Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Two years as a CanSurvivor - je fete mes Deux "ans"

Fitting that on the exact date two years after I had much of my innards removed, I'd be flying once again back to Europe, December 10th, 2015. The occasion was no less remarkable as it was the first time in over two decades that my godmother and aunt organized a Christmas get-together that included my father and sister. As if this weren't sufficient, more remarkable yet was the fact that over the five subsequent days that I spent in the vacation home recently purchased by my sis, alone with my dad and his g-f, I was able to hike four days to le Col des Fretes. It's a long 90-120-minute slog up a steep trail over the Lac d'Annecy, one that I'd hiked many times in the early 90's as a young paraglider pilot. If the physical demand of the hike hasn't diminished, I was quite satisfied that the first day, when my cousin Karine and her husband Pascal accompanied me, I was not entirely left in the dust, even though both spend much of their free time hiking these mountains.

The most remarkable part of this endeavor however, had little to do with us. Pascal and I each carried our gliders up, weighing somewhere around 20-25lbs (a 30% decrease over my previous 1997-vintage model) and at the Col, somewhere around 5000ft altitude, we were able to catch our breath basking in the sun on the yellowed grass - where there would ordinarily be 4 feet of snow! Just as in New England this Fall, the weather here has been totally out of the norm, with sustained warm temperatures never seen in human memory.

The performance of this recent glider (I'd bought it five years ago but never had the chance to unpack it) is also remarkably improved. My '97 Mengo flies around 15mph with a L/D around 6:1 (gliding in still air, for every 1000ft altitude loss, one can glide 6000ft horizontally), while my 2011 Dolpo gets a solid 8:1 at 18mph. I also met a couple of locals who were flying the latest innovation, single-surface wings, that allegedly reach 10:1 at 22mph with a weight under 6lbs! 

Friends, there is NO reason that each one of you should NOT take the opportunity to try Mankind's Oldest Dream, if only as a tandem passenger for one single flight. It is truly amazing - and safe!

And each day, happy with my 100-minute hike and 20-minute flight, I'd hike back up to the intermediary launch site where I'd left the car (in order to save time on the initial hike up with the hope that there may be a few thermals to sustain me) and I'd finish the afternoon with another solid 1-hour through two bands of 1500ft. vertical cliffs. This is Life, and the ability to enjoy once again one of the most physically challenging and gratifying combination that I've had the good fortune of learning, all made the surgery worthwhile. Yet, I had to face the fact that my troubles ain't all over...

I'd next gone from Annecy to Rennes, with an overnight in Paris (and another great meal at Carol and Alain's with Joel, Christine, and of course Karin), to reconnect with two childhood friends. Jean Mi and I had met playing baseball in the Paris suburbs, and eventually we'd both followed several other friends who got various jobs at American Express, where we'd met Capi. We all had spent several years living in neighboring Paris suburbs, and we'd traveled together. Over time, Capi had moved near Dinan, where Jean Mi and I had once gone to seek him - unsuccessfully - and where he'd worked as a landscaper, a remarkable change for someone who'd traveled the world, met with dignitaries on multiple occasions, and who in the early 80s had kept his job at American Express despite wearing a pink mohawk and studded boots! Jean Mi and he had no contact for years and din't know of their proximity until by chance, Jean mi and I had had lunch in a park in Paris together in the summer of 2014, and we'd decided to call Capi who had surprisingly answered. Since then, they see one another on a regular basis. Thankfully so, as Capi lives a solitary life and early September, Jean Mi found him barely able to get up from his floor. He rushed him to the hospital where he remained for several weeks, actually until just ten days before my surprise visit. I will never forget my own joy when I returned home from the hospital and found several long time and close friends waiting to welcome me, and nurture me back to life. And I intended to give a bit of that back to one now in need.

Capi had no idea that Jean Mi and I had planned the surprise, and when he answered my knocking, a burst of long friendship overcame all three of us after his instant of hesitation. We then enjoyed two days of walks along the rugged coastline, a swim (of course - in  fact surprisingly warm to the point that I went in for 'seconds' and body surfed a couple of waves) feasting on heavenly foods, including 4-lb stone crabs (tourteaux), cider from nearby Normandy, and raw oysters.

