As the river flows…

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Once upon a time in the south-east of Sweden, in Värmland to be precise, father and son took off from the westside of the mighty Klarälven River with a steady three-layered raft. This ‘self-made’ raft was constructed under the supervision of a great Swede and an occasional expat (who wouldn’t like to be an expat in the vast Swedish wilderness?!) both working for a company named Vildmark i Värmland. After hauling with logs and ropes for several hours, we succeeded in fixing together two heavily roped squared platforms which were supposed to do the rafting job. A simple shelter of poles and tarpaulin on one of the squares would be our temporary shelter against the Swedish elements. Our floating experience was ready to start!

Setting off was a great feeling. The timber raft floated peacefully, and it would be our means of transport for the next watery 100 km. The coming days and nights, we were expected to build unforgettable experiences. We did! I will never disregard the thirsty bloodsuckers roaming the grassy shores of the Klarälven River simply known as mosquitoes. Thanks to the attractive Allmansrätten (Swedish Right of Public Access) you can camp everywhere you would like to in the Swedish outdoors. If your destination is farmland in this part of the world, be sure the zipper of your tent is perfectly closing. Ours was not! And, for this trip, I overlooked the ducktape… They came in their thousands! It was a zooming orchestra! Relieving yourself in the outdoors during night time turned into a blood donation event at expedition level. A few words of advice for the outdoor enthusiasts: ask the proprietor for permission of the land you want to use, use a shut tent, and don’t invite the neighbouring mosquitoes.

Apart from a few skinny bites, we really appreciated the calm flow of the raft and therefore of life! We could neither steer nor accelerate. Bumping into the shores slows you down and made the raft turning clockwise or the other way depending on which shore you touch! We just went with the tides! A very peaceful meandering through the farmland of the county Varmland!

If you would like an ample river adventure with a very decent raft, please contact Vildmark i Värmland. I’m sure they will make the river flow for you!

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The Frozen Underpants

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Putting years of effort in dreaming about the Icefield Parkways finally resulted in a visit to this incredible scenic road! At dawn, coffee was consumed in Lake Louise and with the first light, we went north. The rental car was packed with food, drinks, outdoor stuff, cameras and empty memory cards. The road through the valley of the Bow River and along the Athabasca River was so beautiful. Leaning over the dashboard of the car with our noses fixed to the windshield made driving uneasy, but for sure nothing was missed of this stretch of rocking beauty. But it was cold. Very cold outside!

Driving many miles through the unscathed Canada makes you often say ‘Wow!’ or ‘Awesome!’ And it actually makes you very thirsty after a while. I asked my map-reading best driver’s mate to have a zip of water to have some soothing relief in my throat. Cycling bottles are very handy when you’re on the road. Such a bottle has a very convenient small opening in the middle of the lid so you don’t have to unscrew the whole lid when cycling. You can easily take a zip without losing water or time in the process. My co-pilot saw I was very thirsty, and unscrewed the entire lid of the bottle, without me noticing this little detail. Being thirsty and driving at the same time, I took the bottle and a deep breath, and a zip of water. I emptied half the content on my shirt, mainly collecting all the fluid into my crotch before comprehending the unusual extra wide opening of the bottle… Being wet is acceptable when it’s hot outside, but it was freezing and the water which had been in the trunk was seriously cold. We also had scheduled two small hikes between Lake Louise and Jasper. It was fun but only for one of us. The only thing my best friend was doing was laughing as loud as she could and she couldn’t stop so after a while I overcame the cold shock and began laughing too…

We went out of the car along the road halfway the Icefield Parkways for having a fresh nose. The only thing I felt was a very fresh and frozen underpants. Walking near the Columbia Icefield, I looked like a small outdoor boy with a stiff diaper reaching the impressive tongue of the Athabasca Glacier. Nothing was left of my outdoor courage and the small piece of manhood I was carrying with me. Further north, my igloo underpants was a bit less unnerving reaching the whimsical frozen world of the Athabasca Falls as a second stop. A local beer accompanied with a vast bowl of nachos put us back at ease in Jasper!

