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That was all my fingers could manage and I realised at that very moment:
There was absolutely no point in even trying to communicate with the outside world, the truth was as simple as urgent: I had to get off this damn mountain.
My hands were numb, utterly useless appendages of my arms, unable to brake, shift gears, or type “I don't feel my hands” into my phone.
When even autocorrect can't understand you anymore, you know you're in trouble.
Why didn't I just record a voice message?
I don't know. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for it at this point.
Why the hell was I here, in the middle of the night, still far too close to the summit of the Männlichen, 2229 m above sea level, at 1°C and under rain that worked it's way steadily through my rain jacket, a rain jacket which wasn't quite new anymore, the waterproofing spray I eagerly distributed shortly before the race - a joke.
I was here because I had this ludicrous idea that I could get through the second checkpoint of the Three Peaks Bike Race that very night, come what may.
This question is actually always inappropriate during an unsupported bikepacking-race.
Maybe because I had climbed several thousand meters in altitude before with so little sleep that I somehow thought, well, one more or less doesn't really matter.
A very, very stupid thought, as it turned out later.
I had pushed my way up the Große Scheidegg, right after defying the Swiss motorists on Brünigpass before and although I still can't explain how I was able to get through it all alive, somehow I managed to get to a gravel passage at the beginning of the ascent to the Große Scheidegg, which finally killed my last nerve. I can't remember if I yelled, I definitely cursed, cursed about Swiss hiking trails, about my route-planning, about my 25mm tires, about the big stones I pushed my bike over, about the time this all took me.
Luckily I didn't scare off the friendly old couple with Swiss license plates, who suddenly appeared behind me. She rolled down a window, because apparently they could see I was kind of lost (or they had heard my desperate curses).
"Is this a real road? Or will it stay like this?” I asked, close to tears, into her kindly smiling face.
“No worry dear, it's not far, behind the next turn it's asphalt again. There isn't much traffic either, you just have to watch out for the Postbus.” They both nodded encouragingly and drove on slowly. I was looking forward to the road, full of new energy I pushed my bike the last hundred meters to the long-awaited asphalt.
My joy lasted only a few moments, because the road was not in bad condition, but so narrow and steep that it was impossible to make any headway.
During a mountain-factor race like the Three Peaks Bike Race you sometimes get the impression that reaching one peak is just the route to the next, so if you're not careful you'll end up in a never-ending melange of fear, agony, euphoria, up to the point of complete blunting.
I once heard someone say that the Three Peaks Bike Race is a beginner's race.
I laughed really hard.
From a certain discrepancy between reality and imagination, many people have probably been carried away to an assessment that sounds like expertise on the sofa, but out there in the dirt, in the cold, this ends up to be only one thing:
So I had entered level 3 on the nihilism scale, pushing my bike whilst watching Instagram friends' story highlights. In Switzerland, this not only means an unbelievable waste of data volume, but also that you don't even notice the racer approaching behind the next bend until he is finally standing next to you. I wasn't in the mood to chat and although I'd always been happy to meet other participants during the race, in this case it also meant that someone had finally caught up with me. That someone was Matthias and I still don't know how he managed it, but suddenly my bad mood gave way to new optimism. Chatting with him for a while gave me the strength I needed to no longer just push myself forward, I began to ride some of the less steep sections again, yes indeed, a miracle had happened. Be it due to my slightly chavvy show-off character which sometimes gets away with me, be it because Matthias is simply someone who, with his friendly, honest manner, manages to put a smile on the face of even the most exhausted, overtired person. We met again and again during the ascent, one last time for the day when he had already left the summit behind him, I was still on the way up, just about to push my bike into a side parking bay so as not to fall over on the steep, narrow road when trying to get back on my bike.
It was getting dark. "Is it far? How bad is it going to be?” One look at Matthias' face was enough, even though we hadn't known each other for long.
I laughed and knew I would definitely regret going up there.
I don't remember much about the way up. I know it was dark when I got to the top, except for a light in a house, presumably a hotel. All my hope was based on the light in this house, I thought okay, I'll quickly push up the gravel passage and then ask for a room or an overnight stay there. I was already a bit beside myself, completely exhausted, cold, I hadn't eaten for too long, all in all there were few reasons that spoke for my decision.
