Mysterious Wonder

I have been delayed in writing this portion of the blog. I have been wrestling with how to go about it. Nearly a year has passed. I’ll pick up where I left off.

Morning came, as it always does, but this would be Dave’s last morning. I went out to a far corner of the property to look out over Lake Lucerne, spend some time praying and just do some thinking. Caleb was still sound asleep. The mountains had a dappled appearance in the morning light. A lone swimmer gently plied through the glassy water. His wake pierced through the calm waters leaving an impact upon the waterscape far greater than he. I thought about Dave. I wanted to be mad. Mad at God; mad at Dave; mad at the fact that I couldn’t be there with my brother. But none of that was happening. I had an overwhelming sense of peace. The presence of the lone swimmer cutting through an eternity of water and the mysterious wonder of captured beauty in the Swiss Alps seemed all too providential. Dave loved Europe.

The text I received early this morning was not hopeful; it read, “Doctors surmise a zero percent chance of recovery.” Night fell for them even as dawn was coming for me and Caleb. At 7:30 am, I met up with Caleb for breakfast. I informed him that we were pulling the plug on the trip. We were going to try to get back to see Dave before he died. Caleb responded as a champ. Over breakfast, we were both lost in thought; I was anxious to hit the road.

The family youth hostel in Gersau is absolutely a wonderful place. In many ways both Caleb and I will hold this place as a very special location; it provided a pleasant respite during an emotionally difficult time. It’s inexplicable how certain places have that mysterious wonder about them, but it sure is a soothing balm when we find that spot.

We loaded our bikes with our gear, looked over our shoulder across the campus of the hostel nestled in a peaceful cove of the lake and made our way to the ferry. It was a downhill drift to the ferry. When we arrived at the dock, there was a car that instantly pooled the memories of Dave. It was a VW camper. Dave was a masterful mechanic. It was the VW camper that nurtured his auto mechanics early on. We had a 1974 VW camper that Dave tweaked and cared for. It could hum at a good clip; it had the same engine as a Porche 914. One sweet summer evening when the hour proved late for many drivers, Dave found himself paired up with a Corvette at a stoplight. He had no intention to shame the vette. He was just trying to keep the camper from stalling as he slightly revved the engine. The vette mistook this as an invitation. With a full throated deep rev, the vette dropped the dare. The light turned green and with great glee, I watched our “shoebox on wheels” smoke the vette on the short hop. Don’t mess with a mechanic. Through the years, Dave worked on every VW any of us owned from a ’67 camper through a 411 wagon and several beetles to mom’s last car: an ‘02 beetle. It was a car for the people, and Dave was a man for the people. He gave of himself willingly to the needs of others.

 

The ferry arrived spot on time; it is Switzerland. Everything is on time. I’m certain each Swiss native has a precise internal clock! Somewhere along the way, my internal clock took a licking and it now just has a couple of weird ticks.

The ferry shuttled us across the lake. On the distant shoreline, we could see the hostel just waking up for another day. The sun was shining with a luminescence; it shimmered on the water, but was not hot. When we arrived on the other side of the Lake, it was as if Dave was there to greet us. Parked at thehead of the line waiting for us was a rag top Fire Engine Red ’72 Jaguar E-Type. He knew it is my favorite car.

One of the last things we did together was to go car shopping for my current car. I called him on his birthday, and said, “Hey! Do you want to go check out a car with me?” “Sure, where is it?” “Near D.C.” “When do you want to leave?” “Umm, now?” “OK, I’m ready.” It was a great day. We drove down together talking all the way with the Doobie Brothers, Chicago and Yes playing in the background.

It’s funny. There was a time when another significant event was about to happen in my life, and it was just me and Dave driving. We were in my ’67 VW camper; we had a great conversation, then, too. I was on my way to getmarried. Although I didn’t marry the Miata I bought on this particular day, Dave made me love it all the more when he stated, “You know, Ted, this is the more affordable and reliable version of the Jag.” “Oh man, you’re right!” I blurted.

The bike ride into Lucerne with Caleb was picture perfect. There was a bicycle path that weaved its way through farmlands, small villages and mountains. It was a short day’s ride when we arrived at the Youth Hostel in Lucerne around noon. After informing the clerk that we had to cancelled our reservation and make our way back to the states, I busily went about cancelling the other reservations along our route and made arrangements to take the train back to Geneva with hopes of securing a flight home later that evening.

While waiting for the train departure, Caleb and I had a very punctuated tourist experience in Lucerne. We walked across the famous covered bridge and had a delicious Italian meal on the other side of the river. Just before 2:00 pm, we were on the train waiting to leave. With bemusing punctuality, the train left just as the second hand on the station clock swept to mark the hour.

The smooth, quiet ride whisked us along the countryside that we were slated to bicycle. It took the train a mere couple of hours what would have taken three days by bike. Caleb and I soaked in the scenery and played a round of gin rummy.

A strange and mysterious feeling swept over me at 2:35 pm. It felt like a piece of my heart slipped away. I looked up from my cards and said to Caleb, “I believe Dave just died.” “How do you know?” “I don’t. I just had a strange feeling sweep over me that I can’t really explain. I never felt it before.” We prayed for Dave’s family and for ourselves. The card game was put on hold.

There is sadness and there is grief. There is mourning and there is sorrow. I really don’t know how to classify what it is with the death of my brother. For a year now, I’ve been trying to figure it out. This past Sunday, it washed over me as I looked at the flowers we had placed in the sanctuary in memory of Dave. I guess if I could put it to any words…I flat out miss him. Things aren’t the same. As a family, we have continued on, but with awkward steps; there’s broken glass on the floor now.

Caleb and I continued on with our train ride. Arriving in Geneva, we rode to the bed and breakfast where we stayed prior to the start of the ride. The host there was extremely gracious. He let us keep our bags there until our return. With our unexpected early return, he was very accommodating. The Swiss are that way. The bike shop owner, an American, was a mixture of both American and Swiss: A mysterious wonder of the pragmatic of business and the empathy of Swiss accommodation. With candor, he informed me that he couldn’t give a refund on the 6 days for early return of the bicycles, but he did secure for us a place in a nearby hotel. With genuine sincerity, he included, “I can give you store credit for the days you couldn’t ride; if you’d like.” “I’ll take it! Caleb and I will be back to finish this ride.”

The day ended with a good meal and great reflection upon a guy who really doesn’t need a superlative. Dave was solid. Caleb tipped his hat of sorrow with a statement that tugged at that missing part of my heart, “You know dad, I think the hardest thing for me is I was just getting to know Uncle Dave, and I really liked him.”

We all did.

The mysterious wonder of life.  There are some things we just can’t explain.

Advertisements

You Can’t Miss it!

Spending the night in the hostel perched in the middle of a ski slope where there are no roads to get to the place presents an interesting experience. Our wives met us in Andermatt and asked, “Where is the hostel?” “You can’t miss it. It’s up there! I’m not exactly sure how we get there, but I know from the map we can sort-of get there from this direction.” Off the guys rode on their bikes and the ladies followed in their car.

