Post 12: Tour de Alps

Alps

Wow!

That’s about all I can say.

For the past 24 hours, I have had the opportunity to crisscross the mountainsides in Switzerland, running (and crawling) up steep climbs for miles and taking in some breathtaking views and breath-clenching odors of cow dung.

As I continue to train for the Grandfather Mountain Marathon in July, I was looking forward to testing my mountain legs (or lack thereof) in the Alps during this European vacay…these mountains didn’t disappoint.

I completed three runs in a 24-hour stretch for a total of 26 miles. Unlike most “hilly” or “mountain” runs in central North Carolina, 26 miles in the Alps means 13 miles straight up and 13 miles straight down.

With the little sleepy valley town of Giswil as my central command, I utilized my local map (of which I could understand about five words) and set off up a different mountainside for each run in distances of 12, eight, and six miles.

WARNING: This land was not made for fat guys…only fat cows.

It’s so damn steep!

A mix of paved, gravel, and dirt trails make their way up the mountainsides at a rate of 500-700 feet of gain per mile.

Oh yes…the cows. They are everywhere!

On my longer 12-mile journey, I climbed nearly 3,000 feet in a six mile stretch. I saw three or four other hikers enjoying the day, one single motorcycle, zero cars, and about 500 cows…especially in the higher country.

Cows

These animals live on steep hillsides with electric fences keeping them penned in (or maybe to catch them if they start to roll?). Uniquely, they each have bells around their necks which seem to ring every time they swat at a fly and can be heard from a valley away. The pure mountain air and water is supposedly the key to the milk that creates the famous Swiss chocolate, the best in the world.

That could be, but I left these encounters pretty inspired for another reason.

How does an animal that is 10 times my weight live their whole life on the steepest mountains in the world? Talk about Attitude and Effort! Surely, if these cows can climb the mountains every day, us fat guys can lug our girth up some North Carolina hills once in a while.

Hmm…maybe there’s something to the bell?

I was further amazed by the organization and breadth of trails through the area, especially in the remote higher sections. Each route was marked and signs were placed at each intersection providing directions to nearby towns. Cycling is obviously huge in this part of Europe and many paths were completely closed to motorized vehicles, a dedicated route for cyclists and random running fat guys from the USA.

Sign

Despite packing a lot of miles (and climbs) into a short period of time, my body actually held up fairly well. Maybe the constant dinner bells kept me motivated? I certainly took my time through each run to take photos and take in the views. It was always exciting to see what was over the next ridge.

It did strike me that I did not see one fat Swiss person, only fat Swiss cows. Although this limits my potential readership in Switzerland, it illustrates an important point. Need to lose some weight? Go on an extended Swiss vacation…just watch out for the flies and cow dung.

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