Happy Hallowe’en everyone :) As you can expect, not much went down here that was ghost/ghoul related except a bunch of kids trick or treating (les grumblies reply – neither! But if you’d like to help with the grouting, that’d be grand).
Actually, I felt really horrible today. Homesick, stockholme-syndromy, lonely, missing York and missing company. It’s been 43 days since I moved out here, and I haven’t seen or spoken to anyone my own age or with similar interests. Maybe my blog should be about the endurance test of moving to a remote part of another country where there is a language gap and no opportunities to meet anyone and a clinical break down of the slow mental breakdown that is bound to occur.
The grumblies understand I’m sure, but there’s not much they can do. Even just working out what to do on my birthday I found difficult to think about without getting a bit, well, depressed.
The best I could do today (besides moaning on facebook) was to get out for a longish walk. I head off into the snow (for yes, it has been prolifically snowing in Nevache). I had on my mind the other day when I was prevented from taking the path from the Buffere back to Nevache. I needed to stay pretty low because of the weather, so it was a good choice.
I followed the path of the ski-du-fond track, one I know pretty well from previous winters in Nevache, and head to the village. The path then head off through the trees, where I had come down from the Lac du Crystol a couple of weeks ago.
The path took me up past the cascade (waterfall), which I had seen from afar on my cycle trips up the upper valley but hadn’t witnessed up close. It was very pretty, particularly in the snow and with ice hanging off it.
I came out at the point where I had climbed to the Buffere previously and made for the road back down to Nevache.
The rest was pretty straight forward and I got back with no further dramas, stopping only to say hello to Bike Fairy who was herself on the way out for a constitutional.
Happy Hallowe’en everyone
or in French “toussants!” which is interesting – “all saints”, in English “all hallows”.
Hallow = Saint (if anyone wondered what The Deathly Hallows really were, or should have been)
cute spider of death wishes you piles of candy and the sweet release of oblivion.
Today I started to break the back of my orchestral piece. Up until now I’ve been very slowly etching away at things and now suddenly it’s beginning to look like a piece. For that reason I spent most of today inside and worse, really didn’t want to do anything exercise wise, I’ll admit it.
This is probably the first time I’ve not wanted to do anything since I got here, and it’s not helped by the weather really. However, I also felt bad about this all day so in the late afternoon I decided to go for a one hour constitutional walk.
I chose a direction I hadn’t been in yet – a road in the commune that led past the holiday centre for disadvantaged children. This is a really cool place that takes children in from the cities and puts on walking activities for them. We often see them boffing about the valley with their teachers, studying the wildlife or the local village.
The path led to the col d’Echelle and I had a nice walk up it. There’s not much else to say about today really. I timed my walk to be an hour long using my iPhone and turned back when it beeped, just as I reached the little chapel at the top of the col d’Echelle. I took some nice pics I think. Hope you enjoy them.
On another note – the weather really is starting to limit my options re: exercise. The only real option I’ve got if the weather is bad is to head off to somewhere lower down where the weather will be better, which will eat up a whole day. This wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have an orchestral piece to write!
It’s also coming up to my birthday, and I really don’t know what to do for it…
Today has been quite a strange day. I did do some exercise so it is all ok. In the morning I walked down to the bakery to get the bread for lunch. It’s an hour’s walk and not nothing so technically I’m still winning.
During the afternoon it was still cold-ish out (although sunny), there was ice on the ground and work was going well so I wasn’t in favour of a long outing really. Work is in general behind and when the wind is favourable I have to sail, as it were.
So during the afternoon I worked. Grumble Meister was to pick me up late afternoon to go swimming in Briançon. At one point in the afternoon I needed a break – I was feeling tired and a little weak, so I got out a computer game I’ve been playing – The Walking Dead.
