, probably the most difficult race for the pros because of the depth and quality of the field.

For the sake of clarity, an ultra running race is any race that is greater than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. The categories of ultra are generally, 50 kilometers (31 miles), 50 miles, 100 kilometers (63 miles), and 100+ miles. There are any number of ranges in the ultra category, so not all races fall into the above categories. Some races might be 28 miles, or for the truly umm, inquisitive runner, 200+ miles.

In order to enter the UTMB, a person must first prove themselves in a number of other races, some of which also have to be 100 miles or more. Once a person has accumulated enough qualifying points, they can then enter the lottery for a slot in the UTMB. Nearly 20,000 people each year enter the lottery for one of 2,500 slots. Professional runners also need to have a certain number of qualifying points, but they do not have to enter the lottery and can generally be in the race as long as they have qualified.

After watching the film, I decided it would be a good method for showing my relatives a small part of the area where M and I live, as well as some of the trails where we typically run. In the process of watching the film with my relatives, it became very clear that they had no idea what UTMB was, or any concept of the type of trails which are considered normal for running. As far as I could tell, the only thing any of my family members got out of the film was that mountain trails are dangerous, scary, and full of all manner of obstacles waiting to cause bodily harm.

A common refrain among my relatives upon seeing one of the trails featured in the UTMB was, “Wow! Look at those rocks!”. Other common phrases from family members were, “you could break an ankle!” and “that looks dangerous!”. Little did they know that ankles are not at the top of the list of concerns when trail running. How to survive to the top of the next hill without experiencing cardiac arrest is more of a concern.

Though the particular trail that my family members saw and thought of as dangerous is rather rocky, and therefore difficult, it is not uncommon amongst trails in the mountains. In fact, thousands of people, from little kids to people 70+ years old, climb the same trail featured near the end of the film every day during the summer. I think that people who are completely unfamiliar with trail running believe that trail runners are happily frolicking about on grassy hills like those seen in the movie, The Sound of Music. If that were the case, we’d all be professionals. Instead of happily frolicking, most trail runners typically look like they can barely put one foot in front of the other and are wondering if they have enough strength to breath in and out one more time. Or they are wondering how far they have to go to the nearest toilet.

Compared to road running, where stepping in a pot hole because you weren’t paying attention is among the greatest dangers, trail running is a minefield. Not paying attention while trail running could mean falling off a cliff, tripping on a rock, twisting an ankle, scraping your hands and knees, running into a tree, running into a tourist, pushing said tourist off a cliff, being bitten by a dog, snake, bear, tourist, trampled by a moose, or horde of tourists. In fact, it is fairly normal to come back from any trail run with blood on yourself or some other injury. I won’t even get started on trail running during the winter, which can involve post holing up to your waist, avalanches and tourists on skis.

I was hoping that my family members would see the film and remark about how beautiful the area is, or make a comment about what an amazing accomplishment it is for the people running UTMB. No. Instead, I got questions about running in the dark, running in the wind, running in the rain, running in the cold, running in the morning, running on a Saturday, running with other people, running with the bulls, running next to the cows, sheep, sheepdogs, shepherds, cow poop, sheep poop, dog poop, and poop poop. The answer to all those questions is, yes, you run with, or during, or through, all those things. Except the bulls because that is for crazy people.

None of my family members are runners, so maybe that is why they didn’t quite understand the film I showed them, or why it is that I and so many others run. Running makes you feel good. Running a lot and running a really long way can make you feel even better. Even if you don’t feel better, at least you’ve accomplished something real by moving yourself, under your own power, from one place to another. Accomplishing something real always makes you feel good.

My family members were not wrong in their assessments that trail running can be dangerous. It certainly can be if one is not present, particularly on the more technical trails. As long as you are cautious though, and remain present and aware of your surroundings, trail running is fun and beautiful.

As for M and I, we are getting ready to run during the most dangerous time of year…tourist season.

Go out and be consistent.

Learning about Aire’s

If you read the title and pronounced the last word “air,” congratulations, you can now speak a bit of French. If you tried to pronounce the “e” at the end of the word, you have failed and the French will treat you like a moron for thinking that any letter at the end of a word should be pronounced. Once you have learned not to pronounce most of the letters in any French word, you will be speaking French like a native. If you pronounced the word aire with some extra rrrr at the end, then bonus points for you and you must be French.

Now that you know how to pronounce the word, “aire,” you can learn what it means. The French definition means area, but for our purposes we will use the French road side sign definition which means, “toilet facilities, and possibly gas station/restaurant/charging port for your electric car, and/or all of the above.”

In the U.S., a rest area off of an interstate highway is typically a simple road side pull off that may or may not have a toilet facility. In France, an aire can also be a simple road side pull off, but it will typically have a gas station as well as some sort of restaurant facility along with a large parking area. Toilet facilities are always available and some aire’s even have showers available.

Photo Credit: Emily

As you can see in the above picture, the signs in this French aire leave no doubt as to what happens here. You might also find things that you absolutely would not expect to see, for example, an Amazon Locker. Yes, a place where you can have your Amazon order delivered and then pick it up when you happen to be at a road side aire in the middle of nowhere.

For Amazon delivery when you are on the go! Photo Credit: Emily

As far as I could tell, when Emily and I pulled over at the above pictured aire, we were not near any town or village. Yet there was this Amazon locker waiting for whomever chose to have their stuff delivered to a random aire parking lot.

Since you started reading this particular post, you have probably been thinking that I was writing about French aires because they are quite different from the simple rest areas in the U.S. That is partly true. The French aires seem to be a bit more high tech, with hands-free everything in the toilet wash area.

NO TOUCHING! Photo Credit: Emily

As you can see in the above picture, things are pretty fancy in some of the aires. However, the comparison to U.S. rest areas is not the real reason I am writing this post.

The real reason for writing this post is to try and explain the mind numbing pressure, the gut-wrenching tension, the sweaty palms and teeth grinding madness that comes when one tries to figure out how to drive into the car parking area at the aire. I know what you are all thinking: “Gee whiz Chris, you just drive in and follow the sign with the big “P” and a little car on it”. I used to think the same way until I encountered the minimum 47 signs with a big “P” and little car on them that are at all French aires.

What anyone traveling to a French aire for the first time does not realize, is that all but one of those 47 signs do nothing except lead back out onto the interstate, without having found the actual parking area. This is especially true when one or both passengers have to pee. If you are fortunate when you inexplicably find yourself back on the interstate, the next aire will only be 10k away. If you are not so fortunate, the next aire sign you see will say, “Aire For People Who Have No Gas and Really Have to Pee, 50km.”

Emily and I had our first experience trying to find the aire parking area on a recent road trip. Fortunately we were not in dire straits when after following the signs that indicated the place to park your car, we suddenly found ourselves with no option but to continue back on to the main highway. Confusion reigned as we tried to figure out what had just happened. Emily of course accused me of missing the sign. I informed her that this was impossible as there were at least 47 signs. We agreed that Emily would help at the next aire.

After a couple of hours we were 1 for 3 in actually getting to the parking area of the aire. By this time, Emily had also realized that things were not as simple as they seemed and that each aire entry would require a carefully laid out plan of attack. I would slow the car down to the pace of a sleepy snail, and Emily and I both would scan the various signs to try and ascertain which one actually led to the car park area.

After several more aire stops, we finally became more confident in our ability to follow the correct sign and not end up back on the interstate. We did encounter one final challenge though, and it was the biggest one of all.

You can see the big sign on the right, but do not let it fool you! Photo Credit: Emily

The biggest challenge we faced came on our way home. We had to stop for gas. This meant that we had to make sure we found an aire that had a gas station. It also meant that once we found an aire with a gas station, we had to navigate our way through 38 different signs indicating how to get to the gas pumps. Those were but minor inconveniences however, compared to finding a place to park the car after getting gas without accidentally ending up back on the interstate, without Emily, who was inside the store getting coffee. You can feel the tension now can’t you? Everyone knows, you CAN NOT LEAVE YOUR WINGMAN!

I had determined that I would drive over curbs or go off road if I had to, but I was not going to leave Emily at the aire. Also, I figured that if I did, she would quickly realize that I had tried to park the car after getting gas and was then helplessly jettisoned back out onto the interstate where I would quickly make my way to the next exit and come back for her. Or so I hoped.

Having learned my lesson about the dangers of French aire parking areas, I carefully made my way over to a parking spot with no problems. I went into the store and found Emily who was duly impressed and noticeably relieved when I told her I had moved the car with no issues.

I am happy to report that we have since done a second road trip and had no issues finding the car parking area and no one was left behind. We consider ourselves fully educated regarding French aires now. Feel free to ask for advice if you are considering a French road trip.

Go out and be consistent.

What Happened to the Skier?

For those who may not know, there is a virus going around.  I know this will come as a shock to most of you because you do not watch the news or look at any sort of social media.

A couple of weeks ago, M and I took a trip down to a lovely place called Annecy.  We went there to take advantage of their much drier and snow free trails and get in a longer run.  Annecy is a town near Switzerland that has been around since the 1300’s.  According to what I have read, beginning in the 1400’s, Swiss royalty used Annecy as a vacation spot.  Like Kennebunkport, or Mar-a-Lago but with history. The older part of Annecy has cobbled streets and a Venice-like canal (only with clean water) running through the middle of the village.

Annecy old village

There are also some churches featuring beautiful stained glass, cool architecture and an M, although that last feature was only temporary.

Church! (Snoop says that a lot and I thought it was funny.)

M and I had a wonderful time running in Annecy.  We even managed to bump into Hillary Allen, a famous American trail runner, while we were out on the trails.  M and I were taking a break (that means trying to figure out where we were and where we were going) when I looked up and saw Hillary coming down the trail toward us.  I said, “Here comes Hillary Allen,” rather loudly so she would know that we recognized her.  Her response was typical of Americans on European mountain trails.  “YOU SPEAK ENGLISH!” For Americans who do not speak French, it is always a treat to come upon a fellow countryman and not have to worry about how to communicate.

Looking down on Annecy from the trail.

