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.