Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mont Dore 2

I set off at 9 for my big hike. Two possibilities, both of which are 15+ km and spend most of that up on the treeless plateaux, hopping from summit to summit. There's quite a wind, so I opt for the one that spends more time in the woods. That's the one that goes by all three waterfalls anyway, and maybe as the day warms the wind will die down.

Nice. A bit dark here under the thick canopy. Next time I will haul a tripod. Really. Breaking out of the protection of the woods after about 4km, the wind has not stopped. It's livable, though. I continue on across the softly golden hillsides toward my first summit, the Puy de la Tache.

The erosion along the trail across this private land is so bad that the trail is cordoned off with fencing on both sides so you can't make new paths. Plus, they've put in steps and drainage canals where necessary. All along the edges are blueberry bushes, ankle-high, naked of any berries and mostly of leaves.
The wind is bad, cursing muttering bad, all the long muddy slog to the top. But once you're on top you realize you've been in the lee of the mountain the whole way. Up on top the wind will knock you flat. It's so strong all my pictures of the fabulous views are blurry from the shaking.
The book says these high routes should be avoided in times of bad weather or strong wind. Yeah. The next 8 or 9 km of this circuit consists of following the ridges from one summit to the next. Every bit of it in this wind.
That's just misery, if it's even possible.
You could simply be thrown off the edge.
Gorgeous views, but I think I will have to pass. I will go back the way I came, then continue the circle backwards from the starting point, hitting the third waterfall, and decide then whether to continue up again to new vistas on high, or to call it a day.

Not many people are out on the trails today. I've passed a handful of cyclists on the roads, and barely a dozen hikers - half of those on the Puy de la Tache deciding like me not to go on.

The path to the Grand Cascade is busier. This is apparently a must-see if you're in Mont Dore, and the way is indicated all over town. Then a bright yellow sign at the foot of the real trailhead: Beware! Difficult climb! One hour round trip!
Guess the locals are sick of rescuing yokels who go beyond their limits.
In fact the trail is wide and only slightly rocky. It's not exceptionally steep, just always, always up. There are benches to rest at, at first. Later, moss-covered boulders abount like so many scattered cushions.
For a hundred meters before you get there, you can enjoy the Dore river run pell-mell down the gorge. And then there it is, falling from the hill above.

Very nice.
I had the other waterfalls to myself, but here's a woman with a dog, and a man posing in the spray zone while his companion takes photos, and a family group of hikers heading down.
The sign says I can go up to a summit for 8 km, or just up to the next pass for 1.2. I'll take the 1.2, see what's up there.
As you emerge from the protected fold of the mountains there are lots of scraggly trees, their trunks and limbs covered with shrouds of grey lichen. The moss is doing very well in the increasingly windy heights, a great springy bed inches thick in some places. It looks so soft and inviting, but it covers a lot of treacherous rocks so if you go off the trail you could easily twist an ankle.
I don't go all the way to the pass. It's just not any fun in this horrible wind. I keep telling myself that only at the pass can I see the other side. Another few steps. Another turn in the trail. How long can 1.2 km be? Eh, feckit. The other side is just like this side, with even more wind. The sun is gone anyway, too many clouds.

So I go back down.

I'd like to poke around the shops in town, just to pass the end of the afternoon. Maybe pick up a clever t-shirt or some unusual jam. But Everything is shut. Nobody is around. Okay, there is one place open. Exactly one, and unless you're into hearts, it's disappointing. Hearts, they have. Stuffed, ceramic, glass, fabric. On mugs, aprons, ornaments. Time for a shower.
The town is so closed I'm thinking pizza by default, don't even look elsewhere. Unless they too are off to honor November 11. But on entering my hotel, I see the sign with what's for dinner has been changed in my absence. Forget ray with cheese. Steak with blue cheese sauce. My kind of post-hike meal, and I don't even have to go outside for it.
Which is a good thing, because later it begins to rain. I will just stay in with my books - one to read, one to write, pile all the pillows together, and pass the time.

Back to Clermont Wednesday morning to play cards with Michèle. We're playing a competition at the end of the month, the Women's Pairs, and need to get some practice time in together. We start off well, then crash and burn for an overall 47%. Not good. We'll have to work on communication before the 30th.

Le Mont Dore

Here I am again, hopping a train to Somewhere Else. Only it's a bus. Why isn't it a train? There is a train that goes there. I prefer trains - they're easier to write on (no, not write on the train; I'm not a vandal - writing in a book while sitting in a train). On the bus you have to wait for it to stop, and what can you say in just a minute, or the few seconds of a red light?
The bus is filling fast. Who knew Ussel was such a popular destination? Though perhaps everyone is getting off at Laqueuille, like me, to head to more mountainous places, like Mont Dore.
Why not Mont Dore, for a bit of late-season hiking? The weather appears cooperative, at least for the day, at least down here on the plain. Up there I could be up to my ankles in mud, the wind howling past my ears, the countryside grey and sodden and not uplifting at all. I'll take the chance. I could use a bit of uplifting, but if I end up wallowing in sorrow and regret, well, whatever. You roll the dice, you get what you get.

