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  • Alison Merrill

France, Italy, Switzerland – Leaning Into Fear

Updated: Mar 22

The Great French Road Trip


“Things are as bad and as good as they seem. There's no need to add anything extra” ― Pema Chödrön


July 24th – July 30th, 2019


After Sam, Jeff, Kevin and I were in Turkey for two weeks, we planned to spend three days in Lyon, France. Except there was one problem - we checked the weather forecast and saw Lyon had a heatwave of 105 degrees Fahrenheit. No thank you! Kevin suggested we head to the South of France where his Uncle Bill and Aunt Katrine lived. We weighed the pros and cons of staying in our Airbnb in Lyon versus going to the beach. We even tried telling Airbnb that, Kevin was obese and the heat was detrimental to his health but alas, they would not refund us. I know we lied. Regardless, we decided to eat the cost, ditch the heat, and rent a car to drive south. Oui oui!


Our drive through France. We added a stop in Nimes that was a beautiful city in Southern France and known for Roman architecture.

La Grande Motte – Where Shorts Can Never Be Too Short (if You Are a Man).


In order to increase tourism in France during the 1960’s and 1970’s, the French government flew up and down the coast looking for the “perfect beach”. They found the best beachfront and in 1960, started to build resorts using modernist architecture in La Grande Motte. Think a futuristic looking town but built in the 70’s. While I wish I could say we gorged on amazing French food, indulged in superb wine, and sat elegantly on the beaches of France, the reality is one of us had food poisoning from the tuna at Subway, there were maybe bed bugs on our cot, and the guys were not allowed into the pool because their bathing suit bottoms were “not short enough” … only in France. Either way, we still managed to enjoy ourselves immensely.

La Gande Motte - Picture from ArchDaily

Tour De France


Next on our stop was Albertville to watch the finale of the Tour de France. We drove for one hour straight uphill to find a spot and stumbled across a wonderful French town located in the heart of the alps.


Photo by Sam

Tour Du Mont Blanc – 1 Hike, 10 Days, 3 Countries


France, Italy, and Switzerland


July 31st – August 8th, 2019


Sam and I said goodbye to Jeff and Kevin and embarked on our ten-day hike – the Tour Du Mont Blanc. This was a crazy idea for us, as the longest hike that Sam and I had ever done before was five hours. Oh, and we never tried a hike while carrying our clothes and gear. We decided we were “fit enough” and feeling overly confident for no reason, gave one of Europe’s most intense hikes a try with zero training.


The hike started in Chamonix, France, crossed over the border to Italy, then over the alps to Switzerland, and then looped back to Chamonix. Each day was five to eight hours of hiking up and down various mountains, valleys, and towns. Every night we stayed in gorgeous chalets with other hikers. The scenery was completely different each day. Some days we saw meadows, waterfalls, and flowers, other days we walked through glaciers, rock, and ice, and sometimes, Sam’s favorite: sheep, mountain goats, and cows.


Shout out to Jordan for recommending the hike to us!





Our chalet that we stayed in on our first night in Italy. Photo by Sam.

Warning - if you are a beginner, do not attempt a Via Ferrara without a guide. Our friend, Jeff was ours, being an experienced climber and having done Via Ferrara's before. Never, go by yourself if this is new to you.


Via Ferrara – Chamonix, France


July 29th , 2019


“What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of the next thing you need to do”- Ralph Waldo Emerson


“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca


View from the Via Ferrara in Chamonix. The two orange helmets below are Sam and Kevin. Photo by Jeff.

“I’ll sit this one out.” Sam, Jeff, Kevin and I were in Chamonix France, a town at the base of Mount Blanc. Jeff told our group the number one activity we had to do was the Via Ferrara. A Via Ferrara involves scaling up and down the side of a mountain, this one, taller than most sky scrapers. The level of difficulty on the course was a 2/5 (moderate). However, the level of exposure, meaning “the risk of injury in the event the climber falls due to steepness or terrain” was a 4/5... very high). The Via Ferrara is safe when done with a proper guide because the climber is clipped into a harness, however, if they slip, they are suspended with two (or one) ropes separating them from a fall. Oh, but if one is able to not concentrate on the fact that they could fall of a cliff, they get an incredible view of the alps…


I had prepared to do the Via Ferrara that morning however after hearing the level of exposure I made a decision to not go. I went downstairs to spend the day some other way when Sam entered and said he needed the car keys. “That’s it. I am capable of doing this and I will regret it if I do not” I thought. And just like that, we were off. Once the group was in the car, Jeff said “You can’t back out once you’re up there. There’s no way down except to finish it.” Gulp. I smiled and reassured everyone that it would be fine - queue internal freak out part two.


