“COURAGE: Is it in me?”
Over the course of my fabulous, laid-back weekend, I started brainstorming ideas for today’s “Holly Investigates.” The last couple weeks have been pretty food-centered, so I thought it might be nice to spice things up a bit. Fitness tips? I could research all the latest trends! Stress busters? Hmmm…I could compare the power of cat naps vs. long naps. Beauty fun finds? Mascara testing! All of these sounded dandy (you might see them on the blog in the future!), but nothing quite hit me.
Then, on my lovely 45-minute walk yesterday, I got to thinking about my interests, where my strengths lie, what I want to achieve, my short-term and long-term goals – all that identity crisis stuff us 20-somethings always find ourselves in the midst of. As a journalism major, I’ve always had a knack for words and enjoyed writing stories. However, for some reason, I’ve always been super hesitant to share them. Without going into too much psychological analysis about the crazy inner workings of moi, it’s mostly due to fear of rejection.
So, I came to the conclusion: if I want to be a writer, it’s time to both write and share. This blog may be centered on food and exercise, but the more important underlying focus (which I hope you all see) is balance. Balancing your life with all the things that make you happy so you can be…well, happier! Food, exercise, traveling, writing, family & friends – all these things make ME happy.
I could keep rambling on and on about this, but without further ado, I muster up the courage within me (and encourage you to do the same thing!) and present to you one of my travel stories…
“Channeling Maria VonTrapp, Channeling Myself”
With a sweeping aerial view of the Austrian Alps and a sweet, lilting voice proclaiming that the hills were indeed alive with the sound of music, it only took one look at the perfect toe-headed mane of the former nun turned nanny to know that I, a wee girl, wanted to be Maria VonTrapp.
Unfortunately, there were several glitches in my fantastical childhood dream. For one, I would never look like the one and only Julie Andrews or even the real Maria herself. A blond pixie cut just wasn’t going to flatter my big ol’ head of unruly, brown curls. Years later, when several awkward attempts at something resembling singing went awry in high school, the disheartening reality of this dream cemented itself. The truth echoed its honest sentiment much like the gentle hum of nuns’ voices resonated in the long hallways of the abbey: as much as I wanted to entertain others with sunny song and dance like Maria VonTrapp, I just didn’t possess that innate ability.
Throughout college, my lust to perform faded like a pair of beat-up denim as the ebb and flow of college life squeezed out any time for extra hobbies. But as a post-graduation trip to Europe slowly took shape, that infamous opening sequence heralding the majestic rolling green hills and rocky mountains of Austria kept rolling in my head. I may have surrendered my dream of becoming the next Maria VonTrapp, but I could at least embark on an Austrian adventure to find that mountain, couldn’t I? A feeling this was perhaps my one final redemption to live out “The Sound of Music” fantasy sealed the deal. And plus, if Maria could frolick in the hills damn it, so could I.
Weeks later, it was official: Salzburg, Austria was stop number three on the Europe itinerary.
And so that August, I, along with one of my best friends Megan, hopped the Atlantic to enjoy all the cultural fruits of Europe. Tipsy trips to the pubs of London, a backstage tour of tennis glory at Wimbledon, an unplanned, yet comedic stroll through the red-light district of Frankfurt, a storybook journey through historic Rothenburg, Germany and one too many shenanigans to name in Munich before it was finally time for Salzburg, home of “The Sound of Music.”
After awaking from a day of learning about Mozart, Salzburg’s other famous resident, I was infinitely excited to embark for Untersburg, or what I liked to call, “Maria’s Mountain.” The time had also come for Megan and I to burn off the German cornucopia of Bavarian pretzels, beer, juicy wursts and strudels still being digested from days (almost weeks!) ago. Without a cloud in the sky, that Saturday radiated warmth and good fortune for the journey ahead.
In less than an hour, we easily navigated the city bus system, purchased a trail map and some endurance-friendly snacks and found ourselves perched under Untersburg, just a couple miles within frolicking distance. Brimming with impatience, we tore up the path leading to Reitsteg, a trail for slightly experienced climbers, which we reasoned two young, fit girls to be. Feeling rather jolly and out-of-breath at the fact we were actually hiking in the Alps, we almost failed to notice a large, 10-foot barbed wire fence standing between us and the top. The first of what would be many hurdles that day.
