Every vacation should be such that you only dream of going back to work!
That’s my conviction. That’s what I was dreaming of when hiking back to civilization from Plaza de Mulas alone all day through Horcones Valley in Argentina. Even though when we started and walked in the opposite direction there were 9 of us, most have quit by now due to severe storms on the mountain, the highest mountain outside of Asia, and one was helicoptered out to a hospital. Having spent 3 weeks in the Aconcagua expedition with no shower and melted snow for water I felt exhausted and thought of an office life with laptop, conference calls and creamed coffee as a dictionary definition of a paradise.
Nevertheless, every time I’m back to normal life, I’m looking for new endurance adventures! Be it another weeks-long cycling, running or mountaineering endeavor or just a weekend race. For me sport is like a parallel life, another distinct life. A life where there are no titles, no hierarchy. If only that one determined by speed and strength, which are in direct and unbiased correlation with your training rigorousness and mental stamina.
And frequently this parallel universe is also full of pure emotions of camaraderie and mutually shared feeling of achievement, not over somebody else, but over ourselves. Over our own pain and inner voice of giving up, due to rain, cold, insane heat, injuries, blisters, tiredness, fear of slipping into the abyss, hundreds of kilometers and miles ahead.. Such is my annual cycling ride in the French Alps I’ve done 6 times now since 2014.
Cyclo des Grandes Alpes, a unique ambiance
This particular experience is really unique from many of the others due to its one of a kind atmosphere and “ambiance” as they say in France. It is organized by Philippe Delachenal, in his late sixties now, who has himself toured the world in 380 days (and wrote a book about it), and supported by a team of volunteering staff is organizing this annual ride on a non-commercial basis.
The Cyclo des Grandes Alpes is not advertised and is only known by world of mouth to the friends of past participants. It starts in small French town of Thonon-les-Bains on Lac Leman bordering Switzerland and goes through the famous Route of French Alps to Menton on the Mediterranean Sea – all in 6 stages. We take a rest in Menton and a new batch of cyclists arrives to go all the way back to Thonon-les-Bains. The most hard-bitten 5% of about 150 total participants do both weeks, 1500km /900 mi with 34,100m / 112,000ft of elevation, which I did twice.
What Happiness is..
There are many researches looking for an answer to what is happiness. But as I defined it when arrived to our departure camp in France last month: “Happiness.. is when your name is printed on a cycling bag for La Route des Grandes Alpes!” Which goes with seeing all the old friends with whom you’ve passed some of the toughest altitudes and snow storms of your life. Just to do it all over again!
When I accidentally bought my first bike 14 years ago and joined a local cycling club in Moscow for 70-100 km rides (which were huge for me at the time!), for the first time going out of the concrete jungle of the city into the woods, meadows and country roads to be canoodled by wind and sun, I said: as long as I can bike I’ll be happy, always. Looks like I was right as that is still true 😊
At the very first stage of our French Alps tour we enjoy the clear and amazing views of Mont Blanc. When I biked these mountain passes for the first time in 2014 this was like a mystical magic to me, the mysteriousness of unreachable heights of the tallest peak in Europe I could only dream of to see from below. But this year, not only I have passed it 6 times, I have actually walked on top of that summit last summer! The Alps and Mont Blanc have become the indispensable part of my life I need to come back to every year to restart my brain and body.
Next day, at the second stage of the Alps crossing, I realized that I made a very serious blunder: I’ve accepted a bike saddle as a gift from a very good friend of mine, without taking my own saddle for a back up. At the end of the insanely hot climbing day I felt that I’ve beaten my ass into minced meat, first time in 14 years. I was afraid to look. And definitely did not want to show it to our team doctor! This was still the beginning of the week and I couldn’t even sit on a chair.. having learned of possible risk of severe complications I did see a doctor and was given some French specialized crème which almost all of our cyclists, I learned, were using. Nevertheless, the rest of the week I had to mentally distance myself from the severe pain of seating on a saddle and only focus on giving energy to my legs, balancing descents speed and enjoying the views.
