Into the Heart of the Alps

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Most Recent Entries

Ode to Bob

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 19, 2011

As a final post for this year's adventure, I want to honor Bob, the most wonderful husband and hiking companion. Since I am not in the least poetic, I will list some (but most definitely not all) of his most wonderful qualities that helped make the first year of this adventure successful. Patience. Bob never lost his temper once, despite the fact that I move slowly slowly, get mad at the trail easily, don't follow instructions well, cry and get paralyzed out of fear, etc. He was always kind and encouraging, never criticizing. Creativity. Bob can fix any equipment failure (next year, we'll bring duct tape and it will be even easier) and solve all logistical complications. With a smile. Medical Talent. He is a master surgeon of foot disorders.

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Via Alpina 2011 Has Ended... Just a Little Early, July 19, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 19, 2011

The rain forecast for today was quite correct -- it rained non-stop from about 10 am through 3 pm, the exact hours we would be on the trail. We made the decision to stay in Vallouise for another day, rather than have our last day of hiking this year be miserable. Good decision for several reasons. As we started exploring our various options for hiking more while also getting back to Geneva for our Saturday early am plane, we learned that the Tour de France has occupied ALL available rooms in any kind of establishment within a 50-mile-or-so radius. Meaning that whatever route we explored (Via Alpina trail or not), there is no lodging to be had for the next two nights. None. So, we have reluctantly decided that yesterday was the last day of Via Alpina hiking for 2011. Tomorrow (which is forecast to be sunny, phew) we will backtrack some and hike to L'Argentiere-la-Bessee, take the mid-afternoon train to Lyon (no need for lodging near the Tour de France with this plan), spend Thursday exploring Lyon, get to Geneva on Friday, and leave for home first thing Saturday morning.

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Now THIS is My Kind of Trail, July 18, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 18, 2011

Stage 18, R129 (Freissinieres à Vallouise) 13.02 miles, 4,057¿ up, 4,116¿ down For the most part, today's trail was my favorite kind of walking -- soft stable footing (and the good smells, like pine needles, that go along with that); not too steep up or down (distance matters less than whether I can get into a rhythm, too much clambering over rocks or taking care not to slip is harder on the heart and legs); plenty of shade, but also some sun; lots of meadows and flowers, but also beautiful long-distance views; and, when we are walking among buildings, it's on grassy lanes between chalets and cottages, where you can gawk at the architecture and luscious gardens.

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"The Agony of De Feet," July 17, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 17, 2011

Stage 17, R130 (Mont-Dauphin/Guillestre à Freissinieres) 13.70 miles, 3,624¿ up, 3,205¿ down (although we lost the trail, so add some mileage and maybe some up) * Quote from Brandon Wilson (Over the Top & Back Again: Hiking X the Alps, book about the Via Alpina). Pun intended. Usually, I try to focus on the positive, but today please indulge my little rant. It rained all day today, with the rain getting stronger and stronger as the day progressed. With all the time to think while hiking (we were on the trail for 8+ hours today, with few breaks), I had plenty of time to whine in my mind.

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A Little History Lesson, July 16, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 16, 2011

Stage 16, R131 (Refuge de Furfand à Mont-Dauphin/Guillestre) 10.85 miles, 1,194¿ up, 5,297¿ down It took a while to figure out why the Via Alpina route (not so much "trail" today) took us way far down from the mountains into a relatively urbanized area, with a lot of paved road walking (my feet are NOT thankful). But, once we got to Mont Dauphin, we realized the logic.

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Happy Bastille Day, July 14/15, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 14, 2011

Stage 15, R132 (Ceillac à Refuge de Furfande) 11.04 miles, 5,651¿ up, 3,526¿ down (to Bramousse on 7/14, to Furfande on 7/15) Sing along with me (as remembered from high school French class) in honor of Bastille Day (July 14, French independence day): Allons enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrive. Contre nous de la tyrannie, L'etendard senglant est leve ... We broke this stage into two days. I'd like to say it was because the only place to stay at the end of the stage (Refuge de Furfande) was full for July 14, but that would only be part of the truth. The thought of climbing over 5500' in one day, while also descending 3500', was a little overwhelming. In the end, this worked out very well -- we had two enjoyable days that kept us moving forward, but allowed a little rest as well. And Bob got some running in (how he has any energy left to run, I don't understand!).

