Robert Frost’s famous poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ finishes with the famous lines:
‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.’
I’ve always loved that poem because it rings true. I’ve certainly been happier when I’ve taken the road less travelled in life, and I’ve never felt regret for doing so.
Apart from, maybe, once. This time it wasn’t a philosophical ‘two roads in a wood’. Before me were quite literally two roads diverged in a wood, and myself and two friends had to decide which to take.
We had taken the S5 to the very end of the line, all the way to Herrsching. The German countryside was pristine and sparkling in the July heat, and we were ready for our day at Andechs. Andechs has a beautiful Abbey at the top of a hill where they still have a brewery. You do the gentle hour or so hike up the hill and are rewarded with a hearty German beer and some weisswurst. You also get a stunning view of the Alps, which in the sharp light of midsummer look close enough to touch.
But that was all ahead of us. Right now we were standing looking at a crossroads and were a bit lost. We’d been following 3 elderly gentlemen up the initial climb, but had had to stop so many times for a rest (shameful I know for three 21 year olds, but give us a break it was about 30 degrees) that we had lost them up ahead. So now we were a bit puzzled.
I don’t know what possessed us to take the road less travelled by. I’d read about the Andechs walk in the guidebook and it had promised a gentle hike manageable for those with a relative standard of fitness. The inclines were staggered with wide flat sections that let you get your breath back, it claimed. So why we thought this dirt track only narrow enough for one person snaking above us through the dense trees was the right path to take, I will never know. Maybe we were suffering from heat stroke. Maybe we were too busy fantasising about beer and sausages. But instead of taking the nice flat road that snaked away pass beautiful Alpine-style houses, we decided to take the scrubby little road into nowhere.
Almost immediately we were scrabbling using our hands to climb. We’d barely got ten minutes in before one of us compared it to Jurassic park, and another had had to stop to change shoes. It was cooler in the trees, but almost too cool. They swallowed up a lot of the daylight. It wasn’t dark but it was like walking through a tangled ball of yarn, everywhere you turned the path ahead and behind you disappeared.
Surely that should have been a sign to turn around and make for the other path? No. I think at that point we were too proud to admit our mistake. Even though it was clear that we had gone the wrong way, we figured if we kept climbing we’d get to the top somehow and find our way from there. So we kept on moving through the trees, following the one track path ahead of us. I don’t know who made that path, but it went over tree roots and stinging nettles, and since we were wearing shorts to combat the heat we were soon stung to high heaven and religiously checking our legs for ticks.
The climb went on forever. We soldiered on but we were starting to snap at each other, and two of us were suffering shoe problems. My flip flops weren’t good on this bug-and-nettle strewn ground but my trainers were giving me a blister. I was starting to think that this was the end, that we’d never be heard of again and the story on the news would run ‘THREE GIRLS CARRIED AWAY BY GERMAN FOREST-DWELLING CANNIBAL. But, eventually, we broke out of the overhanging trees and found ourselves at the edge of a huge ravine. The ground looked like it had been split in two by an enormous thunder bolt, and down there leaves were rotting and stagnant water was boiling in the heat. Ah. We decided to keep plodding along, and eventually we hit the edge of a wheat field (I assume it was wheat. Or maybe corn? I’m not very au fait with types of crops). In the distance we could see cars. We decided to follow the road to the right and hope to hit the brewery soon.
That was the plan.
About 20 minutes later we were still following the line of the field and we were running out of forest path to take. It was time to hit the field.
I’m sure no farmer wanted three girls tramping through his wheat field, but we had no choice. There were a few minor tumbles and at one point the wheat was so high we could only sky above us, but eventually we were closing in on the road. And there, in the distance, rising up over everything, was Andechs.
I’m not embarrassed to say we actually cheered and jumped up and down at the sight. We had come out of the hideous forest-and-field trek without being dragged off by a cannibal, falling down a ravine, breaking our ankles, and without ticks. So we set off on the path along the road to Andechs, imaging that first gulp of cold beer.
The road less travelled was definitely not the best decision in that situation. But we survived the heat, the terrain, the ticks, and made it to the brewery in one piece and with our friendship intact. It would have taken us half the time to get there if we had taken the right road. We certainly took it on the way back down and scoffed at those people ambling gently towards us up to Andechs. Enjoy your beer, wussies, but did you climb through tick-infested woods and then a big old wheat field to get there? No. We had a celebratory ice-cream down at the beautiful Andechs lake – shining so brightly in the sun it was almost difficult to look at – then took the S-bahn back into Munich. After a few cold showers we reviewed our hiking tactics. So maybe the road less travelled had been practically the worst mistake of the day. But it had also been the most fun. And I wouldn’t have had a story to tell today.
Turns out Robert Frost is right after all.