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!



This will not be a particularly exciting email as it deals with French bureaucracy.  I will include some pictures however to ease the pain.

Emily and I have been dealing with paperwork today in order to get ourselves caught up with the minutiae of moving to a different country.

I will start with the easy stuff.  I decided to ship my bike over here from the US as opposed to flying with it which would have been much simpler and cheaper.  Shipping was close to $400 and has been more complicated than one would think.  If you are a normal person, the following steps would probably occur to you regarding shipping a bike or anything else to yourself in your new home.  Step 1: package up item.  Step 2: have Fedex (or carrier of your choice) pick item up and carry it to your new place.  Step 3: Receive new item and enjoy!  The following is what actually happens.  Step 1: have a professional (thanks Tina!) pack up your bike and ready it for shipping.  Step 2: Fedex requires 43 separate documents that all have your new address on them.  Step 3:  Fedex picks up your bike and somehow gets it to France rather quickly only for it to be delayed in customs for want of more paperwork.  Step 4: Contact Fedex to find out what documents you need in order to have your own property delivered to you.  Step 5: chat with Ulrich on Fedex.com and find out that you need proof of residence in France, you know, just in case you were shipping it somewhere you were not living.  Proof of identification, so as to prove that you are you.  Sworn statement verifying that you have owned the item you are shipping to yourself for more than six months.  Step 6: email all of the above to somewhere in France.  Step 7: item will be released and supposedly delivered to you by six pm that same day!  The bike has not been delivered today as of yet, but they do have a couple hours before six pm arrives.  .

Another item on our agenda for the day was validating our long term stay visa.  Thankfully, that process was rather less painful than getting my bike over here.  All we had to do was go onto a website and fill in some information.  It did involve some payments and a weird “stamp” that you can buy online or in your local tobacco shop, obviously.  Not being tobacco shop type people, we chose the easy route of buying our “stamp” online.  Validating our visa legalizes us here in France and allows us to stay for the full year.

Third on our list today was checking with the Refuge du Lac Blanc to see if they had space available in July.  The refuge is part of a huge network of places to stay along the trails in Europe.  Refuge du Lac Blanc is high up on the side of a mountain next to a lake with spectacular views of Mt. Blanc and does not have internet. (How do they survive?!)  In order to contact the refuge, one has to call and speak with an actual person.  We called, but got a message in French which we totally deciphered all by ourselves!  We were super proud of ourselves as it was a long message!  There might have been an English version of the exact same message after the French one, but we are neither confirming nor denying such a thing.

Moving to a new place involves lots of new processes that a person does not normally have to deal with if they have not moved.   All of the processes could be considered a headache, but we are trying to consider them learning opportunities.

Hibou Deli dessert!

We are fortunate that Hibou Deli is now open to help us deal with all these processes.  When Emily and I went in the other day, one of the employees recognized us right away and gave us a loyalty card which gives us a free something or other after ten purchases.  It is certainly nice to be recognized, even if you are paying someone to do it.  The people in Hibou Deli are very nice though and in fact have already given us free stuff.  It turns out that if you are a regular customer and you go in at the right time, they will give you free salad because if they don’t sell it all or eat it all, it has to be thrown out.

 A look back down the valley.

We are also fortunate that there are plenty of outdoor things to relax the mind after a long day of processing.  The above picture was taken from a trail above Le Tour and shows a good view of Argentiere in the foreground and Chamonix further down the valley in the background.  Mt. Blanc is in the top left of the picture in the clouds.  For perspective, realize that Chamonix sits at about 3,000+ feet and Mt. Blanc is 15,700 feet.  That should give you some idea of the steepness we have around here.

Now it is time for more learning and adventure.  Go out and be consistent!

Going to Cham

IMG_1262 (1)
The views from downtown Cham are not too shabby!

As you can see from the picture above, views from downtown Chamonix are not hard to look at!  Right now we are making trips down the valley to town on an almost daily basis in order to get various housewares and other essentials.  Since we do not have a car yet, we take the bus and can only get as much stuff as we can take in our grocery bags and backpacks (sac a dos in French).  Hopefully it will not be long until we have most everything we need and do not have to go into town quite so often.  If we happen to venture into town at the wrong time, the bus can be a bit crowded!

