camaraderie and gluttony.

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I recently received a great e-mail from my friend Susan. I had been telling her about my rollerski adventure up Fluelapass and she told me, among other things: “I think you are a glutton for punishment.”

This took me a bit by surprise. I’m not going to deny that it might be true, but it was a pretty serious case of the pot calling the kettle black. I know a lot of athletes, a lot of very good ones in a variety of sports, but out of all of them, Susan has the most gut-churning ability to dig deep of anyone I’ve ever met. This is the girl who literally pushed so hard on her bike trying to keep up with the guys that she blacked out and crashed off the road. You will seldom see anyone on the biathlon World Cup who is so willing to go deep, deep into the pain cave as Susan. It is her superpower.

So when someone like that calls you a glutton for punishment… you think, shit? Am I doing something wrong? Am I doing something right? You begin to wonder what, exactly, you are doing with your life – after all, there is no professional reward for such behavior. We “adults” with normal “jobs” (okay, my job barely ever feels like a job) don’t have any reason to attempt stupid feats of athleticism.

But, for some of us, it’s a way of life. It’s true. And some of us understand that. At the end of the work week – or even in the middle – what better way can you satisfy yourself than trying something that requires you to fully test your limits?

This weekend, my friend Rosalie came to visit. She’s living in Bern and I hadn’t seen her in a while, but our lives overlap so much: she’s four years younger than me, but went to the same high school, through the same ski club, to the same college, and knows many of the same people. We’re both deeply interested in environmental issues, although Rosalie has gone admirably further than I have in doing actual on-the-ground research on a bunch of cool topics, including social ones. People sometimes marvel at the way I pick up and move to another new country every few months, but Rosalie is so much more fearless than I am. I’m in a masters program; she has, on her own, landed herself in Rovaniemi, Finland, or in Bern, to do projects that she conceived herself with little to no supervision. And both of us hope to end up writing about these things we care so much about.

She wrote a great blog post about the weekend, starting with a snafu at the train station that left me feeling like the worst host in the world. I was a little late to meet her, and couldn’t find her; the cell number she gave me wasn’t working; after circling the station for 20 minutes, I headed to the other station, where I didn’t find her, and then to the office to see if I had e-mail. Finally I returned to the original station, over an hour after she was supposed to arrive, only to find her there! She had been there the whole time, but we must have each been walking in circles and always on opposite sides of the building. But anyway, we found each other. And the weekend began.

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And what a weekend it was. We looked eagerly at maps that first night and decided to hike out the door as much as possible; buses go to cool spots up the valleys, but here in Switzerland, they are expensive. Luckily, I’m housesitting in an amazing location and there’s more than enough terrain out back to keep you occupied for days. So come Saturday morning, we were drinking coffee on the front lawn when my friend and coworker Sofia pulled in on her bike to complete our hiking trio. It turned into a 13-mile day with one continuous 3,000-foot ascent, a lot more smaller and more gradual ones, and some incredible, awesome, unbelievable scenery. We were so tired we soaked our legs in the stream and took a nap before we could muster up the energy to grill up sausages (once again in the front yard) for dinner.

Day two dawned a bit cloudy, and since Rosalie had made me rhubarb crisp for breakfast (ROSALIE YOU ARE AMAZING) we enjoyed a long, relaxing breakfast. I never get to do that during the week – I’m up at 5:30 at the latest, and I have a half hour bike ride before arriving at work by 7. So to have an extra hour to lounge around and talk about interesting, funny, deep, serious matters with a buddy felt like heaven.

IMG_1246We started hiking and we were both tired. But you can’t admit you’re tired, right? My calves were burning but we both pushed on. I had made a grave mistake in my map-reading and it took us over two hours to reach Oberalp, the “start” of our planned hike. But once we were there, things seemed better – we were heading up an incredibly beautiful valley, past idyllic cabins for farmers and shepherds, and cute cows. You know, typical Switzerland stuff. Finally, we reached the last pitch and climbed up to a windy pass. On the other side, we stopped for lunch. It was perfect. We were in the middle of nowhere, seemingly, with towering mountains and snowy glaciers as our backdrop. Life was good.

From there… we descended. Some sketchy loose dirt paths at first, down to the valley floor (still very high actually), then down some sketchy loose singletrack to the next dropoff which happened to be above a tall, Yosemite-esque waterfall, and then down past the waterfall to the hamlet of Sertig. At this point, the watch read about what I had projected for our total hike to take. We were pooped.