As always, there was one reason above all that drove me to such stupidity: Absolute stubborn defiance.
Somehow I managed to push my 18kg bike up the narrow trail to the viewing platform, at times it took me several attempts for a single step because the stones were wet and slippery and my cleats weren't what you would call good footwear, by no means designate for such endeavors. I didn't even need to go all the way to the top, but I wasn't sure. The only thing I knew 100% was that I didn't want to climb that mountain again because I was a few meters short of Checkpoint 2. So I walked until I couldn't go any further. When I reached the top, I looked down into a black abyss, in the endless darkness some distant lights of a village sparkled. I was part of the deep starry sky that weaved around me, an endless tapestry of silence and stardust. Cloud formations hung over the valley, as rigid as a painting, no movement breaking their grace, as if the world was holding it's breath. Nobody who has never been alone on a summit at night, in the rain, just above freezing point, can imagine this silence. I had almost forgotten that I also had to go down, the memory of the burning light in the house seemed very far away, a very long time ago. I vowed, dramatic as it may sound, not to die before beginning the descent on slippery rocks. If I hadn't been so numb from the cold and tiredness, I probably would have been pretty scared. When I finally arrived on the plateau with the cable car, the light in the house had given way to an all-consuming darkness.
Too tired to feel sorry for myself, I slowly began to ride down the narrow road. However, after a few meters I had to realize what I already knew from previous adventures: Rim brakes and numb hands are not a good combination for night descents on narrow, wet Swiss mountain passes.
My hands were covered in a film of wet icy cold, which probably would have felt really uncomfortable if I'd had any semblance of feeling in my fingers. I had already taken off my gloves on the summit because they weren't waterproof and it was about 5 degrees colder with a soaked polyester shell than without. The desperate attempt to build a kind of morbid prototype from petrol station plastic gloves and my short-fingered gloves with practically dead hands on the summit turned out to be ineffective and only cost me valuable time. Not only was my brain slowly starting to remember the Wikipedia article on hypothermia, it also had to acknowledge the awkward fact that my phone cords were all soggy, making charging impossible. I knew my Restrap framebag wasn't really waterproof, but somehow I expected more from the plastic bags in which I neatly wrapped all my cables. My phone was at 20%, which isn't much if you're planning on pushing down a 7% average grade mountain to find a hotel room afterwards. All this at a time when the word "24h reception" is all you want to hear. So walk on. Yes, right, walk. Riding was no longer possible as my hands were no longer able to brake, my body so tired and numb that I could not get on my bike. I still find it difficult to understand this from a today's perspective, but I couldn't swing my leg over the top tube, nor over the rear wheel, it just didn't work anymore. I pushed on resignedly, knowing that there were a few people tracking my GPS point on a map, probably wondering if I had gone completely nuts and preparing an Instagram Q&A, or why the hell I was coming down the mountain so damn slowly. Somehow I managed to choose the shittiest route option and slowly made my way towards what I thought was Grindelwald. This would have been the closest bigger city and my only option for a hotel room at the time. I think it was in the middle of a 25% gradient when I realised I had foolishly decided on the next leg of my TPBR route, which of course led away from Grindelwald after Checkpoint 2. Pushing the 25% back up was absolutely not an option, so I cried down the narrow path, cursing myself and the world, until I finally got to the road that led to Grindelwald. My phone was now at 12%, which is pretty darn low when you have numb hands, incipient hypothermia, soggy clothes, a 6 year old phone with a 6 year old battery, and no clue about how to get a hotel room at 12:30 am. I knew I had to get out of my clothes, I had to get somewhere inside, anything else would not only have been uncomfortable, it might have even been dangerous. Although the outside temperature in the valley was much friendlier than up on the summit, it was by no means enough to warm up my cold body. If I hadn't had a puffy jacket that I bought in a fit of anticipatory concern after checking the weather map along the way, I don't know how the story would have ended. Somehow I managed to google a hotel and, with the audacity of desperation, settled on the next best thing that seemed to have rooms.
