Thursday, September 26, 2013

Elephants in Thailand

This is a story about a lost dog, a man who jumped off a mountain, and an elephant in Thailand.

Tuesday is hiking day. Today's hike was up on a mountain about a 30 minute drive away. Even the drive there is fabulous. I've been there a bunch of times already. Depending on the season, all sorts of treats await you; skiing, hiking, alpine slides, bounce houses, cows, coffee. Pick your poison.

Because I do love cows

A spinning gondola whisks you to the top. A large, multinational group of women assemble. Backpacks, walking sticks, water bottles, dogs, our fearless leader- an Aussie expat, and a random husband.

He tagged along with his wife. He had an ENORMOUS pack on. An affable fellow, I learned all sorts of things like... what hike in Switzerland will culminate in monks serving you tea, what are ideal conditions for paragliding (winds from the west are essential- something to do with change in temperature creating a thermal draft), which of his dogs likes to go to bed early and sleep late, and which mountain people are forever falling off of.

He had us guess the contents of his pack. I offered up 'small child'. Wrong.

In his pack was a paraglider. All those times, I've waited for the kids to get down the mountain from school and I'd seen tired men stumble from the forest with these enormous packs. I assumed they liked to camp. No... they like to fly!

People who don't recognize the pack, assume he's going camping and say, "Enjoy camping", and he smiles. People that DO recognize the pack say, "Have a nice flight" and then he smiles for real.  Co-conspirators.  You don't have to be licensed in the US to paraglide. But apparently, this increases your risk of killing yourself.

For our collective enjoyment, he was going to hike to a nearby summit and throw himself off..

First, we had to hike. Up and down and around and around. Up and up and up. Past the cows above my head. If they lost their footing, I was a goner. Stopping to take pictures here and there. Stopping to take off clothes as they day begins to heat up (by the way, there is a canton that held a formal vote to make naked hiking illegal- can you imagine?!). 


Now, it's time. Cross country to the grassy summit. Incidentally, my body is very tired at this point. I scampered up anyway. Scamper. Claw my way to the top on all fours. Same thing. Andy unfurls his pack, puts on his helmet, and without further ado, flings himself off the mountain. Gone within five seconds. Not 'gone gone'; flying gone. Leaving his wife to search for a Border Terrier on the lam. She had twins, now she's down to a singleton.


I wasn't optimistic she and the terrier would reunite. The terrier had been gone a bit already. Long before her husband flung himself off the mountain. She didn't want him to scrap the jump. We all knew where she was coming from.

We marched on. Passed the time with idle chitchat. Our fearless leader, come to find out, was a triathlete. Explains why the hikes are woefully misunderstood by me, the novice hiker. The anti-athlete of the herd. We have completely different ways in which we classify information. Easy vs. hard, flat vs. steep- stuff like that.

We wind our way back to the start. But there, before my friend and I, is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Europe.  I've chickened out before. 14 months ago. I only made it about one-sixth of the way across before I turned tail for solid ground. Ever been on the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower and felt it sway? It's like that. But worse.

This time, I'm trying again. One-quarter of the way. One-third of the way. The swaying begins in earnest. Donna is leading. I knew it was a mistake but I looked down. Grievous error. She says, "Don't look down!". Too late.  And then, "Did I ever tell you about the time I was riding the elephant in Thailand and had an absolute meltdown?" Uh. No. Well, she hiked straight up for two days, only breathing normally as she slept. To get down, she had to cross a ravine by riding an elephant as it walked along a giant pipe. "Don't worry", they said. "The elephant has done this many times". It's a good story but we both turned and fled.  Maybe next time.  

Right, the dog. She was reunited with her owner, vomited, then went to sleep.  I understood.

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