The picture on the left is looking forward on the bus, and the one on the right is looking backward.  For reference, the buses are the same size as the Summit Stage buses.  The Cham bus drivers are not afraid however to pack as many people as can possibly fit.  There seems to be no limit as there must have been 80 people on the bus in the pictures above.  More than half of the people in the above pictures were little kids so they are short and you can’t see all of them in the pictures.  Emily and I were squished into our seat so as to allow as many kids from the local UCPA to squeeze in as possible.  The UCPA is like a state supported YMCA of sorts.  They have all sorts of outdoor classes for kids and adults.  On the day the above pictures were taken, the kids were going climbing.  In the torrential rain.  The UCPA people do not let any kind of weather stop them from getting outside.

The one nice thing about having so many people get on the bus at the same time, at least on a cold day, is that within minutes the bus heats up by about 15 degrees!  On warmer days, the windows are usually open so this is not a problem.  Being on the bus when it is that crowded has happened to us a few times and every time we marvel at how many more people can get on the bus when we think it is packed like a sardine can already.

It will be very interesting to see how many people are able to get on the bus when winter arrives and everyone has skis, boards, helmets, boots and packs!

The only really bad part about the bus being so crowded is that you can not see very well out of the windows because they are blocked by people and are sometimes foggy.  When you reach the “S” curves lower down the valley, the bus becomes more like a roller coaster and can make one car sick.  It is for that reason that I recommend always sitting on the right side of the bus.  It allows a better view than the left side where the view out of the front of the bus is blocked by the driver. (Pro tip!)

It seems that most trips on the bus involve some sort of adventure or interesting happenings, so I am sure I will write about it again in the future.

How’s it going so far?

We have moved to France.  I thought that was the simplest way to convey the news for those of you reading this who may not have known.  Specifically, we have moved to Le Tour, Chamonix, France.  Le Tour sits at the top of the Chamonix valley which basically contains the towns from Vallorcine all the way down through Chamonix itself to Sallanches.  I am not sure exactly how long the valley is, but I do not think it is more than about 25 miles in total.  Technically, Vallorcine is probably a little further along the valley than Le Tour, but since Vallorcine is on the other side of the Col de Possettes and the road continues beyond Vallorcine and does not continue beyond Le Tour, we consider Le Tour the end of the Valley.  Also the train runs through Vallorcine and continues on into Switzerland whereas it does not even run in to Le Tour.  As the red neck character in the classic movie, “Trains, Planes and Automobiles,” says, “Train don’t run from Stubbville.”  Well the train don’t run from Le Tour either.  Fortunately, the bus does run from Le Tour and is free.  For a while at least, the bus will be how we transport ourselves to other parts of the valley, mainly to Cham (as the locals call it).

Having been here before and living here all last summer, it has been more challenging trying to figure out what to write about.  So far, this trip seems as though we just returned home rather than moving somewhere new.  I think maybe that was the point though.  We feel very at home here.  Summit county was beginning to feel stagnating and we were feeling restless.

My number one blog fan made the comment that this move may be the result of a mid-life crisis.  I always think of mid-life crises as a fifty-something year old male buying a Porsche.  (Steve Deppe, if you are reading this, that was not a reference to you since you’ve been a Porsche guy from the beginning!)  My number one blog fan may have a point, but I prefer to think of this as a mid-life choice rather than a crisis.  Some of you may cry, “semantics”, and I cannot disagree.  Either way, we are happy here.

Now that we have been here for a few days, our routine of last summer is returning.  We usually get up and run in the morning which is always an adventure because of the magnificent trails around the Chamonix valley.  Our new place here in Le Tour offers us many different options for running each day.  Well, to clarify, options are for direction and not for up and down.  No matter which direction we go, we have to either go up first and finish with either an up or down back to the house, or we have to go down first and finish with an up or down back to the house.  Le Tour sits at the very top of the Chamonix valley so there is no option for a flat run unless we take the bus somewhere else.

After running, there is a lot of eating and possibly some work on the computer depending on fatigue level.  It is a simple routine, but one that suites us.  Now that we have internet access we can watch some of the shows we like on Netflix in the evenings, although the programming here in France is different than that in the US, so the same shows are not always available.

