July and August 2017
Highlight #5: The Family and Dog
Dad and the younger sibs came to hike with me for 6 days. Lena and Jeremy both agreed to cary some of my extra gear, and Dad brought along 4 different varieties of sunscreen for us to choose from daily. We were treated to abundant meals of potatoes and wine each evening at local chalets. Sienna kept good pace, unfazed by the thousands of meters of elevation change, and she never missed an opportunity to lie down and take a nap.
Not to mention, we climbed some of the steepest, highest and most terrifying trail. As straight up as you can get without needing ropes and harnesses. When all you can do is take one step at a time, try to keep hold of the dog, the rope that's drilled into the side of the mountain and DON"T look down. Trusting that the accumulation of steps will eventually lead you to the top of the mountain. And then you get to do it all again in reverse on the downhill side.
Highlight #6: The Final Stretch
When it's time for the family to leave, I'm ready to hike fast for the last few days of this trip. The passes, with the exception of one, are smaller and less terrifying/dramatic. I find myself once again having the cable car versus hiking discussion with myself. But really, I find no reason to take the cable car when hiking is so much fun. In fact, I end up finishing my day of hiking by 3 pm two days in a row. With the rain and the steepness and with hiking at a slower pace and now finally hiking at a faster pace, it's hard for me to estimate when I'll end up where. And the whole hike-until-it's-dark-and-then-set-up-camp strategy that works so well on the PCT does not work here. I'm too nervous to take the chance of hiking until dark and then ending up in someone's cow field, or on the side of a cliff, or worst of all in a town (most likely) and sleeping on a picnic table all by myself wondering what ill-intentioned person might be watching me and making a plan. I'm a scaredy cat. So I book myself some cozy lodges and spend the evenings eating my dehydrated food, FaceTiming with Mud and watching iTunes TV on my phone.
By the end, I find what I'm looking for: that part of you that eventually breaks open if you hike far enough. And suddenly nothing matters and everything matters at the same time. And you're alone but connected to everything.
The last day is the most fun and rewarding. I get to hike until dark because I have no choice but to finish today. I walk on roads and then veer off to get lost in some cow fields as I descend into the loneliest valley in Switzerland. And there I stop for lunch where there is no shade. A woman walks by and offers me some cheese to go with my soup as I'm hiding under my sun-brella. I actually have a successful conversation with her in French! It's been weeks since I was able to have a conversation with a stranger as everyone I met spoke the wrong language - Swiss-German. Now that I've crossed into the French-speaking zone it is much easier to communicate.
Though the afternoon is hot, humid and discouraging, the trail eventually brings me to a ridge where I see Lac Leman - my final destination! I celebrate with a melted chocolate bar and continue onward. Up and down a ridge until I reach a cafe. From here it's only a 3 hour walk downhill to the lake. Dad and the younger sibs are on their way to meet me. My dad tells me there's a shortcut that's steep but "not so bad", according to his memory. He seems to think I should take this route since it's already late in the day. I've seen it on my map. I can tell by the squiggly lines that it is a very, very steep downhill. This does not appeal to me at all. Once I arrive at the junction I read all the signs in french. "Very Steep Trail". "Hike at Your Own Risk". "Trail Not Maintained". Everything short of "Turn around Bug, don't do it!"
I've hiked enough in my life to know that short cuts are not always worthwhile. So I turn around and go the other way. Sorry, Dad.
In my final hours of hiking on a very gentle, well maintained, downhill grade, I am elated. Not because the hike is ending, but because there is nothing left to worry about and nothing to do but walk. Not even a cow to get in my way. It feels like I'm floating for hours until I see Sienna running towards me, followed by Lena, Jeremy and Dad.
Lena walks with me for the last 3 miles through a canyon/forest/city park that is beautiful and mysterious and eventually starts to smell like pee. And then we know we're in the big city of Montreux.
300 kilometers and 16 passes later, I made it through the rain, the steep rocky passes, the lonely valleys and crowded towns, and celebrate with some bubbly grape juice on the shores of Lac Leman.
July and August 2017
Highlight #3: Cows
Cows! Cows rule the mountains in Switzerland.
I cross a gate on a slanted incline to see a cow on the trail. And another behind her. And then four more and two babies behind them. There is no way around. They are on the trail with no sign of getting off. Ugh! I mean, cows are generally peaceful creatures but they are BIG and I'd rather not be too close to them. I continue to search for a walk around as they all stare at me, chewing flowers. I talk to them, saying that I just want to walk by and what's the best way to do that? That I'm vegan and I'm on their side. Alas, the only way is right past them. So I muster up all my courage and walk past. A few of them groan and one doesn't let me pass but walks ahead for a second. Then steps off the trail.
