A Not-So-Epic but Somewhat Hilarious Mountain Rescue

For those who read my last blog post, thanks for taking the time. Y’all are saints.

As promised, I am writing more often, and it’s not going to be about feelings, because I hate those things anyway. Instead, I’ve realised I have a fucking arsenal of ridiculous adventure and drinking stories from the past many years that I have failed to write about (because of the aforementioned “feelings”). So, it’s time now. Buckle up.

These will not be in order. I have no idea what I’m doing. Join me on this wild ride, won’t you?

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This first story is fairly recent, and also a new favourite of mine already. In part because it’s completely ridiculous, and in part because it seems to have become a trend that whenever Melissa and I get together, things don’t go exactly as planned. And it’s wildly entertaining.

In April, I went on a girls adventure with two college friends. We don’t see each other all that often, but when we do, we fall back into that easy way of being friends that is so rare and special and awesome that, well, we certainly wish that we saw each other more often. Melissa lives in Geneva, so she and I have seen each other once a year since 2016. The first time, we had a massively entertaining (and potentially dangerous) adventure on a snowy Swiss mountain. And last year, we went on a tulip adventure that was supposed to be a leisurely cycle and instead turned into 20km+ of walking because we planned very poorly. We are really, really good at getting things not quite perfect. Which is funny because normally I’m super good at planning, but somehow, together, the two of us are so relaxed about the whole thing that we just think “it’ll be fine,” and then even when it isn’t, we make it work. And that’s pretty damn cool.

I haven’t seen Eliza since 2015, which, incidentally, is also the last time the three of us saw each other together. And that trip was pretty tame, because we were just hanging out in Boston and having dinner, and the circumstances weren’t quite right for an epic adventure of “oh shit” proportions.

But April was a different story. The 3 of us decided to go to Corsica. Why? I’m not really sure. Melissa suggested it, and I said yes. No regrets, though. That place is fucking awesome.

Melissa also suggested that we do a 2-day cycling trip around Cap Corse, to which I also said yes, because she does lots of cycling trips and knows how they work. And then we organised the whole thing so carefully that we were convinced it was going to be perfect and lovely and awesome. All the internets told us it was “fun” and “beautiful” and “the best way to see the cape.”

IMG_2950.jpgYou do have to admit, it’s pretty amazing…

What the internet failed to tell us is that it was a motherfucking bitch of a cycling trip. One website said it was possible to do the whole thing in a single day, which led me to believe that 2 days would be fairly leisurely and quite doable for reasonably fit people (but not pro cyclists) like ourselves.

IT WAS ALL LIES. Apparently pieces of this ride are a part of the fucking Tour de France.

We had to scale a fucking mountain. A FULL MOUNTAIN.

TWICE.

None of us was prepared for this. At all. In fact, we were so unprepared that on day one, we ran into a man driving a nice car who told us we were going the wrong way after we had already climbed most of the way up the mountain. So we actually had to go back down and start again. And we were not happy about it.

But we made it. We made it up, and made it back down (soooooooooooo much downhill and sooooooo thankful our brakes worked). And then we stayed in the most beautiful tiny fishing village and it washed all of our worries away. Washed them away so fully, in fact, that we were convinced that Day 2 couldn’t possibly be any worse than Day 1.

IMG_6520Day 2: See? Look how happy and fearless we are!

We were very wrong.

We got an early start on Monday so that we could take our time and not rush to get over the mountain. So we stopped for a coffee. And then for lunch. And then to buy a bottle of wine at a local winery. And we gave ourselves a solid 4 hours to cross the mountain pass.

But then we went the wrong way again. Because Google fucking SUCKS.

And then when we righted ourselves, the grade was so insanely steep, and we were so insanely tired, that we just couldn’t go anymore. We walked our bikes for a while, and tried cycling again, and then had to walk again. And then it was 7:30PM and the sun was already getting low and we still weren’t at the top. And we didn’t have reflective gear or good lights, and couldn’t even consider going down the other side with such limited light.

It was intense. Each of us went through all the stages. The “omg can we do this???” to the “YES WE CAN” attitude, to the “no, no, no, we really cannot, I am going to die” attitude. And at each point, the other two would perk up the 3rd and we’d keep going.