We came to the bottom of a ski lift and saw the hostel part way up the hill. We spun our bikes up the hill, then pushed them the last few yards to the back porch. It was a beautiful view. As I surveyed the splendor, there I spotted a lovely sight: Three nymphs dragging their bounty across the ski slope. I called out, “Hey Ladies! There is another spot where you can park and you won’t have to drag your suitcases so far!” I’m pretty sure it was a look of ecstasy upon their faces.resized_802x534_802x534_basecamp_aussenansicht_1.jpg

Once we settled into the hostel, we met the man who owns the place. He is a pilot with a debonair kind of cool. You couldn’t miss him in a crowd. His hostel is a work in process. It is a ski chalet with a free spirit. Scattered about are Mt. bikes and skis. Cubbies crammed with mittens, boots and hats. A hardwood floor and a cozy wood burner stove. Lap pinewood walls with open steps to the second floor. Nothing was quite finished, but then it was finished enough. The bathroom was unisex, and Becky discovered that first. She was coming out of the bathroom, when she couldn’t miss the fact that there was a man in the mirror coming out of the shower with a towel around his waist. “Hello.” Not to be too surprised, Becky nonplus replied, “Oh, hi!”

Becky swept me aside and said, “Ted, the bathrooms are unisex.” “And?…..”

It was getting close to dinner, and I figured Becky already made acquaintance with our housemate, so we invited him to join us; found out he was a teacher on a hiking adventure.  We had a lovely evening as the 8 of us filled the Italian restaurant in the heart of Switzerland. The pilot told us, “You can’t miss it.”

The next morning came early, because Becky and the other two couples had a flight that they just couldn’t miss. They were flying out of Zurich. Caleb and I continued to saw logs; although, my sleep was very troubled. I was very anxious about Dave.

When morning came for Caleb and me, there was a very distinct chill in the air. I was fidgety to get on the road. Both Caleb and I were not in any mood to have breakfast in town. We just wanted to go. It was all very anti-climatic. Our riding partners had left; our wives (Caleb’s mom) had left, and a dark cloud hung over us with worry about Dave. It just seemed lonely to hang around. I suggested to Caleb that we head out of town and catch breakfast at the bottom of the mountain. “That’s a good idea, dad. I’m not too thrilled to hang around either.”

The chill had let up, but the angst of the morning didn’t. Within the first two miles, Caleb and I came upon a serious construction zone on the only road out of town down the mountain. Even though it was 8:00 in the morning, the traffic was piled deep. As we came to stop awaiting our turn to go through a tunnel, I spotted a side road. It was actually a famous tourist attraction. The Devil’s Bridge. “Caleb, C’mon! We’ll go over this way.” We jumped our bikes over the curb and made our way onto Devil’s Bridge. Tucked within the steep granite walls of the mountains is an intertwined staircase of bridges and tunnels. These engineering marvels pale in comparison to the stairstep cascade of water that swoops beneath them. Legend has it that a deal was made with the devil to build the bridge, because it is such a harrowing piece of topography. The people of Uri promised the devil the very first soul to cross the bridge. The people decided to outsmart the devil and sent a dog across first. This infuriated the devil, so he picked up a large rock to destroy the bridge, but an old woman encountered him and drew a cross upon the rock. The devil was so frightened by this he dropped the rock and ran. All I know is this is a place you can’t miss.

Caleb and I soaked in the wonder of this engineering marvel, then we marveled at how we were going to get the rest of the way down the mountain. Before us was the massive construction project. From our vantage point, we had two options. We could carry our bikes down a long wooden temporary staircase to a section of road or bike through the construction staging area and stage ourselves for the front of the line to wind our way down the mountain. We chose option 2, and that was the smartest move we made. We were out in front of the traffic and soon the road split into a highway and a back road. We remembered to take the Blue Road, and it washed all our blues away that we may have been feeling earlier in the morning. What a rush going down the hill. No cars at all. Just absolute beauty tucked between the towering granite walls with the river rushing below us.

We yippeed and hollered all the way down the mountain. The sun came out strong and we landed in the birthplace of Switzerland… Altdorf. It was here William Tell challenged the encroaching Habsburg rule that was seeking to snatch the canton of Uri to be part of the realm. A tyrannical leader named Gessler set up an egotistical test for all the townsfolk. They were to bow to his hat that was perched on the top of a pole. Tell refused and subsequently was forced to use his bow to shoot an apple perched upon the top of his son’s head. With precision, he did so. The second arrow he had prepped was etched for Gessler’s head. After fleeing and setting an ambush upon Gessler, Tell sank the second arrow into its target and the Swiss Confederacy was born.

The descent down gave Caleb and me a rebirth of focus for the ride. We stopped for brunch, and then rode our bikes through one of the coolest bike paths ever. It certainly can’t be missed. The trail is carved right out of the mountain side. The mountains drop straight down into Lake Luscerne. The turquoise water dramatically highlights the shimmering granite cliffs of the mountains capped with snow. The scenery was absolutely distracting, which was perfectly fine. We were on a bike path with no one else on it. We were swerving and singing and stunned.

Once we dropped to water level, we were in a very snazzy doddle town of Ingenbohl. All along the beachfront, we rode. Out into the countryside and saw this:img_3141

Switzerland is beautiful. At the end of the ride, Caleb discovered how beautiful it really can be. The summer magic of boy meeting girl happened in Gersau. We stopped at a very special family youth hostel for the night. We put on our bathing suits and headed for the lake. We swam and hung out on the diving dock; talked about Dave and got a bit of sun. After we swam to shore, there she was. The lady of the lake. She did her pilates on the diving dock. Where she came from, I’m not sure, but Caleb tried as hard as possible to be cool and coy. After awhile, she swam over to talk to us. Caleb was smitten. We talked and met for dinner with her mom in the dining hall. After dinner, I feigned the need to check emails. Caleb and his Swiss miss played ping-pong until dark. It was his opportunity not to be missed.

 

Overall, it was a good day. Sure, the pale of Dave’s condition hung over me. With a 6 hour time difference, it was tough to stay abreast of the developments. The last text before bed didn’t sound too promising for Dave’s recovery. We had to make a decision. I didn’t want to spoil Caleb’s evening. It could wait until morning.

Opposite Poles

On the cusp of an inauguration, it seems ironic that I am going to write about a day during the sabbatical that was saturated with absolutely polar emotions. The following is a portion of my journal for this day…

July 27, 2016

There are days that live in infamy throughout history, but personally – this is one day that will forever be branded upon my heart.

Our lives are made of events that define us. Sometimes these events come as minor instances like a smile or a kind random act, and then there are monumental events. Both good and bad.

For two years, I had dreamed of and planned for this day. For two years, I envisioned the shared joy and the great opportunity this would be for Caleb. As for him, the prospect of this day had been a day clouded with great uncertainty. I knew he could do it, but he was far more reserved. He had his excuses, but good on him that he was willing to give it a go. I, personally, knew he would make it. My experience in leading bike trips proved again and again the ability of youth. The emotional, psychological positive impact a ride of this stature has on a kid is far greater than any quantifiable measure.

