Not a finisher

So, the UTMB talks a good talk, but they don’t actually back it up. Despite all that they say that this was a real UTMB, their actions say otherwise.
I found this little gem on their website.

The 2012 UTMB gained finishers 3 points.

So, I do not have enough points to qualify for next year. I am one point short. Now maybe this is a good thing. I will have time to do other things in 2013; I have wanted to visit Montreal again. The only reason I didn’t this year, was my friends were going at the same time as the Mont Blanc.
However, as soon as I found out, I did start looking for any ultras this year where I could get that one point. There are a couple in California, and some in eastern Canada. None in Alberta.
If I don’t get that extra point, I will have to finish the Sinister 7 next year. And I’ll probably do the Death Race for good measure. Then I will have enough points!

Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc finisher

Hooray, I got my UTMB finisher vest today. I was expecting to get it in October, so it was a pleasant surprise to get it earlier.
Except that I was supposed to get it after I had crossed the finish line. In Chamonix. There it would have been helpful. There was a bit of a chill in the air, and the vest is made of a nice, colourful, fleece. Here in the warm September, it is not nearly as comfortable.
Still, I have to show off. The sacrifices one has to do to let people know they ran a stupid distance race.
There were also a series of emails sent out from the organizers. Here is a couple of quotes from them.

Because the route maintained allowed those who ran it to glimpse the difficulty of the weather conditions as soon as they approached 2000m. Because even if individually you have the physical capacity and knowledge of the mountains to succeed on your own, it is quite another matter when 2500 runners are facing the same obstacles. If you were at the start, you know that it was a true UTMB®. If on the contrary you were not able to run the race, you have missed a veritable UTMB®.


Trail-runners who lined up at the start in 2012 were, in our minds, a lot more courageous than those who lined up for the race in very good weather conditions like we had in 2008 or 2009… Difficult weather, route in a complete mess, markers destroyed, heavy skies…altogether enough to make one give up and stay indoors, in the warm, for the day.
All the same you decided to give it a go, you knew how to keep your sense of humour, you adapted yourselves, improvised, stayed obstinate, kept your mind focussed and maintained your spirit. The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®, has beautiful routes to discover, but above all it is an internal conquest. Whether you were a Finisher or not this year, you passed the exam brilliantly.

It is all very inspiring. But I think the key point here, that the organizers are even trying to emphasize, is that this was an actual UTMB. That is very important.
To run the UTMB next year, you need to have seven points gained from up to three ultras in the past two years. Last year I earned three points for the Death Race. This year, because I didn’t finish the Sinister 7, I haven’t had any points. But, completing the UTMB is worth four points.
I’ve been wondering if I would have enough points to try again next year. With the race shortened, would it be worth as many points? In a way, the race wasn’t officially completed, so it could be argued that I should get no points. But with this announcement, things may have changed.
I’m feeling better about my chances now.

Home Again Safely

My flight from Frankfurt to Calgary was long. I think it was nine hours. I did not sleep along the way. Instead I watched movies. I think I saw a total of four of them. By the time I got home they had blurred together and I could barely remember what I had seen. But, hey, free movies. (Free, if you don’t look too closely at the price of airfare.)
I fell asleep for most of the flight from Calgary to Edmonton. The airport shuttle seems to get more expensive every time I use it. I rented movies from the video store before I even got home. My plants were all alive, thanks to friend Rem. It was wonderful to sleep in my own bed.
My seat neighbour from Frankfurt was interesting. She was travelling to Canada to be a model in an ad campaign. A German company that sells panniers for mountain bicycles, to Europeans, had decided to have their ads feature the Rocky Mountains. Apparently the Canadian mountains are better for photography%

Frankfurt airport

Frankfurt airport seems nice.
I was a bit nervous boarding my last flight. While on the sky-ramp, I noticed that the ticket was marked “Max 1 handluggage”. This was while I was holding two carry-ons. When picking up the ticket, I had even mentioned two carry-ons. Fortunately, no one blinked twice.
This is a boring blog post. I have no idea why I am going to post it. Mostly because I don’t have anything else to do while waiting to board.
I guess I have to go back to playing “Pocket Planes”.

I should have gotten a hot dog.

2012-9-13 13:01

Hurry Up and Wait

I got up at around 6:30. Then I started walking to the train station with my heavy luggage. At least it was better balanced now that I could also put stuff in my backpack. (My backpack was usually as light as possible because I was using it on the bicycle portion of the trip.) Then a bus to the airport. This got me there two hours before my flight to Frankfurt at 10:20.
So now we wait.
I killed some time shopping in the duty free store. I was told the local, specialty alcohol is pastis. I’ve never heard of it, but hey, “Product of Marseille” and that is all I’m really looking for.
Since I’m in France, I also grabbed a bottle of absinthe. I KNOW that stuff is vile, but I feel classy having it in my liquor cabinet. I just need to get the paraphernalia for drinking it now. If I recall you have to put a sugar cube on a silver, slotted spatula and pour the absinthe over it into the glass. Fire is also involved. I’m sure I can look this stuff up on the Internet.
The pastis just wants me to mix it with water.
2012-9-13 9:39