This is an excellent zombie horror point-and-click adventure series with just the right balance of interactivity, awesome plot lines, characterisation and atmosphere. It’s very immersive and for some reason today it really freaked me out. A tip if you play this game: if you have a kettle that produces a high pitched whistle to say it’s boiling, don’t make yourself a cup of tea while playing this game, it is terrifying.
All in all, when GM poked his head round the door to pick me up, I felt really paranoid and a little bit weirded out, which didn’t bode well for exercise.
When we got to the pool, the signs were ominous – I found it hard to find a cubicle, and noticed I had forgotten to bring a euro piece for the lockers. As I returned to the front desk to get change, an entire coach load of teenagers arrived. As ill luck would have it they were an advanced swimming class. I managed 30 minutes of swimming next to 3 lanes-worth of constant, fast, splashy butterfly stroke, feeling more an more ill from the excessive chlorine in the pool before I decided to give up the ghost.
I waited out the remaining 30 minutes I had planned to swim by relaxing in the leisure pool and practicing my French verbs.
I think I’ve decided that the pool isn’t really worth it. Apart from the frequent business which does ruin swimming a bit for me, the pool is far too chlorinated and I feel really sick after swimming. I think I’m going to have to find an alternative.
So not a complete fail on exercise today, but I’ve been put off one type off exercise for the minute. Hmm.
When I woke up this morning (drr dowr dow dow drr) the valley was covered in a fine dusting of snow. All day it’s been pretty freezing. It puts the kibosh on any cycling and it’s not advisable to climb very high.
So I took the path down through the forrest again, this time turning left at the junction that took me up to the Fort Olive the other day and following the track down to Plampinet.
It was surprisingly hard going. I think cold weather takes it out of you somewhat. It was pretty freezing in Nevache. All of the water fountains were impressively frozen in what seems like a very short space of time.
The walk was pleasant through the forrest. Unexpectedly a winding path led away from the track through the trees. It came out just above Plampinet in a field.
The temperature change between Nevache an Plampinet was quite surprising. By the time I had got down there I had stripped off several layers (luckily, I was being followed by the ghost of the late great Donna Summers singing her hit single Hot Stuff to a group of ghostly high school bullies laughing and pointing at me, otherwise it could have been a bit awkward)
The path then looped back up the ski-du-fond track and along the river. It was pretty, and then pretty damn cold when it got back into Nevache. Suddenly it felt like I was in Siberia. I bore it up though and got home ok.
There are reports all over Facebook that it’s been snowing in York, where I lived for 9 years previous to this, has made me miss it terribly. York looks best in the snow – a true dickensian city.
When I woke up this morning the mountains had completely disappeared behind a thick fog, however what with the pouring rain yesterday I was sure there would be some snow higher up in the mountains and I was a bit determined to join in the fun.
By the afternoon the fog had lifted and it was quite sunny out, although not particularly warm. Luckily I had just got some new cycle gear, including a pair of, cough, cycling trousers (tights) that didn’t look too ridiculous and a nice warm long-sleeved cycling shirt. The fact that I’m finding these things so easily is testament to the fact that I’ve gone down a size. Soon I’ll be the size of a real cyclist, which, is tiny.
I donned these items and head off. The plan was to do the complete circuit of the valley – all the way up the haut valley to the Refuge Laval and then all the way back down to Les Alberts, loop round via La Vachette and then all the way back up. If you’ve been following this blog regularly you might know that I’ve done both upper and lower valley separately but not yet the two together.
Further motivation was to get some of the snowy action by going up to the snow line in the upper valley.
The going was good – I didn’t stop too many times, only to take photos, but otherwise I powered on regardless of angle or distance. I powered up the long windy ascent into the upper valley, stopping only at the very top (after the nasty little steep climb to the second chapel). On the ascent I tried out the latest tips from my cycling composer friend, which worked really well – the main tip was to push against the handlebar as I was ascending a steep pitch to get more leverage.
