Saturday, September 11, 2010

Weeble, Wobble and Crash - Part Two

Part Two:

So, there we are, on an extreme downhill forest trail, struggling to hold our bikes from crashing down the mountain, when after taking several steps, I feel explosive, mind-numbing, searing pain. It feels like thousands of razor blades are slashing at the connecting tissues of both of my knees. Holy crap!, I think to myself. This is definitely NG - Not Good. I shuffle forward a few more steps, and it gets worse. Hhhhhmmmm Now what?

I start to use my bike, almost like a walker, trying to lean my body weight on the bike, while sort of dragging or swinging each leg around to take a step. The pain is excruciating. Behind me, Al says, Hey - are you alright? No, I say. It's my knees.

I have had this twice before, but never this bad. So, I know one thing - I will be just fine, once I am back on either a flat surface, or on an uphill surface. These connecting tissues only cause me pain when I am descending a downhill surface. At times, this can include stairs.

While I've never actually had this checked out by a doctor, it seems to me that the medial collateral ligaments, and the lateral collateral ligaments of both knees are the sources of pain. Why this happens? What causes this? I have no idea.

How bad is it?, asks Al. Worse than I've ever had it before, I reply, as I continue this weird dragging, swinging motion with my legs. We continue on for a few more minutes, with Al talking to me. When I no longer answer him, he knows the pain is severe.
We decide to stop and take a rest. Alvi takes my bike and says "Keep going, I'll take your bike." While his offer to help is lovely, it simply is not possible. For two reasons. The first being, the trail was so treacherous, that we needed to keep both hands on both brakes, to prevent the bike from toppling over, head over heels. How would he be able to take 2 bikes down? NP - not possible.

And the second reason is, now I simply am unable to move at all. In fact, I am dangerously close to collapsing, as the pain is unbelievable. 'Please give me my bike back', I whisper. Putting my weight on the bike, I resume hobbling down the mountain, knowing that I must keep moving. If I stop again, I may not be able to will myself forward.

The boys stay behind, and I hear them discussing some kind of plan. Something about getting a car to come and get us. The plan seems to be that Alvi will hurry on ahead and try to get help, while Markus will stay with me.

But here are the facts:

We are on a trail that is only accessible by foot.

We are nowhere near anything.

It is getting late in the day, somewhere around 5 pm.

The fastest way home is down this trail.

Due to the steepness of the trail, it not possible to either carry someone or take two bikes.

Conclusion: There is only one way home, and that is down. Each person has to make it down with their own gear, under their own power.

As Markus and I continue to trudge along, things for me get a little worse. Now my legs are cramping, and I've developed several blisters on my feet - probably due to the two soakers from the tunnel. Instead of the weird dragging, swinging thing I was doing before, I am now walking like crab.

While Markus is making jokes to try to cheer me up, off in the distance I hear something. And it sounds like cars....driving fast. As we round a bend in the trail, way down below in the valley, we can see the blessed highway. And hope surges through me.

After Markus takes stock of the situation, he says to me, 'Well, there's good news and there's not so good news'. Yeah? I say. 'The good news is that we are descending this mountain very quickly due to the steepness of this trail.' he says. 'Yeah?' I say. 'But, at the rate we are going, it will take another hour to get down to the highway.' he says.

We look at each other, and I say, 'I can do an hour'. I trust the Hammer. Markus is Swiss, and therefore he is nothing, if not precise.

However, he can be a sneaky photographer, snapping shots when you are not looking. I am eternally grateful that he did not photograph this part of our day.

As we resume, I feel a spring-like step, in my crab-like gait.

While Markus continues to make cheerful conversation, I start to meditate, and try to concentrate on yoga breathing, to ignore the pain. At some later time, I hear Markus yell, "Look! There is Al! And he's waiting for us....on a road."

Sweet Jesus, and Mary, Mother of God - there is my Alvi, standing on a logging road. I feel like sprinting down the rest of the trail, only my almost useless knees will not let me. And so, I crab-walk down the rest of the trail. And weak with relief, I start laughing....

...and sneaky Markus snaps this photo. No, I am not praying. I am trying to revive my numb hands and wrists. In the background, you can see the trail. This photo does not do it justice.

We climb back on the bikes, and start the short descent to the highway. Markus was right - were it not for the logging road, it would have taken an hour to reach the highway.

The ride back to our village along the highway frankly, was a bit of a blur for me. Somewhat euphoric at being pain free, I felt an unexpected surge of energy, and we rode quite quickly through several villages, past an outdoor concert, over a bridge, and up to our hotel.

And we capped off the day with some great conversation, and some much needed and quickly devoured food. The boys stayed up late again..... :0)

Total amount of time in the saddle: 9.5 hours. However, now I know this is not actually important.

Total elevation climbed: 800 m Woo hoo!

Some lessons learned:

Elevation always trumps time in the saddle.

Alvi prefers Swiss strudel to German strudel.

Reaching the top of the mountain is only half the battle. One must also get down.

Markus is hilarious!

The next morning, we said our goodbyes to Markus, and agreed to do this again the next year. Hopefully, in 2011 our group will include a certain someone special, right Hammer?