The sky starts out brilliantly blue, and the all leaves shine golden in the low sun. Perfect. But as we climb out of the plain de Limagne, the clouds accumulate on the heights, the temperature drops and the wind comes up like a whip.
Changing 'trains' in Laqueuille I'm glad to just get onto the new, empty, bus instead of poking around the deserted station. Such courage. Bodes well for the next couple days. The windows on one side of the bus are dotted with raindrops.
Happily, the gloom appears to be a Laqueuille thing, as I've seen before passing through here. A microclimate that keeps the grass green to keep the cows fed to keep the blue ribbons on the excellent blue cheese. Once in Mont Dore the clouds aggregate into groups and blue spaces. If I'm patient, the pictures will be nice. Blue all day would have been too easy.
Le Mont Dore: spa town and ski station in the minor mountains. Half closed today. Too late for summer hiking, too early for the skiers. Once the Toussaint school holidays are past, people shut up shop for the rest of November and head to Morocco or Tunisia for a bit of relaxation before the winter sports season.
A bar-café is open and nearly empty when I set my bag down at a corner table by the door at 12:15. Before my ham & cheese crepe is delivered, the place has filled up and they're turning people away. Come back in an hour. This must be the only lunch place open in the whole town.
What I really want is a great bowl of spaghetti bolognaise. Maybe tonight - there is an italian place up the street open only for dinner. If they're open at all.
Yes, again. Table for one.
Ca était, madame?
Oui, très bien.
Dessert? crèpe...?
Au sucre? confiture? ... myrtille...?
Ah, myrtille!
Blueberry. Possibly, it won't be from a gallon jar, but home-made, local berry blueberry jam. One can dream. Seriously, they could really serve homemade. Everybody makes jam around here.
Indeed it is. More sugar than I would use, but lots of real blueberry flavor.
Eventually I liberate my table to the benefit of further hungry visitors. Mont Dore is not so deserted as that, but in the paradox of the off-season it can be harder to get a table when there's little competition than when there's lots.
Drop my stuff off at the hotel, and I'm out for a walk. Tomorow I'll take the 16km circuit around the three waterfalls and the top of the wind-blasted plateau. Today I want just a warm-up. How about a wander around the proliferation of mountain bike trails from here to La Bourboule. Sounds good. Doesn't matter if I get anywhere, just that I don't get so lost I'm not back to town by dark. Wouldn't want to break an ankle or anything.
Add caption

It's wet here in the underbrush. Seriously, long-term wet. Maybe there was a dry day back in July. The moss on the trees goes all the way around. It hasn't rained since at least this morning, perhaps yesterday, and yet the foliage overhanging the trail is still dripping.
Walk and walk and walk, just me and my thoughts. I told my friend M, when she asked if I would like to play the tournament in Thiers tomorrow, that I was coming up here for some hiking with a friend whose cousins live nearby. They do, and another time this might be true, but J is at work today. I really wanted an ordinary prior committment. No way am I playing cards in Thiers tomorrow. But no way do I want to explain that 2 days wandering the heights alone is a proper thing to do.
Sometimes you just have to get away from the well-wishers and the real friends yes but for whom human company is always better than none.
No, it isn't.

Some days you just have to go out on your own; give the planet a chance to have a private word.

This is some species of morel mushroom you see a lot of in the markets these days. Would take it with me if I had a fridge handy....
And yet, this travelling solo isn't what it used to be.
Used to be, I'd head off looking forward, noticing the clouds and a flock of birds and the fallen leaves on the trail. I'd just go, and I didn't mind dining alone.
But now, I keep thinking how lonely being alone can be. How nice it would be to have a special companion to recount the day's adventures to on arriving back at base camp, or better, to share them in the first place. Look at those birds!
A perspective irrevocably changed.
He, of course, is not alone, and will surely be playing bridge in Thiers tomorrow. For a pleasantly shared experience.
I should lay in some kind of snackage for my hike tomorrow. The guide book says it's a 6-hour trek, though I'd say less than 5 even with generous stops. That's five hours away from anywhere to get lunch. And I like a bit of lunch.
As I have noted already, this town is half closed. No bakery open, convenience store says back in 4 weeks. Finally a shop open - where do the locals go? Must be a big grocery store down the road a ways.

Five iffy clementines and a package of chocolate chip granola bars. They'll hold me over.
I could have reserved dinner at my hotel, but then noticed the menu - wing of ray with St Nectaire.
Um, fish... with cheese.
N.... no
Let's hope the pizza place up the street is not on vacation. I spied lasagna on the menu in the window, and I've been craving lasagna since yesterday.
Yesterday. 2nd round of the Open Pairs for my level of player; M and I were 18th after the first session. A long way from the top 7 needed to advance. The cold sandwich in my bag really didn't excite me, but happily we found a little bistro to ask nicely if we could eat our own meals there, and they said ok so M was happy and I saw steak & fries on the menu and my sandwich remained uneaten.
Gotta have something hot on a cold rainy day. You want to move up 11 places or not? Let's have a small carafe of wine with that.
So I ate hot food and we had a coffee and got back with five minutes to spare. They only give you about 40 minutes for lunch, and most people just sign up for a sandwich at the tournament venue. In the afternoon we played about as well as we had played in the morning. I never look at our ranking as we go, even though I'm the one keeping score. Knowing jinkes me : if I'm doing badly I do worse, and if I'm doing well I get over-confident. Best not to know.
Really, we played the same. Just as many dumb mistakes and failures of courage and lack of noticing. Same cardsense.
We came up 7th overall.
We're going to Grenoble in April.

