Just as I contemplate clearing the old vinyl seat I get the phone call from a rather distressed wife. I tell her all is fine and that I made the station and was going to stay there and have a sleep and catch the train up in the morning. Well that didn’t go the way I would have hoped, she said,
"You could freeze, there are no doors and windows in that shed, stay awake and you must be over two thirds of the way home, see if you can keep going and moving."
Now I watched a lot of epic adventures and if Billy Connelly can sleep in a tent at -40 and the gods don’t come to get him, me staying in a shed at -10 when very, very warm will be a snack.
So, I wiped the grime off the vinyl seat and settled in for the night. Lessons were about to be given in short order as vinyl does not seem to warm up with body heat. It felt like lying on ice to start with and 10 minutes later it still felt like ice, and my warmth while walking was changing rather dramatically. The water inside my clothes was turning cold, very, very cold. No more wetsuit effect here and by not moving my cover of warmth got very, very cold.
With that, the words of the wise one started ringing in my ear. Don’t stay there, see if you can keep moving, there is another stop that the train doesn’t use that may be much better insulated through the next tunnel.
So with the cold chilling my skin under my big coat, I thought,
"Let’s make the push for the next one , and see if it is less naked than this excuse for a refuge."
So out I moved and turned left and up I trudged. The good news was the heart rate had settled and I did feel rested. I was now feeling very thirsty but nothing, at this pace to worry about, or so I thought.
Now, thinking of tunnels, I navigated the first one which was the blackest place I had ever been. In I went and as a coach you always have a plan, so my plan was to keep kicking the track with my shoes and feeling the wall as I went. Watching too many train and tunnel movies I was looking for the manhole where one jumps in on the side of the wall so the train can pass without taking you with it. So it was slow, very, very slow. I never noticed it was so long before, or could it be that I was moving along at such a slow pace, each step kicking the rail and feeing alongl the wall? Of course it could not be a straight tunnel but one that curves to the left then half way to the right. Don’t ask me why, just does, but it does in absolute darkness, pitch black. I kept thinking what a good place for a mugging.
Now why this tunnel is important is that I never felt one of those manholes on the side of the wall. This particular tunnel must have been built well before they decided this was a good safety precaution, so, of course, once I was approaching the new tunnel I had factored in, no wall holes keep moving along the wall as you will be much faster in this one.
So as I go in the wind suddenly disappears, the snow is no longer a problem underfoot and I am starting to warm up again, so all good. The first 30 to 40m yes, that is what I am down to measuring the journey in by now, goes very smoothly. I say to myself,
“This one is much better than the last time.“
As soon as I announce this to myself I disappear into the wall, arse over tit, into, yes you guessed it, a manhole. It would seem that they decided that in this tunnel we don’t want to run anybody over.
As I sat there just marvelling, not at the engineering but how stupid I could be, I started to think,
"You are buggered, you can hardly get up, it’s warmer here than the other place and you love being in dark spaces, what about staying here for the night?"
Now you can see delusional thinking can go hand in hand with tiredness but also dehydration makes one think of very strange things. As I lay there and make no attempt to get up, I start to think,
“Yes what a good idea, I will stay here”
So I sort of feel a rejuvenation straightaway. It’s not a big manhole, but surely if I make a ball, I will be fine. So I do but after 5 minutes I start re-thinking, it’s so dark that come morning and the first train is well before sun up now, which here is more like 9am than 7am, what happens if you are still asleep when the train comes through. This of course lead me to think of my sleeping habits. Do I lie still or am I restless, and if restless will I kick a foot out of this little hole and run the risk of a chance at the Paralympics?
These thoughts swirling around a half empty head made a lot of noise. Before I could think another thought I was upright and rearranging my clothes. I have never been a big fan of the Olympics so going to them with a leg missing was not in my bucket list of things to do anytime soon.
So on we went this time back kicking the tracks each step and going nowhere near that impostor wall. Through I go, only to be greeted with falling snow. By the time I got out of the tunnel I was hot again, very hot and the heart rate was rising and so was my temperature. I first thought I was just thirsty so I went for the snow, this will do nicely, or so I thought. A new thing learnt, snow near the tracks has a distinct taste to it not like the pure powder that lands on top of the mountains. I thought it was just me and my mind playing games again, but no. As I tried again it did taste shall we say, mechanical.
It did little to quench the thirst and just over 200m more travelled all my problems surfaced again. I stopped, thought my plight is hopeless as my legs were just gone, they would not move. I could not decipher whether it was from tiredness, being totally unfit, dehydrated, or yes, I hadn’t eaten now for over 12 hours. That too might have something to do with my plight but here I was standing looking up the tracks with snow falling down and me thinking,
“You are the most stupid man on the planet.”
My plight was only made a little better by my next thought, George W Bush is still alive and robbing people somewhere in Texas, so you can’t be the stupidest. But it was a small thought that brought a smile, only to turn into a chuckle when I thought the world was going to be saved by Obama and his second act was to put all the people in charge of the economy that helped create the economic bust in the first place. Yes, I sniggered, there are a lot of people out there like me.
Then rising out of the snowflakes, that I see no beauty in at all was a light. Yes, it was shining like a beacon. I had no energy at all 5 minutes ago but the saying light at the end of the tunnel is so true, it drew me to start walking almost immediately, like a moth to the flame. Maybe it is at the little shed that serves as a control box for the trains?
As my feet now sunk into the shin deep snow I was thinking how lucky I am that I did wear my long Ugg boots rather than my summer versions. Slowly but surely I made it to the light. It did indeed mark the second excuse for a station house. Again, like Ground Hog Day, no front door, windows without windows in them, dirty, messy and now with the new sticker, 80 CHF if you don’t buy a ticket before you get on the train. Unless the local resident fox was contracted as a ticket seller, the irony brought another smile to my face. Yes a human has been in here and seen the catastrophy and rather than get it cleaned up, spent some time putting up the new sticker to catch the hardened train criminals based in the mountain half way up to nowhere. Excellent, as Garth would say.
On reaching my target I was very happy with myself, I must be there. Take a rest and then up you go boy, it is easier from here. Famous last words I was later thinking. It was 3am, and I am thinking,
“Ok on the road you got there at 4.30 am, here is a goal, we should kill that, take a 10min break and then let’s move it move it move it."
The head has completely lost it now. Break the rest of the trip up I say, the villa where Scott, James and some times Joe stayed was almost overlooking the train track and the first one in sight each time I travelled on the train. It signalled that you are getting very close to the first Leysin train station which will have toilets water and warm places to rest.
So on we go, each turn of the track produced sadness of a very inconsolable kind, as I thought I was near the bottom of the township and thus around the next bend I would see the boys’ old unit and I could dream of being home. But each turn there was no villa, no nothing, just the chilling thought,
“I am no where near where I thought I was.”
However, the hamstrings and lower back were both in unison making me aware that it is indeed getting steeper, in fact much steeper. After the fact reconnaissance, always an eye opener, said the track rose at an average of 23%. No wonder my fat, fragile, soft body was collapsing under me. That’s steep in a car.
However, it’s too late now, no more refuge until I hit Leysin Village station. No that is not our finish destination as Leysin is a unique type of village, it is built on the side of the mountain not on a plateau so we have 3 stations in Leysin itself. So a very small place but lots of train stations all about 200m to 400m max between them, but they all service the side of the mountain so the village looks a bit like a 3 level town house. The village station is at the very bottom 1248 m, Vermont 1300m and my stop or beneath where my home is, is at 1430 m.
All that elevation is in a 500m tram line.
What goes up keeps going up !