Later at one of the stages, in the middle of the day, I’ve met a fellow cyclist, a young and very strong French girl, in a line for a bathroom with this crème in her hands and almost crying. She did not know if she could continue or not. It was very hot. And very painful. But as I said, she was a strong girl, so she did it.
If you are a little familiar with what cycling is, but not with French Alps cycling, I would say it is very different: you are basically either going up, or down. You either climb, for hours and very very slow, or you descend, sometimes for hours as well, but very very fast! When you do it for the first time, you may think what a torture it is compared to a regular cycling, but after a while you realize that the flat roads are boring, and only climbs and descends are providing for real challenge and satisfaction!
Imagine having climbed under insane heat some of the tallest alpine peaks, and then going down at the speeds of 50-60 km/h enjoying unbelievable mountain views, speed and wind! This is what happiness is.
Team Capgemini at Cyclo des Grandes Alpes:
Laurent Bernard and Jeannette DuVal Il est où le bonheur, il est où ?
Il est où ?
Il est là le bonheur, il est là !
Il est là !
Where is happiness, where it is?
The happiness is right here, right here!
It is here! Full song on YouTube
Endurance and teamwork to strive for even higher summits!
We finish the tour at the small French town Menton on the Mediterranean Sea. Most of my adventures, expeditions and races I very much look forward to the finish line, exhausted and happy. But here in the French Alps I always approach Menton’s amazingly beautiful seashore and our finish celebration with a deep feeling of sadness. Another tour is over. And we’ll see each other only in a year.
Every year we have some local press covering our ride, and they usually write couple words about me as I’m the only non-native French speaker. On the finish photo in the local paper Nice-Matin I’m keeping a bike over my head at the center. I seem to be the only woman on the photo, as I probably was the first to arrive, but we did have about 6 women over 100 participants, each and every has a uniquely strong and beautiful personality.
Just couple weeks before my French ride this year, I did a mountain climb in California. Mt Shasta is a potentially active volcano at the southern end of Cascade Range with an altitude of 14,179 ft (4,322 m). Unfortunately, we did not reach the summit as all of the other participants were turning back one by one during our climb, and eventually I had to turn back from the summit as well to descend the last climber who had no energy to continue. I hope to bring Women @ Capgemini to this summit next time!
But to experience these feelings of self-fight and conquest there is no need for travels, vacation time and a lot of investment. When at home, I live in New Jersey close to New York City, I love biking with my New York Cycling Club buddies and participating in local running events. Just last weekend I took a second place in my age category in Coney Island Half Marathon. This only happened I think due to very hot weather, I’m not that fast but can sometimes outperform others in extreme weather conditions 😊 Last time I stood on a podium was in 2012 being the second fastest woman running 100 floors upstairs on top of the tallest skyscraper of China, so I was happy to have this honor once again.
After accomplishing each of these challenges I feel like I’m born anew and ready to go back to the business world with a new strengthened inner core. After all, the values I learn the hard way perfectly align with our Capgemini Seven Values:
- Honesty: in dealing with your teammates in enduring conditions
- Boldness: to set and overcome even the highest goals
- Trust: to your team members when putting your life on a rope at 20,000 ft or behind their wheel on fast alpine descents
- Freedom: to embrace the pure nature in the wildest environments
- Fun: comes as a given!
- Modesty: in supporting your team and providing help when needed
- Team spirit: invisible matter which permeates your team to ensure mutual safety and success!
Thus endurance challenges help engrave not only a physical stamina but also a mental one. Which is very much applicable to the business world as well. With the proper team spirit and endurance, we can always achieve a success, while enjoying the process all the while! When doing 1,230 km non-stop cycling ride in 88 hours, over three days no sleep cycling under a continuous rain, day and night, the toughest challenge I’ve yet ever made, I thought:
If I’ll be able to finish this I’ll be able to do anything in my life.
I still think this is true.
My previous blog posts: