Archive for Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wristen: Mountain journey rekindles fire

August 17, 2006

The dream of every sportswriter is to work in a city where people crave reading the newspaper.

There's a sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing the community you serve is passionate about the teams you cover.

Still, over time the job can become exhausting, especially when you cover sports in a community loaded with successful programs like Lansing. After all, the Lions won four Kaw Valley League championships during the 2005-2006 school year.

Friends made on the hikes are as memorable as the stunning scenery of the mountain peaks and plush valleys. Here, I'm with new friends Sam and Catherine on the nicest weather day of the trip.

Friends made on the hikes are as memorable as the stunning scenery of the mountain peaks and plush valleys. Here, I'm with new friends Sam and Catherine on the nicest weather day of the trip.

Keeping up with every team every day takes its toll. Eventually you have to get away and catch your breath. You have to escape for a while to salvage your sanity. Parents do it when they take the family to the beach. Some families skip a summer tournament to go to Disney World. Others head to the Ozarks.

My escape involved nine days in Europe, the most valuable being five inspiring days in Switzerland and four days hiking in the Swiss Alps.

The journey to the Alps fulfilled a dream I first had 10 years ago when my family went to Europe. It was our last family vacation. We toured 11 countries in three weeks in the summer of 1996. The only one I cared to return to was Switzerland. Perhaps I was just caught up in the moment - later that summer my dad and I spent two weeks backpacking at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico - but while in Lucerne, Switzerland, I told my dad I wanted to return to the country with a backpack on my shoulders.

I never forgot about that plan.

Battling a serious case of writer's block, I finally felt the urge to take a vacation. There was one clear solution to cure my burnout: Run off to the Swiss Alps. Make the journey. Fulfill the dream. Run my legs ragged on rocky trails. Overdose on fresh mountain air.

Maneuvering through a tricky spot while climbing Schilthorn.

Maneuvering through a tricky spot while climbing Schilthorn.

I dug out the old external frame pack from my Philmont trek, wiped the cobwebs off my Timberlands and boarded a plane. Leaving behind my two crutches - my laptop computer and cell phone, I disappeared to a quaint mountain hostel for an invigorating break from my normal journalistic routine.

The Alps are the Disney World of those who love the outdoors. There are no rides, no TVs, no 3D glasses or IMAX big screens. Who needs that artificial stuff when you've got the real thing right before your eyes?

In the Alps, the daily routine is simple: Roll out of bed at dawn, fix a few fresh eggs, grab a cup of coffee and set off on the trails.

One day it's a hike to a glacier with new friends from Wisconsin and New Castle. Then there's a grueling solo 2 1/2-hour uphill climb to the Tanzbodeli summit for a stunning 360-degree view of the surrounding peaks and valleys. There's also a six-mile day hike with girls from Washington, D.C. and Canada where the conversation is as enjoyable as the jaw-dropping mountain views in every direction.

The final stretch of the five-hour ascent to the Schilthorn summit. No easy footing anywhere.

The final stretch of the five-hour ascent to the Schilthorn summit. No easy footing anywhere.

The grand finale is a nine-person, five-hour march to the snow-capped summit of Mt. Schilthorn where the 1969 James Bond flick "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was set. You even feel a bit like Bond when you make it to the summit, because the last 600 meters sends you teetering along narrow snow- and ice-slicked ledges.

By the time the journey is over, legs are weary, but the mind is dancing with vigor. Maybe there really is magic in the mountain air. Perhaps there's something in the water that, when drunk right from the river, reinvigorates your core. Maybe it's the enlightening discussions and heart-warming friendships with other hikers from around the world that rekindles the spirit. It's probably a combination of all three, but you leave the mountains behind feeling refreshed and ready to conquer the world.

As the wheels of the Continental Airlines Embraer RJ145 touched down for a less-than-smooth landing Sunday night at Kansas City International Airport, I took a deep breath and exhaled. Part of me was sad the vacation was over. The other part was giddy to return to my journalistic routine.

I miss the solitude of the mountains and the good people I met along my journey, but I'm glad to be home. Another exciting sports year is on tap at Lansing High. It's time to get back to work.

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