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Stumbling Across Some Deeper Meaning on the Great St. Bernard Pass

Following our last trip through the Alps, there were several mountain passes that we hadn’t ridden that found their way on to my riding bucket list. You know, for “next time.”

In hindsight, it’s really by the grace of the universe that there was a next time. Chalk it up to luck. Or is it something else?

Kenny and I found ourselves at the summit of the Great St. Bernard some time in the mid afternoon. We parked our bikes and strolled around taking in the sights. I bought a sticker and some postcards and resisted the chocolate.

We walked towards the lake and stood there for a few minutes amongst the stillness of our surroundings. The scale of mountains is so tremendous. I find it difficult not to become introspective about my place in the world when surrounded with such enduring majesty. These mountain, hard, unforgiving, beautiful in their strength. And there I am – a fragile, weak, pink thing.

I stood watching a woman walking two St. Bernards on the mountain to my right. It was then that I had a moment. Not quite an epiphany, but I came to some understanding of my existence in the split second. You can move through your life and recite things by habit. You know these things to be truths on a surface level. But then there are moments of certainty when you come to know something deeply. You feel it and know it not by rote but through some acute awareness.

I came to the simple understanding that… this is it.

This life is all there is, as far as I know. And so it’s up to me to make my life be what I want. I can sit around wishing and dreaming and filing things away to see “someday” but no one is going to bring them to my doorstep. The fear that keeps me stationary eats away my happiness.

Four years ago, I tapped away on some keys and wrote out the words “See the Great St. Bernard Pass.” As trivial as that goal might appear, as I stood watching those dogs walking along breathing in the smells of the Earth, I came to know I’d made it there of my own accord. If I can do this thing – Why not anything else I decide I want? My only limitation is my will.

That’s a lot to see in a pair of dogs.

In Defense of the Bucket List

Just yesterday I read an article that pointed out what the author saw as a flaw in the bucket list process as it is often portrayed in contemporary culture:

As popularly conceived, however, the bucket list is far from being a reckoning with the weight of love in extremis, or an ethical or moral accounting. More often, it partakes of a commodification of cultural experience, in which every expedition made, and every artwork encountered, is reduced to an item on a checklist to be got through, rather than being worthy of repeated or extended engagement. 

– Kicking the Bucket List by Rebecca Mead

Personally, I think this is oversimplifying the process. We can’t know what goes on in the minds and hearts of men in the quiet moments of their lives. So they said out loud, “crossed that off the bucket list”? Does that mean that whatever that thing, that act, that item from their list was doesn’t dwell deep in their imagination or actively fuel their curiosity for the rest of their days? It could be a moment in time that sets fire to a personal passion that you, as an on-looker, know nothing about.

Or,… maybe it IS gamification of life experiences.

The best part of this conversation, I suppose, is that I don’t have to give a shit about what other people are doing.

On our recent trip through the Alps, I was able to visit several things that are on my bucket list. My list, which is very meaningful to me, helps me stay organized. It helps me to remember that there are things in the vicinity of where I am that are beautiful and wonderful though maybe less than obvious.

One stop in particular seems to have created more curiosity and questions about a man than it answered. I’m not quite ready to write about it yet, so I’ll leave you with this until then…

We were in the belly of the beast.

Sleeping Our Way Through Lake Maggiore

It can be very tempting to think that when you fly somewhere far away on an overnight flight that the sheer excitement will keep you going. Jet lag? Ha! I spit in your face! Ptoo!

Tempting. Yes, tempting.

But my reality is something more along the lines of wobbling my woozy ass out of the airport, eyes red and burning, my teeth feeling like they are in constant need of brushing and when it comes down to it – functioning in a pretty impressive state of autopilot. $500 cab ride to a hotel 3 blocks away? Sure, sounds perfect. I’ll go ahead and start sleeping now, just take the cash out of my wallet and dump me on the sidewalk in front of the hotel.

Knowing we’d be feeling ragged, Kenny and I planned a day of leisure as our first 24 hours in Italy. We planned our ride from the rental bike pickup outside of Milan to be about an hour north on Lake Maggiore. We’d had such a nice time in Lake Como on our last trip, it seemed like a no brainer to do something similar.

But I must confess, there were a few times before we left New York that I wavered, thinking – well, we could probably go further that first day – but I’m glad that we stuck to our guns and stayed put. Kenny didn’t sleep a wink on the flight.

Smart thinker that I am, I’d made a reservation in advance at the Hotel Regina Palace in Stresa. In a funny way it reminded me of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Since I loved that move so much I thought t would be perfect.

We rode to Stresa on Lake Maggiore and the two of us – determined to stay awake – showered and set off on foot to stroll around the lakefront in the sunshine. It was so warm…and… bench… by the waterrrr…zzZzz….. I’M UP, I’M UP!

Our hotel was lovely and we probably didn’t need to venture beyond it’s doors for entertainment. But I like to walk around and take in the sights of a new place. Even if I do it zombie-style.

Poor Kenny was so tired. He’s usually an Energizer bunny, able to stay up much longer than I am.

We parked ourselves in a cafe and drank mojitos and ate pizza in the warm after.. noonzZzzZz…sunsh…

Those drinks pretty much sent us over the edge and we shuffled back to the hotel for a nap. By the time we awoke the sun was nearly set. But the little cobbled lanes were busy with the hustle and bustle of people dining outside. It was lovely to wander around taking it all in.

We finished up our evening with a dip in the hotel pool. It was like an underground grotto and just what the doctor ordered after a long journey.

Relaxed yet excited about the following day’s ride – I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

Travel Lessons Learned: Just Stop and Take the Picture

You won’t regret stopping to take the picture but you will regret NOT stopping.

It’s a battle for many riders. You see something beautiful, something weird, something interesting and you saaaaaaaail right on by thinking, “I should take a picture of that.”

Well? Just do it. Stop. It’ll only take a minute. Later on when you can relive those memories in full color, you’ll be glad you did.