PART 1 of 2 or MAYBE 3….
PROLOGUE – December 2017 French and Italian Alps
The streetlamp, yellow-lit streets were deserted when I reached the trail at the end of the alpine village; it was freezing cold and it had already started snowing heavily. I took off my Deuter Rise 32+ to remove a pair TSL Symbioz snowshoes strapped to the front of the pack when a small French Gendarmerie van slowly drove by – I could see the gendarmes scrutinizing me from inside, probably wondering who would be heading out after sunset and in bad weather. I was hoping they would stop and ask but instead, they kept slowly rolling down the street.
The weather forecast had announced a snowstorm and temperatures dropping to minus 20 overnight so I had slept late and waited for nightfall in the chalet while everybody else was on the slopes enjoying the last few hours of decent weather. I never took a dig at alpine skiing and though I like ski touring, I didn’t have all the appropriate gear nor the experience to go off-piste in the Alps on my own. I had already scouted the area both by day and by night and in poor weather conditions; I had a pretty good idea of the terrain as well as risks involved. The storm would be the perfect opportunity not only to hone my navigation skills but also the mental and physical training for winter alpine conditions I rarely have where I live – I just couldn’t miss it! Once the snowshoes’ bindings were secured, I began following the trail leading southeast for half an hour; then crossed a deep snowfield. I kept going at a brisk pace, contouring the small mountain above till I found myself below the northeastern end of the ridge; I used my poles to raise the snowshoes’ heel lifts and began to slowly climb up the slope. By the time I reached the ridge; the snowstorm had just begun hitting the area with its full force. The howling wind was intimidating so I switched on my MP3 player and scrolled down to my Tor Des Geants playlist, then I used my poles to lower my heel lifts and began slowly trudging ahead along the crest. The snowfall became so intense and the wind strong enough, that the beam of headlamp was actually being reflected back into eyes blinding me. I set it on the lowest level, switched on my flashlight which I had secured head down in the hydration tube trap on the sternum strap. Instantly, there were some 300 lumens shining over my feet and could clearly see where I was stepping; not much further but all I needed was to focus on the next step, just like in the Alps of the Val d’Aosta. I raised and lowered each leg slowly, making sure the snowshoe crampons had a firm grip on the snow underneath. The first half of the ridge was pretty safe with both slopes being relatively gentle; the second half, however, had a very steep drop to the right of the ridge. I wasn’t looking for unnecessary risks, it was against my seven rules. I was just trying to train in bad weather conditions as safely as I could, well aware that in the mountains you can end up in a snow blizzard whether you expect it or not; I wanted to gain the experience and mental confidence to deal with it as best as I could when I had the choice and the opportunity to mitigate risks. Besides, nature’s beauty is at its best when angry!
Staying to the left side of the ridge wasn’t very hard, it just required focus and some patience: I knew I had done it before and could do it in bad weather too. After a while, I got a glimpse of the second half of the ridge where the dangerous steep slope was. With Voyage of Dreams playing, I slowly raised my left snowshoe, got a good purchase on the slope; then I did the same with my right one, then repeated again. Unlike many times before, I was less than a meter from a steep drop and during a snowstorm but didn’t panic; instead, just calmly went ahead and eventually made it to the end of the ridge and onto the small mountain top overlooking the valley below. The wind and snowfall soon abated and the view became almost surreal: only a few meters behind visibility was so poor I might have as well been on the moon and now I could even see the village lights in the distance. With adrenaline still flowing into my veins, I did a quick check to make sure the hill lifts were lowered and got ready to hike down the slope below as fast as I could, then head back to the chalet, aware I’d probably fall down in the fresh snow a few times. Ready to go, I paused slowly, admiring the beauty of the alpine night scenery… it was in that very moment that I realized I wanted to go back… and I wanted it badly!
Just over two months later, I signed up for the Tor Des Geants again but didn’t get a place. My biggest fear was not to have the same burning desire as in 2017 but I was soon reassured when I found myself staring at the waiting list on my computer screen 7 times every hour, hoping the lucky ones ahead of me wouldn’t finalize their registration. Eventually, my hopes weren’t dashed and exactly one month after the initial draw results were published, I finally got my place and signed up without thinking twice about it.
