My fifth day in Italy was a challenge of coordination, as Martina and I both wanted to meet our men at the second life base in the skiing town of Cogne and also do a bit of hiking ourselves. I made my second attempt at navigating the roads of northern Italy, which has only been remotely possible thanks to a GPS device that Beat purchased during his last race in France. If it wasn't for GPS, I'd probably be driving in circles down in Torino at this point. I'm still learning to read traffic signs, none of the roads are marked, and even if they were, and every street has a name at least sixteen syllables long, beginning with Strada and continuing on for several seconds in GPS's soothing female voice. The most amazing thing about driving here is the A5 highway, which is mostly routed directly through the mountains in a series of tunnels. The mountain roads are all incredibly winding and narrow and barely squeeze between centuries-old stone buildings. Even the driving here is treacherous, beautiful and exciting.
Martina and I hiked toward Col Loson, which at 3,200 meters is the highest pass on the course. I only made it five miles to 8,000 feet elevation before I caught up with Beat, who was coming down the pass two hours earlier than I expected. He was noticeably tired and limping a bit, and said that he felt more worked than he did after the 2009 Hardrock 100, just 100 kilometers into the Tor des Geants with 230 more to go.
But he did still look strong going down the steep trail toward Cogne. Col Loson looses more than 6,000 feet of pure elevation from the top of the pass to the valley. Although Col Loson has one of the more dramatic elevation changes, there are 24 similar passes in this race. Twenty four.
I was still able to catch Beat smiling on occasion.
Beat inside the life base, trying to fix his feet. My job at each of these life bases, which are generally spaced 35-50 kilometers apart, is to bring him things that he requests, massage his shoulders, fetch food, and nod sympathetically as he spews long stream-of-consciousness monologs about the why that last pass was the worst of the lot, so much worse than he remembered from last year.
But even amid the pain and fatigue, he was anxious to move on. This I can understand. It's not just about beautiful scenery and challenge — if it was, Beat would just do what I'm doing, hiking when I feel like hiking and sipping espressos at cafes while I wait for racers to come through town. The suffering is an important part of the experience, a way to draw deeper meaning and understanding from the barrage of sensory input and reduced inhibitions. I can appreciate what Beat is trying to do even as I struggle to fathom it.