Heart of Jelly, Thighs of Steel

Into the Alps

After a few days in Grenoble to prepare ourselves we set off into the Alps.

The first very steep gradient we faced was on a busy main road. It was the only road, the one we would be on for the two-day climb, so we had to grit and bear it. Cars and trucks rushed past. I felt my slight and feeble body. I felt my cumbersome, awkward, wheeled steed underneath me, heavier than ever.

I could feel my thighs quaking like two jellies under this kind of pressure. They hadn’t worked like this yet. They hadn’t had to push and pump, over and over, carrying the weight of my body, my bike and my bags uphill like this before. This was the defining moment – thighs of jelly were going to be painfully transformed and hardened.

We had never cycled as slowly as we did for the time that it took to climb the 2058 meters to Col du Lautaret. We were forced to take a new approach, adopt a new kind of patience and perseverance. To add to this, at the end of the first day we both had food poisoning, turning us inside out and fogging our minds. So after one days rest, we had to face the second day of climbing to the top feeling more wobbly than ever. The bikes had never felt so close to our heaving chests. We had never wanted to abandon all our worldly goods so much before. Our possessions now directly equalled our pain.

However, the pain soon became justified. The endless climbing was gradually revealing a spectacular landscape that I had never experienced before. Slowly, all around us, after each bend in the road, the mountains were growing around us. Revealing themselves in all their glory.

The mountains made me shrink in size. I was suddenly a tiny, almost invisible, speck of a human. A minuscule creature brimming with a huge delight and deep gratitude to be among these giants. To be in the presence of the mountains was to know ones place in the grand game of life and know ones scale in the enormity and grandeur of its landscape. The mountains made me feel like nothing but a humble worshiper of the earth. This was new.

Ascending and descending the majestic mountains of the French Alps was a metamorphic process for me. I began the ascent unsure of myself and my physical capabilities. Doubtful. I began afraid and in awe of the challenge ahead. I came rocketing down from those mountains, on the terrifying switchbacks, still in awe of the beauty and harshness of the landscape but filled with a new feeling of myself. A new, swelling pride in my body and my determination. My tenacity had been set alight in that landscape.

I have learnt during my time on planet earth so far that I have a heart of jelly. I used to think I was mainly made of jelly actually. I feel things very deeply and intensely and have no moat or castle walls to protect this softness and fragility from the outside world. I still have and will always have a tender heart of jelly. But at least now, I can truly say, I own a pair of steel-like thighs.


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