The Via Ferrara starts with a twenty-minute hike uphill. The course has cables running alongside and up and down the mountain. Climbers wear one harness, two ropes with shock absorbers, two carabiners (clips) that attach to the end of the ropes, and helmets. To move from one cable to the next, climbers must unclip one carabiner and transfer it to the next cable. Once that carabiner is in place, they do the same with the second. The climber has to make sure their carabiners are secure and once the clips are, the climber continues. The course changes from ladders that go up the mountain, to footholds that scale the sides, and even monkey bridges and balance beams suspended over open air. Judge the level 2/5 difficulty with a grain of salt (it is rated by climbers). This Via Ferrara takes an hour and a half to complete and the course relies on the strength of a person’s arms, legs, and most of all mind.


Photo by Jeff. We did not get too many pictures of him because we were all too scared to take his camera.

Don’t Rationalize Fear - Use Fear


"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard P. Feynman


"In psychology and logic, rationalization or rationalisation is a defense mechanism in which controversial behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation"


I am a firm believer in trusting my gut when it comes to making decisions. However, I’ve noticed that when I am extremely scared, I try to talk myself out of what I am fearful of. For example, I freaked out when I switched from education and nonprofit work to corporate sales, I did not want to move from Boston to San Francisco, and I almost did not audition for my dance team Str8jacket. All of these decisions ended up being the beginning of incredible journies.


You do not have to scale mountains to have these results. Doing small acts of courage will have an impact. One strategy that helps me when embarking on something terrifying is asking myself, “what will make this more comfortable?” It is usually a small tweak and nothing major. When I did the Via Ferrara, it was climbing second after, Jeff (the most experienced) and before Sam. This can be done in so many ways. Maybe it’s having notecards when giving a big presentation or wearing an outfit you feel comfortable in for a job interview. After I make the situation a little easier to give myself peace of mind, I always reassure myself that every time I am scared, it is about to lead to something great whether it be a feeling of euphoria or a major life change.


It is important to be honest when I am questioning whether to do something or not and ask, “Is this really self-preservation or am I rationalizing to get out of the situation because I am scared?” If it’s the second, I try to lean in.


Sam, Kevin, Jeff, and I after climbing to the top.


Highs, Lows, Best Bite, and Lesson Learned


Sam



Highs


1. Swimming in the warm ocean of Southern France

2. Watching wild ibex’s in the wild at sunset from our incredible chalet at the top of the mountain in Italy

3. The 3 course meals at our chalets: homemade sausages, tomato sauce and peas, slow cooked briskets


Low: Sharing a room with a man who had extreme sleep apnea and resorting to grabbing our mattresses, leaving our room, & sleeping on the lobby floor


Best Bite: Perfectly cooked filet mignon at the first chalet after a long day of hiking


Lesson Learned: The stock market is like a mountain. There's no easy way to get rich (aka make it up the mountain). You have to slowly and steadily make your money (get to the top of the mountain). Shortcuts only lead to disaster (bankruptcy).


Alison



Highs:


1. After a hard up-hill variant on Day 2 of Mount Blanc, a picnic on a large rock looking at a beautiful glacier and meadow

2. Swimming in the ocean in the South of France – the water was so warm!

3. Walking through the mountain pass from France to the Italian border and crossing over vineyards, rocks, and lakes. We were completely alone except the occasional Italian mountain biker.


Low: First night in La Grande Motte thinking we had bed bugs and it being 90 degrees before bed.


Best Bite: Lentil soup from a French chalet


Lesson Learned:


1. Get out into nature more

2. When challenges / goals are large - focus on what is directly in front as opposed to looking at the end which can be overwhelming.

3. When it comes to hobbies, passions, and activities there is so much to see and the world is incredibly beautiful – stay open


Bon Voyage, Alison


Photo by Sam




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