Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Glandon the run

A pitifully weak, nagging high-pitched bleep ushers in the big day with the kind of whimper I expect to be emitting by the end of it.

Muesli is eaten. Near tasteless pasta forced down. Coffee deals a gentle nudge to the ribs. Slowly, activity trumps torpor and we're waiting, bug-eyed, at the top of the Alpe.

From the off, Mark plunges down the mountain like a man on rails. I do my best to follow, but wimp out of some of the turns as I've much less confidence in the descent. But bravado or, more likely, fatigue from braking takes precedence and I match him on the lower slopes, reaching the bottom mere seconds after him and a good few minutes before the other two.

This means we start slightly ahead of Martin and Nick, but it's not long before they catch me and I hitch on to the back of the train they're in, heading for the first climb. These first few kilometres are tackled with unnerving ease, but this is shaken away by the sight of the first ramp up to the reservoir. It's a short hike, but it signals the beginning of a roller-coaster of mainly ups, with the odd down mixed in to keep it interesting.

Yet again, I save my first cereal bar for the bottom of a long climb, wheezing through the oats as I gasp in the air. My fellow Marmottees think I'm in serious trouble and I'm sure they wonder what I'm doing there. But I'm surprised at how easily I seem to be ascending, passing many competitors as I tap away at a fairly decent lick. Good old Westerham Hill has clearly served its purpose. But what's different is that this is like eight of them stacked up in a row, so by the time I crest the first false summit, I know I'm in a bit of a fight.

Luckily, there's a couple of kilometres' dip before the next climb, the bottom of which gives me the chance to shed the gilet. Unfortunately, halfway up the 12% ramp, my load lightens and I'm shouted at by passers-by. I've dropped the gilet, along with several energy bars, so I have to stop. Dismount. Walk jelly-legged downhill. Fold up the gilet and stow it properly. Then try to clip in on a steep gradient. I half pedal at least 100 yards before my left foot finally clips in, but the ire stoked by my stupidity sees me past the most severe slope and on to the steadier incline.

It's at this point I pass a man with one arm and one leg missing. He's cycling up the hill on an adapted bike with one pedal. I'm astounded and amazed. To enter the Marmotte is the reserve of the fairly daft or the braggadocio. But this is real drive and triumph over adversity stuff that puts my efforts into stunning context. I resolve to quit moaning and just get on with it.

And this perseverance is rewarded by incredible views over lakes, mountains, valleys and horizons. The Col du Glandon wheedles its way through daisy-strewn alpine meadows the like of which I haven't seen since Heidi was televised in the mid 1970s on children's television. The view keeps me going and I've practically forgotten the pain as I see the feed stop at the top.

I've conquered one alpine pass. Only two more remain before I scale the Alpe...

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