After the first fifteen minutes of trekking uphill leaving Chamonix, France, with a 40-pound pack on my back, I remember thinking: “What have I gotten myself into”? I was on a nine-day trek in the Alps in the fall of 2008 with a GAP Adventure Tour, and when I planned the trip I had been looking forward to lots of wine, fresh bread and cheese. Now I was praying I wouldn’t keel over and die.
The first day we hiked up and down steep trails for eight hours. Not only were we carrying our gear, but we were also lugging lunch supplies. I was stuck with the melon. We ate lunch inside a little mountain hut, and all I could think about was how to persuade someone to eat this cursed fruit. While everyone else dug into an assortment of fresh bread, cheese, apples, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers, I realized I was having a feeling I had never experienced before – a loss of appetite.
The next morning, our guide announced that we would be hiking “up four hours, down two hours, up three hours, down two hours.” He seemed amused. I wanted to launch my melon at his head.
After a grueling day of trekking, we made the pass from France into a small town called Courmayeur in Italy. It was a true test of strength both mentally and physically: “Ignore the pain and admire the beauty” was my mantra to myself. Keep pushing yourself, because everything seems insignificant amongst the grandeur of these picture-perfect mountains. That night after dinner, the bottle of Limoncello was passed around, but I couldn’t even fathom taking a sip – I was already dreaming about my bed.
A couple of days later, we hiked into Switzerland, trekking through a snowstorm only to be greeted by a sunny, vivid green landscape minutes after we crossed over. We arrived in a little town called La Fouly during “Festival des Alps,” a celebration that revolves around honouring their citizens’ cows by parading them through the main street in brightly coloured party hats.
That was the same day I discovered the wonderful world of raclette: melted cheese, a crispy gherkin, and a couple of boiled potatoes and pearl onions. Huge wheels of cheese were brought out onto the cow dung–ridden street, ready to ooze onto your plate. The cheese was labeled by altitude and the number of cows used in production. Seven plates of raclette and many glasses of dry white wine later, I came to the conclusion that the higher the altitude and the greater number of cows, the weaker the cheese tasted. But the relaxing day was memorable for more than just gorging on raclette. We were able to hang out with the locals, try some moonshine and finally relax.
We had our last picnic lunch atop a mountain overlooking Chamonix, France. Sitting under a clear sky with a light breeze cooling my face, I finally felt it.
My stomach grumbled for the first time since we began trekking. I thought about how far we had come, and I reached for a crusty roll filled with creamy Camembert cheese. I grabbed handfuls of crunchy carrots and overripe tomatoes and crammed them into my mountainous sandwich. Breathing in a fresh lungful of air, I took a giant bite. It was the same food I had eaten all week, only this time my mouth salivated.
Just like the first explorers to trek these peaks, I savoured that sandwich as if I was eating it for the first time. I had grown stronger, matured like the wine being passed around the group. My melon was long gone, but I would carry that baby back through the Alps any day.