Monday, January 21, 2013

France - Hiking with Tibor in Chamonix

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Thursday, September 29 

During an early morning dash to use the restroom, a crescent moon shined high over Mont Blanc like a white star piercing the darkness – all the more brilliant considering I could see it without my glasses. By sunrise the air was cold.  Frost covered the grass. Despite my aching back - spending too many hours confined to our nylon home - I remained inside until the first rays of sunshine hit the rocky spires and, of course, Andy had made coffee. Nights in Chamonix were going to test my tolerance.

After breakfast we doubly locked our bikes to a fence near our yellow tent. We set out on foot with packs. After buying “deus baguettes”, fruit, and yogurt we were ready to hike. But first we needed to decide where to go. At a train platform we consulted maps. I set down my backpack, noticing the long loaves resembled baseball bats sticking from my red and purple backpack. I’d also been thinking of my brother, Mike, who birthday was today.

Tibor and Andy at Montenvers Hotel
A short elderly man shared the concrete patch with us. He was a curious sort with an English driving cap, thick horned-rimmed glasses, and a twinkle in his eye. He shouldered a small navy backpack, yet at his feet a baguette nestled between the dirty straps of his duffle bag. He was quiet as we unfolded the map. Andy and I were contemplating several trails.

Fortunately, the man spoke up and offered what he’d heard of as suggestions. As it turns out the man’s from Boston, and having spent the night sleeping on the platform, he's nearing the end of his vacation, ready to head off on an 8 p.m. train for Paris. We invite the gentleman along for the day, especially after he expressed a passion for hiking and cycling.

Tibor grew up in Hungary, but left in 1956 during uprisings. He attended Dartmouth on a scholarship, met his Peruvian future wife, and for 40 years lives as a traveling scholar. Tibor – amazingly – speaks 7 languages fluently – the only reason he still has a job, he says. Currently, he works for an auto club, handling foreign calls. 

He also has a passion for garage sales and bicycles. He owns 10 bikes and commutes rain or shine, even in snow. He follows automobile tracks in the winter. “Makes the drivers go crazy,” he says with a wink. I could’ve hugged Tibor! His friendly smile, his stories, and obvious love for bikes reminded me of my grandfather. “I hate working on bikes so that’s why I have so many,” Tabor continues. “I will no longer own a new one - the last two were stolen.”

View of glacier from Montenvers Hotel.

We ascended on a dirt road/trail switch backing up a slope across cog railway tracks that led to Montenvers Hotel. It’s a beautiful spot; the multi-story structure – its shutters thrown open - overlooks a glacier. The smoky aroma of meat is overwhelming. Andy and I scamper by two carcasses roasting on a spit. There must be an upcoming feast. But it’s calm and peaceful on the other end of the patio. We munch on our favorite Prince Biscuits. Packed in a tube shape, they’re round, crunchy cookies sandwiched with dark chocolate. We share them with Tibor. Our peace is short-lived, however, as the red cog train stops and a horde of Japanese tourists spill onto the path. Andy and I shake our heads. It’s enough to ruin the mountain moment. We bid good bye to Tibor - he is slower and is turning back - while Andy and I traverse laterally beneath snowy peaks.

The traverse.

The sky becomes hazy, lending wintry-like whiteness to the air, though the afternoon remains warm. Weaving in and out of granite rocks and boulders, the high peaks contrast with autumn gold and red heathered carpet at our feet. I am in awe. We are all alone on the slope. It’s breathtaking, yet we briskly walk the trail in between my photo stops and treasured hugs with Andy. With my favorite partner and gorgeous alpine scenery – I drink it all in. This was what we’d come to see.

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