par for the course

I was climbing Death Hill because I had heard there was some exercise equipment at the top.

From that sentence alone you might think I’m a sucker for punishment, but that’s not it. Death Hill, while not entirely a misnomer, is a short-lived pain. And mostly I was curious about an forest-based exercise course made of logs.

I found a little sign that said “Zurich parcoursvita” and followed the arrow. Pretty soon there was a sign showing some mobilité exercises, which I dutifully did. Then I came to some logs with instructions on jumping over them, and further along the track some bars for pull-ups.

There were long stretches of path in between stops and after the fifth station I started to wonder how far this thing went. While I was standing there wondering, I heard a commotion of rustling leaves and a small red doe went tripping lightly down the hill (did I mention this was a very steep hill?). You don’t see that at Lake Monger, I thought.

I kept going, following the route further up the hill. Here were some gym rings and a bar exercise constructed of wood. Still on track then. The path zigzagged around and came out at a series of stumps for step-ups. Further along there were two wooden benches, the sign showing me how a man in bike shorts would execute a plank on, well, a plank.

The instructions on the signs were always in French but luckily the language of two-dimensional faceless figures is universal. Plus there was the fun of puzzling out some of the words. “Alternativement lever le pied”… “Pied” is leg, “lever” must be to do with lifting… Alternatively lift the legs!

Given that the path now faded into a meadow I figured I must be at the end. But no, the arrow pointed across the grass and voila! Another station in the middle of some trees. I jumped over some more logs and soon I found myself on a road, a school to the right and a farm shed to the left. But the arrow said onwards, so onwards I went. This was turning into quite a trek.

Fifty metres along the bitumen I spied a sign at the edge of the forest. The path picked up again and I found several more stations: bars low to the ground for balancing, poles for running figure-of-eights around. In the nearby shed a goose was honking, but here under the trees it was cool and quiet. The path came out on another road and began to descend.

Surely now, I thought, surely now I’m at the end. Oh look, another sign.

I took a left at the intersection and ahead I could see a few houses. A man was watering some impressively tall, pink hollyhocks. “Bonjour,” we greeted each other. Around here, you never walk past someone without saying hello (and this practice is so like the place where I grew up and many parts of Perth, that I can’t help smiling).

I found a sign with information about the parcoursvita, tried to read it for a few minutes, decided to look at the view instead. Grass dotted with wildflowers rolled down the ridge, and just across the valley was Villars, the ski resort town a little up the mountain from Huémoz. It was another one of those brilliant green afternoons, when the sun is warm, the flowers are swaying in the breeze and the birds are chirping in the trees. It’s hard to avoid clichés here.

But I’d lost the trail. I walked back the way I came, racking my brains for the way to say “hello again” since the man was still watering his hollyhocks out the front. But he spoke first.

“Bonjour encore, cherchez-vous pour le parcoursvita?”

Actually this is what Google Translate tells me he said. I only caught the beginning and the end, but context is great for filling in the gaps.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak French,” I replied, with the apologetic grimace that goes along with that statement.

He thought for a moment, then pointed to the forest. “Down.” I nodded. “Huémoz.” I nodded again.

He indicated the space between a house and a shed I had assumed was private land. “Let’s go,” he said firmly, still holding the hose and making no moves to join me.

This was perhaps one of my favourite linguistic mishaps yet, and for once it wasn’t me uttering it.

But more importantly, I now knew where the path continued (nice work, Hollyhock Man!). “Ah yes,” I said. “Comprends. Merci!” And off I trotted.

I had, in fact, reached the end. The path trailed through the trees and eventually I was picking my way back down the treacherous Death Hill, having done an obstacle course in a forest and learned how to say “hello again” in French.

And that’s how you exercise in Switzerland.

(Actually, you also exercise in Switzerland by cycling up ridiculously steep mountain roads and making it look like a Sunday stroll. But I won’t be writing about that because I won’t be doing that. Ever.)

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