I had offered several options for getting home. The first would be to take the bus to Clavadel, but it didn’t go back towards our house, so we’d have to hike a bit from there or else go further and connect to another bus to get home. I also mentioned that we could try to hitchhike to Frauenkirch, but Rosalie vetoed that (probably good, I’m not so adventurous with the hitchhiking). Or we could walk – I estimated that it would take us an hour and a half. As we stared at the bus schedule and tried to decide whether to get on or not, we hesitated. Walking didn’t seem soooo bad. Just an hour and a half. Then, the bus pulled out of the parking lot and left. Too slow. The decision was made for us.

And… it turned out to be much more than an hour and a half of walking. We were in pretty serious bonking territory, armed only with water and a couple of carrots for snacks. By the end, we had to stop and by ice cream at Frauenkirch to make it the final 15 minutes back to the house. When we walked in the driveway, Rosalie checked her Garmin: 18 1/2 miles. We had been out from nine to five, like a regular job. Later, she realized that the GPS didn’t pick up satellites immediately, so it was actually 20 miles.

That certainly justified how exhausted we were.

I am kicking myself for being shitty at reading maps. The main, interesting part of the hike? It was exactly as long as I thought. But the traversing of Rinerhorn to get to the start, and then the long way back from Sertig, wow, I totally blew it there. And we were in for a rough ride because of it.

Yet we each had the chance to bail and take the bus, and we each turned it down. That’s what it means to be a glutton for punishment, I guess. Maybe that makes us bad adventure partners; we’re ambitious and don’t want to admit any little weakness, ever.

But maybe it makes us good partners. We both take responsibility for the crazy situation we got ourselves into, and despite the fatigue we’ve suffered in the few days since (and the fact that I came home and ate everything in the kitchen… really everything….), I think we both have pretty fond memories of Sunday. It was great! It was fun! It was beautiful! Rosalie made a snow angel!

We’re already planning to meet up again, this time in Bern. I may be crazy (my dad told me recently that I “didn’t have to be the ‘crazy American’, you know”), but it feels so amazing to know that I have kindred spirits among my wonderful group of friends, and that we can satiate ourselves with whatever ill-advised physical tests we want. What is better than that?

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overambitious.

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This is me at 10 o’clock on Friday morning, after I had taken advantage of our day off from work to rollerski up to Sertig, a small village (not even really village) outside of Davos.

I did not look like this at 10 o’clock today. Emboldened by my rollerski explorations so far, I decided that I would rollerski up to the parking area for the field site we were visiting today, and meet my co-workers when they arrived by car.

“I’ll meet you up there tomorrow,” I told Gunther as we wrapped up prep yesterday afternoon in the office. “I’ll leave a bag for you to bring in the car.”

“Oh, so…. wait, what?”           

“You drive up there, and I’ll meet you there.”

“Ah! So you want to go with the bike!”

“No, no, not the bike. I’m going to rollerski.”

“You’re going to rollerski. Really. That’s brave.”

You see, where we were working today was on the flanks of Schwazhorn, a biggish mountain on one side of Fluelapass, a road leading from Davos and Graubunden over into the Engadin region of Switzerland. It gains quite a bit of elevation and is twisty and turny. It’s very popular for people to drive in their cars or campers or motorcycles, and fairly popular for people to ride on their road bikes. I haven’t seen any rollerskiers.

“Yes,” I confirmed. “I’m going to ski Fluelapass and meet you up there.”

“That’s going to take a while!” Gunther insisted. “When are you going to start?”

“It’s not that long,” I replied. “It’s only 12.5 kilometers. I think it will take an hour and a half. So I’ll just meet there.”

For reference, the car was leaving the office at 7 a.m. and driving the same 12.5 kilometers. Meanwhile Julia, our PhD student and boss, insisted that it was in fact 22 kilometers, and no amount of showing her google maps could convince her otherwise.

“Be careful!” she kept saying.

“We’ll pick you up along the way,” Gunther said. “You’re not going to make it to the top.”

“Yes I am,” I would say. “I’ll beat you there. See you at site 10!”

As they expressed over and over again how crazy I was, I thought: calm down, people. I used to do this for a living, more or less. I can handle this. I have done things way crazier and more hardcore than this. And I survived Climb to the Castle, how much worse can this be?

Climb to the Castle is five miles long with an average eight percent grade. This is the profile of Fluelapass, starting from my office.

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Plus, of course, there’s the issue that back when I did Climb to the Castle, I was training for skiing full time and was in much better shape. But anyhow.