I nearly got run over by a scooter today. It was totally my fault. What was I thinking walking on the sidewalk? Everyone knows that’s not for pedestrians. It is only for dog poop.
I was busy today. I tried to cram as much Marseille in as possible. A bit of a problem is that next year Marseille and Provence will be the cultural centre of France, so they are trying to spruce up the place. That is the official story. But I don’t believe it. Because every time I come to Europe, the entire place seems to be under construction. It happened five years ago, and it is happening again. Obviously they are just putting up a big Potemkin village for my benefit.
I set off with an all pastry breakfast and went down to the port. There I caught a ferry to Chateau d’If. Now, this is a historical location with, probably, many interesting facts. However, the tour operators knew the target audience, and it was 80% about the Count of Monte Cristo. They even had an exhibit of any place in the world named Monte Cristo. (There are three in the U.S. alone.)
Then back to the mainland. The ferry didn’t go directly there; it is also the service to the Frioul islands, a small archipelago next to the Chateau. I suspect Russian mobsters live there, but only because on the way back I was sitting next to two pretty Russian girls.
From the ride, I saw a cathedral high on a hill. That looked like something to climb. So, I looked for it. I didn’t know exactly where it was, so I just found a hill and kept going up until I ran out of hill. And there it was, Notre-Dame de la Garde. Beautiful place, although I think I came up the back entrance.
They do not allow you to climb the tower.
From the balconies you can see all of Marseille. And it had, not one, but two Table d’Orientation! Although one was blocked by a small child standing on it.
After spending far too long up there, taking the same pictures again and again, I left, going down the main entrance. I stopped off at the park Pierre Puget. It had a very nice waterfall system. It started at the top of the hill and you could follow the stream down the paths, through several waterfalls, all the way to the bottom. Presumably where it got pumped back to the top.
I then did a quick tour of the old city. One lesson I needed to learn was how to find streets. Frequently, the map would show a street and I couldn’t find it. But that is because my eyes do not see stairways as streets. If I learned that earlier, I could have had a much easier time walking around.
A late dinner (because you can’t have one at a reasonable time) of some fish, and then back to base for packing. My flight home leaves tomorrow morning, so I should get up early to catch it.
2012-9-12 23:47

Arrived in Marseille

I have arrived safely in Marseille. My host had said he was going to meet me at the train station, so I was a little surprised when he wasn’t there. After looking around, I phoned him and discovered he thought I was coming in tomorrow. He showed up quickly enough and we made our way to his place. I was hauling my heavy luggage and am glad he was there to show me the way. I would have hated to do that by myself.
Marseille looks nice enough, when compared to Edmonton. I took a walk with my host and saw a bit. I’ll hopefully see more tomorrow.
I have several options as to what to do tomorrow. I could go for a run to a nice cove, but the weather is hot, and I should still recover from my ultra. Especially my ankle. Instead I will go to the old port and see if I can get passage to Chateau d’If. I should probably look around and make a token effort to absorb some culture. Hopefully it won’t stick.
I apparently didn’t sleep well last night because I’m exhausted right now.
2012-9-11 23:22

A Day in Cavaillon

I had a somewhat boring day in Cavaillon. It wasn’t bad, and I have no regrets, but it wasn’t epic.
I had time to kill before my train leaves at around five o’clock. So I wandered the streets. It took me awhile to discover that a lot of stores are closed. I guess the tourist/shopping season is over.
The best thing to do, I found, was to climb the big hill that I think is called Colline Saint-Jacques. But that is because I enjoy climbing tourist attractions. I would have counted the steps, but they were carved into the side of the hill, and it was impossible to always determine what was and wasn’t a step.
The view from the top was nice. I could spot my hotel. I took lots of pictures. Mainly of the same thing. I want to try and get a good picture of the Petite Luberon mountains, but the distance and haze wasn’t making it easy. It was a bit discouraging to discover cars up there; there is a whole neighborhood up there near the “Chapelle St-Jacques Ermitage”.
When I found out that there was a “Table d’orientation”, all hope was lost. I love those things. I found one at the top on Roussillon, and to find one here was great. Basically, a good viewing place that includes a round picture that marks all the landmarks you can see. Apparently you can see Fontaine de Vaucluse from there, but I think it was more seeing just the cliff that overlooks it.
Afterwards, a delicious Coke. More wandering. Then a lunch of a sandwich and a chocolate croissant. I also impulse-purchased a melon that I will share with my friend in Marseille. Basically wasting time before the train. Which leaves in forty five minutes. I probably should get going.
2012-9-11 16:12

