In March 2014, Pietro, a few weeks after he had moved to London and started working as a push-bike courier, was sat at The Corner (between Lexington street and Broadwick street in Soho) silently enjoying his morning cup of tea, on his way to waking up, unaware that today wouldn’t be a day like any other.
As he absentmindedly stared into the the misty morning, the radio clattering away in the background, Leo pulled up having just finished his morning run. They’d met a few days earlier, Leo is a Brazilian courier\frame builder (Dmenor Bikes) based in London. Still in a haze Pietro handed him his cigarette accompanied by a welcoming morning grunt and as pleasantries led to conversation Leo started telling Pietro about this other Italian courier that had arrived in London not so long ago: “He wins every race he gets himself into, he’s a nice guy! Maybe you know him, maybe you’ve seen him!” Leo says in a cheeky grin. The stories about this guy seem to never finish, one minute it’s the way he rides, the next is the things he’s done and Leo shows no sign of stopping. It’s then when a loud rattling sound echoes from the East side of the street from behind a lorry, as if someone was pulling a dozen trollies across a gravel path. As both of them turn around a figure on a bike emerges from behind the lorry, the only visible part of him a few black curls coming down from his hood and two bloodshot eyes, bag full, arms spread open to the extremities of his handlebars, balancing three cardboard boxes between his hip, his stem and his chin, charging the loud cobblestones. In crossing his eyes with Leo his left hand leaves his bars and starts waving mid-air in a “What the hell is going on” kind of way, coupled with a stereotypical Italian “eeehhheee!!”, Pietro and Leo don’t have the time to start replying before he disappeares into the next street.
This is how Pietro met Teo Poggi, soon to be: avid travel partner and annoyingly-very-good-at-any-physical-activity-he-ever-tried, friend.
It was no surprise that when the idea came up to hike the TMB Teo became aware of it and joined in. More interestingly, aside from being faster, stronger and fitter than any of us, therefore giving us hours of distance on many sections, he is also a very good photographer. Rayon Vert collated a selection of the pictures that were taken by Teo on the trip into a small zine which will be presented on the 21st of December, in Milano, at the Birrificio Lambrate in Via Adelchi 5.
Come and meet our superhuman friend and have one last beer all together before we all retire to our obligatory family commitments on the Christmas Break.
Our publication is heavily supported by Nomoire, print and consulting agency based in Milano.
DAY 4, Vallorcine – Lac Blanc
With the confidence of the extra miles we had done the day before we got up quite late, simply to realize that we had no reason to celebrate, all we had done was catch up with where we should have been originally. In addition, we got easily discouraged by the cafes in town where we stopped more than once, firstly to try to say goodbye and thank you to Samuel because we hadn’t seen him at home in the morning and secondly to prepare some sandwiches and have a coffee with a croissant or a pain au chocolat. It was in one of these cafes, talking to an elderly couple that had travelled the TMB before us, that we understood that the deviation for Lac Blanc was close. Yuri had insisted multiple times on taking the detour and after showing us the pictures of the lake it didn’t take long for us to give in so, after a few miles on a semi busy road, we took a sharp right and, with the massif behind us, we counted the hairpins we could see before starting our uphill march, arms and legs in sync, facing the floor and eyes on the prize. Once again, we had no idea what was in store for us. The feeling we all experienced on our way up was simply that it was never going to end, every time we got to what we thought might be the end of the climb we got given more, the stone and sand steps that we were following upwards slowly got steeper, the water got warmer and then started finishing, the trees got scarcer and the sun stronger until after a few hours there were no trees left, the water was finished and we were sunburnt. I’m not sure what we would have done if at that stage we had known that we were only half way up to the lake, hope and inertia were the only things that kept us going at this point (A short video of us Walking near Lac Blanc). After another two hours of uphill ridge walking with the whole Mont Blanc massif in full view on our left and a series of small lakes dotting the mountainside on our right we turned a corner and arrived at Lac De Cheserys, Teo’s eyes glistened while he undressed until nothing was left and ran into the water. We washed our faces and had our cheese sandwiches, which during this whole time had been sweating in our bags and, after a short break, headed up to Lac Blanc which was only another forty five minutes away.