Here’s how my day went:

4:45 a.m.: wake up, shovel down coffee and a slice of bread

5:10 a.m.: set off on bike to the office

5:45 a.m.: arrive at office. Pack bag for fieldwork, leave it at Gunther’s desk

6:00 a.m.: clip into rollerskis and head out of the parking lot. Turn left onto Fluelapass. The road is flat at the beginning; V2 because I know I won’t be able to earlier.

6:20 a.m.: look for the Gasthaus Alpenrose, where I know I will have gone a little more than 4 km. It is not anywhere to be seen. The climb has already really begun, I am getting into a V1 rhythm; I’m not even fresh anymore, but I’m not exhausted. Stop and drink some water.

6:30 a.m.: Gasthaus Alpenrose. That took longer than I thought. Drink some more water. I’m a third of the way there; if I keep these splits it will take me an hour and a half, just as I had predicted. I wish I was going faster  but I’m feeling okay.

6:40 a.m.: Holy crap, I just hit the first section of 10 % grade. All of a sudden, things are getting really hard. I stop and eat a granola bar.

But at the same time, I am sinking into the fatigue and it feels good. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything that made me tired like this – hiking doesn’t do it. At first when you begin to tire, your technique actually gets more efficient; there’s no energy to waste. I can feel my skis humming along with each push. I know my weight is in the right places, and I’m applying myself as well as ever. The months of not rollerskiing aren’t killing me as much as I thought.

6:50: a.m.: on a little flatter section (still not really flat) I’m trying to V2, to take the stress off my V1 muscles and use my upper body a little more. Very quickly thought, I have to break back into climbing. I ski a curve around a hotel and then a section that I hadn’t realized would be so brutal – a long, brutal, grinding, steep uphill along a straightaway. Cows munch at grass on either side, turning skittish at the noise of my poles as I pass. I have to repeatedly take a break for a few seconds; my body is now being punished for all that not-rollerskiing, and it can’t keep up V1 for an hour straight.

7:00 a.m.: begin looking for the Wagerhus hut, where I know I will have gone 8 kilometers. Instead, faced with some crazy steep switchbacks. I want to cut the corners, but a dump truck and a camper are coming so I stick to the edges of the road.

7:10 a.m.: Finally, I hit Wagerhus. The bend in the road as the next switchbacks begin is like a godsend – it doesn’t look flat, but it feels flat! I am V2ing like it is a “get out of jail free” card. I feel fast; I feel efficient, compared to the slog that has become V1.

7:11 a.m.: It gets too steep and I’m back to V1. I no longer feel that satisfying hum as I push off of each ski. Instead, I’m getting bogged down, my technique is falling apart completely, my skis are sometimes slapping the pavement. My strides are short and sometimes lopsided.

Furthermore, I have four kilometers to the top, and I doubt that I will be able to keep the brag I made to Gunther, that I will beat him and Sofia to the top. They were meeting in the office at 7 a.m.; depending on how efficient they were at getting out the door, they might already be on the road, driving up towards me.

I’m embarrassed at the prospect of having them catch me. I push through, not taking breaks anymore even though it would probably be more efficient to do so. The grade is undulating back and forth between 8 and 10 percent.

7:20 a.m: I can hear that the car coming up behind me is going slowly, and I know that it is my co-workers. They have caught me. As the white SLF Skoda pulls up alongside, Sofia rolls down her window and says, “Good job!” Then they are past.

Maybe they’ll let me finish the ski, I think, and meet me at the top. I can see the top – it is a few straightaways and a few switchbacks away, but it’s clearly in my sights and I am sure it is just ten minutes away. I yearn for that feeling of cresting the final uphill and beginning to roll down the other side, the reward that tells you, you skied up this whole damn thing, and now there’s no more up left.

But then the car pulls on to the shoulder ahead of me and Gunther steps out. These are two people who know what good skiing looks like – Gunther has a neighbor from home in Austria who is on the national team; Sofia is from Sweden. I smile as I take the last few strides and take off my poles.

“You were organized this morning!” I tell Gunther. “I thought you’d be ten more minutes, and then I would have been at the top.”

He agrees. I haven’t won our little bet, but he still respects the effort. I was close enough.

7:30 a.m.: We start hiking towards the field sites. Fifteen minutes later, we’re there, and I take data for Sofia and Gunther at the first site so that I can snarf down some breakfast while I scribble the numbers. At the next site, it’s my turn to take data. I squat down, put my face in the willow, and begin counting leaves and fruits.

9:00 a.m.: “What are you eating?” Gunther asks.

