The place: Switzerland. The mission: Be a tourist, experience what Alpinehikers clients experience, report back. My response: Well, alright, if you insist!
I rendezvous first with one of our guided tours, a Bernese Oberland Highlights with just two guests. They’re a honeymooning couple a few years younger than me, full of good humor and ready to roll. I’m nervous. And out of shape. I haven’t hiked with a pack on my back since my college orientation *gasp* 16 years ago. Matt Hart is our guide. At this point in the journey I have no idea just how awesome this will be…
It’s still raining when we meet for breakfast at the Schönegg’s hearty buffet. I’m dressed in comfortable, functional layers of light merino Icebreaker and a raincoat purchased specifically for Switzerland. My shoes are my biggest concern. Anything resembling a hiking boot or even a normal running shoe have all led to intense pain in my forefoot while running and bush-wacking through rocky Arizona terrain. After a lot of research and a little intuition, I chose to go light. An unworn pair of New Balance Minimus WO10 will be my only protection from whatever these trails might bring.
As far as I’ve absorbed from the conversation, our destination is ‘somewhere above us’. I’m sort of capable of reading a topo map, but I’m not applying myself to it at all. Let Matt do the foot work while I focus on navigating my emotional terrain. My inner child has decided to show up for the hike, a grumpy six year old averse to the whole concept of hiking for pleasure. And it’s still raining. More, in fact. The magic has left me for the moment, and so far I’m unconvinced about the locale: Why did I travel half way around the world to visit a place that looks like where I grew up?!
Really. This could be the Pacific Northwest. I’m seeing the same plants, the same clouds… Conifer duff scuffs underfoot just like any temperate rain forest. There’s not a view or a vista to be had. I put my head down, snap the occasional picture and focus on keeping up.
We stop at a viewpoint with benches and a railing, though ‘view’ is relative when you’re surrounded by pea soup cloud cover. It’s my second day in Switzerland and I have yet to see a snowy peak. We eat some chocolate. I smile, think I might be doing an admirable job of not letting my internal dialogue out into the light of day. I haven’t required a helicopter evacuation. My positive affirmations seem to be working: The pain in my knee won’t get worse. I will not ruin these lovely people’s honeymoon. It’s all going to be just fine.
More hiking. And more rain. Matt lets us in on a little secret about hiking in steep terrain — and it works like a charm. I’ve got noticeably more stamina and I’m even beginning to enjoy the workout. We finally reach the end of these seemingly interminable switchbacks and begin a gentle traverse through open meadow. Light snow begins to fall. And then this happens:
Just like that, the magic is back. From then on, I’m convinced. I still worry I’ll trip and sprain something and make a nuisance of myself, but I’m no longer fighting for the present moment. I’m aware and alert and back to soaking it all in with gusto.
Our trip back down the mountain comes sooner than we’d planned. It turns out the pass we are heading for is snowed in. We take advantage of one of the major perks of hiking in the Alps: bail-out points along most trails. (I told you my inner six year old is a wimp.) One short, adorable train ride later we’re back at our warm hotel with plenty of time to shower up for another luxurious dinner by chef Hubert.
Ah, Switzerland, you seem too good to be true…