In May of 2012, I flew to Geneva to meet up with my friend Alex who lived nearby in Annecy, France. The plan was to drive together down to Monaco to watch the Historic Races featuring cars that have raced the storied streets of the principality since 1921.
But we weren’t going to take any highways on the way there. Oh, no. Alex was fascinated by the idea of driving through the highest mountain passes in the French Alps on roads that were often little more than cart paths. No guard rails, half mile deep valleys just inches from the edge of the road, soaring peaks, crystal blue skies — in other words, a journey that would become one of the defining moments in my lifetime.
The trip normally takes under 4 hours. Our journey took 13 1/2 hours and we were grinning like fools the whole time. I let Alex drive. He had an Opel diesel hatchback, a car not known for its handling prowess or sporting pretensions, and we weren’t in any hurry. There were times when we were crawling along at less than 20 mph.
I had brought my wife’s tablet with me and used it to take several videos along the way. The visual quality is so-so, the sound often grating. But those videos manage to capture a bit of the excitement that flooded over us as we drove through the Alps.
Here they are, all 14 of them in more or less chronological order from that day nearly 5 years ago. Most are only a minute or two long. You may find them more enjoyable if you turn your speakers off.
Are you smiling yet? I know I am. These videos bring back some treasured memories. In fact, when I think back on that trip, its the journey through the Alps I remember most. Monaco couldn’t hold a candle to the sheer joy of the drive down and back through the soaring peaks of the French Alps.
But why am I just getting around to posting them now? There’s a reason for that. Alex and I kept in touch via the internet. He always talked about coming to Rhode Island some day. Then two years ago, he died. He was 42. I was devastated when his brother Patrick gave me the news.
Patrick and I have kept in touch since then. On April 10, he and his family will be coming for that visit Alex never got to make. We have never met but Carolyn and I are excited to have them stay with us. It’s a way of taking the kindness and friendship Alex showed me when I visited his country and paying it forward to a new generation. His niece is 15.
At a time when America is turning its back on visitors from other nations, we are doing our small part to show the US is still a place that has not been completely taken over by hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia.
There is a coda to this story. On our journey to Monaco, we paused by the side of the road in the afternoon to gaze down into the valley below. A sound came to us from far around, a muttering, growling snarl that got louder and louder. I couldn’t place it right away as the sounds echoed off the walls of the valley.
Then two sports cars burst upon us, churning uphill near redline before disappearing around the next bend in the road. It was a magical moment. See if you agree.
As Seals & Crofts sang in a song, “We may never pass this way again.” I know it’s unlikely I will ever drive in the French Alps another time. But I would not trade the memory of the time I did for all the money in the world. I am indebted to Alex for that remembrance. You will always be in my heart, mon ami.
….and my bucket list grows
The trick is to stay off the highways, roam the back roads, and be prepared to stop often to take pictures.