“Emergency chocolate,” I reply.

“So you are tired,” he says.

Yes. I have to admit it, I am. No coach would recommend doing fieldwork as recovery from a rollerski that gained over 2,000 feet of elevation. But it’s okay: I will survive this day of work. Maybe I won’t be hopping from rock to rock like a mountain goat, as I sometimes am on the days when my workouts come in the afternoon, when I’m already done with work.

But I can settle in to the exhaustion a little, too. It’s a different way of approaching recovery, by working on something else and crowding out the thoughts about how tired you are. It’s a division of your brain and your body that is unlike anything you’d experience if your whole life was training.

And I like work. I like Sofia and Gunther and we have fun counting our silly little plants. We pause to take a nap in the sun; at 9:30, Gunther is already starving, so he eats his entire lunch as Sofia and I half-sleep. Sofia hates Tuesdays, thinks they are the worst day of the week. I’m no worse off than else today.

10:00 a.m.: And here I am, thinking about my ski. I had accomplished something before most people had even started their day; I’m still feeling the glow of satisfaction from a job well done, a morning spent exerting myself.

But I’m frustrated, too. I wanted to ski over the top of the pass, and I want those ten minutes that I didn’t have at the end. And so I turn this into a goal. I am going to ski this pass a few more times before I leave Davos at the end of the summer, and in the meantime, I’m going to get fitter and more efficient. I’m not going to run out of power like I did today.

I’m going to ski the pass starting at 6 a.m., and I’m going to beat Gunther to the top even if he’s driving the car.

I’m empowered with a goal, and the knowledge that it’s going to be a great summer.

trustworthy?

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Another weekend is upon us, but I haven’t told you about the last one. My friend Timothée came to visit from Zurich and I planned a trip for us. Well, planned would be too strong a word. He arrived on the train on Saturday morning and I had breakfast waiting (from a nice bakery) and a bus for us to catch. Once we got to the top of Flüelapass we broke out the maps, which I had managed to borrow from another masters student, and went over our options. We knew we wanted to get into the mountains and stay there for the night. I had a few ideas of nice places to go, but what did I know? I had only lived in Davos for a week.

So we set off towards Joriseen, a collection of lakes on the other side of a big mountain. When we got to the top of the pass and looked down, they were beautiful, strung out like frozen jewels in the basin below. But in between us and them was a lot of snow. We watched as an elderly Swiss woman tried to navigate her way across a small patch of snow towards the top where we were standing; she was unstable and nervous, slipping with every step. I was certain we were going to see her fall and tumble down the mountain. Eventually she made it, much to our relief. I wasn’t really sure what Timothée had in mind or whether he was secretly thinking “oh my God, this girl has led me on a death march.” But he was game so we bounded and slid down the slopes to the lakes. It was pretty fun.

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And every time we came to a patch of scree where we could stop for a few moments on solid ground, we looked up to see a vista even more perfect than the last.

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Finally, it was lunchtime. We had reached the farthest of the lakes and plopped down to eat some strange-looking mini quiches I had made. I didn’t want to eat boring hiking food and had thought about hand pies. I was very tired and irrationally decided to fill them with some sort of egg mixture. Then I realized that you can’t fill a freeform turnover with egg, because it will all run out! Duh. So I made them in a muffin tin. They were tall and funny-looking, but tasted good and Timothée didn’t seem to judge me for feeding a French guy completely inauthentic quiche.

Here’s the thing about the trip: Timothée and I don’t know each other that well. We met at the workshop in Guarda and went on this amazing hike with some other friends. I mentioned that I was moving to Davos, and we decided we should do more adventures together. But as we ate lunch, it was a chance to get to know each other better. I was nervous: here we were on a two-day trip. What if we didn’t actually get along? But of course, it turned out that we did. I was happy and relieved to find another mountain buddy after a year in which outdoorsy friends have been distinctly lacking.

Plus, Timothée is an amazing naturalist who knows basically all the birds, a lot of plants, and many other animals. I did impress him when I identified some Didymosphenia algae on the rocks of the outlet of one of the lakes.

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So, onward after lunch. We wanted make a loop and it turned out that the other pass was completely snow-covered. We had a few hundred meters of elevation to climb, just chipping our shoes into the snow to make steps and trying not to slide down in the slush. It was a little tiring, but once again a very pretty hike. I seemed to have not messed up our itinerary despite having no clue about where we were going or how much snow we were going to encounter. Timothée said he thought he could trust me, based on results so far. That made me nervous.