While M and I were in Annecy, the virus shutdown was instituted here in France.  Since Le Tour, where we live, is a ski area, and all ski areas were closed, M and I expected the ski area parking lot to be empty when we arrived home Sunday afternoon.  As we drove up the hill towards our village, we could see that not only was the parking lot not empty, it was jam packed!  People were skinning and hiking up the mountain and enjoying a beautiful spring day.  French authorities quickly realized this could be a problem.  The authorities worried, and rightly so, that people could get hurt on the mountain and require emergency services that were needed to aid sick people.  French authorities then put out a new rule that forbid any activities at the ski areas.  At first, many people ignored this order and were still skinning up the various ski areas.

In order to prevent people from disobeying the new rules, police were stationed at the base of the mountain to prevent people from going up.  The police presence began to work and people were staying off the mountain.  However, the police cannot be stationed at the base of the mountain all day, every day.   Therefore, not everyone heeded the new rules.  A few people were sneaking up the mountain when the police were not around.  This leads to the title of this blog.

About one week ago, M and I were in our apartment, following our normal quarantine routine.  This means that M was working, and I was focused on my most demanding task of the day, breathing regularly.  Sometime in the afternoon, we noticed that a helicopter was flying endless laps across our valley.  Picture Le Tour as a big upside down “U” with the village being at the open end and mountains making up the straight parts and curve of the “U”.  The helicopter was flying back and forth, back and forth, for quite a long time.  It is not unusual to hear helicopters in the Chamonix valley as they are used for lots of jobs in the mountains.  It is unusual to hear one doing laps above our village when the ski area is closed and there are no tourists about as there are in the summer.  M and I decided to go for a walk to see if we could determine what the helicopter was up to.

As we ascended the hill towards the base of the lift station, we noted that there were no police present at the base of the ski area to prevent rebellious skiers.  M and I made our way up to the base of the lift station and stood looking up at the mountain.  We watched the helicopter fly back and forth for a bit and noted the large amount of melting that had taken place on the ski runs.  Suddenly, M and I noticed a lone skier coming down the mountain.  We watched him descend for a few minutes, noting that he eventually skied very fast across the mountain towards the Vormaine.  The Vormaine is directly behind our apartment and is what Americans would call a bunny slope.  It is used for beginner skiers and boarders and ski school classes during the ski season.  During the winter, M and I would typically access the main ski area by starting at the Vormaine and skinning across from the Vormaine over to the main ski area.  Access to the Vormaine is well away from the base of the main ski area lift station.  I describe all of this so you can now picture how the skier got away from the police.

As it turns out, the helicopter was doing a random flyover of the mountain to check for skiers out having illegal fun.  When M and I walked back down to the parking lot from the base of the lift station, two policeman were walking up towards the base of the lift station because that is where skiers typically end their ski.  The police had been called by the helicopter pilot to come and catch the evil skier!  Due to the lack of urgency in the policemen’s walk, M and I determined that they were not excited about busting the rabbel-rouser.  Even if the police had been more willing to catch the skier, it would not have mattered.  The skier’s clever plan to ski across the Vormaine meant that he was at least a quarter of a mile away and possibly already back in his home, if he lives in Le Tour.

So to answer the question in the title of this blog, the skier got away.  Since that time, there has been no more high adventure here in the village, although we did see three local teenagers sledding at the Vormaine the other day.  Rebels.

M and I hope you are all in good health.

Don’t let the virus stop you from going out and being consistent, in a socially distanced manner.

Winter thus far…

Having lived in Summit County for the last 14 years, M and I had become accustomed to the way things work there in all the different seasons.  For instance, we knew that within 5 minutes of the first snowflake falling in September, I-70 would be closed due to multiple auto accidents.  M and I have also become accustomed to being in the Chamonix area during the summer over the last few years.  Summer in Chamonix means lots of tourists from various places becoming lost on the many trails around the valley.  Winter however, is a different hairball of wax. (Insert your own mixed up metaphor here.)

The buses are an excellent example of the above mentioned winter hairball.  The signs in the buses indicate that the bus can hold around 80 people when full.  Typically during the Christmas break, I would estimate that number goes up to at least 90, plus skis, snowboards, backpacks, and poles.  Recently I rode the bus from Chamonix to the Le Tour bus stop where at least 150 people were waiting to get on the bus.  Oddly, no matter where the tourists are from, none of them have learned that it is better to let people get off the bus before trying to squeeze themselves on to the bus.

Tourist country of origin also seems to be more concentrated in winter, at least during Christmas time.  In the 2 weeks surrounding Christmas, it was Brits.  They were everywhere, and they wore every single article of warm clothing they owned, even though it is not very cold here.  After the new year, the Brits vanished into thin air, only to be replaced by Russians.  Our neighbor Janet had warned us that this would happen.  One day you are on the bus and can sort of understand that people are speaking some form of English. “Butte-ful daiye innit?” (For our American English speaking readers, that means, “Beautiful day isn’t it?”).  The next day the Russians arrive and it sounds like someone put a bunch of consonants in a blender and poured them out, having forgotten to add any vowels to the mix. “Syrtdpwqvbx?”  (“Beautiful day isn’t it?” in Russian.)  I breathe a sigh of relief when people on the bus are just speaking French.

