A single picture of Mt Kazbek was enough to set our hearts racing, our imagination free. Alone, the mountain rises imposingly above everything else, its summit crowning the East side of the Central Caucasus. Everybody’s eyes are inevitably drawn to its peak; it’s a majestic view. In plain sight yet so mysterious, Mt Kazbek stands there, fuelling dreams of possibility.
When the summer days aren’t more than grey clouds, long hours of rain and a ghostly light illuminates the passing hours. When summer resembles a half-forgotten memory, with its faint colours and blurry edges. When you come to terms with the fact that this is England and summer isn’t like anything the word is meant to imply.
It is then that, when blue reigns the sky and green shines with the colour of life, the soul wakes up early, together with the sunrise’s pinks and oranges, a clear sky and the promise of the sun’s warmth against the skin.
Thoughts after my first attempt at an ultramarathon.
A lonely figure crossing the bare landscape, vertical being against the flat surroundings. The beam of its headlamp and a thin purple line on the horizon the only things contrasting against the dark sky, clouds charged with the energy of the upcoming summer storm.
There was no itinerary to follow as we woke up this morning. A crisp and fresh day awaited us as we stepped out of our tent; it was like seeing the horizon in high definition, perfectly outlined against the sky.
Breakfast was taken slowly, we were trying to retain every distant outline in our memories. And right there, in the middle of it all, Skiddaw. Covered in snow, tall and imposing, it stood out against the other mountains. Just like a perfectly framed picture, flanked by two smaller peaks, it defied us to get closer.
When I looked at my reflection in the mirror I half expected to see two scratches down the left side of my face: from my eyebrow, past my nose and straight through my lower lip. But there was nothing there, not even a hint that I might have fallen off my bike and landed on the spiky arms of a wild bramble on my third mountain biking getaway with the university.
We set off on a cold and misty autumn morning, the sky grey and the light dim. However, there is a big contrast in this setup. Further into Endcliffe Park the trees grow redder, warm-coloured leaves rain from the treetops as we ride past. The ground below us is yellow and orange and our chatter mixes up with the sound of tires crushing dead leaves as we ride by.
Lightning strikes my leg as my heel touches the ground again and I do not want to lift it, I do not want the storm to come back. But I have to keep moving and so, less than a second afterwards, I lift my leg and take another step, bringing that piercing pain back.
But then I look up and see the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif… And right next to me are these mighty mountains coated by little boulders. The small rocks slide down slowly, its movement only perceptible throughout the years. And I cannot help thinking that there is something more to it, that maybe the mountain reached greatness and then crumbled or perhaps it was slowly detaching itself from that coat of rocks, trying to reveal its true shape.
In the chilly, misty morning, as I make my way out of the tent, I discover I have gotten a new blister, this time on the bottom part of my little toe. Hour after hour I have walked for the past couple of days, putting one foot in front of the other – sometimes just matching the previous step. But this is not tedious, and there is something a little poetic about it; how every step takes me further, no matter what I do or how much time passes, I am always advancing. You just don’t walk backwards.
I did not learn of my grandad’s passing until three days after it had happened. It was my own fault I guess, setting off to remote places knowing he was not in the best condition. A mix of guilt and regret were the first things I felt; then came the sadness and the thought that I could have been there. I could have visited and seen him once more, but at the time the idea of going on a mad hike around Mont Blanc seemed far more exciting than spending a couple of days with my grandparents in Spain.
I didn’t know nervous poos were a thing, but when I find myself at 3,842m of altitude about to climb down an extremely narrow ridge in ski boots, I realise how ignorant I have been.
The sun is still low on the horizon as we reach the summit of the Aiguille du Midi, painting the surrounding mountains a mix of orange, pink and yellow I have never seen before. The wind surges around us in a dance too quick to understand, creating a beautiful mess of snow wherever we look.