Once we got back down, the next hour indeed made me wonder if I had made a mistake. We walked on the path along the road, first up to the top of the pass, then far down the other side. I was looking for a trail that led into a big, flat valley, but it wasn’t appearing. And hiking along the road was so much less fun and picturesque than where we had been before. We had the noise of cars; we were no longer quite so joyful. We were also a little tired.

Finally, I saw the valley, although not the trail. So we headed off towards it, eventually coming across a much less well-defined path than the previous ones. At first I was dismayed, like, I’ve picked out this next part and it’s not even a real trail. But of course, it turned out to be nice. There were no tourists with their day-packs, and we didn’t see a single other person. The valley was huge and the road was soon out of sight. Mountains rose up on either side, marmots played and alarm-called in the fields, the river gurgled and gushed below us. We saw an amazing snowbridge covering the river at one narrow point in the valley. When we reached a spot across from a beautiful waterfall, we decided that we’d had enough hiking for the night and set down our packs.

You aren’t really supposed to camp here. In fact, it’s forbidden. But oh well! We slept out anyway. No tent needed, and since we hadn’t seen a single person in the valley I wasn’t worried. We cooked up some dinner, ate some good Swiss chocolate, and spotted some ibex on the ridge. I fell asleep to the stars above me (all right, I couldn’t see them very well because I took my contacts out…) and the sound of the waterfall across the valley. It only got cold when the dew fell on the outside of my sleeping bag early the next morning.

After tea and biscuits for breakfast, we set out to go the rest of the way up the valley to the Grialetsch hut. From there, we took a spur trail up towards “Vadret de Grialetsch”, the real-deal, giant, year-round glacier that sits on the flanks of Piz Vadret and Piz Grialetsch. We dropped our packs behind a boulder and climbed up through the snow again to an even more magical sunny winter wonderland.

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Besides the snow, the rocky scree ridges were also amazing for their diversity of alpine plants. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, spotting one then another, another, another.

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We sort of wanted to stay up there forever. So we sat for a while and ate more chocolate and snacks, and gazed at the glacier, and decided it was indeed a bad idea to try to hike over the ridge between the two mountains. Instead, finally, we had to descend back to the hut (which was fun, more sliding down snowfields) and eventually to the Dischma valley, where we caught a bus back into town.

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My friend headed back to Zurich after a late lunch, and I headed back to Julia’s house to clean up and recover. In many ways it was a strange weekend, but mostly it was glorious. I hiked and laughed and explored with a new friend, in a beautiful new place that I’m so happy to call home for the next few months. I had randomly picked some places on a map to go check out – and they had been perfect. It gave me a taste of what will be possible every single weekend I’m here, since this was just a sampling of the vast Alpine terrain that surrounds Davos on all sides. I have my bearings a little more now, and can’t wait to go on more adventures.

And finally, Timothée said that I proved myself to be trustworthy. In an unfamiliar place, that means a lot. I have the confidence to keep exploring, to make it up as I go along, and to believe that it will be amazing.

wonderment.

I already wrote about the amazing community at the Guarda workshop. But let’s be honest, the scenery was pretty great too. Here are some of my photos. Click to enlarge.

a sense of community.

(l-r) me, Robyn, and Ewa getting our nerd on. photo: Marie-Eve Monchamp.

(l-r) me, Robyn, and Ewa getting our nerd on. photo: Marie-Eve Monchamp. other photos are mine unless otherwise noted; click to enlarge to better quality.

I recently returned from a weeklong evolutionary biology workshop in Guarda, a small village in the Swiss Alps. Now that I’m back, people are asking, did you learn a lot?

Well, yes. But that’s not exactly the point of the workshop. There’s an “armchair lecture” from a member of the staff every night after dinner, 45 minutes of speaking from the sofa with no powerpoint or visuals. Other than that, the workshop is about how to work together to develop scientific ideas, and it’s about the process of, well, thinking about science. I think that’s an incredibly important thing to work on, every bit as important as sitting in a classroom listening to lectures – if not more important.

And this style of workshop got me really excited about science after a long spring doing a project that really burnt me out in a country where there’s so much paperwork and administration that it’s sometimes hard to focus on research. No internet, no resources? At Guarda, you had to use your head and your logic to think about scientific questions. And it was really fun.

