“I only went for a walk and finally concluded to stay until sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir
Today we left Marvin and Lisa’s house in the French Alps after the most blissful 2 week stay I could imagine. The stay had it all – relaxation, amazing sunsets and sunrises, vomit-inducing curvy roads (well, not quite), making new friends, experiencing French culture and cuisine, hikes nearly every day, a healthy dose of physical labor (there is proof later), and…a noise in the woods.
During our time we experienced the onset of Fall; the colors changing subtly each day, the air getting a bit crisper each day, and, on our last day, snow creeping down the mountains. In most cases when we’ve left a place on our journey, we feel ready to move on despite the amazing experiences. Not so with the Alps, as we are leaving behind days full of adventure, nights full of laughter and great food, and hearts (and stomachs) full and content. As we were leaving, we looked back and wondered when the next time we would be so lucky to get to spend more time in the magical Alps with our new friends.
There is a lot of topics I could cover, but in the interest of relative brevity I’ll focus on three things: the sunset hike, expanding our global family, and, of course a “Nate-vignette” called simply ‘The Noise’, which is sort of like a mini Nate-story.
The Sunset Hike
When you are meeting someone for the first time you don’t know just how adventurous they are, which makes it difficult to discern what you are getting yourself into. Does an exciting night on the town to them involve getting yogurt at TCBY followed by binge-watching Modern Family or does it involve drinking copious amounts leading up to a “We are the Champions” karaoke rendition and a trip to the hospital from falling off the stage? (and is TCBY even still around?)
So when Marvin posed the idea to start driving at 4pm, travel up the side of a mountain with death-defying switchbacks, hike out to a point to watch the sunset, and come back after dark, I admit I wondered a bit what exactly we were getting ourselves into. (I am stretching a bit here – I totally trust Marvin and knew him enough by then to realize we were in good hands.) Well – it turns out it was amongst the most amazing experience of our lives!
We took our French style picnic lunch and headed out. I think we walked a little under 2 miles when the scenery opened up before us, including the beautiful glaciated mountain La Meije.
Ultimately we found a spot by an alpine lake to watch the colors subtly change as the daytime drifted into evening, taking our gloves off to snap pictures and eat our baguettes and cheese as our fingers gradually began to freeze (and yes, somehow Pringles made it into our French picnic – delicious). If you are wondering how cold it was I think the following picture tells a pretty good story.
As the evening wore on the fog started taking over, and all of the sudden at one point we were completely enveloped in fog. Thankfully, Marvin knew the way like the back of his hand, and we were back at the car in no time.
Expanding our global family
In my last post, I wrote about how our adventure has really been defined by the people we’ve met. I don’t want to belabor this point too much, but just in the past few days we’ve had a couple of additional experiences to share along these lines.
Last Sunday, we travelled with Marvin and Lisa to their church in Grenoble. Afterwards we were talking to a fascinating guy, Gilles, who was really interested in getting to know more about us and seemed to enjoy speaking English to brush up on his skills. Marvin told us that he knew Gilles was a pretty advanced English speaker when he pronounced his name “Mar-vin” correctly (to an English speaker), versus the French pronunciation which is something like “Ma-veen”. In any case, he and his wife Cecile invited all 4 of us over for lunch.
And what a lunch it was. Without any chance to pre-plan for an additional 4 people, somehow Cecile masterfully whipped up a 5-course meal, replete with amazing French wine. We talked for hours in a mix of French and English (when I say ‘we’ talked in French, I mean them), told stories, discussed politics, and just had an amazing time in the sunshine. It was so incredible to get an authentic experience with a French family, who showed us such great hospitality. By the end I almost convinced Gilles to move to Seattle for a couple of years…we’ll see!
The second experience to highlight involved our new friends Larry and Davey, who happened to be passing through and also stayed with Marvin and Lisa for a few days. The two of them have been leading road-biking tours through France, Italy, and some other European countries for the last decade-plus that all sounded pretty incredible, even for us non-road bikers! In fact, they stopped by on their way back from a ‘wine and biking’ tour through Tuscany. Sounds rough! Check out their website here.
For three nights Lisa made amazing meals for all 6 of us (including some out-of-this-world pizza), and we talked well into the night while we enjoyed the Tuscan wine that they brought back. Davey is from Seattle and loves (in this order, I think) his wife, beer, and mountain biking, and we’re excited to spend some time with him when we eventually get back home.
Of course, the glue to all of these experiences was Marvin and Lisa. We are so impressed by their lives, especially their generosity and adventurous spirits. We are grateful that we crossed paths, and look forward to many more times in the mountains with them in the future – on both sides of the world (as they also call their US home Seattle).
One thing about being in such a grand, mysterious, and quiet place (especially in the off-season) is that it can get a little creepy at times, especially being in a new setting and not knowing what snakes, spiders, or other wildlife might be out there.
As you’ll remember from a previous post, we were housesitting Athena, Marvin and Lisa’s 14-year-old lab. Every night after dark I would take her in the dark up the road to do her nightly duty. I didn’t walk that far of a distance, but keep in mind that she is an old lady and moves very slowly at this age.
One night, I turned off my headlamp and watched the stars for a moment as I was waiting for her, and I heard what I thought was the most barbaric noise I’d ever heard – something that sounded like a wildebeest attacking a hyena (or fill in the blank and imagine the scariest noise you can imagine in this situation). And the worst thing was – it seemed to be getting closer. We started back down the hill, but with Athena moving at .2 kilos per hour it took forever to get down the hill and back into the house. I walked in visibly shaking and told Terra my tale of terror.
When Marvin got back I asked him what the noise possibly could have been. Possibly a wild board? No, the noise I was describing didn’t match. Maybe a wolf? No, no wolves out here (and for that matter no cougars, bears, etc). Marvin then mimicked a sound and asked if that was the one – and it absolutely was. What was the animal that sent me shaking into the night, you ask? A small deer rutting. Boy, did I feel lame…
Enjoy a few more pictures from our adventures below. Until next time!