Training went as smoothly as it could. One month before the Tor I was in outstanding physical shape, better than the previous year and better than I had ever been in 46 years of my life. I kept telling myself I was going to smash the Tor this time but, as often is the case, something unexpected happened. On a rainy day, I got into a car accident and my car was written off. I told myself I was lucky to have come out unscathed and a few hours later, while on my last long training run, I strained my hamstring. It looked like a grade one strain so I thought I was lucky to still have four weeks to recover. Two weeks later I went back for a walk to be sure my mild strain had fully healed; felt good, got back home telling myself I’d maybe go on one last long run over the weekend, just missed a step while going down the stairs and when I landed my right foot on the floor a sharp, mind-numbing pain radiated over the inside of my knee. I immediately got worried it could be a serious injury, then iced and limped to bed telling myself I maybe just become too soft and that I’d probably wake up to be all-right the morning after… The morning after I wasn’t able to walk straight, my lower right leg seemed to go left and right without me having much of a say about it…banging my foot everywhere. I was convinced I had serious grade 2 or even a grade 3 (full) tear. In any case, whatever the injury, the Tor 2018 for me seemed to be over. And I would have given up all hope but for some unexplainable reason, I had this gut feeling I would still get my chance to attempt the Tor 17 days later… I thought it was probably just a delusional, instinctive, reaction; a weak refusal to accept the reality. At the time I was reading one of my favorite novels and the main character repeatedly followed his instincts when making some critical decisions. That novel and its not-so-fictitious main character inspired me and gave me hope that maybe it wasn’t completely over yet!
I RICEd myself to death and performed any rehab exercise I could find: cross lunges, one-legged squats, flying one-legged squat with an in-the-air swirl and double turnaround on the windowsill.. You name it and I probably did it during those two weeks. One week out I also went to the gym and trashed a cross-trainer to “stress-test” my MLV. That got me bad looks from the staff and a few odd ones from a couple of Disney characters using one of the nearby equipment. Eventually, some weird muscly dude began using the cross-trainer next to mine while making some kind of orgasmic sounds and managed to get all the unwanted attention for himself.
Several hours later, I woke up in the middle of the night and could not sleep. I thought of taking one of the sleeping pills I had bought for the Tor – replacing the grappa I had drunk in a desperate attempt to catch some sleep two nights out in 2017 – but instead, I went downstairs and began doing one-legged squats in the dark room… it was the moment when spraining my ligaments ceased feeling like bad luck and started looking like an opportunity: at this stage, even though there was no scan to confirm it, it was clear that the sprain was either a grade 1 or a very mild grade 2, most likely a level one with a sagging MLV. Ligament fibers supposedly took from four to six weeks to regain maximum strength but did I need a perfectly healed MLV to complete the Tor? Overcoming obstacles in life is far more rewarding than enjoying rare, optimal conditions. Why would I ever want to give up the opportunity of an incredibly more rewarding achievement?
Courmayeur Val D’Aosta
I arrived in Courmayeur with half a “miracle” down: that was the fast recovery. I just had another half “miracle”… and 340 kilometers to go! Determined not to let a bullshit MLV sprain hold me back, I was still aware that I had been off the trails for some time: the initial 10 days due the mild hamstring strain may not have been much to write on my training log about but four full weeks spent nearly entirely on a couch RICEing or doing car insurance paperwork started to be somewhat too long for comfort. I had undoubtedly lost fitness but trusted blindly that with a big heart and the right mindset, I could still endure all the way through those 25 alpine cols. I knew the mental element made a huge difference and I knew I had never been fit in my life before as I had been four weeks out. And if amputees had taught me they could overcome their life-changing injuries and complete ultras or climb an eight-thousender on prosthetics, inspiring me to take a shot at the Tor as early as 2017, I certainly wasn’t going to tell myself I couldn’t hike 350 Km because I had pulled some stupid ligaments.
Injuries permitting, I had the same seven rules as for the Tor 2017….
Rule #0: Never take unnecessary risks!
Rule #7: Never quit before passing out!*******
And while I may still have wondered whether I was being impetuous or reckless, I was lucky enough to have at least some certainties: a slim chance was much better than no chance at all. And I had always been better at dealing with failures than the regret for failing to try! Ultimately, it wasn’t going to be the optimal training nor the athletic prowess that would bring me back to Courmayeur within 150 hours. If my muscles would hold, if my ligaments would eventually withstand the trials and rigors of the two Alta Via, completing my second Tor Des Geants would be even more epic than the first one and I might be blown away with even more overwhelming and long-lasting joy as the first time! Yes, this was the perfect opportunity to prove myself that I would not give up, that I was able to push through obstacles, I would never quit on my goals! I no doubt still had enough preparation: this would be my lucky year at the Tor Des Geants, because as long as I had the privilege of still having a pulse and being able to move, nothing was over yet in life…
It goes without saying that telling myself that while in the comfort of my living room was one thing, actually doing it was entirely another.