The three days leading up to this day were all training days. They set the tone, the muscles and the base level confidence for all to tackle the ride ahead. The juxtaposition of enthusiasm and anxiety creates a very interesting and volatile mix of emotions. One’s senses are more acute and life seems bolder. There’s mystery and majesty. Life is filled with this tension. How we handle it is the measure of our wisdom.

*****

Awaking in the heart of the Swiss Alps, we were surrounded by majesty. Our first mystery was breakfast. Alas, it wasn’t so mysterious after all. It was a traditional Swiss breakfast of cheese and curds. A few pieces of salami and fruit rounded out the selection. My favorite was stuffing the yogurt/curds full of granola and capping it with several slices of apple. Yum.

The weather was perfect; the temperature was scratching 65 degrees and we launched into the ascent at 8:15 am. From a numbers standpoint, the day seemed easy. Start after 8:00; ride 36 miles total; spend the night in a very avante guard ski hostel with no roads to it, and a temperature that was optimal. Well, other numbers came into play in the first 5 miles. We climbed 800 feet of vertical in less than 3 miles. The Rhone tumbled and tripped over itself 300 feet below us from a precipitous roadside. The cog train clambered along side of us on the edge. We were above the treetops even as the trees grew just beside the road. Pressing through this funnel of water, steam, steel and sweat to an open alpine valley, we gazed in amazement. The tight passageway led us directly through a wrinkle in time to Grimm’s Fairy Tales or through a mysterious shrinking machine that placed us in the middle of a miniature train layout. A crazy mix of tension between stress and succor.

Pastures spread out before our spinning wheels and our heads were on a swivel taking in the knife edge mountain tops around us with the sweet Swiss Chalets guarded by the massifs filling our eyes with splashes of color and innocence. How could anyone imagine the tension of life in such a bucolic setting? We bathed in the sunlight awash in the wonder of the quaint beauty. Much of me wanted to soak longer in this setting, but the Furka Pass lurked in the distance.

After nine miles of ease and mesmerizing beauty, we entered the last little hamlet before we stepped hard on the pedals to crank through the first of several switchbacks. We stopped at a gas station to ask for some important celebratory fuel. It’s fun to mark occasions. And liquid refreshments seem to be an important aspect to this. Just ask Jesus.

Realizing that we just purged unneeded weight back in Fiesch (one of us was so thorough I was afraid he was planning on riding up in the buff), I wasn’t looking for a NASCAR gallon jug of Champagne to shower ourselves in victory. Just a simple litre would have been sufficient to raise a glass (or water bottle) in commendation. There was none to be found, so we headed to the little market and found something equally as valuable. It was a two litre bottle of Citron! The same stuff we paid 16 euros for the day before. “Hey guys! Check this out! It’s the gold lined Citron, and only for 98 cents! What a deal!” This was our answer. We poured some into our water bottles, and I strapped the rest to my bike. There’s another 2 pounds.

A brief locker room type pep talk launched the riders with the final injunction, “I’ll meet you at Glesch”. Glesch was the final stop before the ascent over the pass. It was about 10:15 am. Back home everyone was still snug in their beds dreaming while we were about to live out a dream.

There’s nothing easy about climbing hills. It’s just raw gut power and tenacity. And up we went. One crank after another. The scenery was captivating, and right now I was a prisoner of pain.  When we made our entry to Glesch, Caleb had proven his muster. He monstered up the hill climb and was seated at the café waiting for the old guys to arrive. This was the preamble to the big climb that stretched out before us up the glorious valley to the pass at Furka. The four of us stood and stared in wonder at the mountain before us. “We’re about to climb that.” “Yep” “It’s big.” “Yep”

We snapped a couple pictures and grabbed a snack and some hot cocoa and spent some time in the chapel giving thanks to God for the magnificence of this trip. In the midst of my prayer, I was thinking of my older brother. I couldn’t wait to tell him about this part of the ride.

11:30, we mount up to take on the final climb; it’s a 10K distance that jumps 2200 feet. The pavement rolls under my wheels like a conveyor belt; surely the road is moving because I was certain I saw the same series of rocks glide past my wheels. In the shadows of a gully, the remnants of last winter’s snowfall defies the July summer sun. Caleb is lead rider; he is a quarter mile ahead and cranking. I think to myself, “Stand on it Dwayne!” This was a saying I used to call out to my riders as we would crank up the hills of Western PA. Meanwhile, professional cyclist Jen Voigt’s famous line: “Shut up, legs!” dripped from my lips.

Freeloaders latched on to my bike frame. Not sure where they were going and why their wings didn’t give them a quicker and better ride. No matter; I was coated with alpine flies. At the second stage of the ascent, I waited for our last rider. I looked up to catch sight of Caleb making the bend at the tabletop turn. He was focused.

The last rider and I tag teamed the final push to the Belvedere Hotel. The crazy part about this ride according to Strava, we were climbing 48% grades at times. Gadzooks! That’s a 26 degree slope. Once at the hotel, we took a breather for lunch and a chance to check out the glacier. It was about 12:30 when we all arrived at the near top. Only 3 km to go.

Mountain tops do funny things. From a spiritual standpoint, we get inspired. From a physical reference we gain confidence. From a meteorological view, they keep you on your toes! When we reached the little café next to the hotel, the sun was out with some broken clouds. It was an absolutely beautiful day. We cheered our accomplishment, but not too boldly because we still had a piece to go. I was so dang proud of Caleb and my two buddies were just relishing the ride. As they went off to see the glacier, I stayed back with the bikes. Staring down the valley and the road that etched its way to the top, I absorbed the feat of accomplishment. It was a majestic view. Then came the mystery. Actually, then came the anxiety. Over the Grimsel Pass, I saw the clouds boiling over the adjacent mountains. Hmm, this isn’t good. A storm is coming. img_3404A quick text to the boys that we should be hitting the road, and off we went to the summit of the pass. We made good time, and took a moment to celebrate our victory! A sip of Citron for all! It was about 1:30. Back home, people were rustling out of bed for the day. My brother was one of those. He had a bee in his bonnet to get his car ready for his family’s upcoming vacation. Crawling under his van, he had to fix a certain part so the car would pass inspection.

We started our descent around 2:00 pm; the wind was whipping past our ears; whoops and cheers echoed across the mountains. I never heard the phone ring. Caleb and I got stuck behind a tour bus and then made a break to pass it. My youngest brother sent me a text, but I never saw it. We flew around corners imagining we were James Bond. When we reached Realp, Caleb and I stopped to wait for our buddy. What a ride! What a downhill thrill. “Caleb, you are a champ!” The phone rang again. It was my niece. “Hey LIZZIE! We just had the ride of our lives!” I poured out the great news; we were on cloud nine! Lizzie interrupted, “Ted. Dad was in a really bad accident; he’s being flown to the hospital.”

What!?

An emotional storm cloud just over powered cloud nine. Darkness fell. Even as my buddy showed up, I told him the news and then the heavens opened up with icy cold tears that blasted against our faces. We still had a ways to go to Andermatt. My heart sank. The weather stunk, and my voice couldn’t sing anymore.

