The Old Man And The ‘C’

…Or 11 Business Lessons Learned From The Lure Of A Fake Moon

Standing near the edge, looking down at the miniature town below, I shivered as I dug both my sweater and windbreaker from my backpack to combat the cold air and winds often present at this height.

Careful footing requiredFor two hours, I had climbed a narrow pathway carved out of the mountain’s side. Cut rock, loose stones and the occasional man-made foothold hammered in for added security comprised the switch-back trail that lead to this final destination.

Since my arrival five days earlier, this place had been luring me so on this, my last day in town, I succumbed to its call.

It took three train connections and a thirty minute cab ride, passing vineyards, lemon groves, kiwi and palm trees, which were unexpected this far north, to reach this, my final destination on an incredible five-week adventure.

Nestled at the foot of the Italian Alps and the northern-most tip of Italy’s largest lake, Lago di Garda (Lake Garda), sits the small resort town of Riva del Garda.

A pedestrian-friendly town with dedicated bicycle and walking paths following the shoreline, with its palm trees and sandy beaches, it is reminiscent of it’s more famous cousins to the south. The indigo blue of the water dotted with sailboats and windsurfers were now mere specks from this height.

Travelling solo for the first time, I was a little nervous, to say the least. Especially because I had chosen to travel where English was not the first language. I had learned a few words and phrases. Enough to get by. Thankfully most people spoke English, or enough that between single words, hand gestures and pointing, I got the help required when requested and dissuaded “assistance” from those when not welcome.

Arriving in Riva del Garda, the romantic Italian language I had come to adore morphed into the guttural sounds of German. An easy destination from Munich, most tourists in the piazza shared a common language; one in which I had not prepared myself to partake. I dropped out of German in grade 9. All I could remember was how to say ‘cake’ – a word I know some day I will be thankful for having retained, and to count to 10 (which did actually come in handy, but that’s a different story).

Now, looking down at the tiny houses, the bells from the clock tower rang noon, their lilt reaching me on the wind, reminding me of each town I had visited on my journey to this moment. I reflected not only on the lessons learned since leaving home, but in particular, the lessons from this climb, to this tiny holy moon on the mountain.

DSCN3955The Alps surrounding Riva del Garda, are rugged and majestic. No gentle foothills here. They soar quickly from the lake, casting shadows on the town in late afternoon and providing for dramatic sunrises as the sun peeks out from behind its night-time hiding place and grows to full size within minutes.

About a third of the way up the mountain that acts as Riva’s backdrop, at around 200 metres above sea level, is an old Bastione, built in the 16th century to protect the village below. Now it serves as a tourist viewpoint and snack bar.

Near the top third of the mountain, at 620 metres above sea level, is a tiny white structure, almost unseen from the streets below, appearing more like an out-jutting of white rock, marble maybe, rather than a structure. When night falls, as the dark green of the mountain melds with the night sky, the tiny object, lit from its base, seems to float in the air like a small moon hanging above the dominating Bastione which too is lit and seemingly hovers above the town. Had it not been lit, I doubt I would have noticed it – but once I did, my curiosity was stirred.

Built by miners and engineers beginning in 1924 during the construction of the hydro-electric plant and completed in 1929, the small building, a chapel, La chiesa di Santa Barbara, lures the religious, the trekkers, the curious, and in my case, the determined (some would argue ‘stubborn’), to its steps.

DSCN3962Having explored the neighbouring towns by foot, bike and boat, I had only one thing more to conquer – the mountain. And by that I mean, the chapel.

I had gondola’d up a nearby peak, but that was cheating.

With no other plans and only one more day, the chapel summoned.

Not the fittest of souls, but not a couch potato either, the Bastione was to be my first conquest. Perhaps the chapel would follow. I would be happy either way, I lied to myself.

Wandering to the edge of town, I found the road leading up.

In Avanti. Onward.

Looking down, I noticed a walking stick lying on the ground.  Believing that what you need in life presents itself at the moment you need it, I took this as a sign, silently thanked the donor and began the climb.

DSCN3873This part of the trail was a switch-back road wide enough for a single car and likely used to bring supplies to the snack bar. A combination of stone and paving, it was easy footing, but steep none-the-less. A bench was placed about every third turn and I welcomed the opportunity to occasionally stop and rest.

Über-fit Germans with proper trekking boots and telescopic steel walking poles breezed past me while I made it appear I was merely stopping to remove my jacket or adjust my backpack. (Did my red face and puffing gave me away?)

As I arrived at the Bastione, a young girl was arriving too to open the snack bar. (She drove.) She seemed annoyed that I might actually require a refreshment. Instead, I dropped down onto a bench and ate the snack I had packed, enjoying the view of the town below and the lake beyond.

Rested, fed, and satisfied that the ruins had been explored fully, the chapel beckoned. Still appearing small even from this vantage point, I knew I would be disappointed if I didn’t at least try to reach it.

