French Alps: Where sight is not enough and self forgets reason (part 1 of 2)

Time for my annual solo-trip. What better than to satisfy my passions for hiking, yoga & Alps? I have recently developed an addiction to these mountains, after succumbing to the Italian and Slovenian parts recently. (Read here my non-solo stories from Italy, "The Alps: The right home for the human spirit", and from Slovenia "Mountains, sea, and a pinch of love".) 

I depart from quiet summery Brussels to fly into quiet rainy Lyon and hop onto a train to Grenoble. I have a master plan to spend a couple of days hiking on my own in the Alps before I go deep into an ashram in the middle of the mountains for a Tantric yoga retreat. You may read a little revealed secrets about it here

Snuggly Grenoble in the midst of the mountains

I have no expectations but Grenoble steals my heart from the very first evening. While I am used to vast flat horizons in Belgium, no building in Grenoble can hide the mountains, which surround it from all sides. I painfully realize how much we lack these views, this touch with nature back in Belgium, so I try to take in as much as possible. 

I spend enough time just looking at the views, the sunsets, the urban structures integrated in the base of the mountains, sipping my glass of wine and remembering what it is to be alone. In the beginning I wonder what I was supposed to do, what could I occupy myself with while sitting alone at a table. Then I sink in and quickly adjust and come to enjoy just being there. I have a personal no-phone policy so I observe endlessly - adults laughing, kids playing, couples walking, dogs jumping, the trees, the buildings, the benches, my food, my book, my mood. Grenoble gives me the long-needed breather and a reminder how important it is to be present and unoccupied with distractions, which usually aim to take all my attention. I am free to focus my attention where I want.

Saint Nizier du Moucherotte, where human sight is not enough to take all the beauty in

The weather turns out to be not on my side those first days, so I need to spend unexpected amount of time in my room. I deepen even more my perspective of aloneness, even more than I need :)

In a day when the gloomy weather finally surrenders to the sun, I brace myself and head to make a long hike outside Grenoble. The transport organization in the area makes no real sense to me, and I am a bit anxious about where I need to take which bus and where I should get off. I somehow manage to find myself at the start of the desired hike, and I reckon this the first achievement for the day. 

It takes approximately six hours up and down a peak, called Saint Nizier du Moucherotte. I equip myself with walking sticks from some fallen branches and, intimidated, I face the steep hill ahead of me. What is marvelous about the Alps is that they are so diverse everywhere. It is an endless massif of mountains but it could be rocky or green, sharp or soft, deserted or inhabited. The Alps simply never cease to amaze me and there is always something to discover.

The hike itself is simply breath-taking. I think this is one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever made. Just looking at the green landscapes makes me so infinitely happy, like an explosion of euphoria in my brain. I sit on top of the peak for awhile, eating my bananas, and I don't need absolutely anything else (well, maybe a sandwich would have been welcome). I need more of this in my life and I ask myself how I can integrate it. I am not able to find the answer yet but I am determined to do it...

"Table d'Orientation Cote Rouge", a rather foggy disorientation experience

One beautiful morning, I leave Grenoble and my train stops in a little village in the middle of nowhere, called Monastier du Clairmont, which is the village where my next hike, to Table d'Orientation Cote Rouge, starts. I have researched in advance to see what I can find in the village and I had found nothing on the internet. However, I am convinced that finding "nothing" is impossible. Even worse, I am convinced I will discover some unexpected hidden gem, a cute French village, which is simply not paid justice on the internet to be preserved from invaders. Well, I am in fault. There is literally "nothing" in this village - not a place to eat, not a little cafe. Just one big nothing and a closed shop (and a train station to bring you there?!).

Nevertheless, I head to my goal, carrying all my two-weeks luggage on my back, unforeseen hungry but still decided. The weather has deteriorated again. It is drizzling and not promising anything different than grey skies but I am determined to not let it spoil my mood. There is no mobile reception, so I start following tree signs and re-reading the screenshots I have taken explaining the route I should follow. The more I walk, the more deserted the surroundings become. There is not a person, not a dog, a car or anything else in sight - just empty roads. They gradually turn from asphalt to pavement, to gravel, to mud, to little path in the forest.

I must admit I am starting to get slightly anxious going deeper into the forest in the dark grey drizzling weather with not a single person passing me, and no mobile reception. Instead of becoming more comfortable, I become more and more doubtful if what I am doing is too smart. 

Ultimate aloneness can make you feel powerful

I am also experiencing what would be the definition of "ultimate aloneness". I realize I have never felt so quiet and alone in such a vast space. It is an amazing feeling, though. It somehow gives me a very stupid feeling of owning the space and feeling powerful. I decide that there is no way I can go back without reaching the top of the peak. I pull from somewhere a great energy and determination and continue climbing fast and entangling myself up into the dark, steep but very beautiful and mysterious forest, only hoping I will not stumble or get lost, where no one will find me.

When I reach the top, I am in awe to the view as I am on a high and very open view point. Just when I drop my backpack and sit down to enjoy the view, I realize that the fog I was walking through in the forest, is getting thicker and thicker. 

A minute after, I am rapidly on my way back, slipping on the fallen leaves down the muddy foggy forest. As I am relying just on the marks on the trees to find my path for the next 2 hours, I am becoming aware there is actually a real possibility that I get lost in the fog and leaf-covered paths. What is a long moment of deliberation, suddenly feels like no time when I finally find myself back in the deserted Monastier du Clarmont village, where there is still the familiar nothing. 

Sweet return to my uneventful village 

It is rather cold, I am rather wet, and my transport to the ashram only comes in another two hours. I pass by a closed bakery, which a woman is cleaning inside. I enter and ask in my best French "Excuse me for disturbing, do you sell warm drinks here?". The very surprised French lady responds "No, we don't but I can make you a little tea." She passes me a tiny old-school plastic coffee cup, from the white ones, which are no longer in use, half full with half warm water from a half-working espresso machine. She adds a package of some suspiciously expired tea and smiles. "She did want to help, though", I am thinking to myself and wet as I am, I go to camp for two hours on a cold stone bench in a little park with my three sips of tea.

Reckless it might be, the beautiful foggy forest and the mountain in this day, under the unspectacular grey skies, gave me aloneness and joy to die for.

Read the next part of my trip and my Tantric experience in the Alps here

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