Monday, 16 January 2012

Walkin' In a Winter Wonderland

I’ve been determined not to crank out any more blogs unless I have something useful to say and can maintain my focus. Here is where I apologize for most of the previous postings, which might have been unfocused, not useful, or some combination of the two. Still, I have been advised to continue writing as inquiring minds want know. Be careful what you wish for, as often the reality doesn’t live up to the dream.

The two-week visit to Calgary over Christmas was very therapeutic for all of us. Visiting friends and family during an unseasonably warm spell in Calgary had us believing winter in western Canada was worthy of homesickness. At least that’s what we believed until I clicked on my Iphone’s weather app today and saw this:

Yikes! I’ll never complain about teeing off on a chilly 4 degree morning again, no matter how much the damp cold seeps into these old bones (my next birthday is a milestone of sorts and I’m beginning to feel every day of those 30 years, give or take).  Winter in Arcachon is a series of contradictions. A high of 10c has people dressing like the high is -10c and yet I notice one of the neighbor’s bushes is cranking out fresh blossoms like it’s early May.  The weather is supposed to get bad in a couple of days bringing high winds and rain and yet the temperature is expected to rise into the low teens. I guess I’m ok with bad weather. Still, even the good weather at this time of the year is a bit dreary (my apologies to those of you losing fingers and toes due to the cold). So, Ann suggested a medicinal trip to the mountains, where we might stock up on vitamin D.

In July Ann and I ventured into the Pyrenees as part of a ‘fun’ cycling adventure, never to be repeated if I can help it. This did not stop me from being drawn into a ‘fun’ outdoor winter adventure to the same Pyrenees, this time with Perri. I was sure if we didn’t take any gear, the chances of getting lost, or into a marathon of pain, were slim. As luck would have it, only the drive proved to be tedious.

Clear blue skies the likes of which I haven’t seen in months greeted us a just a few short hours after our hotel room neighbors finished testing their tv volume control. I didn’t mind because the tortuous device cleverly disguised as a bed made sleep a difficult proposition.  Ann later agreed the cheapest hotel available on line is not always the best choice. The town of Cauteret was reminiscent of Canmore, although as Perri, never one to state the obvious, remarked “It’s a lot more European.”

We took the advice of the employee at the rental shop and got the snowshoe/pole package for our day hike to the local national park (Le pont D’Espagne). Once we arrived at the park, it became clear that we would have better luck breaking through the asphalt in the parking lot than we would the snow on the trail. I would guess it hadn’t snowed in over a week and the daily highs were well above freezing to create firm but occasionally slick footing. We did elect to keep the poles, if for no other reason than to blend in with everyone else there. Also, throughout the day we passed a number of people determined to get their money's worth by slogging along with their rented but totally unnecessary snowshoes. Ann would not be happy unless I mentioned the rental shop did not charge us at the end of the day, for the snowshoes or poles. 

The weather was spectacular and so was the scenery:

This could be Canada (stock photo?)

Apple and tree - not too far?

One of many shots like this.
Perri gets to use the camera - finally!
Two or three relatively easy hours of hiking had me wondering when the hammer would fall. Avalanches, packs of rabid great Pyrenees, or missing croissants were all potential catastrophes I had expected. Surprisingly, even the 14 year-old attitude incarnate seemed to enjoy the day.

Queen of all she surveys
Dinner that night at a local restaurant was pleasant and educational. I learned the favorite meal among alpine adventurers is called raclette (we were the only table not enjoying this dish). In a nutshell, two people order a slab of cheese big enough for at least 6 people and it is melted, one slice at a time, onto enough potatoes and ham for another 6 people (see Wikipedia, the pictures tell the story). How the French stay so small continues to be a mystery to me.

The next morning we decided to see what was at the other end of the gondola which ran past our hotel room (a little too close perhaps).

The ski hill was busy considering the bulletproof quality of the snow, although Ann did notice no skier dared leave the groomed runs. Still, with good snow, I would be interested in trying this out sometime soon.

I hiked down the hill on a nice trail (only getting a little bit lost once) while Ann and Perri took the gondola so they would have time to enjoy the healing waters of the local hot springs. A short 3 ½ hour drive and we’re home again.

Weekend score: exceeds expectations!

For the next school break in February, we are venturing to the dark continent. Stay tuned.

Cultural note - 80's ski fashions are either making a comeback or failing to upgrade your gear is socially acceptable in Pyrenees ski resorts.