I really should be packing up. Or scrubbing the tiny capsule of a studio flat that's been our hibernation chamber for this working winter season in French Alps, or at the very least hunting for a summer gig, because our savings will only last about five weeks; what with the May wedding and all. Instead I'm glued to my laptop, watching a live launch of the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) as it embarks on its 8 years long mission to Jupiter's moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto in humanity's best bid so far to slash our unbridled ego a bit by discovering there's other life out there in the big void.
It's middle of April and the ski season in Val d'Isere is still going strong. Unlike us - the seasoniers. The all too familiar 'end of season' fatigue setting in, it's hard to conjure motivation for anything. We're all well aware this is the last push, last two weeks of deep cleaning our company's chalets before handing them over back to their owners, but now that we no longer face our guests - stripped off our uniforms and roles - the whole physical and mental tenacity folds in on itself. We've got a closing staff party in Switzerland to attend to and literally NO ONE is excited. We're just tired, okay? And you make it a Marvel Superheroes costume event too?! No wonder my improvised Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff ended up looking like Steven Tayler from Aerosmith!
We still work 9am-6pm. Fully wrapped up because of course heat is for paying guests only, mostly on all fours slowly - oh so slowly - scrubbing marked walls with magic erasers, lazily hoovering under the beds and sofas, counting and re-counting the fucking linen because of course it has to be split by type, material and brand. There's an endless supply of coffee and an endless supply of coffee breaks, we play our own music and set our own work rhythm, finally not frantically dictated by guests arrival at 4 pm.
It's strange to consider in no more than two weeks these winter hospitality versions of ourselves and our lives will be stripped down and handed over to the management, like those fucking 'Heidi-Chic' uniforms I hated so much. The whole 'day-to-day' way of life will be placed down, left behind and becoming smaller and smaller along with Val's reflection in our rear-view mirrors.
They're really taking time with that JUICE rocket launch. A text from my friend arrives. They ask how's the packing going (ouch) and how we're feeling being this close to the finish line?
'I'm excited but also weirdly nervous, like what if I don't remember who I am outside being a hospitality employee in a ski resort?'
I should have expected the answer to that: 'It's impossible to forget who Kuba Vitek is. Trust me, I try🤣.'
I wonder if I'll miss any of this. Some people, sure. The complimentary VIP entry to local swimming pool, sauna and gym I got as a perk instead of a seasonal ski pass, absolutely. I'll miss our modus operandi of the 'end-of-the-season' clear-up . After months of debilitating frugality, you arrive to your last weeks loosening your grip and going tits-out with all of your accumulated belongings in order to reduce the amount you need to pack. And trust me, if you get to work as a chalet host in Alps for the whole of winter, you do end up with piles of freebies. Every Sunday - our deep clean changeover day, after last round of guests depart and before the new set arrives in the afternoon - you walk home with shopping bags filled to the brim with all that's been left behind. Currently we've got about 6 bottles of extra virgin olive oil to finish before Sunday, 3 jars of Nutella, 15 half empty tubs of tooth paste, 5 cans of Heinz beans (that Brits for some odd reason pack with them for their holiday in France, spoiler alert - every French supermarket sells Heinz beans) and about two dozens of shampoos and conditioners.
What upsets me though is that the snow is almost entirely gone from the mountains and still no sign of marmots !!! This place is so abundant in this rodent species, it's turning them into a source of capital by slapping their likeness on everything from mugs to pillows, from key chains to ski gear. And I really fucking hoped to finally see some in the wild. Plus we've got a mountain slope straight up outside our balcony. I keep spying but no sign of them yet. Leaving next Sunday so there's a little chance and I'll have to go through life a marmot virgin!
Maybe I just envy them though? I mean I don't even remember what it feels like to have your own burrow to hibernate in and I suspect we too would be hesitant to leave it. Four years into living on the road, all of our belongings packed in our car and the only home we know is whatever accommodation the next work gig offers, I sure feel ready to start nesting. No longer just temporarily unpacking suitcases (most of which are actually just jumbo Lidl bags, that's the level of bums we reached), building new daily routines, new communities of friends chosen for you by other people as your colleagues, new versions of yourself - because yes, you do become what you do and who you surround yourself with - only to discard them six months later. And repeat.
We have faced many challenges on this grand adventure, but making a home, dropping an anchor, putting down roots after being uprooted for so long seems all of a sudden like a gargantuan undertaking. It's in equal measure thrilling and mortifying. That tantalizing 'not knowing' what's going to happen next. After half a year in the mountains, after building a work and life routine where you know exactly what to expect day by day, you once again stand facing the Big Unknown, and once again question whether you'd be able to survive out there, wondering how you possibly could, painfully aware your savings will run out in about five weeks, but also empirically conscious of the fact you somehow will.
It's been the biggest gift for a planning and scheduling freak like me - finding out during these past few years of adventuring, that the road will always keep unfolding if you just let go and make a conscious decision and effort (because it is a continuous effort) to trust it will.
Two weeks before being spat back into the void. The wait is excruciating, but much like the JUICE interplanetary spacecraft, who's launch today had to be postponed due to the risk of lightning storms, we're subjected to the timing that's outside our control. What's ahead is also kind of a long-run mission. We're getting married in May. We are planning to spend time with family and friends to remind us who we are outside being employees. And start June, we really should be working. This mission's objective though is a bit different: strapping in for an intense summer of work, an ardent effort to generate and save enough money as a means to settle down a bit come autumn. We're thinking Italy, close to Florence, where part of our chosen family resides. This doesn't mean the end of adventures. On the contrary. Maybe having a safe base to fall back onto, a place filled with our things and memories to come back to, will make this whole free spirit travelling lifestyle feel more free, more spirited and more like travel rather than hopping from one survival point to another.
Okay, I guess I'll go start on that packing.