Using Grindelwald as a hub, it was possible to radiate in all directions for five glorious days. I unstrapped the knapsack from the pack frame for the daily hikes. Being a lighter load, it required no frame and hung directly from my shoulders on its own straps. Gear included sweater, parka, camera, extra film, food and drink. Day after day I lunched in secluded grandeur, far enough off the trails to be unnoticed by other occasional hikers, soaking in Cineramic vistas. I shun picnics at home. But these solitary picnics were gourmet delights: ravishingly fresh rolls, pungent cheeses, fruit and local wines.
A word about wine bottles: Be sure to take a corkscrew or have the proprietor pull the cork for you and reinsert it so that you can pull it out later. If you wish to avoid the weight of the bottle itself pour the wine into a plastic bag and drop it snugly into a side pocket of the knapsack. Obviously, it is a good idea to test the bag first with water for leaks. Drink the wine by piercing the bag near the top and squeezing out a stream as a shepherd drinks from his goatskin.
The calves of my legs began complaining on the third day. I considered going to Paris and enjoying a couple of nights on the Left Bank as a windup to my trip, but the next day dawned with a flawless sky, so I plotted a new route and hiked again. The cartilage in my knees became sharply annoyed on the downhill trip from Alpiglen. I thought about Zurich and one more night with the Piccadilly Six. The sky the next day was again flawless. I dragged myself to the cable car and hobbled down from Pfingstegg. Now I had to think about Brussels and my return flight. My time was up.
There were other more important signs that it was time to go home. Gone was that feeling of losing out in life. My resentment level was at low ebb. I no longer felt deprived of cobblestoned streets that turned into steps when they became too steep and then back into streets when they leveled off. I was assured those simple fountains in neighborhood squares still dribbled into their mossy basins and those precise stacks of split firewood waiting under the overhanging eaves of mountain chalets were ample for the coming winter. I could pack for the flight home with a clear conscience.
When packing I used a small duffel bag with drawstrings as a removable unit for personal odds and ends. It held my ditty bag, sunglasses, camera, maps and a paperback. It was placed on top because it was the last thing in and the first thing out at each stopover. It traveled in the backpack when that was on my back but came out and stayed with me on planes. The malleable nature of the pack was indifferent to the presence or absence of this little bag. Nothing rattles around in a partly empty backpack.
One bit of advice about backpacks and airlines: Backpacks are handled differently from suitcases when you check in. They are often put on nearby baggage carts instead of on the baggage conveyor because they have been known to get snagged by their straps and come off second best in collisions with other baggage. Twice on my trip I watched with mounting concern at the baggage claim as the flow of luggage dwindled and ceased without my backpack appearing, only to find it on a neighboring uncrowded conveyor or sitting unannounced on a nearby baggage cart.
Stewart was waiting with Betty when I finally cleared the U.S. Customs at Kennedy Airport. I could tell he approved of my new style as I strode effortlessly past the Establishment types lugging suitcases. He shook hands while I was hugging Betty. "Let me help you, Dad," he said, and he took the backpack and hoisted it to his shoulder.
Then he headed off to join a group of youngsters who had also just arrived—all of them wearing backpacks. Stewart did not catch up with us again until we were walking through the parking lot. There he just had one thought on his mind: "Hey, as soon as you turn this backpack in to the rental agency, let's go out and buy three."
It was done.