September 26th, 2006 11:14 EST
A Hiker's Fright, Compliments of Mom
I`m way beyond the age of reprimands and lectures, but at certain moments "say, when I find myself dangling from a tree trunk in the middle of an Alp "the thought still crosses my mind. What would my mother think?
When I first moved to Innsbruck I followed all of the travel rules. Don`t venture out alone. Carry an ID with you at all times. And my smelly yet effective favorite: hide a second stash of money in your sock. Somewhere along the way my nightly jaunts to local cafes were replaced with weekly walks to the grocery store. A small hand-held wallet replaced the monstrous purse strapped securely across my shoulder. Somewhere along the way, Austria stopped feeling like a foreign country and became home. The mountains that wrap Innsbruck in their protective and rocky hug ceased to be the legendary Alps " of adventure stories and were quite simply part of the neighborhood.
Some neighbors are friendlier than others. Some neighbors appear friendly from a distance and only show their true nature when you`re up close and hurt-able. As it turns out, some neighbors aren`t neighbors at all, but 7,600-foot awe-inspiring, panic-inducing dangerous layers of rock.
We set out on our hike Saturday afternoon. My husband and I walked a few blocks uphill and ate our hard-core hikers` meal: Matt chewed a puffy croissant wrapped around a slather of chocolate and I savored a crust of danish filled with cheese. In my backpack were the provisions for a 2-hour walk through the woods: a bottle of Gatorade and a sweatshirt. Matt carried similar items along with a map of the mountain ahead.
We passed the crumbling face of an antique shop and followed the cement road through blocks of chocolate-and-white houses until it ended in a path of dirt and pebbles. Ready to hike an Alp? " Matt asked.
I`m ready for a relaxing walk through the woods, " I replied. We`d previously taken a guided trip into the mountains with a group of people, and the similarities between this and Connecticut hiking were apparent then: the interspersing of inclines with flat areas, the clear winding trails, the tall trees and bird calls. We counted on a similar trip this time around. We didn`t count on getting lost.
Matt stood on the wide, clear path that slowly wound up the mountain, and pointed to a narrow trail that cut straight up to the next level. What do you think? " he asked. A fallen tree lay across the otherwise clear walkway.
Sure. Let`s try it, " I said, feeling adventurous (read: stupid). Several hours later, we were still on a narrow trail that cut up the mountain. Nearly straight up, I hung from a tree trunk and then pulled myself up to the next in order to continue moving up the incline. A slippery slope of dead leaves covered the hill below. According to the map, the wide marked path was at the top of the incline. There was only one thing to do. I found a tree to lean against, sat down, and panicked.
I can`t go any further. You know I hate heights. " Don`t look down. "
Too late. "
Matt opened his book bag and the tell-tale ziiiiip was out of place amidst the swishing of small animals through the leaves. His Gatorade appeared before me. Here. Have a drink, it`ll help. " My own drink had been finished a couple hours ago. I felt his last few sips pass my lips. We sat there for a few minutes, not saying anything. It would get dark in a couple of hours. Feel better? " he asked.
Yeah. " Good. Then we should probably get going. "
He made it to the top of the slope before I did. The paths up here! " he called. Thank you, I thought as the loveliest dirt ledge in the history of dirt ledges grew closer. Matt grabbed my hand and hoisted me over. I scrambled away from the cliff and toward the center of the wide path. The flat, safe ground stretched ahead.
Thank you, I thought at the trees, the mountain, and the wide flat path ahead. Despite what I`d wanted to believe, these were not the familiar and forgiving woods I`d hiked at home. This wasn`t just a walk through the woods; we were, as Matt said, hiking an Alp. Like so many hikers and bikers and skiers, I`d accepted its silent dare to come closer and too easily embraced its promise for adventure.
I will hike the Alps again. Some things are worth the risk. But it won`t be anytime soon, and it will be done with a few aids. Like a compass and a gallon of water. And some good old-fashioned caution, compliments of mom.