Monday, 16 March 2015

Back to where my life began, a trip to the Italian Alps

On my first date with Michael we were planning to hit the trails on the Mountain bikes. Heavy rain made us stay inside and watch Killian Jornet's movie "Summits of my life" instead. The movie is about Killian's amazing successful attempt of running up and down the Matterhorn from the Italian side in record time, 2hrs52min and 2 sec. When we decided we couldn't afford to go skiing for a full week in France, I did not want to let go of the idea of going to the snow. I managed to find a city break deal to Milan from which we could then drive up to Cervinia to spend a couple of days in the Alps, skiing underneath the Matterhorn. And as a surprise for Michael's birthday, with our first date in mind I booked a trip to Italy.
Not quite the selfie I was looking for!
For Michael it was the first time heading to the Italian Alps whilst I went back to my roots. I was born in Varese, a little place located at the foot of the Alps where I lived until I was about 10 years old. I learned how to ski before I could walk on the slopes of the Italian ski resort Cervinia. When I first came back to Europe to race in 2013, I deliberately avoided the area, not wanting to be confronted with my childhood from which I had detached myself from for so many years whilst living on the Southern Hemisphere. But things had changed for me and I was ready to share with Michael where I grew up. 
The saying “youth is wasted on the young” sprang to mind when we were taking in the stunning views from high above the Italian/Swiss Mountains. I couldn't remember ever appreciating this as a child as much as I did now. My love and passion for the beauty, untouchability and remoteness of Alpine settings had grown stronger and stronger with age. We had the most beautiful weather, we could see for miles. There was something so dramatic about being surrounded by the Alpine range which made me want to sit down and just be quiet for a while.
Michael planning the route across the ski resort
We only had two days in the snow and we wanted to make the most of it, skiing the whole area of Italian/Swiss ski resort combined. We needed to plan this properly or it would end up in disaster if we missed the last run out of Switzerland back to Italy. (which I already had experienced with my sister many years back) When Michael and I are together we seem to get into this “she’ll be alright” mode and we end up not really paying attention to things, often ending up lost. Timekeeping is definitely not our strongest point when we are together and therefore we felt under a bit of pressure getting this one right! We were on fire however and when we realized we were going to make it with plenty of time to spare, we were on a high enjoying every moment. On the way back to Italy we followed down a slope which brought us right at the foot of the Matterhorn. This was truly magic. And sharing it with Michael made it so much more special and so much more real. Many different emotions entered my body, flashback's of my sister and I having lots of joy skiing together. I remembered laughter, contentment and painfully happy memories. Thoughts of my belated grandparents having left their footprints in this area, walking, exploring and climbing these mountains even before I was born. It was here where my uncle Eelco as a young boy felt inspired to reach for the biggest peaks in the world. And for someone who has always wondered about where my home was, I felt that it was here where my roots lay.
Happy days at the foot of the Matterhorn
On every adventure Michael and I embrace, there is a always a story to tell! And this was no exception. After a full day of skiing I very proudly told Michael I had found this awesome very remote accommodation in a valley with amazing views on the Mountains. To reach it we had to leave our hired little Fiat 500 in a car park and walk for about 10 minutes over a hill. Where this car park, or hill was located however I wasn't quite sure. Fortunately we found some signs which led us up into the middle of nowhere but in a typically Italian way the signs stopped and we were left guessing. Michael not being a great fan of aimlessly wandering around and me feeling responsible having organised this very secluded location (which seemed impossible to find) caused for a certain amount of stress. After calling the hotel in my broken Italian I was happy to be sent in the right direction. Unfortunately the owner of the hotel thought we were at a different car park than we actually were. 
Once we found it, the location was magic
A massive hike up a huge hill in deep icy snow for half an hour made us question if we were in the right place. Which we weren't. It was now dark and cold and I had no more solutions. Tired from the days activity we were at a low. Michael, the eternal optimist, saved the day by making a new plan finding a local hotel for the night. The owner was a great bubbly Italian who helped us out by calling our original accommodation and changing it to stay there for the following night with proper instructions on how to get there. When we did find it the next day, it was more than worth the effort,arriving in an absolutely stunning location. We explored the area making most of the beautiful evening before we went inside to cuddle up in front of a cosy fire. Michael enjoying a well deserved beer whilst I was sipping on wine laughing about our adventures together, a perfect ending of a magic couple of days. We were sad to leave the next morning for the airport.
Wherever there are horses, I will smile 
Our new made friend saying goodbye
Spring is upon us which for me means I am starting to prepare myself a bit more seriously for the season ahead. I must admit that after last years hellish season I had lost a bit of motivation and was not sure which direction I was heading in. Accepting that the reason I came to Europe, which was to race at the highest level, was not really working out for me was still something I was struggling with from time to time. During a chat with Nico about what to race, he asked me what would inspire me. What would push me to train hard and want to reach my limits. I I realized I needed something equally as challenging as racing at elite level, but not so focused on performance. I was looking for a personal achievement, and therefore I entered the Inferno in Switzerland. A triathlon set in the Bernese Alps, with the Eiger on the background, I will be swimming 3.1km, roadcycling 97km, mountainbiking 30km and to finish running 25km with 2175m elevation gain finishing on top of the Schilthorn at 2970m high! The total race has 5500m elevation gain. I decided that this will be my main goal race for 2015, which means that although I will still be looking at racing a couple of Xterra’s, they are mainly put in the back ground. For financial reasons I will also be looking at racing a lot more in Scotland, not having to worry about the costs of travel and accommodation I am hoping this will reduce the amount of stress when racing! I am lucky enough that I have plenty to chose from right at my door step!!
Beginning this season it will be all about the mountain bike, starting of with the Scottish National MTB series next weekend. After that I will be heading to Belgium for the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon in Houfflaize in May, hoping to collect enough points to race the UCI Mountain Bike World Champs which are excitingly held in the Dolomites this year.
On a non competitive level, Michael and I have given ourselves a new challenge which will most likely take many, many years to complete. Being so close to the Matterhorn awakened a desire to be on top of it instead of looking up at it. We therefore decided to attempt to climb all 4000m peaks in the World. 
"As soon as I saw you I knew an adventure was going to happen" AA Milne

I am someone who needs goals but I have learned they are not necessarily linked to winning races. The thought of completing the Inferno, the thought of starting my 4000m peak project with Michael, has made me dream again. And it turned out that in order to find that inspiration I had to go back to my roots, back to Italy, back to my childhood. Remembering where I came from, where I have been and how far I have come.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks” John Muir

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