...alas, the night before my departure to Aix en Provence I was jolted out of bed by the worst abdominal spasm I've had since August. What's more, as in the very worst cases, I entered into uncontrollable convulsions and shivering for the next five hours. It was a night of Hell and marked a sour end to my hope that my abdominal massages might have miraculously cured those episodes.
Two days later, I took another Blablacar ride-share to Aix en Provence. Solange, the woman driver was a true doll, both beautiful and as sweet as she was tranquil. She avoided freeways because of the very high tolls and so we meandered through country roads. Daybreak gradually lifted a dense fog (due to unusually warm air over the Earth chilled from few hours of sunlight) and I watched in total silence the black silhouettes of massive, naked, lone trees emerge in the middle of barren fields. Twenty hours later, having driven through numerous towns of which I had no recollection of the beauty of the architecture, Solange dropped me off at 2AM along the highway in Salon de Provence, where Thomas had the kindness to come pick me up and take me back to his home a half hour away.

After a week of home repairs, mountain bike outings, and more copious meals (Xmas and New Year's eve obliging), Henri, Regina, and I headed to l'Eronnay, the small chalet my father had rebuilt in Tre Le Champ Le Bas, nestled in the highest part of the Chamonix valley, after an avalanche had literally blown away the original one in 1978, though it had stood there for over 150 years.

We arrived in the night of 1-2 January under pouring rain, but we awoke to snowfall and by evening, we had a beautiful crackling wood fire while the snow accumulated to a foot. This was the first snowfall of the ski season, but all the vacationers had left as the Christmas to New Year's holiday had been in the 50's instead of the normal mean below freezing. People jogged in the fluffy white stuff (since the inception of the annual Ultratrail du Mont Blanc extreme trail race, everybody here jogs up ski slopes, trails, and even cliffs), made snowpeople (PC?), and brought out their snowshoes.
But four days later, with a solid 3 feet accumulated and only half a day of sunshine, once again the weather did something never seen in human memory: the snow turned to rain up to 5000 feet elevation, and remained as rain for the following four days. The risk of avalanche became extreme, roads were closed, and rivers formed along the streets carrying icebergs of wet snow.

...the rest will soon follow. Meantime, please remember to Celebrate each Breath!!!

L'anniversaire des deux ans depuis que l'on me retira soudain les entrailles fut celebre en bonne et due forme a bord d'un avion en direction de Geneve. Cet evennement n'etait pas plux exceptionnel que les retrouvailles en famille, le lendemain chez ma tante et marraine, pour un repas anticipe de Noel comptant la presence de mon pere Francois et son amie Claire, ma soeur Tatiana, et son mari Olivier, outre mon cousin Yann et sa aoeur Karine, ainsi que leurs epoux. C'etait la premiere fois en plus de vingt ans que nous etions tous presents.

Mais tant qu'a etre dans l'exceptionnel, ce n'etait presque rien en comparaison de la meteo tout a fait inhabituelle. De fait, je restai les cinq prochains jours dans une maison recemment achetee par Tatiana et Olivier, en compagnie de mon pere et Claire. Quatre de ces cinq jours, je pus monter au Col des Fretes et en redescendre en parapente. La premiere fois, Karine et son mari Pascal m'accompagnerent, et je me surpris de pouvoir faire a nouveau cette ascension tres raide en un peu plus de 90 minutes, trainant a peine derriere eux qui prqtiquent regulierement la montagne et les ultra marthons. Arrives a 1700m. d'altitude, a la gencive meme des Dents de Lenfon, nous pumes tranquilement reprendre notre souffle en nous dorant au soleil - la ou il devrait y avoir eu un bon metre de neige!


Apres une bonne verification du materiel (j'avais achete cette voile 5 ans auparavant, mais ne l'avais jamais deballee), nous decollames en toute tranquilite. Bien qu'etant sensiblement plus legeres que les voiles d'il y a vingt ans, ces parapentes modernes ont des caracteristiques de vol bien meilleures. Si ma Mengo de 1997 avec tout son equipement pesait presque vingt kilos, elle ne volait qu'a environ 25km/h avec une finesse de 6:1 (pour chaque 100m d'altitude perdue en vol sans thermique ni vent, je parcourerais 600 metres horizontaux). Ma Dolpo de 2011 pese tout compris une dizaine de kilos, vol a 30km/h, et a une finesse de 8:1. Mais ce n'est rien en comparaison a deux nouveles voiles monosurface que je vis voler, lesquelles pesent moins de 3kgs tout compris (sellette et sac de portage), volent a 35km/h avec une finesse de 10:1. Bref, il n'y a AUCUN motif pour ne pas faire au moins un vol biplace dans votre vie et pour decouvrir la liberte du plus ancien reve des hommes.

