Sunday, June 03, 2007

Flashback: Garmisch, Part I

It occurs to me, somewhat too late, that stepping into the cable car might have been a bad idea.

We're in the Alps, outside of the German city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, just along the Austrian border. It's cold but snowless day in March, and my third day of leave, and so we've come down to Edelweiss, a mountain resort owned and maintained by the United States military.

I've enjoyed my stay so far, but I must admit that I'm not really inclined toward the sorts of activities which excite most tourists and vacationers. Having worked as a tour guide in my adolescence, I tend to despise the vacuousness of group tours, and being from a town dependent on summer resorters for business, I feel compelled to explore the more remote corners of any given place. I am one of those sorts for whom "the road less traveled" is not merely a choice, but a lifestyle.

So here I am, a two thousand feet up the wooded face of a mountain called the Dreitorspitze.

It started with a couple of polite questions posed to the concierge at our hotel, a bookish young American named Dierk. Dierk is former military, and married now to a German citizen. As a result, he lives in Garmisch full-time, and so he knows the area fairly well. I simply asked him where an enterprising young couple might go to escape the throngs of Americans, expressing a desire to experience the parts of Bayernische (Bavarian) culture that others might never see. Dierk, being the savvy young man that he is, pulled out a map and pointed us in the direction of a few obscure foot trails leading up out of the valley, just on the edges of town. It took some work to find them, and in the process Anne and I got into a hellacious argument, but in the end all wounded egos were soothed and we began our trek up the side of the Dreitorspitze.

The trail we've chosen today begins east of the old Olympic ski-jump, leading through the bottom of a deep gorge that looms up on either side of us as we walk. The floor of the chasm is surprisingly flat, and over the tops of the lowest mountains the early-evening sun plays across the gently-tended plots of winter wheat. Here and there, bordered in by frail looking barriers of barbed wire, unruly flocks of mud-covered sheep graze and mill about restlessly. Meanwhile, the forested canyon walls high above us throw deep shadows across the valley. At one point, I comment to my wife that the whole scene looks like a backdrop from the "Lord of the Rings" filmography.

Before long, the fields fall away behind us, and the path begins its winding, tortuous trajectory upward. Our knees and quadriceps soon rail in protest, but we continue. We soon find ourselves surrounded by dense forests of alder and birch, and as we make our way upward we stop to marvel at the nearly half-dozen mountainside settlements that dot the roads going up. I can't help but reflect how important parking brakes must be on these steep inclines.

We continue upward for at least another thousand feet. Before long, our ears begin to pop with the change in pressure, and for a brief moment it seems that the path will come to an end. The gorge that we entered through, it seems, has hooked a dramatic right somewhere, and now cuts directly across our path, terminating the trail in a thousand-foot drop onto a bed of roaring rapids and jagged granite boulders. We find ourselves perched upon a rocky outcropping over the gorge, on which sits a small cabin posted with signs in German. They advertise a cable-car that leads over the gorge, but they don't even look open. Anne and I spend a moment debating over whether we should continue, and at last we elect to peek inside and have a look.

Stepping in, it becomes clear that this building is really less of a cabin and more of an Alpine garage. The only features of the place are a ticket booth and some empty benches. A tattooed and bored-looking young German in mechanic's attire lounges in the booth, nursing a toothpick, and after a few moments stumbling through German with him over ticket prices, he steps out and leads us through a door, which turns out to be a makeshift docking bay.

I have to say, I'm less than encouraged. A thin strand of steel cable dangles from the ceiling and leads upward by at least another thousand feet. Just before us, hanging from this precarious suspension, is the cable car. It's covered in flaking red paint and showing spots of rust, and as a stiff breeze suddenly gusts down the mountain, it sways in a fashion that fills me with waves of nausea. We bid our thanks to the operator, and graciously step into the windowed gondola. The door closes with a spring-loaded groan, and after a brief pause we start our ascent in near silence. The car sways again, and I find myself bracing my feet on either side of the cabin. I feel my throat tighten a bit.

I look up, and see Anne staring at my wryly. Her eyebrow arches coyly, but not without concern. She smiles.

"You okay?"

I purse my lips and nod. "Yeah, I'm good." The car dips a bit in the wind, and we finally get a good look at the drop as we climb. I find myself staring down at a chasm that could easily hold the Sears tower, and though my terror of heights tells me to look away, I continue to stare regardless. After a moment, I speak again. "Maybe not."