The winter weather here is also quite different than what M and I were accustomed  to in Colorado.  In Summit County Colorado,  which sits at 9,000 feet in altitude, when the snow falls, it tends to stick around until sometime in July, because it is cold all winter.  In Le Tour, which sits at about 5,000 feet in altitude, the snow begins falling around the same time as it does in Summit County, so snow in late August or early September is common.  However, here in Le Tour, the first snow tends to melt quickly.

What M and I were not prepared for, was when the real snow started here in Le Tour in December.  One day, M and I were running up the Le Tour ski slopes on a dry ski area access road.  The next day, people were skinning up and skiing down the same ski slopes because 3 feet of snow had fallen over night.  The most surprising thing to us was that so many people were so prepared to go skiing!

For the uninformed out there, here is a quick primer on the sport of ski mountaineering, also known as skimo. You put what is called a skin, generally made of mohair and other synthetic materials on the bottom of your skis.  These skins allow a person to travel up the mountain without sliding backwards.  Special bindings on the skis allow the boot heels to be disconnected from the ski binding, enabling a walking motion up the mountain.  When ready to descend, the skins are taken off and the boot heels are locked into the ski bindings as normal and the person skis back down the mountain.  “But why do this when you can take a lift up the mountain much more easily?”, someone asks.  Because it is good for you, and it is fun, you lazy slob.

Discouragingly, the initial large dump of snow melted a lot over the next few days, especially on the lower slopes.  That did not stop the dedicated skiers though.  They simply hiked up the mountain a little further to where the snow hadn’t melted, put their skis and skins on and up the mountain they went.

After a few days of warm temperatures and no new snow, the mountain began to look rather bleak to M and I.  We should not have worried.  One Saturday evening it began to snow again, and by Monday morning, a fresh 5 feet of snow covered everything.

Snow adds up quick around here.  This lady is actually 7’2″ tall, we asked. Photo credit: Emily

The issue we had to deal with when the snow came was the fact that, particularly higher on the mountain where there are no trees, visibility was about 3 feet due to the snow clouds being so low.  Each day, M and I would set out to skin up to the top lift on the mountain, only to reach the top of the first lift and have to turn around because we couldn’t see anything.  Finally, Christmas morning arrived and the sun came out to reveal the scenery we had been missing.  It was not disappointing.

Me after a day of skimo. Photo credit: Emily

Sun and our fresh skin track. Photo credit: Emily

We have since had very few snow days but lots of sun and warm temperatures in the 40º Fahrenheit range.  The mountain here at Le Tour is beginning to look rather sad again and in need of new snow.  However, thanks to all the tourists, the trails around the valley have been really well packed down and are very suitable for running, so M and I have been taking advantage while we can.

Hopefully, the snow will come again soon so we can have some more new adventures in our backyard.

Go out and be consistent.

Battle of Kings and Hot Water Heaters!

Ok so there was not an actual battle of kings versus hot water heaters.  However there was a battle of the kings, and M and I did battle our hot water heater, which put up a surprisingly good fight.

A few weeks ago I went into our little storage closet to get the old vacuum cleaner that had been left here by the previous owners.  I was retrieving the vacuum cleaner in order to take it down to the city dump because the vacuum cleaner was no longer functioning. The little storage closet is also where the hot water heater lurks, plotting nasty deeds.  In the process of getting the vacuum out of the closet, I noticed that the floor beneath the vacuum was wet.  And now everyone reading this can sense the impending doom.  Fear not dear reader! We dried up the floor and searched for the source of the leak.  A steady drip was quickly found and contained with a handy bucket.

After some sleepless nights for M, in which she was up at all hours checking to make sure the leak wasn’t getting worse, a plumber finally arrived to fix the problem.  A recommendation from saviors Pierre and Janet led us to Zermatten plumbers, who came  and stopped the leak.  Or so it appeared…

After a couple of nights filled with actual sleep, our electricity went out about 2 am.  Somehow M got the electricity going again after fiddling with the circuit breakers.  Accountant extraordinaire, master plumber and now certified electrician.  There is no end to M’s talents.  This fix lasted about a day until the same thing happened again the next night.  This time, it was master electrician Chris who saved the day and got the electrons flowing once more.  Those electrons flowed until the next morning.

“Wait a minute, how did we get on to the topic of circuit breakers?” some of you readers are asking. “I thought you were writing about the hot water heater!” others of you are pointing out.  Little did we know the deviousness of the hot water heater.  At this point, the hot water heater appeared to be behaving itself.  As it turned out, the hot water heater was doing an excellent job of disguising it’s true scheme.

When the electricity kept going off because of the circuit breaker, I played around with the circuit breaker box until I figured out that the hot water heater circuit was causing all the other breakers to be thrown off.  I called Pierre who came up and decided that we should unscrew the electrical panel on the hot water heater in order to see what was happening.  A leak is what was happening – from somewhere in the hot water heater down through the electrical wiring.  The leak caused the circuit breaker to shut everything off whenever the hot water heater felt it was most inconvenient.