Apres une nuit d'escale a Paris, au cours de laquelle Carol et Alain organiserent encore un repas de retrouvailles, je me rendis en a Rennes, ou Jean Mi vint me recuperer. Deux mois plus tot, il avait trouve Capi effondre sur son plancher et l'avait emmene aux Urgences, ou il etait reste pres de deux mois. Sorti a peine une dizaine de jours auparavant, il ne savait rien de ma venue et nous esperions le surprendre aussi agreablement que je l'avais moi-meme ete lorsque, rentrant de l'hopital, j'avais trouve plusieurs tres chers amis de tres longue date venu m'entourer pour Noel 2013. L'energie de ces jours-la n'a pas ete des moindres a me permettre de revenir a la Vie, et j'esperais bien en passer un peu a mon tour a Capi. Quele ne fut pas sa surprise lorsqu'il ouvrit sa porte pensant que c'etait Jean Mi!

S'ensuivirent deux jours de diners chez Jean Mi et Juliette, ainsi que sa fille Zoe, de ballades au bord de mer (ou je me baignai bien sur, et fut tant surpris de la temperature, que je replongeai et pris deux vagues en surf - sans planche ni vetements bien entendu), et de degustations de fruits de mer, y compris huitres et tourteaux. La chaleur de l'amitie est incomparable! Nous nous rappelames l'epoque ou nous jouions au baseball, puis notre rencontre avec Capi lorsque plusieurs d'entre nous trouverent emploi a l'American Express (merci Mon Colonel et Nicole!), laquelle entreprise etait alors suffisamment ouverte d'esprit pour accepter un Capi avec une crignere teintee rose fluo, vetu d'un blouson et de bottes cloutees! Quels souvenirs... Malheureusement, mon sejour ne s'acheva pas que dans le bonheur car la nuit de mon depart, je fus pris d'un de ces abominables spasmes du diaphragme dont je croyais m'etre libere avec les massages abdominaux. De plus, comme dans trois des pires au cours des deux annees ecoulees, j'entrai ensuite dans une serie de convulsions et de frissonements incontrolables pendant cinq longues heures.

Le surlendemain je pris enfin un Blablacar pour Aix en Provence. La conductrice Solange, me recupera a 06h30 et elle ne prit l'autoroute qu'a la toute fin de notre voyage. Si le voyage fut tres long, le charme et le calme de la conductrice en firent un voyage tres agreable. De plus, il me permit de redecouvrir de nombreuses villes et villages traverses autrefois, dont je n'avais plus aucun souvenir. Et tout comme j'admirai les silhouettes de grands chenes qui apparaissaient au travers du brouillard tandis que se faisait le jour, j'apreciai tout autant les vestiges de la gloire de notre pays jadis, qu'il s'agisse des fortifications de Tours ou de Chateauroux, ou de chateaux et maisons nobles que nous passames le long de la route ou dans de multiples villages. Cela marquait neanmoins un bien triste contraste avec la France moderne qui parait completement essoufflee par rapport a sa grandeur de jadis.

Si Jean Mi avait eu la gentillesse de m'accompagner a 06h30, Thomas n'en fit pas moins en venant me recuperer a Salon de Provence a 01h30. Chez lui, nous passames une semaine a bricoller la maison dans laquelle nous avions deja travaille cet ete, et a faire quelques escapades de VTT. Bien sur, Noel et le Nouvel An furent fetes avec de copieux repas et de tres bons amis. Puis, le 1er janvier, Henri, Regina et moi primes la route pour Tre le Champ, le petit chalet recounstruit par mon pere apres que celui qu'il venait d'acquerir et qui qvqit ete sur place depuis 150 ans, fut emprote par l'avalanche de fevrier 1978.

Nous arrivames dans la nuit sous une pluie battante, mais nous reveillames alors qu'elle tournait a la neige. Il neigeat beaucoup pendant les cinq jours suivants, et nous n'eumes qu'une demi journee de soleil. Mais le sixieme jour, la meteo fit de nouveau un tour de passe-passe jamais vu de memoire d'homme, la neige se transforma en pluie le 7 janvier a midi, et il plut pendant quatre jours consecutifs jusqu'a 1500 metres d'altitude. Le risque d'avalanche fut extreme, et les rues se transformerent en canaux sur lesquels naviguaient de gros icebergs de neige fondue, une veritable tristesse...

Ainsi s'achevat le debut du deuxieme annee de ma survie. Je vous ecrirai a nouveau depuis Aix ou de Rome, ou je me rends en fin de semaine. D'ici la surtout n'oubliez pas de savourer la douceur de chaque bouffee d'air!


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