More than that, though, I was incredibly inspired by the people around me. Both the professors and the 26 students made up a very diverse group. It surprised me how much this meant to me since I am in an international masters program with students from all over the world. The whole point of my masters is to bring diversity and provide a wealth of different opportunities in various areas. But in MEME, I am one of the oldest students. With only a few exceptions, most of the students have come straight out of their universities. Yes, the academic experiences we have had are diverse, and the countries we come from are many, but there still seems to be, for the most part, one path towards a career in science: undergraduate, masters, PhD, beyond.

photo: Marie-Eve Monchamp.

photo: Marie-Eve Monchamp.

By contrast, look at the picture above. We’re all white, we’re all from Europe and North America. In that sense, not diverse. But these were the people I lived with in a flat for a week and we had an amazing wealth of experience. The photographer, Marie-Eve, is from Quebec. She went to culinary school and worked as a baker for a while. On the left is Lina from Switzerland, the only one to go straight through. Robyn, in the blue shirt, took time off to work some conservation jobs at home in England. Raphi, in black, owned a bar and managed ten employees before returning to science, and also works as a sound engineer for bands at live performances and helps run a music festival. Ewa studied pharmacology and started working at a community pharmacy for a few months before, as she likes to joke, “I knew that if I had to keep standing there handing out aspirin pills I would kill myself.” Instead, she’s now doing a PhD trying to find better model organisms with which to study the complex mental health diseases that appear in humans and have no analogs on which to test causes and treatments.

Then there’s me.

where should we go? photo: me.

where should we go?

Spending a week with these people was like a breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief at the same time. They were all so passionate about their research areas, and also just lot of fun to be with. One of the professors had studied music before becoming a computational biologist, and is an amazing cello player who was having a concert the day after the workshop ended. In Guarda, nobody judged you for not taking the straight path to a PhD. Instead, they appreciated what additional insight these life experiences might have brought you, or the fact that you must have returned to science because you were really motivated – after all, it would maybe have been easier to keep being a pharmacist, a bar owner, a baker…. a ski journalist…

So we worked hard on our projects all day, trying to reason our way through tough questions and find model organisms for our projects. We bashed heads, agreed to sorta-agree, moved on to the next step, started over again. It was exhausting. At lunch we would slink back to our flats for lunch and then head out into the mountains for the rest of the break, breathing in the cool alpine air and letting the endless diversity of floral shapes and colors inspire us some more.

The first lunch break was amazing. We still barely knew each other, but here we were, wandering around this paradise. It took me about five minutes the next morning to run the same distance that we made it up the trail that first lunchtime, because we spent so much time stopping and taking pictures. All around us was so much splendor, it was hard to keep moving.

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Usually I think of hiking or walking as an opportunity to go some significant distance; I want to get exercise, and I take in the views at the pace of a run or walk. But I had absolutely no problem wandering off into a meadow and realizing 20 minutes later that I had barely moved.

IMGP1741Nevertheless, the next day we were determined to cover more ground, see more sights. We walked past the meadow that had diverted us the day before and climbed steeply up through the trees. It was sort of hard going, especially with the altitude, but the reward was that after not so much distance, we were already high above the village. We found a small pond and lingered for a few minutes. In one corner there was a nursery of tadpoles and we enjoyed watching them swim around frantically until the water seemed to be boiling every time a shadow passed over the water.

That day we did cover more ground. But there was a healthy dose of botanizing and naturalist-talk too. One of the things that was so fun about hiking with these other students was that so many knew something about plants or animals. There were birders and botanists. I was behind the curve trying to translate my knowledge of Rocky Mountain flora to Europe; sometimes I’d recognize a genus or a plant that looked to similar to something in Crested Butte that I would swear it must be the same species.

But few people were complete experts on alpine flora and fauna. Instead, they brought hefty volumes of Flora Helvetica and we would all gather round, peering over each other’s shoulders as we identify that purple orchid in the boggy part of the meadow. We’d see a beetle or a frog or a butterfly (or a dead mouse in the trail) and the default response was, how cool!

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Curiosity was the theme of the week. That, and making the most of these new friendships that we had for the week – no internet to distract us, no e-mail to the outside world, just enjoying each other’s company on adventures both intellectual and alpine.

Barbecue above the village at the end of the week. photo: Christina Holm.

Barbecue above the village at the end of the week. Not every day do you stand around drinking beer with Stephen Stearns and Robert Trivers. photo: Christina Holm.

joyful hiking. photo: Raphi Sieber.

joyful hiking. photo: Raphi Sieber.

watching new friends make more new friends. photo: me.

watching new friends make more new friends. photo: me.

I'm pretty pleased (and the handbag is back). photo: Antoine Juigner.

I’m pretty pleased (and the handbag is back). photo: Antoine Juigner.