The plumbers came again and after we heard them use the words, “merde” and “putain” a few times, the plumbers decided we needed a new hot water heater.  (I’ll leave you to figure out the meaning of those french curse words, this is a family program after all!)  A new hot water heater was eventually installed and all was right with the world.  Until a different leak started from our new hot water heater.  On instruction from the old hot water heater no doubt.

It turned out that one of our pipes is particularly small and did not properly fit the new hot water heater.  The plumbers came again and patched up the new leak, and as of this writing, there are no more leaks.  We hope that continues for another 25 years or so.

Now, on to battling kings!  The battle of the kings, or possibly queens, is a head butting battle of bulls and/or cows that happens in various places around Europe.  I do not know the history of this event, nor do I know the rules.  The reason I mentioned the possibility of queens is that there are female cows over here in Europe with horns, so you can see where the confusion might arise.  I will use the word “cow” as a catchall term henceforth.  What happens though is as follows.  There is a large ring where usually about 6 cows are brought in at the same time, two by two.  An announcer calls out the numbers which are painted on the sides of the cows.  Those two cows then proceed to battle each other by butting their heads and pushing one another around the ring. When one cow had shoved the other cow hard enough to make it turn around, the match was over and the hardest shoving cow was deemed the winner.

It appeared as though there were about 100 or more cows in Le Tour for the battle.  We think it was a winner moves on to the next round sort of battle, and we didn’t have all day to watch so we do not know who won.  The event was quite popular however, as there were at least 1,000 people in attendance.  Oddly enough, they even played American country music during the times when the cows were not battling.

Following are some links to short videos taken during the event.  One video shows the cows being led to the arena.  Right down our street no less!  A different video shows the cows doing battle.  The final link shows what happens when the cows decide the battle should continue after the contest was over.

Obviously, things have gotten a little crazy around here in Le Tour!  We have had some adventures since those mentioned in this blog that I will hopefully write about soon.

Go out and be consistent!

Nekkid French people and other updates.

Gotcha!  There are no pictures of naked (or if you are from the south, “nekkid”) French people.

When we arrived at our new place in Le Tour, there was a bed waiting for us in the, “master bedroom”.  Those words are in quotes because it is really just another bedroom.  The bed that awaited us was not what anyone would call the most comfortable of beds.  Some people like firm beds and some like soft beds.  Some people probably like the Goldilocks combo where everything is, “juuussst right”.  The bed here was none of those things, and all of those things, except just right.  It was firm in some spots and soft in others.  You could always count on ending up in the middle of the thing by the end of the night, so at least it had that going for it.  Best of all, it was lying directly on the floor, like the one in your first college off-campus apartment.

There is also a closet in the “master” waiting for us to fill it with our stuff.  Or at least six or seven small items of clothing as that is about all that would fit.  Of course we had to take the accordion doors off the closet first so we would have room to walk around the bed, since when open, the doors took up too much space.

What all of this means is that Emily and I needed new bedroom furniture and a new bed.  There is a lovely store in Chamonix that sells all manner of housewares.  We managed to find a bed with lots of storage underneath and a chest-of-drawers.  Or if you are from the south, a, “Chester Drawz”.  When I was growing up I always wondered who Chester was and why we were talking about his underwear.

Much to our surprise, furniture in Chamonix and France in general is very cheap compared to furniture in the US!  “How can this be?”, you might ask, since lots of other things are more expensive.  It turns out there is a very good reason furniture is cheaper here.  It is delivered to you unassembled.

Some of you out there will be familiar with the fact that M and I, to put it kindly, are not mechanically inclined.  The last home project we tried was replacing the microwave at our place in Frisco.  After three hours we gave up…, on getting it out of the wall.  We had to call our friend Landon to come and finish the job for us.

To say that putting together a bed with storage shelves and a chest-of-drawers was going to be a challenge for us would be one of the greatest understatements in the history of understatements.  Right up there with, “we really need an electric screwdriver!”  Our current list of tools consists of the following: Allen wrench, bunch of screwdrivers of various types (except electric!), and Leatherman.  We had to borrow a hammer from our neighbor Michelle.  I think in the back of our minds we were hoping for something along the lines of, “Some assembly required”.  Wishful thinking is what that was.  Speaking of wishful thinking the, “ALL ASSEMBLY REQUIRED,” instructions stated that our bed could be put together in 1 hour by a team of two people.  It must have been referring to a team other than M and I.  I am happy to report that M and I are both still alive, we have a bed, and it only took us 6 hours!  We reserved the assembly of Chester for the next day.  He only took about 4 hours.

Lots of work to do!

The finished product!

Part of the reason for our rush in getting our furniture put together was that sister-in-law Sarah was coming to visit.  The guest room was taken up with lots of our stuff and we needed somewhere to put it so Sarah would have a place to sleep.  We finished just in time!

Sarah likes to hike when she visits us over here so we planned a couple nights at the Loriaz hut in order for her to get further afield than what one can normally do just from our house.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar, the hut system in Europe allows one to go across and around all of Europe by hiking from hut to hut.  Some of the huts are as nice as regular hotels.  Others are what one would call rustic.  As in, there is no running water and a hole in the ground for a bathroom.  Loriaz is more towards the rustic side of things although some of the bunk houses did have nice wood paneling and comfy beds.

