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Roy Houston's once-in-a lifetime trek aboard gentle giant scary but exhilarating

COURTESY PHOTO - Roy and Carolyne Houston, on the right, and his stepson and daughter-in-law rode elephants on a visit to Thailand. Getting onto the gentle giants was tricky.So there we were, two intrepid travelers in Thailand, staring into the face of this huge animal with kind eyes. Who knew they were so big?

We were traveling with my stepson and his wife. The handler of this gray mountain on legs, with a tail at both ends, told us how easy it was to climb to the top of this mountain and perch on its back without the use of a ladder, saddle or reins. He said we had three choices:

1. The elephant could lay down. Yes, imagine this mountain rollling onto its side, letting me scramble up her side and perch on top. Then the mountain stands up, moving its body through 90 degrees with me trying not to fall off.

2. The elephant remains upright and lifts one of her front legs as a one-step ladder and you leap up like you stood on a snake, and land safely on its back.

3. The elephant bends down at the front and you scramble up its trunk, over its head and then turn 180 degrees to face forward.

Once up, you settle on her neck in front of her shoulder blades and place your feet and legs behind her ears. Basically, you assume the posture of a jockey on a horse, only this is an elephant. That was it. No forklift or extension ladder option.

The younger folks chose option 2 and leapt youthfully onto their elephants' backs with ease.

Carolynne was next. Option 1, please. I wish that I had taken a video. Carolynne got to the base of the elephant's stomach, then began the slow climb to the peak. With many helping hands she made it, cutting a groove in the poor elephant's side with her nose.

Since my leaping days are long over, I also chose option 1. With my most cavalier smile and John Wayne walk, I scrambled aboard and somehow managed to get in position.

It's high up here! I could imagine my broken body lying beside this gentle giant. Now in position, with no way to get off, we are told that we would now take a 45-minute trek over a mountain to some mountain pools where the elephants can swim and frolic around.

These gentle giants began walking, and I realized that the place where I have placed my bottom moves up and down and from side to side as the elephant walks.

You do your best not to choke her with your knees as you cling on for dear life leaning forward for going uphill trying to wrap your arms around the giant's head and lean back going downhill grabbing hold of the one rope that is tied around the elephant's middle behind you.

The pathways to the mountain pools exceeded my worst fears. Narrow dirt paths cut through the trees, winding with steep slopes in all directions. Along the way my gentle giant moved with grace and patience except when her fellow elephants were not moving fast enough or when she spotted some tasty bamboo branches down the hill.

Our paths were literally the width of the elephant. I know because as she moved carefully between trees her ears and my legs touched them. The paths were strewn with large fallen tree limbs, and had giant tree roots bursting out of the ground. It appeared to me that these obstructions only appeared when we were moving down the particularly steep, winding and scary path.

As I looked down the hill on my outside, I noticed that I could not see the bottom. So if I fell off, I would be falling off two mountains.

As we neared the clearing to the mountain streams, my terror had subsided, and I thought back to how carefully my elephant negotiated each obstacle.

This gentle giant would suddenly go into slow motion, lifting and planting each foot carefully as it navigated the obstruction. Never putting a foot wrong, even with me squirming and twitching on her back.

I am so grateful to have experienced this gentle giant. She took great care of this annoying creature on her back. I gave her a heartfelt hug and thanked her for my safe passage and I knew that I would relish this one-time only experience for the rest of my life.

Roy Houston is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.


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