Exploring close to home

Posted on: 13 Jun 2021

Returning to Buzzland after a long absence, I found it quiet but not dead. ('Not dead but sleeping' as it says on Victorian gravestones.) But there are encouraging signs that life is stirring once more, and now that someone does seem to be clearing out the spam on a regular basis, I thought I would come back.

Where to start.....? 2020 was not a vintage year for anyone, was it? I think things were a bit less stringent here than in GB: there was no curfew, no actual radius of movement specified, we were not actually forbidden to travel, just strongly encouraged to stay local, and preferably at home. I did try, constrained by the twin spectres of fear and guilt, initially limiting outings to nearby roads (previously unexplored cul-de-sacs revealing  some rather grand lakeside villas) and rounds of the local woods (which had suddenly become very popular, alas.) The discovery of a hitherto unknown path across the Uelihof Bio-beef farm, populated by cows, free-range hens, and some enchanting little piglets, was a definite plus. As the days and weeks passed, restlessness set in, and we began to venture a bit further afield. The despised Twike - J's primitive little electric vehicle, loved by him, hated by me - became our little bubble of safety. Once we parked it outside a deserted shopping centre, and headed up the wooded hillside above Kriens, on a path I'd often noticed but never taken the time to investigate. Not especially attractive, but new at least. We found little painted wooden figures in hollows under tree roots, and expanses of Bärlauch - wild garlic -, both of which seemed like wonderful discoveries in these psychologically arid times. Bärlauch risotto, yum; Bärlauch pesto, DOUBLE YUM! You find your pleasure where you can, in difficult times. As we got braver, short bus and train journeys began to supersede the Twike, with the pleasant discovery that away from obvious places for people to head to, it was still possible to walk for miles and hardly meet a soul. I delighted in dreaming up ever more obscure walks: muddy farmland; out-of-the-way villages sleepy to the point of catatonic; little country lanes from nowhere to nowhere...... One image that sticks in my mind is the fields of barley, and seeing it turn from green to gold as the weeks progressed. In that slowed-down spring, I felt so much more aware of the changes happening around me: the first buds, the first leaves, the first flowers....... nature waking up, growing, doing what it always did, regardless of what was going on in the human world. There was something comforting about its simple pragmatism.

Some time in summer, things seemed to be getting better. A sense of optimism began to grow. Shops and restaurants were open again. (No more packing cheese sandwiches!) True, masks and social distancing were still de rigeur, and caution had become a habit, but there was a feeling of 'We're getting through this - the end is in sight!'

And then it all went wrong again. With the numbers going the wrong way, the walls began to close in once more. In the face of the looming threat of a renewed lockdown, we undertook our longest journey yet: train to Bellinzona, then a bus, then a long, strenuous walk (I had forgotten how steep Ticino is, and how stony) via a spectacular new suspension bridge - the 'Tibetan Bridge' - over a deep gorge, an unplanned extension along the 'Via delle Vigne' through the vineyards, and a final (somewhat anticlimactic) walk back along the river. The train, incidentally, now goes through the longest rail tunnel in the world: 57 kms long, and takes 17 minutes. It's actually quite boring, once the novelty of its sheer length wears off, and borderline painful for the ears. I prefer the old route, which passes the same church in Wassen 3 times, each time at a higher level, thanks to the amazing spiral tunnels.

And yes, by autumn we were back to square one, with everything closed again. It promised to be a long, gloomy winter. But salvation came along in the form of a virtual event. (Almost all events, of course, had to be virtual, and most still are.) Short rewind to the previous winter, and the discovery that I had won a free place in a race in March. Initially I was as much dismayed as pleased, feeling fairly unfit and not much in the mood for racing. But I used it as motivation to get back into some sort of training. When the inevitable happened and it was cancelled, I thought that was that; but the organizers revamped it as a virtual event: run the distance in your own local patch, send a photo and your time, and get your medal and tee shirt in the post. So I went and ran my 15 kms round the Bireggwald, and that was Kerzerslauf 2020. My first virtual event. There was another in October, the Luzern marathon - choice of marathon, HM, or 10k. Opting for the latter, I ran it on a 10k route I've used before, from Sarnen to Alpnachstad, together with J. I didn't plan on doing another, but when I discovered the Spine Race as a virtual event, I rashly expressed interest, and before I knew it, I found myself signing up for it (with a bit of persuasion from Kathy!) Not so rash as to attempt the full-length version, though - the 175 kms of the Challenger seemed quite daunting enough, even with the whole of January to complete it. (January!!!) In the event, it only took me 14 days. I walked most of it, especially after developing a mysterious back injury on day 10, finishing with a magical 21 kms in heavy snow on the 14th. I was jubilant for days. Less jubilant to find the back in no hurry to get better........ but that and associated reflections are a subject for another time.

Winter did drag on, especially with this injury putting the brakes on my new-found elan. Non-essential shops finally opened up again in February, but it was the end of April before restaurant terraces were allowed to open, and another month before they could open inside too. I've missed them so much! - a walk is not the same without a well-deserved beer at the end of it! (Or a meal, better still.)

And so we're into a second summer, I've had both my vaccinations, and fingers crossed this will be the one where we finally, really, truly regain our freedom. Normality has never looked so good. We shall see.

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