In 1997 I hiked the Alpine Pass Route (APR), a 340 km (211 mi) path that spans the breadth of Switzerland. Starting 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. Although 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
One of probably the most memorable points 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 whole life within the Alps and had trodden a lot of its huge community of pathways. In his youth, he accompanied his father and grandfather, and as he bought older, he launched his personal youngsters and grandkids to the wonders of strolling within the Swiss mountains.
When Marc spoke of his ‘hiking life,’ the abiding connection he felt for his native area shone via in each phrase. The approach during which he described every valley, peak, meadow, cirque, and lake was as if he was speaking a few beloved member of the family or an expensive pal. 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 strains 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). Speaking of footwear, one of many many issues I bear in mind about Marc was that he had been utilizing the identical leather-based strolling boots (they have been Raichles) for 33 years. He instructed me that he wanted to go to his village cobbler each three or 4 years to resole them!
If you’ve gotten this far, chances are you’ll 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?
Finding the Extraordinary within the Ordinary (and the constructive within the crappy)
When I met Marc, I used to be in my mid-20s – a wayfarer whose creativeness brimmed over with desires 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. Despite this distinction in our ages and mountaineering inclinations, Marc could 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 bear in mind writing in my Spiral pocket book journal on the time, “I wonder if I’ll still have the same twinkle in my eye and skip in my step forty years down the track?” However, I additionally discerned one other high quality to which I aspired however hadn’t totally realized till then – the power to establish and embrace surprise throughout the parameters of my on a regular basis life. Or, to place it one other approach, discover the extraordinary within the extraordinary.
You is likely to be considering, “that doesn’t sound so tough in a place as beautiful as the Swiss Alps.” Perhaps, nonetheless, I’d counter with the next factors: 1. Familiarity is usually a harbinger of disinterest, no matter 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.
Regarding the primary level, whether or not on path or off, the wide-eyed curiosity we’ve got as youngsters can usually be dulled by the repetitions and duties of our on a regular basis lives. The reverse appeared to be true with Marc. In his case, familiarity had led to a extra profound stage of appreciation. Every 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 performed numerous instances earlier than. Unlike myself, he wasn’t on a schedule; he had no prepare 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 cherished 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 day by day walks I took within the mountains round my residence. I’d all the time cherished these hikes and had by no means taken them as a right, however after coming back from Switzerland, I made a concerted effort to not overlook the little issues just because they have been acquainted. That shift in perspective was refined relatively than seismic, however by upping the attention ante, I began noticing extra of nature’s mini-miracles, and the emotions of union I had for my environment grew even stronger.
In the years since my trek throughout Switzerland, I’ve had the great fortune to do many extra long-distance hikes around the globe. Among 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 among the most memorable instances of my life have occurred throughout these prolonged wilderness journeys.
However (you knew that was coming), it’s the little hikes on trails I’ve performed tons of of instances that I in the end cherish probably the most. Just just like the constant and unbidden small gestures of affection which are extra essential than grandiose items in a relationship, these common walks signify the cornerstones of my ‘hiking life.’ They are the paths I stroll on chilly mornings, within the pouring rain, on steamy mid-summer days, at dawn, at sundown, and typically below the sunshine of a full moon. They are the portal via which I endeavor to see the “world in a grain of sand.” And for this present of perspective, I have to say thanks to a venerable Swiss gentleman with probably the most well-worn pair of mountaineering boots I’ve ever seen.