T is for Training Hikes

Mont-Blanc_001My husband and I met on a 15-mile hike almost 31 years ago; as such, we have our reputation to uphold. That’s why you’ll usually find us hiking. The French Alps have long been on Jonathan’s Bucket List (my BL is rather more modest, but still, I’m game), so that’s where we’re headed in June.

We would have headed there last year, except that Jonathan was laid low for five months by bum knees—not just the little twinges of middle age, but excruciating pain for no apparent reason. Instead of walking five minutes down our hill every morning to catch his bus, Jonathan relied on me to drive him to the bus stop at 6:30 a.m. Which meant I was up and out early enough to hike up Baldy most mornings before I had to go to work. Jonathan had never been lamer, and I had never been more fit.

Slowly but surely, Jonathan regained the full use of his knees (he’s the one person I know who religiously follows his physical therapy regimen). We went from hobbling a few yards for a picnic to our usual and far-afield hikes.

So we booked a six-day trek through the French and Swiss Alps on Mont Blanc. Why not celebrate rejuvenated knees while we still can? Plus, we both turn 60 this year, and Jonathan is retiring! Might as well make it an occasion, even though our knees had not been out for a good test run on the kind of terrain our Tour de Mont Blanc threatened promised.

Raw Travel, the company we booked with, offered training tips:

 “You should prepare for walking several hours a day (5 – 7 hours per day) with steep ascents and descents. We will average almost 800-1000m a day in ascents so your training should reflect this in the lead-up to the event. Choose hills with steep ascents to train on and push yourself to do long days to prepare yourself adequately.”

Piece of cake! Plum cake, to be precise, since that’s what we encountered at every last Alpine hut on our previous sojourns in Switzerland and Austria. We could easily manage 800-1000’ climbs!

Oops! Wait a minute—did they say meters? A unit of measurement that equals three feet and change? Sure, those little Baldy strolls I do most days would be great conditioning—if I repeated the circuit twice.

“Probably most of the people booking with them are from Kansas,” I said to Jonathan hopefully.

No such luck—Raw Travel is based in Australia, land of the Walkabout and an entire populace living out of tiny backpacks for their 18 months of foreign travel. Was the company name some kind of warning or cruel joke?

So Jonathan and I started trying harder—13 miles on rolling green hills, all day long on my birthday, for example. A similar killer trek up Mt. Diablo recently.

“Great,” I’d remark to Jonathan each time. “We’ve just achieved the bare minimum of altitude gain.”

So during the past few days, we redoubled our efforts, even though we need to triple our efforts to simulate a typical Mt. Blanc day. We hiked on the Big Sur coast, famous for the coastal range plummeting into the Pacific. For three days in a row, we went pretty much straight up. And straight down.

This would be all well and good, except that perhaps those knees aren’t as rejuvenated as they might be. Jonathan’s still protest from time to time, and mine joined the chorus right on schedule the week I turned 60. And why not? After all, my birthday brought notice from my disability insurance company that my premiums would go up, and my doctor’s office informed me that I was now eligible for the shingles vaccine. Why shouldn’t my body issue its own birthday communique?

Still, what are ice and ibuprofen for–not to mention trekking poles (a sure sign of middle age)? So up we went and down we came—with ticks and poison oak serving as the welcome committee for the glorious, wildflower-bedecked vertical cliffs disguised as “trails.”

We have now returned home from our training session, our supply of ibuprofen depleted, our knees more or less intact. Here are some pictures so you can save yourself the trouble:

Now we have only to wait to see if we start to itch where poison oak has left its mark, or if bull’s-eye-shaped bites emerge. Or if we can walk at all tomorrow.

But Alps, here we come! At least there won’t be any ticks or poison oak.


Where is your favorite place to hike? Have you been to Mt. Blanc? Should we buy the kind of travel insurance that includes Medi-Vac?