“How can this be?” From elation to concern in a heart beat. The tension stirred within me. We cycled hard against the strong updraft wind. The news just didn’t seem possible. Dave’s car fell off the jack and pinned him. He was unconscious. The greatest day in the world has now been mixed with the worst news ever to hear. My mind was jumbled. There is a dream and a nightmare all at the same time.

Our lives are constantly caught in this tension. How we handle it is a measure of wisdom. It was King Solomon who recognized this best, and he sought wisdom from God first before anything else. It’s wisdom that guards us from being overwhelmed or too zealous for a cause. It’s wisdom that equips us with insight and stability. Even now, on the cusp of this transfer of power where tension exists, may we as a corporate body express wisdom. Our enthusiasm or our anxiety cannot be so all consuming that we jeopardize our life together.

We pulled into Andermatt, our wives were waiting for us; the sun had come out. We made it. There is strength and hope in our bonds of friendship and love. These bonds accompany us through the majesty and mystery of life; they are ones that walk with us through the good and the bad. Bonds of love and friendship take us to new heights and pull us through difficult times. And it just may be when we find ourselves in the thickest stew of tension that we may need to say to ourselves, “shut up, legs!”

swiss-525

In Andermatt; what a ride!

It’s the journey that counts!

Author’s note:  Although this part of the sabbatical took place nearly 5 months ago, I wish to share the rest of the story with you, and I must continue the written journal of the experience.  I hope you will enjoy reliving this experience just as I am reliving it while putting it down in print.

There are coffee mugs out there that remind us: it’s not just about the destination; it’s the journey. Leaving the wine country of Switzerland, some smellier than others, we mounted up for undoubtedly our most adventuresome day. It started out all so innocently and refreshing. Isn’t that how all things seem to start?img_3396

After a classic Swiss breakfast of cheese and oatmeal, we biked out of Sierre kissing the edge of the small lac de Geronde. All was well. There was a berm and the hint of an increased uphill climb. No worries.

After two miles of quaint cycling, we were swallowed by a mountain. The tunnel entrance appeared before us. With no known way around, we plunged head long into its mouth. The steady up hill grade and the blasting trucks instantly awoke us from our idyllic dream into a half-mile ride of terror. The light at the end of the tunnel never seemed more realistic at that moment. Once bathed in sunlight, we all stopped and said, “OK, let’s not do that again.” Ah, but it is adventure day today.

A bit further down the road, we squeezed through another short tunnel then a third. We spilled out to a bridge and a massive roundabout. We felt it best to take a road far less traveled to soothe our nerves. Spying a road across the river and checking with Google, we thought, “Now, there’s a road worth riding.” A bit of a climb to get to it, but nothing we weren’t going to face later. We skirted across the face of a mountain that tumbled down into the Rhone River. Etched along the face of the mountain, there were terraced vineyards. We had found our idyllic ride again! A beautiful and refreshing waterfall splashed playfully across the road, and we had no traffic. Strange.img_3102

Moments later, we came to a switchback. It descended to a house. Hmm. Alas, there was amountain trail that spurred off the switchback. “Hey Guys! Look at this. We could take this to a bridge.” A quick survey of our situation and

screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-10-10-13-pm

Google Earth screen grab; a bit preoccupied to pull out the camera.

 

the narrowness of the path perched about 50 feet above the Rhone River helped us realize our ordeal through the tunnels was nothing compared to this next trek. We opted to back track and head for smooth ribbon of blacktop.

Back past the playful waterfall and down to the massive roundabout, we encountered a brand new bike trail. It was still being built, but we got to ride on a good chunk of the path. It was once again a dreamlike ride.

We plopped right into the middle of nice little town.   Yet, surprises lurked in the cozy nooks of this place. We wanted to avoid as many main arteries as we possibly could, and Google had a wonderful suggestion that took us back across the Rhone to a riverside bike path.

I’ve never biked on a runway before, but to access the road to the bike path we cycled across a small regional airfield that serviced some of the more affluent tourist who had a hankering to visit Zermatt and the Matterhorn. The Matterhorn serves as the paramount symbol for Switzerland. With its unique crook at the top, it reminds most of us of Mt Crumpit. And we all know what happened at the top of that mountain! I dare say that anyone who visits Switzerland has a change of heart, because the natural beauty and the refreshing hospitality will melt any frozen Grinch-like spirit.

The Matterhorn was not on our itinerary. It was about a 20 mile deadend ride just to the train station to get to Zermatt. Although, Zermatt is a fascinating little town. When I was a teenager, we stopped in to visit. The town does not allow any cars, so one is free to roam the streets in a spirit of wonder as you take in the cathedral peaks that surround the town. In the winter, this place is skiing mecca.

Back to our story…we crossed the runway and the across the Rhone again to our quaint little bike path. All was good again. Alas, it is adventure day.

A lone cyclist blew past us, and our competitive spirit kicked in. Even though we were carrying at least 20 pounds of gear, we put the hammer down to keep up with this guy. He was like our pilot. We chugged along and had a great ride, he took a hard right across the river; we took a hard right across the river. He turned right again to head back down the river; we did not. We kept biking further up and further in (As CS Lewis would write). We were about to face our last battle before lunch. The bike trail spread like a sweet concrete blanket before us. We waved as we cycled past some railroad workers. They gave us a quizzical look. Not sure why.img_3852

About 500 yards later, we jumped right into another literary classic by Shel Silverstein. Our sidewalk had ended…abruptly! Fortunately, all four of us had lights on up in the attic, albeit dimly. We decided to keep moving forward on the single track dirt trail. Not long after that we suffered our second flat tire of the trip. A quick change and then a reassessment. What to do. Google.

The map pointed out that there was a small access road on the other side of the train tracks. You may be thinking, “Oh that’s not so bad.” Remember, this is adventure day. There were 6 lines of rail; two of which serviced the Swiss high-speed rail. Pardon me for the following little diversion: There really is nothing more mechanically and engineeringly more beautiful than the Swiss train system. They certainly don’t let mountains get in the way of their railroad pursuits, and they have somehow figured out how to make their trains virtually silent. And on top of all this, these babies cook! I mean, they are smokin’ fast. You know that fun Roger Miller song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qk_hPTN50UE), well…there is no clickety clackity of the train wheels to inspire that song when you think about a Swiss train.

Being ones who are kings of the road, we needed to get off the goat path next to the rail line, so we timed our approach and ran like the dickens across the tracks only to be met by a hurricane fence across the road. With a bit of our own engineering, we found our way on to the road and back in the saddle of a sweet ride. Arriving in the tourist trap town of Visp, we stopped for lunch.

Somewhere along the way, we crossed the imaginary boundary between French and German. Up to this point, I was fairly able to get us through most predicaments with my rudimentary (emphasis on “Rude”) French. I turned to my son to see how well his 3 years of High School German would fare. Upon receiving the bill for our lunch, not so well! Somehow a regular two litre bottle of “sprite” cost us 16 euros. C’est la vie!

We had a good chuckle about that and were fully loaded with a classic Valais Germanic lunch: heavy on the potatoes and cheese with a speckling of meat. I was longing for a bed, but we had many miles before we could sleep this day. Besides, it’s adventure day!

