One of the main reasons I wanted to live here in the middle of nowhere was the mountain walks (oh, and the ski-ing. And the chocolate. And the wine. And the cheese. And the wine. OK there were lots of reasons. But walking was one of them…). When we first got here I was up those mountains like a little mountain goat (me leading the way, Alpine Boy trailing behind being bribed with biscuits, Alpine Girl sleeping in a sling like a snuggly little joey). And with Alpine Boy at school, Alpine Girl and I had been doing harder and faster walks than I ever could with a three-year old lagging behind me.
But not so much, recently. I somehow lost my walking mojo.
It started a couple of weeks ago when I bundled Alpine Boy off to school and set off on a morning walk (unheard of usually – we are not morning people, Alpine Girl and I. We usually surface around 11.00 am ready for lunch at 4.00. But the days are getting shorter and it seemed a shame to miss the sun). I had seen on the map a chalet I wanted to walk to – it was at 1350m and I could see from looking at the mountain opposite our house that the snow-line was at least 1500m high. It was a beautiful day - Alpine Girl would be snug in her sling, and I wouldn’t have to trek through snow. The walk would be perfect, I thought.
I was wrong. The walk was just rubbish. And that’s where I started to lose my walking mojo.
I am clearly a novice at route-planning as I hadn’t banked on the fact that I was checking the snow level on the south face of a mountain, yet had cleverly planned to walk up a north face. I left the house in blazing sunshine, wearing my sunnies and sweatshirt, and found myself walking in a dark, damp, snowy forest that probably won’t see daylight again for another five months. I have to admit, I was spooked. It was deathly silent. The tiny path was treacherously slippery, with damp, decaying leaves underfoot. It was cold. It was dark. Alpine Girl was asleep so I was alone. All alone. And it was freaky, not to mention depressing.
But I carried on, sure that the view from the chalet (once I finally got out of this spooky forest) would make it all worthwhile. I knew I had to cross a stream, but I was on a well-marked path so I assumed there would be a bridge and didn’t worry. Then I turned the corner and saw this:
In case you can’t tell from my oh-so-technically-brilliant photo, the options for crossing this ‘stream’ (in my book that’s a river) were to walk through it, or to cross the ‘bridge’ (in my book that’s a random pile of logs, which aren’t attached to anything and which are covered in icy snow). What a choice.
I did spend about five minutes there umming and ahhing. I quickly dismissed the ‘shuffling across a pile of snowy logs’ option – I’m too old and too sensible, and quite frankly I was too scared. I spent longer dismissing the ‘wading through a slippy, icy river’) option, but finally decided that the water was deeper than the height of my boots, and that the joy of reaching the chalet was probably not worth having to explain to Alpine Papa why Alpine Girl had hypothermia from falling in a freezing river.
So that was it – end of day out. I had to turn around and go back. Secretly I was pleased I think – the forest was just too damn spooky. I pretended to myself that had I been alone I would have just bounced across those logs and skipped up to the chalet but, really? I doubt it. I don’t think the loss of mojo is entirely down to always having a baby strapped to me. I’ve become a scardy-cat walker.
I tried to avoid the skinny, slippy path on the way down by taking a loggers’ track, but I soon found myself literally ankle-deep in mud so had no option but to brave those murderous leaves. I made it safely back to the carpark, back to reality, blinking into the sunshine like a myopic mole. Next time, I said, I’ll stick to the south face.
But the story doesn’t end there (sorry…). I followed my own advice a few days later. Desperate to ’get back on the horse’, as it were, and not let one crappy walk put me off forever, I found a walk for all three of us which seemed to have it all – south-facing, fields (not spooky forests), great views, a circuit rather than a ‘there-and-back’ walk - it was lovely. Until we got lost. And the planned 45-minute jaunt turned into a two-and-a-half-hour epic trek through fields and woods and leaves and mud. We ran out of the bribery chocolate after about an hour and a half. Tantrums (Alpine Boy’s, not mine) started after about two hours. Screams for milk (Alpine Girl’s this time) started at about two and a quarter hours. Tears of joy (all mine) flowed at two and a half hours, when we finally found the car. My walking mojo had well and truly been lost by this point.
Since then, I’ve been avoiding walks. I have stayed at home a lot. I have done a lot of cleaning (well, a little bit more than usual…). And a lot of reading. My lovely sister and her little boy came to visit so we did a couple of little walks, but with three kids in tow and my walking jinx still following me around they were not the best I’ve been on.
So today I was planning on doing my usual – staying indoors and hiding from the mountains. But I had managed to overload the log fire and it was hot and stuffy in the house. Alpine Girl was grumpy and outside the sun was shining. There was only one thing for it, I decided, I had to go for a walk.
There was a new walk I had been wanting to try all summer but which looked too steep to do with Alpine Boy. It goes down to the river, then up to the village on the other side. As the crow flies, the other village would be about a minute away. Going down and up takes half an hour. (Going round the road would take about two hours. The path is called the ‘chemin du facteur’ – the postman’s path – as it saved the postman from walking hours and hours to deliver some unwanted bills and junk mail. Now I guess they just do it in their little yellow van…)
Again, it was woody and dark, and the leaves were treacherous, and there was no-one around and, again, I was spooked. I came to the river crossing and it was slightly better this time. I say ‘slightly’ because it still didn’t look like it complied with any kind of health and safety regulations – it was about a metre wide and had a rusty handrail on one side only. One wobble and you’re in the raging icy torrent beneath you.
But I wasn’t going to let a river beat me again so on I went. Up the hill, into daylight again, down the path, past some disgruntled-looking cows, into the village and…
WOW. If you were me, and you were at a low point, seriously considering never going walking again (or at least not until next June), what would motivate and inspire you? What would convince you get out of bed before 11.00 and wobble down a steep hill in a spooky forest? What would you need at the end of such a walk, to reward and revitalise you? If you were me, I said. You know me by now, don’t you…?
Yep, you guessed it. In the tiny village I trekked to there was a HOMEMADE CHOCOLATE SHOP.
I had previously seen signs for the shop but didn’t know where it was. And so it was pure coincidence (or divine intervention?) that, just at the moment where I was wondering if living in the middle of nowhere really was a good idea, there it was. I came over the brow of the hill, sweaty and grumpy, and there, like a shining beacon in the darkness, was a tiny stone cottage with a beautiful handmade sign – ‘chocolatier‘. I cautiously made my way through the door, still not sure if it was in fact a dream, and was blissfully embraced by the warm aroma of smooth, melted chocolate. Romantic piano music twinkled in the background and, as my eyes grew accustomed to the dark interior I realised that there was chocolate, chocolate, everywhere. I was in heaven. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Well, actually, I could. The lights were on but there was no-one home. Literally. I stood in the shop for a while, shouting ‘bonjour’ and ‘il y a quelq’un?’ as loudly as I could, but no-one came out. The dream was no more – chocolate, chocolate everywhere indeed, nor any drop to eat…
So I reluctantly picked my drooling tongue up off the floor and, with one last hopeful shout, left the shop without buying anything.
Ordinarily, this would have therefore been a post about what a terrible day it was – the day I found the chocolate shop that no-one could be bothered to staff. But, to my surprise, I found that as I walked away, back to the river and its (now exciting, not scary) bridge, back through the (now beautiful, not spooky) forest, my mood had changed. There was a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I had found the chocolate shop and would certainly be going back. But what’s more, I was enjoying walking again. The smell of chocolate must have worked its magic.
I had rediscovered my walking mojo.