Trapped on Zermatterhorn

I was trapped at 12,000 feet. Standing on a pair of skis, surrounded by endless mountain peaks and swirling winds, I was trapped. I was on the summit of Zermatterhorn, Switzerland’s proud signature mountain with the highest elevation in Europe. I’d been skiing for years, black diamonds and all, but the most advanced slopes in Vermont had nothing on the Horn. It took three gondolas to reach the summit; the first two I rode wearing shorts, then layered on ski pants in the third ten minutes before reaching the top. This was summer skiing, an oxymoron to North-Eastern Americans, but a favorite past time of the Swiss. I now watched as their National Alpine Racing Team blew past me, balancing on one ski each, a training technique. That, or they were just having fun. I glanced down at my own two skis: I was caught in that awful limbo skiers get caught in, that place where you know you have to move, you have to make that Christie-turn to get down the mountain, but the turn is so sharp, or the slope is so steep, that you seemingly just can’t budge. So I stood there, being pushed around by the harsh winds, whirling relentlessly, tauntingly. I shivered, submitting to the winds with which I seemed to be playing King of the Mountain, and losing. I mean, after all, I was only twelve years old.
Being the competitive brat that I was, however, I couldn’t allow my self to stay in that spot any longer. The powerful winds wouldn’t stop me from crossing off another item on my “Life List,” to ski down the tallest mountain in Europe. I pushed myself forward with my poles, and felt the wind now encourage me from behind. I caught speed quickly on the slope, and though I was unsteady as I made turns to slow down, I was proud of escaping my skier’s limbo. My parents, who I was traveling with (how else would a twelve year old get to Switzerland?), had been waiting for me a little farther down. My dad seemed to be going though similar misgivings about choosing Zermatterhorn as our location for a day of pleasure skiing. My mom, the most experienced skier of all of us, was having a great time. I caught up with her, and made it down the rest of the slope with increasing confidence and ease. By the time we reached the bottom, back in the warmer air of the Swiss village, I knew that I had, in my own way, conquered the mountain.
Seven years later I came back to Europe, this time without parent supervision. I was beginning a five month semester in Wroxton, England, a quaint town outside of London. But I wouldn’t be staying put in England, and the classroom wasn‘t the only place I would be learning.
I had been to England two years before, but as a wide-eyed, high-school graduate, head full of endless possibilities. Back then I imagined England to be both mysterious and magical; London a dark and foggy city, full of intrigue and secrets. I was therefore slightly taken aback when my first day began full of sunlight, reflecting off the white buildings lining the street of my hotel. The country side was a better fit to my pre-disposed idea of what England would be: sprawling green hills lined with paddocks and dotted with countless white sheep. Quaint little cottages, and every single one complete with a quaint little garden. I’m in the Shire, I remember thinking. That’s what happens when you grow up reading authors like Tolkien, or, like every other kid in the literate world, JK Rowling. So you can imagine my reaction when I visited Alnwick Castle, in Scotland, one of the set locations for Hogwarts in the first couple Harry Potter films. And waiting outside Waterstone’s Book Store on Princes’ Street in Edinborough, at midnight, to get the sixth Harry Potter book. From the street we had a perfect view of Edinborough castle, where JK Rowling herself was sitting inside, giving a reading to a group of children. We couldn’t see her, of course, but we knew she was there. Mutterings along the Waterstone’s line were saying she might come down to the store after her reading to sign autographs. But this was wistful thinking: we did get greeted by quite a few drunks and hookers, however. Edinborough is quite a different city at night. At that time I had no idea I would be coming back nearly two years later, to have a much different experience.
We had a narrow escape that trip: King’s Cross Station was bombed precisely one day after we caught a train leaving London. We left on July 6th; the station was attacked on the 7th. That day brought us back to reality, out of the wonderful haze travelers enjoy while in a beautiful country. We were four years and eight thousand miles away from September 11th, but once again that raw threatening feeling hung over us. We altered our plans slightly, allowing ourselves more time to relax in one place rather than keeping up with our previously eager, albeit anxious, pace. Now we were to enjoy the last days of time in the UK exploring the countryside on the outskirts of London, a peaceful relocation compared to the turbulent city. Leaving England, my travel lust had been somewhat satisfied, but I knew my insatiable thirst would return, and soon. So, two years later, I took a much longer drink.

Trapped on Zermatterhorn

kbarnett

Joined January 2008

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