Lac Blanc (France) — Picture by Teo Poggi 2018©
We definitely weren’t ready for the scenic intensity of the place and trying to put it into words would only be a waste of time, all you need to know is that that evening we didn’t walk a single mile more, we followed the lake round to the back of the plateau where a little stream fed into it on a massive gravel delta estuary, we set up camp next to four curious ibex that inquisitively sniffed us out before strutting off into the sunset. Here we had our noodles and risottos, made a cup of tea and laid down under our tarp with menacing clouds clearing into a pitch black star lit sky.
Lac Blanc (France) — Picture by Teo Poggi 2018©
DAY 5, Lac Blanc – Bellevue (Col de Voza)
We gradually woke up to the sun rising behind Mont Blanc and its image reflected in the stone still lake in front of us, by far the most scenic awakening of the whole trip. We slowly crawled out of our tarps to sit on a rock, gradually undress as the sunlight warmed us up and start having breakfast until, without warning, a middle aged looking mountain man came down the hill and before we could even begin to understand what was happening he had already spouted: “Put your tents away” in a tight French accent. We were obviously too far from being awake to realize what was going on but it only took another three words from the man for us to exit our dream state: “I’m a Ranger” he said coldly. With our tarps packed, the ranger now in the distance and our water bottles refilled we headed for Chamonix where we would have an unplanned lunch with a friend of Teo’s and Pietro’s from Pescara, who happened to be spending the week in an AirBnb directly above the place we had chosen to get our sandwich. The remaining part of the day was majorly uneventful until we touched the feet of Col de Voza where we were stormed on, not in a dramatic way or at least not in hindsight, seeing as we had no idea what was coming. Two minutes hadn’t gone by since we’d got to the top of Col de Voza when, whilst catching our breath under a small train line on top of the mountain, a group of black clouds came in from north-west and swallowed the tip whole. For the following hour we sat on the terrace of the Villages Vacances Col de Voza (a place that serves bottled spritz and entertains its guests with Bingo Wednesdays and Kindergarden Disco) in the middle of a raging storm some of us sipping hot tea and some of us straight vodka. Glad that we hadn’t been obliged to spend the night in the hotel we set off as soon as the sky cleared only to walk another twenty minutes and camp right next to the train tracks, after all we are city boys.
Night walkers from Col de Voza to Bionassay — Picture by Teo Poggi 2018©
Day 6, Bellevue (Col de Voza) – Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.
Waking up on the sixth day had a certain twist to it, it felt like we’d got into the right rhythm, we looked at the map and determined that we would need two days and a half, including that day, to get back to Courmayeur, have lunch and take the bus back to Milan. So, with the right attitude we waved goodbye to Bellevue and made our way to Les Contamines after which another great climb was waiting for us. After a quick resupply in town we headed for Refuge Nant Borrant, there we had a sandwich, we charged our phones, dried our sweat drenched clothes under the beating sun and as soon as Pietro had finished the last sip of his after-lunch ritual mint tea we headed towards the second half of the climb up to Col du Bonhomme, this, we were soon to discover, would not be an easy one. Soon the vegetation line was crossed and all that was left was us, again, minuscule on the mountain side, spread on rocky steps, across short grass paths, into snowy patches but, this time it seemed, part of a rhythm that would have taken us safely to the top of the pass. This conviction rung true between the three of us until Pietro turned around to look at Teo who, with a surprised tone, told him that he looked slightly paler than usual. Pietro isn’t one to control his fears well when they concern his body and in the feeling of faintness that had suddenly grabbed him he lost his speech, in broken grunts he told us to carry on and that he would meet us up top and so we did, in the meantime he slowly reached round the back of his pack and with worryingly trembling hands he picked out a scrunched up pack of black chocolate, broke a bit off, shoved it in his pocket and, rapt by nervous tics, he turtle paced up the last bit of the climb. He surfaced stone faced half an hour after the others had reached the Col du Bonhomme, chocolate wrap clenched between his hand and his walking pole, pupils dilated with terror and not much to say. It took him another half an hour of deep breathing and religious silence to come back from where he’d gone off to but it was soon after that the realization of where they were swept the remaining anxieties from his mind countless valleys opened up in front of them and the mountains on the west horizon looking into France cut sharp lines between rock and sky, the sun setting behind them.
