Bonjour! I’ve crossed borders for a few days and arrived in the enchanting Chamonix-Mont Blanc where I can’t complain about the view from my lodging. I’ve sought tonight to put my extremely limited and rusty French into practice. Hopefully my hiking plans will be more successful tomorrow given the looks I . received from a few locals as I tried to string a few words together.
In my high school days, I came first in French from Year 7 to 10 and for a short time I pondered studying the language at university. Just as I was finalising my senior elective choices my mum suggested I do a Department of Education Year 11 French practice test at home. She was a wise woman as soon it became very clear that my wonderful, somewhat eccentric French teacher had seemingly specialised in French culture & cuisine. Language and grammar were obviously secondary. No wonder we enjoyed her classes so much.
Who would complain about a double-period where a Newy kid could try escargot, frog legs, camembert and saucisson, while listening to French pop, or taking it easy in an afternoon class with a French film. Extra curriculum activities included walking to the local shopping centre to buy “French chocolate eclairs”. I may just have to visit a patisserie in the next few days in honour of my lovely French teacher and ask for “un éclair au chocolat s’il vous plait”.
Today’s been a travel day with two trains and a hire car from Torino, crossing borders to Chamonix through the Mont Blanc tunnel. It’s been a while since I’ve driven in Europe, so it was good to get the first day on the right under my belt.
I’m always struck by the size of our continent in Australia when travelling in Europe. It’s a huge day’s drive to get from Melbourne back to family and friends in Newcastle, but here from Chamonix it’s easy to visit three countries – France, Switzerland and Italy – in one day. And today quite easily I have moved from the beaches of the Mediterranean to the French-Italian Massif.
I am really looking forward to hitting the hiking trails again tomorrow. The plan is an all-day hike to one of the mountain lakes. I was bound for Lac Blanc, an alpine lake located at 2352m, but a number of paths and lifts have been closed for summer repairs, so it may be a matter of wait and see where I end up. I’m also hoping some local wildlife might cross my path on the tracks tomorrow. I’ve just purchased some new hiking poles, ready for the high country and hopefully with good weather.
For most of the day I am looking forward to having my feet on firm ground. I’ve never been a fan from hanging from great heights, but at least one chairlift will be needed tomorrow.
Megan and I visited here a decade ago and stayed in the gorgeous, postcard-perfect alpine town of Les Houches, a short drive from Chamonix, the home of the first Winter Olympics in 1924.
A must-do on the visitors’ list in Chamonix is the Aiguille du Midi cable car that climbs to 3777m with wonderful views of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. A lift takes you to the summit terrace at 3842m with great views of Mont Blanc.
In Megan’s mind this was clearly on our Chamonix to-do list. I was far from convinced, to be honest I was scared! I waited until we got to the ticket line and Megan only needed to look at me. “We don’t need to do it,” she said graciously. Suddenly I was in that child-like state of indecision. Torn between overcoming fear and taking on a new experience together with Megan. “Yes … no … yes … no!” And then finally a “yes” and despite my shaking hands and jelly legs I made it into the cable car and there was no turning back.
And I am so glad I did! As fear began to subside and I began to take in the panorama around me I was in awe of the beauty below, above and around as we climbed higher and higher. [While I quietly prayed: “Please Lord don’t let us stop half way, hanging up here.”
My mind went to a cable car experience in Hong Kong, when I was riding with my now older children in a small gondola style car. They were then 11, 9 and 5 and we were heading back to our train on the cable car when a storm hit. The gondolas were swinging, the rain pouring down and lightning close by. I remember my daughter Tas grabbing hold of me in fear as her older brother PJ said with a smile on his face: “We’re going to be fine Tas.” I was mouthing the same thing, but far less convincingly than my then 11-year-old son.
From a young age PJ has always pushed the fear envelope. He always wanted to go on scary rides. He loved doing the rounds of the theme parks. For his 16th birthday he did a tandem jump from 10,000 feet [while I happily took photos from firm ground].
PJ appreciated from a young age that I would be the observer and photographer as he took on the heights and thrills. It was always good having the younger children to look after – the perfect parental excuse! As the three kids got a little older I can still recall the day they finally got me on the old timber, rattler rollercoaster at Luna Park in Sydney. I survived the experience and the highlight the huge smiles on PJ, Tas and Reagan’s faces having finally got Dad on to a “scary ride”!
They did indeed – and as I reflect on this today – I am reminded that my three younger children will soon be ready for similar experiences and again I will be pushed beyond my comfort zone!
In small ways and big, in the little and the large, life often beckons us beyond our comfort zone – be it a French cable-car, children at a theme park, driving on the wrong side of the road or in more serious things in life: the potential of a new job, a geographical shift, embracing significant change, dealing with paralysing fear, the courage to forgive others or letting go of things that have held us back for too long.
One of the things I like about travel – particularly solo travel [as much as I miss my family] is that is stretches you. There are uncertainties, language challenges, travel logistics, things don’t always go to plan – but as you move beyond your comfort zone the doors open to new experiences and lasting memories.
I remembered today the last night of my trip to Kenya in January last year. As a group of Australian Baptist pastors we were debriefing on our experiences with our Baptist World Aid tour leader. As I began to reflect, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I started to cry. I was so thankful for the unique experience, I was amazed by the hope and resilience I had witnessed in people living in poverty. I was so thankful for my family I was returning to and my wife in particular who pushed me to go on the trip when it would have been so easy to say I was “too busy”. She said it will be good for you – “it will stretch you; it will change you”. That it did, in so many ways. It took me well outside my comfort zone and taught me new things about myself and the world around me.
We all need stretching experiences in life – they grow us, they teach us, they inspire us, they build resilience. Where might God be seeking to beckon you out of your comfort zone – where might he be inviting you to explore unchartered territory. It can be scary taking those first steps – just like boarding the Aiguille du Midi cable car. But when we dare embrace new possibilities life can look so different!
Anyway it’s time for sleep here! The locals are happy as the French women’s team just won their match in the World Cup tonight. And I’m hoping for a win in the high country tomorrow. Every time we stare down fear, every time we step beyond our comfortable space, every time we embrace a new challenge we open ourselves up for a win – the discovery of new opportunities and possibilities in life and a greater appreciation of the God-given capacity inside each of us.