With that, Markus jumped on his Ducati and blasted off to Zurich, while we packed up and pointed our car towards Morzine, France.

After an incredibly scenic drive, lunching on a cheese sandwich in Gruyere, enjoying a cool bottle of water in Evian, and driving alongside Lake Geneva, we arrived in the bustling sports village of Morzine.

In the winter, Morzine is a ski resort, but in the summer it is a biking haven, noted most for its extreme downhill trails.

The downhillers don their kevlar body armour, clamber aboard the chairlifts, ride to the top, and then blast, full speed, down the mountain. They look like this...

...and they roam through the village in packs, like this....

We, are uphillers or climbers, a concept that the downhillers hold in some disdain. They don't seem to understand the feeling of accomplishment of climbing a mountain. Ok - but that is neither here nor there. One thing I did learn - fast - was, when you hear a pack of downhillers coming (and they sound like a swarm of angry bees) you simply Get. Out. Of. The. Way.

Upon arrival, we strolled through the center of the village looking for our hotel.

Turns out it was located on the mountainside, across the river. After negotiating some serious elevation, and tight switch-back roads, Alvi manouvered the car into a parking spot and minutes after checking in, we were in contact with our pals, John and Anne, whom we had planned to meet for dinner

Both of these cats are serious bikers, and are super competitive. Having arrived one day before us, Superman (John) had already scouted out the area, and had planned not only our routes, but also a number of surprises, namely Killer Mountain Challenge Europe, to name just one.

Before I can continue with the story, I need to try to explain a strange phenomenon that has developed around Alvi, as this biking story has a tinge of it as well.

(Someone throw a log on the fire -it's story time....!)

Since Alvi has developed his biking tours, and has taken folks out biking, he's developed his Killer Mountain Challenge - which simply is a friendly contest to see who can make it up all Six Summits. It's just a fun thing, albeit it is difficult. Which, frankly, is what makes it fun. And competitive.

We've been travelling in our off seasons, and often times we'll meet up in Europe, with some of our pals from here. And this is where Alvi has developed an issue. The folks then plan extreme things for Alvi to do on their home turf- almost in retribution, it seems, for the biking here. This has happened now some 5 or 6 times, with all kinds of things, not just sports. The first time it happened was in the German Alps some two years ago. I said to Alvi - "Hey man, what's going on here?" Alvi just shrugged, and said, "I don't know", and off he went, and did whatever extreme thing was planned for the day.

It happened again, one night in Brugges, but in that case, the people tried to kill him with super strong, Belgian beer, appropriately named 'Duvel' - which means devil in English.

It happened again in Lago di Garda some years ago. I can actually feel it happening - the air becomes thick like pea soup, with super-charged testosterone flying about. Alvi, however, rarely says no to a challenge...., which frankly, may exacerbate the situation.... :0)

The biking thing, is Alvi's thing - not mine, and yet at times, I too, get dragged into the situation. Alvi and I discussed this once, and he said, 'They're trying to kill me because of the biking. You gotta stop hanging out with me". "Damn straight, I said. But if this is true, then you gotta stop hanging out with your own self..... True, he said.

The latest example of this phenomenon was this summer, when we visited our friends Nils and Falcon at Nil's summer house, near Rostock, Germany. We arrive at his summer house around mid-day, and he and Falcon invite us for a kayak. Sure, we say. Sounds like a nice way to spend the afternoon. Suddenly, I feel the air thickening, as I see sidelong glances being passed between Nils and Falcon. Feigning ignorance, I ask, so what's our route, where we going, what should we bring????? Oh, it's not a long paddle, just some 5 lakes or so, with 2 locks in between. We'll stop halfway and get some water. It's not a big deal, says Falcon, with a big grin on his face.

We get in the double kayaks, and those two take off at a sprint. I say to Alvi, You know what's happening here, right? Yeah, he says. Another competition, and we don't even know the rules. How do you want to handle this? I say, let's just pace ourselves, and see what transpires....

Well, it was not 5 lakes. It was 8 lakes. It was not a few hours. It was 6 1/2, almost 7 hours. Just ask my took a solid two days for it to reinflate itself.... :0)

Back to Morzine. There is no need to elaborate further on the abovementioned, suffice it to say that I knew that we were in for it. On the way to the restaurant, I said to Alvi - Dude - this is your show. You alone, have to preserve our family honour, ok? Consider it done, he said.

We met up with John and Anne in the town square, and meandered about looking for a restaurant.

Alvi ordered a blond to start,

while we all enjoyed a great Italian meal and planned the coming days.

Happy, happy, happy surfers, who are badly in need of haircuts..... :0)

The morning dawned sunny and clear, and as planned, we hopped on our bikes, made our way down the steep roads to the bridge, crossed the bridge, and entered the town square, where the four of us met up to start our day.

As we head out, Superman lets me know that our first climb is some 500 meters, and should take no longer than an hour or so. No problemo, senor. The group takes off, and I settle into my uphill chugging mode, enjoying scenery like this.....



...and this.

