Life changes

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Well, how things have changed since my last post. I am sat here in my apartment in Argentiere in the Chamonix valley. If the cloud cover would raise a bit then Mont Blanc would come into view. This morning I woke to the view of snowfall. My morning run straight up for 500 metres was at times in waist deep snow. Ok not really running, but fun non-the-less.

Lou was given the opportunity for a weeks work over the Easter period here in Argentiere, so of course jumped at it. While she was out here she decided to view a few apartments. One of them looked pretty good for the price. She sent me a few pictures of it and before we had much chance to think about it, we decided to take it. I had to hand in my notice at work and then there was the house and belongings to deal with. The plan was to drive over and stuff the car with everything we thought we needed to survive. Then the madness commenced!

Our place in Bristol was not massive, but was certainly not small, and being a bit of a hoarder, there was a lot of stuff to deal with. We had some storage available with the family, but there was an awful lot left. Much was sold, taken to a charity shop or sadly taken to the dump. It was emotionally quite difficult but strangely liberating. It was made easier with the knowledge that I was soon going to be living in a valley surrounded by the most dramatic mountains in Western Europe. I would never have to run on the flat again!

Finally we were ready, well, sort of, for the off. The car was as stuffed as could be with two bikes hanging off the back. The journey went smoothly with us turning up only thirty minutes late for our appointment with the lady from the estate agent, who was giving us the keys. The weather was overcast and wet so even though the views were good, I was not seeing the mountain tops. The grand unveiling was delayed.

My first morning I woke after a very deep sleep to a cloudy view out of the window again. I had already looked at the maps back in Bristol to get an idea of which way to head on arrival for the trails. I headed towards the out of use Grand Montets ski lifts and headed up the slope. After some amazing running through the trees,P1020645 I came out onto the ski slope so just decided to head up it. There were enough breaks in the clouds to give me some stupendous views of the surrounding mountains and gorges. Wow! Although the slope wasn’t super steep, the going was pretty hard. The higher I got the rain turned into snowflakes and the icy snow was getting more powder like. Soon the snow was reaching up to my knees as my feet squeaked through the new layer. I had said that I would be an hour, so at 38 minutes, I turned and begun the exhilarating descent back down, sliding in the soft snow. I arrived back at the apartment buzzing.This is what I came for.

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marmot tracks

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Snowdrifts still over my head at the end of May!

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My ibex at the top of the vertical km

I have been out all except today for a run as I want to be careful and not overdo things which would be so easy. The trails are everything I could dream of and I have barely scratched the surface. There is so much exploring to be done. We have also had some nicer weather which had Monty in full view looking as spectacular as ever. The next morning we woke to the contrast of an inch or so of snow in the valley and still snowing. That mornings run was more a trek through knee deep snow once I had climbed 200 metres or so. Just amazing. This to me is what trail running is all about. I have entered the Chamonix vertical km at the end of June. For those who are not familiar with this race format, it is a race that has 1000 metres of ascent and usually all squeezed into a very short distance. The Chamonix race is 3.5km short, so as you can calculate is a very steep race I managed to give it a go a few days ago. It is an incredible climb that zig zags its way up under the chair lift. It was completed in 36 minutes last year which defies belief when you are on it and have resorted to a walk as running has become either impossible or pointless as it is slower than a good walk. At the top there is some simple scrambling which breaks up the max effort a little. When I arrived at the top, puffing and panting, it was snowing and I was stepping into a few fresh inches. There was some old drifts that were over head height and as I stopped and gazed around I spotted a Ibex on the rocks nearby staring at me. I whipped my camera out and slowly walked towards it. It didn’t seem bothered at all with my presence and let me get within 20 metres where I could get a picture. I turned and dashed back down the km. On the subject of nature, I have also been really happy to spot some marmots. The first time was when I reached a chairlift at 1800m and all that could be heard was the piercing warning cry from one. I quickly spotted one, the two and then realised there were around 5 looking at me from around 150 metres away. As I approached them they soon dived into there burrow. The next time I seemed to catch one unawares as I got within about 5-10 metres of it.

While nosing around in a shop I picked up a flyer for a race called the Trail Du Gypaete which is quite close by. It has a 71km category with nearly 5000 metres of ascent and descent. I may have to enter! So other than the lifetimes worth of trails to run, there are plenty of races to keep me busy. I suppose I had better get myself a job soon to pay for this new life!P1020674

5 thoughts on “Life changes

  1. Sounds amazing Neil. You’re so fortunate to have the mountains on your doorstep, perfect place for UTMB training. I’m not even a tiny bit jealous…..honest.

  2. Sounds like alpine life is for you! I am heading out to chamonix on 4th July until the 7th to do a recce the utmb coarse. If you are about would be great to catch up? SDW 100 next up for me, enjoy those trails….

  3. Neil, Hats off to you. You’re one of the few people that actually realises that all the material things in the world don’t actually matter and whilst you are relatively free you take advantage of that freedom. Everybody has it – I’ve seen a lot of “you lucky this” or “fortunate that” messages during your transformation, but the reality is that you’re not lucky or fortunate… well, you are, but the point is that you have made your own luck and fortune because you’ve had the balls to play a hand, take the risk and never live wondering what if.

    You’ll find a way of getting by and will adjust your lifestyle to suit. You know what the other life is like, been there, done it, know you can go back if you have to so it should hold no fear and not get in the way of you living the life you really want to. Hat’s off to you sir, if a tiny fraction of the population did the same then the world would be a less materialistic and happier place. Keep the dream as a reality captain and I hope to see you on the trails again soon!

    • Thanks Chris. Yes it is funny that pretty much everyone says that we are lucky, when in fact it was hard to do this, and yes, it was after all just a decision. But I must say as I look out of the door towards the Mont Blanc massif I do indeed feel lucky. Lucky to have made that scary decision and to leave the familiar behind. The mountains hold a magic for me, and if this only works out for the summer, then I will be getting one of the greatest most memorable summers of my life so far. Give me a shout when you are next out this way.
      Neil

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