April 25, 2014: Our 33rd wedding anniversary, a cozy intimate restaurant, a lovely dinner, glasses of wine and…note cards with proposals. Even as Jim and I looked back over 33 years of the daily ups and downs, we were looking into the future to our 35th anniversary. Nearly every year since the first we’ve celebrated our journey (that was a camping trip to Disney World) with a quick overnight in the mountains, a visit to a nearby city, and on those that end in “0” or “5” we’ve gone bigger – a Caribbean cruise, Alaska, Ireland – you get the picture.
Face it, we’re 57 years old and physically still very active, but for how long? So let’s go all out for our 35th! Europe again? Hawaii? Never been to Rome… how to choose? So we each researched options and here we were, presenting ideas and itineraries.
Such fun trying to “sell” each other on that “experience of a lifetime!” I love hiking and Jim loves biking and we’ve mastered travel that includes both. The more we talked, the bigger the scheme became, and we laughed: there’s no way we could pull this off. But… could we? By the last spoonful of chocolate dessert we’d roughed out a plan that meshed ideas and THIS.WAS.BIG.
The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is the most popular long walk in Europe, approximately 170 km (105 miles) over high mountain passes, through lush valleys and picturesque villages, crossing the borders of France, Italy, Switzerland and back into France again to complete the circuit, all while looking at the glaciers flowing down the sides of the Mont Blanc massif, the highest mountain in Europe. How about we hike that? And when we’re done, how about let’s go to Paris for a bit and catch the Tour de France as the world's greatest cyclists enter the city for their final stage?
Two years to plan this dream, and of course I didn’t start until six months out. Books, trekking guides, maps, websites, blog posts of hikers who have gone before us. Decisions: with a group or self-guided? Hike clockwise or anticlockwise? Gear: how much? How heavy? Sleeping: reserve accommodations in advance or wing it? What to do for 4 days in Paris? (Okay, this part wasn’t hard.) There were also some family complications at home that needed arranging.
We opted to fend for ourselves because (a) most guided groups skip some segments of the route, (b) our pace and nobody else's and (c) cheaper! The down side was conducting my own research of how far to hike and where to stay each night. I'm one of those people who needs to investigate ALL options before making decisions, and there are many options for accommodations on the TMB. About every third day the route passes through a town. Some days a rifugio or auberge high in the Alps is the only place to stay. Sometimes if you will walk just a couple of kilometers further there are more options (but will you have the energy near the end of that long day?) While there is a myriad of websites and blogs about the TMB, there is no one clearinghouse website through which we could book all accommodations. After all, we’d be walking across borders of three countries.
Ultimately I tackled the job armed with the Bible of the TMB: Trekking the Tour of Mont Blanc by Kev Reynolds. Along with its descriptions of places to stay and recommendations from some great blogs, I began by roughing out each day’s distance and where we wanted to land, first booking the places that had only one choice and filling in with the towns where options were easier and we could crash in comfort. One email at a time, sometimes lost in translation, an itinerary of hostels and hotels developed. We really could do this – together.
And here we go.
“And so each adventure is a new beginning.” ~T.S. Eliot