In between Dusk and Dawn

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True love never grows old! Finishing the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route few years ago in Banff, located in the Canadian Rockies, left deep memories and true love for this part of the world on the border of Alberta and British Columbia. Leaving Amsterdam around lunchtime in December sets the plane more or less on the line between dusk and dawn. That sounds weird but it is kind of true. From mainland Europe to southwestern Canada, the plane flies in such a way that the dusk phase in Europe transits to the dawn phase in North America. The colors belonging to this sunset were splendidly spread across the horizon in a very very broad way. Incredible lights! It seemed so unreal! The light you would almost expect in a fairy tale. This surreal view was completed by the fantastic fjords of the coast of Greenland fully covered in X-mas’ whites and colds. This memory will be floating in my mind for a very long time.  Continuing over Canada, the landscape of Baffin Island was really fictional, while in the meantime, dawn was moving gently into daylight before arriving in Calgary.

After touching the holy Calgarian ground, life went back to what it should be! The first impressions of the Canadian Rockies in the winter were so perfect. Snowshoeing to the Chester Lake in the Spray Valley, close to Canmore, was of absolute beauty. When entering the parking lot of the trailhead, no one was there except one big female moose. Somehow this animal of scary proportions decided to have her salt lick on the rental car so within few minutes she approached the car and licked it pretty clean! Big female nature! On the same day, the Canadian wildlife stroke again with the amazing species called the mountain goat. Being from Europe, we are used to seeing mountain goats having the size of a domestic goat. But when encountering, in not such a feel-safe distance, this huge white animal trudging in the snow, the first reaction was ‘ARE THERE POLAR BEARS IN ALBERTA?’ Knowing perfectly that it didn’t make sense, this creature nevertheless dominated the whole hike until Google finally gave the answer. After this day of wildlife, it was time for some cross country skiing on the nicely groomed lanes at the Canmore Nordic Centre, including the 1988 Olympic cross country track! Personal records were set! The views around Canmore and Banff were incredibly awesome! It was a very intense visual pleasure to be traveling around here! Time to go further north!

 

The Rolling Hills of Estonia

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What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home (Alain de Botton). So at the end of October, I left my hometown for the Baltic country known as Estonia. I was searching for a ‘winter’ region to meet winter circumstances. I packed my bike, my camping stuff including a tent and a thermos, and more socks than usual for a trip of one week. I first enjoyed the capital Tallinn with all it included. I experienced sophisticated open-minded people, excellent food and Italian-quality coffees. I came across beautiful Nordic houses and old temporary housing blocks of Russian design, and saw many remnants of historical suppression. Nevertheless, the Estonian mentality is another thing. This Nordic tribe people make something of their self-sufficient lives and their proud country! They have truly impressed me!

It was then time to head out. The wind took me to the Lahemaa National Park, where encountering the Eurasian Elks made my day perfect. And yeah, it did rain the whole day! Probably the reason why I was the only guest in the huge guesthouse in Loksa. The touristic season was long gone. Turning south was turning into fierce Estonian headwind for many many hours to come. I was so dead that I couldn’t make my tent my home and treated myself with an apartment in Tartu. However, after many hours of wind blowing straight into my nostrils accompanied with all kinds of rain, I saw the sun for few minutes at the end of the daylight, which is like very early in the afternoon there! It was one of the finest things I saw that day! One night, I stayed in this so-cool farm in the middle of nowhere. Never seen such a lively organic farm with marvelous people (and two playful kittens)! Perfect stuff for fairy tales)! Just living the dream! Check them out if you’re around (or here or find something else on WOOFF)! My last days were filled drying up in the southern county of Põlvamaa, bordering Russia. I really enjoyed wandering around in the Meenikunno Bog with cranberries floating on top of the peat along the hiking trail. The Pavlova dessert was one of the best aftertastes of this short cycling stay in a fabulous ‘exotic’ country.