Teo and Yuri near Col du Bonhomme’s very top.
It took us another hour to reach the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme where, at nine pm, we were greeted by a common room full of hikers, a vegetable soup, a plate of polenta and some bollito misto. Eternally grateful to the refuge managers we walked a few minutes east and pitched our tarps, a more scenic goodnight could not have been asked for and a few hundred meters from the tallest point of the tour we slept undisturbed until the first lights of the morning after
Day 7, Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme – Courmayeur.
As the sun shed first light on the surrounding valleys Pietro and Yuri cleared their swollen eyes with cold knuckles and slowly bent upwards to look at the view only to realize that Teo’s tarp, that was pitched just in front of them, had blown five or six meters to the right, his stuff distributed in the surrounding area but, most importantly, he was gone. Still stirring out of the night haze we half slipped-on our shoes and ungracefully stumbled across to the refuge to see if we could find him and, as we had hoped, as soon as the terrace was in sight we spotted him, wrapped up in his sleeping bag, sat on a pic-nic table. When we reached him there wasn’t a pretty sight waiting for us, Teo was gazing fixed into space, hair stuck to his forehead with morning dew, fire like eyes but without anger in his look, a half-smoked unlit cigarette in his hand, a cold cup of coffee in the other, veins pumping and forcefully deep breaths. After a few more minutes to pull himself back together Teo told us that around one am the wind had taken his tarp away, a few times he unsuccessfully tried to re-pitch it and then, blinded by the freezing gusts, decided he would go to the refuge to seek asylum in the dining room. Here, not happy with his already tiring performance, his fears compounded by the dark night, he convinced himself that the rest of us had gone into hypothermia in our sleep so he ventured out into the cliffs to come and check that we were still alive only to find us all in quiet peaceful sleep. By the time he had reached the refuge again it was around three am, this meant that flustered with the recent events Teo would only enjoy a few hours sleep on the hard tiled floor before management started setting up for breakfast when, full of resentment, he would retire to the terrace where we would have found him an hour or so later. After laughing about the whole ordeal and having breakfast we, once again, got our stuff together, filled up our water bottles and headed towards Col de Fours, the highest point of the tour at 2665m. An hour on: orange, unstable, rocky territory separated us from the peak but the feeling of touching the summit bore the efforts of the past six days and did them perfect justice in theory from here, it would be all downhill.