Speaking of eating, we have already been to our favorite pizza restaurant, Pizzeria Des Moulins.  The pizza there is always so good.  I tried something new that had a topping on it which I was unfamiliar with, but it did not matter as the pizza was still excellent.  I still do not know what the topping was, or anything about it other than it was black.  It might have been some form of truffle.  Our favorite pasta restaurant, owned by the same people who own the pizza restaurant, is only open for lunch now.  The pizza restaurant however has doubled in size and now takes up the space from what used to be a different restaurant next door.  It is also still packed every night and it remains difficult to get a table without a reservation.  The interior is also much different with used wine case lids making up the ceiling.  Sims’, Goz’s and Strongs and Carvers might find that interesting.  I will try and get a picture of it the next time we go in.

Unfortunately our favorite deli, Hibou Deli, is not open until June 17!  This is hard to deal with when you are a hungry person, but we are managing somehow.

As to our new place, Emily and I realized pretty quickly that we had some work to do in order to make it more livable.  We need new carpet.  Our current carpet is about 1 millimeter thick and is blue.  I thought maybe we could just paint the walls red and go with a Superman theme, but that thought did not get very far.  We also have to get lamps and pot holders and guest towels and about a million other things that we have not had to buy in twenty years.  It is a lot to think about and get done, but when it does get done, the place is going to be pretty spectacular.

Below is the view out of our living room window.  If I had taken the picture a little more to the left and it was not cloudy, you could almost see the top of Mt. Blanc.  I think the mountains just over to the right in the picture are great as well, but that is probably because they are very close.


I will probably have more to share very soon, and I look forward to doing so.  If any of you loyal readers have questions or blog topics you would like to hear about, please email me at the usual place.

Hopefully some or all of you will visit soon, but not at the same time, so I will end with, A bientot!








Serious Snow

We had seen weather reports before coming that there would be a lot of snow while we were here in Argentière.  We planned ahead and got most of the runs we wanted to do out of the way early just in case the snow arrived in full force.

We were beginning to think it wasn’t really going to snow that much as temperatures have been in the mid to upper thirties, and the snow has been light so far. There has even been quite a lot of rain.

As of this morning, there is evidently still not a drop of snow down the valley in Chamonix.  Things have changed here in Argentière however.

12” and still snowing.

It has been snowing all night and so far about a foot has fallen, although it’s hard to tell from the picture.

We made our way up to Le Tour this morning because we had heard that it was much snowier than anywhere else.  Le Tour is only about 2 miles up the road and maybe 500 feet higher than Argentière.  We were told it is the snowiest village in France.  We do not have any means of verifying that, but judging by what we saw this morning, it would be hard to argue.

Le Tour!

At least two feet has fallen on Le Tour since Saturday night, and it is still snowing.

Since we lived here this past summer, we knew that French roads are not known for their width.  Yes that could be the understatement of the year.  Add a few feet of snow and some snow plows and things get interesting.  Adding some aggressive French drivers to the mix is like adding jalapeños to your hot sauce.  Things get spicy!

Serious uniformity!

We do not have any other plans until later in the day and can therefore avoid the roads for the time being.  Fortunately we have popcorn and Netflix to keep us occupied.

We’re baaack!

We have safely made it back to Argentiére!  Several people have asked why we came back to the same place.  The most obvious reason is that we really enjoy being here.  The other reason is that we wanted to go out to eat.

We didn’t find out until the day before we left that our favorite restaurant, Pizzeria Des Moulins, is closed until December 18, so that was rather disappointing.  Our second favorite restaurant, Hibou Deli, is open so they will be getting our business frequently.

We are staying across the river and just down the road from where we stayed this summer.  Our apartment is quite a bit smaller than where we stayed this summer, but we are only here for a week and should be able to manage.  However if I am shorter upon returning home, it will be because all the doorways and ceilings in the place were apparently made for Hobbits.  I am constantly ducking in order to not run into door frames and ceilings.  Even M has to be careful in the shower as the ceiling has a severe slope.

Dining area and massive 1 person kitchen.
Huge living room with massive TV!
Like going to the bathroom on an airplane.
Two bedroom!
Even with the sloping ceiling the shower is better than the one we had this summer.

As one can see from the pictures, we have stuff strewn everywhere.  And by we I mean me.  There is one small wardrobe where you can hang a few coats and four shelves in the bedroom for placing a few items of clothing.  As you can see from the pictures, the entire place is smaller than some bedrooms in the US.  Having said all that, it does have basically everything we need.

