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  • Writer's pictureNatalia Roman Lopez

Around Monte Rosa (IV) - Day 3: Gressoney to Macugnaga

It turns out I clearly overdosed with ultra-rapid insulin before bed. Seeing that blood glucose line creep up because of the pizza digression was not fun. Having the ability to change that at the tip of my fingers was tempting – the 9h of running that day probably contributed to my low blood glucose too. As a consequence, I was awakened up several times throughout the night. Nevertheless, I feel well rested in the morning.

Today I am running from Gressoney to Macugnaga, the last village before crossing back to Switzerland, over two passes. In between the race course passes through Alagna, the starting point to climb Monte Rosa. However, I remember from last year what a detour reachimg Alagna was. Studying the map at home I found what seems to be a great alternative: a long traverse about half way down saving me ten boring kilometres. That was definitely a terrible idea. More about it later!

Breakfast is a joy. Eggs, 3 types of cheese and dry ham. I decide to run an experiment: ingest 25gr of carbs (yogurt & watermelon) without insulin. The day starts with a steep and long uphill so I want to see what my body does with those carbs. The second experiment is to go without food for as long as I don’t feel hungry.

It is quite cloudy and cold as I get going. I love these conditions. As usual it takes me a while to orientate and take the right path. I am sharing with Ian and Jon live updates of my experiment. Interestingly BG rises to 7.5 and sits there pretty much for the next 8h. I don’t know what to make of it. Moving clearly prevented a steeper rise but ‘something else’ prevented glucose uptake by the muscle further on. No idea. Among the mysteries, check that teddy bear!

As said, it is a long uphill. The second half of it through ski resort slopes. It is such an ugly day but I am on fire. Loving ever meter of the uphill. Puzzled to see how my legs are ‘digesting’ the continuous effort. By the time I reach il Passo dei Salati it starts snowing. Maybe time to put on the jacket? The atmosphere is so mystical and I am soaking up every bit of it. Soul medicine, we call it. It is a somewhat technical but fun downhill. When I reach the crossing where the race course goes right, I decide to keep going straight to take my planned traverse later on. But first there are about 500m of height to loose on easy terrain. Good to relax the legs and the head.

I see Alagna at the bottom of the valley and feel relieved to skip the village. Checking and re-checking my GPS I find the right turn. The path looks promising at first Then starts the nightmare… Five hours to cover five kilometres. There is no path but all sorts of itchy plants on a very steep slope. It takes me a couple of hours to come up with the idea of covering every inch of my body: long trousers, jacket, emergency gloves… whatever it takes to protect myself. By then my optimism tells me the worst has passed. I see on the map there must be a small construction very close. When I finally realize such shepherd shelter doesn’t exist anymore I get really upset. For the first time, the thought of having to sleep out here crosses my mind. At least I have a bivy bag!

I am literally turning in circles, sometimes slipping in dangerous places. I make the call to send a brief message to a friend and share my life location with him. I am desperate and defeated when I finally come out of ‘the shit’ straight into Rifugio Pastore. There are 4 italians chatting outside. Their faces freeze as they see me approaching. They can’t believe their eyes, congratulate me and add that several people already needed a rescue there. It is then when I realize it is 5pm and I have been moving for 9h. Not a single bite. There is a decision to make: sleep at the rifugio or continue to Macugnaga (a minimum of 3.5h). I am so furious at myself that decide to continue. I ‘undress’ while my new Italian friends offer me drinks, food, medicines… so kind of them. I just fill up my bottles with water, thank them, and call my mom.

The uphill to Passo del Turlo is my own way to ‘digest’ the feelings. I push all my breathing and legs allow. Blood glucose gives in about half way up and the hypoglycemia party starts. I reach the pass and it is snowing again. The downhill is so so long that I cannot even see the bottom of the valley. I am feeling cheerful again and start singing & dancing as going down on the path built by the romans! About 6-7k before Maugnaga it gets full dark. Thanks to my tiny headlamp I keep going. Honestly, anything feels like a piece of cake now.

Luckily I could call the hotel to inform about my delay. They are very nice and offer to cook some dinner while I shower J they have home-made burger patties! Eggs & cheese instead of bun. I eat all of it with my eyes closed. The tiredness is getting to me now. The story is not over! As I lay down in bed two things give me a hint of the kind of night ahead: first there is a loud noise of water passing through pipes; then, my whole body feel like being run by electricity. Bloody plants!! I stay up all night.

It is quite obvious there will not be a day 4 – at least not as long as planned. I take the gondola up to Monte Moro and run down to the closest bus station, already in Switzerland. Back home, please!

Do not get me wrong, I loved the journey. It was all one could ask from adventure. We plan to deviate from the plan. We plan so the unknown can still surprise us! It was very liberating to run through these beautiful mountains without worrying about what my blood sugar might do – as opposed to last year’s run. The packing strategy was a clear success. My ankle held up. The biggest learning: never assume Italian maps are as up-to-date as swiss maps!!

ULTRA TRAIL MONTE ROSA 2021... I am coming for you!!!

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