Today’s Miles: 0
Total Miles: 3,325.3
Aarau, Switzerland – December 18, 2016
Fritz spreads the map of Switzerland across the table and we both stare at it. The map doesn’t change from the first thousand times I looked at it. The Alps are still there, pushed into the sky by crashing tectonic plates before men ever learned to speak, rising like a giant wall between Italy and me.
Fritz traces a line with his finger, snaking south past Lucerne, into the heart of the range where the mountains are thick and tall. Water has not sat idle in the years since the shifting Earth lifted the Alps into the sky. Rain, snow, and ice have carved cracks between the peaks, long river valleys cutting into the mountains.
Fritz slides his finger over a ridge. On the other side, a different valley snakes out to the south, dropping out of the mountains, falling away into Italy. I stare at the flat land to the south, an open path to the sea, and dream of warm days and sunshine.
But my eyes always return to that inch of the map between the two valleys, that inch where the mountains still reign, where the rocks are still stubborn.
There’s a road over it, an old one that snakes back and forth to climb each side. It has been closed since October and won’t open again until spring or summer depending on how much snow falls. The new road is open year round, but it’s a 16.9 kilometer tunnel that dives underneath the mountains, too afraid to face them in winter.
Miriam’s dad printed me a picture of the old road a week ago. It’s from the spring, when they opened the pass again. There is a woman standing on the plowed pavement next to a snowbank that rises three times above her head.
“But that’s the end of the season,” Fritz tells me. “There hasn’t been so much snow this year.”
There was a bit in November, but the Föhn, a warm southern wind, melted it back down. There’s snow still, of course, up high in the pass—this is December in the Alps after all—but there’s not much. Not yet, anyway, not until the next storm comes. But when will that be and can I reach the pass before it does?
The weather looks good for the next six days. Fritz and I plot out the best routes for me to walk. I calculate miles. I think I can reach the start of the pass in four days for sure, maybe three if I push. Fritz disappears downstairs and comes back with a pair of snowshoes.
“I’ll meet you there,” he says. “And we can cross the pass together.”
I grin at him and he grins back. I think of the day we met, the five minutes in Finnmark and the rain and how I said we were the only ones crazy enough to be out in that weather.
I stare at the map again. I look at that one inch over the mountains, at the valleys reaching deep on either side, at the low, warm Italian countryside to the south stretching away to the Mediterranean. One inch and I can escape winter.