And that wasn’t even the end of it. Before leaving for Courmayeur I had wisely decided to buy a wheeled version of my Osprey Transporter as carrying a 25 Kg duffle bag on my back with a banged-up ligament didn’t sound like such a great idea. The wheels worked great, at least until I arrived at my accommodation in Courmayeur: the place I was a basically complex of two- and three-story houses perched on a hill, with the different apartments linked by paths and endless flights of stairs. My apartment happened to be the very last on top of the hill so had to raise and drag the heavy duffle bag and cover a distance equivalent to a staircase seven times the Spanish Steps in Rome. By the time I opened the door my ligament was badly inflamed and began walking with a slight limp. And if the limp was slight, the self-doubt it was about to trigger would be huge!
As I walked to the pen, the unwavering determination started melting in the scorching sun of the alpine morning. I could feel the self-doubt creeping relentlessly into the back of my head. Maybe worst of all, in 2017 I had arrived in Courmayeur knowing it would be incredibly hard but having some kind of idyllic idea about the Tor Des Geants. This time around, all I could think before the start was the endless distance, the physical pain, the sleep deprivation… I simply wanted to go back to the apartment, watch a 1930s old-dark-house mystery movie, and fall asleep on the couch while slowly chewing juicy slices of Italian pizza!
Courmayeur to Valgrisenche
The climb up even in the sweltering heat wasn’t too bad but once I started going down, jogging on a trail felt unnatural: it felt almost like I was learning to trail run again. My right foot kept banging into rocks as if I had no proprioception. I began telling myself I was going to seriously damage my ligaments, that I would end up needing surgery, and not be able to run for a long time or maybe never again! I slowly dug a mental grave and buried myself alive into it.
I got down to the valley and past the first checkpoint in La Thuile when one of my brand new Black Series Leki poles suddenly broke on a flat, groomed trail stretch. Luckily it had broken very close to the basket so by extending it to almost its full length I could still use for balance, even if without obviously having much of a grip into the ground below. In Valgrisenche I’d be able to take my backup poles though at this stage I wasn’t sure I wanted to go ahead with this 340-Km alpine insanity anymore. All I could think of was my inflamed ligament or wonder how long it would take before it would snap fully torn!
Then, just past rifugio Deffayes something very weird happened: without realizing it, I lost the trail and led a bunch of people off the actual course for a few hundred meters until somebody yelled to get our attention and informed us we were going the wrong way. What was weird? I had done the same exact thing a year earlier and led another group of runners the wrong way: I felt as if I was through some kind of time loop. I hesitated to slap myself in the face to see if I was dreaming, then just laughed and told myself that if I ever got as far as rifugio Magia, I’d have to make sure not to oversleep again! What were the odds of making the same mistake again? I’d never be that stupid…
Once past Passo Alto, I descended to Promoud which surprisingly reached earlier than the previous year despite the Tor having started two hours later. It sort of boosted my morale but I didn’t want to hold my hopes too high. I found some Mioncino so I indulged, then had some girella, a chocolate roll which seemed to have replaced the crostatas I had overdosed on in 2017. Before leaving, I took out the headlamp and flashlight, got ready for the night, then began the climb to Col Crosatie. I knew it would be a long climb so I put on music and got into a steady pace. As I was getting close to the top, I found myself behind a guy who was waving his poles in the air like a cheerleader and nearly stuck one into my left eye. I turned around, looked at the runner behind and raised my palm in the air to signal him to slow down; then pointed to the cheerleader with hiking poles. The runner behind me nodded and raised his right thumb up to acknowledge he had noticed the fucker was a danger; we let him go up and once we had enough distance we resumed the climb. While descending to Planaval my MLV felt like it was on flame and began obsessing about it again! I told myself there was no point in trying to go ahead; by the time I reached Valtournanche I had a complete mental meltdown and decided to quit. However, I didn’t have the guts to do it myself but wanted to be medically forced to step off the trail so that, technically speaking, it wouldn’t be me who was going to quit: the plan was to get to Valtournache, go to medical, tell a doctor all the story about the right MLV, then hope to be told I wouldn’t be allowed to continue. In other words, not only I was about to be a coward but also a hypocrite! If I hadn’t looked for medical approval when I had decided to attempt the Tor, why was I looking for it to step off the trail and go back to Courmayeur? Nobody was forcing me to be there and was free to leave whenever I wanted to!
