July 17, 2013 Day 4: Not All Miles are Created Equal

It should have been an easy 33-mile day, but I did not consult the cue sheet in advance to check on the degree of the in-climbs.  Ignorance is bliss!  They were 4 to 11 percent steep and that continued for miles. The first 10 miles we were just going up and up. I was in my granny gear at 3 mph, cursing and scared that I wouldn’t be able to manage the whole trip.  I really had no choice because there was no SAG (van) that could pick me up.

While I was climbing up one of the hills, a truck passed me when I had just about reached the top.  I was completely dehydrated and exhausted when he honked his horn.  Looking up into his mirrors, I saw him smile, wave and give me a thumbs-up. This little gesture meant everything to me when I was so close of giving up.

After each hill we climbed, we were rewarded with an amazing view. Rolling hills and snow-covered mountains made each mile, and every lost drop of sweat, worthwhile. This definitely beats climbing hills in New Jersey where the only view is of another hill.

When I stopped to take some photos, I saw a car that had completely flipped over. It was hanging in the tree branches below the road. The drop was steep at my right shoulder. The car was in such bad shape that I don't think the driver could have survived.

It was nerve-racking to cycle along these edges. Going downhill at 35 mph with a heavy, fully loaded bike.  It would not take much to veer off the road. I started cycling in the middle just in case I would lose control of my bicycle.

On the top of the Glacier

We planned for an excursion: a Glacier Hike. The last time I was on a glacier was when I was in Austria at 13 years old.  I remembered vaguely how difficult it was to walk on ice and was just not sure what to expect.

Our handsome guide, Richard, outfitted us with “crampons.” We had to chuckle about that name - I mean how did they come up with that?! Apparently, the name comes from France!  Crampons (for my non-outdoorsy friends) are little spikes that attach to boots and provide extra traction on an icy surface. They would be great for the NYC winters as well.  I have fallen down way too many times when it gets slippery there.

We had some challenges to get used walking in them.  Some people fell over trying to reach the top, so I suggested trying to walk like a pregnant woman: spreading the legs to balance the weight better. It was pretty amusing to see the everyone’s reaction to my comment.

Finally, we arrived on the glacier. It was breathtaking, undescribable and beautiful! It even had me thinking about learning mountaineering! The blue ice just unfolded in front of us for miles.  The springs of melted glacier water, combined with the purity of the ice and the sun refraction made it surreal. None of the photographs in National Geographic compare to it.

Richard and Kate, our guides, provided some more scientific information about the formation of the glaciers.  The ice is intersected by thin lines of deep blue water. When the glacier melts and refreezes, the melting lines become deep blue because of the purity of the water. The layers of mud below the glacier lead to the  shifting and melting of the glaciers. The more a glacier melts, the more the mud  pushes up.

It was very disturbing and upsetting when Richard showed us how much the glacier has melted in the last few years. The current glacier, which is about 21 miles long and maybe 60 feet deep, is melting 15 feet every year. It might not be long before I say, "Back in my day we had these things called glaciers.”

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