M has already been to the grocery store numerous times to get our favorite foods.  Her favorite bakery is closed at the moment because apparently that is just something they do in France.  M has visited the new bakery however and sampled some of their offerings which were satisfactory.

The area immediately around Argentière is snow free at the moment, but the high mountains have lots of new snow.

One day I will remember the name of this mountain.

That is all for now.  Hopefully I will come up with more to write about in the next few days.

Tour of Argentiére

Since the majority of my readers will never come to Argentiére, and the rest have never even been out of the US, I thought I would share some pictures of where we have been living this summer.  Argentiére is like most villages in the Alps.  It has a grocery store and quite a few restaurants and shops which are all on the main route through town.  By quite a few I mean six restaurants and about as many shops.  Certainly there are significantly larger areas such as Chamonix, but even that is smaller than Frisco.  There are also even smaller places like La Tour or Montroc that do not even have a small grocery.  I hope the pictures will give you some idea of a typical Alpine village.

This is the Gare, or train station, across the street from our apartment along with the car park.

The train runs regularly about every hour.  Most would think it would get tiresome after a while, but we do not even notice it anymore.  It doesn’t make a lot of noise or honk it’s horn all the time.  It’s also free to use from Vallorcine all the way down to  Servoz which is quite a way past Chamonix.  Fortunately it does stop around 8 pm.

Our apartment is at the very top on the right.

Like most living spaces along the main street, there are usually businesses on the bottom floor and living spaces above.

Looking North at basically all of Argentiére main thoroughfare East side.
Trailhead for what I like to call, “the Goat Hill.”

The picture above is the beginning of one our favorite runs that leads up to Le Chesereys.  I call it the goat hill because we see Ibex every time we go up it and they look like goats.

This street leads to most of the houses in Argentiére.


This is the town plaza.

The town plaza is used for things like live music and the town party which was last weekend.  As far as we could tell, the town party consisted of some food and the selling of used books.  There was also a man singing on a stage.  I recognized some of his tunes, but was not exactly sure of the songs since for some reason he was singing in French.

The grocery store!

The big part of the sign on the left reads, “Marche U.”  That is the name of the grocery.  It’s part of a grocery chain called Super U.  For comparison sake, this grocery is about 1/5 the size of the Whole Foods in Frisco.  Really small.  I have become quite adept at ordering deux poulet blanc and demi kilo steak haché from the grumpy meat guy.  That is of course, two chicken breasts and a pound of hamburger.  He makes the hamburger while you wait.  He cuts off a hunk of steak and puts it in the grinder and voila, steak haché.  I also learned how to say “oui,” when he asks, “C’est tout?”  I used to just give him a thumbs up because I didn’t know he was asking me if that was all.  Every week our conversation is exactly the same.

Meat guy: Bonjour.

Me: Bonjour.

Meat guy: Qu’est-ce que tu veux?

Me: Deux poulet blanc et demi kilo steak haché.

Meat guy:  incoherent mumbling…

Meat guy: C’est tout?

Me: oui.

Meat guy hands me my stuff: Au revoir.

Me: Au revoir.

It hasn’t varied in a month.

Bridge over the river Arve.

As you can see, there are lovely flowers planted everywhere.  Even over the river which flows with glacier melt and was quite high in the June when we got here.

Town Hall/La Poste.

Yep.  Town hall and the post office all in one little building.

Catholic Church.

It is France, so you must have a Catholic Church.

One of two streets through the local neighborhood.

I am not exactly sure what happens when two cars enter this curve at the same time.  There is barely enough room for a single car to drive down the street so passing is not an option.

Looking south at the west side of Argentiére main street.

Hopefully you now have some idea about what Argentiére is like.  That concludes your walking tour of town.

Normal days.

It has been a little while since the last post, so I thought I would write something just to let my one reader know we are still alive and doing well.

Since we are not training for any particular race at this point, our days are a bit more routine.  We do some work related things each day as well as some form of exercise.  M actually tries to get in a normal work day whereas, since there are not any physical clients for me to train, I only have to train them virtually, which does not take as long as an actual training session.

