An honest lesson in rest and recovery.

When we last left the blog, we had just pitched up at an idyllic rest spot in the Nevache valley to take a few days off from the mountains after our epic on the Grape ridge (previous blog). The spot had near enough everything a camper could wish for (without paying peak season prices for campsites) and, for August in France, as secluded as one may hope. In fact our spot in the valley was rather hard to pry ourselves away, and in some of the more challenging days that lay ahead we often wished we were back in that spot.

This initial respite from climbing was not intentioned to be for particularly long but this was soon taken out of our hands as we learnt a valuable lesson. As a consequence, neither of us have felt particularly inspired to put pen to paper and update the blog, both lacking exciting stories and finding it hard to spin rest and recovery into a good narrative. However, the last thing we want to do with the blog is paint a rose tinted image and ignore the bumpier times – as cliche as it may be, life on the road has its ups and downs. Following the ridge climb, Bethan had fallen ill with a UTI and we ultimately made some poor calls that prolonged recovery (hindsight is a glorious thing). You may have already supposed this, but life in a van without access to a toilet is perhaps the worst location to be suffering from a UTI and Bethan soon felt that her dignity had been very much lost. She also thinks that she better not further lose her dignity by providing too many more details on a blog but one can imagine the situation.

Perhaps, it was the faff of seeking medical treatment abroad or just naivety that allowed us to push the infection to one side, but that was the approach we took, believing it would improve with some rest. These days in the Nevache valley were spent in relative bliss, idling about, pioneering the horizontal shower, reading to each other in the hammock and popping down the road to Briancon whenever supplies needed replenishing. After a few days, Bethan was forced to admit that improvements in health were not occurring as rapidly as we would like and we headed to a pharmacy in Briancon to stock up on medication. Here, hampered by our poor French, we accepted (Bethan prefers scammed into accepting) the pharmacy’s ‘natural remedy’ for the infection. It was now late on a Friday and finding a doctor’s appointment to get a prescription for antibiotics did not appear likely (nor over the weekend) and so it was better than nothing (we might as well give em a try eh?).

It was at this point that we had to make another important decision: shall we move location? and if so where? A true conundrum – not only was the location perfect but there were so many climbs and hikes we had left on our ticklist!!! It was difficult to look around and not be inspired to climb everything in sight (albeit with a wariness of ridges, still, on Bethan’s behalf!) and it is so easy to become settled in a nice location (we did have it very sweet in Nevache). However, we would never get to a location and feel we had “completed” it; we were living on wheels – “isn’t the whole point of a van to move Sam?”. Eventually, we agreed a move was due but not before a final hike to bid a fond farewell to the Nevache valley we had loved so much. This was ideal because Bethan’s health appeared to be improving despite our healthy scepticism on the natural remedy front.

Final hike in Nevache

We choose a new highpoint for Bethan (3097m) for our farewell hike and set off in good spirits on a loop of Point des Cerces. Its hard to describe the awe that the hike induced, whilst completely immersed in soaring peaks and beautiful scenery, we discussed where would be the best location to have a hut in these mountains. We felt that we belonged here just a little. Of course, we wouldn’t belong in the same way as the Chamois we crossed paths with, nor the speeding locals. As we approached the main incline of the route, Sam mentioned how busy the summit looked (rows of little ants lining the peak) and although it was the last Sunday of August we were slightly in disbelief that we had managed to choose the busiest summit in Nevache. Bethan had visions of Snowdon during lockdown – chaos in the queues for the summit selfie. Oh well, we’ll still enjoy our hike even if it is more on-the-beaten-path than initially anticipated. A short while later, we saw another peculiarity – three men in identical outfits and helmets. Not exactly your typical hiking get up either; khaki trousers and strange white hoodies. Turning a corner and approaching the scree towards the summit a large number of men befell our eyes, all in the same outfits and racing down at quite a pace – this time with huge backpacks and rifles. The army recruits blasted past us (shaven heads nodding bonjour as their rifles clacked against their sides). Hopefully the summit wouldn’t be so busy after all.

Sorry Steam (and Oscar) for stealing your cups

The hiking went smoothly and Bethan reached her new highpoint. However, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft a-gley” and Bethan’s knee pain that, despite looming over every trip, had not yet acted up, decided now was the time. Typically, it chose the the most inopportune moment, right after we had decided to go the long way round, and being as far away from the start as possible. A slightly hellish last 13km occurred and we got back to Remy in a thunderstorm – a bit worse for wear than anticipated. Perhaps a message from the mountains to humble us for thinking we belong? But once again the mountains remind us how addictive they are – once the day is over, the fear fades and you are just left with the feeling of their almighty epicness.

Again, pretty Bushy Park esque

This hike also hinted that strenuous/stressful circumstances does not lend itself to an improvement in health; the following day Bethan’s condition felt just as bad as ever. We felt more rest was needed (and the previous improvement stopped us from seeking antibiotics again – silly in hindsight). Rather than heading into the mountains (where poor weather curtailed climbing plans regardless) we decided to head to the South coast to get some sea air. If Bethan felt better there was climbing nearby too.

