by Maribel Steel
Driving through the villages of the Auvergne region of southern France, vague splashes of colour whirl past my view. The Top Gear team are on a mission – we have a mountain to climb. Harry pulls up in the car park at the bottom of the mountain known as Puy de Dôme, a volcano that, thankfully, last erupted in 5760 BC.
He prepares his camera gear for the long haul and gabbles with excited anticipation. Our teenage son, Mike, catches his infectious enthusiasm. Personally, I wonder what it is about mountains that draw people magnetically to climb them? Hasn’t anyone thought of a ski-lift for non-hikers like myself?
The sign at the beginning of the track apparently tells us it will take a comfortable two and a half hours return trip to reach the summit and back. Really? I dispute the word ‘comfortable’, knowing that this challenging track up the Puy de Dôme has occasionally been used as the ultimate finishing line for the Tour de France. I begin to grumble, anticipating my cane getting caught in ruts along the way.
“Do we really have to do this?”
“Mum. Come on!” says Mike. “You’re always telling me not to give up.” He grabs my hand and pulls me up the path.
Harry and I soon find we have to stop every few hundred metres just to catch our breath while mountaineer Mike coaches me up the climb. A group of French school children trot merrily past, the steep ascent effortless for light hollow legs. Little brats, I think to myself, huffing and puffing and crawling along at a snail’s pace.
Three quarters up the stony path and I want to give up.
“Please, Mike. Let me wait here for you,” I pant.
“You can’t give up now,” he scolds. “I will be very disappointed in you if you do.”
Mike bounces ahead and I tell him to stop showing off or I will whack him with my white cane. Harry has trailed far behind us to capture the view on film and with much prodding, I continue the climb.
Yet the fresh scent of mountain pine begins to enliven my spirit and I catch a glimpse of dark mountains rising in the distance and pick sprigs of wildflowers along the path. I can sense the beauty in the quiet climb. Mike skips ahead urging me forward and together, we reach the summit. I can hardly believe we have made it to the top of Chaîne des Puys.
My son and I stand in awe seeing what I imagine are the green fields far below of Clermont-Ferrand. Paragliders drift in pairs way above our heads – as graceful as soaring eagles. Harry comes puffing up to meet us, his voice bright with joy and we dance a merry jig in celebration of our triumph.
Just one last surprise awaits us at the summit of the volcanic dome…
a vending machine with cans of chilled green-tea!
Maribel Steelis a writer, blogger, mother and vocalist. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her partner Harry, and teenage son, Mike. She was diagnosed at fifteen with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). It is the journey towards blindness she is grateful for, learning to trust her other senses: to hear, to touch, to smell, to intuit, to love and to laugh. She is proud to announce her brand new travel blog, Touching Landscapes.