The hike to Loriaz from our house is about 7 miles and does not have a lot of vertical gain.  It is a good hike for people who are unaccustomed to hiking around here as there are no real technical sections.

The view just below the Loriaz hut.

The hike from Loriaz over the Col de Terrasse (I pronounce it, “Tear ass”) then over to Emossons Dam, which we did the next day, is not for people unaccustomed to hiking over here.  It begins with a climb straight up to a ridge with about 1,800 feet of vertical gain in less than two miles.  The climb also has some easy scrambling over large boulders at the top.  Did I mention there is no real trail and only sometimes a random path through the scree on the way up?

We had a long way to go.

Did I mention it was steep?

It was 90 degrees so that water looked inviting.

The views once over the top were alright.

Once at the top, you cross into Switzerland which is immediately known due to the fancy trail signs that appear right when you cross the border from France.  The trail signs in France are nice also, but the Swiss signs are a level above.  The trail from the top is basically picking your way over and through large slabs of rock and trying not to trip because you are looking at the stunning views.  After about 5 hours we made it back to Loriaz and took it easy for the rest of the day.

M and Sarah and I taking it easy in the hut that we had all to ourselves!

While staying at Loriaz, your choice for getting some of the sweat and dirt off, is to use water from the creek next to the encampment.  M, Sarah, and I would generally dip our wash clothes in the creek and wipe ourselves down.  The water was freezing cold so it felt good on the hot days.

The freezing cold water did not stop the French group, also staying at the hut, from getting completely naked and taking a bath!  Needless to say this was a bit of a shock for M, Sarah, and I.  The creek also has a pipe coming out of the ground so you can get water.  The first day we were there, I came around the corner to get some water and there was an older naked guy bathing in the creek.  As the kids say, “Awkward!”  I got my water and made my way onward as quickly as possible.  The next day, I went over to get water and came around the corner to see 3 naked ladies taking a bath.  That was a bit too awkward for me so I went back later to get my water.  Fortunately for all of us, there are no pictures, but Sarah and M can vouch for the facts, as they too had these experiences.

The next day we were ready for a real shower and took the easy route again back to our place in Le Tour.  M and Sarah greatly appreciated having an actual toilet where there was very little risk of getting urine or other stuff on your feet.

M and I had one more big adventure following our Loriaz trip – the annual homeowner’s association meeting.  In France, it is called a syndic, which is basically syndicate, without some letters.  The meetings are exactly like the HOA meetings back in the States, only held in French.  M and I got to meet a couple more of our neighbors including Monsieur Lanson and Monsieur Rob.  The meeting ended with some champagne for all except M and I (to the befuddlement of our neighbors).  The cool part was that the champagne was Lanson champagne.  It turns out that 6 generations of the Lanson family have been in the champagne business, since 1760.

I hope to have more to report soon.

Now go out and be consistent!



Gilligan’s Island

Hopefully the headline grabbed your attention like I intended.  I was going to write about how Emily and I are living in the condo version of Gilligan’s Island.  Among our neighbors we have a professor, a Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III, a skipper (of sorts), and older versions of Ginger and Marianne.  Emily and I would be Gilligan.  That story line didn’t play out though because there is too much depth of character in our neighbors, and the TV show equivalents would not do them justice.

We had met most of our neighbors on separate occasions prior to a small gathering last Wednesday evening.  Michelle and Jacqueline (pronounced Mee-shell) are our neighbors across the hall.  They are the only other mostly full-time residents and are kind of like the condo/HOA president.  Michelle has worked as a management consultant in far flung places like New York and Columbus, Ohio.  He and Jacqueline also have a place in Geneva and enjoy golf.

We met our neighbor Janet two weeks ago when we got locked out of our place because of the lock breaking.  At the evening soiree, we got to meet her husband, the professor, Pierre.  Pierre is a linguist and has been teaching in and around the subject of languages for many years.  He is now helping Emily and I with our French when we have questions.  Pierre speaks, as far as I know, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian and is teaching himself Mandarin.  He can read many other languages as well.  Emily and I are learning a lot about the nuances of languages from Pierre.

Janet…, Janet is hard to wrap your mind around.  If I could put the little exploding head emoji on here, I would probably take the easy way out and just use that as my description for Janet.  I am not sure what all Janet has done in her life for work, but suffice to say it has been a variety of things.  Now she mainly skis and does long trail runs and apparently enjoys technical downhill running (she’s 72)!  Janet is also the person in the know regarding anything going on in the Cham valley.  She helped me volunteer for the race Emily did this past Sunday which helped raise money for the local kid’s Nordic team. Janet is also going to help Emily and I get involved in some of the various clubs in the valley, such as the Chamonix Mont-Blanc running club.

The last, but certainly not least, person at our little gathering was the now unfortunately christened, “Downstairs” Chris.  Chris has lived in the condo below us for many years, and was previously known simply as Chris.  My entry into the condo above her’s resulted in the new nickname.  Chris is a serious cyclists and skier.  She is going to kill me, er, I mean, take me out for a bike ride sometime in the near future.  Although she doesn’t know it just yet, Emily and I are also hoping she will be a guide for us during the ski season.

