Buongiorno, friends and family!
Where to start with this update?! There were many alternate subject lines I could have gone with:
– These Calves Are On Fiiiiire
– 40,000 Steps, 40,000 Tears (credit: Jenna)
– That Time We Hitched A Ride From A French Dairy Farmer
– We Ain’t Afraid Of No Bus
– Where Is All The Wine & Cheese?
– The Tour of Mont Blanc Guide Book: The Source of My New Trust Issues
We started day 2 of the hike full of so much hope: an amazing French dinner, restful sleep, and as many chocolate croissants as we could handle for breakfast. We easily found the trail, took our morning picture (see below), and we were on our way! We were taking an alternate route today, the guide book said it was 20km with 1579m of elevation gain and should take about 8 hours. A doozy for sure, but we were up for the challenge – or so we thought.
The day started off on a meandering trail by the river. Nice and flat and everything we hoped this hike would be. After 45 minutes we began our ascent, which would essentially last the next 6-7 hours (we hiked for nearly 11 hours this day – yeah, I know). We finally reached the Col Des Fours, the highest point along the trail at 2665m. Little did we know the descent would be rougher than the ascent! The trail down was largely covered in snow and slush and finding stable footing was a struggle, we basically slid down the mountain side. The guide book said that the Refuge we were staying at for the night was just a short walk down some country roads. Easy, right? No. Of course not. After endless meandering of the farm road switch backs, we needed a new plan or we were going to still be hiking when night fell. We cut through some of the cow pastures – which saved time and was uneventful until my graceful self fell and rolled down the hill through an old cow pie. Lovely. Upon reaching the end of the road, we saw that the Refuge was still over a mile away and uphill. Morale was low. Very low. This is where our new best friends, Michele and Malin came into play. They owned a small French Dairy farm that was at the bottom of the hill. After an animated exchange they agreed to let us ride in the back of their beat up pickup to the Refuge. Hallelujah! We would have given them every Euro we had at this point. Originally we were to all ride in the back, but I think once they realized we weren’t totally crazy they allowed me to ride in the cab with them (they must not have seen me roll through the cow pie). It took about 10 minutes to get to the Refuge, and instead of just dropping us off, they came inside with us! Michele (via Malin) said he had been in the area for over 30 years and had never been inside – they quickly made friends with the chefs while the fearsome foursome sat at our assigned seats and scarfed dinner. We reconnected with some of our hiker friends from the day – turns out other groups had just as much trouble as we did!
Total distance for the day was supposed to be 12.5 miles and take 8 hours. I don’t believe that for a second!! Fitbit and GPS estimates from various other hikers gave us a range of 16-20 miles and it took us almost 11 hours. I know that you’re all thinking, no, we didn’t get lost. And no, we aren’t THAT slow. The book was just wrong. Way wrong. Bring on the 1 star Amazon reviews!!
When we finally got to bed we were exhausted, sore, and questioning how day 3 was going to go.
If you’re still hanging on to this email – thanks, and I’ll try make the day 3 update as brief as possible. We picked up our picnic lunches from the Refuge and hit the trail by 7:30. We had a tough 2 hour ascent to the Col de la Seigne, which is where we crossed from France to Italy! Pretty cool to walk into another country. As we were descending it became apparent we needed a new plan, the group wasn’t going to make it another 5 hours to get to Courmayeur on our own two feet. We found a route off of the TMB that would take us to La Visaille, where we would be able to catch a bus to Courmayeur, our final destination for the day. After the previous day I didn’t have a lot of trust in the guidebook, but we were desperate. It was touch and go for a while, but we finally made it, caught the 2pm bus, and were at our hotel by 3:30pm. I immediately fell asleep. We had hot showers, pizza and beer for dinner and rested our poor feets. Life was getting better. We decided to take the following day as a rest day – our bodies needed a break, and it was clear we needed to shed some weight from our packs before we could even think about continuing.
Which brings me to today! We lightened our packs and ended up shipping a box of random clothes and hiking gear to Allstate. After a comical exchange with the Italian post office lady, who hated us at first, but us begging for more tape using Google translate on an iPhone finally seemed to break the ice and she gave us a big smile, chuckled at the crazy American hikers, and helped us get the box in the post. It should arrive in about a month, but we’re all pretty skeptical that we will ever see that box again (fingers crossed!). Our legs are rested, our spirits are lifted, and we have our alternate route planned to get back on the trail. Tomorrow we take a bus to the town of Arnuva, where we rejoin the TMB and will hike about 15k to end at La Fouly, putting us back on track for the remainder of the hike!
Phew, that was a long one. Thanks for hanging in there for it all – I had a lot to share. And if you didn’t read the entire thing, just nod and shake your head when I ask about it 🙂
Cheers and love to everyone!
PS. I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the spirit of the trail, but it’s been amazing. French is the “official” language of the trail, but everyone that we pass offers a “bonjour”, “buongiorno”, “hola”, or just a “hello”. Lots of smiles, even while we’re all struggling up a mountain. Everyone asks where you’re from, about your group, and is genuinely interested in the response. We’ve hiked with a group of guys that just left the Israeli army, a crazy group of Aussie ladies (who other under circumstances would be hilarious to have some wine with), solo hikers, Brits, and other hikers from the USA. This is a tough journey, but it’s an amazing way to see the world.
PPS. And yes, while it’s grueling at times, I swear we are having fun!
PPPS. Ry & Amie, will you tell Mom to check her email?! 🙂