I am certain my clients are completely happy with this as it means they can do their exercises, or not, and there is no one there telling them to do it again because they did it the wrong way.  Or add more weight because it wasn’t heavy enough.  Or tell them to stop talking and focus on what they are doing.  Or subtly or not so subtly imply that drinking 2 bottles of wine at dinner when there are only two people eating dinner, might be a little on the high side.

Unlike at home, we actually try and go out to eat once per week here in France.  I have mentioned Pizzeria Des Moulins before in this blog and we continue to frequent one of their two establishments in Chamonix.  Last night, since M had done a huge run earlier in the day, we decided to go for the pizza instead of the pasta.  Fortunately we were able to get there early enough to get a table without a reservation which is unusual as the place is continually packed.  For a place with plywood walls decorating the interior, that says a lot about how good the food is.

As usual M and I each got our own pizza.  M’s had ham and fresh tomatoes, while mine had pancetta and goat cheese and arugula, which in France is known as Rocket salad.  We don’t know why its called Rocket salad.

We were happy to see our usual wait staff, Omi, Diddier and the rest of the gang.  For those who might have seen Diddier before, it was quite unbelievable, but he had on a different shirt!  And even more amazingly, his jeans were not the normal painted on tight ones he usually wears.  This pair of jeans was so tight they were like a second skin.  Despite the unusual clothing of the staff ( at least to our American fashion sense – which is non-existent) our servers are awesome and we love going to see them.  They treat us very well and put up with our horrible attempts at speaking French.  As with most French people, they usually just switch to English to avoid having to hear us speak French.

Since today is a Sunday, that means laundry day for us.  Our apartment has a washer and dryer which is great as it means we do not have to go down the street to the laundromat.  Our washing machine is German and works great as most German things tend to do.  Our dryer is French and has a mind of its own.

In fact we do not even call our dryer a dryer anymore.  We call it a damper because most things just come out sort of damp no matter how long they have been in the thing.  I say the damper has a mind of its own because that is true.  For example:  let’s say you have selected the cotton setting and scrolled through the length of time options and selected one hour and three minutes.  I know that sounds like a weird amount of time, but our dryer does not believe in ten minute segments.  It will only give you choices like the following; 34, 47, 1:02 etc.  Since our drye….er, I mean damper, does not work all that well, we generally try and select the longest time option available.  And yes,  those options change randomly throughout the day.  The other problem is that the damper will then disagree with whichever time setting you have chosen and simply change to a different (usually shorter) time frame.  We have to keep a sharp eye on the tricky thing as there is no telling when it might decide that its done damping and simply stop.  However, this is not as simple a process as I have made it out to be.  Sometimes the damper is simply having a rest!  Yes that’s right; it will randomly stop damping for whatever length of time it feels like, and then start back up again like it just came back from a bathroom break.  We have found that if we do not curse at the thing, and give it a break between loads, it seems to reluctantly go about its job.

We hope everyone back home is doing well.  Please let us know if you have any questions or blog topics to suggest.


Aiguille du Midi

If you are at all afraid of heights, this is not the trip for you.  The Aiguille du Midi is a tram/gondola ride to the very top of one of the aiguilles that are prominent in the mountains above Chamonix.  Aiguille translates as needle and that is appropriate because many of the peaks around Mt. Blanc are sharp and pointy looking.

Villains lair for the next Bond film?…No! It’s the Aiguille du Midi!

For the majority of climbers, the Midi is the jumping off point for climbing Mt. Blanc and the other peaks nearby.

Who wants to go through the icee tunnel first!?

The picture above is where you put on your crampons and start the descent to the glacier below before beginning the traverse across said glacier and then starting the climb to Mt. Blanc. I don’t know the distance of the climb, but since Mt. Blanc is 15,780 feet high, I do know you have about 4,000 vertical feet to ascend from where you start on the glacier.  And that doesn’t include the mountain you have to climb over before you even get to the actual Mt. Blanc climb.

Towards the bottom left of picture see zigzag with people climbing. Mt. Blanc is the big peak in the background.
Zoom in and look bottom right just next to the rock to see a person traversing the glacier.

M, Nancy, Sarah and I were amazed by the views and the magnitude of the many peaks around us.  We were also amazed at the people who could not wait to get out of the gondola so they could smoke a cigarette at over 12,000 feet.  There were people who got off the gondola, stood around smoking and not looking at anything, and then got back on the gondola to go down.

