Sophie is on the final stretch of an adventure we started 31 days ago, the Alpine Coast to Coast, an epic journey from the eastern end of the Alps to Monaco via the summits of the highest mountains in each of the 8 Alpine states. Sophie has cycled nearly every mile alone, in rain, wind, cloud, and sometimes even sun. Upon reaching the feet of the mountains, we have then teamed up and tackled 7 major climbs in what has been the worst weather the Alps has seen in decades.
It has been tough. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, for both of us. I have had to watch my wife suffer absolute exhaustion climbing col after col but come through smiling, we have both feared worsening conditions at high altitude only to fight our way through safely, and we have done this day after day for the last month with just 4 rest days.
Words cannot describe how proud of Sophie, I am. How honoured I feel to share not just this amazing adventure with her but my whole life with such a wonderful, inspirational, and loving person.
We are nearly finished
Today, I am sitting in a small cafe just south of Turin waiting for Sophie. She is 4 hours away, at least, and about 200km from the finish line, the beach in Monaco. My time in the car, driving to the next jump off point, preparing our campsite, and getting us set for the climbs has given me plenty of time to reflect on what has been a life changing expedition.
We have spoken about how amazing the trip has been every day but it is going to take a lot longer to process what we are at the point of achieving. It feels like a lifetime ago we came down from Dufourspitze, let alone that first night in the campsite in Trieste before the whole adventure officially started.
The latest drive has given me a little time to begin the long processing journey and I wanted to share some of my most memorable moments from the last month.
Walking the walk – actually getting started
Sophie and I came up with the idea for this challenge over a year ago and it was Christmas 2013 when we started seriously planning. We agreed summer 2015 would be best and started talking about how we would actually go about doing this. Suddenly Sophie turned to me and said ‘This is wrong. We are planning 2015 and 2014 hasn’t even started yet’. From that moment we decided to stop talking and start doing, to not put anything off, and set about making 2014 a year we would remember. It has been. We left London, moved to Chamonix, and decided this summer was the summer to embark on the Alpine Coast to Coast.
A number of people have asked why we chose this, one of the worst summers in history for poor and dangerous weather, to take on such an enormous challenge. The answer is simple:
If not now, then when?
The perfect time will never come so you might as well do things when you can as you don’t know when you won’t be able to.
Sophie blushes when I say this but, I believe now is her time. She has worked so hard to build Challenge Sophie into the wonderful thing it is today, she has put in a lot of hard work to garner the incredible support we’ve enjoyed, and paid her dues to her body with a huge list of outstanding physical achievements, each getting bigger and bigger.
Now is Sophie’s time to show the world who she is.
She has not shied away, but stood up and put herself out there. Her courage, strength, and self-belief are there for all to witness, and with this challenge she is showing the world what she is capable of, how strong she is, and what she is made of. She is truly walking the walk.
I still can’t get over this place. At 2,802m in the Hohe Tauern national park in Austria, this hut sits at the bottom of a beautiful alpine ridge climb, the Stüdlgrat, that we took to the summit of the Grossglockner, the highest point in Austria. It. Is. Amazing. Go there, now!
Most alpine huts are pretty similar, nice enough but it is difficult to get supplies up to these places and so they are often basic but expensive with very average food. It turns out that the Austrians don’t agree and the Stüdlhütte is just fantastic.
Fresh, drinkable tap water (normally €5 a bottle!); €4.20 a pint of beautiful draft beer; and, more food than I could eat; we had the most amazing night here and I’m desperate for a reason to go back.
Anyone? Please? Please!
The lows on giant Swiss hills
Half of this epic adventure is Sophie and I, climbing together and sharing the amazing Alpine environments; the other half, Sophie is alone, on the bike. I think I have struggled with the cycling as much as Sophie but for different reasons. The hours in the car give me time to worry about my wife, worry about how hard she is pushing herself, and wanting to protect her.
One of the hardest moments was in Switzerland. I was driving to the next campsite and thinking about Sophie that morning. She had not been on best form saying how her legs felt empty, how today would be ‘a sufferfest’, and how she was nervous about how far she had to go. There were a lot of negative thoughts going on and I knew she needed to be positive to get through this.
Suddenly I received a text: ‘I really feel so weak mentally. Just sitting by the side of the road sobbing x’. It broke my heart. I wanted to cry myself right then. I was hours away from her; do I turn back and pick her up? Convince her to stop? Where is the line, when is too much too much? In a panic, I pulled over and messaged her to find out where she was. By the time she replied she told me she was feeling better and didn’t want me to come back. Reluctantly, I carried on but it really shook me, we would have to talk about it when she arrived.
When she did finally arrive, she was shattered. Sophie had cycled over 200km with God-knows how much ascent but she was smiling. She had reached a low point but felt like she was bouncing back. I wasn’t convinced but it is hard to persuade Sophie to take it easy if she doesn’t want to…
Mont Blanc, attempt 1
Our plan was ambitious, to say the least. After a day of filming with Adidas, we were planning on setting off from our back garden on our summit attempt of Mont Blanc. I can’t tell you how privileged we feel to have Mont Blanc, quite literally, on our back door step. We set off with 4 friends and were so excited to share the climbing with mates. It would be 16+ hours of hiking and climbing with little rest. Maybe not the best idea.
Sophie’s fall was a clear sign, getting us to stop at the Tete Rousse hut and try again at a more reasonable pace. But, it was one of the most magical trips into the hills I have had. Navigating in the dark, with a clear sky above and the lights of the Chamonix valley below; it was beautiful. Hanging out with good friends, getting to know new people better, it was simply amazing.
Even while trying to sleep on the Tete Rousse floor, I felt smug. We had failed but we had tried something awesome and nothing could change that. We knew we would be back and so we could enjoy the failure knowing it was a great learning experience and adding the challenge to our bucket list for a future attempt.
Spending every day with Sophie
Sophie and I spend a lot of time together normally, and I don’t think I will ever tire of her company but this has been different. The moment we started on this challenge we have been in expedition mode, life outside of the challenge has paused and there is only the present, the now.
The past is pushed to the back of our minds as our senses and minds are overwhelmed with the incredible things we are experiencing right now. The future is on hold, in limbo, while we create new paths, routes, and opportunities from this incredible journey.
All of this, I have shared the love of my life and inspiration, my wife.
I am incredibly privileged to be in a position to do what I am doing right now. We have sacrificed a huge amount to be here today but there is nothing I wouldn’t give ten-fold again; holding her tired body at night, drying her weary tears after a long day, and sharing smiles that begin in our toes and end at the tips of every hair on our bodies.