As is well known, this can get quite expensive in Switzerland, but now was not the moment to think about money. I booked a room not knowing if it was even possible to check in, didn't have time for that, my brain was almost as dazed as my hands anyway and proving almost as useless. Luckily I had enough brain left to enter my destination in Google, memorize the address and route as well as possible and drive up the remaining 4 km with a slight ascent. The prospect of a warm shower and a dry room made my body remember how to get on a bike and even pedal.
When I got to the hotel, a sense of bad luck struck my dull mind. It was completely dark, only a small light, glimmering through the glass door at the back of the lobby offered some hope. I rang. Nothing. I knocked. Nothing. Nervously fearing to spend the night in front of a very expensive room, I tried to figure out if there was any phone number when suddenly a head appeared from behind the glass. A friendly gentleman, looking a bit puzzled, opened the door for me and without hesitation, while he was still trying to figure out who I was and why on earth I seemed to have planned my bike trip pretty badly, I pushed myself and my bike into the entrance hall. Nobody, really nobody, maybe a special task force, but nobody else, could have gotten me back out there again.
Civilization! Carpet floor! Warmth, the feeling of being at home when there is a light on somewhere in the corner of the room and a ceiling that prevents rain from entering.
It's unbelievable how much one suddenly appreciate such simple things.
Blissfully I waited for the elevator with the friendly gentleman. He even helped me without a murmur to squeeze my bike into the elevator, which was actually much too small, and asked for my room number with a smile.
Confused I let him know that I had just booked and didn't have a room number yet. What, no room number, just booked? The friendly gentleman got worry lines around his friendly smile and my bliss gave way to an uncomfortable mixture of fear and imminent fainting. I tried to remain friendly, but found it difficult because I saw my civilizational achievements suddenly disappearing, the carpet, the ceiling, the warmth, the shower, all of that seemed to be traded again for a night in a bus stop. After much back and forth, the still incredibly friendly night porter found my booking in a system he wasn't actually authorized to look up. He did it anyway because he saw my need. As he handed me the pen to fill in my details, he said, "You're really lucky, I was actually on my way home. I just went to get my jacket. Actually, I'm already off work."
He said all this without any reproach and I was speechless with happiness. If I hadn't been so terribly wet, dirty and smelly, I would have hugged him. With my last 4% battery I texted a concerned friend and with my last 2% active brain cells I even considered asking for some food.
"Okay, I'll see, what do you want? Actually, there's nothing left now, but maybe I can do something about it. Wait. Or go to your room, I'll bring you something. But you can't tell anyone I brought you food, okay? I'm not allowed to do this."
Still perplexed by all the wonderful coincidences, I stalked to my room, parked my bike in the corner and lay down on the deep red carpet floor in my wet clothes, looking at the ceiling before fading into something like sleep.
After a while there was a knock. It was the night porter, with a plate in his hand, on which was probably the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my life and probably will ever eat.
3 slices of toast with 3cm of cheese and ham in between. He had also brought a Fanta, which he handed to me with a mischievous smile and asked again not to rat him out.
Now the challenge began not to fall asleep in the wet clothes and without eating first. I ran a bath. Yes, a bath, in a bathtub, my happiness just seemed inexhaustible. By the time the water had run in, I'd even managed to find a dry mobile phone charging cable at the bottom of my frame bag, plugged in my mobile phone and sent worried friends a sign of life. As I peeled myself out of my wet clothes, my eyes fell on the key card and the cardboard card that went with it. I didn't even notice it when I entered the room.
My room number was 42.
Anyone who knows "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" will probably understand what went through my head. To everyone else the book is warmly recommended.
I laughed. How else could it be.
As I ended up chewing my illegal sandwich in the bathtub and my eyes kept falling shut, all I could think about was that number. What the actual fuck. What does that mean now, I thought. Is the meaning of life here, in this room, in this story?
Or is there no sense at all, like in that random number a writer once made up to point out the deeply coincidental nature of meaning in the broad context of life and everything it inhabits.
I stared into the bubbles of foam on my numb toes. My brain was too tired for deep thoughts about the meaning of life.
Oh, what the heck, I thought, drank a sip of cold Fanta
and fell asleep in the bathtub.