Col de Fours summit
After enjoying the view with a cigarette and a on top of Col de Fours we headed down for Refuge des Mottets where we faced the last big climb of the Tour, the climb up to Col de la Seigne that marks the border between France and Italy. At the feet of the Col we behaved according to the routine that we’d adopted in the past week: count the hairpins, decide where to rest, where to have a snack, squeeze walking poles, start walking (all apart from Teo that is, he just goes, even with two hours sleep). When we got to the top and saw home spreading out in front of us things changed, up to that point having lunch at Rifugio Elisabetta seemed an unreachable goal but from where we stood it was just at the bottom of a two hour downhill walk, we put our packs back on and privately played with the idea that we might even be able to be in Courmayeur by The end of the day, a whole night and half a day early. At Rifugio Elisabetta we ate and stared at the map, we knew it was possible, we just didn’t want to say it out loud. Pietro set off immediately because he was having trouble digesting his ham and cheese sandwich, he was reached by Yuri and Teo at the feet of the very last climb, here we received the confirmation we needed, on the right side of the path, hidden between some bushes, lay a sign pointing north-east, Courmayeur five hours, we looked at one another and with no further hesitation we stated that we would spend the following night in Courmayeur. At the top of the last climb Yuri and Teo waited for Pietro who still hadn’t completely recovered from lunch, as he surfaced, last of us, he asked with loud but firm voice: “Is this the last one?” and when a choral yes reached him from the other two it was collective excited bliss, Pietro’s poles flew forwards on the path and laughter echoed through the valley beneath, from here it really was all downhill. Things get a little blurry from this point onwards for all of us, it may have been how tired we all were or the fact that the prize was by now in plain sight but suddenly all inibitions were lost, we had let go to the folly we had been holding back for the past six days and now, all was allowed. We ran, fell, laughed, in a constant downwards direction towards the bottom of the valley, Yuri shouting at large crows telling them to shut up, as if we had happily and consciously regressed to three giggling six year olds. The last thing we hadn’t confronted was a small piece of path that connected the last bit of downhill to Courmayeur, on the altimetry it looked like a vertical wall, going down nearly 800m in the space of 200m horizontally. This was something else we hadn’t talked about collectively so it happened that Pietro came round a corner and fifty meters further he saw Yuri and Teo standing still as if they were looking down at something from the top of a wall or a cliff, when he reached them the scenario wasn’t so different from what they’d imagined, the path went down, sandy, half meter stepped hairpins, for an hour and a half, through a forest, straight into Courmayeur. From there we could see it, nearly touch it and definitely taste the drink we would have at the Baretto in the Piazza. This was undoubtedly the hardest part of the whole tour, the combination of hard sweat and orange dust created a gritty patina over our bodies, we didn’t speak a word unless it was to curse the path in a loud whisper and the only audible sound was Teo’s distant moaning and shouting.
As we emerged, orange and broken from the forest, Courmayeur laid spread out in front of us and we aimed straight for the Piazza to touch the yellow kilometer zero plaque. To crown the ending of the trip twenty meters from the Piazza a little girl stepped out of the family car and stared at us walking closely by, she then turned to her father with a perplexed look on her face, turned back to us and said:”Where did you come out of?”. We laughed hard and walked up the stairs, from here we could see it and the next thing we knew we all had our hands on it, we laughed more, kissed the floor and lay down, we had finished. In a semi conscious state we stumbled over to a bar and toasted with a drink, Yuri and Teo took it well, Pietro had one sip of his amaro and was drunk, in seconds Yuri had booked a hotel room for all of us catching a last minute offer, we headed there to realize that we could not have been more out of place, three dirty, smelly, now retarded hikers in a four star, ski resort hotel filled with pensioned white collar couples. Obviously we got assigned a room in the far depandance, in a basement two floors down but we were far from caring about the quality of the room, that night we ate out, washed off the orange dust in a real shower and slept on a hotel mattress, we hadn’t slept that well in years.
Exhausted at 0 Kilometer in Courmayeur
The way back to Milan.
The breakfast was included in the deal with the hotel and we weren’t about to let that slip so, still semi in the hiking routine, we woke up at half eight and headed down to the dining room where all sorts of delicacies were waiting for us, ham, cheese, all sorts but, most of all, a wide dish at the end of the room filled with croissants. When we approached the dish we were all slightly disappointed to find that they were all empty, we soon enquired with the staff that told us they were plain so that one could stuff them with their preferred filling, we quickly regained our high opinion of the hotel catering by having ours filled half with custard and half with chocolate (in one croissant that is). At eleven we parted ways to get back home, some by bus and some by train, both solutions turning out to be pretty hair-raising for various reasons.
That same evening we rejoined with our departed companions, all six of us (one had fled to the seaside) at Moscow Mule, a legendary bar in Milan. Here we recounted the stories and drank and laughed into the early hours of the next morning. Often at the end of a trip one expects a grand finale but like in most of the cases the greatness of the experience lies in the trip itself and our memories are in the huts, on the paths, by the lakes and under the rocks while we slowly head back to normal life.
