Monday, September 22, 2014

The Second Time Up

I wasn't even half an hour in before I was sure I couldn't do it.

It was the second time today I had tripped over that selfsame root; crossed creakingly over that same cable bridge; stepped the same pattern across the same rocks. The first time had taken me to the top wingsuit exit of the Jungfrau -- which I use as a speed launch. It's three hours up the face of the mountain at a brisk pace. The trail is a grassy, stony staircase from top to bottom, interrupted only by a single short traverse that leaves you clinging uneasily to the peeling rock at your right as you arrange the inside half of your feet to thin striations running along a knife-sheer slope.

It is not easy.

But here I am again.

The first time, I had arrived at launch shaking and sweat-drenched, as everyone does. I had taken a little extra time to sit before launching, pressing my palms into the Jungfrau's glacier-buffed shoulder and watching the far, far-below treeline comb the clouds. I was deliciously alone, and I had enjoyed the simple fact of being-done; of having-arrived. I had launched with the intention of heading straight to the sauna and ironing the wooden burls I felt forming in my thighs.

But then I was a little careless.

I launched beautifully; flew triumphantly. The flight was a delight, but when I landed I discovered that I must have tucked my brand-new phone too shallowly into its pocket. It was gone.

I arrived home somewhat deflated, launching into insurance claims, filling out the forms. Suddenly, it occurred to me that there's an app that geolocates lost and stolen devices. Hey, I thought. This'll be a funny screenshot: a little green dot that shows where in the impenetrable Swiss forest your phone has fallen. A little bitter, maybe, but funny. So I popped it open and prepared a wry laugh.

I never got the chance.

The green dot was not over impenetrable forest. It was perched right on the edge of the shaded grey that describes the edge of launch from the top view.

It was up there, probably.

And worth a thousand dollars to check.

And the rain is coming, so it has to be today.

So there I was, alone again, half an hour in and stumbling a little already, my speedwing bag digging deep into the groove it had already worn in my shoulders from this morning's adventure, wet and cold with sweat.

I can't do this, I thought. Way too much to ask of these legs.

But I have to get past the treeline. There's a launch at the hut there and flag to judge the wind by. A simple launch that even my tenderized body and brain can handle. Hey, I tried. It's not even a failure. Not really.

But when I got to that launch, I heard the thunder of the waterfall just over the ridge.

I'm out of water and I'm so thirsty and there's another launch just beyond the water, I'm pretty sure.

We'll just get there, huh? Just a little bit further.

And once at the water, I remembered that there's an even nicer launch just up this little steep bit. A little more work for lots more flight. No-brainer.

And then I was *so* close to the turnoff for the second trail. I could see it up there -- such a nice bookend for this adventure, with a nice place to sit and have a snack and drink from the spring and launch nice and high.

And then, sitting up there, it stopped being about the damn phone.

There, next to me, was the steep spill of the traverse, sitting silent under murky silver skies churning up rain. And at the end of the traverse, the almost-kinda-bouldering bit where you pull chunks of the mountain off in your hands until you find a rock that sticks and mince your way up to the next one. And then after that, the little chain section, which snakes up a chimney to the green hummocks that drip with snowmelt all the way to the top.

The top. Which is far over my head from where I sit, but where I know every step to reach. Because I've just done it alone once today, and I suddenly know that I can do it again.

Twenty feet further, my cooled-off muscles start to seize up.

I'm on the rope section when my thighs stop being able to contract without cramping into near-uselessness. I start to hear a rubber-on-rubber sound coming from my knees. I pick my legs up with my hands and place them on the next foothold, like I'm learning to walk on stilts.

Every step is a fight -- but the rain is coming in earnest, now, swirling petrichor in my nostrils.

I am almost out of time.

I place every step with religious intention. Every. Single. One. Hurts.

I'm staring so hard at my shrieking, howling, stubborn, refusing legs that it surprises me when the marker cairn suddenly appears at my left.

There it is. One more slope, shrugging a truckload of knife-sharp scree from its white shoulders, and I can get the fuck off this rock.

It takes me half an hour. I zigzag up the hill without pattern, suddenly aware that I'm suddenly in the possibly-maybe vicinity of that dropped phone, casting my eyes along the gloomy ground, suddenly realizing that finding one small, jet-black piece of plastic on a mountain of loose stone is a fool's errand entire. It might be here. However, if it is, it is certainly hiding, buried in the endless tumble of dark, phone-sized stone.

But this wasn't really about the phone, was it?

It's about the fact that my body; my brain; my focus did not crumple. I am here, sore and heaving but with -- miraculously -- a bit of energy to spare.

And then it's there.

Suddenly. Sitting alone on the slope's single bare rock, like an offering. It's whole, and even unscratched.

I'm still mystified as I pick it up, call down my flight, carefully restow it and unfurl my wing. I launch moments before the weather bursts. This is a running takeoff with the wind working against me, sprinting down the shifting pile of knife-thin shale...but I nail it.

I fly.

As I gather up my wing from the grass at the bottom of the mountain, I remember the words of my favorite yoga teacher. "Your body can do so much more," she'd say, patting a lazy leg into action, "Than your brain wants it to."

Couldn't agree more.

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