On Mountains and Pushing Oneself (With Update)

Since I got to Germany three weeks ago, I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping. It’s partially because the bed is about as comfortable as those foldaway Army cots from WWII days – those of you who have been in the military know exactly what I’m talking about. The bed is a wooden box, with a mattress the size of a stack of 10 Kleenex stacked on top of it. If one is super skinny, bones hit mattress, and ultimately the wood plank on which mattress is sitting. I’m not talking Princess and the Pea here. I’m talking about honest to goodness mattress thickness that rivals a folded quilt. I don’t want to complain too much, since I’ve actually had worse, like having slept on top of the hood of my Humvee when I deployed to Louisiana post-Katrina. Trying to avoid the metal loop was interesting. Trust me.

Then there’s the mountains. They’re gorgeous! Beyond belief incredible!

Garmisch 021

But apparently, according to my teacher, who says many of her students complain about sleeplessness, it may something to do with the mountains. I’m not alone. Maybe we’re all just not used to the fresh air!

Whatever the reason, I’m not sleeping, and it’s pissing me off. Not only that, but I wake up exactly at 0512 almost every morning.


I don’t know why, and I don’t care. No matter what time I get to bed, I wake up at 0512, and it’s annoying.

So yesterday, I decided to make myself really tired. I don’t mean just going to the gym and working out. That’s pretty much standard for me when I’m at home anyway. No, I mean, push myself to the point of exhaustion and hope the exhaustion wins out over my body’s desire to wake up at 0512 every morning.

Now, I love hiking. I’ve hiked quite a bit, so it’s not like I’m a newbie. I generally do it with friends, and it just becomes a fun thing to do. My first week here I went hiking at the Partnach Gorge with a buddy of mine whom I got to know when I was deployed to Kosovo. He’s a German federal police officer who works and lives in Munich – only an hour away from Garmisch. So he picked me up one day, and we went hiking, while we caught up on the past 6 years.

I don’t have a problem going up a mountain. I get a little winded, especially when I’m laughing so hard that snot is flying out of my nose at MACH 4, but overall, I’m fine. Coming down is a problem, because I have three screws in my right knee holding my anterior cruciate ligament in place, and the knee is always somewhat unstable. I have less control of it going down, so I generally take more care and effort.

The gorge is a sight. Click on the link I provided above, or take a look at some of these:

Hiking 019

Hiking 037

There are more photos, but I’m too lazy to upload them here. Needless to say, it was a beautiful hike, and I loved every minute! Was it difficult? Meh. It was alright. It didn’t kill me.

And it didn’t help me sleep.

I hiked all over Garmisch. That didn’t help me sleep either.

So I decided I needed a really LONG hike. For those of you who don’t know, Garmisch is in the Alps. Yes, those Alps. When you go up to the highest peak in Germany – the Zugspitze – you can see for miles and miles. It’s amazing!

Yes, that is me at the Zugzpitze summit.

Yes, that is me at the Zugzpitze summit.

You can hike up to the Zugspitze, but I’m not that crazy. There are lesser mountains to climb, so that’s what I did. So yesterday, I decided to hike, saw a footpath, and followed it.

Kreuznach 004

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… I took the one that looked like it went up the mountain, and that made all the difference.

It started out pretty steep, and I walked through some incredible natural scenery! I continued upward and upward. It seemed like I walked forever. My legs were beginning to burn, but I continued to walk.

After about an hour, I looked to my right, and saw this:

Kreuznach 020

My first thought: holy shit, that’s high!

My second thought: I wonder how long it will take to get to the top.

My third thought: What happens if I keep walking?

So I kept walking… and walking… and walking… all uphill. I wound up having to do the maneuver cyclists do when faced with a particularly steep incline – they zig-zag from side to side. I did that too. It helped somewhat. I kept going… and going… and going…

When I finally stopped, I found this:


And this:


And then I went, “Hmmmmm. I wonder if this goes any higher. And it did. I was exhausted, and was sweating like a canned ham, to quote a friend of mine. But I really wanted to see the top. I started to hike up a VERY steep, gravelly trail, and discovered that sneakers were not the best thing to wear if you’re climbing a VERY steep, gravelly trail. I kept climbing, took a photo of the path, and then I turned around and decided that the only way I’d get down is if I actually slid back down on my ass.