Rousillon to Cavaillon

On leaving Roussillon this morning, I once again spotted the dog that runs the town. He was trotting down the street like he owned it.
We got up early and did a good day of cycling. We were on the road by 8:50. The first part started out by following the book, and that still caused trouble. There were roads that we were supposed to take that existed on the map, and in the mind of the writer, but we’re simply not there. I even checked on Google Earth afterwards, and I couldn’t see how anyone could take that route.
However, once we got off book completely and were doing our own thing, life became easier. We were now in charge of our own destiny. And if mistakes were made, we already knew we couldn’t trust the source completely (namely us), so they were easy to accept. When we were on the book, we assumed that it was semi-responsible and could be trusted. When it let us down, it was hurtful.
In any case, it was a pleasant ride in the morning. It was still cool when we made most of our distance. And when we hit the hills that form the Plateau de Vaucluse, it wasn’t that bad; it was cooler, and they were smaller than the ones on the road over the Luberon. The ride down to Fontaine de Vaucluse was steep but enjoyable,
If you do only one thing in France, climb the Eiffel tower. If you do two, then go to Fontaine de Vaucluse. The village is absolutely gorgeous. The waters of the Sorgue are incredibly clear. The restaurants serve nice crepes. The walk up to La Source is beautiful, and there aren’t nearly as many hawkers as twenty seven years ago.
La Source isn’t that spectacular if you are going by its name. Yes, it is the source of the Sorgue river, but all you see is a pool. Most of the water is flowing underground and just appears as a river further down. But the cliff is massive. It looks like half a mountain fell away to reveal the pool.
On the way back down I spent about twenty minutes wading in the Sorgue. Very cold, and probably good for my ankle. It brought back some nice memories.
After a snack of some crepes (lemon and sugar; never get any other kind) we biked on to L’Isle Sur La Sorgue. I lucked out beforehand and asked the tourist information for a good route. She gave us a nice map with a better route than the one I had planned. We even passed under a Roman aqueduct.
Along the way, I passed some people walking along the road. As usual, I said “Bonjour”, but after I passed they yelled “Canada!” The patch on my backpack had let me find some other Canadians. We talked a bit, and they gave us some good tips. Remember kids, always wear your Canada when traveling.
L’Isle Sur La Sorgue was, well, disappointing. It felt a bit like a dive. The canals were gorgeous. But the tourist route through town was really boring. We abandoned it and went our separate ways. I spent my time following the canal all around the island. I was looking for a memory.
When I was last here, I had a nice walk with my father. I don’t know if there was a purpose to it, but it was a nice way to spend time. We came upon a tree that a sign had been nailed to. But this sign had been put up years ago, and the tree was growing around it. The edges were all gone. It looked so cool. I wanted to see if I could find it again.
But none of the trees were that one. I suspect that the town probably replaced the sign with one on a pole that won’t be grown over. But I think that is a shortsighted tactic; I came to town to find a cool artifact. Others would probably do the same.
The only memory I really recovered was a restaurant I believe the family had eaten at before.
We cycled back to Cavillon. The route wasn’t that great, but it got us here safely.
2012-9-10 19:27

Or He is Following Me

I have noticed a dog in this town. I first spotted him yesterday around the hotel. He was a big dog with a bit of fur missing from his tail. He didn’t seem to have many worries, and I didn’t see his owner around. He was just wandering around.
This afternoon, I spotted him again, but this time across town. He seemed to have set up camp in a cafe, and anytime a tourist wandered by with a dog, he would get up and go check it out before returning to the cafe.
This evening he was in a different section of town, looking like he was taking himself for a walk.
I think this dog is the secret master of Roussillon. Nothing happens here without him knowing about it.
He’s certainly marked his territory all over the place. So this is his town.
2012-9-9 22:32

Planning the Big Day

Tomorrow is the big day. I’m going off-book. Which isn’t saying much when you don’t trust the book. I’m hoping to see a bunch of things that I saw when I was last in Provence twenty seven years ago.
My plan is to see Fontaine de Vaucluse, where I can see the source of the Sorgue river. My big goal is to soak my feet in it. I don’t think there is any spiritual meaning in that; it’s just something I did with my family long ago.
Secondly, we are going to Isle Sur La Sorgue. That is where we stayed while in Provence. I was too young to appreciate how beautiful the village was. I want to see it with older eyes now.
2012-9-9 22:27

Wasting a day in Roussillon

It was very relaxing today. I did pretty much nothing.
I wandered the village a bit. The views were amazing. I particularly liked the one at the very top that included a map and helpfully pointed out the landmarks you were seeing. I could see Mount Ventoux, AKA the mountain I should have been cycling up. Screw it, I’m on vacation.
I visited the “Sentier Des Ocres” and really got to know the orange cliffs. I didn’t pay extra for the tour, and I don’t think I missed anything.
The biggest problem was the number of tourists wandering around. They kept interfering with the photos I wanted to take. But it would be hypocritical of me to complain; I’m one of them.
For lunch, I did the all-lactose diet. I had been craving a milkshake for awhile, and I saw a cafe was selling them. It was a small affair that it no way compared to a Red Robin’s milkshake that was in my dreams. So to top myself off, I had an ice cream cone. Lunch of champions.
After that exhausting day, I was tired. I went back to my room, with a bottle of Fanta to enjoy myself. I tried reading a book on the deck, but it was too hot. So I probably wasted my vacation reading in my room.
2012-9-9 19:00

