Raquettes sont tres difficile!

The literal translation for raquettes is snowshoeing. What no one tells you it really means is a hike in the snow straight up a mountain with tennis racket looking devices strapped to your feet. In the cold. But you get so hot you sweat. In the cold.

        Here’s the description of the day-long trek: (yes, “day long” should have been my first clue about the whole thing)

Voici une sortie sportive qui completera bien les activites culturelles et manuelles du mois: une promenade en raquettes au Bec de l’Orient (Chartreuse) le mardi 30 janvier de 8h45 a 16h. Elle est facile, tout le monde peut venir.

Here is an outdoor outing that will be a nice complement to the cultural and manual activities of the month: a snowshoe hike to the Bec de l’Orient (Chartreuse) on Tuesday, January 30 from 8h45 to 16h. It’s an easy one, everybody can come.

            Then, the day before, one small change:

Nous avons un petit contre-temps: nous avons du changer notre but de balade en raquettes. La zone dans laquelle nous voulions nous garer n’est plus accessible par voiture. Nous vous proposons donc une balade a la Pointe de la Gorgeat, en Chartreuse pres du Mont Granier, balade qui aura le meme niveau de difficulte celle du Bec de l’Orient.

We had a little mishap: we had to change our snowshoeing destination. It is not allowed anymore to drive to the zone in which we wanted to park the cars. So instead, we will take you to the Pointe de la Gorgeat, in the Chartreuse near the Mont Granier. This hike will have the same level of difficulty as the Bec de l’Orient.

            I arranged for Bill to take Kaitlyn to school in the morning, so I could get to the meeting point by 8:45am. I arranged for someone else to pick her up from school, in case we didn’t get back to the meeting point by 4pm (and even if we did, it would be a rushed crazy drive back by 4:30). I was set. I rented my snowshoes. I had my hiking boots. I packed my lunch (peanut butter and banana sandwich, two hunks of cheese, one red pepper, one pom pot – applesauce in a pouch you suck). I had my lip balm, mittens, hat. I wore long underwear underneath my clothes. Bill packed it all for me in his camera bag and I was off.

            From the meeting point (which was 30 minutes from our house), the group was divided in two and piled into minivans for the rest of the trip. I’d mentioned to a woman there that I know that I get car sick, so when she realized I’d been assigned to a car of ALL French speakers, she said something for me. They put me in the front seat and told me to take off my jacket and hat. The front seat was good for my stomach, bad for my head. The whole way there, I watched some sort of orange “check engine” light on the dash. It was that or try to speak French, really. They tried for a while to talk to me, but once I got past my small vocabulary I was done. Every so often, the driver would look over at me, put her hand on her stomach and say “ca va?” I also was trying to get the migraine I’d awakened with to fade. I had refused to let that stop me from going on this adventure. Forty-five minutes later, we arrived.

            The walk started innocently enough. On a big, flat snowy plain we stopped to strap the snowshoes onto our shoes. Honestly, you’d think that with all the advances possible in the world that the whole snow shoe thing would be more, well, user friendly. But it’s not. There are two plastic pieces where your foot sits… one for the toe and the other for the heel. You slide the heel forward or backward to “fit.” Then you snap a strap around your ankle and try to figure out what to do with the long end of it so you don’t end up tripping on it later. That’s it. The guide helped me. She looked at the snowshoes and determined the one marked “L” was for my right foot and the one marked “R” for my left. Since those markings could actually be for French words (although what French words, I do not know), I trusted her. She’s the expert.

            Shoes strapped on, we headed off. It was beautiful. Wide open, blanketed in snow all under a blue sky without a single cloud. We shuffled past a man working outside his house. I’m thinking to myself… how does he pay his bills? Buy food? Do for a living? I’m not very French, am I?

            Past that, we went off the big, wide, flat path and up through some trees. Seemed so lovely. Almost quaint. We stopped when the guide saw some rabbit paw prints. She told us how it’s some bunny that changes colors with the seasons: it’s brown in summer and white in winter. When it snows, it hunches down and lets the snow cover it like an igloo. Fascinating. And we pushed on… onward and upward.

            After a few minutes, she stopped again. Told us to take off our coats, as we were going to start going up the mountain and we’d heat up. She also suggested we take a drink, because it is easy to get dehydrated on a mountain and you may not even get thirsty to realize you need water.

            Then the lovely, picturesque, easy snowshoeing walk became a difficult climb in the snow nearly straight up, winding along a narrow path lined with tree branches. This couldn’t last too long. Oh, yes it could. I didn’t look at my watch but this part of the hike had to have been an hour or more. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would pop out of my chest or come up through my mouth. I could barely catch my breath (I hadn’t even thought till then about how mountain air is thinner). Luckily there was another snowshoing newbie and she seemed in even worse shape than I was, so when she stopped, I stopped. We stopped for quite a while and more than once. Some others stopped and waited with us. I don’t know if they were being polite or if they, too, thought they’d collapse if they shuffled one more awkward step up in their raquettes.

            Finally, after countless promises that the steep climb was almost over, it was. We came to a small little plateau with a few rocks to sit on and with the most spectacular view. When I got there (and caught my breath) I thought the nearly impossible climb was worth it.

            We sat on the rocks or on the snow to eat. Each of us had packed our own. I wasn’t the only American who pulled out a peanut butter sandwich. Sandwiches appeared to be the most popular choice, but most were with meat and on baguettes or thick slices of some variety of French bread. (Mine was on the bread we buy for Kaitlyn. “American sandwich bread” — exactly what you’d expect) One woman had a hunk of wheaty looking bread and cheese I smelled before I saw it. Someone brought a thermos of vin chaud (hot wine). The guide tried to get us all to have some. She said it would make the trip down easier. I thought I’d stick with her earlier advise to try not to dehydrate and I stuck to my water. (although on the way down, I thought maybe I should have listened to her lunch time words of wisdom) After everyone finished, a container of brownies got passed around. Then out came another thermos with coffee. That was met with chocolate. Such a French meal, even sitting on a rock 1400 meters up.

            After about an hour, just enough time for the sweat on my back and neck to start to make me chilled, we were strapping our raquettes back on for the descent. The guide stopped to show us how to go down that horrible steep hill. Just pretend you are sitting in a chair. Good for your thighs and butt, she added. Oh my God – it was like doing squats the whole way down. Still, going down seemed a lot easier than up. It didn’t seem to take as long and it didn’t seem as steep. Of course, the real challenge was keeping the stupid snowshoes on my feet. I’d walk like two steps, and one would come off. After about three attempts, we got that one on tight enough to stay, then the other one started doing the same thing. All that stopping must have helped make it seem easier.

            It was hard to stay awake during the 45 minute car ride back to our cars. Like I told the guide… je dort tres bien ce soir.

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