Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

July 15, 2006

French Riviera & Milan, Italy

So, we flew to Bergamo, Italy, where Dawn was handed the keys to a Fiat Punto, a small four-door diesel machine that we raced across Italy’s Po Valley from Milan to Asti, before climbing into the Alps and crossing into southern France. Our first destination was Les Gorges du Verdon, Europe’s largest canyon, and to the nearby town of Castellane, where we found a wondrous clear blue lake to swim in and a campground where we set up our tent right next to the babbling Verdon River.

The next morning started off clear, but some dark clouds began to appear as we started our nearly 10-mile hike along the bottom of the gorge, where we passed many tempting swimming holes in the river. And although we did stop to take a swim in one exceptionally beautiful but cold one, it wasn’t without serious risk of only freezing to death.

Signs all along the route that showed a stick-man figure running from a tidal wave warned in French, that waters from the damn way up river are sometimes released without warning, and can cause the river to rise quickly. We luckily got away with taking a refreshingly quick dip without being swept away, but didn’t fare so well out of the water when it began to rain. Well actually, it at best only developed into a steady drizzle, despite numerous bright lighting flashes and repeated thunder cracks that echoed violently down the canyon. But it was fun and exciting running for our lives seeking cliff overhangs under which to hide; yet each time that we’d find one, the rain would stop.

The skies cleared to cloudless by late afternoon, and our evening drive south from the gorge was a treat of vivid color and soft lighting. We passed many small and antique French villages, all of which seemed deliberately to need paint jobs, and then before long, we began getting our first distant glimpses of the Cote D’Azur. As we neared the coast just east of St Tropez, it looked and felt just like entering into the wealth and natural beauty of Santa Barbara, California. Tropical trees and flowers swayed about adorned lavish estates in the heavenly mellow breezes straight off the Mediterranean Sea. And everyone seemed tanned, healthy, and relaxed.

We found a campground right across the street from the ocean, where the air was fresh and a pure joy to sniff. In fact, we felt no need at all to put on our tent’s rain cover, to better enjoy the clean air while sleeping under a clear night sky twinkling with stars. I woke up early the next morning before the sun rose, and went for a stroll along the shore. But by the time I’d returned, the western sky had clouded up a bit. Dawn was still peacefully sleeping like a curled up kitten, and I decided to let her snooze a while longer before waking her up for a day of sights and discoveries. So, I went to go take a shower to pass some time, and then there I was all lathered up, when suddenly I heard a rocking clap of thunder.

I rushed out of the bathroom dripping and running in my flip-flops into a light rain, and found Dawn throwing the tent and all its belongings into the car. Wisely, when she awoke to the thunder, she sprang into action, and all our stuff only suffered from a mild amount of moisture. But after each eating a fresh-baked French bread smothered in jelly and/or chocolate paste for breakfast, the sun came out again in all its glory, and it only took moments to dry everything in the mid-morning warmth.

We then began our journey along the famed French Riviera. The coastal scenic route continually rose from sea-level yacht filled harbors, up to breathtaking cliff top views and then back down again. It is along this stretch of prime real estate where the Alps meet the Mediterranean, and the geographical result is nothing short of a natural spectacle. Then, add in the factor that the weather is generally quite appealing as well to say the least, and you’ve got the making for what many consider to be paradise.

After passing Cannes and Antibes, we arrived in Nice. And Nice was really nice. The water was an inviting Caribbean-color blue, and we rushed to park the car and find ourselves a spot along its four-mile stretch of beach. Interesting though, because the beach wasn’t really a beach at all, it was merely a vast rock pile. Yep, not a grain of sand to be found, just lots and lots of smooth, rounded rocks and pebbles. And on this particular day, the wind was blowing at full gale force, and was cause for some mighty powerful waves. I tried hard to go for a swim, but I was just pummeled in the churning surge. Dawn meanwhile, was able to wiggle herself into a comfy spot atop the rocks for a noontime nap, and enjoyed the tingling effects of surf spray.

Our drive continued later to Monaco, past the Monte Carlo casino, and then on to another splendid cobble stoned beach town inches from the Italian border called Menton. Protected in a cove, the beach (rocks) at Menton easily lured us to its obvious charm and much calmer surf. And this time, swimming was without incident and a very refreshing late day experience. The setting all around us was truly magical as well, with mountains towering high above the steeple spires of the old town, and tall shadows sweeping across the palm tree-lined waterfront boulevard and a nearby grassy park where folks relaxed in seeming bliss.