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There Are No "Easy" Days, July 13, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 13, 2011

Stage 14, R133 (Maljasset à Ceillac) 7.87 miles, 2,719¿ up, 3,569¿ down Today was supposed to be an "easy" day, not too long, not too much up or down. Hah! We woke up to a little rain, which turned into a downpour and wind and hail. The trail out of Maljasset was steep and muddy, and we had to keep moving to stay warm (i.e., no hourly breaks). The ascent to Col de Girardin was a 9-screamer (anyone who has ever skied with me will understand).

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Tushar Cows Would Be Happy Here, July 12, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 12, 2011

Stage 13, R134 (Chiappera à Maljasset) 9.49 miles, 3,575¿ up, 2.617¿ down Readers who know me, know that I worked on a project about grazing conditions for cows in the Tushar Mountains of Utah (hint, they are not good). Those cows would be so happy in the mountain valley rising up out of Chiappera. Lots of green and beautiful flowers to eat all day, and cowherds who come to tend them personally, leading them to the choicest grazing spots and back to the nighttime outdoor enclosure. Heard a lot of mooing this morning!

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Grazie Benefattori and Ciao AFib, July 11, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 11, 2011

Stage 12, D52 (Larche à Chiappera) 7.13 miles, 4,129¿ up, 4,313¿ down We got to our highest elevation of the trip today at Colle del Sautron (8800+') and are spending our only night in Italy this year. Lots of up (4100+' up) and down (4300+' down), seeing virtually no other people on the trail. Lots of marmot company, though.

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Sunday in Paradise, July 10, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 10, 2011

Stage 11, D53 (Bousieyas à Larche) 12.03 miles, 3,421¿ up, 4,070¿ down Breakfast this morning included granola with nuts and dried fruits, not just bread/butter/jam. Those Buddhist gite-tenders are thoughtful of their clientele's needs!

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Hooray for Civilized Descents, July 9, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 09, 2011

Stage 10, D54 (St-Etienne-de-Tinee à Bousieyas) 10.17 miles, 4,625¿ up, 2,260¿ down Many of our descents into towns have been incredibly steep and treacherous (at the end of a long day, of course). Even if there is a lovely country road winding its way gently down the mountain, the trail has to cut the switchbacks and head straight down - more efficient, yes, easy on the legs, no. Today, by contrast, both of our descents were mostly on the gently winding country roads (roads which have not seen a vehicle in decades, by the way) and we have named them "civilized descents." We like civilized descents!

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Rest Day, July 8, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 08, 2011

Come to find out, Friday is market day in St.-Etienne-sur-Tinee. Got all our errands done -- slept in, mailed some extra stuff back home and did postcards, got money, resupplied on snacks and lunch food, napped, read and ate. Walked around town a little just to stretch the legs. This evening, there should be music provided by school children and a play/magician show, all for free in the town square.

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Pretending to be a Shepherd, July 7, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 07, 2011

Stage 9, D55 (Roya à St-Etienne-de-Tinee) 8.12 miles, 2,404¿ up, 3,552¿ down Hiking out of the hamlet of Roya, we passed one shepherd's hut after another, some in total disrepair / totally fallen apart, and some still clearly in use. For a mile or so, we followed, then walked through, a huge (100+) flock of sheep with some goats, all tended by one shepherd and several dogs. Communication patterns among sheep must be similar to those I encounter in the groups I facilitate -- there are those who "have lots to say," and those who speak more quietly but with authority, and then there are the rest (the sheep!) who are mostly quiet.

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Hiking With Marmots , July 6, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 06, 2011

Stage 8, D56 (Refuge de Longon à Roya) 11.04 miles, 3,277¿ up, 4,517¿ down Breakfast at Refuge de Longon was the French hiking breakfast we were to become used to -- a large bowl (think of cereal bowls) for coffee (with heated milk, if you like), sliced bread, lots of butter and jam. Yummy, but that's it. We learned quickly that we will have to stock up on snacks and cheese, otherwise we'll never have morning energy.