The upper valley was nice and sunny, with only a little chilly wind. I had in my bike bags some warmer gloves, a buff and a windproof but I didn’t see the need to put them on there. I was on the look out for ice on the road, which thankfully never materialised. There was a nice carpet of yellow/orange pine needles though which did a fine job of gripping the tires over the wetter areas.
At the top I do believe I cycled into a cloud. The weather at the car park was misty, snowy, cold and wet. I stuck around just long enough to put my windproof and longer gloves on before I started my descent back down into the upper valley.
I hadn’t bargained for the idea that the weather would then turn. The snow and eventually rain followed me all the way down the valley. It was invigorating but slightly hazardous, and I took extra care on my turns not to do anything that would precipitate a skid. I was very greatful of my man-tights at that time and only slightly regretted not putting another layer on top.
Towards the bottom of the upper valley I was beginning to think it would be better to go home than to endure this for another hour and a half (at least) of cycling. However when I reached the top of the steep descent into the lower valley, the valley itself was wreathed in sunlight, so I carried on.
The lower valley was nice and dry, although on the way down there was a fairly strong wind against me. It wasn’t a problem though as I was moving full-pelt downhill, and I was glad of it being that direction instead of the way up. I battered my usual way down and paused in Les Alberts.
What was quite weird about today, especially given the weather (and especially how bad it was yesterday) was that there were a lot of walking parties and picnickers around. In Les Alberts there were families playing the in park and everything. I think partly it’s the weekend and probably it’s the school holidays around now as well.
At this point I stopped my cyclemeter and didn’t start it again until I looped round and had just left La Vachette, so the readings are about 3km and 15 minutes out.
The way back was steady and generally fine. I stopped in the traditional plampinet for a wee (as there was no rugby team handy to laugh and point at me weeing in public I had to use an enclosed loo) and battered my way up back to the chalet.
By this time it was getting pretty damn cold and the sun was dipping behind clouds and mountains. My legs were starting to give up a bit. I didn’t give up though and even coaxed my legs into taking the really steep hill at the end up to the house itself.
When I got off I felt pretty sick and weird from the random changes in temperature. I quickly had a shower and changed into some warm clothes, eating my emergency bar (I rarely do this, but it was a pretty long ride for me).
All in all though – this was a ~53km ride, my longest to date, and I completed it in 3 hours 15 minutes with an average speed of 20km/h. The ascend – 790m, was the highest I’ve done on a bike so far. In general I think that was pretty damn good. It was a glorious ride for the most part, and really enjoyable from a challenge perspective.
Well, it’s just as well I did a really long walk yesterday because today the weather is absolutely horrible. BF has disappeared off to do some shopping so I have no way to get to the swimming pool tonight. It’s just as well because I do need to get some work done today. It’s not a good plan to go walking today because the Alps can be hazardous, and if you watched the Olympics women’s road race you’ll know that wet road markings are the bane of road bikes.
So yes, day off again. Feels a bit too close to my last day off but I bow to the power of the weather. Whenever I come here the grumblies are constantly checking the french meteo and now I know why!
In other news, I was measured for some acrylic walking shirts today and was found to have lost 4 inches around my chest. Hurrah! Soon I shall be free of these man-boobs. I have to say I have noticed clothes getting a bit baggier than they used to be – certainly the cycling stuff that we bought in 4XL, especially the wind-proofs, are beginning to feel pretty tent-like.
That’s not to say that I look in any way thinner really. Still very much “graisse” and the weight doesn’t seem to have left my middle yet – some improvement possibly around the face, neck and chest, and my, erm, posterior area also feels quite a bit less bloated. So, some improvement overall but a long way to go yet. I don’t really expect to properly feel the benefits of weightloss until at least 3 months in.
While we’re chatting, I thought I’d say something about my previous attempts at weightloss. There have been many. The last one was possibly the worst and if you’re reading this considering your options let me ward you away from it: Slim-fast are big pile of money-grabbing horse dumps. The idea made sense to me briefly – a set number of calories that you had each day and nothing else.
