Day 306: Idyll

Trip Start Dec 14, 2011
1
57
86
Trip End Aug 16, 2013


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Flag of Austria  , Austrian Alps,
Sunday, October 14, 2012

What a lovely moment. I was surrounded by waterfalls and green, lush hills, just-turning trees and craggly mountain tops, grazing doleful cows with clanking bells and their mindful shepherd dogs. Lodges with smoke twisting up from their chimneys, big barns filled with the sounds and smells of the cattle that they kept warm and dry inside, neon-clothed snowboarders and skiers waiting along lonely roads for the next shuttle to the glacier, and little else. 

But I had slept hardly at all last night - the doors had stayed open and the music had stayed on all night. My glasses were dripping wet from the condensation of my breath under the blanket, and extremities were icicles by the time I woke properly and stumbled from Martin's car. Martin and Florian were still by the fire with the night's other survivors, and they shouted greetings, waving a bottle of vodka in the air enthusiastically. I pulled on someone's sweater to try and warm up as I held my hands up in front of the dwindling flames. Seeing me seemed to remind the guys that they had been up all night - incredulously, I had managed a full night's sleep, but they had stayed up until now. So they headed back to the car to sleep a while and I walked off towards the center of the village, promising to look for food but more concerned with walking and seeing more of the valley.

I headed off down the road, following the river and now facing the village and the mountains behind it. A lovely moment. I was glad that I was alone, because I could be a little more intimate with the beautiful surroundings that way. I passed barely anyone on my walk, down one street and up to the waterfall. It wasn't much of a hike, but I climbed at least to the foot of the waterfall where I could see the whole valley laid out beneath me. The air was so fresh and cold here. I stood still, watching and inhaling deeply for a long time. 

On the way back down, a little shape came darting out toward me from behind a pile of firewood. It was a kitten. A little fluffy white thing. She was rubbing against my legs and mewing with an impossibly tiny voice. I bent down and picked her up, and she starting suckling on my fingers. I looked around, but there was no one there. Was she a stray? I doubted it, not with how cold things were, but she had no collar and she was quite dirty. I sat down on the street and pet her a while, and she was going kind of crazy from the attention, biting at my fingers and bunting me with increasing ferocity. I didn't want to steal someone's cat, but from her behavior and her appearance, I also didn't want to leave a stray baby that could very easily die as the temperatures continued to drop. But still, I was more worried about taking someone's cat. I patted her goodbye and started walking again, but it was no good, she was trotting along after me, crying occasionally. I blew air out around my teeth and stopped, petting her goodbye again, and trying to run before she could see where I went. We continued like this for what was probably a ridiculous amount of time. Finally, I ran away from that little kitten and she stayed where she was, but every time I looked back, she was watching from the spot. I hoped she would be okay.

I walked back down the main road and found that there were no bakeries or restaurants or grocery stores open. Not entirely surprising on a Sunday in a tiny village. So instead I just walked back in the direction of the campsite and the car. But on the way, another cat! This one walked up to me with its shabby coat and haggard appearance and croaky meow, and I felt compelled to stop and pet her in the same way I had the kitten. I wasn't worried about whether she was going to survive or if she belonged to someone. She had obviously been around for a while. Still, she jumped readily up into my lap and sat purring as I talked to her and scratched under her chin. She reminded me of a cat I had, and I stayed a long time with her maybe for that reason. But eventually it was time to go again. I was hoping to make it to Innsbruck for a little while, and I knew it would only happen if I drove. Better get a move on. I lumbered up one more hill, trying to get my hiking fix in two five minute bursts, and said good morning to some cows who were munching on grass up the hillside. But then I was feeling the pull of travel again, and I walked back down the hill and to the trampled and muddy site of last night's party.

Martin and Florian were completely out when I got to the car. I pushed Martin aside and got into the driver's seat. It felt weird there, because Martin's car is as British as he is, and I couldn't get over the feeling of being "in the passenger's seat" with the steering wheel in front of me. Even more, the car was manual. I hoped that I wouldn't get confused, shifting with my left hand. But it proved to be pretty simple. 

We snaked through town, and suddenly things were wrong. I slammed on my breaks in front of one of the dairy barns. No, no, nothing was wrong with me or the car - rather, I had just passed the automatic milk dispenser that I had passed but never used the last time that I was here. It would be absolutely wrong for me to pass by this thing without getting milk AGAIN! I pulled up on the e-brake and jumped out of the car and towards the prospect of a cold and oh-so-sweet tall glass of fresh milk for breakfast. I stood right there and drank the first plastic cup full of it - a whole half liter in only one big gulp - and went right back for another. This time I brought it back to the car, but I couldn't drive and drink it. This milk was insanely good, and it required all of my focus. I don't think I have ever in my life had such good milk. It was ice cold, sweet and none of that nonfat bs that, sure, is healthier, but way less tasty. It was just the right consistency and tasted the way that the views in the village looked. I probably irritated the guys with my milk commentary as they tried to sleep. "Mmm... mmmmmmm.... MMMMMM... this MILK... this MILK is so GOOD... augh I want more... mmmm.... so... good" But I didn't care. Man, I'd seriously consider moving to Kaunertal just to have regular access to that milk.

Anyway, eventually I wiped the tears from my eyes, tears of enjoyment and tears of deep sorrow when the milk was gone, and started really driving. On the road, the only thing that was a challenge was that I kept trying to ride the left side of the lane. I'm so used to being a certain amount of distance from that side that it was surprisingly challenging. A few people honking at me was enough to learn to hug the right side of the lane from then on.

Then, the engine was revving in spite of anything I was doing. The RPM was increasing, more and more, and I was shouting "MARTIN, WHAT DO I DO?"

Martin jerked awake and said, "mrphuphuph, pump the gas, mpgughugh..."

Well, it worked, my near heart attack notwithstanding. Occasionally it would happen again, but I just pumped the gas and kept on towards Innsbruck. 

Something I learned today: Traveling with people is really great and not something I'd want to give up. But taking time to be apart from those people is still important.
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