Let Your Holy Angels Have Watch Over Us

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As usual, when we’re staying with friendly people, it’s hard to leave. We did eventually get out of Tamins on Thursday, into another beautiful alpine morning. A quick climb brought us to Bonaduz, the last place we were assured of finding a grocery store for some time, so we stocked up on Vitamin CH (chocolate) and other calorific snack foods to see us through the pass. The rest of the morning passed uneventfully, just making our way down the Rhine canal path (again) until we finally said goodbye to it forever and headed into the mountains.

Unfortunately, that’s when the comedy of errors began. The original plan had been to follow Wanderweg #33, Via Albula, over to Tiefencastel; Andrew had found it on some Swiss hiking website (hiking information in Switzerland being fairly hard to come by, to tell you the truth) and it was supposed to go from Thusis to Sils and then along an old rail line toward Tiefencastel. Georg our host proposed we take the Alte Schin path instead, a medieval trade route still in use today by hikers—and very likely the path that Luther followed on his way from Chur to the pass.

We thought this was a splendid idea, but when after 15 km we still hadn’t reached it, and knowing that it was a long way yet to Tiefencastel and the Alte Schin appeared to be both longer and taller than the original way, it seemed the better part of wisdom to revert to the original plan. Actually, it was the “worser” part of wisdom to do so. We bypassed the road to Thusis to go directly on to Sils, since it seemed shorter, but once in Sils we couldn’t find #33 anywhere. We kept following the road into town and farther uphill, lured on by signs for the “Siedlung Albula,” which, we reasoned, must be connected to the Via Albula. But still no hiking signs anywhere. Finally Andrew spotted a sign for the “old train station.” We surmised that this must connect us to #33 along the old rail line. Sure enough, up at the old train stop we found the signs for #33.

At this point we thought we were on the right track. We weren’t. The signs pointing in either direction said nothing about Tiefencastel at all. One pointed to Siedlung Albula and seemed to go in the general direction of the road to Tiefencastel, while the other seemed to go in the wrong direction altogether, so off we went toward Siedlung Albula. But then we went down again, across the road, around a church… and right back in the direction we’d come from in the first place. This did not look good. We saw a couple hiking along so we hailed them and asked for help. They didn’t know anything about #33 but figured if we wanted to get away from Thusis and toward Tiefencastel we’d better retrace our steps and go the other way. So, retrace we did. We came back to the old train station and prepared to plunge into the woods and up the hill.

But just then—undoubtedly nudged by the angels who had been sent to answer my fervent prayers of the past half hour or so for help or a miracle or both—we walked by a woman stuffing some hiking poles into her car, and I figured since she was a hiker she could probably verify for us that we were on the right track.

Well, as you might have guessed, we weren’t. We were about to go not only entirely out of the way, and steeply uphill, but along an unfinished and rarely used path! She assured us that she knew the whole area well, that #33 wasn’t done, and that if we wanted to go to Tiefencastel the best way was to take… yes, the Alte Schin. But that was a long way back. We spent some minutes reviewing all the options with her, making sure we really understood her Swiss-accented German, our hearts sinking at how we’d wasted 2 hours trying to be more efficient and how completely false our information was and how close we’d come to a wilderness disaster… Then her husband came out of the woods (carrying a basketful of mushrooms that look like Pfifferlinge but with black caps) and verified what she’d said. We must have looked pretty forlorn because they offered to drive us right to our pension in Tiefencastel.

Gentle reader, it was a struggle. I had really wanted to connect Erfurt and Rome, every step of the way (except for around Lake Como, since even 16th-century pilgrims took the boat), with my own feet. But our information was wrong, it was late in the day, even the well-known Alte Schin is fairly remote and high up. In the end, when God sends you the answer to your prayer, you take it. So we did. That meant skipping over close to 20 km and 1250 m, which I don’t think we’d have made even if they’d driven us to where it started, certainly not before dark. I hope the miraculous nature of our last-minute rescue compensates for the lack of footsteps. I kept thinking of Luther’s evening prayer: “Let your holy angels have watch over us…”

Gaudenzio and Trudi dropped us off (amidst our excesses of gratitude and blessings) at a pension run by a pious Catholic lady who’d agreed to take us in when Georg the Reformed pastor asked the local priest to help us with accommodations, even though it was the hotel’s day off. She fed us her good homemade food, too, since nothing else is open nearby. We were glad for the extra rest, since Friday was to be even more uphill and a good distance.

Luther had to deal with wolves and bandits, but he didn’t have to deal with Mack trucks, many-mile-long tunnels, or multiple roads to choose from. One thing has become very clear: roads are for vehicles and vehicles only. Trails are for people with a lot of time on their hands, not people trying to get from one place to another. There are few options for pedestrians who are using their feet as transportation, not recreation. I can’t even count the number of times we’ve seen the sidewalk end (as in the name of the Shel Silverstein book) when we get to the outskirts of a town. Our options up to Septimer Pass and beyond are not entirely clear either. We’ll take as many footsteps as we can… but the goal is to arrive in Rome in one piece!

3 thoughts on “Let Your Holy Angels Have Watch Over Us

  1. In the spirit of the journey, it sounds like a wonderful reminder that we earthly pilgrims always get from point A to point B by the grace of God. There’s no need to “compensate” for the lack of footsteps any more than we can “compensate” for God’s other gracious gifts. Thanks be to God for those who had strength (and wheels) to lend you when you needed them. I do hope, though, that the next steps of the journey go a little more smoothly.


  2. Didn’t Luther say “drive boldly and so that grace may abound.”? You are going up the mountain pass, God was coming down with grace — you just grabbed it! Keep on, keeping on! Steve G-M

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