After lunch, we rode out of town and into a refresher class about colors. Now, being a skier, I have deeply embedded into my psyche: Green is for beginner; Blue is for Intermediate. The road signs in Switzerland come in these two varieties of signs: Green and Blue. Simple enough. Throw in a roundabout and it just gets interesting. There I was leading the esteemed team up the road. We entered the roundabout, and I spied the two different road signs. Thinking about our safety I chose Green. If I were to be playing Pokemon Go, then I would have lost. I did not choose wisely. As we made our way on to the Green road, horns were honking; big trucks were blowing their horns. “What’s with all the racket?” It was then we realized we were on an on ramp for a super highway. Oops. Lord help the guy who is color blind!

img_3105We spun around and pushed our bikes back to the Blue road; crossed the river, again. The dear sweet bike path appeared like the good fairy godmother Gwendolyn. A road sign declared 5 kilometres to Brig. We were in the right direction and going strong. The trail turned rustic with looming trees overhead and roots beneath our wheels. No problems. We didn’t have horns up our backs! By the time we reached Bitsch, we touched the first hint of what was to come. We were officially on the Furkastrasse! The road began to resemble the name of the town with its incline and the Rhone began to tumble down stream a bit more vigorously.

We stopped at the incline for a nice diversion, but we missed the last service for the day. Besides we were nearly at our final resting spot for the day in Fiesch. I couldn’t wait. It had been a stiff day of riding.   Just before entering Fiesch, there is a significant uphill. With legs like jell-o, one would hope there could be some kind of relief. A wise local displayed the option with a Cheshire cat like grin as he zoomed passed me in an electric assist bicycle. He called out in a German accent as he passed me, “I’m cheating!” I felt like Snoopy facing the Red Baron.hqdefault

Before we pulled into the youth hostel at Fiesch, we had one more roundabout to navigate and one more hill to climb. It was all worth it when we arrived. What a place! They had everything there; including an indoor pool. This is definitely a place to revisit. The food was good and the swimming was perfect. We slept well that night.

Memories of Dave

(note:  I wrote this on Dave’s birthday; I wanted to wait a day or two before sharing with you all)

The “Campbell Kids” poster was hung up again amongst the Christmas decorations. This poster was already showing its age by the time Dave turned 16. Yellowing tape earnestly trying to keep the edges from tearing any further. Staple holes pock marked the sides from years of being jammed to the wall, and we were thrilled. s-l225It was Dave’s birthday! Any birthday was always an excuse for a grand celebration. Dani’s fell amongst Thanksgiving. Mine was a few days before Halloween. Tim’s was a hit and miss adventure with Easter and Jim’s, it brightened up an otherwise yucky time of the year. His was caught in the first few weeks of school and the marking of the end of summer. But Dave’s was special. His came a week after Dani’s. The house was always fully decorated for Christmas (except for the tree, because Santa always brought that), and Christmas music bounced off every nook and cranny of the house until it was interrupted by the official Martin non-copyright infringement version of the birthday song. If there is a definition of hellacious, then our rendition fit the bill… on purpose!

My mom was of Scottish ancestry and she could squeeze a dime out of a nickel, and there was no way she was going to get caught paying royalty fees for singing a song. Actually, I believe it all started on this particular birthday. I was 13; Jim was 11 and Tim a mere 3 years old. Dani was not around, this time. When it came time to sing the birthday song to our older brother with a girlfriend present, there was no more perfect time to reveal our annoying, obnoxious younger brother traits then at this occasion. It was harmonious dissonance that set a new tradition, and set the bar for a new level of irritation and embarrassment for Dave by his younger brothers. Score!

Today, I miss singing that song.

There’s a lot I’m discovering since his death that I’m missing. Besides the phone call on occasion; it’s more the shared memories that we had. I miss the fact that those days are now over. The memories I have of Dave now are all I’ll ever have. No more. And I dare not want to forget any of them. The words of mom are ringing more truly in my ears than ever before: “You’ll thank me later for this.”

There is one particular memory that encompasses my teen years with Dave. You see; Dave was a mechanic; I am not. Dave loved cars; I love bicycles. Dave loved to read; I can hardly sit still.

Mom used to firmly suggest that I go down into the garage and help Dave work on the cars. “Go down to the garage and help your brother. You’ll thank me later for this”, she used to say. At the time, I thought mom had some kind of vendetta out for me. Being sent to the garage to work on cars with Dave was like walking down the dark foreboding staircase to a torture chamber. One may have a fascination about the machines and tools found in a torture chamber, but then there’s the reality….

So, as a kid, I’d say, “Really mom? Do you like me?”, but there was the strange attraction of working with the tools. Then you’d remember…these tools only worked with certain vocabulary words, and certain parts of the car only responded to certain vocabulary words. 100_1753Going to the garage was actually like going to an English class (Torture Chamber, English Class… one and the same!).  I should’ve received credit for all the years I spent at the University of Dave. I expanded my vocabulary 10 fold each time I attended class. I learned inflection lent different meanings to a single word. The value of emphasis on certain syllables gave a great impact on delivery. Imagery and synonyms were regular staples in his classroom. The full versatility of the English language was expressed while replacing a clutch in a VW. Throw on top of all this the mere fact that Dave and I were complete opposites; it made for a pre-screening of Orange County Choppers.

There are a myriad of stories that came out of that classroom called the garage. And mom was right. I do thank her for telling me to spend time with Dave. Even though we were teenagers and knuckleheads with each other at the time, we were first and foremost: brothers.  How can I ever repay Dave for developing my versatility with the English language and my knowledge of auto mechanics?  I can’t, so I’ll invest in the lasting memories of working on cars with Dave, and these are memories I don’t want to forget.100_9181

We’ll Storm the Castle

When Caleb was eight years old, I felt that the time had come for him to pass through the initial stage of manhood. We watched Monty Python’s “Search for the Holy Grail”. We laughed, and his sponge-like brain had immediately began to recite the more infamous lines. Who knew that 10 years later it would be so a propos!

As we biked out of Montreux, it was a gorgeous day. The sun crept up over the peaks of the Alps casting a green hue to the Rhone River that flowed like a tumble down bunch of puppies. And we were heading to the source of this storied river. Along the way, we would pass through the fruit basket and wine country of Switzerland. Nestled into the valley and crooks of the mountainside were castles and manors handed down through the generations with fields brimming with produce. The peaks stared down as the river fed the fruit plump full of flavor.

The Rhone River follows a curious path as it makes it way into the Mediterranean. High in the Swiss Alps it is born from the Rhone Glacier. Forming an icy bed between the Grimsel and Furka passes, the Rhone Glacier snuggles its blanket of ice up the sleepy slopes of the Dammastock range, and cascades cool water out the base through the remnant of rock from a time when the glacier poured all the way down to the first alpine valley to knock on the door of the chapel in the little town of Glesch. Over the last 150 years, it has retreated up the mountainside leaving a meadow full of wild flowers that dapple the green slopes.dsc_7670rhoneglacier-series_zpsccodx9jy

The Rhone River is never really tame in its first leg of its journey to Lac Leman. Even through the vast valley below Sierre, it flows at such a rate that no one uses it for recreation let alone commerce. As it races through the valley, it makes an abrupt right turn in Martigny. Les Dents du Midi force the hard turn as if the sharp teeth of the abominable snow monster put a fright into the river before it settles down in the calm waters of the lake.

