Les Montagnes

I remember when I was in college (Go Spiders!!!) and we used to call our hardest academic weeks “Hell Weeks” because they were so crammed with exams and projects and presentations and sleep-deprivation and coffee.  Today I wanted to write myself a note:

Dear Former Self:

Here is the kind of  “Hell Week” you’ve graduated to:

Saturday: Col de Manse round 2, plus a 3 km finish at a ridiculously steep incline
Sunday: Col de Ornon – Altitude 1371 m
Monday: Alpe D’Huez round 1: 21 switchbacks at 8.4% grade.  Plus Col de la Sarenne at altitude 1999 m and 8% grade.
Tuesday: Alpe D’Huez: round 2
Wednesday: Col de Glandon: Never ending 22ish km climb at 6% to altitude of 1924 m
Thursday: Col de la Madeleine: 20km climb at 8% to altitude of 2000m
Friday: Col de Tamie – 9 km at 7% grade.

Better take your coffee strong!!

Your Future Self

All told, I think this past week was the most difficult of the entire Tour, and I am sure the riders will feel the same.  I still have four more days in the Alps, with 8 more Cols to cross off, and I’m sure each of these days will be as hard as each day this week, but at least there’s just four of them.  The weird thing is, by now I’ve realized that I’d rather be in the mountains than anywhere else.  I don’t think I’ll even try to discover why I feel that way via written word, because it’s not a thought or a fact or an observation – it’s just a feeling.  It’s calm and peaceful and at the same time it’s nudging and prodding and tempting you to go up and up and further and further.  I grew up by the ocean in Maine as as much as I LOVE the ocean, I don’t think I feel the same way there.  At the beach I want to play in the waves and walk in the sand and swim in the water but I don’t think I’ve ever felt the movement of discovery like I feel in the mountains.

I was thinking a lot about the philosophy behind our drive to get to the top of mountains – from the historic castles perched atop the highest summit to the modern sport of mountaineering.  And I don’t think, for me at least, that it has anything to do with wanting to “conquer” a mountain or claim some sort of victory at the top.  Because at the top of the mountain, what you see is that there are an unfathomable, unsurmountable number of surrounding mountains, many of them higher still, and that in tackling any of them you’ll just discover more and more and more.  So I don’t think getting to the top of a mountain is an ego booster or a way to show the mountains who’s boss – it’s a way to get to this place that we’ve come to equate with the top of ourselves, only to discover that that’s a destination to which we are always going but never arriving, because there’s so much more possibility out there.  It’s a different perspective up there, truly more broad; and I think in the truest sense of this cliche, it’s only when the perspective is most open that you can focus in on what’s most important.

So even if it’s killing my legs, I’m happy to be spending this time in the Alps and am already dreaming of spending summers in some half-lived in ski town here and running up and down big hills all day.


Author: zoegoesrunning

Hello! I'm a runner, a writer, and have run across the United States and the Tour de France course. Most recently, I'm blogging about my adventures in an MFA program that will bring me to Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, and my teaching plans for Argentina.

14 thoughts on “Les Montagnes”

  1. Zoe, I love reading about your comparisons to being in the mountains[ or Alps]. Even though certainly not running them the way you have, when there for 4 or 5 days and then you go to flat ground, you certainly feel an emptiness or like you lost a very good friend. Go get’em the rest of the way, finish strong, and ….GO SPIDERS!

  2. What a beautiful and informative entry. It has changed the way I see your challenging run. Now I understand that the process, although challenging, is so meaningful. Keep up your stamina and enjoy this last week!

  3. Reading this entry was such a perfect way to start my day. I feel calmed by your perspective. You’re doing such an amazing thing Zoe!

  4. Hello Zoe and Alex,

    After reading your beautiful words about the mountains and company, I don’t feel so bad now about talking to you whilst on Alpe d’Huez last Tuesday. It was a pleasure to talk to you and Alex about your massive effort. I rode upto the Col de Croix de Glandon on Saturday and saw the “Zoe grafitti.”
    I have spread the word as much as possible Zoe.
    I drove home yesterday and felt the same about the mountains as I watched them slowly disappear in the rear view mirror.
    I had a hoot doing the Megavalanche but boy, is my body paying for it now.
    When you do head back there Zoe, make sure you go Parapenting as I did yesterday before leaving. It was the best experience ever.


  5. “You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
    ― René Daumal


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