After we dried ourselves in caressing warm breezes that also carried sea gulls lazily flying by, we drove up an extremely steep and windy road into the mountains above town. Our guidebook said that there was a campground up there, and at the very end of the road, there indeed was. It was a spectacular place to camp, with numerous tiered camping spots virtually situated on ledges with stunning views over Menton far below, and the non-ending horizon of the Mediterranean. We set up our tent again without its rain cover on, to better smell the surrounding eucalyptus trees throughout the night, and to listen to relaxing distant purr of the pounding surf at the foot of the mountain. And sleep that night was indeed a sweet dream.

We woke up early the next morning to a choir of chirping birds and a beautiful sunrise, and began our drive away from the coast up the river valley of the Roya, to the southern French Alps mountain town of Tende. We arrived just in time to purchase another soft, long baguette (French bread), but were an hour and a half early for the opening of the local outdoor store at 9:30am. We pondered just continuing on to Milan where we needed to fly from that night, but Dawn’s heart was set on climbing a “via ferrata”.

Somewhere in between hiking and rock climbing, is a new sport called “via ferrata”. Via ferratas are actually nothing new for those in the mountains of northern Italy, where soldiers back in WWI first built them to more easily maneuver in rugged terrain. Meaning “iron ways” in Italian, via ferratas are systems of climbing aids that make scaling and traversing cliff faces possible. And along with modern day safety precautions, even we could be like flies on a wall.

The key to surviving such an experience, is the harness that you wear around your waist that has two “leashes” hanging from it with oblong metal ring spring clips called carabineers attached to their ends. These carabineers are always “clipped” by the climber to the steel cables that have been somehow been installed up there on those mountainsides, and if you do slip or fall, you’ll only drop a few feet and end up dangling by the harness, instead of plunging hundreds if not thousands of feet.

There are also numerous artificial handholds and footholds imbedded into the rock to make the climbing easier, and it’s just then a matter of moving along on ladders, iron pins, iron rungs, and steel staples. The only problem a climber really has, is his own fear of heights, his own overwhelming sensations of extreme vertigo, and his own paranoia of being greatly “exposed” to the elements. Via ferrata routes are then in theory, a safe and thrilling means of outdoor adventure, that provides access to steep vertical rock faces and extreme mountain terrain, which would otherwise be accessible only to highly experienced roped climbing parties.
So when the outdoor store finally opened, we rented the gear we needed and started our steep hike up to the start of the two-year old Tende via ferrata. We were pretty sure we’d understood from the French-speaking only guy in the store, that we’d be able to finish the route within two and a half hours, just in time to return the gear and get our passports before the store closed again at noon. It was important to arrive by midday, because arriving late would mean waiting until 3:00pm when the shop would open again, but that wouldn’t leave us with not enough time to get all the way back to Milan for our flight. So we practically ran the trail up the mountain that rose high above town, and then while completely out of breath, began clipping “into” the via ferrata.
Somewhat evenly spaced iron rungs protruding from the rock face were easy to scale like climbing a ladder, but the steel cable that we were clipped to and that the carabineers slid along, ended every couple of yards. That meant, you had to keep stopping to unclip, and then clip on to the next one. But we quickly found out, that that wasn’t that easy, … at least for me.

Seeing as how one hand was usually tightly clutching to something for dear life, it was with your free hand that you had to unclip the karabiner. But that turned out to be a tricky maneuver with only one hand. This is because you needed to slide up, and then turn the safety-feature latch of the carabineer, simply to get it opened. But with one hand, that was no easy task, and took a fair amount of dexterity, and a strong pinky to do the pushing up. And as we really began exposing ourselves, and inched higher and higher up and across the stone slab we’d tied ourselves to, the more difficult it seemed to get for me to get those dang carabineers to work.

And at one point (ok, at several points), it became quite exhilarating (scary!) up there, when it became very obvious that there was no easy way out or off of that sheer vertical rock face. And there, where I just couldn’t unclip my karabiner, and Dawn was quickly leaving me behind, and we had to be back by noon, and I was losing strength in my pinky, and it was starting to get tiring hanging from one hand, and town was miles literally directly below us.

But at last, to the complete relief of Dawn, I finally overcame my very vocal (screaming) frustration meltdowns, and eventually discovered a method for dealing with the carabineers. And then, the whole experience became truly amazing. On several occasions, we had to walk along a single steel cable like we were tightrope walkers, as the cable wiggled back and forth high above lots of nothing below us. And a couple of other times, our climb took us up and over slight overhangs, which meant dizzying moments of actually having to lean back to get above it. Yikes! But then right when I thought we must have conquered everything, we came upon a 130 yard-long zip-line.