In Roussillon

We did get off forty minutes earlier, which was good. But other events conspired to make us out even later than before.
It started off well. We left Cadenet and headed north. We had an option to do a side trek to the village of Cucuron, but we decided to skip it and go onward to Lourmarin. I didn’t particularly care for that place. It had a flea market that was selling stuff that wasn’t compatible with a bicycling lifestyle. I poked around back and found a hidden castle, but that was about it.
We then continued over the “Petit Luberon” mountains. That was going to be the most significant climb of the entire trip. It wasn’t that hard. It was a tolerable grade, and the scenery was nice. Although I must admit that Provence seems very dry, but it is known for growing a great variety of produce.
I passed the entrance to the bicycle only route of the “Massif des Cedres” which I found out later would have been a lovely route to take. It is all along the mountain range, but doesn’t go up or down significantly. However, if we had taken it, it would have taken us all the way back to Cavaillon.
Once over the mountains, the entire Luberon valley opened up to us. The village of Bonnieux was just ahead of us, and we stopped there for lunch. We ate at a place with a terrace view of the valley, and it even had access to the Internet. So I updated my Facebook with a picture of my spectacular view. And then used the map program to try and figure out what all the villages we could see were. Definitely a nerd.
After lunch, things started going bad. The map, the directions, and reality didn’t always agree in this trip. Here is where the written directions said one thing, the map route implied another, and reality did whatever it darn well pleased. The directions won us over this time, and it did take us to the village of Apt, but then everything went to pot. The directions and the map route were completely confusing, and frequently in conflict with one another. We got lost several times in that village, even going up a steep hill just to find that it was the wrong way. This could have all been solved easily with a simple map of Apt, but the organizers didn’t have the decency to do that.
I got the impression that this route we are on has never been beta tested. At no point did they give the instructions to someone and see what happened. Very poor ethics there. I’ve been keeping my Garmin on at all times in the route, and I think I should send the results to the organizers, along with notes on the instructions so they can make this product halfway usable.
Despite the best efforts of the directions, we did get to Roussillon. We promptly raided a grocery store and got liquid refreshments. We accosted a German tourist with a GPS system to find out where our hotel was. There it had our luggage. It did not have a pool, but that may have had something to do with the hotel being several hundred years old. My colleague got a room with a large bed, but I got a room that feels like a converted attic. I have to go up two flights of stairs, the latter being narrow with ample opportunity to bash your head in. At the top is my room. The bed is small. The bathroom doesn’t have a shower curtain, so when I use the sprayer, water get everywhere. I also have to crouch a lot with the low ceiling. However, I have a deck, that gives me a great view of the valley. I am on it right now, at eleven o’clock, enjoying the stars as I update my journal.
I’ve been giving my Australian colleague a quick overview of the northern hemisphere’s stars. She now can find the, previously unknown, North Star. I’ve also been using a iPhone app to figure out some of the constellations I should know.
Tomorrow, the guide gives us several options, all of which return us to Roussillon. I could go do a mountain that is on the Tour de France. We could do a loop through the “Provence Collorado”. However, we have lost all trust in the guidebook, so we aren’t about to go on a 42km cycle ride on its word. As for the Mount Ventoux part of the Tour de France, I don’t feel it is advisable with a heavy, steel bike. Maybe if I had my light road bike.
In any case, Roussillon, with it’s beautiful ochre cliffs, sounds like a nice place to spend the day.
2012-9-8 23:08

In Cadenet

My bicycle arrived in the morning. It’s a good bike, but it is obviously a rental. It looks like it can withstand a lot of punishment. I think it is made of steel. So it is heavy. I found out how heavy when I tried to go up some hills. There was one dirt/gravel road that I actually had to get off and walk.
Neither Catherine nor myself are morning people, so we didn’t get up early. We started breakfast at around nine (although I don’t think we got the famed Charentais melons, and if we did, they aren’t that special), and we didn’t hit the road until a bit before eleven o’clock. I started down one road, and she immediately thought we were going the wrong way. I wasn’t sure enough, so we turned around and went the other way. However half a kilometer later, I was getting major doubts. We consulted the map and looked over the directions and turned around again and went back the original way, which turned out to have been correct. She trusts me a lot more now, and is worried that if I wasn’t here, she would never have found her way.
The directions could be improved. Mind you, we do sabotage ourselves. We read ahead a bit, and that can cause confusion. Especially if you pass the same landmark twice in different directions. For the most part we needed to follow the plentiful orange signs, until we don’t. It would have been nice if the instructions had let us know to stop.
Provence is nice, although it is very dry. I don’t see how anything grows here. But there are many orchards with apples, pears, grapes, figs, and even pumpkins. I suppose the many irrigation channels on the side of the road explains why things are growing. It would be dangerous for me to live here, because I would be very happy to spend time trying to dam up these channels.
The first half was mainly flat and easy to do. The second half after lunch in Merindol was rather hilly. We climbed a big hill into Lauris and searched around to see an impressive view. A German tourist even gave us a history lesson on three churches in the area.
My traveling companion has been good. She is also interested in taking lots of pictures, so it works out well. We stop frequently.
I also discovered that a goat or an Ibis (I’m not sure which) with huge horns, really likes having the space on its head behind the horns scratched. I probably shouldn’t have, because I didn’t know if it was friendly, but it was a nice experience.
We got to our destination of Cadenet right around rush hour. We got to our hotel and enjoyed its pool. It wasn’t a great one, but it was nice and cool. I think it is the only pool for our entire trip.
We went out to dinner at a place called La Source. It was nice, although the terrace was full. And we had to eat inside. I really debated between having the fish or the beef. The fish is something I can’t really get in Alberta, but the beef sounded like it had a great sauce, even if it wasn’t a great cut.
Hopefully tomorrow it will be cooler and we can get off earlier.
2012-9-7 23:51

In Cavaillon

I arrived safely and got to my hotel. I even met the other person on the bike tour, a nice woman from Australia named Catherine. We went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant and had an amazing meal. It was interesting ordering from a menu where you didn’t know most of the words.
We actually start cycling today. I look forward to seeing my bike and I hope the helmet fits.
2012-9-7 8:43

In Avignon

I am now sick of trains. Maybe it is better if you travel with someone, or aren’t changing trains four times in one day. Initially it started out nice, but this has just been dragging on. I’ve watched many episodes of “My Name is Earl” on my iPad, and that has helped. In fifteen minutes my last train arrives, and in half an hour I should be in Cavaillon.
I hope everything is in order, because I have spent the whole day traveling and I would like a good meal and a bed of my own. Ideally, my bike will be ready too, but I think I will have to pick that up tomorrow.
2012-9-6 19:10