I decided sliding down on my ass down a gravelly mountain was a bad idea, so I turned around and hiked back down the mountain. Going down was again harder than anything I’d anticipated. Four miles up a very steep path was difficult, but I’m a pretty good hiker, so it wasn’t undoable. Four miles down that same very steep path was… um… scary.

Several times, my sneaker hit a patch of loose gravel, and I nearly rolled down the mountain. I had to stop several times and catch my breath, because of the effort required not to roll down. My bad knee was burning, and I thought several times that it may just collapse on me. The only thing going through my mind as I made my way down the mountain was, “Holy shit! Did I really walk 4 miles up this thing???  What the hell was I thinking?”

Thing is I wasn’t thinking anything. I just wanted to see what was at the end of the path. I didn’t care how much it hurt, and I didn’t think about coming back down. I wanted to say I did it, and I did. Just when I felt like my legs were going to give out, I saw more path I wanted to follow. I was all alone. Complete solitude. The few folks I saw following the path were on bike (zig-zagging) just to keep moving. I just wanted to conquer that mountain and myself at the same time.

And I did.


Yes, that’s me right after I got up there with a “HOLY FUCK! I DID IT!” look on my face. Yes, that’s my soaked hair in a ponytail looking like I just emerged from a bath, and that’s my red face.

But you know what? I did it. I beat that bitch, and I did it all by myself with no help or encouragement from anyone else. So I’m pretty proud of myself.

When I got back down and walked back to my barracks room, I could feel the muscles tightening up, but I didn’t care…

…until I realized my barracks has no elevator, and my room is on the top floor.


Nonetheless, after 800 mgs. of Ibuprofen and some rest (and then another 800 mgs. after dinner), I realized that I had pushed myself to the limit, and I won. And I would do it again, and next time I would wear hiking boots, and take on that trail.

Because I’m stubborn, and I’m a ginger.

And that’s how we roll.

UPDATE: I’ve been made aware that I never did post whether or not the hike from hell helped me sleep. That’s a no.

Not only did I wake up at 0512 again, but I had the most bizarre dreams all night!

I have resigned to sleeplessness.


6 responses

  1. Ah, yes, I remember those thin mattresses in the Jugendherberge in München 40 years ago. I didn’t sleep too well there, either.

    What I found to border on the comical, however, was that the wool blankets they gave us were emblazoned with the legend “Deutschen Jugendherbergen” at one end, and “Fußende” at the other end.


    1. Now THAT is bloody hilarious! Nowadays, we have this thin goofy polyester thing and a cheesy comforter. I brought my Virginia Tech blanky with me.


    2. I seem to be missing something. What is hilarious about a youth hostel blanket that says “feet” at one end? Perhaps I am mis-translating.


      1. The fact that the “feet” had to be there to begin with. As if someone can’t figure out a blanket! LOL


        1. Having experienced German toilet paper, I just assume that unless they’re Bavarian they are typically stoic and mirthless Prussians (a stereotype, I know), so in my mind it was all “These youth, they are idiots. We had better tell them which end of the blanket is down so they can properly make the bed.”

          Which I suppose is also funny… I dunno, I just don’t get German humor so my default reaction is to accept everything at deadpan face value.


  2. Heh. When I was stationed at RAF Mildenhall, UK, back in 2005, I attended the USAF NCO Academy at Vogelweh with a buddy of mine. We drove over in my car so we’d have some transport, and so we could take our mountain bikes. Lots of great trails in that area, hilly like New England, great food and beer. We also went to the ‘ring one weekend to meet up with some of his BMW club friends. Nearly burned out the brakes of my Saab 9000 Turbo…. I always wanted to get stationed in the area but never managed it. Have fun!


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