In 1997 I hiked the Alpine Cross Route (APR), a 340 km (211 mi) path that spans the breadth of Switzerland. Beginning within the village of Sargans on the border with Liechtenstein, the route traverses sixteen mountain passes earlier than reaching its western terminus at Montreux, situated on Lake Geneva. Though I’d been mountaineering and backpacking for a few years previous to the APR, for all intents and functions that was my first “long-distance” hike.
The Swiss Bombadil
Probably the most memorable facets of the APR was assembly and spending time with Marc, a 66-year-old gentleman who hailed from the Bernese Oberland area. Marc had a sage-like high quality that struck me from the second we met. He had spent his complete life within the Alps and had trodden lots of its huge community of pathways. In his youth, he accompanied his father and grandfather, and as he acquired older, he launched his personal kids and grandkids to the wonders of strolling within the Swiss mountains.
When Marc spoke of his ‘mountaineering life,’ the abiding connection he felt for his native area shone by way of in each phrase. The best way through which he described every valley, peak, meadow, cirque, and lake was as if he was speaking a couple of beloved member of the family or an expensive good friend. The identical utilized when he talked about native fauna, such because the sure-footed ibex and chamois, or the majestic golden eagle. No element was too trivial or small. The heat in his voice was equally evident in his deep smile traces and weather-beaten countenance. He was like a Swiss Tom Bombadil – with out the endearingly foolish songs and yellow boots (although he did have a blue jacket). Talking of footwear, one of many many issues I keep in mind about Marc was that he had been utilizing the identical leather-based strolling boots (they had been Raichles) for 33 years. He informed me that he wanted to go to his village cobbler each three or 4 years to resole them!
In the event you’ve gotten this far, you might be questioning why I’m reminiscing about an aged Swiss chap I met nearly 1 / 4 of a century in the past? What’s the story behind the story?
Discovering the Extraordinary within the Extraordinary (and the optimistic within the crappy)
Once I met Marc, I used to be in my mid-20s – a wayfarer whose creativeness brimmed over with goals of experiencing the world’s far-flung corners. In distinction, he was an ambulatory homebody who was on a first-name foundation with each root, rock, and blade of grass in his native space. Regardless of this distinction in our ages and mountaineering tendencies, Marc might have influenced my out of doors life as a lot as anybody I’ve met.
In him, I sensed a mutual affinity with the pure world that went past the norm. I keep in mind writing in my Spiral pocket book journal on the time, “I ponder if I’ll nonetheless have the identical twinkle in my eye and skip in my step forty years down the monitor?” Nonetheless, I additionally discerned one other high quality to which I aspired however hadn’t absolutely realized till then – the flexibility to establish and embrace marvel throughout the parameters of my on a regular basis life. Or, to place it one other approach, discover the extraordinary within the strange.
You could be pondering, “that doesn’t sound so robust in a spot as lovely because the Swiss Alps.” Maybe, nevertheless, I might counter with the next factors: 1. Familiarity generally is a harbinger of disinterest, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing a panorama could also be, and; 2. The climate was uniformly crappy for the 2 days Marc and I spent mountaineering collectively.
Concerning the primary level, whether or not on path or off, the wide-eyed curiosity now we have as kids can usually be dulled by the repetitions and obligations of our on a regular basis lives. The reverse gave the impression to be true with Marc. In his case, familiarity had led to a extra profound stage of appreciation. Each pure characteristic and creature meant one thing to him. As for the second level, he was mountaineering in moist and wild situations on a path he’d completed numerous occasions earlier than. Not like myself, he wasn’t on a schedule; he had no practice or flight to catch. And but, there he was happier than a St.Bernard with two tails and a bottomless meals bowl. He was on the market just because he beloved it. I’ve by no means forgotten that.
Not lengthy after saying my farewells to Marc, I completed the APR and flew again to Mexico. The fantastic thing about the Swiss Alps had left an indelible impression, however maybe extra importantly, there was a change in how I felt in regards to the each day walks I took within the mountains round my house. I’d all the time beloved these hikes and had by no means taken them with no consideration, however after coming back from Switzerland, I made a concerted effort to not overlook the little issues just because they had been acquainted. That shift in perspective was refined moderately than seismic, however by upping the notice ante, I began noticing extra of nature’s mini-miracles, and the emotions of union I had for my environment grew even stronger.
Within the years since my trek throughout Switzerland, I’ve had the great fortune to do many extra long-distance hikes all over the world. Amongst these journeys have been historic pilgrimage paths, well-known traditional trails, and difficult routes in distant backcountry areas. I’ve loved all of them, and a number of the most memorable occasions of my life have occurred throughout these prolonged wilderness journeys.
Nonetheless (you knew that was coming), it’s the little hikes on trails I’ve completed a whole lot of occasions that I in the end cherish essentially the most. Identical to the constant and unbidden small gestures of affection which are extra essential than grandiose items in a relationship, these common walks symbolize the cornerstones of my ‘mountaineering life.’ They’re the paths I stroll on chilly mornings, within the pouring rain, on steamy mid-summer days, at dawn, at sundown, and generally beneath the sunshine of a full moon. They’re the portal by way of which I endeavor to see the “world in a grain of sand.” And for this present of perspective, I must say thanks to a venerable Swiss gentleman with essentially the most well-worn pair of mountaineering boots I’ve ever seen.