“Alperose” in Colorado

19 05 2015

I have never crossed the Rocky Mountains on land, so therefore I have also never actually physically been in the Rocky Mountains prior to this trip. (I have skied in Lake Louise, but that’s in Canada, so it doesn’t count.) But every October I watch the World Cup ski races from Beaver Creek, which is, for all intents and purposes, Vail.

So when we planned an overnight pit stop in Vail, I was thrilled to finally be able to see what a Rocky Mountain ski resort actually looks like. And, well, it kind of looks like… a ski resort in the Alps, just lots bigger. Here we are in the center of the continental United States and I had no idea I had landed back in Europe. We have “Austria House” next door to a hotel called “Sonnenalp”, which houses a restaurant called “Swiss Chalet”. I have not seen this many Swiss flags since I left the Confoederatio Helvetica more than two years ago.

Ode to the Confoederatio Helvetica!

All this alpine glory (and I will be honest, Vail is beautiful… I wish I could afford to come here during ski season) made us truly hungry for the Old Country. So for dinner we stopped in at “Alpenrose” and chowed down on Wiener Schnitzel with Spätzle followed by warm and heavenly Apfelstrudel.

Oh boy... Yum!!!!

Oh boy… Yum!!!!

Many of you may simply associate the word “Alpenrose” with a bucolic high Alpine meadow, and the cute little flowers that are the definition of clean air, water, nature and… wholesomeness.

I, however, having spent 9 years living in Switzerland, tend to associate it with Swiss rock singer Polo Hofer whose 1982 song by the same name (sung in a Bernese Swiss German dialect, understandable only to those who have grown up speaking it, like my husband, who translated it for me) has become a de facto national anthem. It is played/sung/karaoke-ed at pretty much every festival/concert/birthday party/wedding/graduation/funeral in Switzerland.

It tells a fairly simple story, really: A summer love between a hiker and a lady-friend, set on one of those bucolic mountain meadows amid those cute little flowers. When the fall comes, it starts snowing and she takes off. And every time he looks up to those Alps, he remembers her and wishes it wasn’t so.

As we finished up our Apfelstrudel in Vail, I almost half expected to see Polo himself walk out of the kitchen crooning, “Alperooooooose chöme mir i Sinn…..! Alperooooooose sy das gsy denn…. Alperooooooose müesse das gsy sy….. Wo näbe üs im Höi gläge sy!”

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The mighty race called Gigathlon

29 05 2012

Today in a month is the first day of Gigathlon 2012. For those of you who remember my heroic efforts at last year’s event, you will shake your heads and cry for me. For those of you who do not, here are the stories from before and after.

Gigathlon is a Swiss invention, and encompasses every hobby-athlete’s worst nightmare: five disciplines (swimming, running, mountain-biking, road cycling and inline skating), performed on two days (including two nights sleeping in a tent on a campground), in the midst of mountains. There are three categories: single (the serious nutsos), couple (similar nutso-potential, divided by two) and team of five (mostly sane, mostly rational individuals). I am a team-player and as you know, I skate.

Final equipment check before hitting the road

Gigathlon 2012 is, at first glance, a somewhat tamer version of last year’s event, where as a team, we climbed 2,500 more altitude-meters (8,000 feet) than Mount Everest is high. This summer’s event takes place in the Swiss midlands (as opposed to the Alps) and is, at least as far as the inline skater is concerned, seemingly civilized. It’s like they took last year’s two skate-legs and ironed them flat. But what the routes are lacking in altitude difference they make up in lateral distance. If I make it safe through the two days, I will have skated nearly 100 kilometers (60 miles) in less than 36 hours.

Take a moment to think about that because I don’t really want to.

My team this year comprises three women (road cyclist, runner and moi) and two men (mountain-biker and swimmer). We call ourselves the “Flying Five” and our bib number is 1984 (a very good year, for me at least). Our average age is, I’ll say, late-30ish. It just got bumped up a notch yesterday because I turned 42.

Last summer the skaters had the privilege of kicking off the event on both race days, giving me a wake-up call at 0-dark-30 two days in a row. While 4,000 other gigathletes were still snoring in their tents on the campground, visions of energy drinks dancing in their heads, we 1,000 or so skaters were busy tightening wheels by flashlight, strapping on protective equipment, lining up in front of the porta-potties and limbering up sore and aching muscles.

(Let’s just say I ain’t no great fan of camping.)

In this year’s race, “Urban Saturday” for me will begin at 4am. Again. Grrr. And off I go, for 52 kilometers (32.5 miles).