Our gathering last week had a mixture of French and English along with appropriate translations.  It also had a bit of the history of Le Tour and the Cham valley.  A wonderful mixture of fresh tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and herbs was served with either wine or Champagne.  Emily and I had a wonderful evening and are looking forward to getting to know our neighbors in even more depth as we continue on our adventure.

Instead of Gilligan’s Island, I think we determined our condo is more like a novel.  Something along the lines of Fredrik Backman’s, “A man called Ove.”  Either way, we hope the story continues for a long time.

Now go out and be consistent.


Crate and Car

Big things have happened since the last blog update.  A week or so ago our crate from America finally arrived.  We had packed a lot of our winter gear and clothing in a crate that was about 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide.  The maximum amount of weight we could put in the crate was 1,000 lbs.  Back in April when we packed the crate we managed to only fill up about 3/4 of the crate and its weight was around 700 lbs.  We felt bad about not maximizing our crate’s capacity, but by the time we packed it up, we had already thrown or given away, a lot of stuff.

We were told our crate would arrive at our new place in France in 6-8 weeks from the time it left Frisco on April 20.  The actual time was more like 12 weeks since the delivery company could not be bothered to drive an hour and a half up the road from Annecy.  Our crate was sitting at the delivery company for about 2 1/2 weeks despite our shipping guy supposedly hounding them to get it delivered.

When the crate was finally delivered it was like Christmas, only we were just getting all of our own stuff instead of new stuff.  Some of the most important things in the crate were kitchen items like our iron skillet.  You really can’t make cornbread without an iron skillet.  You can make it, but its just not the same.

We also got our skis and snowboard and biking gear and are now fully kitted out for about half of the outdoor activities in the Cham valley.  The other half of outdoor activities in Cham involve climbing up and jumping off mountains, and Emily and I do not have the gear for those activities.

The other big thing that finally happened was that we got our car.  It took a while since transferring money from the US to anywhere can be a hastle.  I believe it has to do with the fact that the US does not use the metric system but that is a whole other blog topic.

Both times we went to Domancy to look at and then buy the car, our salesperson, Stephane, met us at the train station in increasingly fancy cars.  I do not have enough time to write about all the fancy new tech in German cars, but simply put, we were blown away.  A 4 year old with an Ipad would likely be more able to understand and operate the new cars than anyone over 35.  You don’t even have to touch buttons anymore.  You can just wave your hand around in the air to switch screens or turn up the radio or call your mom.  Or you can just talk to the car and tell it what to do.

Stephane’s evil plan to sucker Emily and I into buying a car that was 3-4 times as expensive as the one we wanted did not work as we are strong willed with weak wallets.  Our BMW 118d has none of the fancy new tech except for navigation which is the first time we have had such a high and mighty thing in a car.  Navigation was crucial however since we are unfamiliar with the European roads.

The other crucial item for the car at least in our minds, was that it have all-wheel drive.  Our little village gets a lot of snow, usually all at once, and we did not want to be stuck depending on the bus in case of emergency.  We will still be using the bus and sometimes the train for most travel though as filling up the car with gas is ridiculous.  3/4 of a tank cost me just under 60 euros!  Still, it will be nice to have the car in case of emergencies like a sudden need for Pizzeria des Moulins when it is too late for the bus.

Go out and be consistent!


Unfortunately this is not about a car.  Hopefully that blog will come soon.  This blog is about the misadventures of Chris and Emily so far this week.

It all began earlier in the week when we found that for some reason, the money we had transferred from our American bank account, did not get to our French bank account.  One would think this is a simple process, but au contraire mon ami!  Even though you are not trying to take money out of the French bank account, but actually trying to put money into it, if there is even a period wrong on whatever form you use, the French bank will not accept your money and will send it back to America.  This is not tres convienient.  Basically you have to start over from the beginning and hope it works the next time.

Our next hiccup occurred on Thursday morning when the lock on our door decided it was retiring.  With us on the outside.  “Did you forget your keys and lock yourself out somehow?” you ask.  No, we both had our keys, but neither one would work because the lock itself broke inside the mechanism in the door.  We had also made the mistake of not leaving any windows open or our deck door unlocked, so we had no way to get inside.  Not that it would have mattered since the door would not open from the inside either.

We had to call a locksmith.  Well, actually, first we had to figure out what the word for “locksmith” was in french.  Seurrier, obviously.  The first guy we called spoke less english than I do french, but we did work out that he was retired and therefore not able to help.  All of this led to us eventually meeting our downstairs neighbor, Madame Dupont, who is British but speaks fluent french.  Madame Dupont called around for us and left messages at several locksmith phone numbers, but we had no luck with anyone calling us back.  In the process we found out that Madame Dupont is also a trail runner and has done some of the same races as Emily and I.

