It’s almost the end of our holiday, and Tom and I have made it to central Switzerland with its German culture and language. It’s time to meet the mountain. The previous afternoon we had departed the delightful low-key sophistication of Lucerne for a lazy boat ride up the lake to the resort town of Vitznau, famous for wellness hotels and hiking. Our hotel, The Vitznauerhof, is surprisingly luxurious and we settle in to enjoy some 5-star pampering. But the hotel and indeed the town itself sits in the big shadow of Mount Rigi, the “Queen of the Mountains,” the most popular mountain in Switzerland for day-treks. By now, I have fully embraced my inner Swiss Miss and my mission looms up before me as big and overpowering as the white-capped peaks. Get out from under that fluffy down comforter, I tell myself, and lace up those sneakers. The sky awaits.
You can take a cogwheel train up the mountain from Vitznau, but we decide to make the ascent from Weggis, the next town over. After breakfast, Tom and I set out on foot along beautiful Lake Lucerne. We’re greeted with “gruezi” by polite school children on bikes, old men fishing for perch, and women walking dogs. We stroll past homes that look like ski chalets and summer gardens in full bloom. We arrive in Weggis an hour later to the sounds of a little trio playing classical music in the lakefront band shell. Fortified with strong coffee and some Strauss, we hop on an aerial cable car for a ride up to the hiking trails on Mount Rigi.
The weather at the base of the mountain had been gray, with ominous clouds blanketing the slopes, the higher up, the denser they seemed to become. With hiking maps and advice from the tourist office, we choose our trails – deciding not to go to the summit where visibility was poor, but to get off at the mountain’s halfway point, called Kaltbad. The gondola carries us up the side of the mountain, where we are first enveloped in clouds and then we are above them. Even on a less than perfect day, it is breathtaking.
Kaltbad is a sweet little village with an old-fashioned train station, restaurant, inn and shops that outfit Nordic walkers. (That’s the walking you do with poles, similar to ski poles.) After a small bite to fuel us and coming very close to bailing on the hike altogether, we decide we probably are crazy, but it’s time to shove off. Tom leads the way and I follow with the map.
The first half mile couldn’t have been easier. The downward slope is gentle as we stop at the edge of the cliff, protected from the drop by a simple cable fence. Before us, a spectacular panorama of views: fields, rocks, trees, lakes and peaks that appear then suddenly disappear behind wisps of smoky clouds. As we continue along the marked trail, the path narrows and begins to present us with a few challenges, tough inclines that demand careful climbing. Heads bowed down as if we’re battling a snowstorm, we reach the top of a small hill to find ourselves in a gorgeous alpine meadow covered in purple flowers and populated with black and white cows, their bells a reassuring companion to them and us. Bright sunlit fields, misty forests, soft grass, pebbles underfoot, clear trails, and a dozen brown cows resting in a patch of clouds and flowers – these become snapshots in our memory. Time stands still. We have no purpose other than to simply be there.
Finally, our map leads us to a farm where an old Swiss woman who radiates vitality collects 5 francs from us and sends us down to Vitznau in a gondola. Back at our hotel, we end the day with amazing massages to pre-empt sore muscles, but for me, it’s less a prescription and more like a prayer to seal in the transcendent experience of being in the mountains that day. I look down at my pedometer. 25,464 steps. More than 8 miles. I could have done it all again the next day.
Dr. Oz and Dr. Mike would be very happy with my progress, I think, but not surprised. After all, I’ve only done what they’ve been telling us to do all along. The difference for me is that I think I stuck to it because I had a goal that brought me joy, and something new and magical was planted in my soul. Those sneaky doctors – they know the secret: once you get hooked on health, it feels way too good – for your mind, body and spirit – to stop.