In Lyon

Well, I’m in Lyon. It is everything I dreamed it would be: a train station filled with people. My train to Avignon leaves in about half an hour. Nothing too exciting to report. I’ve had a lunch, but I don’t see any bathrooms around.
I’m now in a bigger city, so I’m slightly more nervous. I hear the stories about pickpockets, and “thieving gypsies”, so I’m trying to be more watchful. Chamonix was such a small town I didn’t have as many concerns. But now I’m wandering around a big train station, looking lost, and hauling a big suitcase. I probably have some target sign written on me.
2012-9-6 15:55

Train Three

Do you know that stress that hits you when you are in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, and the train you are in starts moving backwards? And the announcer is saying a long complicated thing you don’t understand? And your next layover is less than ten minutes?
Turns out it was a normal train operation. We enter a station and leave the same way we came in. Fine, but that doesn’t help explain when the train is a few minutes late coming into the only station where you have a short transfer time. And I’ve never been in this station before so I don’t exactly know where my train is going to be.
In any case, I’m on my third train, leaving Bellegarde, heading to Lyon. I’ve been in Lyon before, but that was five years ago. I remember it taking forever for dinner to get served, so that we had to rush out of the restaurant instead of properly enjoying food in the gastronomical capital of France.
Would they be offended if I only wanted a sandwich while I was there? Not that I don’t trust them or anything.
2012-9-6 14:10

Train Two

A British person can be drowned out by the sound of a train moving.
The views were very nice. I got a good look at the road through the mountains that had to be constructed on massive pylons way above the valley floor. It even curves around. I was too slow to get a picture. I remember being on it coming in to the valley, but then it was to cloudy and rainy to see anything.
My train arrived in St Gervais on schedule. And I saw what I thought was my next train, so I rushed over to get on board. I only had eight minutes to get there, and all the stations invariably have lots of stairs that are inconvenient when hauling luggage.
The sign implied it was my train, so I got on board, but it was completely empty. Doubts started creeping in. After pondering for awhile, I checked my train ticket to confirm everything. Yes, this was my train, but I had an hour and eight minutes to get on board.
So, plenty of time. But not enough time to tour St Gervais. I shouldn’t worry about that though. It took me half an hour to realize that I have already been in this town when I ran the UTMB. Mind you, it was Roth dark then. I just sat outside the state for awhile, mulling buying a sandwich. I was too lazy to actually get one, so I won’t be eating until I get to Lyon at about three in the afternoon.
2012-9-6 12:09

Accented Travel

So, I’m on my train to St Gervais. There will be a total of five different trains today. I’m hoping for epic scenery, but I don’t know if I will be able to take good pictures through the train’s glass.
I’m noticing something about accents. Many years ago, I was stuck on a bus in Jamaica where there was a Texan with a thick, hick accent. And he loved to talk about anything and everything. It was very grating after awhile. I could probably link to the old post complaining about it if I was inclined.
Here in Europe, that hasn’t been a problem so far. The accent are more exotic, and even then, I can’t understand what people are saying so it has less chance to be annoying.
Until you meet the British. A couple has boarded my same train and they will not stop talking. And now the accent has started to get grating. Why is that? The English accent is usually quite nice. Queen’s English and all that.
I should probably mention that a lot of of my posts today may be very inane. There isn’t much to do in a train except record random thoughts.
2012-9-6 10:17

Lac Blanc

It was a good day. I did laundry in the morning, and did some relaxing. But before too long, I got my stuff together (with lessons learned from yesterday) and set off to do another hike. I consulted with the reception at the hostel and got a good plan to go see Lac Blanc.
Unfortunately, I missed the bus to Chamonix. The next one was going to be an hour later, so the hike started with a 20 minute walk to Chamonix. There I checked out the tourist office and got a trail map, and nearby I got a sandwich for the trip.
Then I hiked to Les Praz. That took about half an hour, and I inadvertently stalked a girl most of the way. She ended up going to the same cable car station I was. After talking to her, Lauren from Colarado, we found out we were going to the same place. So we both got on the cable car to La Flegere. Then we had a nice hike to Lac Blanc.
The terrain was rough, but the lake was beautiful. I took lots of pictures. If I didn’t have a traveling companion, and there wasn’t a packed restaurant overlooking everything, I would have been very tempted to go for a swim. I should have gone wading as a way to ice my ankle.
She proposed that we go to Lacs des Cheserys, and that sounded like a good idea. The climb down was somewhat scary, and included ladders. At the first lake I convinced Lauren to take a ten minute break. I took the opportunity to put on my tevas and go wading a bit. It wasn’t as cold as Lac Blanc, but it felt good on my ankle. We continued along for awhile, until we came on to the Chalet des Cheserys trail that would take us back to the cable car.
That was a beautiful route. It went along the curve of the mountain. There were impressive views of the valley, and of Mont Blanc. Along the way there were some thick, straight, solitary stone walls, that looked like they might have been fortifications, but they were all alone.
Of course I twisted my ankle a few times. It feels better now, but I really need to find a way to strengthen it.
We returned to the cable car and got back to Chamonix.
There I got an ice cream, and finally got my train ticket to my next destination, Cavillion. Apparently I’m going to be traveling all day tomorrow. My train starts at ten o’clock, and I won’t arrive until seven in the evening. I hope I’ll still be able to get my bicycle.
I contemplated going to a restaurant to eat while I was in Chamonix. The hostel makes fantastic meals, that are affordable, and are local cuisine. And they don’t charge for water. But I feel like I’m taking the easy way out when I do that. So I checked out a restaurant that had been recommended to me, MBC which was run by Canadians. I don’t know what those initials stand for (Micro-Brewery Chamonix? Mont Blanc Canada? Mont British Columbia?) anyway, when I went in, it had a lot of Canadian paraphernalia. Including the menu. It all looked straight from my homeland. And while I appreciate the effort, I really should try something that I can’t get at home. Eating at the hostel it is.
I’ve noticed the German hikers, that had previously stayed in my room, lurking around. I think they are sneaking in to use the shower and bathrooms while they go camping in the mountains.
2012-9-5 22:00


