Sitting on the edge of a rock, exhausted, the weight of my pack slowly shifts from my hips and shoulders to the rock. Carefully, I slide down away from my pack and wiggle my arms out of the straps leaving that heavy, no-good-dirty-animal resting on the rock.
“Did I just levitate?” I wondered.
Relieving my body of the weight made me feel like I was walking about an inch off the ground. Next to me, Nic pulls open a can of tuna, dumps it on a tortilla from a package marked Old El Paso, and squirts some mayonnaise from a tube on top. Lunch is served. We ate mostly in silence breaking it only to mumble a few things like, “Do you want peanut butter?” and “Do you see a good spot in the trees to go to the bathroom?”
Setting off on the Trail
A little over 24-hours earlier, we left Les Houches, France on foot with our good friends from the U.S., Ashley and Ben, to begin the 11-day Tour du Mont Blanc hike.
When the manager of the cottage we stayed in pre-departure saw our bags, he shook his head and, while quietly chuckling, said in an accent that I later learned was of Catalan origins,
“Oh, no, no, no. Your bags are too heavy. What are you thinking? How much water do you have in there?”
“Oh, probably about 4 liters” I said with a look that was a combination of concern and yearning for more information from someone with more experience.
“Oh, no, no, no. You don’t need 4 liters. You only need one, maybe two,” he responded in a tone that made you feel like you were some kind of idiot.
“Well, I drink A LOT of water and I don’t want to run out. Where is the next fill up?”
“You see that over there?” He pointed to a chair lift that wasn’t currently working across the valley. “That’s what you’ll be walking up today. You don’t want to be carrying more water than you need.”
Even though he didn’t answer my question about the location of the next water fill-up, I hesitantly emptied about a 1/2 liter of water out of my camelbak. I didn’t want to be caught on the trail without water and this man had no idea how much water my body craves. So, basically, I ignored a man who lives in the area and knows the trail well. He probably meets hundreds of people doing this hike every year given that it is one of the most popular treks in Europe.
Taking the Path Less Traveled…Sort Of
The thing is our experience of this hike was going to be a little different from how most people experience it and our heavy bags reflected this.
First, we planned to camp whereas most people stay in mountain huts (or refuge in French or rifugio in Italian). Mountain huts have heat, showers, walls for protecting you from things like wind and rain, electrical units for charging cameras, WIFI (yeah, can you believe it?) and mattresses. Camping meant that we were carrying a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and more warms clothes to make sure we didn’t spend the night shivering.
Second, we planned to cook all of our meals. The mountain huts offered dinner and breakfast, a very expensive one, but nonetheless it was provided, and didn’t require the hikers to carry their food and cooking supplies through the Alps. This meant that we carried three gas canisters for our backcountry stove and breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two people for at least three to four days since we wouldn’t be passing through any towns until then. We loaded our packs with dried salami, tuna, tortillas, peanut butter, dried fruit, freeze-dried soups and granola.
When we set off on day one, our bags were 95% water, food, camping gear and first aid supplies and 5% clothes since we wore the same dirty clothes every day with the exception of our underwear. Come on, we aren’t that gross!
Tuna, Tortillas and Aching Bodies
Nic and I had knots bulging from our right shoulders when we stopped for our tuna and Old El Paso tortilla lunch on the second day. It was not pleasant and we seriously wondered, “Wait, why are we doing this again?” and thought about whether we would actually make it to the end.
These feelings surprised both of us. Our expectations of this trek turned out to be a lot different from reality. We imagined this trek as a hike through fairly flat fields surrounded by the breathtaking Alps. Images of well-marked paths, picturesque European towns and early afternoon campsite arrival times were among the things we expected. Significant elevation gain or loss was not part of our imagined picture. By the second day, it was clear that our expectations were not going to match our experience.
Adjusting expectations is something that we are constantly doing while traveling so we kept putting one foot in front of the other and we were rewarded with absolutely stunning scenery and time with great company.
With two days of hiking behind us, we began to find our stride as we walked from France into Italy. And then we had some surprises. Stay tuned for the next adventure, folks!