October 21, 1987
We had only stayed in Youth Hostels a few nights when we met Fred. He'd ridden his bicycle from his home in Langford, near Bristol, some 100 miles away, and was planning to hike the hills of Exmoor in North Devon, England.
The hostel was homey, and we conversed with guests from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada around a crackling fire. It seemed especially comfortable as we listened to the wind and pouring rain outside. 'Twas a bad night for camping.
Fred invited us to climb Dunkery Beacon with him the following day. "The view from there is outstanding," he said. "It's a long hike, but I think you'll enjoy it."
The next morning dawned bright and clear. We decided to go, in no small part because Fred fascinated us. He led us expertly through a maze of trails into a nearby valley. We descended through a fenced cow field into a sleepy English village and were on our way up toward Dunkery Beacon, the highest point in Exmoor, when the weather soured. The wind picked up and it began to rain. I had rain gear and Dennis had a Goretex jacket, but there were no trees or other windbreaks. Fred's warm conversation and assurances that there was more protection in the valley we would soon reach kept our spirits up.
At one point, 20 or more horses and riders appeared out of the mist, trotted silently across our paths, and disappeared like apparitions.
Needless to say, we didn't see the view. But the weather cleared on our way down and by the time we reached the valley, sunlight sparkled on the trees. We were taking a round trip, and the route led through several more small villages. In one, we stopped for afternoon tea and looked out toward Dunkery Beacon, now several miles distant.
We never ran out of topics for conversation. Late in the day, Fred asked us how we were doing.
"All right," I answered. "I'll admit, though, that if I'd known it was this far, I'd have hesitated to come."
"I hiked with a German last month," Fred said, "and he complained of my stamina. You've kept up all day and we haven't had to rest or slow down much more than I'd have done on my own." It was indeed a compliment. We hiked more than 18 miles that day, up the highest mountain in that part of the country.
We learned a lot about Fred in the course of the day. He had been a vegetarian for years, and had cycled to nearly every Youth Hostel in England, Wales and Scotland. He had never traveled overseas, because he still hadn't been everywhere he wanted to go in his own country! He had stayed in Youth Hostels for 55 years, and had recently celebrated his 74th birthday.
We corresponded with Fred for years, until we received a note from his wife one Christmas. Fred had died. He fell while climbing a mountain in Scotland.
I hope we still feel like climbing mountains at the age of 80!
Go on to The Exodus Expedition: An African "Package Tour"
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