I reached the village first and then the life base; I was about to ask for a doctor but asked instead where I could eat; the man turned and pointed toward the building to the right. I went in and ate a huge dish of pasta, then walked out and asked for a shower. I had a quick chat with two runners waiting in line and we agreed that getting a shower was even more important than sleeping, at least at this stage. After a quick wash and change of socks, I packed my stuff back into the new black Tor drop bag, threw on my earplugs, and played some music: as I walked out holding my bag with my right hand and ready to drop out of the Tor Des Geants, I suddenly thought back to the previous two weeks when, while doing one-legged workouts ad nauseam to avoid losing muscle mass, all I had wanted was to have the opportunity to attempt the Tor again. I realized that now that I was there, all I wanted, was to give it up… For what? To go back to the apartment and rot on the couch for a week until I could board my flight back?
I just walked past the infirmary looking ahead “I’m not even in pain… fuck my ligaments and fuck me for getting into this crazy shit all over again!” I said out loud! I walked past the infirmary all the way to a van with three volontor loading bags: I gave them my bag.
I walked briskly along the trail of yellow flags leading out of the village and grinned while whispering “looks like I still have a pulse and can still move… so nothing is over yet”
Valgrisenche to Cogne
The course had been changed and went down through a field instead of over the imposing concrete dam. Once I climbed up through the forest, I could feel my socks slipping off my feet. I stopped, sat on a rock, and took off my shoes. I immediately I realized that, without thinking about it, I had spread the anti-chafing cream not only between ties and butt but also on my feet. It wasn’t good as it wasn’t meant for feet protection. It could be used to treat the feet and I had used it but prior to the event and not during it. I wiped the cream off my feet as best as I could using Wilderness Wipes, then threw my shoes back on, and resumed hiking through the forest. I remembered having gone through this section very quickly the previous year but it turned out to be much longer than I remembered. When I finally reached the open mountain, I enjoyed being completely alone under the clear sky. I just followed the track to the Rifugio de l’Epaiee, walked inside, scanned for Mioncino, then grabbed some started chewing happily. I looked at the man behind the counter and recognized him from the previous year. “What is this cold-cut meat called?” I asked with a friendly tone.
“Questa?” he said, hesitantly pointing toward whatever I hadn’t finished yet on the tray. “Si chiama Mocetta!”.
I instantly figured it out: in 2017 I had walked into many rifugios, asking for some “Mioncino” only to be told they hadn’t any while staring at me bewildered. I’d be thinking “You lying motherfucker, do you think I can’t see you have a tray there?”
In fact, I had never realized they must have thought I was looking for a lost pet rather than asking for the local cured beef… I made sure to have some coffee then left quickly to keep the margin I had gained over the previous year. The climb up was fairly easy and reached the Col Fenetre just as dawn was breaking. The descent to Rhêmes, on the other hand, was as hard as I remembered it to be and more: it felt as if they had added a few Km of downhill to better torture my aching knees. Once in the village, I headed to the refreshment point where I was hoping to catch an hour of well-deserved sleep before attacking the much tougher Col Entrelor. In 2017 I had slept like a baby there but this time around it just didn’t work out: too bright, too noisy, people agonizing on cots, gagging, farting: after less than 40 minutes I was out again without having closed an eye! As I climbed out of the village, the sun rose high in the sky and it became warmer and warmer. I quickly drank up all the water I had but ran into a group of teenagers who offered to refill my flasks. They were intrigued by the fact I was dressed in black, wearing pants and a long-sleeved zip top. According to them (and them only…) I didn’t even appear to be suffering from the heat as much as others. And probably I didn’t look as just because I was so much into my heightened state of paranoia about my ligament that I had even forgotten I was supposed to be suffering from the extreme heat…
I calmly explained the color made no difference, that the clothing length mattered very little, and that with a heavy solar load it could even keep you cooler, and that what made the real difference is the fabric and the cut of the clothes. They stared at me wide-eyed as if I had two heads and wished me good luck. On the remaining section of the climb, temperatures got even higher: there was not even a hint of a cloud in the sky and it felt as if the heat was about dry-crack the ground open. I went up and over Col Entrelor, then descended to Eaux Rousses through a cloud of dust raised by runners ahead. My morale was as low as my La Sportiva Ultra Raptors, or in other words next to the ground. I was really convinced I should quit or I would get badly injured. I finally reached the checkpoint and could only grab a few slices of Mocetta. One of the volontor said he’d go to the nearby hotel to get another tray but that took a fairly long time; as soon as he was back, I swallowed half the tray then began the long climb to Col Loson in the glow of the late afternoon. As I climbed the initial stretch of the trail through the woods I began feeling extremely tired, found a spot on the shade, I just sat down for a short broke. Instead, I opened my eyes as the sun was setting down behind the Entrelor and it was getting dark: I had unintentionally fallen asleep while sitting with the pack on my shoulders and the poles lying over my lap! I suddenly uttered a collection of four-letter words when I saw the time on my watch. Besides risking disqualification, I had lost a good half an hour which I badly needed if I wanted to keep a decent margin.