Orange dust washed off of us for the following three showers, Thanks TMB, Thanks friends xxx.
Out of all the things we have underestimated in our lives the Tour de Mont Blanc is definitely the most recent and one of the most glorious. With the idea of testing out some gear as well as our selves on one of the most famous trails in the world we found ourselves sat in Pietro’s lounge, fitting noodles into plastic bags and mapping out the refuges on the course, unaware of the fact that we had no clue what was ahead of us.
The TMB was established in 1955 after a series of modifications and improvements to exhisting trails, 170 kilometers of paths with several variations and deviations and more that 10,000 meters of climbs and descents. The route crosses Italy, Switzerland and France ad can be walked clockwise as well as counter – clockwise. Kilometer Zero is placed in Les Houches, on the French side of the massif, but we’re Italian so we thought it would be more fitting to start from home and walk back home. We arrived one day before set-off in order to gather our last bits of gear, get a good night’s sleep and reconvene in front of a nice plate of food at Maison de Filippo, a traditional Aostan chalet restaurant tucked away in the backstreets of Entreves, a fraction of Courmayeur.
On the morning of the 27th of July at sunup while some of us were heading into their last half day at work and some of us were asleep, in Courmayeur you could already find Yuri and Riccardo, childhood friends, they’ve been travel partners for some time, raced alleycats and played Magic The Gathering. Riccardo is apparently calm and quiet but his power is unprecedented. Shortly after they were reached by Teo and Pietro the first of which, fresh back from Australia, Tasmania and Sri Lanka, had to run home for dear life to cure the Dengue Fever he’d caught on his travels. He is now in better shape than any of us. The last to reach us in Entreves while we were sipping an Alpine Liqueur were: Momo “The Architect”, our web designer, he is also a childhood friend of Yuri’s and Magic The Gathering avid player. Lapo, very talented sound engineer, producer and push-bike courier with constant Tinnitus, a recipe for success, and his friend Giovanni with the heaviest backpack but no fear in it whatsoever.
As we licked the remaining amaro off of our lips and finished greeting each other with the ominous Mont Blanc Massif staring at us we settled into our Air Bnb for our last night inside four walls, we found a nice restaurant to treat ourselves to a proper meal and ecstatic with the prospect of the following days we headed into the center where the celebrations for the town’s patron saint were waiting for us. An eclectic mix of music ranging from gabber to alpine folk accompanied us trough the windy streets of Courmayeur which had turned into a town-wide bloc party. Here, baffled by how surreal the place that we’d been dropped in was, we served ourselves to beers and silently marveled at the event unfolding before us. Of all the places we had visited in our life none of us thought that Courmayeur, known as the dainty and upper class Italian retreat and ski resort, now populated with sweaty drunks and teenage looking go-go dancers, was going to be the one that would have made us ask ourselves if we had seen it all. Shortly after a slow walk up to the house ended the difficult digestion of polenta and Courmayeurtense Soup we each retreated to our beds and, without too much fuss, fell into a deep peaceful sleep.
Around seven o’clock the undisturbed ringing of alarm clocks colored the rooms of the house where with our respectively slow rhythms we all pulled ourselves up to start our morning routines and it wasn’t long before the majority of the tasks had been absentmindedly completed leaving the most important one left, Get out. Around nine o’clock after having filled up our water bottles, a few croissants and a Bombardino (classic italian trail drink) we were ready to join the path that we would follow for the following seven days and so, laughing and joking, we all slapped the yellow kilometer one plaque that signals the beginning of the walk and we headed on into the woods.
DAY 1, Courmayeur – Gran Col Ferret.
