Another incredible trip to the Alps! This year I went over more for play than work but ended up doing a fair amount of both (with Hilary). There would be no racing this year but that left more time for exploring new trail, showing Hilary around, and following the main event on Friday / Saturday. Here's a quick recap of the trip.
Sunday: Fly from Boston to Geneva, an easy flight, but jetlag heading to Europe is tough. I had rented a car on the French side of the airport which was new to me. Since we were early they (Dollar / Hertz) bumped us up to a 6-speed Kia Rio Diesel. Much better than the clown car I was expecting. From the airport we went to the old part of Geneva to spend the day / night with my cousin. Really fun to tour the city with her and her family. Thanks Anne and Marco! We headed to bed early to prep for the big week ahead.
Monday: The drive to Chamonix was easy, just over an hour. Our first order of business was to pick up our media credentials and get food. We enjoyed baguettes on the town paragliding strip, a grocery shop, took a few photos and we were out of there. Hilary had set us up with an AirBnB just a few miles out of the chaos near Argentiere. It was the perfect location for the first few nights. The clouds were lifting to reveal the mountains and it was time for a run. We drove up to Vallorcine to run the last 20k of the UTMB course into Chamonix. We got distracted by beautiful mountain lakes and went off course up to Lac Blanc. Totally worth it for a glass of wine and a soda. From there we bombed down to La Flegere and into Chamonix. An unusually long train ride brought us back Vallorcine to get our car and we called it a night over a bottle of wine.
Tuesday: Courmayeur! Last year I had only been there in the dark (Start of TDS and UTMB aid station) so I made a point to get back and eat pizza as well as do some running. We drove through the big tunnel and ditched our car near the sports center (aid station). A short walk to the town center and we were enjoying a second breakfast before heading up to Refuge Bertone. It was hot out but the climb went by quickly. Bertone was busy so we kept moving towards Bonatti. Finally we were able to get some views of Mont Blanc as the clouds lifted and we couldn't have asked for better weather. At Bonatti (~8.5mi) we enjoyed a meat and cheese plate with a couple beers. From Bonatti we backtracked but diverged up a valley to climb up to join the start of the CCC course. Some of the best singletrack by far. It was a long descent back to Courmayeur and we made sure to get our pizza before heading back to Chamonix.
Wednesday: TDS Race. First we went to the Julbo press event over at Club Med. I was taking over the Julbo USA feed and want to go get some shades and photos. It was great to meet some of the athletes (Jason Schlarb & Julian Chorier) as well as the European Julbo team. From Chamonix we drove two long hours through multiple windy mountain passes to get to Cormet de Roselend, an awesome spot to watch the TDS race leaders and get some hiking in. Worth the drive, and on the way home stopped at the Les Houches aid station to watch a few more racers before heading home for the night.
Thursday: OCC / Rain: The weather finally moved in as forecasted. It was going to be a cold and wet CCC / UTMB. The plan for the day was to watch some of the OCC from Vallorcine and hike our way up one of the climbs. I had a flash setup to take some photos but lost my transmitter and was really bummed out. I still got some photos but was disappointed to carry all this flash gear only to not be able to use any of it. Good thing I left my spare transmitter back in the US! We headed back to Chamonix we ran into Kevin Mahoney and Steve Nigro. After a quick drink we headed back to our new accommodations - ENSA - the dorm rooms I stayed in last year. They were free so no complaints. Once set up we headed up to do the run I did last year on the northern balcony. It was still weathering on and off but once up high, it was actually nice. While the sun never came out, it was dramatic with the fog / clouds and we didn't see another person on our traverse across the balcony to Mer De Glace. We were racing light and took an easy way out on the "James Bond Road" back to Chamonix well after dark. We met up with Kevin and Steve for dinner before wrapping up another busy day.
Friday / Saturday: UTMB! So much hype for this year's race. Was it Kilian's race to lose? Would Jim Walmsley blow up? Was this the year the American men would take over ultrarunning's grand stage? Hilary and I had a mellow morning starting with buying some rain pants since we weren't exactly prepared for the forecasted winter conditions. I wanted to run the first 10k of the UTMB course to Les Houches so we decided to do that and take a bus back before getting ready to pull an all-nighter chasing the leaders around Mont Blanc. The energy in the city was growing by the minute. Kitted out racers with their drop bags were scurrying around town. We had time for a shower and quickly packed up for the night. From there it was a whirlwind. Here are some photos but I think the video will suffice rather than babbling on. Next year I hope to race again if things align - maybe the TDS so I could still follow UTMB...