I guess I should clarify. I am not living in a high crime area. While going through my stuff yesterday to pack it, I found my missing power adaptor. The knife, I suspect, fell out of my pack at some point; unfortunate, but not malicious intent. I just wish this place had a lost and found. Either that, or it will show up in my carry-on when I go through security.
I did some packing yesterday, and I’m feeling a lot better about things. I’m even doing some laundry right now. It should make life easier when I leave tomorrow for Cavillion.
I found that my new power adaptor actually does charge everything. It just won’t charge the iPad while it is on. I left it plugged in overnight and now I’m playing with a full charge.

Space to breath

The salmon dinner at the hostel was fantastic.
And because it is the low season here, I finally have the room all to myself. Not a German in sight. I think I’ll take this opportunity to reorganize my luggage.
And maybe to finally shave. I haven’t since I crossed the border into France. Although I am not sure if I should. Do I look good if I’m scruffy? I noticed in the television show “Community” that the lead character stopped shaving, but never seemed to progress to a full beard.
I look like a backpacker.
2012-9-4 22:33

Sudo ‘Make me a Sandwich’

I actually was productive today. I decided I should go do a hike.
I first had to empty my race bag to get the equipment I would like to have. The new backpack I purchased for the run was nice and big, but it was not as waterproof as I had hoped. It is really regrettable that the race insisted I bring my travel documentation with me; my passport looks a mess now.
While I’m on the subject, I have a growing concern that some of my stuff is missing. I purchased a nice souvenir UTMB knife for the race, and I can’t find it anymore. I also can’t find the power adaptor for my iDevices. You know, the one that doesn’t work anymore. I wonder if I’m missing anything else.
Anyway, I set out on my hike with my usual level of preparedness; barely any. I will give myself credit for wearing my trail runners and having my hiking poles. But I also managed to bring an empty water bottle. I was planning on filling it along the way, but it kept slipping my mind. I left at a bit after one o’clock, and planned to grab something to eat as soon as possible. But the hostel’s bar was closed, so I couldn’t grab something there. There will probably be some quaint restaurant along the way where I can get a sandwich. A sandwich would be really nice.
So I set out, and found a trail going to the Cascade du Dade, which was recommended to me. It took half an hour to get there, with me stopping to take some pictures too. There was indeed a restaurant right by a pleasant waterfall. So I went in to get my sandwich.
They were out of bread.
I did not wish to support an establishment that is using such a base bait-and-switch tactic. The omelets might have been nice, but they were priced higher than the sandwich I craved. I mulled outside the restaurant for awhile.
There was a sign there, pointing down a trail, saying that the Plan de L’Aiguille was a three hour hike away. Well, they had sandwiches there yesterday. It is like the competition was advertising right outside the restaurant. Once I get in my head to do something, like getting a sandwich, it is very hard to convince me otherwise. So I had a new plan.
Fortunately, I had a powerbar with me to help tide me over. The lack of water was annoying. Especially since I passed a bunch of signs in French saying something about a perimeter of potable water. Was I entering, or leaving? Who knows? Suck it up, princess. If you don’t suffer, you won’t learn.
Well, I was motivated, and I climbed the 1100 vertical meters in about two and a quarter hours. Fifteen minutes before the end, was the Resort de L’Aiguille. It was a restaurant, right next to a blessed hose of water that I was told was potable. But this restaurant, despite having free range donkeys, did not have sandwiches. Onward Ho!
I finally got to the little snack bar at the cable car. I went in, and ordered an Orangina that, despite not having ever had before, I was craving for the last few hours. Then I publicly debated getting a hot dog instead of a sandwich.
They were out of bread.
I don’t know what kind of clown college is running this mountain, but I am very disappointed in them. Here the bait-and-switch worked and I had a small piece of apple pie. Then I took the cable car down the mountain. A ten minute ride over what took me 2.25 hours to climb.
In Chamonix, I did a bit of shopping. I got a new charger. I got some ice cream. I tried to buy a new knife, but they are now only available on the website, which means there will be shipping charges I don’t want to deal with. I hate it when I want to give money to people, and they don’t want to take it.
I took the bus back to the hostel, and started trying to charge my devices. But the new charger only works for the iPhone. My iPad requires too much power. I think it prevents the battery from being drained, but it isn’t adding to it. I think I need to return this and buy the more expensive one.
I’m going to have the salmon filet dinner now.
2012-9-4 20:04

Italy Quest

So, I got up early to try and get on to the tour bus to Italy. I got to the stop an hour before it arrived. However, when the bus came, I was told it was full. Once again, Italy has thwarted me. Oh why must you task me, country of Roman ruins?
So now what?
I’m tempted to try and go for a hike in the countryside. I should go in to town and find a charger. Maybe use my health insurance and ask about my ankle at the hospital. The weather, as always, is iffy. It could be beautiful, or it could be cloudy.
So far all I’ve been doing is being lazy and using up the batteries on my iPad. It’s relaxing for me.
2012-9-4 11:37


