Monday, April 26, 2010

Introduction and the Plans

Ever since I took a short hike in Interlaken during my semester abroad in Europe, I had set my sights on the Tour du Mont Blanc. Back in the fall of 2008, the day trip practically wiped me out. To put this in perspective, the thought of exercise never crossed my mind until the summer after I had returned to the States. My motivation to get in shape was the idea of completing the "moderately difficult" hike around the majestic Alps.

From what we have heard, the road is a well-traveled one. With some common sense and two good maps (1/25000 recommended over 1/50000 for those tricky curves), the hike can be done by beginners.

So starting in April of 2010, Justin (the boyfriend) and I decided to put the plan into action. The best time would be right after I graduate, the last summer before I start working and he grad school. Slowly, we started researching about our upcoming hike and preparing. I began relearning my French, the unofficial language of the trek, and hitting the gym more.

That healthy regime lasted...about a week. My gym membership at the university had expired, and the SoCal heat made me want to stay indoors all day. Suddenly, my 3-times-a-week 2-mile jog and weekly hikes ended rather abruptly. All motivation to keep exercising ended, and vegetation commenced. NetFlix was just too appealing.

As Justin's very much an outdoors sort of guy, we went camping almost every weekend around California, one weekend Death Valley, another weekend Sequoia National Forest, and so on. Of course, long off-road drives with few and short walks in-between hardly replaces a regular workout schedule.

Literature-wise, we read up on other travelers' experiences online and started compiling information about what materials and equipment we need to bring. We wrote out a short itinerary about our ideal pace, based off of multiple schedules determined by guided tours. Though the idea of a guided tour, in which we had to carry next to nothing, sounded great, REI's $4175 per person tour was unfortunately out of our budget.

So now, we have our mission: complete the Tour du Mont Blanc without declaring bankruptcy (that happened after the hike in Barcelona).

To minimize our costs, we took the following steps:
1. Camping > Hostel
At the time of travel in the summer of 2010, hostels charged approximately 15 to 20per head for just a bed. Alternatively, camping costs about 15 per tent of two. However, had you chosen to not pack your own food, many hostels offer a 1/2 pension deal which includes bed, dinner, and breakfast the next morning. That averages approximately 40€.

2. Simple meals on the trail
Baguette: 0.90-1.00; Saucisson: 5-8 pending quality/freshness; Cheese: 2-3; Chocolate/biscuits: 2-3. These foods are all light and easily stored in our bags. Breakfast would be We typically went through one baguette per day, and half a saucisson at lunch or dinner. With this, we were spending little more than 10 per day.

3. Pig out at restaurants in towns with 3-course menus
Meals are typically 3 courses in Europe, and many restaurants offer special menus that include an appetizer, main dish, and dessert, all for 15 to 20. Eat up!

We planned to bring two cameras, one for scenic pictures and one with a zoom capability: a Ricoh GRD and a Canon Powershot A430

The main debate centered around DSLR or no? Pros: ...it's a DSLR. Come on. Cons: heavier and may get rained on.

Surprisingly enough, we saw a lot of hikers who did bring out the nice lenses, though I doubt I'd be graceful enough to not break one along the way.