Category Archives: Europe

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.

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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!

Finding the Perfect Line

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Yes! So happy! Today, I take off. On the road again! Sea to summit! Me and my bike ‘Zedd’! I leave the comforts of my life routine behind me and live again from the saddle for about ten days all the way to the slopes of that big ‘White Mountain’. This Mont Blanc is the highest pinnacle in the European Alps and just lying there to be explored. I’ll cycle from my hometown in the Netherlands to Chamonix in the French Alps. I’ll use the (green) route number 7 of the Dutch organization ‘Europafietsers’, meaning cycling through Maastricht (the Netherlands), Ardennes (Belgium), Luxembourg, Lorraine (France), Vosges, and the Jura and then left to Geneva. From there, I’ll reach Chamonix either via the southern shores of Lake Geneva, or via the valley of the river Arve. Anyhow, it’s a long way cycling with the sun on my face! Very enjoyable! I’ll use my tent as a shelter and recovery home whilst cycling, and then I take a well-deserved rest in Chamonix and prepare myself for the ascend of Gran Paradiso in Italy prior to the Mont Blanc. I join a group of seven untamed climbers led by Mountain Network. I’ll keep you posted during the trip!

But first, I have to find that perfect rhythm again of the routine of a cycling holiday: get up early and leave my warm and cosy Cumulus, prepare breakfast when the world is silent and damp, put the tent down, pack my stuff, mount my Thorn, cycle through the countryside, and meet all what’s out there! Then, after tons of water and food in different weathers, find a place to set up camp, cook, shower and wait till it all starts again… Jolly as a sandboy!

 

The Planted Seed: Quest for Freedom

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In 1995, adventurous Göran Kropp left his hometown in Sweden heading for Mount Everest. On a bike! The following year in April, he arrived in Nepal. His second attempt in May to conquer Everest solo and without supplementary oxygen was successful. Very very crazy guy! I absorbed this tale when I was a bit younger than now with admiration and disbelief, and I always thought this couldn’t be a human journey. Anyway, the seed was planted… In 2013, I wanted to cycle to Mount Elbrus and ascend it, but due to safety issues in the Caucasus I changed my plans for that year. This summer, I’ll try to do my Kroppedian approach of a three weeks off. I’ll attempt to cycle on my Thorn from my hometown in the Netherlands to Chamonix in the French Alps. Chamonix is the French gateway to the highest summits of Western Europe. From there on, I’ll join a group of eight enthusiasts to first ascend the Gran Paradiso in Italy followed by the climb of the Mont Blanc from the French side. Although this trip is small and done in my own way, it still reminds me a lot of this crazy Swede… In one week, I’ll leave! So much life and freedom to look forward to! I could talk for hours about the subject of freedom and the mind (that’s for a guy like me not more than few long minutes), but let’s not talk and waste time, just watch this video from Get Out There Productions and you will know me so much better…

Enjoy summer time!!!

 

Playing in the Snow

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Two weeks were spent in the white French Alps when time changed from 2013 to 2014. This change of year was spent with friends, all adoring sports and a sheer load of fresh air! Les Deux Alpes saw our snowboards on- and off-pistes. What a great material snow can be! We had our camp based in the smallest apartment ever to be found in this mountain village. Cosy but smelly as only guys were around! The first couple of days, a blue sky accompanied us finding the best off-piste trip we could dream of. Extraordinary feelings came to us when cutting these virgin snow fields with our own tracks! It made decent memory! Few homemade movies were compiled showing grown-up kids having fun in the outdoors! You can find the videos on my Facebook page. Mesmerizing beauty!

After being exhausted in the grand Parc National des Écrins (Les Deux Alpes), the mountain range of Belledone was next! Snowshoe walking and again a bit of snowboarding were on the agenda. The ‘Espace Nordique du Barioz’ was extensively flattened by three enthusiastic female mountain goats (two of them you can find below!) and me. Starting the journey at the Refuge du Crêt du Poulet, close to Allevard, a circle was made with majestic views on the Belledone and the Chartreuse. Highly enjoyable for the eyes!