Fabulous hiking and face-planting in Switzerland

Watching the a bike race from Italy on TV the other night reminded me just how insanely dangerous road cycling is.  Peter and I saw David Villieux from the Europcar Team win his first big one ahead of some heavy hitters.  En route to his solo victory, our fellow Canuck almost shoulder checked a brick wall and went off course on another fast twist in the descent.  Behind in the chase group, two very good pros hit the deck.  There are always dangerous race courses but, from my experience, crashes like this happen when there is poor support from the race organization.


We saw it when Villieux was out front without a lead motorcycle in sight guiding the way.  He was taking risks, yes, but these guys are so skilled they can fly down the most technical downhills with ease.  The taillights on the lead moto are what tell how sharp a turn is.  When the brake lights go on, you know it’s a tight one.  At least that’s how I did it.


Anyway….after watching this race and the podium circus after, where Villieux took guidance from a seasoned Italian pro as to where to put the trophy, the basket of local delicacies, the champagne, the green t-shirt that a local government authority persisted in having in each and every podium photo taken….really it was a funny thing to watch this all unfold and see one of the guys prick his finger with the roses while decked out in white lycra….what to do?!?  After watching this I went on and on on yesterday’s 31km hike in Switzerland just how dangerous road racing is.


It’s something I’ve talked about a fair amount in the past few months after having some nasty crashes.  One of which broke my back.  It was back in May in a race in Gatineau, Quebec that a rider took herself out in front of me leaving me with nowhere to go but into her mess on the ground.


She took me out and because I was too close to her I went down hard.  I wrote about this awhile ago but didn’t share the details of the fracture.  Simply did not want to have to answer questions about an injury of this nature leading into the Olympics.  The agony continued and I knew something was wrong.  Over four weeks of vomit-inducing pain was not normal.  Every therapist that worked on the area only made it worse.


So, I went back to Canada and had an MRI that indeed showed a fracture in the T7 vertebra.  The spinous process was broken off.  Before this crash I had no idea what these terms meant.  Now I have a good understanding of the spine and know clearly how lucky I was to have only broken this.  The spinus process is the knob on the spine you can feel if you run your hand on your spine.


What was causing the pain was the joint above.  It locked itself up to protect the broken area.  I had been racing and training with the fracture in such pain that even when the fracture healed, the pain would remain because the joint was the problem.


So, after a few more weeks an no relief, I went to France to get the joint released from the best therapist in the world that I know.  And it worked.  After two months of agony, I was pain free after an split second adjustment.  It seemed like a miracle.  A miracle that brought so much relief that I felt joy inside.  Absolute joy after dealing with such agony.  I seriously understand how people can get addicted to pain killers after this experience.  Not that I took any, but I get it how the relief from the pain can be so addictive when it’s there all the time.


But the point of this whole story is not my broken back.  Not the dangers of bike racing.  It’s the hike we did yesterday.  Such a glorious hike in Switzerland up along a neon blue glacier, over a rocky pass and down into a lush valley.  A 30-km walk in the mountains that lasted six and a half hours or so.  Such a beautiful day with heat down low and a cool breeze up high.  With berries galore overflowing the trailsides offering the biggest wold blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.


It’s about the dangers of hiking.  The risks of walking.  The potential tumbles to be taken each and every step of the way.  It’s as if as soon as you take your eyes off the path, a rock or a route jumps up and trips you.  Seriously.


We witnessed it last week in Italy first hand with a helicopter rescue of a hiker trapped and injured up high in a gully.  I experienced it on a much lesser scale about twenty-five kilometers into our hike when, after not seeing a soul for what seemed like hours, two women appeared on the trail ahead.


We’d been making our way down about a thousand foot descent to where we started and had a good rhythm- part hike, part jog- going and I was a bit surprised to see two rather styling ladies on the trail ahead.  The first of the two asked me in French  if they were almost there or something like that.  I looked up, trying to register that they were human and what they were asking, translating the french to english then thinking what my response would be and translating that back into french when suddenly I found myself air born.


Yes, there I was, right in front of these cosmopolitan hiking ladies doing a face plant.  I had my thumbs hooked into the straps on my day pack like I always do after so many hours of walking, and I was going down hard.  Midway before hitting the dirt, my calf started to cramp, which I will blame from me saving the fall.


And then I hit.  Ouch.  F***.  I swore and laid there in the dirt in a state of shock.  Peter immediately came to me and asked if I was okay.  The cramp in my calf was so intense I had to stand up and relieve it.  I swore some more, go to my feet with Peter’s help and did the only thing I could think of.  Laughed.  I looked up at the hiking ladies who must have been wondering what the heck was going on, and said again ‘what the f**** just happened?’.


The lead lady looked at me again, and said ‘est-ce qu’il y a des vaches la bas’ or something like that ‘are there cows over there?’.  She wanted to know if there were cows because the auberge was right after and did not seem the least bit phased my my face plant.


The second lady said ‘eh, courage….courage..’ when we passed.  I think she felt sorry for me.  I looked back at Peter and saw he was trying not to laugh knowing then that I was not injured save for a few scratches and bruises.  We both got the mad laughs and actually had a hard time walking because we convulsed from the giggles.


So, to think I am here in Europe hiking because I am too afraid of bike racing is pretty funny after the tumble I took.  I suppose there is danger in everything.  The key is to like what you do so the danger is worth it.


That, and always keep your eyes on the road.  Or trail.  Or taillight ahead.

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