The sun was high already and as we walked through patches of dense forest and no forest we could feel it beating on our untanned necks and ears and legs. The first section up to Rifugio Bertone was not forgiving and we soon realized, in the quiet of our own privacy, that as much as we may be able to reach our goal we certainly weren’ t ready for it. We didn’t have time to reach Rifugio Bertone that we were swallowed by a thunderstorm so we took the chance to have a cigarette and eat an energy bar while we waited for it to blow away and a few minutes later we set off, into the mist, towards Rifugio Bonatti. Aside from the breathtaking views the way up to the next rifugio was widely uneventful until a loud thud followed by a disappointed groan echoed across the mountainside but, because we were all well spread out along the walk, five of us continued on without stopping convinced that there was nothing to worry about. When we reconvened at Bonatti an hour or so later we realized how wrong we’d bene, Giovanni had twisted his ankle and it was now the size of a small melon. Half way through day one we had our first casualty and Giovanni went home, sad and in pain, but still noble enough to take some excess gear that a few of us had back home with him. That night we camped at the feet of Gran Col Ferret, with the range in front of us and Rifugio Elena beneath us, heavily aware of the fact that we were half a day behind on our original schedule.
After the first escalade, full of dreams and hope.
DAY 2, Gran Col Ferret – (Somewhere above) Som-La-Proz.
Summiting windy Gran Col Ferret with blue skies, decent temperatures and after a small rifugio breakfast was quite the treat for our second day and it lightened our hearts before we headed into what would be our first serious descent, up to that point we had cursed steep uphill climbs and wished for a cartoon like downhill run but things were changing before our eyes without us even noticing and apart from the odd snow slide the way down was hot sweaty and painful. We reached La Fouly for lunch and allowed ourselves an hour to pull ourselves back together, have a sandwich and refill our water bottles; the divide between Italy and Switzerland had at this point become sharply clear: mountain huts looked like they had been laser cut into shape, supplies had become uncommonly expensive and everything around us was postcard beautiful. After our short break we got back to the path and headed for Champex – Lac where we were looking forward to a quick cool down in the lake, however, it was this fairy like, seemingly unharmful stretch of path that took its toll on another one of us. Momo “The Architect” has nordic blood flowing through him and that day as well as not restoring his periodic sun cream supply he’d neglected his cap, this resulted in what at first looked like a common sunburn but which slowly developed, throughout the day and following night, into a full blown sunstroke. He could be heard muttering incomprehensible curses to himself through his teeth and and twitchingly look at his direct surroundings with mad, bloodshot eyes. That night we camped under a small crag, one hour away from Champex – Lac. There, when we took off our bags, Teo decided that after a good ten hour walk it would be the case for him to free solo a ten meter 5A sport climb, we sat and watched, silent, marveled and terrified.
Woods near Champex-Lac (Switzerland) — Picture by Teo Poggi 2018©
DAY 3, Som-La-Proz – Vallorcine.
In the morning the two things that had become apparent were that the lactic acid stagnating throughout our legs and backs and arms had reached its concentration peak, turning the following day into the most (in theory that is) physically demanding of the trip. The other, that Momo had reached a parallel dimension which, it seemed, he had no quick way of coming back from so, absorbed in the concern we collectively felt for him we packed our stuff, filled our water bottles and headed for Champex – Lac through a chilly, freshly lit, elf like pine wood. We were caught by surprise by the beauty of the scenario on arrival at the lake but we knew things were soon to change when we turned around to watch Momo enter the square making precious use of what looked like his last breaths. We hugged kissed and waved goodbye to our friend who gradually became smaller and smaller as we walked further until the last we saw of him was his figure reflected in the lake walking into the gap between the Mont Blanc Massif and the opposite mountain range which would have slowly led him home, later to find out that he was to spend three days in bed with a temperature. We still didn’t know but it wasn’t going to be a smooth path for us either, in front of us was Col de la Forclaz, one of the hardest climbs of the tour (the map said). We have seemed to identify two types of climbs on this walk: in the first scenario you can look at the face of the mountain, count the hairpins and plan it out in your head, this makes it a lot easier to deal with the