One Very Careful Step At A Time

Finding the start of the trail, it soon proved to be much more treacherous than the previous pathway. (Note the first photo.)

DSCN3924It was narrow with loose stones and at times ran very close to the mountain’s edge. Was this a smart thing to be doing alone?

I consoled myself with the fact that the athletic Germans had gone on ahead so should I go over the cliff, they would hear my shouts on their decent. (I pictured hanging Wile E. Coyote style from a small tree sticking out of the rock face, never considering anything more injurious or fatal.) How do you say ‘Help’ in German?

Huffing and puffing I made my way, carefully placing each step so as not to twist my ankle or fall. I had already fallen once on this trip and gashed up my shin simply because I had been looking up when I should have been looking down. This was no place for that sort of mistake. I made purposeful stops now and then to admire the view (and to catch my breath – and to let more fit Germans pass me) before concentrating on the path ahead.

Parts of the path were easier than some and they were a welcome break however the incline remained.

The chapel was no longer in view so there was no sense of progression or chance for encouraging ‘almost there’ self-talk.

The trail switched back and forth. I couldn’t imagine the miners and engineers bringing supplies up here to build either the hydro-electric plant or the chapel, especially in 1925 without the machinery of today.

A rhythmic tapping sound grew louder behind me. More fit Germans, I assumed.  I made my way to a place wide enough to pass and waited for their approach. Around the turn came a small elderly man with two ‘professional’ walking sticks. I guessed he was perhaps 80. “Bonjourno.”, he said effortlessly as he strode past me. “Bon-hh-journo”, I huffed in reply.

(He didn’t have a backpack or water bottle. No wonder he was faster.) Regardless, if he could do it, I could do it.

DSCN3923I chugged my water and carried on, his rhythmic tapping pulling me forward. But the beat soon grew fainter and disappeared as the distance between us grew. “It likely stopped because he’s at the chapel resting,” I thought hopefully.

I trudged on. Switch-back after switch-back. Stopping every so often “to admire the view”.

The Germans, already on their descent, passed me like mountain goats, all surefooted and spry. I was envious of their two walking poles but grateful to have my gift-stick, knowing I couldn’t have made it this far without it.  Soon the tapping returned and the old man passed me again without losing stride and with no sign of fatigue. “Obviously a local. He’s probably done this every day of his life,” I consoled myself. He will have made it up and back before I even reach it. Determined, I carried on.

DSCN3936And then, it appeared.

A beautiful all-white open structure with tall pillars and a shrine against the back wall. On the ground and the ledges, people had left small bouquets of flowers and trinkets with messages to loved ones who had passed. There was a small table with more vases and a guest book to sign, which, of course, I did.

I sat for quite a while and admired the tiny town below, reflecting on my journey.

My decent proved as treacherous as the ascent. The walking stick was indispensable for leverage and grounding to keep from going too fast and slipping on the downward slope. It was a different sort of difficult. A different type of footing with each step still requiring careful placement and concentration, but thankfully much less tiring.

Reaching the Bastione, I was elated. The path that lay ahead, once daunting, now, with a new perspective, was easy.

11 Lessons Learned From An Old Man, A Stick and a Chapel on the Hill

  1. DSCN3943_2You can’t do it alone. I was thankful for my walking stick. Although it would have been more helpful with two, I didn’t know that at the time and made do with what I had. And without it, I would have turned back. Look at help as a gift.
  2. Being envious of others isn’t going to help you. You have your own skills. Work with those.
  3. Learn from those around you. The right boots and the proper gear will make it easier the next time*. That’s what mentors are for.
  4. Be inspired by the experts. Take their experience as inspiration to carry on and develop yourself. They’ve been at it longer. They couldn’t always walk up the mountain at an even, quick pace. They worked hard to get where they are.
  5. The path to where you’re going isn’t always easy and it isn’t always straight. Sometimes you’ll need to take a break and recuperate, but don’t give up. You may be only one more turn from reaching the summit.
  6. Stop every now and again to appreciate how far you’ve come. The journey is hard work, but it’s when you’ll learn the most.
  7. DSCN3938The top is great when you reach it, but you can only stay there for so long. You have to come down as carefully as you came up.
  8. Be thankful for the lessons and the help along the way and take opportunities to give back when you can. (I left the walking stick right where I found it.)
  9. Don’t let age be an excuse.
  10. Slow and steady really does win the race, just as ‘Saint Stefano’ had told me a few weeks earlier: “Madam, slow down. It’s a technique.” …but that’s another story. Never give up. Take everything one step at a time and you’ll eventually get there at the pace that’s right for you. Perseverance wins in the end.
  11. Trust that the chapel is at the top, even when you can’t see it. You are on the right path. You’ll get there eventually.

*I now have a beautiful pair of indigo blue telescopic walking poles with interchangeable tips for various terrain. In Avanti!

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