M took her fear of heights training to new levels (get it?).  Fortunately the platform you initially get off the gondola onto is made of wood and you cannot see through it. It is about 25 feet wide with serious drops on either side. M tended to stay in the middle of the platform and was unable to go up the scary metal grate stairs leading to higher levels.  I can not blame her as I had a bit of uneasiness myself when ascending those stairs.  It is an odd sensation being so high in the air with only a 2 inch deep metal grate between you and death.

If you zoom in you can see M in the middle of the platform below.

I was very proud of M for being willing to do something that was quite scary.  The trip down on the gondola was even better as she kept her eyes open the whole way!  Part of that was due to the fact that I pointed out to her that at 5’2” she was one of the tallest people on the gondola!  It was a strange occurrence, but it’s true.  The gondola was filled with a big group of Asians and one lady from New Jersey who were all significantly under 5 feet tall.  They were not “little people”; they were all just extremely small. It was such a rare thing that M was distracted most of the way down thinking about being tall for once.  There is also the fact that I was making “whoooaaa” sounds at random times.

Apparently a lot of the people on the gondola had never been on one before and were unfamiliar with the up and down motion that happens when the gondola reaches any of the towers to which it is attached.  Therefore, whenever we would experience that brief swaying of the gondola, many people on board would in unison, say, “ whooooaaa”.  Since I thought this was strange, I decided to start saying “whoooaaa,” at random times to see what would happen.  As is often the case when I think something is funny, I was the only one laughing.

We had a great day on the Aiguille du Midi and I would highly recommend the trip to anyone who visits the Chamonix area.  I will leave you with some more pictures.  Oh one more thing!  If you read the word Aiguille and pronounce it, “ah-gwilley,” people in the know will laugh at you or look at you funny.  It is properly pronounced, “ah-ghee”.  Because it’s French.

Looking East towards Italy and Switzerland.
Bring a jacket.  It was only 30 degrees at the top.
Told you there were lots of needles.  Looking North.
Looking about 8,000 feet down to the valley and Chamonix.





We’ve been busy!

I know at least one person who reads this blog has been eagerly awaiting this post.  I hope he enjoys it.  For those of you not eagerly awaiting this post, I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Last Monday, crew chief Sarah Baker and newly hired assistant crew chief Nancy Baker, arrived in Argentiére.  The crew doesn’t get paid much, but they sure work hard.  M and I had been looking forward to familiar faces and were glad they came all the way to France to visit.

Last week was also a taper week for M and I so we could be fresh for our race this past Saturday in Italy.  The race is called The Grand Trail Courmayeur and it is 105 kilometers long.  For our American audience, that came out to about 65 miles.  To answer the next question, yes that is to be run all in one day.

M and I knew the race would be our toughest challenge yet, but we felt well prepared after training for a month here in Chamonix.  At just after 7 am Saturday we set off from Courmayeur in hopes of being back sometime before 7 am Sunday.  The race cutoff time was 1 pm Sunday so we had plenty of time, but we both were planning on beating the 24 hour mark.

Mountain ultra races in the Alps are known for their climbing and this race was no exception.  I am certain that there is a secret competition amongst race organizers trying to see who can make the most ridiculously difficult course.  The race began with a 3 mile descent to the bottom of the first climb.  M and I had broken the race down into sections that went from aid station to aid station in order to make the race seem more manageable.  The first aid station was supposed to be around the 8 mile mark at the midway point of the first climb.  We should have remembered that like all other races, there is usually some wiggle room as far as where the aid stations are actually located. The first aid station was at mile 9.5 and after climbing for 2 hours, I was ready to refuel.

Taken during the race, not sure of location.

The climbing continued until the next aid station at about mile 15.  This section is where we began more serious climbing.  There were quite a few boulder fields to cross and some snowy steps that had been hacked into the side of a cliff where we used a rope to ascend through a crevice in the mountain.  Eventually we descended into the town of La Thuile and another aid station, or in Italian, ristorio.  Of course descending really only means its time for the next section of climbing and so began the next climb.  The climb up to Baite de Youlaz aid station was actually one of the easiest climbs of the day with only a few boulder sections and a larger than normal portion of narrow paved mountain road.  This was only an appetizer for the next part of the second major climb of the race.  Miles 24-32 were the longest and hardest miles I have ever done.  By this point in the race, there had begun a torrential downpour and the temperature dropped considerably.  Pants, jackets, gloves and hats were all required for the race and I was thankful because I needed all of them.  I ran out of water about mile 28.  This normally would not be a big deal with only 3.5 miles or so to go to the next aid station, but when there are mountains and lots of technical climbing in between you and that aid station, it becomes quite an ordeal.

