I woke up with my first post-wedding PTSD dream. All the photos had mysteriously gone missing and we had to fly back to Seattle and do it all again. I checked my phone—4:30am—and couldn’t go back to sleep. After a breakfast of Tresor cereal (what else?) we took the bus to Les Houches, the start of the Tour du Mont Blanc. Courtney had hiked a portion of it back in high school and vowed to do it again with her husband-to-be, a feat of premonition only she could make good on.
The 10-mile first day was much harder than I expected. I lumbered along the whole time, breathing heavy, a combination of jet lag and sleep deprivation and being horribly out of hiking shape. But Courtney had a different theory: she told me it was because I only heard what I wanted to hear about the trip.
“I told you it was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done,” she said, mildly exasperated. If it was true, I knew it was no small claim: Courtney had backpacked in near constant rain in Alaska for twelve straight days. This must be it, I thought, our first marital dispute. I relayed back what I’d heard her say: a jaunty stroll across the Alps, with all-you-can-eat buffets in refuges along the way. I rested my case. What else did I need to know?
We followed the steep uphill path of an old ski lift in the morning, then went through a half-dozen small towns. We passed quaint churches, flocks of smiling cows, cute bed-and-breakfast inns – many of which had already closed for the season. By noon, hanger began to set in. The place we had intended to stop for lunch was not open until later that afternoon, and those further along in the hike had, much to our chagrin, closed early.
“No one would turn down a paying customer in China,” I sneered, almost without thinking.
“Why don’t you try reframing it?” Courtney insisted. “Like learning to be less entitled.”
I had, unconsciously, been comparing everything I saw on the trip to China. It was the first time that we’d traveled together where I was dependent on Courtney to get around, and I needed, on some level, a baseline of familiarity. I wanted it all to make sense – the steep hills replaced with long staircases, vendors spaced every 300 meters hawking instant noodles and energy drinks, or how we could, at times, walk into someone’s home and request that they make us a meal. But Courtney had been right: why couldn’t I appreciate this experience on its own merit?
By the time we got to our refuge for the night, I was still expecting what I had built up in my mind from hiking in China: cramped bunkbed hostel, dinner spread so pricey I would have to eschew it in favor of rice, packed crowd just to glimpse the sunset at night. But even despite what Courtney had (allegedly) told me, it exceeded all my expectations. The room was beautiful. The views, uninterrupted. And for dinner, we had mashed potatoes and ribs in a raspberry glaze that tasted divine. So, when the meal was over and the choices for dessert were ice cream or chocolate, I didn’t hesitate a moment before responding. “Both,” I said. We were in Europe, after all. Hell, I even had a glass of wine.