Saturday, March 23, 2013


Every day has a story to it -- with a beginning, a development, an ending. You may not always want to recognize it, but it's there.

I know the stories here, on Ocean, have endings that are, well, predictable: "I was so lucky," or "...and that's a good thing," or "and that makes me very happy." In fact, I can't build drama in a blog post because you know the punch line before I get to it.

Of course, luck or happiness -- they're curious things, aren't they? Sometimes they just saunter out and you're left stranded.

So what was this day like?

Well, despite the weather, it's off to a good start. I am in Gargnano -- one of my most favorite places on earth (it just grabbed my heart last year and it refuses to let go). I wake up, look out the balcony window and exhale. Though there are clouds, it doesn't matter -- it's always beautiful here on the shores of Lake Garda. I listen to the rhythmic slap of waves against the dock and it is a wonderful little noise -- the kind that makes you think that nature is gentle and forgiving (even though you know it's not that way at all).

Breakfast. Lovely stuff. Diane and I fill our plates and look out over the waters.

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But here's the reality -- the forecast for the days she and I are here is dismal: cold and wet. And so we discuss the possibilities. I note that today is predicted to be free of precipitation until 6 pm -- take that as you will. But maybe I should take it? Because it's so much better than everything else? And what I want to do this year is to again test myself against the mountain that dominates this landscape: Mount Comer. I know it wont cause the real mountain folk to shudder. It's a mere 1279 meters -- just about 5000 feet. But to me, it is the ultimate challenge.

I barely made it to the summit last year. Something about it made it especially tough going: few switchbacks, many boulders to crawl over, significant drops -- it surprised me how hard it was then. Now I am one year older and I'm thinking -- should I do this? Why am I doing this? For the blog? (No.) To prove something? (Maybe, but what?) Or how about this -- is there possibly joy in trying something difficult?

I feel not quite ready for it. Surely I should do the gentler hikes first. You don't plunge into the Tour de France after  a year of peddling around your block at home. And let's face it -- I'm no spring chicken. Maybe I should act my age.

Still, I so desperately want to try.

Diane and I set out at 10:30.

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(just outside our hotel)

We'll walk to town together and then she will go her way and I will do the climb. Maybe. (Here, take a look again at Comer: it stands tall above Gargnano.)

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Our walk to the heart of Gargnano is lovely. Let me remind you -- this small town is like no other. Don't you dare send your friends over! It's quiet and peaceful and it must never change! Okay -- that's selfish. Send them over.

The skies are gray, but every once in a while we spot a patch of blue. That's a good sign.

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(Comer, towering over all of us)

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Time to head up. I tell Diane that if I'm not back in time for dinner she should send out a search party.

Up I go. Up, past the olive groves and the old stone walls.

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Up, up and then I come to a dead end. I have to turn around and start again. And so I follow another trail. Up, up.... dead end again! What the hell is going on here? Let me try another path.

Up I climb -- no good. Did I think Mount Comer would be a challenge? I can't even find the damn trail leading to it!

Take a breath. Keep trying. I singsong all sorts of cliches in my head: it doesn't matter, no one will care, it's the journey not the destination... But the fact is, I care! I care!

Alright, on the fourth try I finally reach the midpoint -- the village of Sasso. Here's where I bought water to save my soul last year. And I do it again. Because I have not yet learned that even though it's cold (in the forties), I am sweating like a hyena and so I need water.

From Sasso, it's a two hour climb, straight up. I mean, there's no monkeying around anymore: I go for it or I retreat.

I go for it. Not because I am particularly clever or bold, but because I know that this is my test: I don't have to reach the summit, but if I wont even try, then I may as well order the coffin and find a spot to dump it in.

Okay: highlights. The flowers that grow in these Alpinettes (these mountains are to the neighboring Alps like the farmette is to real farms around us back home):

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And now I come to the part that I hate: too close to the edge, too far down to make it feel safe.

And here's a new challenge this year: snow! Well now. Add a layer of slippery stuff, why don't you!

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But truthfully, by the time I reach the snow, I know I have made it. I am 59 and I am not fading yet. I can face the stress of work back home, I can do that, because I am not fading!

So here I am ever so close to the summit (Two crosses?  Will the real Mount Comer please stand up?)...

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...and here I am, at the summit (camera precariously positioned on a rock, with timer on).

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Oh, but it feels exhilarating to be able to do this still!

Okay, enough feeling good about being old. It took me four hours to climb up here. Time to go down.  It takes almost as long to do the retreat -- it's that rocky and slick.

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The village of Sasso is more or less the half way mark. And the descent after it is easy by comparison. So you can't help but feel jubilant when you finally see the houses of this little hamlet before you.

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From here, nearly all paths will lead me down now to Gargnano. All I have to do is beat the rains that are hovering now behind me, over the mountains.

And here's the eerie thing: the first drop of rain comes down just as I reach Gargnano. It's surely meaningful, though I can't really say in what way.

I head toward the water's edge -- to Cafe Olimpia -- the cafe where I had the vast majority of my Aperol Spritz aperitifs last year. Nothing's changed. The same old men discuss the same old whatever. The same owners are as gentle and kind as can be. Same old, same old, old, same -- hey, I'm thinking "same" and  "old" are a good thing. I have been lucky in that way.

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An hour after my return, Diane and I are having dinner at the Three Geese (Tre Occhi). It's a wonderful meal of pasta, of the lake fish (coregone lavarello), of tiramisu and cake.

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...with lake sardines

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So is there a story here? Does it have an ending? Yes, of course it does. I'm so lucky, that's a good thing and it makes me very happy. What can I say -- ultimately all roads do lead to... wherever you want them to lead to.

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(Comer, in the clouds now)