I tried to share in Dawn’s excitement, as I watched her glide away over a hungry canyon all the way to the other side. I hoped I’d understood her directions for hooking myself to the cable, and then next found myself hanging in mid-air and speeding through space. I only prayed that my momentum would slow by the time I too reached the other side. And much to my surprise, I made a perfect landing. And then eventually after a little more climbing, we finally reached the end of the via ferrata. But Dawn concluded very quickly, that she had just enough time to fly again.

So, Dawn re-crossed the canyon via an alternate route that partially made use of a suspension bridge. And then before long, was hooked up again for another ride across the abyss. But with the conclusion of that last adrenaline rush, it was time to go. And we ran down the mountain trail and arrived at the outdoor store with but a few minutes to spare. And by high noon, we were passing over the Colle di Tenda and the border into Italy, where the word ‘via’ to me meant “very intense adventure”, and ‘ferrata’ meant, “like driving a “Ferrari”. And Dawn drove our Fiat through the Alps just like one, seemingly not yet done with thrill rides for the day.

Naturally, we soon stopped to pick up a jar of pitted Italian olives, a vice snack food we just can’t seem to get enough of these days. And the drive back through the Po Valley was under bright, sunny skies and past happy fields of sunflowers, and row, after row, after row, of between chest-high and earlobe-high corn. By late afternoon, we exited into Milan’s Linate Airport, but not to get a flight out, only to park the car. From there, we caught a bus to the city center for a short but sweet visit to the Duomo (gothic church). Then it was finally on to Bergamo and Orio al Serio Airport where RyanAir flies to, 47 kilometers east of Milan, … and where we caught flight FR5207 home.

Rhein-Mosel Bike Trip

July 1, 2006

Raining Adrenaline

Our 4-day pass/vacation was set, and our trip organized. The plan called for perfectly sunny skies and warm weather, much needed to accommodate our dreams of climbing another via ferrata and enjoying the mountain views of the Swiss and Austrian Alps. This time we were bringing our good friend Marty along for the ride, or perhaps a better explanation would be that he was willing to put up with us for the duration, and drive his car, since our van was in the shop with a busted radiator fan.

The day before we were supposed to leave, Rob checked and rechecked every one of his weather websites to make an educated guess about the reality of what we might face. Yet as he was doing so, the rain was streaking down our windows and it felt much too cold for shorts and a T-shirt. The forecasts all called for some sort of rain and cloudy weather, a few predicting a total washout for the entire weekend. We needed summer sun, and the clouds were obscuring our hopes.

We went over to Marty’s house the evening before our scheduled departure for an awesome and very spicy Thai supper he made of (name of dish unpronounceable and spelled in chicken scratch), and to consider our options for the weekend. We avoided the topic at first, concentrating instead on cooking, eating, and watching Shakespeare’s Othello. But then at about midnight, after a few dinner drinks and a dramatic and deadly ending to the movie, we finally got around to discussing our proposed trip.

The question quickly became, not IF we should go because of all the rain, but where we could go, where there would be no rain. A wild search then ensued on the RyanAir website, where we found few last-minute options that sounded affordable, except for a roundtrip flight to Milan, Italy for about 150 euros. The chances of the weather being better south of the Alps is always a strong likelihood, and from Milan, Venice was relatively nearby by rent-a-car, and something Marty had never seen in all of his travels. We were all just moments away from spontaneously pushing the buttons and purchasing the tickets, when Rob’s cool head at the last second stopped us all from going too crazy. We settled then for our original car trip heading to the Alps, with the added option of continuing farther south to chase the sunshine if necessary. And we could all get some much needed sleep that night, instead of staying up, trying to pack, and getting to the airport by 4am for a 6am flight to Milan.

By 8 o’clock the following morning, rested and much more clear-headed, we rolled out onto the autobahn in Marty’s speedy little VW-GTI, with Rob packed in the backseat next to the food box, and the camping gear stowed in the hatch. Our route southward from Germany cut across a corner of France and into a nasty rainstorm before arriving at Strasbourg. But with crossing the Rhein River and our re-entering back into Germany, the skies cleared a bit for a moment, before sporadic thunder-dumpers took their turns wetting our way, all the way into Switzerland.