A hot shower (wow, that water gets real hot if you want it to) and a nap, and I walk back up along the main tourist street with it's 'local flavor' restaurants with their truffades and tartiflettes. All closed. The pizza place farther up is open, though. And they have an edible, molten hot, lasagna. If nothing else is open tomorrow, I'll come back for a pizza. Though a good tartiflette would be nice... No worries - they probably make tartiflette pizza here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Warning: snarkiness ahead.

It's probably not a good month to be my stagiaire. 
On the surface: calm, subdued, not at all excitable.
But just scratch a bit, and PAF.
Case in point - you would expect a third year graduate student studying the involvement of the BRCA2 gene in hereditary breast cancer would have some idea of what hereditary breast cancer looks like. That's easy. It happens early, happens to close relatives, and is often accompanied by ovarian cancer. You can hardly navigate the BRCA literature without being beaten over the head with this, and you might be incited to include prostate and pancreatic cancer as part of the spectrum.

So the student shows up with a bunch of samples - 40 familial, 200 sporadic, and 150 healthy controls to do a case-control study to see if BRCA2 is involved in familial breast cancer in Tunisian women. As if the thousands of papers on the subject from all over the world - including Tunisia - did not already show that null mutations in BRCA2 are associated with 10-fold breast and ovarian cancer risks, and that neutral polymorphisms are just that - neutral.

Well, if she's here to reinvent the wheel, at least let's make sure it's a round wheel.

How were the familial cases chosen?
They're familial.
Yes, but what criteria did they meet to be defined as familial breast cancer cases? (Age at diagnosis matters, as does the degree of relatedness between affected relatives.)
Um, we asked the case if she had a relative with breast cancer, and we put it into a computer program that told us more than 50%.
Ah. What computer program was this ? (there are several commonly used)
So much for the familial cases. What about the sporadic cases? 
They're not familial.
Yes, but did you assign a cutoff for age at diagnosis? Did any of them have relatives with ovarian cancer?
Not only doesn't she know, but she doesn't think it important to know. Has she read anything at all? I don't even get into the control samples. In a case-control study you really have to vet the controls and be sure they represent the absence of what you're looking for in the cases - a control with two sisters sick with breast cancer is not a control here. Plus, if your controls don't have breast cancer but they're only 30 years old, well, that's not any good either when your cases are all 50+.
OK. Here's one of the papers that reviews the BRCA genes and hereditary cancer risk. It has a handy table in the back that we use to quickly score families for the likelihood of carrying a BRCA mutation. How about you calculate the score for each of your cases, and then we'll take a look together and reassign familial versus sporadic cases accordingly.
Uh, I can't. We didn't ask at what age the relatives had cancer.
Great. In the Eisinger scale, only female breast cancer is weighted by age at diagnosis, so if she has the age of the index case, assigning a fixed weight to each relative just according to type of cancer shouldn't get us too far off track.
She's only here for 2 months, which is just time to test about half the samples she brought. So we need to decide which half. The project is poorly designed to begin with, and just cutting the groups in half randomly will exacerbate the effect of mistakes in assigning samples to one or another group. The study can be improved by selecting the real familial case group by applying the Eisinger scale to all her cases, then identifying a sporadic group selected for the absence of an enlarged definition of family history plus age at diagnosis around the average for Tunisia, and then taking only the oldest of the women in the control group (excluding personal or family history of ovarian cancer, though I doubt she has that information).

It bugs me that a 3rd year grad student knows essentially nothing about her subject. What's she been doing for 2 years? Who I'd really like to throttle is her boss, who came up with this nonsense project, who has not insisted that the student read and understand the literature on the subject, and who cranks out lame little papers that give the appearance of saying something when they really don't because the methodology just isn't there.

Monday, November 3, 2014

J + 80

I'll just say this in English because I have a proper mastery of that language and when I say things in other languages there's always some doubt that my failure to use some subjunctive conditional case correctly turns everything upside-down and backwards and uncertainties to either flights of fancy or straw-men where the opposite is understood. Let us establish, just for the sake of current arguments, that the "present" may extend through the near-future of the next couple of years, and the "future" is ten years and more.

You don't know that you're sacrificing my future happiness by being with me.

I do know that your absence sacrifices my happiness today. And that if there is a future, any happiness in it will not now come from you.

Is the future more valuable than the present?

And what of your happiness? Were you happy with me? Are you happy without me?

I will not ask about your happiness in 15 years. You cannot know.
Nobody can.