Yellow = skater, blue = swimmer, black = mountain-biker, red = road cyclist, green = runner.

At least I get to sleep in on Sunday, when I am the third of the five relay athletes in my team. I shall certainly be celebrating, on “Celebrating Sunday,” for another mere 40 more kilometers (25 miles).  Piece of cake.

Follow the yellow brick road…

The Flying Five aim to finish the race uninjured, and within the time limit (ie. daylight). I have taken Monday off from work, just in case we need a little longer than planned.





Something this girl has just got to do

18 11 2011

There are some days when a girl’s just gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Like today, for example. Today, I just had to go fly.

Not because I had to get from point A to point B, and not because I had to quickly get some more flight time under my belt (or in my logbook) because my license or my rating expires next week. None of that. I just had to go fly, well, for the love of flying.

A little snippet of heaven.

The ocean of fog that envelops Zurich for most of every autumn lifted briefly this morning, and for the first time in what seems like a month, crystal-clear blue skies dominated from horizon to horizon. Wow! The sun! It’s still up there! Let’s go touch it, why don’t we?

I decided to trek up to the airfield for probably the last time this year, before the first winter storm puts the grass strip under 2 meters (6 feet) of snow.

HB-CFF is a trusty old bird who has accompanied me across this country and back already. She’s small and snug, has just two seats and is about the same age as I am, but handles like she just came off the Cessna production line. I wasn’t planning on going far, I just wanted to test my landing skills… I wanted to train, to practice, alone. To be aware of every rote task I perform in the cockpit as if I had never done it before – but with the self-assurance of a pilot who has done it a million times already. I would fly a few circuits around the airport and the region while enjoying the sunset and the Alps in the distance.

My ride had enough fuel and oil on board to take me over the mountains to Italy if I had wanted her to.

I took off to the north, and as I climbed into the open sky, I saw in the distance a fresh wall of fog, getting ready to roll back in my direction. The sun perched precariously on the peaks to the west, as color slowly bled out of the scenery below me. The blue hour was approaching fast.

The special thing about today’s flight was that there was absolutely nothing special about it – except for the spectacular view. It was routine, uneventful and safe. There was no weather or crosswind to speak of, just one or two others using the runway, and the visibility stretched clear across the central Swiss lowlands. It was simply magical.

Every time I fly I am reminded that there is no place I would rather be than in the cockpit, looking at the world from above.

After five gentle touch-and-gos, my confidence in my landings reinforced, I taxied back to the hangars and shut her down. It was quiet up at the field, already completely in shadow, with only the deep clanging of cow’s bells echoing across the valley. Six aircraft, finished with their duty for the day, were lined up in two neat rows.

Waiting for tomorrow’s adventures.





A teeny tiny vacation

26 08 2011

Today is the second anniversary of my skating accident. August 26th, 2009 is a day that will live on in infamy – read all about it here, if you wish.

Physically, I’ve pretty much recovered. I do still have some pain when doing a handstand or a cartwheel, and the flexibility in my left wrist is probably about 95 percent of what it used to be. But I can live with that. Psychologically, however, I still have trouble when I am traveling at speed and faced with a situation where I have to trust others to react correctly. I have a split-second to chart and signal my path, and I just never know what that other nutcase coming towards me – be it on a bicycle, attached via leash to a dog or with composite rubber wheels strapped to his/her feet – is going to do.

In celebration of two more or less accident-free years on skates (not counting my two splashes during last year’s Berlin Marathon), I decided to go for a mini-hike this morning, close to home. I had always wanted to walk up the hill that rises up high above the town I live in, near Zurich – to diversify my training and take a break from my rollerblades for a day. At the top there is a cafe with a terrace that features a panorama view: the city is to the left, its eponymous lake front and center, and the Alps rise off in the distance to the right. It’s simply spectacular.

...isn't it?

A cable car links the town in the valley with the recreation area on the crest of the range… the altitude difference is probably only about 400 meters but looks like significantly more. This is my preferred method of getting to the top, usually in anticipation of that wonderful, frothy latte macchiato that’s waiting for me there. But today’s mission was to propel myself up the trail as long as the weather held and it wasn’t too hot.

Cable cars are for wimps, anyway.

After about 15 minutes along, I decided that the next time I see the words “very steep ascent” on a hiking trail sign, I will believe them.

But the quiet (except for my heavy breathing) and the solitude of the forest (except for the baby snake lying across the trail that jumped about a foot as I approached, scaring the bejeeses out of me) felt like a little tiny vacation from real life.

