I know you’re excited to read more about the things he says while we travel, but I just got permission to tell this story, so we’re gonna go off-schedule a bit in order to do it.
Picture: Skopje, 1995. Husband is part of a UN “peacekeeping force” (this involves the most adorable powder blue beret, you don’t even know) and his battalion has decided to take part in one of the local traditions: an annual hike to the highest mountain in Macedonia.
Being basically professional walkers at this point, Husband and crew were assembled and organized promptly when the trail opened at 8am. They got a bit of a start, looking smart in their camouflage and fancy blue berets, when the Colonel stopped them to point out the route they would be taking. Marked by rocks which had, for the occasion, been painted a dark red, the path was simple enough: just up this hill, across that saddle, and right up to that there mountain.
“I,” said the Colonel, “will be heading straight up, to get there faster. And my driver will come with me.” Driver would be going with – on foot, mind you – so as to carry the 75-pound satellite radio, with which the Colonel intended to make his afternoon call from the highest mountain in all of Macedonia. Because that is a reasonable thing to do and a reasonable way to do it.
Off that pair went, straight across the open ground to climb the mountain directly, while Husband and the remainder stuck to the trail. Eventually, they spread out a bit, and Husband found himself ahead of most but behind a few, which did not concern him because he always found the dark red rocks to guide him. And when he stood on the top of that mountain, he struck a magnificent pose and said to himself,
“Yep, this is the highest mountain in all of Macedonia.”
“Except for that one.”
Being a Professional Walker (and In Uniform, wearing his marvelously festive powder blue beret) I’m sure Husband didn’t do what most of us would have done at that point, which is stop and maybe sit down to indulge in a litany of “fuck!” for a couple of minutes. No, he put one foot in front of the other all the way back down his mountain, descending into the clouds in the general direction of the really really big one.
Sometime later, he happened upon a group of locals, who had stopped in their hike to rest and snack. They offered him some food and he gladly accepted, while they shared their knowledge of the area.
“That way,” one pointed out, “Albania, one kilometer.”
Thinking about how he had just walked a good two or three kilometers from that direction, Husband nodded and soon excused himself to continue the hike.
Eventually he found the right mountain, and caught up with the other Professional Walkers, who asked Husband what took him so long.
(I’m sure they were very respectful of his perceived slower pace, and there was no shaming or anything of that sort.)
Anyway, Husband told them the truth – that he’d followed the Colonel’s directions and marched up that hill and across that saddle and followed the dark red rocks* and found himself on top of the tallest mountain in Albania.
Everyone was very interested in this story. Because, you see, the Colonel and his driver had encountered some trouble along their chosen route. Only, because they were marching conspicuously across an open field – in their camouflage and their snazzy berets of powder blue – they were stopped by the Albanian border patrol. And detained, as befitted an obviously inept invading force.
So the Colonel listened to Husband’s story with great interest. And when it was over, he said,
“Never speak of this again.”
Naturally, I make Husband tell this story just all the damned time.
*Of course, there’s a pretty high iron content in the region, so there’s a chance the rocks Husband was following were rusty rather than painted. But, you know, I’m sure that doesn’t usually cause issues.