From Montreux, we were cycling right into the jaws of Les Dents. Even though there was no one on our team with the name “Normie” who aspired to be a dentist, I filled the roll of Yukon Cornelius rather well… “Mush, Mush!” and with my off key singing, the Furka Pass Fireballs were driven to cycle their way for relief in Martigny to stop for lunch, and possibly some peace and quiet!

Lunchtime was an omen of whackiness to come.

We jumbled our bikes into an elevator to grab a bite in a mall. We couldn’t find a nice sidewalk diner or café, and we were hungry. The grocery store had a café connected to it; picture a Wegman’s or Giant Eagle kind of setting. The food wasn’t bad. The atmosphere was. Oh well.

Once out on the sidewalk trying to figure out which way would be best to go, an overly helpful local weaved in amongst our bikes with his scooter and offered to lead us out of town. For some reason, he envisioned a full on escort through town and into the mountains. Luckily, another local stepped in and suggested the more reasonable route that put us along side the Rhone heading upstream.

All was well for the initial kilometers after lunch. We found the bike path, and rode through terraced farmland carved into the mountains whose sharp peaks were dramatically highlighted by bright blue skies. This was in direct inverse relation to how some were feeling on the ride at this point. Let me explain: It is a known fact that Day Two of any multiday bike ride is always the hardest. The first day moves along splendidly because of excitement and adrenaline. When Day Two arrives, your body says something like: “Are you kidding me? We just did this yesterday.” If one is not used to riding in a multiday format, this experience is multiplied in magnitude. So, the sharp peaks of the mountains directly reflected the sharp pain in the rear of sitting on a saddle for more than 3 hours at a time. The terraced farmland only echoes the chiseled pain in one’s muscles. When I cruised up next to Caleb to get an assessment of his current state, his reply was not surprising, “Dad, my butt is killing me, and my legs are screaming.” Yep. “Trust me.” I said, “Tomorrow, you will feel great. Right now, you’re getting your body in gear. You gotta love conditioning!”

Fortunately, our ride on Day Two was filled with enough whacky distractions it made for an easier day. Besides, I knew what I had waiting for the guys at the end of the day. Knowing Day Two can be so draining, I thought it would be nice to plan for a night in a castle. I was stoked for this event. Plans made; contact made; email in hand for proof… what possibly could go wrong?

The omen of Day Two would’ve been enough to warn me of future whackiness.

Riding through the fruit basket of Switzerland was an aromatic heaven. The crazy part was the inconsistency of the bike trails. At one point, we ended up in the middle of an Apricot grove. No worries. We rode through the ranks of Apricot trees; found our way along a drainage ditch; muscled our way through some stinging nettles and got back on another bike trail. It’s the spirit of flexibility and adventure that makes the trip so memorable and joy filled. I will heartily affirm that Randy, Kevin and Caleb embrace those qualities in such quantity it was a piece of heaven riding with them.

The day was coming to a close. Exhaustion was creeping into all of us. We had been making a steady climb all day in elevation with a total of 62 miles (or a metric century) to clock in the books. Arriving at the castle base, we were thrust onto the set of Monty Python or quite possibly The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

We could see the castle, but could not find the access point up to the castle. It sat on a knoll surrounded by grape vineyards. It was more of a manor than a castle, but still posed a striking portrait atop its hill. I told the riders, “There she be! We are spending the night there.” “Wow!” We tried several different roads and paths to access the castle, but to no avail. Then, we noted a paved road around the backside of the hill.img_3101

The castle was owned by a Swiss-French couple who spoke no English. A lovely couple. His family has owned the land and manor for generations. We pedaled up the last steep section of the gravel driveway and entered a luxurious entrance. The interior had been totally refurbished in a modern style. A large glass table sat in the dining area and a beautiful minimalist wooden spiral staircase led to the upper level. Caleb and I were ushered to the “Honeymoon suite”. French doors opened to a level garden patio that overlooked the Rhone valley with the mountains rising in the distance. It was a fairy tale. After a long day of riding Caleb said, “I’m jumping in the shower.” Everything seemed just perfect. Caleb finished his shower with a declaration, “Dad, you can’t believe the shower! It’s amazing!” He headed to the dining area to sample the wines, and I jumped in the shower. What a treat! I’m not sure there is a shower anywhere else in the world as nice as this one was. Absolute refreshment. Once I joined the rest of the team, the hostess approached me, “Pardon. Comment s’appelle?” “Ted” “Ah, non. Votre surname.” “Martin”. A look of horror came upon her face. I didn’t know my reputation spread that far!

The whackiness grew. “Oh no!” She declared. I showed her the email she sent me, and she hustled to the kitchen. I followed. It turned out she double booked the night. Another group of cyclist were coming in at 8:00 pm and her helper thought we were that group. I walked with her down to her office through the grapevines, and I tried to alleviate her anxiety about the mix up. I asked about the castle and the surrounding grapevines. She told me the story of her husband’s family and farm. They had just recently entered the B&B business a couple years earlier. This was the first time she had made this mistake. In the course of my broken French and her lack of any English, I told her there was no problem. I would be happy to have my boys clear out to make room for the other cyclist if she could secure a hotel room for us in town.

When we arrived back at the castle the boys were finishing another round of wine. I informed of the mix up and the ensuing plans. We agreed this was a suitable plan because we had already had the best showers ever, and it was getting close to dinnertime with no dinner places in sight.

Her husband loaded us up and drove us into town. He regaled us with more stories of his childhood and developing the vineyards. We settled in at the hotel café, and Caleb started the Monty Python riff, “Hello…” We quoted the entire castle scene with particular emphasis upon “Now, go away or I shall taunt you a second time; you English pig-dogs.” We laughed and tipped a frosty mug in recognition of another great day of riding filled with memories that won’t be easily forgotten and lines worth repeating.

We ride at dawn!

img_2840I can’t remember if I dreamed that night or not; I do know the guest house bed was deliciously comfortable with the cool alpine breeze that swept through the window making the down comforter all that more cozy. In contrast, the alarm confirmed how annoying it is. It doesn’t matter how soothing or gentle the iPhone tries to design the alarm; it’s still an alarm. Circadian rhythm be damned… it’s time to get up.

This time, though, it was a good thing. It was a call to action; mount up! We ride at dawn! Prior to the grand departure to scale the spine of the Alps, I needed to return our rental car to the airport. The dear little Panda tried its best and certainly got us to point B. Yet, I was glad to return it to the livery. It was just a pup.

Walking back to our BnB, I turned the corner and noticed a very unfortunate event. A very nice black car had its window smashed out. I thought, “Oh boy. Someone is about to have a very bad day.” Then it occurred to me… that was my buddy’s rental car! Oh man! I ran inside and woke him like a bad alarm. Surely, he was dreaming of hills being alive with the sound of music and not tinkling glass. Our host came by with breakfast and we informed him of the very unfortunate event. He immediately dropped everything (except the delicious fresh squeezed orange juice and croissants), and started to rectify the situation.

