Soon enough, we crossed a threshold in Tor des Geants that finally became "far" — far from the spectators, from the barrage of cowbell clanking, and even from the delicious orange wedges and blueberry tart triangles that were surprisingly abundant in this race. Yes, the Alps can feel far away from the hum of ordinary existence while simultaneously feeling remarkably close to modern life. I am continually astonished by these mountains, by their ruggedness contrasted against the ease at which humans seem to make their way here. How did large stone buildings spring up on the point of narrow pinnacles, guarded by slopes that require hands-over-head scrambling, and yet stocked with fresh espresso and warm beds, and occupied by 5-year-old-children playing barefoot in the grass? In the United States it's difficult to find accommodations this inviting just off the Interstate, let alone at the top of mountains. Rifugio Deffeyes is such a place, the first where it's really a pity to make such a hurried stop. But espresso and warm beds really aren't the experiences we came for in the Tor des Geants. We think about these things all the time, joke about them, yearn for them, but they're not really what we want. Not really. Not just yet.
It was a long descent into the first life base at Valgrisenche, and I felt good and did some running. I reached the small village at 11 p.m., meaning the first fifty kilometers — and four vertical kilometers — of the Tor des Geants took thirteen hours, which I considered not bad at all. Still, I arrived too late to see Beat, who had just slipped upstairs to take a nap. I planned to nap as well — extreme sleep deprivation had caused no small amount of distress during PTL, and I was resolved to sleep at least some every chance I had, as long as there was still time on the clock to stop. I joined Crankypants for a dinner of champions — penne pasta, red sauce, an egg, and ham. Then I slipped upstairs for 90 blissful minutes of shut-eye before leaving town just ten minutes after Beat, resolved to catch him.
"I could maybe even push a little harder," I thought. "There's a good chance I'll need to bank the time."