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!
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 stuffed, we 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.
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!!!
Once upon a time, we were all strangers to each other. Throughout our lives, we tag the people we meet on a regular basis as either friends or acquaintances. Apart from our families, we share a big part of our social life with these human beings. We love and like, we laugh and cry, we eat and drink, we commute and travel to exotic places among many many other things. All these events are meaningful to us, and by doing so we get to know ourselves and the people around us. Raised with the concept that family and a bunch of friends are paramount for a happy life, most of us put effort into having and maintaining these social synergies. Anyway, the weird thing happened to me when I was younger. Listening to unheard music, interacting with unknown people, or spending time in a different culture than the one used to, seemed to me very captivating. I didn’t know why of course.
When getting older, I figured out two things about talking to people you don’t really know. First, talking to strangers isn’t something considered to be a normal social activity. At least in my Western surroundings, people aren’t familiar with small talk in places different than a pub at midnight when lightly intoxicated. In the process of conversing with unknown people, you learn to decipher faces showing all forms of skepticism! You see people thinking ‘Is he a bohemian!?’, or ‘Did he drink a distilled beverage just after sunset?’ Second, if the attempt is successful, talking to strangers is an amazing instrument to get to know yourself and that pleasing person you’re talking to. So nowadays, I do try to talk to strangers. I often start with a stupid joke. It takes a while before someone is actually responding to me (maybe I should change strategy in approaching same-species individuals). Anyway, if good luck comes along, I’m a happy person. My initial intention is always just to have fun! There’s often something very refreshing about it. In addition, and now it’s getting a bit more sophisticated, when combining lyrics of my favourite musicians with the concept of talking to strangers, I figured out that it’s a powerful instrument to observe what I actually feel about something I’m struggling with or about something I didn’t think of in the first place. I’m a slow person in the sense of progressive personal thinking. I need time. I use everything. And to accelerate creating actual thoughts, talking to strangers is an astonishing tool.
A beautiful stranger I met long time ago in the UK, gave me a badge and a small leaflet she came across the other day. I received the gift from London with both hands! So I encountered the idea of talking to strangers being put into an organisation with a website and people with similar experiences. As I believe this perception can be a strong one when tried during daily life or travelling, I want to share it with you. How kind of me!
After Moldava, it was time for a flat country with Romanians. Following the River Prut all the way downstream to Romania, I met a Polish guy on a bike, fully packed like me. Strangely enough, he was the only long distance biker I met between Amsterdam, Netherlands and The Black Sea. Anyway, the closer I got to the Danube Delta in Romania the more exotic birds I saw. Every 10 km I saw a new species. Great! I crossed the border east of Galati and entered the city via a desolate classification yard where I was expected. I heard a dog barking. At first nothing special, but I found out that this was the start of a cyclist hunt by a crazy pack of dogs. And I was the bait… Scary moments of a warm welcome of half a dozen of Romanian dogs! I was feeling much better after a really good coffee in the center of Galati with people, not dogs!
The Romanians have great ice-coffees in cans at gas stations! The Italian influence on Romania can be found not only in a drink, but also in the quality of ice-cream. I don’t know if there has ever been an Italian influence, but I fancy that story myself. As the traffic wasn’t bike friendly, I stopped from time to time at a gas station to refill with these great cold coffees in cans. With caffeine and tailwind I made it pretty easy to Constanta. And before you know it, after 3500 k’s on my bike, it was there. The Black Sea! Since I was a small boy, I knew its existence. Never realizing you can actually smell and taste it in real! The Black Sea! Weird feeling to be there! Can’t describe it much better.
Something had happened in my spirit. I hadn’t realized it till entering Bulgaria. I slept in Mangalia close to the border with Bulgaria and the next day I started late as I didn’t feel like continuing to Istanbul. I checked the internet for alternative travels. It turned out that, apart from lack of time, I was done with it! My body was exhausted. I cycled k’s in days, and I was just really done with it. So, I kept going back and forth between Mangalia and the Bulgarian border. Not able to decide. I made it to Varna in Bulgaria, but it was my last day on the bike. I was fed up! My body and mind were empty. It was time to relax. It was time for my book. It was time to spend time doing absolutely nothing…
Each early morning in Varna, I cycled to my favorite terrace, be sure the couch was mine, and stayed there with my book till three days later a bus took me to Istanbul. It seemed a very interesting world in Turkey, but it’s for another travel. Thank you all so much for the interaction. I really enjoyed it! See you soon…
Entering the Ukraine by bike was an experience by itself. Around lunch time on my last day in Poland, it started to downpour seriously. After two weeks of blazing sunshine, the earth needed water and it all came at once. Fully soaked, I decided to cross the border at the end of the day, so I could have my first night in the Ukraine. Great! Halfway the heavy ascend to the border, the rain stopped, and I was very happy and relieved I had made it so far! The first thing that the very important uniformed border patrol shouted at me was ‘Bikes are not allowed to cross!!’ I replied ‘Are you serious?’ The guy was dead serious of course. No question about it. I could only laugh! Luckily there was a huge queue of cars and the third car in the row was a Polish delivery car going for cheap gas to the Ukraine. The very nice Polish woman was helpful and happy to take my bike and me crossing this border. While we slowly moved towards the border, she explained that she had her own company, named SM Art, which shocked me at first…but it was a very happy trip to the other side…
I have to take back my words about the potholes in Poland. They are absolutely nothing compared to the ones in the Ukraine. Bigger, deeper, and much more nasty! It seemed to me like as if a huge meteor shower came down here. The potholes are so big that you can bath in them when it rains. I heard the story that after heavy downpours, you can actually dive in one of them and emerge from another. The huge difficulty is to know which two…
Cycling back and forth through the Carpathian Mountains was a wonderful trip. If it was not only for the scenery, then it was for rinsing my inner body. Just before going to dreams on my longest day of cycling in the Ukraine, I drank a huge amount of water and drink yogurts. I fell nicely asleep, but shortly after I woke up with pain in my stomach. Wow! Cool surprise! Quickly, I made a new friend. I embraced her in the bathroom and we got so close. Every single drop of fluid in my poor stomach had to go out via my head! And that’s not the right way! Soon afterwards, the rest came out via the other side of my already weakened body. Vomiting and having diarrhea, what do you want more in the Carpathians?! Fully rinsed from the inside, I woke up a new person, but a very weak new person!
OK, let’s say something positive about Poland. They do have some very nice asphalt around the potholes. That has to be said. There aren’t only potholes, like clear and deep places where asphalt is lacking, but there are also spots where the asphalt seemed to have been fluid for some time after which it has been pushed upwards. It’s like cycling on an old volcanic lava stream. Anyway, I survived and in short, Poland isn’t made for cyclists. It’s made for people who like sausages, mow lawns, shave heads of Polish males, and above all drive like mad…
Auschwitz is an incredible, strong and weird experience. I parked my bike in the garage of a local hotel and joined an English-speaking tour in the unavoidable baking sun. After hearing and seeing few of the most barbarian stories in the history of ‘modern’ human beings by a lovely French woman, I was confronted at the end of the tour by a 2 ton pile of human hair. It was saved up to be used as wool for clothes and carpets. No one talked anymore. No one could add any word to History. Fully empty, it was time to confront myself with my surreal fate, meaning cycling with a credit card in my pocket in a luxurious world…
And all that luxury came to me by just going on. I entered the globe of Krakow. Wow! I took it all there. First, one Polish beer! Air conditioning in a big shopping mall. Ice cream till it flowed out of my nostrils. Coffees till I couldn’t sleep anymore in my huge hotel room. We live in a very very weird place…