In true French fashion (even though we were in Switzerland, it was the French speaking side), when told of the event, the police officer replied, “It’s Sunday. We won’t send an officer. You’ll need to come to the airport and file a report at the airport police station.” Praise God for our host at the BnB! He took my friend and his wife under his wing and swam the tricky rapids of police report filing with them.

We ride at eleven!

We all know the old saying, the best laid plans…. It’s funny how flexibility is absolutely crucial in any trip. We had a 55 mile day before us that included two boarder crossings and unfamiliar territory. I thought, “Let’s leave around 8 and have a nice leisurely ride to Montreux.” It was Caleb’s first stab at long distance riding, and I thought it would be good to keep it easy. Leaving at near eleven changed the plan a bit.

We met our fourth rider in downtown Geneva. All our wives were there and we were sent off with cheers and bon voyage. Fortunately, it was summer and not an iceberg was in sight.

Crossing the Rue de Mont Blanc bridge, we mingled with the tourist along the lake’s edge until we could break free for the bike route that led out of town. Hauling 20-25 pounds of stuff on the back of a bike is something that one must get used to. Stopping distance and turns and curb hopping take on entirely new realities. Half of us knew this. The other half learned quickly.

Once we left Geneva, it wasn’t long until we entered France. Praise God for the EU! We didn’t get our passport stamped; nor were we stopped. The border gate actually looked like it had been neglected since the French revolution. We cycled through singing La Marseillaise. The only blood we had on our hands at that point was a hangnail I chewed off. Once in France, we stopped to have lunch near the birthplace of the freshest water on earth. Evian is beautiful, but Thonon les Bains is the Riviera of the southern shores of Lac Leman. Surrounded by classic sports cars and ancient racers, we enjoyed a delicious lunch along the shores. Among the cars was an old Austin Healy. It only served as a foreshadow of what was to come.

After lunch, I couldn’t believe the energy that popped. We were humming along. Then, it happened. A sidewall blew out. The combination of sun and pressure drove one tire to breath its last. Regrouping after the tire repair invigorated the team. We had our team jerseys on; we clicked as a pace line, and Caleb took the lion’s share of the lead. For the next 12 miles, we busted out the distance in no time. And there was the border again. We stopped to bid adieu to France and check our map.

As I stated earlier, I had plans. God has better plans.

We dropped down into Villeneuve. To enter this town one has the great adventure of going through a maze of bike paths that lead through the swampy land at the juncture of the Rhone River and Lake Geneva. It really is beautiful with a tall canopy of trees and winding trails. Out of nowhere, the Lord sends us a guide. We strike up a conversation. He and his girlfriend lead us through the maze of trails directly to our destination without any delay.

There is something about youth hostels that just resonates with me. There’s a vibe. Not quite sure how to describe it, but I guess the best way to depict it would be: A cool quirky coffee shop with beds. We pulled in around 5:30; crashed on our bunks and decided to walk in to town for dinner.

We found this truly amazing Italian restaurant next to Freddie Mercury’s statue. As much as Freddie sang, “I want to ride my bicycle…”, we were done for the day. Bring on the ice cream! The funny part of the evening happened after dinner. My one buddy got a text from his wife stating how they wished we could be in Montreux. We texted back, “We are in Montreux!” We then proceeded to play a game of cat and mouse with our wives. Eventually, we caught them and shared a good laugh. What a great end to a rough start of the day. We snuggled down in our beds 12 hours after we started, and we set our alarm in anticipation for tomorrow’s ride.

We will rock you

It was 1979.  I had a second period study hall. This study hall proved to be a petri dish for all kinds of ideas, none of which had anything to do with homework. Albeit, I did study. One thing I did study was the bass guitar. In my high school logic, it made perfect sense for me to head down to the band room during study hall and begin the process of teaching myself the bass guitar. Little did I know that 37 years later I would be standing where the infamous guitar lick was penned. That driving line worms its way into your brain. Even now, some of you are trying to hold back from a full scale hum of this tune that formed on a whim. It’s the lick that all beginners play. Anyone who played it was an instant rock musician. I turned up the distortion and cranked the volume. The practice room resonated with Smoke on the Water. And there we were in Montreux, Switzerland. Standing right on the spot where the Casino burned to the ground, because some stupid with a flare gun lit the place up. It was rock history.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikGyZh0VbPQ

castle_of_chillon_nJust down the road from this hotspot was a piece of history that was perched on a rock. It is fascinating to look at buildings that are five times older than the founding of the United States. A part of me wonders, if we are so technologically advanced these days, why can’t we have a toaster last longer than 5 years? Anyway, there before us stood the Castle Chillon. Since at least 1150 AD, this castle has stood sentry on the eastern shores of Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva). Caleb, Becky and I spent a few hours traipsing through this spectacular building. The hidden passage-ways; the creepy dungeon that Lord Byron made famous (and supposedly etched his name on one of the pillars); the eye-popping views from the top of the keep and the gorgeous main hall. This placed oozed history and events. Even common everyday events were recorded with a tongue in cheek humor. Or maybe more a propos: a cheek and squeak type of humor.

 

Recognizing our need for a bit of lactose, we climbed into the old town of Montreux to have an authentic dish of Raclette. Normally, one would have this dish after shushing down a ski slope or herding alpine cows through the pastureland. Alas, we didn’t have the luxury of waiting for winter to arrive, so in the heat of summer we ordered our Raclette and enjoyed every oozing bite of cheese drenched potatoes, bread and tiny pickles.img_3004

The next day was “prep day”. Nerves were high. Fortunately for us, there were inanimate objects called: washing machines and driers to take the brunt of the emerging tension of leaving for the bike ride. Something about a hum of a machine or maybe it’s the universal smell of a laundry mat that dopes one into a dulled automaton that sits and stares at the clothes going around and around and around. Before being totally hypnotized, Caleb and I went to find him a haircut.

A haircut can be a life threatening experience in one’s own img_3037country (just ask the customers of Sweeney Todd) add in the mix of a foreign country and one never knows what you’ll come out looking like! You might think, “I wouldn’t be caught dead looking like that!” Fortunately for Caleb, we landed upon one of the most jovial and free-spirited barbers I’ve ever known. Through my broken French and Caleb’s hand gestures, we were having a ball telling stories and cracking jokes. In the midst of it all, Caleb got a haircut that changed his life; not to mention his appearance.

July 23rd refreshing winds of friendship blew through the iron gate of our guesthouse. I was in the midst of a peaceful time of devotions when a familiar voice was heard just img_3038outside the garden wall. Randy and Karla had arrived! Becky bounded outside to give Karla a hug. After being with men in close quarters for more than 6 weeks, she was ready for some “girl time”. The way she lapped up the connection, I thought maybe she had just crossed the Sahara desert to find a pool of water. Certainly, friends are an oasis of refreshment. We spent the day tooling around Geneva until it was time to get our “rigs”. At the bike store, we connected with the final partner in the quest to push ourselves to the outer edges of the envelope of our own cycling experience.