I resumed the climb toward the col as fast as I could and I thought back to the Tor 2017 when I had crossed this sam col unable to control my shivering because of a strong, cold wind, my hands badly frost-nipped. I could hardly believe this year I was passing the same section in the dark, wearing only a warm-weather long-sleeve zip top. I was about to begin the descent when a woman sitting just below the col cautioned, with a distinctive French accent, that further ahead it was “very deep”. Col Loson was where the previous year I had frozen outright after realizing I was in the middle of an exposed section. I replied that “I loved Col Loson” but she didn’t get the hint of irony in my voice and warned me again about the drop. I went on with some confidence but as soon as I saw the rope, I threw four hands on it and left another two hold the poles: I must have looked like goddesss Kali in Topolino e l’Unghia di Kali, one of my favorite Mickey Mouse stories by Romano Scarpa.
When I reached the shelter below the col, something weird happened: as I approached the small aluminum structure I saw a guy taking a selfie while mentioning it was great to have met “Kilian Jornet”. As I got closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes: Kilian Jornet was really there! What the fuck was he doing volunteering at the shelter on Col Crosatie at night? The guy taking the selfie thanked him and left. I asked for some water and Kilian practically threw a bottle at me, then quickly turned around and went to see a man about a dog some 50 meters away. I left the shelter in bewilderment, wondering if I had gone already delusional even before the 100 Km mark when I suddenly noticed it had gotten very cold and humid: it was the very first time I was cold this year; I threw on my superlight insulation jacket and kept going down. At some point, I noticed something on a rock and as I got closer I realized it was a guy asleep while sitting on a rock: it was the same fella who taken the selfie with Killian. I woke him up and told him rifugio Sella was only a few hundred meters down the slope. We went down together so I had a chance to ask about the selfie: I hadn’t gone crazy yet – he had taken a selfie with a Killian’s dead ringer who happened to be a local volunteering at the Tor.
In the Sella too, I refueled on some more Mocetta and crackers, then headed down the stone path toward Cogne. The descent was hard and my knees hurt badly again. By the time I reached the outskirts of Cogne, I had a second meltdown and was playing again with the idea to quit when the phone suddenly rang: it was Caroline who wanted to know how I was doing. I told her the MLV was hurting and didn’t think I’d make it as far as Courmayeur so I was thinking to drop out in Cogne. I still remember when at a Tough Mudder in 2014 – the first time I ever ran 20 Km – she had tried to persuade me to go home after tearing my right calf and I had refused (not knowing I had actually badly torn my calf) and eventually limped the remaining short distance through an electrified obstacle and to the finish line. I was expecting her to say “Drop out of that self-inflicted torture, I’ll come to pick you up and we’ll go home together!” instead she just replied flatly “Well, did you faint? Because two days ago you wrote that you’d never quit before passing out. If you haven’t passed out, you can’t quit!”
“Me and my fucking mouth!” I thought! She wished me good luck, confirmed she’d be heading for Courmayeur in two days, and hung up.
Once I arrived at the life base in Cogne, I went straight to the food hall which was hosted under a huge tent, ate two big dishes of penne al pomodoro without even breathing, then made it to showers. After a quick wash-up, I went out of the door and asked for medical. The volontor answered it was just outside to the right… I walked out and went left, through the food hall tent, then gave my number of began walking out of Cogne. As I walked in the silent street, cobbled street out the old village I hated myself for having gotten into this crazy journey all over again. I would have wanted to go home and sleep but, for now at least, I would honor my TDG rule # 7: Never quit before having passed out!