I chose to go on the Slim Fast diet when I was starting a new job as repetiteur for an opera. The fact that I had a daily routine allowed me to make a week’s worth of packed lunches consisting of the slim-fast shake, the snack bar they have and the amount of fruit they suggest you eat with it. I set up alarms on my phone to make sure that I snacked in the time they suggested and that I didn’t miss out on any thing. The good thing was that I didn’t have to think about preparation or worry about counting all of the calories that were going in.
It was hard, seriously hard. The shakes seem to fill you up but you spend a lot of the time hungry and just thinking about the next meal. The taste was weird and it didn’t feel like I had enough nutrients. I regularly felt a bit sick from the strange saccharin after-taste. All of the things they sell are tiny but have about 300% markup on price. The only think I really enjoyed that they put out was the little snack caramel bars.
To add insult to bad-eating injury, I was on this thing for a month, and it didn’t make a blind bit of difference to my weight. For 30 days I felt hungry and miserable, and for no benefit whatsoever.
What’s more (and to give them their due they do point this out on the packet), Slim Fast is not a long-term solution. You may lose a few pounds if you can put up with starving yourself, but you don’t gain any fitness and once you’ve finished the course, there’s no safety net of habit to keep your weight down.
Anyway, my advice on Slim-Fast: Stay away.
I’ll maybe delve into some more of my attempts next time I’m house-bound. This approach of at least an hour’s exercise every day, building up fitness and eating *normally* seems to be working very well. Granted, I have the benefit of the alps and having food bought and prepared for me (although I’ve been helping out a lot more recently).
Another thing I’d like to give a shout out to while we’re chatting like this (and it is a very pleasant chat indeed. Could I offer any of you a cup of tea? Coffee? Bourbon?) is The Nerdist Podcast. These guys are really good – I’ve been listening to them while walking and the theme tune is probably the most joyous thing I’ve heard in a while. Luckily there are very few other walkers around to see me dancing :).
One last piece of housekeeping. I didn’t realise that WordPress has been putting adverts at the bottom of my posts. I’m sorry if this is off-putting. I’m going to upgrade I think and get rid of them so that if you’re reading this it doesn’t look like I’m trying to get money. I certainly am not. If you enjoy this post, that’s reward enough for me.
Composition can be an aggravating process. I’m at the point where I’m hovering over the page, working up to writing some stuff down, listening over and again to the workshop recording, asking opinions from supervisors, getting despondent. It is usual at this point for me to get really depressed. The composer David Lumsdaine once described this point as being like a physical thing, preventing him from doing anything up until and sometimes after the point at which you put pencil to paper.
I had got particularly frustrated today so I decided to take a walk, with the workshop recording on my iPhone and my notebook and a bit of manuscript in my pack.
I had walked to the Fort d’Olive, one of the many forts around the french-italian border in the alps, a few years ago and remembered vaguely the fort itself, a meadow on the way up with a broken wall in it and an archway you had to pass through on the way up.
I had totally forgotten just how long and steep a climb it was. The route lead off from where I had come across the junction to the Bois de Noir the other day. It was fairly unclear where the path was as it had got covered in pine-needles but it was a little spindly path that lead up a really steep scree-covered hill, directly up the side of a peak.
It seemed to take forever to get up and after a good while I started to wonder why I hadn’t seen the meadow or the arch and whether I’d taken the right track. The track I was on joined up with another similar track from Plampinet and continued up a good way. At this point I was sweating buckets, although still not as out of breath as I had been a month ago, thankfully.
I finally came out onto the meadow I remembered and was relieved to see it. I still had some way to climb though, including a hair-raising traverse over an ex-avalanche site, a long steep scree pitch. Another couple of hundred metres up I came across the archway, attached to an old guard outpost, and all was good. From there there was a long track up to the fort.