The ever-changing cloud formations ended up making for quite a show, especially within the mountainous realm of Lake Lucern and above our first destination, the high alpine resort village of Engelberg, Switzerland. Suddenly, we found ourselves at the base of the towering granite cliff face of the Furenwand, and faced with the decision of whether we should try climbing it with the weather as it was. We had rented harness gear from a guy at a sports shop that looked a bit dubiously at the surrounding threatening skies, but felt that it would only take us a couple of hours to climb the via ferrata, and that we would maybe get lucky and not get rained on.

A few sprinkles hit us as we prepared for our climb in the parking lot, and we concluded that if we didn’t attempt the ascent right then, the weather may only get worse if we waited until the following day. I changed into long pants and put a long-sleeved polyester shirt on under my T-shirt, just in case we were to get soaked. Rob and Marty opted instead to wear quick drying shorts and shirts, so as to not be weighted down by wet clothes. And then after asking ourselves even several more times if we were crazy to think about doing a highly exposed climb in such weather, we sort of just shrugged our shoulders and decided to take the chance and do it anyway.

We filled up our camelbacks and took along some snacks, and then walked the mile up to the start of the climb. About 1/3 of the way there, I realized that I had forgotten to bring any sort of first aid gear that usually goes with me everywhere, especially on the side of a mountain. And after stupidly deciding that it wasn’t worth running back to the car for it, I mentally tried to imagine what we did have that I could use in case of emergency, and I couldn’t come up with many ideas. I didn’t say anything about that though, as Rob and Marty seemed enthralled and confident with the adventure at hand, and I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

A sign at the bottom of the climb warned us in four languages that climbing in wet weather should not be attempted and would be dangerous to do. So we asked ourselves several more times if we were indeed crazy to think about doing a vertical climb up wet rock, and we concluded that we were. The first few sections of the climb had a new type of T-bar that we hadn’t seen before, to both grab with our hands and later step on with our feet, as our karabiners slid along the safety cable. We proceeded even more cautiously with precise stepping and sure hand grips, after we found a couple of loose ones. And then we continued on slowly up, next using a series of offered cold metal staples and iron rungs drilled into the rock

To one side of us, a tall waterfall roared, and then others came into view across the valley as runoff from glaciers high atop the mountain peaks. The chiming bells of grazing Swiss cows on the steep opposing slopes also added to the music of the moment. Rising swirls of mist and fog occasionally engulfed our perspective, and there were instances that we were lost in a sea of gray, and I was unable to see anything, even Marty climbing above me, and Rob below. Then seconds later, it would clear again, and the distant vistas down on the town way below were spectacular. We were alone up on that rock face; apparently no one else was dumb enough to follow in our footsteps. But, the awesome natural setting and the climb itself, all made for the most interesting climb we’d done yet. And, it all made for a thrilling and solemn connection to the truly unique experience that we’d dared, and very grateful were we, that the rain had held off so far.

The middle section of the climb turned into more of a scramble up a steep and muddy grassy outcrop, but the immense rock face still looming over our heads told us there was more rock climbing yet to come before we’d reach the top. The rains of earlier in the day had formed a small waterfall that sprayed over our route back onto the rock, and on to our heads as we started (what we hoped was) the last section. We crept sideways on skinny metal supports on a sheer, flat wall high above the abyss while hanging on to the cable for dear life. A few light raindrops suddenly began hitting my helmet, and the clouds above seemed to be thickening and darkening. We took the obvious hint, and figured it best if we started to climb as fast as we could without being dangerous about it. But we’d now obviously now reached the most difficult part of the climb, and trying to speed up wasn’t much of an option.

Looking up soon meant steady stinging cold raindrops in the face and in our ears, while icy breezes began to kick up and freeze our hands and fingers. At one point, I looked up through the saturating rain sheet that was now covering us, and literally shouted in amazement at my first sight of a very long and tall vertical ladder Marty was beginning to climb. It was an amazing ladder, not at all attached to the rock, but dangling and suspended from an overhang high above in the mist. We one by one slowly climbed up the slippery rungs as the entire ladder swayed in the wind and from our movements. It was an exact vertical climb, with nothing but a lot of straight down below us into a gaping, dark crevasse. Our fingers were wet and cold, and it was simply straight up to the lip of the overhang miles above us. The 50 or 60 or 70 rungs of the ladder, turned into a thousand by the time we finished. And trying to use our frozen and cramped fingers to move our safety cords along on our way up, was a maddening process.

