On Top of the World --and Healthier for It!

This is the first in a mini-series about how our people are taking healthy vacations, as part of our Healthy4U! initiative, putting an emphasis on healthy lifestyles for our people.

A weeklong stay at a posh, beachside resort in the Caribbean isn’t what Melissa Spafford, Manager, Trouble Ticket Desk, Enterprise Asset Management (M of W) envisioned for her summer vacation.

No. Spafford preferred something a bit more adventurous and healthy; somewhere with crisp air and high peaks.

“Anything that is a little scary probably means that it’s going to be more rewarding,” said Spafford.

In early August, Spafford left her post at the Graybar Building – hiking poles in hand – for a trek through the mountains of France, Italy and Switzerland popularly known as the Tour Du Mont Blanc.

The 105-mile excursion --all on foot-- would take Spafford through three countries, challenge her mentally and physically, and reaffirm one of her most important decisions to date: Moving out of New York City.

With a 20-pound backpack strapped to her shoulders and a pair of hiking boots on her feet, she set off from the hike’s starting point of Chamonix at the base of Mont Blanc – the highest summit in the Alps.

“The best part was when I felt like I could do a 360-[degree turn] and the mountains were encompassing me,” she said.

From Chamonix, she traveled to Les Contamines – a commune in southeastern France – with the help of her “bible,” a travel guide titled The Tour of Mont Blanc by Kev Reynolds, an avid traveler and journalist.

Along with her trusted guidebook, Spafford’s backpack contained an assortment of clothing, a tent, emergency food, a sleeping bag and various supplies including a headlamp, first aid kit and toiletries.

“The most important thing is just being extremely prepared without being over-prepared,” said Spafford.

Her next stay was in Les Chapieux, a modest hamlet inhabited by shepherds in the steep hills of France.

Along her journey, she would meet other solo hikers, making friends with folks from Ireland, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.

At most stops – apart from a spontaneous night or two under the stars with fellow hikers – Spafford stayed in “huts,” where the owner would typically provide lodging, a hot meal and a hot shower.

From Les Chapieux, she headed to Courmayeur. Located on the south face on Mont Blanc, the town is considered one of Italy’s premier ski resorts, with a selection of small shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.

After a long day on her feet, Spafford conceded the food and beer tasted better than she ever imagined.

Following the traditional route, Maison Vielle was next on her list. At an altitude of 6,400 feet, the hut offered some creature comforts Spafford could appreciate: live music, wine, hot water and free Wi-Fi.

“It’s a combination of hard work and reward that shape a person,” she said.

Nearly halfway through her tour, Spafford made her way to Rifugio Bonatti, a hut overlooking an impressive panorama of the Mont Blanc chain from the mouth of the Malatra Valley.

At each locale, Spafford would often see hikers she had befriended on prior sections of the trek.

“You run into people that you met a few days prior, and act like you’ve known each other since nursery school,” she said.

Spafford, who averaged 25,000-35,000 steps per day, would go onto visit four more destinations – La Fouly, Champex, Col de Forclaz, and Tres le Champ – before returning to the start of the Tour.

After nearly two weeks of hiking arduously through three countries, Spafford reflected, “When you’re going through difficulty in life, there will be a finish line and it will be worth it.”

But her trip wasn’t over! As a reward, she took an extra two days to indulge in another place she had never been before: Paris, France.

“Once I got off the mountain and I was in Paris, it confirmed everything for me about moving, said Spafford. “I need to be closer to the mountains!”

Melissa Spafford is an active member of Metro-North’s Healthy4U! Initiative and the organizer for the group’s outdoor adventures. So keep an eye out for some upcoming endeavors!



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