The fort itself is a bit-tumble down and sure to disappear soon. There were some beautiful views out over the valley from there and the buildings were pretty interesting. I decided not to go inside though as I was on my own, and there are dangerous animals (wolves etc.) in the alps that were likely to have been sheltering there.
While I had been climbing up to the Fort d’Olive I had a call from Bike Fairy, who suggested I continue walking past the Fort along the col de Granon (GR 57) and that she would pick me up in the car-park on the other side. I thought “pourquoi pas?” so at this point I went to get my map out to secure the route. At which point I realised I’d left it at home!
After a few more directions I found the route: a long, pretty straight land-rover track that lead away over the high plateau, round three peaks and past another fort.
The track and the views were beautiful, and it felt like walking on top of the world. I also felt like the only human in existence up there. There was not a sign of a single soul. I passed the turning to the Fort Lenanon but decided to press on because the sun was starting to go down.
On the journey I came across a small pasture with a tiny shed. It struck me as an idyllic but lonely farming life, but with very nice views.
When I finally crossed the col de Granon to the car-park, the sun was starting to disappear behind the mountains. However the views were absolutely staggering and I cracked a huge smile and took hundreds of pictures. There was a viewing platform from which you could look out over the whole panorama of the alps.
BF picked me up in Roo and that was an end of it. 17.2km and 1028m ascent. The longest and highest walk I’ve done yet and the easy equivalent of a Scottish Munro. (In fact there was a skip in the GPS information and I think I travelled more like 18.5km). My legs and back were killing me by the end of that but it was a good walk.
I may not have got much work done, but I was feeling better about the composition by the time I got to the car park.
And testament to how knackered I was at the end of that is that this post is a day late! Sorry folks. Hope you enjoyed!
p.s I took waaayyy more pictures than I could include in the post – this slideshow has some more beautiful scenes:
Otherwise known as “Balcons de Nevache part deux”. The morning was quite slow today and I didn’t get much composition done. I’m at the “staring at the manuscript until stuff comes out” stage so I’ve just been etching away at my ideas a bit, not quite ready to commit much to paper. I may in fact be writing the second movement of a string quartet that I’ve been writing as well as the orchestral piece (they’re quite inter-linked).
As my work has become a bit more involved I’ve wanted to stick to the local routes, so there’s bound to be some repetition, I’m afraid, however as my fitness has improved (and I feel it has done so quite a lot) my goals are beginning to change with my exercise plan.
Today I decided to do the Balcons de Nevache, which I did quite early on, again. However I resolved to power around it as quickly and constantly as I could.
I also thought, seeing as I had done it before, that I’d try and take some different sort of pictures today for this blog, so a lot of them are of foliage today. Hope you like them!
The weather was absolutely delicious today and I set off in shorts, sunglasses and not much else (luckily I was followed by the band from the 1990’s KiOra advert otherwise I would have stood out. That stuff is seriously way too orangey for crows).
The going was nice and easy. I got far less out of breath and sweaty than the last time I did it. Everything just seems so much easier now, and i believe I still have a long way to go, fitness wise, but it does feel good to take things in my stride a bit.
The foliage was radiant today and the bright sunlight made it seem like the yellow autumnal trees were on fire.
I took the Balcons all the way to Nevache and walked back along the road. I had actually done this part of the walk twice already today, having walked to the bakery in the morning (a regular chore that adds a good 40 mins walk to whatever I do that day – I should be logging it!).
I was accosted by one of the locals whom I didn’t understand at all unforunately. I did what I usually do and apologised for being english and not being able to speak French well, in French. I also then tried out a bit of conversational French about the weather and how I’m getting better at the language every day, which seemed to go well, but I didn’t understand the reply at all, except “bon courage!” which confused me a bit.
Anyway – a good time for the walk I did and a lovely day to do it. Back to work!
