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Secret Switzerland: Day 2

Mass Murderer's don't inhabit the hills of Switzerland. Kind, cheese-bearing sheep-lovers do.
By Jake Bogoch
posted: 03/12/2009

“That’s just pillow talk, baby.” David Lesh, sending it. Photo: Tom Winter.

“Six people killed, 150 head of cattle destroyed. The avalanche came at night, smothering them.” —An entry to the local journal “The Chronicle of Accidents” from the year 1598

Unlike the rest of Switzerland—calculated, meticulous, and deliberate—traveling with the Liberty team is not. A bus trip down valley in search of cheap beer and $4 bottles of wine goes longer than planned. Liberty riders Alex Applegate, David Lesh, and Travis Redd have failed to return with dinner groceries. They’ve been gone five hours on a mission that should’ve taken two.

Violent crime doesn’t much exist in this region. Neither does any other crime for that matter. But what separates this secret-ish valley—the name of which I’ll reveal in tomorrow’s dispatch—from the rest of the country is a one-way road that scribes its way eastward through Rufena canyon. Avalanches pour on either side, stopping just shy of the pavement, though they frequently don’t. Same goes for rockfall. In 1951, an avalanche hit the village, burying 31 people and killing 19. One section of the road snakes around a blind corner at the road’s most narrow point. Bus drivers lean on the horn just before they pass through. The scariest corners have guardrails but many sections don’t. Failing to stay on the road means failing to stay alive: you’re dealing with a 700-foot drop into a creek. So we’re getting worried about these guys.

Alex Applegate blows chunks. Photo: Tom Winter.

The bus stopped running at 8:30. Now it’s 10:30, and dark. Tom and I know these guys to be…unpredictable. But the road. The damn road with the damn avalanched. Who knows what could’ve happened on the paved avalanche target after a two-foot dump.

At 10:36, while sipping a 50-cent local beer on the patio overlooking the only road in town, a diesel van pulls up to the bus stop. We hear a slurry of English voices, profusely thanking someone. The voices begin butchering the German language, yelling “Guten tag! Guten tag!” which means “good day,” to which the driver responds. “Uh…Ja. Gut nacht,” which means, “Yes. Good evening.” The way he inflects each syllable means, “you’re welcome. Now get the hell out of my car and learn how to read the bus schedule.”

Along the way, the Liberty crew took a short detour to a small town. (Again, the name of this town, like this ski town, I’ll keep a secret until later this week.) They were taken to someone’s home, which adjoins a barn. They were fed cheese, butter, and meat that came, respectively, from next door, 20 feet away, and 40 feet away. After feeding them, the kind locals led the Liberty crew to the stone-roofed barn—a legal requirement to preserve local character—for an impromptu session of petting some lambs. That sounds creepy. And it should. But the guys said it was awesome. (Stay tuned for proper sheep photography tomorrow.)

The locals then drove them home, these meticulous, calculated, deliberate people pitying the cavalier, disorganized, and impulsive. The Americans were legitimately touched. The experience, they claimed, was very Swiss and authentic. In the context of this valley, it was: for the second time in as many days, the course of their day involved sheep.

“Prost!” That either means “cheers” or “I hope you choke.” We’re not sure yet. Photo: Tom Winter.

“This backseat is so much different than the one we had to ride in to get back here.” Skier: David Lesh. Photo: Tom Winter.

Alex Applegate licks up some pow during the storm, before the shitstorm of getting back to town. Photo: Tom Winter.


Your correspondent, just trying to keep up. Photo: Tom Winter.

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