I'd been holding my breath the whole time and finally release it. Cows don't give a f*@#.
Highlight #4: SUN!
When you've been hiking in the Alps for 5 days and you haven't seen any mountains except the one under your feet and then the clouds break... WOW! They were there the whole time, just silently being majestic behind the clouds with no one seeing them.
I'm hiking again by 6 am, ready to climb the next pass and feeling very pleased with my decision not to take the cable car up. There's always a cable car in Switzerland, I'm starting to realize. Always the decision: to hike or to ride? Luckily I'm a morning person and the cable cars usually don't start running until late (9 am!). So hiking it is.
The weather is finally better today and I'm feeling strong. Climbing mountains is fun! I enjoy myself all the way up, feeling like my hiker self again. I even stop for my traditional mid-morning granola and mocha break.
At the top of the pass there is a cable car station but also a restaurant with free wifi and coffee! That's exciting for a while so I'm extra caffeinated when I leave. Then it's just a walk down and across some ridges and cow fields. After a while I stop for lunch and dry out my things.
It's super hot and humid. Also crowded. Also cow poop everywhere. So even though the sun is out today, the afternoon wares on me. By the time 3 pm comes, I'm exhausted and dehydrated and hungry. So what do I do? I take the cable car!
Down down down with spoon-fulls of peanut butter in my mouth. No shame.
July and August 2017
Highlight #1: it rained for 5 days straight. So, I got to spend the first part of my hike asking myself, again and again, why do I choose to do hard things?
Thoughts from day 2: It doesn't rain for every second of the day, but I am wet and cold for every second of the day. I'm cheerful in the morning, unfazed by the drizzles. It's a nice path along the river and then a road along the river and then a path again for a long time. Finally I start climbing steeply, feeling like I must be making progress. It rains harder as I go higher and I have to put my gloves on to keep my hands from freezing. Then a river crossing on a thin log with cows watching. I make it across and climb a bit and see this is not the right way... so I have to go back down and across again, still being watched by cows. And up some more. Then I get shocked by an electric fence that I've climbed through quite clumsily. After more climbing I see that the rain has perhaps turned into snow and the wind blows precipitation into my face causing sharp prickles on my cheek.
My toes have been numb for a while now but my hands start to lose feeling as well. I'm so close to the top when I notice I'm having trouble walking straight. I stop and then stumble again. Altitude? Low blood sugar? This has never happened before. I think my foot is landing in one spot and really it lands 3 inches to the left. I sit down next to a rock in the sideways snow/rain and force myself to eat a bar, then drink some water and then put on more layers. If I stop for more than these few minutes I know I'll become hypothermic. With my fleece sweater and hat now on my body I put on my pack and struggle to clip the waste belt. It takes 4 tries with no feeling in my fingers. I walk and walk and remind myself to slow down so as not to fall over. But I want to move faster to keep warm. But in the end I do it slowly and as soon as I'm over the pass the snow stops. I fumble my downward steps and see that the sun is almost visible behind the clouds. It won't come out though, it's just a tease.
Then comes the excruciating and wonderful pain of the feeling returning to my fingers.
Highlight #2: Sheep
Thoughts from day 3:
It's called the Alpine PASS route - which means I'm to climb at least one pass per day. But not today. No way I'm going back up there! I choose a road walk instead to avoid another snowy pass. But it turns out there are paths the whole way so it's actually quite lovely. I have to double check the maps to make sure this is the way. Oh, Switzerland. You make even a rainy road walk into something beautiful.
So I just walk the paths that follow the river. For some reason I can't stop thinking about how fast the river is moving with all this rain and the story of the woman who just recently died in a Sierra river due to being swept away. I keep imagining myself in the river and what would I do!? At one point I start to imagine my dog in the river, floating helplessly in the rush of white water. And then I have to stop. This is awful. I ban myself from looking at the river and just focus on my feet. And the cows. Why do we have minds that force is to think terrible thoughts over and over again? As if thinking it will somehow prepare me for when it actually happens. But I'd rather it just not actually happen. And it's possible that we manifest our own reality so I better stop with the terrifying river scenarios and think positive thoughts. This is what happens when one walks alone.
Soon the rain has tapered down and I'm hot. I find a spot just inside some trees where there are sheep but no humans. There I stop to change my pants to lighter ones. But the sheep just prances right up to me and despite me explaining that I'm just here to change my pants she keeps approaching. I'm worried she may try to take some of my things strewn about on the damp grass, thinking they are edible. For a moment she stops and stares at me with that peculiar long fluffy face. I realize I have never truly looked a sheep in the eyes until today. How strange and adorable her face is! She refrains from steeling my things and walks past me. Then turns around to report back to her herd.
I feel bad now. I should have been more friendly to the sheep while I had the chance.
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