workload. The other scenario is more disconcerting, you follow the path with your eyes and watch it disappear into the bends and cracks of the mountainside unaware of what waits for you round the next corner but, most importantly, without being able to see the end. It took us four hours to climb up to La Bovine, the refuge at the highest point of the ascent, across rocky stepped paths, across streams, across jungle like patches, on sand and water, through forests and high grass, over the vegetation line, under the beating sun, round the last corners and finally in sight of a cooked lunch. I won’t over bore you with the digestive difficulties which some of the components of our team were experiencing, but it is important to know that this was an integrating part of our routine for you to understand the terror that those same members experienced when they were told that the only available food at the refuge was the meal that the locals, somewhat over confidently, just called tranche. A tranche is a small piece of white or wholemeal bread under a slice of ham which is then placed into a deep plate filled up to the brim with cheese, the whole dish is then placed in the oven to melt. The result, as you will imagine, is interesting, reminiscent of those bucolic vignettes depicting a fisherman fishing for something in a very small pond and, no doubt, very very hard to process. After a mint tea we left the refuge headed for the descent that would lead us to Col de la Forclaz, needless to say that the gradient of the path was unforgiving and that once reached the next checkpoint we were in plain sight of the bottom of the barrel. It took Yuri and Pietro three hours to reach the bottom where Teo had been waiting for them for at least forty minutes, however, it was Lapo and Riccardo that we were wondering about because it took another hour before we saw the two of them emerge from the last patch of bush. Now, there had been signs to warn us, but it was still a shock when after a short sit down and a cigarette the debate started between the two of them as to whether they should abandon ship and go home. Despite our efforts to focus on the bright and beautiful sides of the trip we didn’t succeed and so, once again, we hugged and kissed our friends goodbye and walked off, decimated, into the woods towards the not so distant border with France. It was at the bottom of the valley facing the next bifurcation in the path that we looked at one another and, seeing as we were still half a days walk behind schedule, we decided to take the lower, quicker route, to secure some miles under our belts. Milking the last drops of fuel we had left we arrived in Le Châtelard-Frontière, the bordering town between Switzerland and France, where the feeling was a lot like walking through a village in the Far West: shops closing as we walked along the main (and only) road, very few people in sight who would look at us with enough vigor to burn holes in our t-shirts and only one place left open which was, of course, a pizzeria. Here we decided to treat ourselves to a cold drink and a cigarette and while doing so we started chatting to an italian truck driver sat directly next to us who insistently remarked the fact that we weren’t in the company of any girls and that a few kilometers on there were some huts on the side of the road where we could spend the night for free. Pietro, his mind clouded by the circumstances, convinced himself that the intentions of the italian truck driver weren’t clear and convinced the others that they should stay well away from the road side huts. It resulted so, purely by chance, that we headed up into Vallorcine, not long after the border, and read on one of the small village’s wooden doors a notice that said: “Free access, shower, hot meal, cold drinks”. Not entirely clear as to what was going on Pietro entered the front garden and, followed by the others, went round the back where Samuel, in his mid forties, and his son greeted us and invited us to pitch our tarps in their garden, have a shower and relax. We could not have been more grateful. After a long moonlit chat with Samuel we were reached by another small family of campers who pitched their tent right next to us, Samuel was clearly more of a celebrity than we had imagined.
First and only christian night with: “Free access, shower, hot meal, cold drinks” in Vallorcine
When me and Yuri set out to start this project we realized that we clearly didn’t have the know-how or the experience to create a competitive product right from the start, what we did have were the obsessive approach that characterizes us in each of our endeavours, the will to learn from any possible source but most of all the pleasure that doing so gives us.
Not only, it is clear to us that because progress in outerwear is (and has been) making major steps daily, the marked is flooded with mass-produced products that might be essential to the fuelling of this constant innovation but they are also an extreme expense of energy and resources.