Today I did the cable cars. I got a pass at the hostel, and then went out and made an attempt to actually see Mont Blanc. And Italy. I was supposed to see both on the run, and I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t.
I wish I had planned the trip better. I brought a lot of stuff, but it never occurred to me that even though the valley is nice and pleasant, the snow covered mountain top might have differing weather. Well, I showed my Canada by going up in shorts and t-shirt.
The first cable car was to Plan de L’Aiguille. It was scary when it went by a support tower; it caused the entire carriage to start swaying. There we took another cable car way up to Aiguille du Midi. There you could really feel the cold. Fortunately, large parts were indoors. Although the elevation really hit me when I was just climbing some stairs; I got a little light headed. They had a nice museum displaying climbing tools and techniques. And there was a hole in the ice that led outside where climbers were coming in. From the observation place you could see lots of people climbing up the mountain planning to take the cable car at 3842m back down. I’m hardly one to judge.
I also found out that Italy was closed. The cable car across the massif to Pointe Helbronner was closed in September, so there would be no gelato for me. And the clouds prevented me from seeing Mont Blanc itself.
Going back down, I lingered longer at the Plan de L’Aiguille. There was a pleasant cafe where I enjoyed a sandwich and hot chocolate. I met some Americans from Seattle and we talked a bit. They decided to go for a hike. I was very tempted to hike down to Chamonix; the sign said it would only take two hours. But my ankle still hurts, and going downhill is murder on my quads.
After getting back to Chamonix, I walked across the village and took the cable car up the opposite mountain to Planpraz. There wasn’t much to see here, but it was a relaxing place to hang out for awhile and enjoy watching clouds flow below you. Or through you.
Then back to Chamonix, some ice cream, and back to the hostel.
For dinner they were serving Swiss cheese fondue. I’m glad I tried it, but never again. It starts out tasting good, but then the rich cheese hits you and you spend the next few hours in a hate spiral with your stomach.
After considering my options I have decided not to go to Marseille tomorrow. I checked the train schedules, and it is actually past my destination for the bike trip. Since I am renting a bike, I don’t need to borrow my friend’s in Marseille. So I’ll do less time traveling, and two more days in Chamonix. I could try and spend another day elsewhere, such as Lyon or Avignon, but I like not having to find another hostel. I even found a tour bus that is going to go under the tunnel to Italy. I might still meet my goals.
In other news, my USB charger has died. So I have no way to charge my iDevices, without begging from strangers. I better try and find a replacement quick.
2012-9-3 23:27

Yesterday in Chamonix

I recovered from the lack of sleep from the run fairly quickly. I suppose it helps to have a breakfast deadline; get up if you want to eat.
I went back into Chamonix for the award ceremony. It was disappointing. I know I wasn’t expecting a winner’s trophy, but I was let down not having the finisher’s vest. So no winner’s cowbell for me. But the announcer was speaking mostly in French. Every so often, someone would come and summarize in English, but it’s hard to feel excited about that.
Which explains why I left the actual ceremony and found a big television monitor displaying it. I could still hear the announcer with a millisecond delay, and I got to sit in a nice warm spot free from the crowds.
Afterwards there was a lunch for everyone. It was mostly local cuisine, so that was different.
Then I spent the rest of the day wandering Chamonix. It was bigger than I expected, but the leg movement was probably good for me. I had dinner at a restaurant there, roasted chicken in tarragon sauce. It was really good. However, the water I had to drink with it, cost about 30% of the final bill. I really need to stop trusting waitstaff here. At least I was smart enough not to touch the bread they put on the table.
When I got back to the hostel, I spent a lot of time trying to update my journal about the run. I didn’t finish it until today, and I still wish I could have done better. I was more interested in getting all the facts down than making a good story. I think I need an editor to tighten it up.

Overall thoughts on the UTMB

I do have some overall thoughts about the run.
The mountains were everywhere: There was only about 10km of running at the start, and 5km running at the end. Everything else was at an angle. Sure you could run some of the downhills, but a lot of them were too steep it too treacherous and so you had to take them slow. And every mountain seemed to be worse than the last one.
European wilderness is different: Because people have lived here so long, there are small parts of civilization everywhere. Almost every waterway had a bridge. There were no lessons on how to deal with bears. In fact, I recall on my hike to Mount Sala seeing a poster on how to deal with cows. That may have been helpful here. Especially in the middle of the night when you realize there is a cow next to you and no fence.
Maliciousness: I never got the sense that the true course was cruel and unusual. I only ran part of it, but I got the sense that it wasn’t trying to be mean. It was taking the easiest route around the mountain. Easy being very relative under the circumstances. However, after I left the true course, I got the impression that they were trying to make up for missing the rest and all bets were off.
2012-9-3 22:10