By the top of the ladder, it was really raining, but the climb wasn’t quite over yet. Rob had to stop a minute and put away his badly splattered glasses in his backpack, because there was still a demand for exacting foot and hand placement, and clear vision to see a must. Especially, because the last wall we had to climb, was a massive cascade of hundreds of mini waterfalls spilling by us. But at last, the tough part was over, and the rest of the way up was via a steep zigzagging trail that was very muddy and very slippery.

The rain let up by the time we reached a restaurant/hotel, and a cable car station at the top, but we were all shivering and thoroughly soaked. We were happy to have a seat out of the elements in the small cable car that eventually arrived, and stunned when a ray of sunlight suddenly blinded our eyes. The clouds had offered us a momentary truce, and gave us an amazing sight over the valley far, far below. A family of four crammed in with us just before the cable car doors closed, and the dangling box then inched its way down almost two and a half thousand feet to our parked car. The parents of the two young boys gave us pitying “you guys were climbing in this weather?” looks, and even with a language barrier, we could tell they thought we were completely nuts. The ride down descended past all that we’d just been so intimate with, and we scared ourselves all over again, goggling at what we’d somehow just climbed up. When we reached the bottom, we saw that the time was 5:25pm. Turned out, that the last cable car of the day going up left at 5:30pm, and the one that we were on, was the last of the day coming down.

Back in the car, with the heat cranked as high as it could go on our way to a nearby campground, we could barely uncurl our fingers enough to fasten our seatbelts, …. seatbelts? We just escaped near death on the side of a mountain, what was the point of seatbelts?! We slowly thawed enough to eventually be able to set up our tents in a break between more drizzling rain. And then we ran straight for the showers, and spent quality time trying very hard to use up all of the hot water in the pipes.

The campground had a small indoor kitchen area that was available to anyone wanting to use it. But we were the only ones in there, and thrilled to soon be sipping coffee, hot chocolate, and apple cider we heated up on the stove. A large bowl of Ramen noodles followed, along with a side snack of olives (w/pits) straight from the jar. We were warm, dry, fed, and alive, and marveled at our feat of stupidity, and the fact that we had flirted with major bodily harm if not death, on the plumb side of that awesome mountain. After dinner, we returned to our tents and played a few games of cards, and then fell asleep to the sound of falling rain, and a nearby rushing river.

Surprise, surprise, it was still raining in the morning when we woke up. Marty was a bit grumpy because his sleeping bag wasn’t warm enough, and didn’t want to hear about the fact that we had slept like angels in our cozy bags. But we brewed him a few strong cups of coffee in the kitchen, and fed him a couple of fresh brotchens, and then he was all smiles again. Especially when the cloud layer lifted a bit and exposed a beautiful fresh dusting of snow atop all of the surrounding mountain peaks, and was an explanation for his freezing night’s sleep.

Our goal for the day, was a well-known walk along a cliff overlooking Lake Lucern. And for the following day, other high country hikes in the Swiss Alps. But it was raining, and gloomy, and quite chilly for August, even for in the Alps. Well, we easily and quickly ditched those ideas, and were much more happy with the thought of just sitting in a warm car. But where could we drive to? How about somewhere warmer and maybe a bit less rainy! So, we headed south.

The idea to perhaps still get to Venice slowly began taking shape, and alas, when we reached the other side of the Alps and Lake Como by early afternoon, the skies had partially cleared and it was much warmer outside. So warm in fact, we took the chance to dry out our tents and to go for a heavenly fresh water swim. It started sprinkling again after our fun, but as we drove off, we continued on with our quest for farer weather. We passed by Milan’s northern outskirts and started east under sunny skies on flat roads towards Venice, and arrived at a campground on the fringe of the mainland at around 6pm. We set up our tents along the water, and Marty and I had pizza and beer and played more cards, while enjoying a rain-free evening and looking across the water at the skyline of Venice. Rob though, couldn’t wait ‘till the morning when we’d all planned to finally get to Venice proper, and took a city bus over the bridge to the sinking city to spend his evening.

Attracted by the photogenic appeal of Venice’s charm, Rob wove along the maze of canals that Venice is famous for, and searched far and wide for photo ops. Unfortunately, he ventured a bit too far down a series of steps that disappeared into a canal, and slipped and fell. Similar to Robert Shaw in the movie “Jaws” trying to avoid entering the shark’s mouth when it jumped up on the back of the boat, Rob kicked with all his might to keep from falling completely into the canal. He succeeded, but ended up with wet legs and shoes, and a soaked butt. Luckily, no one was witness to his misfortune, and Rob just continued on his explorations as if nothing had happened. But he and only he, knew that he’d been baptized a Venetian.

