Cobblestones, Cols and Cowbells - Page 3
I, on the other hand, try to ease into a steady uphill rhythm. A deserted shepherd’s stone hut is nestled among dense trees on our left. Two thousand feet above the valley floor, at a meadowed precipice from which I could imagine paragliders taking flight, we come upon a six-foot-tall cross, the first of countless others that we will encounter in this heavily Catholic region. Soon, to our right, nearly 50 horses graze, facing the glaciered torso of Mont Blanc.
Part of the Tor des Géants’ enchantment is that it doesn’t really feel like a race. In the early miles, the Sound-of-Music scenery and cobblestone charm of running in the Alps entrance runners into a numb perma-grin and, later, a benevolent stupor.
The pitch of the trail increases on the final approach to the col, a distant saddle between two soapy white granite faces. A runner says something in Italian and motions ahead with the tip of his trekking pole. I squint to make out the shapes of people awaiting us at the top. Soon, I hear them: the clang-clanging of a hundred cowbells, summoning us upward.
The Tor des Géants claims a Vangelis-esque orchestral as its unofficial anthem. It plays in the promotional videos and reverberates around Courmayeur as runners begin the race. For me, the official anthem is the joyous rhythm of cowbells. At the top of climbs, in valleys and approaching aid stations, their mystical jangle lifts my spirit and, sometimes, my legs.
SHORTCUTS THROUGH HEAVEN
“Hup, hup, hup!” shout the spectators at the top of Col Arp. I pause to savor the moment and point my toes downhill, following Dominik Aichinger, an Austrian ultrarunner with whom I was able to exercise some of my rusty German skills during the climb. “Wie geht’s? [How’s it going?]” I ask.
“Gut [Good],” he replies between deep breaths.
We crest the Col and absorb the sprawling view. “Unglaublich schon! [Unbelievable, beautiful!]” I shout out.