“We gotta hop it!” I said, channeling the enthusiasm and fun of our friend, Maria. And hop it we did.
Not even 15 minutes into the climb, we soon realized Untersburg was steep. However, steep might be a slight understatement. This was actually straight up the mountain, completely vertical, don´t fall backwards unless you want to tumble 25 feet down into a cushion of sharp boulders, steep. The good news is Megan I were both blessed with a heavy dose of stubborn. We were determined to make our way the three and a half hours up the mountain no matter what.
As we traversed rickety bridges, hundreds of wooden steps and a landscape dotted with tree trunks and trails, we fell into what you might call a hiking groove. After more than three hours of hiking, our legs ached, our glutes burned and our lungs prayed for oxygen, but the absolutely spectacular views made the trek up completely worth it. Each view graciously gave us a much-needed adrenaline rush towards the top.
As Megan and I neared what we thought was the top of Untersburg, there was not one sight of a frolicking field to be had. There was however, a large family of ominous-looking clouds accumulating overhead. We hadn’t passed any hikers in several hours, and the mountain was growing continuously eerie.
The air grew cooler and thicker until I could literally feel the weight of the atmosphere on my goose-bumped arms. The clouds deepened in color until they formed a charcoal gray meringue overhead. My stomach, normally reliable in its constant hunger, turned uncharacteristically queasy. Something told me I wasn’t going to live the life of Maria VonTrapp, not today at least.
“Megs, I think we should go back,” I finally muttered. What had been a relatively mute journey up the mountain, due mostly to lack of oxygen, now demanded words.
“I think that might be the smartest thing,” she replied reluctantly, sipping the last of the water from our 1-liter bottle.
“I’ll carry the bag down,” I said, grabbing the backpack. I took one last look towards the peak of the mountain but saw nothing as the fog tumbled its way down. Unfortunately, we were heading into a problem even Maria couldn’t solve.
With my stomach sinking deeper, we tried to hurry – albeit safely – down the mountain. We were no less than 10 minutes down the mountain when a gigantic, thick rain cloud literally appeared out of thin air. Little wet droplets began forming a haphazard polka dot pattern on my purple turtleneck. Please don’t let it rain, I begged the gods, please, please, please. But it was too little, too late as the rain immediately descended into a downpour of torrential rain, tearing down the mountainside.
Then it hit me. Megan and I hiked nearly three and a half hours up a vertical mountain, which meant we needed get back down…on a vertical! With storm sirens blaring in the distance, I looked towards the tufts of smoky sky, rain splattering my face.
“If this is your idea of a joke Maria VonTrapp, it’s really not funny!” I yelled and paused, subconsciously hoping for some kind of sign. Nothing but more rain. “I don’t think she heard me.”
Laughs and smiles, which were plentiful only an hour ago, were rare occurrences as the rain continued to consume Untersburg. A nervous being by nature, the worrywart in me charged into absolute overdrive. I turned to Megan, completely drenched from the tip of her auburn hair down to her Adidas tennis shoes, and then towards me, backpack strapped to the front of my body, making me look about six months pregnant. This wasn’t good.
Then, I whispered the most heartfelt prayer I’ve most likely ever made in my 22 years of life. Please God, just get us safely down the mountain. That is all I ask. Please, just get us down.
For the next hour and a half, Megan and I faced a steady wall of rain as we navigated mudslides, waterfalls and a collection of slippery treats left just for us to enjoy. Making our way down the mountain, I felt more and more desolate. For more than ten years, I imagined finding the exact location of that opening scene, and for the past ten days, I waited impatiently to sing at the top of my croaking lungs, “Climb evvvvv’rrryyyy mooouunnnttaaiiin!” Now, stuck in the middle of the worst rainstorm I’d ever been in and hiking down the Austrian Alps to boot, I never wanted to climb a mountain again. Wrapped up in thought, I slipped on a slick wooden bridge and landed right on my right hip, a mere 12 inches from a 20-foot drop-off.
“I think we made it,” Megan said, her voice suddenly brightening. “I remember this bridge.”
Standing up and momentarily rejuvenated, I literally saw the light. A soft, hazy glow emanated only 50 feet ahead of us, signaling the end of our near-death hike up what was supposed to be the happiest mountain on earth. I wholeheartedly believe the joy I felt in that moment over seeing a paved road will never be matched in my entire life.