Once up top, I decided that it was too soon to go back and continued on along the ridge for a few miles. Somewhere, I took another path back down I had never gone before, passing idyllic meadows with cows grazing peacefully in the sunshine. Arrived home after about 2 hours, soaked in sweat, knowing I had done my duty for the day.

What a great morning. What a great workout. Sometimes the world really is alright.





Independence day in Swiss German

31 07 2011

This weekend Switzerland celebrates its 720th birthday. Every year on August 1st, the Swiss gather with their families, raise the flag, fire up the barbecue and shoot off some fireworks. They sing traditional yodeling songs, dress up in funny clothes and celebrate their unique identity, culture and language.

A specimen of Homo Helveticus in traditional celebratory garb.

Hm. Kind of like we do on July 4th.

And though I cannot with a good conscience completely disparage my life here (it has its merits), and with all due respect to my Swiss friends and readers (they are great folks to have around), an incident last week once again made me wonder what the hell I ever did to piss anyone off in this tiny insignificant piece of overpriced real estate at the center of Europe. Other than live here and breathe air.

For six years and eight months I have attempted to learn the rules of one of the most exclusive places on earth. And the Swiss set very high standards for immigrants like myself, expecting them to internalize these rules from the moment we set foot in the country. They also have a tight surveillance network of spies for the purpose of enforcement. They call them “neighbors.”

In addition, those Swiss people in the German-speaking part of the country do it in an archaic language made infinitely more complex for the unknowing foreigner by its many dialects. I call this phenomenon “preserving linguistic discrimination.” My Swiss friends call it “preserving linguistic pluralism.”

The other day at work I had a lady on the phone who was looking for a report my company had recently published. She spoke a Swiss German dialect that I had trouble understanding. I asked her in high (proper) German for her name and the company she worked for. She responded with something unintelligible, to which I said, “Excuse me, could you please repeat that?” This was the answer I got (in dialect of course, at increased volume):

“If you want to speak with me then you will have to speak with me in my Zurich dialect of Swiss German because the only other language I speak is Swahili.”

Well, I thought. So much for friendly natives.

(And for those of you who have never actually heard Swiss German – you would be forgiven for thinking it really was Swahili. At least by me.)

I responded that unfortunately I could not send her the report, and that she wouldn’t be able to read it anyway, because it was only published in English, and not in her Zurich dialect of Swiss German or Swahili. And I hung up.

So this coming Monday, while four million German-Swiss wave their flags and proclaim in their myriad of dialects how wonderful their country is (and three million more doing the same thing in French, Italian or Rumantsch), I will quietly enjoy a day off work, a month late. We will surely also raise the Stars & Stripes, fire up the grill and light a sparkler or two.

Do me a favor and pass the steak sauce and the Miller Lite, will ya?





Requiem for Pascale

18 07 2011

It was just another cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, one that passes for “summer” here in Zurich. I had gone out for a walk in the mud and some fresh air, and when I returned, the SMS message was waiting for me.

“Please call me,” from probably the last person on earth I expected to hear from on a Sunday. Something was up.

I called.

Gayle answered by saying my name: “Evelynn, Hi.”

“Hi, what’s going on?”

Silence.

“What happened?”

“Evelynn, I have to tell you…. I… something bad… ”

She couldn’t even say the words.

“What happened? Is it about Pascale? Did something happen to Pascale?” I had sent our mutual girlfriend several messages the days before and had received no response. That was not like her and I was starting to wonder.

“How do you know?”

“I DON’T know… Know WHAT? Tell me! What happened?”

“Evelynn… Pascale is… Pascale is dead.”

And then she told me about how she just found out that our friend went hiking alone in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino last Thursday, slipped, and fell off a mountain. How an emergency search & rescue helicopter later found her body among the rocks in a deep ravine.

She was 38 years old.

Full of life, with boundless energy, and ambitious plans. With a smile as wide as Montana.

Pascale was my nordic walking buddy. She lived in the next town over and we would often meet to gossip and stride through the rolling meadows and woods that straddle the two municipalities. In summer we enjoyed brilliant sunshine, in the company of cows, and savored the smell of the flowers and grasses in bloom. In winter we would meet after sunset, the short days making for frigid and sometimes treacherous going on icy paths.

That was our favorite time to walk and talk: in the dark, making tracks after a fresh, quiet snowfall.

Pascale was the co-snow-bunny I featured right here in my blog a few months ago. On skis she was mostly fearless, but she never let me take her flying.

