Growing up, my father’s keen interest in Greek mythology spilled over into my bedtime stories, which were more often tales of Zeus and his thunderbolts or Theseus and the Minotaur than fables of princesses, witches, or fairies.

My favorite myth was the one about Icarus and Daedalus. I always liked the stories that involved children, and despite it being both scary and suspenseful, I enjoyed hearing it again and again. Daedalus, a talented craftsman, had been imprisoned on the island of Crete by King Minos. His method of escape was to build two sets of wings from wax and feathers, one for him and one for his young son Icarus. He warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, for the heat would melt the wax. “Follow me closely,” he said. “Do not set your own course!” But Icarus didn’t listen and was distracted by his new power of flight. The sun melted the wax and he fell into the sea and drowned, with only his hubris to blame. Killed by pride — a morbid story for bedtime, but a good lesson nonetheless, and one that has stayed with me to this day.

Other times, I heard stories of my dad’s world travels, which had taken him east to west and back again. On one of his greatest trips, in 1969, which he started in Amsterdam and ended in London with time in between spent diving in Corsica with the French Foreign Legion, he had with him a copy of Robert Graves’ Greek Myths Vol. II.  He had picked it up in a bookstore in New York, thinking the myths would be a good accompaniment for a few weeks in Europe, and an enduring passion for Greek Mythology was thus solidified. His stories of adventures on different continents planted the seed early on for my own wanderlust to sprout and grow until it became uncontainable, and I finally set my own course for an international adventure. On the day I left for my year-long stint, living and teaching in Istanbul, he handed me the same coverless, yellowed book he’d had with him on his trip in 1969. It was missing pages. It was well-traveled. It was for luck.

As I settled into life in Istanbul, the Robert Graves book sat on my desk along with teaching tomes and travel guides, and while I didn’t often crack it open, its presence did offer a comforting reminder of home and family. It also represented common threads between my father and me — a penchant for both adventure and myths. So when I began to make plans for short trips around the region, an itinerary began to take shape in my mind: the western border of Turkey meets the eastern border of Greece, not far from the soaring peaks of Mount Olympus, home of Zeus, Hera, and the rest of the Greek gods. A trip to the mythical setting of my father’s and my favorite stories would be a fun trip; a hike to the top of Zeus’s perch, book in hand, would be an epic journey.

And so it was that a few months later I found myself walking on the shoulder of a highway several miles outside Litochoro, the village at the base of Mount Olympus. There had been no bus stop, and Rachael — my friend and travel companion — and I had been kicked off of a bus after some words with the driver (his in angry Greek, ours in pleading English). We tried to argue that leaving us on the side of the road was unacceptable, but the language barrier blocked our complaints. Earlier that morning in the village of Kalambaka, near the monasteries of Meteora that sit atop soaring rock pinnacles, we’d boarded the bus after being given casual instructions from the bus stop girl that Litochoro wasn’t technically a stop on the route back to Thessaloniki and that the bus driver would leave us “just outside town.” Losing the battle, we got off the bus and my overstuffed backpack bobbed side to side with the weight of newly acquired souvenirs — a map of the Meteora monk paths, a hand-stitched blanket, and a string of lamb bells. I tried to hurry toward the off-ramp ahead to catch up with Rachael, who was five yards ahead, pulling her rolling suitcase behind her. As the other passengers pressed their confused faces up to the windows while the bus drove away, I realized we probably didn’t look like a duo preparing to scale the highest mountain in Greece. Still, on we trudged.

The first sign we saw, after walking along the guard rail for about half a mile, indicated that Litochoro was in fact another five-kilometers down the road. Fortunately, there was a small gas station ahead. We hoped that someone inside might facilitate a taxi ride into town — that is, if Litochoro even had a taxi company. Inside the gas station, we were greeted by a group of eight or ten middle-aged Greek men, seated at around a table eating a large meal, their laughter fueled by what appeared to be Ouzo, the popular Greek anise-flavored liquor. It was 2 p.m., bright sun shone through the windows and the men sat amid packaged snacks and gas canisters, but in the midst of the gas station décor, they had created their own restaurant atmosphere complete with the sounds of toasts and clinking glasses.

The station attendant called a taxi and we made small talk with the revelers at the table while we waited. They took particular interest in our being from New York City, and one of the men pointed outside to his car. “New York plates!” he said. He had lived in Astoria, Queens for years. The taxi arrived and a few minutes later we were dropped again on the road, this time in the center of Litochoro, near a large and opulent fountain.

I had done a meager amount of research before the trip, and knew some of the basics: about 10,000 people climb Mount Olympus each year, attempting to reach the summit which is also the highest point in Greece and one of the highest in Europe. I found a blog, Around the World, where a Latvian described hiking to the top of Mount Olympus and descending back down again, all in one day, without much trouble or even proper hiking shoes. Another blog post on offered a little bit more rudimentary information: There was a tourist office in Litochoro for hikers; it was important to purchase a map and a flashlight ahead of time in Thessaloniki; it was possible — and logical — to hike up the first part late on day one, stay in the hikers refuge that night, and climb to the summit and back down on day two. I had scribbled these basic notes in a small journal and forgotten to check it until the taxi dropped us in the main town square of Litochoro.

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