While training for TMB, about the best I could do to replicate the elevation we would experience in the Alps was to run up Pyramid trail over and over again. It was the steepest, highest hill in South Mountain Park that was accessible quickly. Even then, Pyramid gains only about 680 feet of elevation over a mile, and I knew we would have segments along TMB where we were steadily gaining over 1000 feet each mile for almost three miles.
Day 3 on the TMB would be long (over 19 miles) with lots of climbing (almost 5500 feet) but it wasn’t the day I feared most: that would be Day 4, or Sunday, the day for which some folks in Phoenix had organized a “Prayer Circle” after they saw the elevation chart.
Day 3? Easy in comparison. I wasn’t so nervous about it, and I was still feeling great. Not sore, but tired.
We woke after another restless night. I think I was averaging six hours, when I do best on nine. That was putting me squarely into grumpster territory.
Was it the sleep deprivation that made me kind of angry at what we called our “prison breakfast”? It was again a buffet, but it featured, realistically, only bread and butter. We took trays (what for?) and loaded them up with bread, and, well, butter.
After we “ate,” we started our run with a steady uphill on a paved road. In fact, there was a shuttle taking hikers and dropping them off at the top of the road, and they waved through the windows as they passed us. I wondered for a moment if I should have hopped on the bus to cut out three miles of our trek. Would I have what I needed to finish such a tough day, after two tough ones prior and three tough ones to come? I wasn’t sure. But I was proud of myself and determined to do every bit of the trail on foot.
Once the road ended we started up a delightful, smooth, steady uphill that afforded ridiculous views of the valley, the cows, and the aguilles that towered into the clear blue sky before us.
Our first big up on Day 3 was the Col de la Seigne, and this is where something funny happened–a French woman stopped me and asked (in French) if we were runners. When I said oui she told me we were going the wrong way. At first I thought I was not understanding her French. After a long conversation, with its classic sitcom pratfalls, we learned that there was a trail race up ahead and the woman thought we were participants in the race. I assured her we were not with the race, that we were runners, but that we were running with a private guide, and we laughed and moved along.
Up to this point in my recounting of our TMB time I have failed to mention the HamandCheese Situation. The Situation existed thusly: every morning before we hit the trail we were given a sack lunch that included exactly three items: a bar, a piece of fruit, and a HamandCheese Sandwich. (Since three of our seven runners were vegan, I guess you could say we were given four HamandCheese sandwiches and three ????? sandwiches each morning.) We had begun to remember each day as much for the scenery as for the exact shape and variety of HamandCheese.
Day three was by far my favorite HamandCheese. It was the size of my head, first of all, and it was essentially a whole big baguette with a slice of ham and a slice of cheese. Almost as much fun as crunching into the crusty thing was holding it up to see whether my little bites had made any dent in its size. It was at the top of the Col de la Seigne, wind blowing, our jackets on, that I sat and did as much damage as I could to that glorious, life-affirming HamandCheese.
After snacking, we started our first descent and this is where we met the real runners. The race was being staged out of Courmayer Italy and the runners were super fast and super fit. Even though we did not have numbers, people mistook us for racers and hopped easily out of our way and also cheered us on and even took our pictures. It made me think of getting a race number to wear for the last three days of the trip!
We rounded a curve and were greeted by an unbelievable view of Mont Blanc. Again, the weather could not have been more perfect. We told our Lead Runner Emily that now we were ruined, since we would never even be able to imagine the Alps without a massive blue sky.
We started a steady descent with a view so gorgeous it was nearly painful (painful in that way when you experience a moment you hope will never end, knowing full well that it will soon be ending) until we got to a mountain refuge where a man was being evacuated by helicopter. We had all purchased our own helicopter evacuation insurance, and oh how we hoped we would not have to use it. At the refuge there was an aid station set up for the trail runners and we enjoyed watching them swing in to get snacks and water.
From the refuge it was a super, super steep drop on a dusty and root-covered path down to the Italian town of Courmayer. By this time several of us were overheated–it was a hot day and we perhaps didn’t hydrate as we should have. So it was a relief to arrive at our inn for the night, Hotel Edelweiss. It featured hotel-style accommodations with great storage and a bathroom in each of our rooms. We checked in, showered, then hit the town for some snacking and shopping.
Dinner at the hotel was delicious in the most Italian way. Can you say pasta? Pasta! We enjoyed a delicious meal and headed to bed to pass out.
However, the entire Italian nation seemed to have different plans for us. At one AM, what sounded like EVERY ITALIAN PERSON EVER could be heard screeching, laughing, slamming doors, and running down the hallway in front of our room. John and I exchanged “oh my gods” and thought about calling the front desk but assumed it would end soon enough. It lasted for hours. We were so groggy when we got up we did not even have the energy to mimic the bad behavior down the hallway in front of all of the offending sleepers’ doorways. Too bad. I think we could have taught Italy a real lesson.
Max elevation: 2508 m
Min elevation: 1171 m
Total climbing: 2054 m
Total descent: -2384 m
Total Time: 07:10:26