To get to Nice whilst avoiding the payage we had to traverse “the highest road in Europe” (although, subsequent searches online seem to refute this). Again this was a test for Remy whose poor brakes did begin to feel the heat on the tight switchbacks back down from 3000m. A big change for a van that we suppose had barely left Cambridge prior to our purchase. Another peculiarity of these roads are the photographers who take pictures of those passing by, to later sell you a copy at the summit. Much reminiscent of rollercoaster photos but for tired cyclists in sweaty lycra, or sporty cars and motorbikes. Much to our offence, none of these photographers have ever taken a snap of Remy making his triumphant way up the road!! They can probably smell the difference between ‘bagging the summit for the experience’ and ‘cheapest way to Nice’, perhaps literally.

We located ourselves just inland from Nice in a parking lot in the town of Saint Jeannet, with sweeping views of the Cote d’Azur and a prominent, looming limestone crag that got us all stoked for climbing again. Admittedly, a car park offered few luxuries compared to our valley spot, but we made it work. During our stay we had a delightful excursion to the beaches of Nice. As you may know, we enjoy reading books out loud to each other and currently we are on “A prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving. For those unfamiliar with the book, the title character is described as having a rather peculiar and awful voice which we both delight in trying to imitate. Trying to imitate this unique voice in public produced a few questioning glimpses and we both slowly descended into fits of giggling. This was set to the backdrop of four Frenchmen having a piss up behind us, featuring a harmonica and loudspeaker which their inebriated minds were at liberty to use, often in combination. A fun fact – Bethan took her first ever unassisted steps in Nice (many years ago)! [Sam editorial note: not sure that’s a fun fact.]

Cute town of Saint-Jeannet, with looming crag behind.
Nice beach (in Nice)

Again, Bethan’s infection began to feel like it was improving and we were both feeling eager and excited to get back to climbing. We selected a route that we felt would be a fairly easy day-out to ease back into climbing and stoke the fire. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case and we made rather a mess of it, ultimately resulting in a bail. It happened to be a day that got off on a bad foot (a really poor night’s sleep plagued by mosquitoes) and spiralled from there – at multiple points we should have called it quits but we always believed we were about to reach easier ground and doggedly continued. Finally, Bethan couldn’t go on anymore and we finally had to admit defeat to ourselves. We believed that we had actually been cursed when the local shop was closed, so no post-bail comfort food, and a can of mushrooms was opened and drained to reveal only a single slice within!

Sad single mushroom

Again, the strenuous activity set back Bethan’s recovery and we finally had to admit defeat on that front too, organising a prescription for some antibiotics. Much self-analysis of bad decisions ensued and we noted that in both the climb and the infection we felt justified in our choices, fully believing that easier ground was to be reached and to just push on. In hindsight calling it quits or taking a proper rest in the first place would have been the quickest road to recovery. The most valuable lesson of all: when your body is fighting an infection, pushing your body to climb/hike is not the wisest choice. Sometimes, if not always, its best just to take the break (and really this is something Bethan should’ve known all along considering her degree). After all the mountains are always there, your health may not be.

For the last week we have been doing operation “Rest and Recovery” and thoroughly enjoying it, it turns out that its not too boring and really quite fun (even if there is less to write home about). We have moved shop to Italy (finally caving for the coastal payages, after the “highest road in Europe”), spent a restful few days at Lake Como and even made time for some ‘touristy stuff’ while visiting Milan. We are beginning to feel revitalised just in time for Sam’s dad to arrive and spend some days in the mountains again – promising to heed the lessons we learnt and not just dive straight into the deep end again. Sam has just arrived back from an evening run around the surrounding hills, “I think I have just fallen in love with this place, maybe more so than Nevache”. There are so many wonderful places to explore on this earth that life on the road is never dull, whether we’re chilling by a lake or on the sharp end of the rope – we are both grateful to be able to experience it right now.

Lake Como
Met Daniel Craig – nice guy

Off Belay (literally),

Sam and Bethan.

P.S. Mosquitoes are brutal and Remy has unfortunately gained a few blood splat marks 🙁

P.P.S we are always missing friends and family – do give us a message on preferred social media, we much appreciate it!

Reading Journal:

Bethan and Sam: A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Bethan: Finished Her-2 the making of Herceptin, still reading Slatehead and also Emma.

Sam: Finished The mountain and the moth, reading Addicted to Adventure.

One response to “An honest lesson in rest and recovery.”

  1. Sorry have only just caught up with the blog posts (bc I am a bad friend) !! The infection shenanigans is not remotely surprising to me – remember to rest Bethan !! Can’t believe I told you off so many times in college for not resting and here you are not resting !! Hope you are feeling better Bethan :)))

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