At the front end of the trip, Huntley and I enjoyed many different guests in our RV. Our wish had come true: people traveled from across the globe to join us on our gypsy tour across Europe. Between Sandy’s first two trips with us into the Italian Dolomites, we entertained Huntley’s folks.
At the end of September, we drove from the Alps down to the Mediterranean and picked up Mike and Susan in Cinque Terre, Italy. The four of us had a sweet camping spot on the beach in Monterosso--I can't even begin to imagine what one of those beautifully colored, boutique hotels would have cost. Those two days were some of the few in which we dined out rather than cook on our RV’s two-burner stove. Mike brought us to a restaurant where we ate what he claimed to be the best pasta of his life. I’m not sure it was the best, but dining on the cobble-stoned patio with the Mediterranean lapping at the shore sure made it seem like it.
After overindulging in Mediterranean delights, the four of us drove to Lago di Garda in Northern Italy as Huntley had an itch he desperately needed to scratch. (For you parawaiting virgins, hanging out with a paraglider is a bit like playing fetch with a ball-obsessed puppy, but less cute and entertaining.)
Sadly, Huntley’s aerobatic flying dreams over Italy’s largest lake came to a screaming halt. In the middle of a technical maneuver called a helicopter, he fell through his wing and wrapped himself up in the lines. Luckily, my man’s a quick thinker. After he realized he couldn't throw his reserve because it too was tangled, he cut himself loose while falling uncontrollably for 2,500 feet. Cutting free from the lines allowed him to regain control of his wing, escape death, and land safely.
Unluckily, this incident kept us camped out on the lake while we waited for his wing to be repaired. And the weather sucked: nothing but fog for three days. Despite the crappy weather, Huntley talked me into taking a kiteboarding lesson with him.
The little show-off picked it up right away. Everything he ever learned paragliding translated beautifully into kiteboarding. I, on the other hand, sucked it up. I sucked up half that damn lake while torpedoing myself through the water. Whenever I managed to get my head above water, all I heard was my handsome, Italian instructor screaming “RED” at me, but what he really meant to scream was “RIGHT.” You see, my left hand contained red colored controls; my right, blue ones. Whenever he yelled “RED,” I pulled the kite with my, you got it, LEFT hand, the opposite of what Mr. Handsome intended me to do. Needless to say, it was not a successful lesson.
A few days after I attempted to drown myself, Huntley had his repaired wing, and it was time to take Mike and Susan to Verona for their return to the states.
After the folks left, we spent a few solo days hiking via ferrata trails in Southern Austria and Northern Italy. (A via ferrata consists of steel cables attached to a mountain face so that climbers can clip themselves into the cables to traverse the trail.) After the first via ferrata in Villach, Austria, I announced I had a new obsession.
Boy, did I speak too soon. The first via ferrata was easy. The only test it gave me was when we had to traverse a waterfall. To cross, we planted our feet on the lower cable, our hands on the upper cable, and walked across the cable suspended over the falls. Once I accepted that I needed to throw my weight into the upper cable and lean over the falls, it was easy.
Thanks to my chickening out, our second via ferrata was nothing more than an attempt. We found ourselves back in Northern Italy waiting Sandy’s second arrival with Chad. Since the weather wasn't cooperative with Huntley’s flying desires, we hiked.
We climbed up a shale, steep incline for two miles and then bushwhacked for another. Before we ever reached the steel cables for the “technical” part of the climb, I found myself hyperventilating on the side of a cliff. I think I could have continued if I’d been clipped into something. But we were clipped to nothing. Having to crawl around on all fours less than two feet from a several thousand foot drop while clinging to nothing but a bunch of bushes had me terrified.
What a humbling experience. I spent my high school and college summers backpacking through Montana’s Beartooth and Absaroka ranges. I was born in Montana. I wasn't some city girl stuck on the side of the mountain, but I might as well have been because nothing in my prior mountain experiences prepared me for what the crazy Italians called a trail. And, as it turned out, the French trails scared me too, but that’s a tale for part three.