In the middle of the night, a short time after Rob returned a little after 11pm, a blowing lightning and rolling thunderstorm passed over the area. It was still raining a bit in the morning when we awoke, and we decided to just leave our tents set up while we took a ferry from nearby the campground over to Venice for the day. A strong wind kicked up spray, and the skies were gray, but as we crossed the water and landed at the dock, it was already looking more hopeful to the north. We wandered around Venice for hours, getting lost in dead-end alleyways, drinking cappuccinos, licking tasty gelato (ice cream) cones, and snapping pictures galore. The sun came out early on and lit up the city’s colorful crumbling buildings and stately cracked statues. The canal waters shimmered and sparkled under a beautiful deep baby blue sky, and everyone visiting Venice and moving around on foot and aboard boats, seemed more than happy to be in such a magical place.

We also stopped in the main square, where a bunch of pigeons felt compelled to sit on our heads and outstretched arms. And then at one point, we turned a corner and came upon an even stranger sight. We’d apparently found a part of town that was a bit more sunken than the rest. Water was lapping up from a canal over a sidewalk where outdoor seating for a restaurant was located. It was a novelty I guess, to sit in chairs at tables partially submerged in water as many folks were. They all simply just slipped off their shoes and carried on with their dining experience, and watched gondolas float by. Rob and I made Marty take his shoes off and pose for a picture, and with the water looked so inviting on such a warm day (disregarding all the rumors of it being part of the city’s sewage system), I rolled up my pants and waded in with my sandals on.

After drying off and getting lost a couple more times, we made our way back to the ferry landing to catch a ride back to the campground. But during our lazy scenic boat-top return, during which I think we all caught a quick nap, clouds had returned and again filled the sky. Our tents had perfectly dried during the day, and we packed them up quickly, as rain soon again looked threatening. And it did rain shortly thereafter (of course), as we drove northeast back into the Alps of northern Italy and into Austria. In fact, for a while there, the downpours were of biblical proportions. We were lucky though, that amidst the episodes of saturation, there were breaks in the deluge that offered many moments of splendid mountain scenery.

After nightfall, we arrived in the Austrian mountain town of Landeck, just west of Innsbruck, where we snuck into a closed, gated campground at about 10 p.m., woke the owners, paid for a night, and then set up our tents on wet grass and cooked rice for dinner on our camp stove. Sleeping was peaceful and next to a babbling brook, but it rained lightly in the morning to wake us up, which gave us a perfect record of getting rained on every night in our tents, and during every car journey so far. But the rain stopped and the sky cleared soon afterwards, finally allowing us opportunity to see where we actually were.

Landeck was a within a very peaceful setting surrounded by high, forested ridges. And it was also home to a place called Sport Camp Tirol, an outfit specializing in white-water rafting adventures. So, by 9am, we were stuffing ourselves into wetsuits, booties, lifejackets, and helmets on our way to the Otztaler Gorge, home of the Imst River.

We got into a large raft with our guide and four other German thrill seeking enthusiasts, and then paddled straight into the current and churning rapids. The water was very COLD, but we jumped in the river anyway during the milder portions of the trip to swim alongside the raft for fun. And of course, we got thoroughly splashed going over the rapids. But the sun was out in full force and we never felt too chilled or uncomfortable. In fact, the experience was very enjoyable, and the fresh, snowfall-capped mountains we passed all along our route, were really beautiful.

But, as had been the theme for our entire trip, just when our rafting escapade had completed, clouds rolled in, and rain soon followed. And during our drive back into Germany and almost during all of our way home, it rained on and off, sometimes really, really hard. But we’d seen sun and felt warmth when we mostly needed it most, and the entire trip turned out to be a fulfilling whirlwind exercise in taking chances and challenging luck.

Since it was contemplating raining when we climbed up the Via Ferrata, and did in fact pour on us, we were justified in leaving our camera safely in the car. Which means that we don't have pictures of our rainy trip up the side of the mountain.  However, you can find a whole bunch of Via Ferrata photos on the Switzerland page, so go ahead and skip there if you need a shot of photo adrenaline.  Otherwise, these pics are mostly of Venice, which is where we headed when the rain in Switzerland got on our nerves.  And, as you can see below, to our great luck, the rain did not follow us down to Italy.