Some may say there’s more to life than wandering the world on a bike, listening to Bob Dylan and taking photos. For them, that something more may involve a career, family, marriage or salvation. If that is their bliss, more power to them.
As for me, well I guess I’ve never really fit in. I’ve always worked to live, not lived to work.
As for affairs of the heart, well, they hang from my neck like a series of train wrecks. Seems my slash-and-burn approach to relationships, thirst for freedom, and the subsequent hesitancy at marriage and offspring has landed me at a place on the potential mate list just above the recently deceased, and just below the limbless pygmy.
And so be it.
This leaves me with last subject: salvation. This has always been easy. Give me two wheels, a camera, perhaps Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” and some distant back road, and you’ve opened the book of Revelation. Throw in a mountaintop, a chance to connect with some faraway person or place – a chance to grow, learn and give – and I’m about as close to God as one person can get.
I was in just this state of grace recently when I pedaled to the base of Switzerland’s Grimsel Pass. I had spent the morning pushing upward into the velvet green and speckled hilltop villages of some of Switzerland’s most spectacular high valleys. Each sparkled below a strand of glistening white peaks. It was the kind of scenery that inspired an impromptu vocal hootenanny. Or as the Swiss refer to it – a yodel.
“Yeeeeeaaaahooooo!” I hooted as I climbed. Then I climbed, and climbed some more. I continued climbing until I was stopped in my tracks by perpendicular wall that rose 2,000 feet before me: Grimsel Pass.
I crooked my neck upward. There before me, my eyes followed a twisted ladder of asphalt that slinked forever into the sky. Continuing my gaze, I followed it as it wound up, past the Rhone River to its source, the Rhone Glacier. Just above that, the road reached its terminus at Switzerland’s continental divide at the snow-lined crest of Grimsel Pass.
Ever the sucker for punishment, I donned a Kong-sized smile and bolted toward the summit. Then I spotted something ahead of me. It was person moving – a micro-dot on the horizon. I curiously pedaled faster wondering who else would be crazy enough.
It was Walter from Wiesdangen. At 61, Walter was hardly the Lycra-clad cowboy or Swiss weekend warrior. He made his assault on the summit casually and in style. Dressed in a pair slacks and dress shoes, Walter completed his cycling ensemble with a collared shirt and an old-school mountain bike. His laid-back smile looked as if he were riding to a luncheon affair.
“Gud morgen!” I shot out when I caught up to him.
“Morgen,” he smiled back politely. Unfortunately, with my greeting I’d used a third of my German vocabulary.
Walter barked out a row of sharp consonants in Swiss German. Their perplexing sound sizzled in my head like barbecued bratwurst. “Instoutmialite,” I apologized. “Nicht sprechen ze Deutsch.”
Walter dribbled out what little English he could muster. After we had both made a few hack attempts we pointed at the summit and then agreed to make the climb together. For the next hour-and-half came another wondrous, and nearly wordless exchange. At the summit of Grimsel I shook Walter’s hand and said goodbye.
“Say hi to Arnold Schwarzenegger for me when you get back,” he said on departure; then he dropped down one side, and I the other.
I dropped northward for more than an hour, hit the flats, then continued on. Two days later, I reached the cosmopolitan city of Lucern, where, as usual, I felt underdressed. That was until I spied a man walking among the crowd in a spaghetti-strap tank top and high-cut underwear.
“What’s wrong with this picture …?” I thought to myself, then thought again. Who knows? He may have been completely insane, or, just bold enough to start Europe’s next big fashion trend. I rode through Lucern to the main train station, where I was once again greeted by the warm smile of Alex, “the Swiss Hammer” Grobet. He was accompanied by his ever-so-cool brother, Fran