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.
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