Until the point that we stopped. The point where I nearly had a panic attack, but I tried not to, and then Melissa said, “Soooo maybe we should call someone?” and I just started crying. And we stood on the side of a winding mountain road next to a cliff and called the bike rental company. Because we didn’t know what else to do. And we ate snacks. And we waited. And we called other people. Basically, we made all the phone calls.

After about 35 minutes, the bike rental company said they would come rescue us. Which, let me say, is BEYOND the best possible customer service. They did NOT have to do that. But they did it anyway. And charged us only a marginal fee for the whole rescue operation.

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But they wouldn’t just rescue us at a random spot on the side of the road, so we were forced to backtrack to a town we had passed ages ago. (Actually, I think it had been nearly 2 hours since we’d passed that town. But it only took us 20 minutes to get back there. Downhill FTW.) And then we sat on the curb outside the post office and waited. And we waited. And we waited. And we feared that perhaps they would never show up and we’d be stuck in that tiny town overnight. Fortunately, we were sitting right next to a hotel, and we began considering backup plans.

And then the van arrived. And a kind young man emerged from the driver’s side and looked at us with a smile, but you could tell there was pity in his eyes. But, instead of teasing us, he validated us: “Why didn’t you rent e-bikes? Most people do this ride with e-bikes…”

WHY HAD NO ONE TOLD US THAT BEFORE?!

We were so grateful to be sitting in a car, and our driver was so friendly. (I wish I could remember his name…) He drove us to our hotel and wished us well for the remainder of our travels. And basically everyone we met over the next two days looked at us incredulously when we told them about our adventure. “Wait, you DIDN’T have e-bikes? What were you thinking??”

Validation. Also, we felt pretty stupid.

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But hey, we survived. Built some character. And then drank a whole lot of wine. Wouldn’t trade that adventure for the world.

So, Mel: what mischief will we get into next spring?

My triumphant return to the mountains (of cheese and beer)

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After living in Amsterdam for two months, I was starting to lose my shit a little bit. I love this city, but the lack of even the tiniest hill has started to wear on me. I don’t handle the flatlands very well.

This doesn’t mean I moved to the wrong place, by any means. It just means I will need to leave about once every 2 months and go see some mountains. Yes, I know. I’m a weirdo. But I happen to be addicted to very tall, pointy rocks. Call me crazy.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go all that far from Amsterdam to find mountains in Europe. Also, Switzerland is BOSS.

I hardly know where to start, because as I think back to those two-and-a-half days I spent in Switzerland, my brain is bombarded by memories of snow (SNOW!), fondue (CHEESE!), beer on the mountainside (BEER! IN THE SNOW!), and trying not to fall off a sledge and tumble down the mountain (DANGER!).

So I will start here: a good friend of mine moved to Geneva last fall. This was all very exciting to me, because we determined that once I moved to Europe (just a few months later) we MUST hang out (duh) and I really needed to be in a place with mountains, so this was all just too convenient.

So I flew to Geneva. Melissa met me at the airport. And then we went out for fondue because HOW COULD WE NOT?! I mean, I’ve never been to Switzerland.* It had to happen.

(I should probably mention here that the fondue was DELICIOUS. I mean, holy shit. Swiss cheese is the fucking bomb, man. Wow.)

The night ended there because we had to get up early (lame).  But not really lame, because on Saturday we caught a 7:30am train to Interlaken. I COULD HARDLY CONTAIN MY EXCITEMENT. I still can’t, apparently.

The whole thing was basically magic because Melissa had organized everything. So we got in, dropped our stuff at the hostel (which she had previously arranged, of course), and then went and had a leisurely lunch while overlooking the mountains. So romantic!

And then the REAL shit happened. We went UP one of those mountains. In a gondola. For like, half an hour. It was insane. I’ve never spent so many successive minutes in a gondola. It was truly epic.

And then at the top, we walked into the little ski shop and asked for sledges, just like we had been told to do by the woman in the hostel. And they gave us sledges. With basically zero instructions. And they said “Yeah, you just go down the mountain. Follow the purple signs. It takes about 2 hours.”

2 HOURS?! The whole thing was completely insane. Because…2 hours? How fucking high up were we?? And of course at first we couldn’t even find the purple signs. And then when we did, we realized it was fucking steep, and we had NO CLUE how to actually steer or stop our sledges.

