TMB wrap up: Chamonix
*The Tour du Mont Blanc is the most famous and celebrated hike in Alpine Europe and is the fifth Bucket List Hike that Brian and Sylvia have completed together. It is also our first hike together of any kind in Europe. Sylvia and Brian finished the full tour, walking every step of the way, on the first day of August, 2018.*
The Tour du Mont Blanc is over.
It was with this alien thought that we awoke into the first hours of life after the Tour, two weeks to the day after starting. We did not have to do any hiking today. Not tomorrow, either. No hiking the rest of the week, nor even the rest of the year unless we wanted to. We did not have to walk a single mile over dirt and rock.
This came as a relief of course…our bodies badly needed rest. But it also felt odd, even wrong.
And with this strange realization came another, and this one much larger…our personal world had subtly changed. We had awoken into a world of new possibilities. The Tour du Mont Blanc is such an epic undertaking that one might even divide an entire lifetime into two segments, that which came before it and that which came after.
We had now crossed into the completed half, and life felt different somehow. There were new possibilities in the air, things whose meaning we could not grasp just yet. Neither of us had ever hiked that far before (110 miles) nor endured that much up and down before (nearly 35,000 feet). Prior to this, our longest hike together had been barely a week. We had in fact never even set foot in the Alps before.
We had come to the Alps not knowing if we were equal to this challenge or not. Our preparations had been thorough, and yet still seemed inadequate. How does one prepare for an undertaking of this magnitude? We didn’t even have mountains of sufficient scale to train on…the nearest glacier to our home in North Carolina is probably 2000 miles away.
But as we prepared to leave the Alps, we had found the answer to this question. Sylvia and I had proven equal to a massive, nearly two-week hike long test of endurance, with more total uphill along the way than on Mount Everest. We also proved ourselves equal to one of the world’s great mountain ranges, and not just for a mere one or two days. Our confidence was soaring. If we could do a thing like this, and not even feel so very bad afterwards…well, what else might we do? The bar had obviously been raised.
We came not knowing, and now we returned with the answer. Overnight, the question had changed from, what can we do…to what CAN’T we do?
Starting with the first slog up to the Col de Voza, Brian fully admits having some doubts about being able to complete the whole circuit. Sylvia admits to none, but then at times we both did struggle.
In fact, Brian fully admits to having spent much of the hike repeating over and over to himself, “We are NEVER gonna do this again.” Why, oh why, did we EVER want to do this in the first place?
Time is the great leveler…it evens things out. Memory is finite, faulty and grows fainter with the passage of days and years. It is no match for time…eventually only the good and bad things stand out, the rest is largely forgotten. And then that magical process known as ‘nostalgia’ occurs, and the bad gets transformed somehow into good. Now, we laugh at sore feet and knees and look back at things that terrified us with fondness. Easier to do, when things aren’t presently hurting, or are far enough away not to be scary.
As Brian writes this a few weeks after the fact, already the memories are fading, the events being leveled, the gloss of nostalgia being applied. We are gone from that place. Yet it seems on the other hand we never left. It is at least once a day that we turn, look over our shoulder, and expect to see our Buddy, Mont Blanc looming there…majestic, impassive, beautiful, and a little bit frightening.
Mont Blanc is far away, and it will be some time before Sylvia and I return. But we will return. Even before we had left the tour Sylvia turned to me and said, “Honey…can’t you just keep hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc?”
We couldn’t of course, and we didn’t. And yet we never left it. Just over the horizon somewhere it is…I can even point to where. We are still there, still hiking the tour. Each day when the sun rises on us, we know that it has already been to the summit of Mont Blanc.
***Postscript: Before we had even departed France, Brian, The Minister of Expedition Planning, who swore he would NEVER do anything like this again, found Sylvia asking him when we are going to attempt the Swiss Walkers Haute Route. Which begins in Chamonix. Just below our buddy, Mont Blanc.
We WILL return.****