“I tried this trail the other day and the snow gets quite deep,” said Anna.
She’s the newest member to the program here at Kientalerhof, a native Dutch girl who I’ve found to be very pleasant, kind and personable. She’s the chatty type, and for one as moody as myself, I welcome her talkative nature, especially on days when I can relegate my part of the conversation to attentive smiles and nods.
Poor girl, I should have warned her.
Although Yvette has been working on strengthening her English, it is still a work in progress. When she asks me in her sweet Austrian accent, “Would you like to walk today?” I know what she is really asking is, “Would you like to run full speed up a mountain?” I’ve come to accept it, and it helps ease my conscience toward my many jaunts to the bakery down the street.
Unknowingly, Anna agreed to join us on our afternoon “walk.” After warning us that our chosen trail had been buried just days earlier, Yvette innocently (and rhetorically) asked, “Really?” before proceeding ahead.
Anna had no idea that we had made this trek under very adverse and, at times, downright abject conditions, this prospect being merely a new challenge to Yvette. You see, whenever I experience what Yvette refers to as “emotional holes,” I fill them with copious amounts of sugar, aka- eating my feelings. Where I come from, this is a common practice and I contend that this is simply the American way; Yvette, however, prefers to rid her holes by walking them off. Quickly. Through deep snow. Up mountains.
And although she be little, she is a speed demon on strong, toothpick legs.
Fortunately, we compromised our methods and stopped at the bakery for sweet treats before embarking on our hike. Unfortunately for me and Anna, it seemed that some of Yvette’s ghosts were out in full force that day, and despite the mounds of snow on the trail, our speed was not compromised.
For those of you who have not hiked uphill in treacherous snow, let me paint for you a portrait of my misery.
First take a stairmaster. Place it in an icebox.
Next, up the intensity and incline to the maximum options.
Then allow two small children to grasp each ankle, doing everything they can to weigh you down (at times nearly knocking you off the stairmaster) and proceed to climb. For two hours.
It was terrible.
In the best places, we walked a slight incline, pulling our legs through snow that leveled our calves. In the worst places, we fell in snow up to our hips. After the first uphill stretch of the climb, Anna stated that she would turn around and go back to enjoy a more leisurely pace. I didn’t blame her as Yvette seemed out to set world records and my calves were on fire from the weight of my boots. Instead, we took a “leave no man behind” approach.
Yvette and I urged her to continue forward with us, attesting that the view from the top made it worth the strain. Against her better judgment, she proceeded forward. When she asked how much longer until we reach the peak, Yvette assured her that we were half way and had only half an hour left, and I nodded in agreement despite my laughable ability to judge time and distances. A more accurate estimate would have been, “We have no idea, but prepare yourself for at least another hour, minimum.”
Whoops- our bad!
Now, while I am conscious of maintaining a largely PG vocabulary, certain catalysts will evoke a string of curses from me that would make the crudest of sailors blush. The remainder of our journey quickly turned into one of those instances. Each step proved more strenuous than the last, and my already heavy boots grew heavier as snow piled around the outside layers and crept in to soak my leggings and socks. I was I-just-ran-a-5k-race-in-mid-summer sweaty, but my snow soaked layers made my limbs painfully numb. I went from optimistically envisioning a bikini body to channeling Jesus. When that didn’t work, I went from fervently cursing the snow to contemplating the cost of calling a helicopter to come get me.
I kept my head down, focusing on using the already matted snow of Yvette’s footsteps to ease my way. Priding myself on a particular poise acquired from years of dance and gymnastics training, I grumbled as I trudged forward with the grace of a drunk frat boy at Mardi Gras. I stopped looking around completely because the beautiful scenery only enhanced my anger. I told the picturesque mountains that they could crumble to hell for all I cared.
“Become Legolas,” I repeated to myself in soft yoga tones, desperately trying a different approach. “Be one with the snow. Light, lofty steps.”
Yet with every Elvish thought I attempted to channel, my foot would conversely find a patch that sent me sinking down in snow up to my hip. This lopsided stance sent me barreling forward, nearly face planting into the incline, and I often opted to lean to the side and catch myself with my ungloved hands. The result was a sensation like Bengay gone awry, so icy cold that it felt like fire daggers. Better than my face, I suppose. It was the lesser of the evils.
And as we reached the house that marked the apex of our hike, I trudged grumpily to an already seated Yvette.
“Yvette!” I bellowed. “I. am. UNHAPPY.”
“Yes, Jasmine. That snow was quite deep,” Yvette said in her most angelic Austrian voice.
I plopped down next to her and we erupted into laughter to cure our misery. It was the delirium of our exertion and the joy of having reached the top.
And this is the point of the story where I could profess sentiments similar to those of Miley Cyrus’ hit “The Climb.” The view was spectacular. My lungs were full, my heart racing, and I felt gloriously alive, high from the endorphins. For me, the view from the top is always worth the climb.
However, every man writes his own story on a journey like this, and Anna’s sentiments seemed vastly different.
As she approached the house, Yvette and I continued laughing about how much the climb sucked, coaxing Anna to join in.
“I should have turned back. I’m going to keep walking. It’s getting quite cold,” she stated.
Unprepared for the journey, her corduroy pants were soaked to her knees and snow caked itself around every crevice of the fabric. I empathized with her misery, but I genuinely felt bad at how little we prepared her for such an arduous journey.
In sympathy and without judgment, we told her that was fine and we would see her back at Kientalerhof.
After a few minutes of sitting, our pulses slowed to normal and we realized she was right. The cold set in and we decided to follow in her footsteps.
But shortly after, we noticed her footsteps had disappeared. Both Yvette and I silently wondered what had happened, both inwardly knowing that she had taken the wrong split- the path that led further up the mountain before snaking back down. Sure enough, our notions were confirmed as we saw her figure moving down the hill toward where her path met ours.
We stopped to wait. Our compunction increased with her approaching figure at how, despite our break at the house, our paths had converged.
“Do you think she hates us?” I whispered to Yvette.
“Yes. I am sure of it,” she replied.
Anna’s eyes were rimmed red, and I could tell that she had surpassed the delirium of laughable misery and succumbed to a solid state of just plain miserable. She apologized for being sad but confessed that her thin layers propelled her into a painfully numb state.
However, regardless of how miserable your conditions, I believe that it can always be lessened in good company. Yvette and I tried to lighten her mood, and she proved to be a wonderfully optimistic spirit. (Thank goodness!) We joked and told silly stories the remainder of the walk, anticipating hot showers, big chocolate bars and warm cups of coffee.
Yvette and I are skeptical that Anne will join us on another afternoon walk ever again, but based on our post-hike conversations, I was pleased to find that she doesn’t seem to be a grudge holder.
And I can now confidently conclude: 1) Running up mountains under the pretense of an afternoon walk is a terrible way to make friends, and 2) I will continue to appreciate snow where it belongs- outside. While I am inside. By a fire. Whiskey drink in hand.
Until we do it again tomorrow.
For more stories about my trip to Switzerland, click here.