I was at such a low point that each time I would come around a corner or over a saddle hoping to see the aid station, and all I saw was more mountains to climb, I just had to laugh.

Keep going, it’s just over that next ridge…

I learned all about staying calm and not panicking during this point of the race.  The reality is that there is nothing you can do except keep going and trying to use as little energy as possible til the next aid station.

Would have been nice to take this trail down…
But no, we got to go along the scary ridge instead!

When your best speed is about 30-45 minutes per mile, 3 miles takes a long time.  After what seemed like forever I spotted the aid station off in the distance.  Along the way there was the prettiest blue lake I’ve ever seen.

Picture does not show actual color, it was much better.

I finally made it to the aid station located on a saddle in the coldest and windiest spot  they could have found.  I refueled and put on more clothes and got going down as fast as I could.  I was glad the trail down was only really steep and rocky because otherwise it would have been difficult.

We actually did get to go down this trail, finally.
What happens when you try to take a picture while going downhill.
The little red flags were our markers to follow all day.

The next ristorio was at the Refugio Elisabetta, which M and I had stopped at 2 years ago during our trip around Mt. Blanc.  It was quite nice to be on a familiar part of the trail.  It was also nice because most of this part of the trail was either downhill or flat.

By this point in the race, my body and mind had rallied back into form and I was looking forward to the next climb up to the Maison Vielle aid station.  This part of the course was also familiar so I knew what to expect on the next climb.  I knew it was not too long and not at all technical and thus allows for a steady pace.  Unfortunately this is where my calf decided it had had enough racing and would not allow me to push off going uphill or plantar flex going downhill.  Even though I was having my best race ever, I knew it was over at that point.  There was no point in continuing to race when I couldn’t run at all.  There was also no point in ruining the rest of my summer by injuring myself beyond repair.

I was told at the aid station that I would have to walk down to Dalonne so I decided to drop out of the race at the Dalonne checkpoint.  I also wanted to make it to Dalonne because that would be the furthest I had ever raced at 48 miles.

That particular aid station was the biggest of them all, with hot food and the ability of picking up a drop bag that had been placed there earlier.  It was also where our crew could meet us and help out a little bit with resupplying for the last section of the course.

Earlier in the evening, M had blazed through this aid station and was greatly helped along by Sarah and Nancy.  They helped M refill her bottles and change into dry clothes and be on her way.  I showed up about an hour after M left and the crew supported my decision to drop.  They also carried all my stuff back up the hill to our apartment, walking slowly the whole way so I wouldn’t have to walk alone in the dark.

Nancy made me a sandwich and Sarah kept a sharp eye on M’s tracker so we would know when to go back to Courmayeur and see M finish.  We all tried to sleep a little, but I mostly just tried to relax and eat after such a long effort.

Sarah, Nancy and I got up at 3:30 am and made our way back down to the finish area in order to greet M and cheer her at the finish.  A little over 22 hours after starting, M came down the finishing chute to the roars of all 3 of her supporters.  It was M’s best ever race and she finished second in her age group and fourth overall among women.  The last part of the course had been utterly diabolical with the shortest but steepest climb, and one of the more technical downhills of the entire race.

M conquered her fear of heights and conquered the hardest race she’s ever done.  It was a remarkable feat, and we were all very proud and humbled by her performance.

Blurry because she was moving so fast!
Yea! Finally done!

We decided that Pizzeria De Moulins back in Chamonix was calling our name, so we left Courmayeur a day earlier than planned.  We made it back to Argentiére with no problems and then proceeded back to Chamonix and killed off quite a bit of pizza.

M and I are now in recovery mode which basically means we eat all the time.  Fortunately we have temporarily moved to Zermatt, Switzerland where there is no shortage of yummy food to keep us full.

I hope to have another blog with pictures from our trip up the Auguille du Midi soon. You will certainly see many pictures of Mt. Blanc!