Cogne to Donnas
It wasn’t long before I saw the Expresso Point, the place where I had met the “hunchback” the previous year: I didn’t spare any gratitude for them to be there again to give us the “best coffee of the whole Tor”! And trust me, it was no overstatement. It was practically the first real coffee I was having this year.
Probably thanks to the break at Cogne, the ligament wasn’t hurting anymore so once we began climbing, I went as fast as I could trying to keep the margin I had built: I knew going up was the opportunity to push it as I was basically walking all downhills with a limp. I reached rifugio Sogno as the sun was coming up. I stopped, ate, and briefly recharged my phone and Walkman. I then went up again as fast as I could, hoping to get over and past col before it would be too hot – the weather forecast had another sweltering day ahead. Not to mention the valley below, especially past Pontboset, was somewhat of a natural microwave oven, to begin with.
Just as I was past the Fenêtre de Champorcher and about to begin the descent something unexpected happened: I slipped on a rock and, as I began falling forward, I tried to break my fall, my forward knee – the right one – began bending inward: I tried to twist my leg back with all the muscle strength I had but it didn’t seem to work very well. By the time I managed to slide down to a halt, my right knee had badly bent inward nearly 90 degrees and I was certain I had screwed my ligaments again. I slowly brought myself up, almost feeling relieved I was done with this crazy shit and could finally go back home. I let my right leg forward expecting my knee to give in but instead, nothing happened! Dazed by fatigue and confused, I moved forward again expecting to feel excruciating pain in my right knee or to suddenly limp, unable to go ahead. Instead, absolutely nothing happened. To my surprise, I kept walking ahead without any injury, not even pain: I started believing that maybe 2018 truly was my lucky year at the Tor Des Geants and maybe I even stood a chance to finish the crazy journey again!
Stage 3 is the shortest section and, especially the descent from Fenetre de Champorcher is probably the least technical of the whole Tor. That is with the exception of a few hard and rocky switchbacks which completely mauled my knees again.
I reached Pontboset and went down the deserted main street; I could hear the TV sound through the blinds of one of the houses but there was no sign of human beings around. As I walked I heard the noise of water trickling slowly into a fountain, looked ahead, and realized there was a “lavatoio” on the side of the street – that is an old fountain built to wash clothes. I took off my zip top and cap and sunk them into the cold mountain water. A local walked toward me from the opposite end of the main street just as I was sliding back into my black zip top shirt; the man, a lanky fellow in his late twenties, looked at me curiously probably wondering why I was getting dressed in the middle of the street, then noticed the TDG bib and smiled. As I left the village behind, both my top and cap were already almost completely dry.
When I entered Champorcher further down the valley, temperatures had risen to torturing levels. I stopped briefly to refill my flasks and finding it impossible to eat solid food, simply drank as much coke as I could. I left the checkpoint, crossed a small bridge over a river, and followed the trail along the right bank: I played some music and, for maybe the second time since the start, attempted to jog slowly. I wasn’t sure why but I had begun feeling oblivious to the heat or any other form of discomfort. Further down the road, I passed two other runners who couldn’t help but make a comment on how I could possibly survive dressed all in black and wearing long sleeves and pants. I had lost count of how many people had asked me the same bullshit question so I stared at them with a sense of disgust, then ignore them, and kept walking quickly ahead.
Once through the forest leading to Bard, I entered into a different dimension altogether. On the last climb of the stage, I suddenly saw a raccoon stretching out its left paw to offer me a coke… I knew it had to be a hallucination but it looked so real I couldn’t resist finding out for sure: I squinted my eyes trying to keep the focus on the raccoon and slowly stepped closer expecting it to suddenly morph into some natural features. When I got no more than two meters away, the raccoon and, sadly the coke too, turned into a bunch of rocks and plants. Then I heard somebody whisper “Welcome back to the real Tor Des Geants delusional fucker!”. I instinctively spun around and scanned the immediate area but couldn’t see anybody. With salty sweat drops running down my face and onto my lips I finally began smiling: I was miserable or rather, at last, I was happy being miserable! Even more importantly: I still had a pulse, I still was able to breathe, and I still was able to move. No, it wasn’t over yet and there was no way I’d even think again about dropping out of this crazy alpine shit, not before giving my all!