The hike looked really high up, but I thought it's only a little over a mile. I can do this!
The valley below was transcendent. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. The greenest of greens and the most epically beautiful mountains and landscapes I could ever imagine surrounded me. We began our hike, and at first, it wasn't so bad. I had a little backpack with water and my art supplies. The weather was warm, yet there was a crisp undertone, making it perfect for our adventure. As we walked, Dino often had to wait for me. I told him his long legs gave him an unfair advantage as I had to take twice as many steps as him. He responded with kindness, saying it was no big deal and that he had more opportunities to take pictures.
As we continued our hike, the little uphill path turned into a steep incline filled with switchbacks. As I climbed, my backpack felt heavier and heavier, and my leg muscles burned with every step. It felt like a lifetime's worth of squats, and my thighs were on fire. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath. I looked at my watch and realized we'd been hiking for 30 minutes already. I thought, okay, halfway there. Just 30 more minutes of fire thighs, I can do this! Dino remained patient, even as I stopped more frequently gasping and heaving for air. Meanwhile, he was barely out of breath! I thought to myself, my God! What is wrong with me? Dino checked his phone and said, "It's the elevation that's causing your shortness of breath. You are doing great! Keep going."
Switchbacks and Steep Inclines
There were more switchbacks, and after an hour, I could see we were still far from the top. "Dino, are you sure it's only one hour? Because I don't think we're even close to the top, and I feel like I'm dying!" I could tell he was starting to get irritated with me. I didn't want to ruin the hike he had so eagerly wanted to do. I told him to walk ahead and I would meet him in the town at the top. He promised that if the hike was longer than 2.9 kilometers, he would come back for me. I watched him turn the corner of the next switchback, standing there hunched over with my hands on my waist, trying to catch my breath that never seemed to normalize.
Breathing heavily, I kept walking. I looked at my watch and saw that an hour and 20 minutes had passed when I saw the most disheartening sign: "Wegen 1.5km." Wait, what!!!? My legs were shaking from exhaustion, and after an hour and a half, I was only halfway? I had lost sight of Dino, and the air was growing thinner and thinner. I felt like I needed an electric wheelchair and an oxygen tank. I sat on a stump, not knowing what to do. Should I call Dino? Quit? Disappoint him? Be the "old lady mom" who can't do anything? He thinks I'm confident, fearless, and unstoppable. How could I let him down?
Pushing Through the Pain
I considered digging a hole in the ground and burying my backpack with leaves and branches until I came back down the mountain. But my art supplies! I can't leave them behind. What If I see something spectacular at the top? I decided I was strong as iron; I am going to do this. Maybe if I stopped being such a baby, it would get easier. So what if my legs felt like noodles, and my lungs burned with each breath? I can push through the light-headedness and ignore the stars dancing around my eyes. Focusing on my breathing – inhaling deeply through my nose and exhaling through my mouth – I stopped taking so many breaks and plugged on.
Every part of me hurt. My knees, quads, calves, even my hips. To relieve the pain in my quads, I took turns walking forward and backward, letting my glutes and hamstrings do the job. I made a conscious effort to look at my watch less, allowing more minutes to pass by. I tried thinking of other things besides the pain. I started to see scattered houses and felt hopeful that the town was near. The trail began to look more landscaped and less wild. Hope turned to a final sprint. More and more houses appeared, and the dirt path became partially paved with stones and steps. The winding switchbacks turned into a straight climb, and although it was much steeper, I welcomed the change, knowing the end was near. By this point, I drank all my water, and my throat was growing dry by the minute with the crisp air and heavy breathing.
The Sweet Reward at the Top
Then I saw a heavenly sight: Dino, standing tall and bright, waving to me with excitement and joy. I managed to wave back, barely lifting my arm above my head. Suddenly, I was wedged between an unexpected exhaustion and a deep knowing I was almost to the top. I looked at my watch one last time and saw that I'd been hiking for 2 hours and 45 minutes. My God! How do the Swiss manage to do this in only 60 minutes!? They must be part mountain goat! With each step, I mustered every ounce of determination I had to move each leg forward. There was absolutely no way I could quit now, especially so close to the top. If I was going to quit, it would've been at the "Wegen 1.5km" sign. Dino patiently waited for me to reach him.
"Don't worry, it's flat from here! You've made it to the top!" I did my best to stay cool and not tell Dino I felt like I needed to go to the hospital. As we walked down the flat road through the village of Wegen, my legs trembled uncontrollably, and I still could not catch my breath. Dino suggested, "Maybe we should grab some lunch? I'm getting hungry. I found a great place that serves pasta." Yes! Carbs! I need carbs!
Dino led me to a lovely restaurant with outdoor seating and a gorgeous view of the valley below. I was literally sitting at the very top, the same top I looked at from below before this ordeal began. With every savory bite of pasta in a delicate wine sauce, I felt replenished and revitalized. My lungs stopped burning, and I almost felt normal again, minus the exhaustion in my legs. I did it! I didn't ruin Dino's special experience – the very reason we came to Switzerland.
Reflections on a Treasured Memory
Sitting beside my son near the top of creation, sketching together and drinking crisp white wine, I knew it was all worth it. Every painful step gave me a deeper appreciation for this shared moment. I didn't want it to end. We sat quietly, contently painting and sketching, enjoying each other's company, knowing how rare this moment was and what it took to get there. How few mothers and sons have the chance to sit together sketching at the heights of the Swiss Alps in a little village called Wegen. What if I gave up? What if I gave into my fears or belief that something was horribly wrong with me, succumbing to the pain and exhaustion? What if I never came here and sat in this moment?
This cherished moment with Dino at the top of the mountain is a treasured memory that will never leave me. How often will it serve me when he feels distant from me? How many times will I think of this moment throughout our relationship? This memory will serve me well as I move forward, navigating the hills and valleys of Dino growing up as he becomes a man and charts his own path in life. How thankful I am that I endured, making it to that sight of Dino at the top waving at me so lovingly and cheerfully, without complaining about the long wait.