She went from climbing through Europe to being in one of the scariest situations of her life. Content edited for clarity.
“Soon after finishing my undergraduate degree, my boyfriend and I left for Europe for a three-month climbing trip.
We had many small adventures catching trains and trying to find hostels and campsites. Climbers are notoriously broke, we spend all of our money on climbing gear. But, despite challenges, we made our way through France, Spain, and eventually to Germany. The forest of the Frankenjura hides the most amazing random large climbs. If you can avoid moss and giant slugs and the occasional watershed, the climbing is fantastic.
The thing is, I had started my life as a homeless teen, and worked my way from community college to state college to a university, and finally landed my first job as a junior controller. I had a little more money than my boyfriend and a ton of independence.
On occasion, I wanted to stay at a hotel. A nice fresh bed and a long, hot, private, shower called to me from time to time. My boyfriend, whether ego bruised at being treated by a woman, or just wanting to remain faithful to the climber bum personality, refused.
Holding onto the tough climber girl persona that I treasured, I decided to go regardless. He had met up with a friend from Germany and was fine with him for a few days regardless. I was so frustrated and disappointed in him that I grabbed my Eurail pass and left for Cannes back in France. It was during the film festival and I wanted to put on a pretty dress and see the stars. I also wanted to show him I was just fine on my own.
I actually couldn’t find a place to stay in Cannes, so ended up in Apt, a small town on the way to a favorite climbing area. Despite my boyfriend’s protests, he said he would meet me near there in Bonnieux in a week.
My stay was nice, restful, and rejuvenating, and after a few days, I was missing my boyfriend and ready to meet back up. We had been together every moment for nearly two months, and I needed some time to myself. I had it and was ready to reconnect.
So, I looked at a map, and it was only a few miles from Apt to Bonnieux. I had heard that hitchhiking in Europe was common and safe, so I threw my ridiculously large and heavy climbing pack over my back and started walking.
Very soon a man in a minivan passed going the opposite direction, from Bonnieux to Apt. Immediately after passing me walking on the road with my thumb out, he made a fast u-turn to pick me up.
It was abrupt and a little jarring, but it was a minivan. I figured he must be safe. So I loaded my giant pack in the back and hopped in the front. He said he would be happy to take me the few miles up the road. But right away he asked if I minded if he made a quick stop at home to make a phone call.
I said, ‘Of course not.’
My oddness radar did turn on, but no alarm was sounding yet. Not even a quarter-mile up the road he made a left turn at a huge metal gate. He grabbed a clicker from the center console, pushed the button, and the gate slowly opened.
My alarm was starting to warm up as the gates closed behind us.
The home was set some distance back from the road, a large old stone home surrounded by unkempt fields and circled by tall stone walls.
As we approached the house I noticed kids toys and decided to override the fear factor. But, as we parked just outside the main door, I noticed the toys were old and clearly broken and faded and unused, with grass growing around them.
Now my alarm was blasting. I started to worry but didn’t know what I could possibly do. So I decided just to hang in there and hope he would take me to Bonnieux. Before he got out to make his call he asked if I wanted to wait inside. I gently said no thank you and I would prefer to wait in the van.
He hopped out of the van, leaned back in, and asked again if I would like to come in for a drink while I waited. I politely refused again.
He then persisted a little and added it might take him a few minutes and I would be more comfortable inside. Again, staying as congenial as possible, I said I would just wait there.
Finally, he went into the house. After about ten minutes, he came to the door and waved at me, with a phone at ear, and tried to beckon me into the house again.
At this point, I was scared, and a little annoyed.
Somehow, in an instant, my eyes landed on the gate clicker, I picked it up, grabbed my backpack, and walked to the gate as quickly as I could. I was too afraid to even look back.
At the gate, I waited for it to open, then ran through, closed the gate, and threw the clicker back to the other side. I walked as fast as I could back to Apt, rented another room for the night, and sat shaking for about an hour.
He may have just been a nice guy trying to be kind, but my crazy radar said otherwise, and to this day I feel like I escaped a murderer. So much so, that I never told this story to my boyfriend, friends, or family.”