Friday, September 16, 2011

Italy, day six

On Tuesday I had a good block of daylight between my life base trips, so I decided to squeeze in my long hike for the week. I mapped a route following the Tor des Geants course backward to Col de Malatra, which is the last pass in the race, then crossing overland to complete a loop over two passes, for a total of three big climbs and a good chunk of distance. I slept late because, to be honest, sleep has been a rare commodity during this trip, as food has also been. The food is delicious when I can get it, but Italian culture is not conducive to an on-the-go lifestyle, with its mid-day store closures and complete lack of convenience stores and supermarkets. I often have a very difficult time acquiring food when I need it the most, and have taken to eating bread and jam sandwiches for more meals than I care to admit. At this point my stomach doesn't even really care about pizza and authentic pasta, it just wants calories. It's funny to come all the way to Italy and lose almost all interest in the quality of food in favor of quantity. My Americanism shines through.

But, yes, I at least got a more normal amount of sleep (read, more than four hours) and got going around 10 a.m. I passed the Tor des Geants course markers on my way out the Trail du Mont Blanc, preparing for the race finish. It was more than 48 hours into the 200-mile race and no one was even close to finishing. Ultimately the winner would come in at 6 p.m. Wednesday, a finishing time of 81 hours. Consider this against the 100-mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, which the top runners finish in just over 20 hours.

The climb to Col de Malatra was long, nearly 12 miles on a rolling traverse that included about 6,500 feet of climbing. But besides the TDG flags it was just me out there, lost in a massive Alpine moonscape.

The col itself was just a narrow notch in a veritable wall. At 2,925 meters, it's the third highest pass on the course.

Looking through the notch to the other side.

I saw mountain bike tracks on this trail. Six thousand feet of descending — must be a grunt to get the bikes up here but fully awesome to ride down. I was certainly jealous.

I left the trail and started my traverse, with two passes and lots more climbing still in front of me.

I crested Col Sapin at about 6 p.m., having walked nearly continuously for eight hours. I didn't make many stops because I didn't really have any food beyond a couple of jam sandwiches and some candy I scrounged out of Beat's rejected race food pile. I vowed to make a real effort to go grocery shopping the following day.

My legs were incredibly tired and feet sore on the final descent, which I spent contemplating the scale of the Tor des Geants, again. After all, I had only hiked three passes, and the second two were comparably small.

I finally tromped back to my apartment at 8 p.m. after 24 miles and 11,300 feet of climbing — a truly challenging and beautiful solo outing. It was too late to go to the now-closed grocery store and I was too tired and hungry to deal with the leisurely (read: drawn-out) waits and dainty portions of the local restaurants, so I scrounged some Barilla pasta and a can of crushed tomatoes for dinner. It was the most delicious dinner ever. As Beat has said about his own limited food choices in the Tor des Geants, there's no seasoning quite like hunger.


  1. It so reminds me Hardrock course, or rather San Juans in general...Larry noticed same thing. Beautiful. Are the boys done yet, or did I miss it?

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  3. Hi Jill. Been following your blog for awhile. I'm next door in Mtn. View, and often smile at your local pics. Picked up your latest book; BRAVO! I really liked it, both the story and the style. I only wish all those photos were color (I know, it costs too much). I dream of doing the Divide........

  4. Olga, I think it is quite a bit more beautiful than Hardrock ... I am of course biased, but you should find out for yourself :) What is certain is that it is vastly harder than Hardrock - even if it was only half the distance. While lacking the overall altitude, it is steeper, and the trails are significantly more technical.
    Really the good news here is that you don't have to wait years and years to get into a breathtakingly beautiful and immensely hard race anymore - Europe has quite a few of them ...


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