We decided to stop at a mid-station for some re-fueling

...and to watch in amazement.... these downhillers hurl themselves down their obstacle-laden course.

John and Al, standing seemingly, on top of the world, watching the downhillers.

Yikes! Look out behind you, John! It's a bubble-headed, extra terrestrial, and it looks hungry....

After refueling, we begin Killer Mountain Challenge Europe. I think KMC Europe was higher than in El Yaque, with the pitch being the same. However, I was undone by the loose stones and gravel.

While Anne and I virtually tie........ Al gives it a valiant effort......only to be blown away by John......who makes it to the top.

After some photo taking at the summit, and after some now traditional 'summit smooching', we start our traverse along the mountain.....

...and make our way to Les Gets for some lunch.
After a spectacular meal.....

and some hang-gliding watching.....

....we start our descent back to Morzine...

(It is important to note that this is the only time, during the entire biking trip, that I was ever in front of the group. Well, I guess that's not exactly true either, as Superman was so far in front of us, that he had time to stop and shoot this photo.. Ok then - never mind.... :0)

...where after a quick shower and a hair cut we meet up again in the town square for some much deserved libations..... :0)

...and a lively discussion of Apple's latest and very sexy offering - the i-pad.

Over another fabulous meal, we plan our day. John proposes that we climb the same mountain that the Tour de France climbed a few days previous. It is a 14 km climb, 1000 meters of elevation, and he looks at me and advises that it should take me 2 hours to ride. Right. Yikes!
After a beautiful sunrise, the temperatures started to climb, as predicted by the local weatherman. The word he used was 'scorching' temps, and it was already very hot at 9 am when we met up to start our climb. Note the smiles on Anne's and Alvi's faces - whereas I look like I am about to barf.

The group takes off, and I settle into my slow, steady chugging rhythm as I start my climb. Until the muscles warm up, there is a degree of discomfort in the riding of the bicycle. And so the first several kilometers were spent cursing the bike, and the mountain, but mostly imagining ways of exacting revenge on Alvi for planning this trip.... And then suddenly, I felt great! No more discomfort, beautiful views, like this...

...and warm and gooey thoughts of gratitude to Alvi for planning this trip.
The next several kilometers were fun and interesting. I was joined for some meters by local Frenchmen who climb this mountain as their form of daily exercise, who would slow down and chat with me. Many of them were well into their late 50's and 60's, but with the finely tuned physiques of bikers half their age. The conversations were lovely, and their encouragement was much appreciated. I want to be like them, at that age.
The village of Morzine was thrilled to host a stage of the Tour de France, and to show support for their favourite riders, they would write messages like this:

Very cool!

I was feeling pretty good, checking out my surroundings...

....chatting with the dudes, enjoying the views...

...and re-confirming my goal of riding to the top without putting my foot down, when a car full of young down-hillers comes screeching around the bend. "Where are you going?, one asks. To the top - to Avoriaz, I say. One yells out, Vous-etes fou! as he points to the chairlift. Smartass. Another one yells out, "Only 8 more kilometers!" And then in unison, they holler, "Allez, Allez, Allez!"
Thanks, dudes!
Wait...what? Eight more kilometers? Holy crapola...eight more kilometers...:0( And that's when I realized that I had run out of water.
It was very hot, and I was feeling a little deflated knowing that I had 8 more kilometers to go. It was disheartening to look up to see where I was headed, as all I saw was an uphill road. Instead I looked down at the road, shut down my mind, and tried not think about the 8 kms.
Oh look. There's a pebble. That's a small ass pebble. Hey! There's a beetle. Huh - a French beetle. Well, Bonjour to you, Monsier French beetle.
Well, you get the picture. Things were starting to go sideways, as my thirst increased.
Man oh man - it was hot.
Dehydrated, and partially hallucinating, somewhere along the 11th kilometer, I found Jesus.

Although it may have been Alvi - hard to say, as they both have the same haircut.
He was standing by the side of the road, eating a marzipan, poppy-seed ice-cream cone,
with his robes gently flapping in the breeze. "You are almost there, my child", he says. With all due respect, I say, how do you know? I mean, how did you get up here? He sagely nods in the direction of the chairlift. Right. Before I can continue, another car approaches, and a little boy of some 10 years of so, yells out, Two kilometers to Avoriaz, Madame! Allez!
Right on! Listen JC, thanks for your support, I say, but I gotta go - only 2 kilometers more.
I swear, less than a few minutes of climbing, after rounding a bend, the Avoriaz village appeared...! And I was elated.

After a lovely lunch of pasta and salads,

...Anne headed back down to pack up, while Alvi, John and I climbed....

...and climbed....

...and sometimes pushed our bikes....

....always going up.....

...and up....

...until we ran out of mountain.

Superman! There is a reason he is called that - as he is a mountain-biking machine!

Thanks John and Anne, for the awesome biking! See you guys in Italy!
Total elevation climbed: 1600 meters. Sweet!
While I may be easy-to beat-up-but-hard-to-kill, my Alvi is tough as nails.
Marzipan-poppyseed ice-cream sounds yummy.
Mountain biking in the Alps is an absolute blast!