UTMB 2012

There is something very relaxing about running a race that no one you know is, or ever will be, doing. The change to the race meant this was a one-shot. I had no one to compete with. At no time will anyone else I know run this race and then say they were faster. I could just try and finish without pressure.
I gave myself a goal of doing four kilometers an hour. Every time I passed a point, I would figure out how many hours to the next point and try and make it in that time. Even if I was ahead of the overall schedule, I could use that to orient myself.
The starting line was a mess. It was probably well organized, but trying to get 2300 people through a chute is inevitably going to be problematic. Problems on all sides too; a guy next to me in the huge crowd just squatted down to relive himself. My issues were the bottle of Boost I had brought with me had had the safety seal broken and had turned to cheese. “Fromage” as the locals say. I suppose it is better I found that out before I carried it all the way through the Alps. Also my GPS unit hadn’t been fully charged, so it only lasted an hour into the race.
It wasn’t raining at the start, but that wasn’t going to last. We walked through the starting gate, eventually we ran for half a minute and then got caught in another traffic jam. Eventually it opened up and we started to head out of town, with many runners quickly going to the side of the road for pit stops.
We ran along the banks of a mountain river. Unfortunately, 6 km in, I twisted my ankle. I decided to ignore it. I’m not going to give up that early. And for the most part it was okay.
An hour into it, it started to become dark and the rain picked up. Before the race, my mother wished my luck with the full moon. So I was thrilled when I saw it rise. It was literally behind the runners further up the mountain. I took some pictures of their silhouettes. It was very beautiful.
Well, according to Star Wars, “That’s no moon.” The support station had a big globe light propped up above them. I never actually saw the moon at any time.
The first pass of Le Delevret wasn’t that bad. It was a gradual ascent, although I slipped and fell in the mud on the trail on the way down. At one point the trail became so narrow it became a conga line. There was no passing. And then into the lovely village of Saint Gervais. Civilization! Now this was a support station. Bananas, hot soup, local cheese, Coke. (I drank more Coke on this run than I normally do in a week.)
After 21km we now have the biggest mountain of the run to face. The first ten kilometers were a bit confusing because I kept expecting us to drop away from the road nearby. But it kept with us all the way into the village of Les Contamines. Then we started to climb along trails.
It rained all night. Well, it also snowed, but it was nothing terrible. I’ve handled much worse. The organizers were saying that people should be bringing four layers of clothing with them, instead of the normal two. I ran in shorts the entire way. The rain jacket was good to have, but I never used the hood they insisted it should have. The Goretex socks I had on were a lifesaver. I highly recommend them.
And yes, there were clouds that I had to go through. It was hard to see anything, beyond the fact that it was night. But for the most part, I don’t think I ever actually saw any of the mountains I was running along.
After passing the summit, and down, what felt like a rockslide someone had traced a path on, there was an alpine hospital in the middle of nowhere. I distinctly remember it, because a kilometer after it, I twisted my ankle again. I think it had something to do with the night running I became a lot more cautious in my running after that, and it slowed me down a bit.
It also made me hesitant to change my footwear. With the change of course, we no longer had access to the support bag at the halfway mark. I wouldn’t be able to change my shoes. So it became more important to have a change of socks, and I did have extras. But if I took off my shoe, would my ankle swell and prevent me from getting the shoe back on? It wasn’t so much a problem with the cold, so I wasn’t sweating into my socks. Little did I realize how hard it is to remove Goretex socks, because they don’t stretch. I only found out when trying to take my clothes off before a shower.
I got lost heading back into Les Contamines. I don’t know where I went wrong, but I did eventually find the transition and saw bunches of runners coming from a different direction. I guess I took the long way. There was also a blessed public washroom. FYI public washrooms in France are scary. No seat, just a hole. Hope you have good balance.
The next mountain was small, and not too bad. And I was able to run down the other side safely into the village of La Villette. The next mountain was malicious. It started with some paved paths, but after awhile it became a conga line along the narrow switchback to the top. I had to take frequent breaks. Frustratingly, at the top was a tram station. The trip down was just that, a trip. It was steep and all mud. Mud stirred up by 1700 other runners. But I made it to Les Houches on my schedule, barely.
The next climb should have been pleasant. It was on a road, going up gradually to a park. But I started to encounter my biggest problem: digestion. I’m not used to the bacteria in the water here, so the digestion system was not happy with me. It didn’t help that I had the complimentary pasta dinner an hour and a half before race time. I had assumed that I didn’t have Imodium with me, because I didn’t remember packing it. For the rest of the race, my lower intestines were in open rebellion.
I got down that mountain slower than I would have liked, and knew there was only one left. After hitting a support station, there was an uphill, that, for some reason, I assumed was that mountain. So I was feeling fairly cocky, and surprised at how ahead of schedule I was. No I wasn’t. The worst was yet to come. Steep, side of the mountain, conga line of exhaustion. And there was no point to it either, because we never went over the top, we just went down the same side, at the same level of steepness.
Eventually we got down, but my quads were so exhausted, that it was literally painful to slow down to the same pace as the person ahead of me. It was great when it opened up into the village and the last support station.
I had four and a half hours to do the last 10km. My legs hurt, and I decided that I deserved a break. I sat down for a solid twenty minutes and had people bring me food. I even found my secret stash of pills. Imodium, along with some much needed Tylenol that actually shut my quads up and let me run again.
Now, I had been told the last ten kilometers were all downhill. I did have a goal in my mind of finishing in 24 hours. But this was beginning to feel like the Sinister 7; a short run, downhill, after a long run, in two hours.
It was not all downhill. There was a rather noticeable uphill along the side of a mountain. So the first part was slow, but then the Tylenol started to kick in and I could run again. I even found a nice woman from Chile to help me keep at it. I think she thought there was a 24 hour time limit, so she was very motivated to finish in that time. And at some point, my compression shorts developed a rip that decided it would be fine to scrape across my sensitive skin. Then the end was in sight and we were running through the village of Chamonix, in areas I recognized. And then there was the finish line.
It felt great to cross it. I was done. I was so happy. I was also really emotional. Unfortunately, they had run out of the finishing prize in my size, so I have no evidence to show that I did this.
And I was all alone. No one I knew was there. Nobody was even speaking English. There was nothing. I guess this is what they mean when they say “The loneliness of the long distance runner.”
I’m really going to have to force someone to come with me next time.
2012-9-3 20:00