Our next destination was a little village in the French Alps called Saint Ismier, near the large mountainous city of Grenoble. School is out in France and so is the traffic. We hit a good 45 minutes of bumper to bumper to get there. But we witnessed something pretty cool. As we were getting on the highway, coming towards a toll booth, we saw probably 25-30 backpackers who were hitchhiking and trying to catch a ride. They all were young - recent high school or college grads looking to enjoy summer. What was really amazing is the fact that pretty much every car that had some space stopped and picked them up! We stopped and talked to a recent grad, who was trying to hop a ride to the beaches. As I saw these young adventurous kids throwing their thumbs up and hoping that someone stops, I got very nostalgic. I remember hitchhiking in Poland as a teenager. Me and my girlfriend were trying to get a ride to join our friends for camping. We did not have much luck for a good 2 hours and were already looking at a nearby barn to put our heads down, since it was getting dark. Suddenly, we saw a car approaching us and got really excited. Well, it was a Police car hahaha. We were so afraid that either:
a) they will arrest us
b) call our parents
c) leave us there alone in the dark
We did not contemplate an option d) they gave us a ride to our destination. I will never forget the expression on the faces of our friends when we arrived and got out of the police car. I have always been a little mischief but I don't think my friends were expecting that - Gosia hitchhiking and being escorted by a police car - something like that could have only happen to me!
So going back to these French hitchhikers, that scene evoked so many beautiful memories from my teenage years! Sometimes I'm really surprised that I made it through my teenage years. I was so careless, rebellious and full of unexpected ideas, a true wanderlust. I really do think I still have it in me; since having kids I have turned it down a bit but the longing for new adventures will always be in me…
When we arrived to our new destination, our host greeted us along with some of her friends. Her AirBnB rental is spectacular. It is a small 2 bedroom house with breathtaking views of the French Alps. We fell in love with the house immediately. It was a very hot day, so we all went to sleep leaving the windows wide open. It was close to midnight and I could not fall asleep, so I decided to read a book. As I sit up in bed, next to my snoring husband, I look out the window and could not believe what I saw. Right above the range of the mountains, I saw a beautiful full moon…Immediately, I woke Rick up so he could also enjoy this unbelievable moment. I tried to snap some pics, but our camera is not designed to fully capture a sky at night.
The next morning, we woke up to much cooler weather and decided to go for a hike in the French Alps. The weather called for a 70% chance of rain today, but we were optimistic it would hold off for us. We were an hour from Ecrins National Park at the base of the Alps. The park has over 100 hikes. Rick did some research and found what the website called, a “kid friendly - easy hike to Lake Lauvitel … 7 kms through the Alps with an elevation change of 800-900 meters. They listed the hike as a 3 hour round trip loop. Hmmmmm, I think the French have different standards for hikes than Americans : ) It was a one hour drive from our house and once we got there, the rain started to fall. The percentages weren’t in our favor today. We almost turned around and went back home, but, we decided to pull through it and do the hike.
We were kinda prepared for the rain - we all had rain jackets, rain boots, and positive attitudes. We had the Osprey Poco Carrier with Rain cover for Mila, Leo had his gear on, and mom & dad had determination to do this hike. The first part of the hike was through dense forest, so we were pretty much protected, but it was very rocky & slippery. It was a very steep ascent and had many stream crossings. Leo must have fallen at least 20 times and once, straight to a rocky creek. We were exhausted and pissed. Kid friendly? I think not. Everyone who crossed our pathway, we asked how much farther to the lake and every time we heard, either 15, 20 or 30 minutes. Both Rick and I were amazed by Leo’s determination. He hiked like a pro, continuing on despite falling numerous times. There were moments when I wanted to cry and turn around, particularly when he fell into the creek, but this amazing child was acting like an advanced mountain climber. After two long hours of ascending the mountain, we finally hit nirvana and reached our summit - a beautiful crystal clear lake right in the middle of a backdrop of gorgeous mountains with snow capped peaks. All of those moments when we wanted to give up, we were so glad we pushed through and saw this amazing scenery. The views were worth every moment of anguish. We took a moment to soak it all in, let Mila out of the Poco to run around a bit and snapped some photos.
The moment was short lived. After a minute or two of bliss, it started to pour again. We found a little cave located by the lake and went to hide there. We shared the cave with a super friendly French couple. We ate lunch, dried off, and relaxed for a bit. After a good 30 minutes, the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and we enjoyed the brilliant sunshine. We went back down to the lake, enjoyed it for another moment, then decided to start our descent. The hike was a loop so we were able to catch some of the most spectacular view heading back down (maybe it was the sun too!)
People say that going down the mountain is much harder than going up and we could not agree more. I carried Mila on my back, while Rick started by carrying Leo on his shoulders. This child is one tough cookie though. He did not want to be carried (even though we had a carrier ready for him). He raced down the mountain like it was a piece of cake. He fell down, scratched his knees and elbows, got very muddy, but after each fall, he stood up, and kept going. We kept asking him if he was OK, and each time he responded “I’m fine”. Mila kept telling Leo to “shake if off” and he kept giving us a look as if he was trying to say “guys, leave me alone, I am a big boy”. At one point, we stopped to fix our shoes and saw a snake crossing right in front of us! We all screamed and since Leo was the one leading the hike, we yelled at him to move back immediately. He started to cry (that was the only time during the hike when he cried) and you could tell he was very afraid of the snake. Well, it was an encounter that we will never forget. After 5 long hours, we reached the base and our car! We did it! We all were so happy and felt very accomplished. Leo kept saying that he was the winner, which, in my books, he is for sure! We were so proud of him for finishing that “kid friendly” hike. Although he did not complain about being tired during the hike, as soon as we got to the car, he was out! (Later that night we would ask Leo what his favorite part of the day was and his response was “Snake”!)
Recently, I read a very interesting book called "Into the Wild". It's a true story about human's longing for nature and adventure. There was one quote from that book that stayed with me: “the core of man's spirit comes from new experiences". As we were hiking and moving forward against the wind, sun, rain and slippery rocks, I felt so alive and free. This was a new experience for our family, one that brought new challenges, both mentally & physically, yet we left feeling satisfied and fulfilled. We were doing something out of our comfort zone, pushing ourselves to the limits, but at the same time, we felt a strong urge to do this and accomplish a new adventure as a whole family. We never gave up, although, we had plenty of opportunities to turn around and go home. Being in the mountains makes you very humble and modest. You realize how powerful and strong mother nature is. Today, our family accomplished an unbelievable feat. I know that our legs will be very sore tomorrow but today, we felt free like birds! I must say, finishing that hike with 2 young kids in tow felt like reaching the top of Mount Everest. It is amazing how something so simple as hiking can open up so much inside of you. Moments like that make you realize that in order to be happy, you really don't need much (just a good set of rain gear)!