As The Box Tops once sang, “My baby wrote me a letter”, we were getting ready to get on our own preferred mode of transportation. We weren’t quite heading home, but we were homing in on a dream, and Funky Claude was our first destination.

Turn Back the Clock

When we left for the sabbatical back on June 10th, we lost an entire day and arrived in Sydney on June 12th at 6:00 in the morning local time. Now, our journey to Geneva was in theory going to take us back in time and regain that lost day. Not so sure that took place with a departure from Christchurch around 7 pm on July 17th and arrival at Geneva around 8 pm on July 18th. Flight time was listed as only 27 hours and 45 minutes, and that doesn’t count the layovers. In the great mystery of global travel, we gained a day and lost a day and we went back in time all at the same time! Within this great vortex of mystery, all I know is I got to watch a lot of movies!

After our bus tour, I spoke of in a previous post. The following day, we went way back in time. We left Geneva for Annecy, France. This little nook of God’s creation has had a community of people living here continuously since 3100 years before Jesus was born. Although I wasn’t privy to where I could find some aged Brie from the original cheese shop, we did step into the old town that had buildings three times the age of the United States! Fortunately, their ice cream was made just the day before.

Annecy is a destination. To walk through the narrow medieval streets and take in the castle and the keep is a sensory delight. Close your eyes, and you could easily imagine the market hubbub from centuries before. A deep whiff will fill your nose with the inviting smell of fresh bread; the cool air that brushes against your face will quickly affirm why this little town is known as the Pearl of the Haute Savoie. The air is light and fresh as it rolls off the mountains. And just to see this place will strike you with awe.  It served as a seedbed to the Counter-Reformation in the 16th Century.  Just 22 miles north, Calvin was establishing the Swiss Reformation in Geneva.

Caleb wanted to explore on his own, so he rented a long board and took to the streets and sidewalks and beach front venues. Becky and I strolled the shops and absorbed with wonder the beauty of the old town. Even with the cool air, it was still hot. We decided to meet up at the beach and take a dip in the lake. It was a swim I’ll never forget. Cool waters and beautiful mountains all wrapped in blue skies.

Once refreshed, we stepped into the time machine again and went back to the beginning of the Winter Olympics. We dialed in February 1924 and found ourselves travelling through 1968 and 1992 olympic territory. The Grenoble mountains resonated with the cheers for Jean Claude Killy; In Albertville, Bonnie Blair carved her name into Olympic history along with a ski jumping Finnish boy who became the youngest gold medalist in winter Olympic history at 16 years old. These mountains inspire awe, and I just wish I could pinch my earlobe to take pictures with my eyes, because the ones I did capture don’t even come close to the images I have in my mind. Each bend of the switchbacks revealed another view that sparked your imagination and caused Becky to say, “Ah Ted, keep your eyes on the road.” There was really no margin for error.  The roads were narrow with nary a guardrail to speak of.  It’s no wonder there was a chapel at the top of the pass before we defended into Italy.  In Italy, we had a lovely dinner on the patio with the rush of a mountain stream and a view that stuffed your eyes.  In true Italian fashion, we had a 7 course meal that just wouldn’t quit!  Mange, mange!  We finished our tour blasting out of the Mount Blanc tunnel into the area of Chamonix where the winter Olympics had their start. We had been in ski country, and I’m pretty sure we touched heaven.

The clock finally caught up with all three of us as we drove back to our bed and breakfast in Geneva. We crashed for the night only to awaken to the most luscious breakfast of fresh jams, bread and squeezed OJ.

Just thinking about this…. Is there anyway to turn back the clock? What a great day it was.

Have a Seat…

(I have a bit of catching up to do; here is the first of several to come)

It’s a welcoming invitation. You enter a person’s life, and they may graciously offer you to “have a seat”. A conversation begins and lives are weaved together through shared conversation.   It happens in all kinds of contexts. As we came out of the mountains, I was reflecting upon the time on the ski slopes. Not only is the trip down the mountain invigorating, it is the trip up the mountain on the chairlift that is just as invigorating. IIMG_2695.jpgremember a time early on in Caleb’s skiing career; I asked him, “What do you think is the best part of skiing?” “The chairlift”, he replied. I chimed a ringing endorsement of his insight, “You’re right! It’s here on the chair that you can share in the joy of a great sport with your skiing
buddy how the last run went or you can meet a new friend or you can cheer on a good wipe out…” The list is endless. Ultimately, you take a seat in fellowship and conversation. Your life is woven together one more woof through the warp of time spent together.

Arriving in Christchurch, we were met with a shocking reminder the impact of a natural disaster can have on relationships and a community. There in the center of town, amidst the rubble still present, were 147 chairs. They were empty. Each chair had its own personality and even one was an infant car seat. Each one represented a person who died in the earthquake. The invitation was plain: have a seat. Think about the person and the family and the community that has lost this particular person.

IMG_0513The rain came down in a light mist coating each seat with heaven’s tears. The conversation was silent, but very powerful.

Our flight to Geneva the following evening was uneventful…praise God. We did a curious march through the maze of LAX to end up where we began. We had a nice meal in the Heathrow airport and queued ourselves for a lovely hop to Geneva via Swiss Air.

To take a seat on Swiss Air is an invitation for pampering. Even though the flight was only 90 minutes long, we were served a fresh baguette with sandwich fixings. Just before touchdown, the cabin attendants came through with a delicious piece of chocolate to whet our appetite as a foreshadow of things to come.

It was close to 9:00 pm when we arrived at our B and B; the multiple hours of air travel had come to an end, and we looked forward to a place where flat out sleep could take place.

Morning came and Becky arranged for a tour of Geneva. In the midst of that tour, the value of the chair was made evident once again. In front of the United Nations building in Geneva stood a very stark sculpture framed by the joyful exuberance of dancing water jets that pulsed through the marble sidewalk. It was a broken chair. This sculpture stands 12 IMG_2743metres tall in a burnished red hue. Our tour guide knew the artist as a personal friend, and he gave us the full detail of its inception and purpose.   He wanted to capture the horrid tragedy that unexploded land minds present around the world. Small children being the ones affected the most. The chair has three solid, strong legs, but one leg is violently shredded apart. The sculpture coupled with the water feature puts the issue in a fullness that isn’t often considered. It doesn’t make light of the tragedy, but doesn’t dwell on the issue evoking some kind of transient superficial pity. It evokes a reality that life springs up. The victims don’t want to be gawked upon; they desire to be engaged in the community… they still have three good legs to stand upon. The chair may be maimed, but it is not useless. Yet, the sculpture doesn’t let the one experiencing it forget the importance of addressing this global plight that is a vestige of war which tears apart lives and families and communities. We need to have a seat with one another if for no other purpose than to eliminate misperceptions and faulty assumptions that can lead to overly expressed aggression.

During the Passover, the Jewish tradition sets a cup of wine and an empty chair in anticipation of Elijah’s arrival. It is a chair set for any unexpected guest to have a welcomed place at the table to share with the family. I think it’s a great idea for us all to have that place set in our heart and mind, so that we would be ready to say to anyone, “Hey, have a seat.”