Mother Goose (A Day of XC Guiding in Lalibela, Ethiopia)

Talk about a glass ceiling.  There’s an inversion at the level of the high plateau (3500m) and we keep bobbing in the turbulence below it, hitting our heads at the lid while trying different escape routes up, and it takes some time but finally three of us pierce through and suddenly we are at four thousand meters, then five, and then some more, while the air magically turns to butter and the sky opens to our wishes. Niki, my partner guide, switches to exploration mode and disappears into the distance on a technical line over new terrain.  Me – I go in mother goose mode, taking under my green wing Alex; Alex by now has become my friend, plus he is good in flying, so when I see the fat convergence line bloom into existence to our north just as we are topping off that first high climb, I know this work day will be one that I’ll remember, both in good times and in times of quarantine.

 Next thing, we’re in sixth gear driving on that white highway and it becomes an exercise in reading clouds and go-go-going (save your turning for a lesser day), all we need is precise placement left to right and some gear shifting front to back – a hundred meters to the left, then only fifty to the right, just watch the texture of the clouds ahead; slow down in lifty air, speed up in sink – just no turning, please – this day is too good to waste on turning – just watch the clues above, the clouds are all that matters now – those mountains below are only a distraction, a pasted picture of a finely textured landscape that wants to lure you like a siren on a rocky shore, but don’t lose your focus, Odysseus, you’re on an XC mission, and up at 5000 meters all that matters is the clouds, so watch them – the ground below is beautiful but not useful to your goal, which on this day is to stay high, go far, and then come back to base – Lalibela.

And you made it, Alex!  What a day and what a place to score your first hundred k’s!  Mother goose is proud of you, and mother Africa is saying, always with a smile: “You’re welcome, white boy.  Come back another time for more.”