Friday, July 29, 2011

The First Month of France

So many things have happened since Junior National Team Trials. For one, getting on a plane and flying to France. Once I arrived I joined a group of international competitors (from Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Finland, France, South Africa, Mexico, Germany, Senegal and Canada, and of course, USA) to begin intensive training. Our first week of training was spent in Montreuil Sur Mer, a small French town in the north, about fifteen minutes away from the Sea. Training was wonderful, learning rapidly from our multiple coaches, Vincent, Manu, Thibaut, Christophe, Gonz, and Pierrick. We usually had two long sessions each day, and would intersperse on-the-water training with beautiful trail runs (past ruined castles, pastures, and turquoise rivers), visits to the sea to swim, and exceptionally French (and exceptionally fun) activities like Cart du VoilĂ©, which is like sailing except for the fact that the sail is attached to a small cart, rather than a boat, in which you fly across the beach. The first week passed, and we took our group to a town tucked far up in the French Alps, called Bourg Saint Maurice. Bourg is famous in the paddling community for being the most challenging natural river which is raced on…in the world. What seems to always be left out of the descriptions is the absolutely breath-taking place through which this river tumbles. The mountains plunge upward, grazing the sky with their snow capped, craggy peaks, and the valley is full of wild flowers and highland pasture, and then of course, the Town of Bourg St. Maurice, which is so quintessentially Alpine it almost seemed unreal. My first impression of the town was that I had died and landed in heaven, and the impression was only made more substantial after my first training session on the river which flows through town. The river is absolutely marvelous, a roaring torrent of icy-blue, glacial water pouring over mammoth drops and forming crashing waves. Initially, training in Bourg was quite the barrier for me. The water was massive, and mentally, my approach wasn’t aggressive enough. If I got one thing out of Bourg – it was learning to approach each training session as if it were an international competition. After a few days, my coaches decided my abilities were good enough to attack the upper section of Bourg, which is even more powerful and fast than the lower section. I ran it smoothly, with no mishaps, and was incredibly stoked to have made peace with such an impossible set of drops. Our time in Bourg seemed to pass to quickly, lost in the rapid succession of training sessions, afternoon climbs up the surrounding mountains, swims in alpine lakes, and visits to Bourg’s incredible gelato shop. Soon, we were back in Montreuil, where we repeated our first week of training. The days passed, and we traveled here, to Metz, which is in eastern France, close to the German border. The town is lovely, a Venice of Northern France, with lovely, intricately carved churches and palaces threaded by green canals and rivers which are home to hundreds of white swans…so perfect it’s almost clichĂ©. The course here is nice – smaller drops, but fairly quick water. I have been competing in French Nationals as a fore-runner (demonstration boat, as I am not a French citizen). My first day went well, with two solid runs (one which would’ve landed me in second if I were competing officially), but that night I suddenly became really sick with a burning fever. The next morning I woke up with terrible body aches and a head ache. I raced poorly in the morning, and spent the day trying to sleep in the car as the rest of the team from Montreuil competed. By the end of the day I was exhausted, wracked by feverish burns and chills. Once I got medication, I felt much better, but this morning I found out that I was still pretty weak when I attempted to race. My run was painfully slow, simply because I had run out of strength. I am hoping to make a full recovery soon, so that I have a good chance at performing well in Prague for World Cup #4. I shall share more as the journey continues!

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