Anne's grin broadens in sympathy. "Ohhh, honey, c'mon," she says. "Where's my big strong soldier, huh? Least it's not a C-130, right?"

I nod grudgingly. "I guess."

She rewards me with another grin. "See? C'mon, how many people can say they've done this? It's gorgeous up here."

I nod in agreement. "True." She's right, it is quite pretty up here. I could be content in this place. A few minutes pass in contented silence, until another sight appears that makes my heart stutter a bit.

"I think we're gonna scrape this cliff."

On our left a sharp stone wall approaches ominously, and below us, on another outcrop, branches of virgin pine brush the bottom of the gondola.

"We are not, baby. Come on, just take deep breaths. You're doing so good, you know that?"

"I guess. At least it's not a combat landing."

Anne sighs, and smiles again at my stubbornness. She plants a kiss on her thumb, and presses it to my lips, letting it linger gently across my mouth. After a moment, she smiles and looks down at her feet, taking a moment to brush a lock of newly-auburn hair behind her ears.

"Yeah," she says. "I'm so proud of you. You're my Superman."

I can't help but smile.


Anonymous Anne said...


Oh c'mon, it wasn't that bad. You make it sound like some wild swinging gondola of death or something. There was only a little rust, and we weren't anywhere near the cliff, thank YOU.

*gives you a big hug*
But thank you for humoring me anyway. I love you!

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Solo said...

LOL Anne! I'm glad our tram here is in better shape, though it does sway in the wind. Sounds like an incredible place to see. Milo, like you, I am a lousy tourist and seek the roads less traveled, unlike you, I have a love of high places. Ya know what they say, "It's not the fall that gets you, it's that sudden stop at the bottom!"

2:12 PM  
Blogger liberal army wife said...

don't think we got on THAT tram, but there are a few in Garmisch... And in the Salzburg area too, that did make me think twice!


9:03 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

I would need Valium to set foot in that cable car. A lot of Valium. Maybe a lot of beer, too.

I've been to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, with my mother the bilingual, and I don't think we *ever* did the tourist thing.

Man, am I glad she never saw that damn cable car or she'd've dragged us up in it. Gah.

5:30 AM  
Anonymous Anne said...

Psst...Hey Milo,
I was just reading a few of your psychoconservative fans, and they're really working hard on hunting you down. Took 'em four message board pages to figure out the names were fake. Now they think you're William Michaelain. ;)

Maybe now this means you can both work AND write in peace.

Love you!

7:55 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

I found their little message board. It must be fun to live in some sort of delusion that is their meek existence.

Look forward to seeing you again.

Take care, be safe, and a lot of other pleasantries.\

The TB

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok how do you find these boards-
I need a good laugh

3:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just another fake posing as a soldier to try and bolster the pathetic anti-War left. Did this jackleg really think that real military people wouldn't check him out and call BS on his fiction?

Toodles from a real Iraq vet. 3BCT 1AD 2003-04


4:05 AM  
Anonymous Anne said...

You see, this whole thing is a terrible Catch 22. If he posts privelaged information, then he's revealing himself and probably violating OPSEC. If he doesn't, he's a fake. I'd rather he be called a fake than put anybody at risk, and I'm pretty sure he feels the same.

But that's just coming from his "designated defender." Because it somehow hasn't occurred to anybody that he's doing a job that interferes in a major way with his available free time.

As far as I can figure, they're ALL a bunch of nuts. The uberlefties are hollering for his head because he's still in the army and, "he should just quit." ...and what, smartass, walk home? The man took an oath, and he's not going to abandon his battle buddies.

Then on the other side, the wingnuts can't decide whether he's a 12 yo liar, a 60 yo liar, a fobbit, or a real soldier. I'm sure they've been bugging every PAO from here to Guam and making some busy schmuck's life difficult. To say nothing of ABUSING their AKO privelages to harass every poor SOB with the same last name as one of the MADE UP ones here. Most of 'em have their names and units plastered all over every post they make too, so it would be easy to contact AKO admin. I won't do it because it's pointless infliction of harm, but I really do wish these guys would take their personal info down. God only knows who's seeing it. Practicing good OPSEC is every soldier's responsibility.