“Do you girls want a ride?” two young Austrian men asked from the safety and warmth of their beat-up red 70’s hatchback. I looked over at Megan. After five hours of hiking, her hair was plastered to every intricate nook and cranny of her face. I only saw a sliver of her concealed jewel green eyes to know the answer to that question was something along the lines of, “No chance in hell.”
“No, thank you,” we replied as they sped off.
“How ironic would it be if we survived the hike-of-death only to get kidnapped by two Austrian men on a hey-we-finally-graduated-college celebration trip to Europe?” I asked Megan. A smile, one of only several that day, crept across her face.
“That wouldn’t be ironic,” she said. “That would suck.”
We reluctantly refused not one, but two rides from some friendly locals, priding ourselves in the fact that after everything, we were still rational, smart women. Megan and I sat at the bus stop freezing cold and wondering how exactly we got there.
After waiting for more than a half an hour, we stepped on the number 21 bus shivering and covered with mud, leaves and an assortment of different fabrics of nature. Then, as we took our seats amid stares and guffaws, the sun finally shone its bright self directly through our window. How come Maria never almost died frolicking in the mountains only to have the sun shine as soon as she survived the battle at death’s door? I thought as I stared outside, edging dangerously close to a complete breakdown.
Arriving back at the hostel, our two-foot square window sat swinging wide open as rain littered the floor. Below the window sat my travel backpack of all my possessions I had brought on the trip, absolutely soaked. Two single tears rolled down my cheek.
“You want to take a shower first?” I asked Megan as she began peeling off pieces of clothing as if each one were a giant, yellow banana.
As the steam floated out from under the door, I fell back onto my bed, which now felt more like a four poster bed at the Ritz than a rectangular cot at a cheap backpacker hostel. My mind swirled with flashes of color: a smoky gray fog-covered mountain, milk chocolate tidal pools of water, deeply-cut ravines of mixed greens and two clumsy American girls, brightly adorned and trying to make it down alive. Those distinct hues, so alive and real only hours before, now mixed into a languid dark mush of memory.
My mind fluttered between my “Sound of Music” experience and that of the Maria in the movie. I didn’t know exactly why I wanted to recreate those infamous scenes atop Untersburg so badly. I mean, I accepted the fact that I couldn’t sing well or strum actual songs on the guitar or entertain in the same engaging way the future Mrs. VonTrapp could. Why was this fantasy so important to me?
Wrapped up in the one thin blanket provided, the truth slowly formed its answer. Maria VonTrapp, the movie edition, and the real Maria, whose actual story differs from the movie, possessed something I, as well as almost all of us, struggle with and strive for: self-confidence. It really isn’t the fact that she could sing “Do-Re-Mi” in that enviable high key or sew seven matching outfits for seven kids, it’s the lively way in which she accomplished these things. That quiet faith in her ability, a willingness to share her talents with others and the way she encouraged others to enjoy life is what I really envied about Maria. It was that special confidence in who she was and what she could do that I really wanted.
And then I suddenly realized, I have confidence in me.
The way Maria strolled through the quaint streets of Salzburg, I strolled (or rather survived) the descent down the Austrian Alps. The way Maria followed her heart and left the nunnery, I left the United States and followed my passion for travel to Europe. The way Maria shares herself with others, well, we all do that in the ways we know best. And all of it requires the confidence in ourselves, whether we realize it or not. It may not be through singing or dancing but rather volunteering, laughing, cooking, playing, helping or in my case, writing. Taking the risk of sharing a piece of my writing, of me, with others requires that same confidence in myself. It’s not always easy, but the reward, I have a feeling, will be vastly better than any frolick in the hills I can think of.
As the water turned off and steam ceased to escape from under the door, I realized this is the essence of why “The Sound of Music” is loved by so many. These qualities above are why Maria VonTrapp’s legacy continues to endure and why we should continue to endure.
With newfound peace of mind, I walked into the bathroom, wrapped myself in the warmth of a long, hot shower and in my own sweet, lilting voice proclaimed:
“All I trust
I give my heart to
All I trust becomes my own
I have confidence
In confidence alone.”