Pascale and Gayle were colleagues at a previous employer, and the three of us remained friends even after she and I quit our jobs there. We all are just a few years apart, similar in physique and character: tall, with long, straight, dark blond hair, athletic, extroverted, loud and very demanding of ourselves and others. We always wanted so much more out of our lives and careers than the men we had to work with were willing to concede.

We got together for regular ladies’ lunches and dinners at swanky restaurants across this outrageously expensive city to have a fantastic meal, philosophize about life and celebrate ourselves.

Our last ladies’ lunch was just two weeks ago, also on a Thursday, at a hip Fusion-style restaurant just around the corner from the workplace where we first met almost exactly five years earlier. For dessert we ordered champagne, toasted each other and the great things that lay in all of our futures. We wondered how much fun it might be to start a business together.

I still see Pascale standing on Zurich’s busy main commercial avenue, Bahnhofstrasse, that afternoon. She was wearing a light blue blouse and slacks, and carried a large white handbag. The pearl bracelet on her wrist jingled as she checked her phone for messages. We said goodbye, kissed each other three times on alternating cheeks.

“Don’t be a stranger,” I said.

“I’ll call you,” she responded.

With a flick of her long blonde mane she turned away and melted into the crowd.

Pascale. March 4, 1973 - July 14, 2011.





On the Rocks at Gigathlon 2011

4 07 2011

We did it.

Our team of five crossed the finish line of Gigathlon 2011 in 705th place and after 26 hours and 1 minute of racing – safe, without injury, exhausted and overjoyed. Which is more than a lot of other participants can say.

For those of you unfamiliar with Gigathlon, go ahead and read my previous two blog entries, here and here so that the rest of this story makes sense to you.

The "race of death" begins.

I anticipated Saturday’s skate to be challenging, but not impossible. The night on the campground had been sleepless, frigid and uncomfortable, but 33 kilometers (21 miles) of mostly flat and slight downhill grades wasn’t rocket science. If nothing else, it would be a great morning training run.

We hit the road at 8am, and I wanted to try to get my day’s work done in less than 90 minutes. Long, straight speed passages took the pace up to about 60 km/h, much too high for some skaters. The result: mass roadkill. I sped by at least 7 bodies lying in various states of injury and disrepair left and right along the route. Later I heard that there was a huge pileup somewhere behind me and one participant even broke a leg. Ouch.

For me, the 33 kilometers flew by without incident (I will spare you the details of my close calls – tree roots peeking out of asphalt like mini-speed-bumps, train tracks popping up unannounced, hidden potholes, hairpin turns) in a solid 1 hour and 25 minutes. I thought that was pretty darn fast till I looked at the standings. But whatever. We weren’t here to set a world record, we just wanted to cross the finish line in one piece.

Bruised and bloodied (and taped and bandaged) but not broken, skaters braved a 4am wake-up call the next morning to really find out what they were made of. We were off again before sunrise, to attack a 6-kilometer flat stretch followed by a 14-kilometer climb up the side of a mountain. The vertical difference between start and finish was 750 meters – that’s about half the depth of Grand Canyon.

On skates. Poles optional.

Since I had never done anything this crazy before, I had no idea how long it would take me. I told my teammates to expect me in two to three hours. But I was in the business of just making it to the finish line before the sweeper bus, and trying not to worry about the competition or the clock.

My mantra crawling up that hill? “This is about the dumbest thing I have ever attempted. This is about the dumbest thing I have ever attempted. This is about the dumbest thing I have ever attempted. This is about the dumbest thing….”

And it worked. I arrived in 2 hours and 26 minutes. As far as I am concerned that’s closer to two hours than to three. Mission accomplished.

This is what sheer exhaustion looks like. And that gingerbread man in the background is mocking me.

36 hours later, endorphins are still playing tricks on my sanity. Despite the pain, I am enthralled. The event has a certain irresistible, fatal allure.

So when the last muscle stops aching, when the sleeping bag is washed and folded away, and when registration for Gigathlon 2012 begins, I’m not sure I will be able to take full responsibility for my actions.

In the meantime, I certainly will have one “on the rocks”. I think I earned it.

***********

Personal Note: Many, many thanks to the other four members of Gigathlon 2011 team “Isches nah wiiiiit?” –  Thierry (Team Captain and intrepid cyclist), Roman (our mountain-goat-like runner), Miriam (knock-‘em-dead swimmer) and Lauri (master of disaster mountain biker) – for taking me up into your ranks at such short notice. You are all unbelievable athletes and you accomplished the impossible last weekend. I’m so proud of you.