"If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere" Frank A Clark 1860-1936 (U.S politician, not ex Nottingham Forest manager). There are too many quotes about overcoming obstacles - actually it's probably a consequence of there being too many obstacles. Seriously though you won't find an epic tale, success story or even a person who has achieved a goal without the presence of an obstacle or 7! The way in which we approach, view and overcome obstacles is often a great marker of our character. We all face them every day, to some degree, but it is the ones that shade the path to the realisation of our dreams that cause the most heartache and frustration. If, however, our attitude to them remains the same, irrespective of their significance, we will all, depending on your stance, achieve some remarkable feats - or not get out of bed.
I'm not saying I have the right attitude to obstacles (maybe I make things difficult for myself) but I certainly love overcoming them, and I often find myself in a situation where that requires a little lateral thinking. As case in point, here is my story of the time Mt Blanc and the Matterhorn were my obstacles.
When my younger brother scored Cervinia for his first snowboard season I knew I’d have to make the trip and get a weeks hit of the ole season lifestyle. The early months of the year were rolling by at an alarming rate, it was soon early march and I hadn’t got out there. Nor saved the cash to allow it - it was 2011 and we were saving for silly things like a house and decent car. I had two weeks of work to complete before my window would open, leaving me the last few days of March and beginning of April. This would have to be done on less than a shoestring - flip flop strap. The cheapest flights on the Sunday (necessary for the free transfer) took me to Geneva. Booked em, thank you Stelios. Seriously stoked I got on the phone to my bro “Yo bro, guess what? ……. I’ll see ya in two weeks” loud, slightly too feminine, excited noises ring in my ear, “Yeh you just need to sort me a transfer from Geneva”
“Yeh get on it”
“Umm …. don’t think we do transfers from Geneva”
“Don’t mess me about Finn, it’s just round the mountain, sort it out will ya and get positive.” this is how I left it for a day thinking that my young bro was so addled on chalet wine he was making a serious oversight. Over the next few days I got a series of texts confirming there would be no transfer waiting in Geneva, and more with ludicrous suggestions of connecting flights to Turin, Aosta and then Cervinia - who does he think I am, Donald friggin Trump!
Back on the net I go. Turns out there are many forums discussing this very journey, apparently it’s not fun. Why? I AA route plan it - it’s 180km and should take 2.5 hrs! Why is there no direct route? The easiest route on public busses would take me through two of Italy’s biggest three cities and around every mountain resort in Italy before Cervinia - and it would take over a day! WTF! Its 180km! I’m vexed by this point. Then I discover the crux – no travel company wants to drive through the Mt Blanc tunnel, apparently it costs a pretty penny, so public transport doesn’t go through - and neither does the cheap holiday company he works for. I sit there, in our log cabin, stupefied by this. I’m stumped. The transfer could end up costing me 3 times the price of my flights, I cannot swallow that pill. Worse still I’ll likely lose a days boarding. By this point even my internet explorer is bored of exploring. Then this thought fights it way through the muddle of money, flights and busses that is causing my brain to ache. My bro regularly shreds Zermatt on his pass. Google search Geneva to Zermatt. Literally a million options flood my screen. The Swiss are all over that journey - my brain now aches trying to work out which is best. The train’s top. It leaves from Geneva airport and takes 3.47hrs with a change in Visp. My flight lands at 10.50 the next train leaves at 11.27. This train gets in to Zermatt at 3.14. And it doesn’t cost a bomb. I’m buzzing again.
Ring Finn “Yo bro I’m thinking of dropping into Italy on the board”
“Yeh I reckon my best option is to travel to Zermatt, lug all my stuff up the Matterhorn and board down with it.”
“Awesome idea!” excellent, my bro has got positive. “What time does your train get into Zermatt?”
“Well the last lift up that side is 3.30”
“Gona be tight - but not impossible”.
So that was it, action plan in place, I would be completing my journey on my trustee snowboard with my weeks luggage on my back. I love this idea.
Before it’s fully sunk in that I’m finally going boarding, I’m on an A320. I pray easyJet maintain their OTP record - a 20 minute delay would instantly scupper my whole day. Being stuck in Zermatt will mean incurring either, needless expense or pneumonia and Finn will very likely lose his job - like any self respecting seasonaire he’s on his last warning.
The plane lands 10 minutes ahead of schedule, 47 mins until the train leaves from somewhere in this vast airport. I smile. I wait at the luggage carousel, I wait and wait. I’m now hopping around and fidgeting and cussing, I realise that my eyes are darting from the motionless baggage dispenser to the exit and back constantly, I must look like the worlds worst drug mule.15 minutes until the train leaves, board bag appears, I snatch and run like I AM the worlds worst drug mule and I’ve completely lost my nerve. I make the train with 3 minutes to spare.
I soon realise that a train journey in Switzerland is a whole different kettle of fish to one on our lovely ugly British service. If it was the same I would be in the seat of my pants for the whole four hour ride, my arrival time would be a constantly evolving beast. It is not the same. The train is due in Zermatt at 15:14 it will arrive at 15:14, that’s with a change and a climb up to nearly 2000m. So I sit traveling slowly but inexorably towards a very mad 16 minute dash through a Swiss town. Half hour before my arrival I unpack my board bag amongst the dismayed old mountain ladies who are returning from their trip to Visp. Undeterred by their bemused faces I excitedly set my board up, change into my shred gear, do my boots up loosely for running efficiency, and shove all my stuff into a backpack that was in my board bag. I’m ready, I wait by the door of the train so as not to be delayed by a failing hip shuffling down the aisle. I’ve text Finn, he’s in place.
The doors unlock. At a speed that I reckon would rival Usain I bolt down the platform. Finn’s there at the end, I don’t break stride, Finn starts running in the manner two relay runners do when exchanging batons - our greeting is a mad smile and a touch of fists on the hoof. We are a dash of colour streaking through the beautifully serene mountain town. Up ahead we see a ski bus preparing to leave for the lifts, from somewhere Finn finds another gear, lungs already burning I kick on. We make the bus. The clock at the front reads 15:19. I’m hopeful, Finn looks anxious. I wait for the bus to speed up, it doesn’t. This is bloody Zermatt and the bus is powered by Duracel. Commendable but very effing frustrating at this moment. The bus stops, we’ve a 200m sprint and two flights of stairs to the finish. As I jump off I glance at the clock, 15:27. With all the energy I have left I run like life depends on it. Shit this is fun. We heave ourselves through the turnstiles, nod to the lifty and, honestly, get on the last bubble up the mountain. We embrace and smile and laugh and sit in silence and awe of what feels like a monumental human feat. As the bubble carries us up through the clouds I breathe for what feels like the first time in a day, I breathe and breathe and where the hell is all the oxygen up here. On the flanks of the Matterhorn we step out into a fantastically heavy whiteout. We strap in. It feels weird and wonderful altogether. Running purely on adrenaline, with legs that are riding autonomously I follow Finn through a white abyss that has stitched together the seam between ground and sky. It is one of the most exhilarating descents of my life. We stop once to mark the moment I burst through Italy's back door. Two mountains defeated.