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Survivors Are My Motivation, July 5, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 05, 2011

Stage 7, D57 (St Sauveur-sur-Tinee à Refuge de Longon) 6.94 miles, 4,753¿ up, 164' down Today was a long day (7+ hours) and virtually all up (4700' up, but who's counting?!). I had a lot of time to think of those who inspire me with their courage and ability to overcome great odds. Thought a lot about other AFib survivors and two friends who have just completed extensive cancer treatments (yes you, Bonnie and Mary). Also felt much gratitude for the blog readers who have posted comments (emails are welcome, too! intoTheHeartOfTheAlps@gmail.com). Funny how survivors and trekking put things in perspective - no benefit to having great angst about the long haul, putting one foot in front of the other (taking each step of treatment) and taking each breath is what gets you to the end of the stage, every time. Go to this map and hover over the triangles to see where the stage we just completed is relative to the entire trail. (The stage beginning and end locations are probably backwards, as we are doing the trail in the opposite direction.)

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I Love Gummi Bears, July 4, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 04, 2011

Stage 6, D58 (St-Martin-Vesubie a St Sauveur-sur-Tinee) 11.78 miles, 2,522' up, 4,185' down When we were trekking with our kids in the Bavarian Alps over ten years ago, other hikers suggested that we take gummi bears as treats for them. We remembered this in the past few days and have been carrying them with us on this trek. They are amazing - any difficult uphill becomes more bearable after a short break with gummi bears! We are already on our second bag.

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The High Alps Are in Sight, July 3 , 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 03, 2011

Stage 5, D59 (Belvedere à St-Martin-Vesubie) 9.98 miles, 2,932' up, 2,358' down (I think the Via Alpina website lied - there was a LOT more up) Today was a much harder day than the trail instructions led us to believe. Started by walking on "balcony paths", which are one foot wide trails cut into the steep hillside generally following the contour lines - don't look at the view while moving, though, or you'll faaaaalllll. Then, an uphill from [heck] in the early afternoon in direct sunlight (I mean, if you can hack a trail straight up the mountain on crumbling rock, why not?!), followed by the same going down (but not as long). After that, a lovely walk along a country road into the medieval village of St.-Martin-Vesubie, past sheep farms and old vacation homes, and with views of the High Alps in the distance. What the website described as a 5-hour day took us more like 7.5 hours. The heart is doing great, but the legs are a little shaky and tired.

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We've Found Our Rhythm, July 2, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 02, 2011

Stage 3, D61 (Sospel Col de Turini) (the second half from Moulinet) 11.72 miles, 6,737' up, 2,562' down (about half today) Stage 4, D60 (Col de Turini Belvedere) 9.92 miles, 1,988' up, 4,608' down WAHOO !!! We caught up to where we are supposed to be (i.e., did 1.5 stages today) AND it was a really good day. We've figured a lot of things out and are getting into the rhythm of trekking. We are finally good at reading the trail markings (i.e., we did not get lost and have to backtrack any today). We rediscovered our old backpacking hiking/resting pattern and it really works (hike for 50 minutes, rest for 10 , whether you need it or not - my heart is so appreciative and did not go into "overdrive" once today). I am going slowly slowly, especially on the uphills, counting breaths to make sure I stay at the right pace (and Bob is a good pacer). And we are eating a lot and drinking oceans of water (yet I am losing inches like crazy - I cannot cinch my backpack waistbelt any tighter, which definitely was NOT the case in SLC).

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A Wise Decision, July 1, 2011

Written by: Michele Straube | Date Posted: Jul 01, 2011

Stage 3, D61 (Sospel Col de Turini) (we only got halfway, to Moulinet) 11.72 miles, 6,737' up, 2,562' down (for entire stage) Left Sospel at 7 am, in order to make it all the way to Col de Turini if possible. Ce n'est pas possible pour moi. Got to the ancient village of Moulinet around lunch time after ~3500' up and 2500' steep down, and could not even think about another ~3500' up today. Bob went running toward Col de Turini while I rested and confirmed this was a very good choice. We will have to adjust future stages, but I'm learning that there are still limits to my stamina. Overall I can do so much more than before the ablation, but it takes time to reclaim the many years of declining physical strength.

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