The Stupidity of Men (and Some Women)

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After acclimatizing on the Mer de Glace in France and in the Aosta Valley on the other side of the big white mountain massif including the partly ascend of the Gran Paradiso, it was time to head for the Mont Blanc. After being used to the new glacier walking techniques and climbing instruments, and a well-deserved rest day in Chamonix, we parked our cars in Les Houches a bit west of Chamonix and took a gondola lift and a train to reach the starting point: Nid d’Aigle at 2482m. After all the work-outs, it was a pretty easy walk to the Refuge de Tête Rousse at 3167m. It’s a hut just down of the infamous and possibly incredibly dangerous crossing of the Grand Couloir. The views from the refuge were extraordinary. We rested most of what was left of the day in bed to prepare our minds and bodies for the Big Day! When traversing the Grand Couloir the next day, we received real evidence of falling rock and ice. It either passed us by inches or hit some of us. Don’t think about it too much! After surviving the most threatening part, we climbed to the Refuge du Goûter at 3835m. The climbing was done with all four limbs, we wished we had more and longer ones. I was so dead when reaching this place! I wished I could recover for hours with whatever drugs would be available up there. But no, a short break was all we got. Completely exhausted at a time normally suitable for breakfast, I still had to go up another kilometer straight to heaven! For most of us, from that point or a bit later, it all came down to just our mental capabilities. It was not about training anymore, or gaining muscles, or fancy diets, or whatever you’d have done back home. It was mostly the mind which was in charge the rest of the ascend. Our guides told us to enjoy and to look around whilst working our ass off, but enjoying yourself at that moment is so difficult. You don’t believe anymore you will come across the summit this day, or ever in your entire life… But, you go on! Honestly, I cannot tell you why. Actually, it’s pretty dum. A work-out of more than eleven hours during free time, just to reach the top of a stupid hill. At one point, I was getting so close, I even started to be aware I was going to make it. I saw the summit (at least this time the real one…). I felt the energy flowing back into my system. And most importantly, I was enjoying myself. I made it. We all did it. Standing there and seeing all these big rocks around you from the top was so amazing. Unimaginable!

We took the same way back and slept another night at the Refuge de Tête Rousse. The next day early in the morning, we came back to our basecamp in Chamonix. Finally a shower (with running water) and clean clothes. We had dinner altogether and started celebrating our experiences with great stories, of which some of them will be memories for life! In the end, we could not answer the question why we actually did it. Some of us detested the day of the enrollment for this trip, as it was so heavy. Anyhow, we all made personal history. We also drunk beer and wine in decent healthy amounts. And then we discussed ‘What’s next?’, even with the unanswered question of why we signed up for this one, still in our heads. Someone suggested to run a marathon rather untrained and as a reward if finishing the first one, we do another one but trained… Some of us have already subscribed to the coming marathon of Amsterdam. Please, where’s the wake-up call!?!?

I left my hometown three weeks ago. I had this unfulfilled dream to get Ultimate High by cycling to a mountain and ascend it. It’s done now. I added big memories to my brainy collection. Great stories to tell! Hundreds of funny and fabulous pics of climbing comrades and unbelievable landscapes! But it all started with me reading about this Swedish adventurer, Göran Kropp, who climbed dozens of mountains around the world and cycled to Mount Everest, just to climb that one too. Crazy guy with a great zest for life!

Almost Paradisiacal Weather at Gran Paradiso, Italy

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After all the cycling just by myself to Chamonix (I almost started to feel like a poor lonesome cycling cowboy…), I joined the now famous club-of-seven-wannabe-mountain goats led by two guides, Didier Dumont and Guy Mevellec of Mountain Network. After our breakfast on the first day of August, we tried to lift our backpacks fully loaded with food and the climbing gear we were getting familiar with for one day. As it was only the previous day that we played with all our ‘new’ equipment on the Mer de Glace, the longest glacier in France. Very impressive for people who never walked on such a body of crushed snow and ice. It’s to a high degree monumental on any human level. And graceful within all the natural beauties I’ve ever met. Just ‘WOW’ cannot even comprehend it! Anyway, backpacks fully stuffedwe headed for Italy.

Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele has nothing to do with the epic movie you probably think of, it’s a refuge in the Parco Nationale Gran Paradiso. This was our ‘basecamp’ for the ascend of the highest Italian mountain planned the next day. The sweaty walk up the shelter was through pine forest and alpine rocky meadows. A nice warming-up climb with great views of the national park. But it all started the next day. Putting the alarm at 3.00 am during holidays sounds ridiculous. I totally agree! Nevertheless, you just do it. You get up, eat breakfast, pick up your backpack with most if not all your outdoor clothes and climbing gear, and feel like a heavily loaded donkey! In the dark, all with headlights as a dancing Christmas light strain, we ascended the massive mountain ‘the Gran Paradiso’. Whilst ascending the first part, you still think it’s fun to be out there. You get up with a goal you thought of long before. After some time (nobody could really recall when exactly), we touched the first snow. We took a short break during which crampons, gaiters, and poles were detached from our packs. It was kind of exciting, fighting with the laces which came with the gaiters and the crampons (which is which in the light of dawn!?), and then it started to rain… Thankfully, we were already sweating from the climbing. So we were pretty burning from the inside with this freezing rain on our face, fighting the elements of this outdoor equipment. To me, this sounded like a perfect mesmerizing holiday moment! Although we continued in acceptable weather conditions with from time to time great views, the Italian Theoi Meteoroi got up on the wrong side of his bed! The closer we got to the summit, the heavier the conditions. Rain disappeared, so we got snow back. The snow changed into a windy fog, which froze immediately to our eyebrows or expensive outdoor gear. Most of us sheltered behind a big piece of rock just meters away from the summit, while one of us was actually lying on this rock with his head because of altitude sickness. No name to mention here. In the end, we had to turn back of course. No summit for these seven mountain goats. We did make great memories and of course great stories after we dried up back at the Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele.

For the time being, most of us wondered why the heck did we sign up to do this in our free time. Afterwards, it was soooo cool to have tried it with the grandest intentions you can imagine! The human mind is great for forgetting the pain and exhaustion in the rear of the event.

All the way down up

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It was unbearable hot! I left the Netherlands in a bloody hot weather. No-one dared to do their usual activities. You would either stay home and lie in your shady garden with a cooling cocktail or you would go for a swim. Wow! I have passed so many people huddling around ponds. There was hardly any room left for the ‘refreshing’ water. I’d rather not imagine what for ingredients one could find in those waters.

I covered myself from head to toe and drank whatever fluid I could find. The first three days were so warm. I had my buff under my helmet, I wore cycling gloves, long sleeve shirts, and put on leg warmers. All that doesn’t sound logic at all, but it is! I think it was the best way to endure this personal Tour-de-France. Fortunately, the weather changed. After Luxembourg, the clouds came and the people I met on the roads talked about rain. It was difficult to imagine, but some of them even took a break to dry their gear from the rain. Mine was ultimately dry or thoroughly soaked with my honest sweat!

My body problems were very limited. No really sore buttocks or painful hands. It all went fine. The only inconvenience was my highly sensitive muscles in my upper legs which kept pulling my kneecaps upwards. I put them back, stretched from time to time, and that was it. Unbelievable. Getting older and feeling fitter than ever, or is that all a wishful thought!? I found my cycling rhythm after the Ardennes. During the first days, you really have to go through the discomfort of finding out many things, rhythm and inconveniences are among them. I felt so good! Pure climbing during 14 kilometers straight in the Jura. My lungs did a good job! Beautiful scenery, and great cycling.

I had my coffees in Geneva and now I have arrived in Chamonix. A real French coffee made me sleepy. I’m going to rest a few days and talk to you all later!