So, as you do in such situations, you get on a sledge, point yourself downwards, and hope you don’t die.

Chester was Melissa’s steed, and he was a gentleman. For the first several kilometers, Chester slowly and steadily steered Melissa down the mountain (i.e. she dragged her heels because she was terrified and didn’t want to fall off a cliff, which is pretty reasonable if you ask me). On the other side was Tony, my very mischievous steed, who led me on a wild ride that involved a lot of yelling, a lot of very sharp corners, a collision with a snowbank, and several intentional falls to avoid going off the edge of the mountain. (All this is to say, I attempted to sledge down the mountain with abandon, and it’s pure blind luck that I’m still here to tell you this story.)

IMG_0019Melissa and Chester on their grand day out.

The best part of all of this was when we were actually stopped by an older Swiss gentleman who was taking a leisurely sledge trip down the mountain (probably a weekly ritual, judging by his skill level). After watching me careen wildly around a corner and nearly fly off a cliff, he asked “So, do you ladies actually know how to stop?” To which we very bluntly replied, “No! We don’t!” And then he rolled his eyes and showed us how. And he suggested we try to be more careful. Our response to this was to burst out laughing because seriously, WTF were we doing sledging down a mountain in the Swiss Alps?

After this we actually started to slowly get the hang of it. The turns became easier, we finally understood which side of the rope to pull when we wanted to go a certain direction, and we became more attuned to the mechanics of slowing down.

But then we arrived at our first crossing. Our very gradual and windy sledging path cut directly across one of the ski routes. So we had to look left for incredibly speedy skiers coming full speed down the mountain, and then make an attempt to cross at a time that would be expedient for both parties. This turned out to be a complete disaster, with our initial attempt to cross being thwarted by a human going 15x our speed towards us, at which point we got up off our sledges, grabbed the ropes, and ran screaming across the ski slope. Because we are classy like that.

And here’s the point where this story actually starts to get relevant: after what seemed like an age of continued sledging down the mountainside (it might have been an hour, in fact), we saw a very simple sign in the snow. It said ‘BEER’ with an arrow pointing to the right.

SALVATION WAS HERE.

We dragged our sledges up a short hill to the ski-in bar and stopped for a drink. Because when there is beer on a mountainside in the Swiss Alps, you literally can’t say no. (At least, I couldn’t. Because this seemed like pure MAGIC. How the fuck do they even get the beer up there?! There are no roads! Just skis! It’s fucking magic, I tell you.)

It was pretty clear that we were being laughed at by all the actual skiers and snowboarders around, because we had no idea what we were doing and we had “parked” our sledges in the ski-drop area like we belonged there. Which, perhaps, we didn’t. But IDGAF. It had to be done.

And then we drank oversized beers. Like you do in Switzerland.

Version 2The biggest beers! The best beers.

So I’m not sure if it was the size of the beer or the altitude (probably a combination of the two), but we were decidedly tipsy after our pit stop. And we had another half hour of sledging ahead of us before we reached the bottom of the slope.

So we continued on in a hilariously inebriated fashion, with many stops for photos (OMG LOOK HOW PRETTY) or (LET’S TAKE A SELFIE!) or (We’re not that drunk, this is still safe. Right?). There was a whole lot of giggling. And for a while there we thought we might be a bit too drunk, until we saw a guy on a sledge collide with his friend such that they both slid off the side of a small cliff, at which point we realized that we were still fine and weren’t that drunk after all.

IMG_0020We’re not that drunk! (No, we are that drunk.)

So the story doesn’t have a very exciting ending, I must admit. We made it down the mountain. No one died (that we’re aware of). And later that night we even managed to go out for what turned out to be a very lovely and authentic Swiss meal. (With wine! See, I told you we weren’t that drunk.)

(Ok. We might have been that drunk.)

*****

*That’s a lie. I had been to Switzerland once. But it was actually a really awful experience, which included a failed attempt at finding dinner (we drank beer instead), sleeping for 7 hours, nearly losing a drone on the mountainside, the smallest pain au chocolat in history, and then finally escaping into Italy. So mostly I try to forget it. (Although the drone story is pretty fucking great. Ask me to tell it to you sometime.)