The other aspect that caught our attention was the short life of clothing (not just outerwear in this case) or better, the vision that a majority of us have, partly a result of the culture we’ve been brought up in, partly imparted on us by a consume-led industry, that once an item has expired its prime state it is to be thrown away.
Obviously in making these statements we are aware that other companies are making great efforts to provide services that repair their items when possible and encourage the recycling of old garments but we believe that while this is an approach restricted to outdoor companies the rest of the industry has to catch up.
It’s with these ideas in mind that we decided to open Rayon Vert BETA, a line of prototypes, handmade by us in short batches, so that we can experiment freely but most importantly gather the observations of the users in order to gradually create a better product without creating unnecessary waste.
In addition to this we’re currently providing (until the demand doesn’t render this impossible) a lifetime warranty on all of our BETA products, that way when you burn a cigarette hole through your bag you can just send it back to us to patch it up, unless you want to do it yourself.
Me and Yuri have since had our first BETA weekend, he came over from Milan on a Thursday evening and we worked day and night through to Monday morning to make our first batch of prototypes, only leaving the studio to go to Popular Café (our local greasy-spoon where Memhet and his family, come what may, bless us with their best cooking).
It’s common, in our group of friends, to refer to a piece of clothing as “definitive”; this is a symptom of the constant research that we’ve always put in looking for a garment that requires no betterment.
While we have realized that in the world that we live in this is (thankfully) impossible we strive to chase the better option through time and continuously upgrade it as well as ourselves in the hope that what we enjoy doing most also becomes what we do best.
I met Pietro in 2013 during a bicycle trip organized by him.
10 days to cross Italy from north to south with tents, clothes and sleeping bags. I was in the first year of university and he was in high school when, through a mutual friend, Lapo, I joined the expedition. We were ten boys and most of us did not know the others, but later we became great friends. The first night was the only night we pitched our tent and the following nights we slept on a tarp under the sky, we didn’t know at the time but that would come to mean a whole lot more to us in the future. The trip as planned did not have a hitch and, back in Milan (the city where we both lived at the time) after getting tattooed by him, we started hanging out more and more often. With the need to always go further. We parted physically, Pietro moved to London, he’s half Londoner, initially working as a bike messenger later studying Product Design in a famous school. I stayed in Milan completing my degree in graphic design and working from 2014 in the street-fashion-world.
But, we never stop to make adventures together, and dream about them.
Picture by Alice Zani© During 2015 Interrail, somewhere in Spain.
During the Interrail of 2015 (NDR. The Interrail Pass is a railway ticket available to European residents that allows unlimited rail travel in and between all of 30 participating countries for a certain period of time. The main exception is that high-speed trains and night trains often require a paid seat reservation.) At the border between Spain and France we met The Rayon Vert and after many dreams and ideas we began to really think about a project together.
We thought about how we live our lives and our travels, mostly in our city and those in which we moved, and we would not have made it to travel and survive without the help of all the people who helped us, hosted or supported both in everyday life and in journeys around the world. An Interrail in particular, that of the following year, opened our eyes. starting without a precise destination and without contacts we have traveled around Europe hosted only by people contacted via Instagram even just a few hours before.
Picture by Max Kesteltoot© During 2016 Interrail, in Oostende, Belgium.
The impact this trip had on us was incredibly deep, especially for Pietro who in a few months created together with Filippo Moia (The Man) a zine fair, FEET FIRST FAIR, where all the people we had met in our travels and in our lives or even through social media were invited to participate.
The first edition took place in London in 2016, the second in Milan in 2017. The vibes after these events were formidable. A group of globetrotters all together, in the same buildings, for three or more days together sharing ideas, experiences, etc. Was mindblowing.
Picture by Christopher de Béthune© at FEET FIRST FAIR in London.
For us, Rayon Vert is the idea of bringing together three important things that are essential for us and I believe also for the human being:
— Being together and interacting
— The movement, in the sense that everything that remains immobile dies
— And the creation of ideas.
We want to create things, wearable or not but that carry with them the idea of movement and network.