Madame Dupont let us borrow tools to try and get the door open and kept us fed and watered during the four hours it took to get our door open.  Eventually a locksmith who spoke english called us back and showed up to fix our door.  He was very nice and we kinda liked the guy!  (For those not in the Baker family, that last sentence was an inside joke).  He ended up having to replace the entire lock and give us new keys.

Our misadventures continued the next day when Emily’s phone stopped working.  She somehow managed to get onto the Orange (the French version of ATT, Verizon, etc.) website, and we began a french chat with a helpful service person.  This person found our file and said he could not help us but would forward the file on to the appropriate department.  Soon after that, rather than fix whatever problem there was, Orange decided to suspend Emily’s account entirely.  She could then not even access her account on the Orange website as it refused to accept her email and login information.  Somehow Emily’s account ended up in the fraud department.  We have no idea what happened or how it happened.

After spending many hours on the phone yesterday, we waited eagerly to hear from the fraud department today.  A man from the fraud department called this morning as we were on the bus headed home from grocery shopping.  As you might have guessed from the reading the rest of this blog, the man did not speak english.  Fortunately, he did speak enough english to let us know that he was sending an email that would help us get Emily’s account un-suspended.  All she had to do was send to Orange via email, all the paperwork we had already sent them including, passport, electricity bill, bank info, height, weight, hair color, favorite candy, mother’s shoe size and father’s favorite word (pulchritude, for those not in the know).  Sure enough, a few minutes after sending in all the details of her entire life, Emily’s phone began to work again! Relief flooded throughout our condo.  We are hoping to not have any more of these type of adventures any time soon.

On an entirely different topic, I did take an interesting picture the other day.  Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on the interpretation of the picture below.

Now go out and be consistent!

Sign at the train station in Montroc.


A car? Really?

Since Emily and I are planning on being here in France for a while, we decided that it would be better if we had a car.  The public transport system here is amazing with buses and trains that will take a person everywhere and at the very least get them close to their desired destination.  There is no real need for a car as long as one has a flexible schedule.

However, there are times when it would be better to have a car.  For example, trying to buy carpet would be easier if we could go and visit the carpet store at our leisure and not have to wait on the train.  Also, we recently found out that the last bus from Chamonix to Le Tour leaves at 7:42 pm.  After that, the bus only goes to Argentiere which is two miles downhill from our home.  So, if one wishes to spend more time in Chamonix at night, a car would be helpful.

In light of all this, Emily and I have started the process of buying a car.  Our village of Le Tour gets a lot of snow in the winter time and is at the top of a road that is rather steep.  We thought it best if we got a car with all-wheel drive, just to be on the safe side.  All-wheel drive is not as popular in Europe as it is in the states and finding a car with all-wheel drive is more difficult.  Particularly if the price range one desires is not all that high.  For some reason unknown to us, car prices in Europe are much more expensive than for the same car in the US.  In particular, used cars are a lot more expensive than the equivalent US used car.  For example, some of the used BMW X1’s that we have looked at which are 2-3 years old, are more expensive than our car was when new.

Emily and I have been researching and debating which car to get since we got here a few weeks ago. We have looked at BMWs, Volvos, Renaults, Citroens, Dacia’s, and Fords. Part of the problem is that French car websites, no matter the brand, are not set up to tell you whether or not the car you are looking at has all-wheel drive.  The website will tell you how much the car costs, how much horsepower it has, which engine you can get, whether it is manual or automatic, and in particular, how much CO2 it emits.  For some reason the Euros are very concerned with climate change even though the Donald has told everyone that it doesn’t exist.  Apparently the Euros do not trust the world’s foremost climatologist who just happens to occupy the White House. C’est la vie.

We had such a rough time trying to figure out which cars had what we needed, for a price we could afford, that we got frustrated and finally emailed a BMW dealership about 30 miles away.  They did return our email and were helpful, but not helpful in a way we could fully understand since their email was in French and sometimes Google translate is not as helpful as one might wish.

Finally we decided to bite the bullet and call the dealership to see if there was someone there who could speak English.  Of course that was very scary for us since our French is not what the French would call, “Super”.

Phone is ringing:…”Bonjour.(lots of fast French is spoken by the answering service before a real person picks up the phone), “Bonjour, (in French) this is so and so at the so and so dealership in Sallanches, how can I help you?”

Me: “Bonjour, je suis desole, mais mon Francais n’est pas tres bien.  Y a-t-il quelqu’un qui parle anglais?

French guy on the other end: chuckling sounds, “Yes, I speak English.”

I am sure my relief was palpable through the phone.  The first guy and I established that I wanted to buy a used car.  He then informed me that his colleague that is in charge of used cars would call me back in a few minutes.  I don’t have the skill to type what happened next, but the used car manager called me back.  Between my terrible French and the English he learned in high school, we managed to set up a meeting!  Miracles do still happened and don’t let anyone tell you differently!

Speaking on the phone to a French person was not quite as painful as I thought it was going to be, and fortunately the guy on the other end of the phone was patient.  The whole experience has given me a tad more confidence in speaking French, so even if we are not able to get a car out of this deal, at least I will be better able to communicate in the future.

Tune in next time for another exciting episode of, “Emily and Chris try to buy a car!”

Go out and be consistent!