All week was kind of a crazy flurry to get everything ready. Not only were we preparing for a 330K race in the Italian Alps but Kristin and I were finishing up things at our places of work, filing a building permit for a new house we are building, dropping the girls off at the doggie hotel and packing for a 2 ½ week adventure in Italy, just plain craziness. But finally we were sitting on the plane totally exhausted but relieved to be able to relax. Taxiing out to the runway we were finally on our way……until the plane stopped. Too much traffic in Newark so we were told we’d have to sit on the plane parked for 40 minutes. The stress level was starting to build as I thought what if we miss our connection to Milan. Kristin reassured me that we’d be fine but all I could think about was Joe on his way to Hardrock, the same thing and he missed his connecting flight in NY and rented a car to drive to Boston so he could get out there on time. After 30 minutes, we were on our way….relieved:) We arrived in Newark with plenty of time and celebrated the first leg of the trip with a cold beer and glass of wine.
Our next flight was direct to Milan, an 8 hour flight across the big pond. The international planes are great with plenty of leg room, behind the seat screens and power plug-ins. And on this flight we even had dinner. We had both requested the vegetarian fare and little did I know since we had “special” meals, we were served first. A little vino with the meal and all was good. The darkness rolled in and we both settled in for the long flight hoping to get in some sleep as we would be losing 6 hours in the change of time zones. Kristin fell asleep after watching a movie. I was tired but my legs were jumping the whole way. I think I finally got about an hour in before it started to get light and then I couldn't stop looking out the window as we were getting closer. We flew right over the Alps and it was incredible seeing the huge mountains from overhead and thinking soon we will be running over and through those.
The Milan airport was not too hard to manage although our first case of reality hit as we were trying to find the car rental agency. You don’t think you will have an issue with the language until you try to ask someone for help and they look at you like you’re from another planet. Somehow we did find it and the guy there spoke enough English so it worked out fine and he was really good at saying sign here and there. I have no idea what I signed, I guess I’ll find out when we return the car.
We hit the roads with our GPS loaded with the Italian maps and off we went. Within the first mile we made a wrong turn and toured through the airport again but then we turned on the volume and she directed us the correct way. We were on some real country roads on our way to Courmayeur. We kept thinking we were lost. For the first 45 minutes we were driving in and out of little Italian villages on cobble stone streets with barely enough room for one car. Soon we made it to the big highway having to stop at the toll booth. And of course I went in the wrong line asking for the telepass, which we didn't have. I had to drive in reverse a ways to get out of this line, luckily no one was coming through. The autobahn was great for travel and we found out way to Courmayeur in just over 2 hours from Milan.
After running into more narrow cobblestone streets in Courmayeur which dead ended, we found the Edelweiss Hotel. This is a great smaller family owned place in the heart of Courmayeur. We unpacked and set off to find some lunch as it was getting late in the day. Mid day is tough to find businesses open in Italy as many of them close down for a few hours and reopen later in the day. We found one place and just wanted to get a slice of pizza and something to drink. More reality as we had no idea what the guy at the restaurant, who I am assuming was the owner, was saying and he couldn’t understand us either. But we understood one work, closed but then somehow he said pizza was ok and he quickly directed us to a table. But we wanted to sit outside, he said no in his Italian way so we sat. Looking at the menu we ordered a pizza to split as we didn’t want to eat too much and fill up as it was already 3 PM and we wanted to have a nice dinner later. The owner said very sternly in his Italian way, no split pizza, one pie per person. We were stunned but also very hungry and agreed. We sort of chuckled to ourselves, not really knowing what we were doing. Soon the guy came out with two huge pizza pies, one for each. When he came out he showed us his large belly and said with Italian words and hand language, eat and look like me. We both ate the entire pies and the owner was very happy. We were also afraid if we didn't eat them, he might scold us .
We had to walk for a while to work off that pizza and went back to the room for nap as we were both exhausted. I tried to sleep but also wanted to get a run in so I tucked Kristin in and off I went. I searched out the trail I ran on two years ago when I ran the UTMB which I believe is the finish to the Tor Des Geants. After a while and a few missed turns I found it. I didn't want to totally exhaust myself prior to the race but also wanted to get used to the elevation so I climbed for about 30 minutes on the trail up to Betrone and then turned back. I came back to the room to find Kristin still asleep but she soon woke up and we hit the town to check out the shops. We found some Grappa and wine to bring back to the room and enjoyed a bit of the Grappa right off. By 9 PM we were hungry again and found a wonderful little cafe in an alley way which served great crepes. And then it was hazelnut ice cream topped with Bailey’s for dessert. And to end the meal the waiter brought out some limoncello. When we got back to the room it wasn't long before we passed out as we were still very sleep deprived.
The next morning we finally awoke around 9 am only because we were hungry and breakfast was over at 10:00 am. The breakfasts here are great with bread, cheese, salami for those who enjoy meat, pastries, extra strong coffee and tarts. With full bellies, we next planned out our day. I thought it would be smart to get in some altitude acclimation but running that high wasn't really an option without destroying our legs prior to the race so we took a gondola from La Paud which would bring us to just over 11,000 feet at the Rifugio Torino. I really had no idea what to expect but when we reached the summit we stepped out to discover the glacier of the Geants right at the foot of Mont Blanc. The views were unbelievable as we hiked across the glacier. Kristin was totally new to this kind of mountain experience and was like a little kid who just saw Santa Clause for the first time. She had a huge smile on her face that just wouldn't go away. We hung out for about 1 ½ hours hiking around and thoroughly enjoying the scenery. We were a bit winded when we first got there but really it was not too bad. After a great day in the mountains, we settled in for some fine Italian wine, fresh cheese and grapes on our balcony overlooking the mountains before dinner. And then it was back out for some fine Italian dining. This night it was fresh lasagna with some more awesome local wine.
Friday morning was another late sleep and then more good breakfast. After that it was down to business. We had to prepare for the race. We sorted out what we would need for drop bags and what to wear for the start of the race. The weather forecast was calling for thunderstorms at the start so we need to be smart and stay dry. 2:00 PM was packet pickup which also included our one drop bag which would be transported to numerous life stations along the way. We went to the sport pavilion where packet pick up would be but had some lunch first. Well again we were lost in the language barrier. We found a restaurant and all I wanted was a light lunch as we had a past dinner coming up. Not happening. We sat down and we were handed a limited menu and told in Italian that this was it. I was totally lost in the translation and Kristin was using her limited knowledge of the language to get us through. Somehow the meal included what looked like a 9 course meal. I tried to use my own sign language along with English interpretation but the waiter just looked at me without a clue as to what I was trying to say so we ordered whatever it was. It turned out to be two full meals. Confused again, we thought it was a buffet as others had gone up to serve themselves. So we went up to get our meals. Then another waiter came out and scolded us. We tried to explain that we just ordered and he said in some Italian to go sit, they will bring it to us. So we sat. Then out came the feast. We both had a full tortellini dish with fresh bread and then when I was done I had a full plate of polenta with sausage. I had no idea I ordered sausage but was able to pick it off as I don’t eat meat. Kristin for her second meal had a full omelette and French fries. Stuffed from eating too much again, we figure this was all good for carbo loading for the race as we will be weighing a good 10 pounds heavier at race start with all this eating. After lunch we waddled over to get our race packets and our drop bags to fill which we will bring back prior to our pasta dinner tonight. Yes, more food to prepare for the 10 AM start on Saturday morning.
Time to hit the pasta dinner. If you want to track I think you can find us on the Tor Des Geants site. Kristin is # 626 and I am # 610. And if you want to see some awesome photos, check out our Facebook page with pics HERE.