Today I started to get on with some composition at last. It’s nice to have a change of pace and to be away from the computer (I sketch everything out on paper first). It’s going to take me a little while to ease into the composition part, but I have some pitch generation systems to work on before that happens, so I’m slowly getting more enthusiastic about it. It’s a piece I started last academic term for an orchestral workshop.
But of course I had to go out and exercise, so my plan was to do “The Usual” today, but to make things more exciting, to do it as fast as possible with as few stops as possible. Considering I didn’t make it back the first time I did it I’ve definitely got better I think. I had to stop a couple of times to take photos for the blog of course.
Bike Fairy accompanied me for the ride, although I’ve been told to say that I fairly burned her off for the majority of the course and she had trouble catching up. Her words!
We took a circular route this time, turning left at Le Rosier and passing through Les Alberts, then looping around to La Vachette via the main road. We had a brief stop in Les Alberts and then powered through. I stopped again at Plampinet, partly to let BF catch up and partly because it seems traditional now.
My gears were a bit odd today though. We had them tweaked at the bike shop on the way back from the last trip, and they obviously went a bit wrong. They had lots of problems settling, especially on the lowest, so bikesalot is heading back to the shop – probably tomorrow.
Despite that (which did occasionally set me back on the steeper hills) we made excellent time. The time was an hour and a half for the whole loop, which is about the same time it used to take me to complete just the way back.
Average speed was 22km/h – way above my usual, and fastest speed was 54km/h – faster than Lance Armstrongs! Oh no wait that’s his average. I’m such a dope.
Et Voila! A nice cycle ride for the afternoon, very fitness orientated, and some progress on my cycling. It’s a good route to test my progress on I think and may do some more. I also thought it would be cool to cycle to the top of the haut valley and then down to the bottom on this route, then back the chalet. It would be a good 50km route to try and up my distance.
Yes it’s true, today I totally finished my score editing (for the moment – I’m sure there will be some minor changes later). Just a piece to finish writing, a bit of commentary, going through everything with a fine toothed comb and then printing everything for submission to go!
Anyway, As soon as I had finished the last score and lunch was over I went out for a walk. I did this because I was looking at the walks further up the valley and knew they’d take 4 hours or so each. The one I decided today is known locally as the lower half of the Chemin De Ronde. It started with a climb from the road (where I was dropped off by a gracious Bike Fairy) up to the Refuge Ricou.
I have to say, after having a day off yesterday, I felt surprisingly out of shape. However my fitness has definitely been improving and I decided to take this walk at a brisk pace, only stopping occasionally to take photos (it was beautiful). I soon got back into the swing of it.
The refuge was very pretty and had a special “Chalet des enfants”. All the buildings were in what looked like a traditional style and were really cheery.
The path then led up to a higher plateau above the tree line, and an intersection with one path leading up to the Lac Laraman. I head up to the lake to have a look. It was really beautiful and not for the first time I wished I had a better camera with a panoramic lens.
The weather by the way was overcast, however it was pretty warm today. The blue of the lake matched the darkness of the clouds I think. Although I packed my extra warm fleece and waterproof trousers, I definitely didn’t need them.
I might have stripped, but there were no old-school beach changing huts that open out onto a stage behind, forcing me to do a kind of mock strip-act. In essence, comedic form was not observed and removing clothing felt awkward, so I sweated instead.
I then climbed down back to the intersection and followed the path along the mountainside. There was a looooonnng traverse along the slope with some really beautiful views and nice easy walking. I made good time and by the time I started to make the descent back into the valley I was quite ahead of time I think.
The climb back down into nevache was nice – there was a footpath cutting through the middle sections between the road loops which made it a bit quicker and less monotonous. Also some pretty vegetation. I had the offer to be picked up in Nevache, but even though it was getting close to 6pm and the light was fading, it was still a nice warm evening so I carried on walking back to the chalet.
Altogether a nice walk, and good to get out after the last day of inactivity and frustration of editing a large score. Tomorrow, I think, some cycling, but only locally. I need to get some work done!