And if keeping up with his responsibility means Milo's a fake, so be it.

8:26 AM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

Dear Tinfoil Hats and Wingnuts:

Go away.

the rational people.

But seriously. I can't figure out why it's so fucking hard to grasp that a soldier can be liberal, that he can be ambivalent about his orders, and still be loyal and honorable and, you know, not a fucking victim to the Big Bad Green Machine.

There's a lot of heads so firmly up asses I wonder how they see to type at all.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, let them focus on figuring out which soldier in Fallujah he really is. Nothing that he has posted here violates OPSEC. So, let them go on about being a fake. That's fine. However, these morons need to take down their personal info. Yes, it's hard to figure out who ONE person is from a MOS identifier, but it identifies exactly who is there.

I used to work in a hotel here in Vegas after I got out and we would have USAF/USA/USMC guys come down and post flight times for their sorties and all kinds of stuff on the message board. I don't know how many times the units would get in trouble by OSI for having "sensitive" info out for every tourist in the world to see. OPSEC is everyone's responsibility and should be regarded as EVERYTHING falls under OPSEC when in an occupied area. Ugh.

You are obviously a classy lady, so if you don't want to, I understand, but it would be wonderful if you post the message board address!!!!

12:17 AM  
Blogger KT said...

It seems hard to imagine Milo is a fake, so much of his writing is clearly from experience! I'm a writer myself, and I may not be the best judge of the truth of being in a war zone, but I can usually tell when someone is writing about what he KNOWS vs. what he IMAGINES.

Also, it gels with what I've been hearing from other soldiers, regardless of politics, religion, etc.

The whole concept of trying to silence an AMERICAN is just disgusting, though - especially from people who have sworn to defend our right to free speech. Go after the reporters who let secret locations slip in their newscasts (even a layperson can see the danger in that), not soldiers who are protecting their privacy and that of their unit while giving us at home the chance to witness a little bit of their lives!!

I'm a true conservative, not this psycho modern version, and any real conservative would be battling for the right for Milo to write his feelings. After all, a true conservative believes in true freedom. I may not agree with Milo on a lot of things, but that doesn't change my absolute adoration of his writing skills, or my respect for both Milo and Anne for sharing their lives with us.

Also, can I ask, do these people have no lives and nothing more important to do? Why are they reading this blog if it makes them so angry? There's plenty of stuff out there that won't piss them off so much. Argghhh!!

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You will go home.
These are simply days and moments strung together.
Love your wife.
There is your home, and your good fortune.

Good luck-

2:03 PM  
Blogger fjb said...

Well, you're both much braver than me. The landscape sounds incredible, but there isn't a hope in hell that anyone could have convinced me to get on that tram!

9:41 PM  
Blogger E-4 Mafia said...

Great story!

We were stationed in Vilseck, what, about 2 hours from Garmish? We hit the slopes in the winter, snowboarding of course, when we weren't training to go to Kosovo or Iraq.

For anyone who hasn't been there, Garmish is one of the most beautiful corners of the world. And its a resort for the US military. Funny, if you ask me.

We always envied those M.P.'s who were stationed there. But then we realized that they were still cops at the end of the day. Military cops at that. No...better being a dead scout than a living cop.


Anyways, keep going, man. Keep writing. Something truly beautiful coming from the army, from Iraq, is much like a daffodil sprouting from a scape of wasteland, and is truly inspiring.

Fight To Survive!

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you're both superheros.

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just spent the evening reading your blog. So moving
Thanks for sharing.

12:40 AM  
Blogger toadman said...

Anne.. where's Milo been? Been a while since his last post..

1:10 AM  
Anonymous Anne said...

Genau. I can't tell you where he's at, but he's alive and very, very busy. I'm so sorry for the long silence, but I'm hoping he'll be back soon.

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Bob Kincaid said...

I was just wondering if the military infothugs had managed to shut Milo up. I hope not.

Meanwhile, given Milo's literary bent, you might want to let him see this story:

Kids standing up for free speech in an original work using soldiers' own words. The teacher is at risk of being fired.

Best wishes to both of you!

12:29 AM  
Blogger liberal army wife said...

ok... glad I read through, because I was going to ask ann if he was ok. Glad to know he is. Just checking... we all worry, ya know.


3:09 AM  

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