The Restless Viking: Climbing a Bell Tower

This article was written by Martha Hayden and originally published on The Restless Viking website on December 13, 2022.

While in Chicago last September we had posted a few photos to Facebook. Chuck instantly received a message from Joel, his long-time friend who resides in the windy city. “Hey, we’re celebrating Oktoberfest tonight. Come on over! There’ll be food, fellowship and music.” Joel is the lead pastor at St. James Lutheran church. Chuck and Joel had met in the mid 1980’s at Tri County High School. In 1995 Joel and Julie, his wife, had stood for us at our wedding. Our memories stretch over decades. The kinship between Chuck and Joel brings forth music, laughter and brotherly admiration, not to mention antics. Little did I know that antics were about to happen again!

A courtyard between the church and the pastor’s home hosts many gatherings.

Joel introduced us to a few friends who had come to help set up. “Oh, we need ice.” Joel gestured for us to follow him. He confidently strode passed townhouses, along his routine path, to the corner store. “I’ve appreciated being able to tune into your church services on line.” I mentioned as I struggled to keep in step. “That’s been a benefit of this pandemic.” Joel smiled, “My parents have liked watching, too.”

The corner store ice negotiations were well practiced and efficient. Each of us held two bags and headed back. I was glad I had gloves to wear carrying the frozen sacks. Chuck had offered to take my bags, so I could keep up. But alas, we made it through the gate where a few people, dressed for the occasion, had arrived. The party was underway.

Can We Climb The Bell Tower?

After mingling and enjoying the German music played by Joel and other church patrons, Chuck asked his friend, “Hey, can we climb the bell tower?”

“You’re kidding, right?” I gave Chuck a glare. I felt unsure of this on so many levels. Was this even something we should ask to do? With already having several orthopedic surgeries, I wondered if I would even be able to climb up there?

Joel nodded and shrugged. “Sure.” Julie chimed in, “Oh we have watched fireworks from up there. Last summer I was sad that I couldn’t be home for the 4th of July, but it was a stunning view.”

Hearing Julie’s story, I felt more confident. A thrill crept into my thoughts. I remembered many rooftop antics, camping in Canada and the ‘abandoned barn incident.’ I was excited for the view from the bell tower! Joel walked us over to the church and unlocked the door.

The Bell Tower

The Bell Tower reached into the black fall night, like a secret waiting to be investigated. The gothic-style church reminded me of the classic churches from my Catholic childhood. I had always pondered the long ropes hanging from the bell towers as our family had attended mass at my uncles’ seminary school. Honestly, I never thought I’d get to see the bells up close! Only my Chuck would think to ask the impossible question, “Can we climb the bell tower?”

We stepped inside and Joel gave us step by step directions. “Take these stairs to the top, then there’s a door to a little room with a wooden ladder. At the top of the ladder there’s a trap door. You have to give it a good shove.” Joel instructed then shook his head with his hand swiping through the air, “Oh, you’re Chuck Hayden. You’ll figure it out!” Joel turned to leave then spun back around, “Oh, and when you’re up there, give them ring! It will be loud, but let the bells ring!”

Now that sounded exciting! Then I looked at the layers of levels we’d have to climb!

I felt like I was in an Escher drawing as we mounted the stairs in the bell tower.

The stairs appeared to be challenging as I continued upward, but I soon realized this journey wasn’t more than I could handle. At the top of the stairs I stopped to catch my breath. I was pleased with the progress I’d made. I felt confident, then Chuck opened a brown door to the little room. There before us stood a wooden ladder cobbled from 2 by 4’s.

Chuck charged forward without hesitation and began to climb the wooden ladder.

I admire Chuck’s fortitude and lack of fear. He creatively challenges himself into experiences that I wouldn’t have even dreamed would be possible. Here we were climbing a bell tower! Well, while he was climbing, I was still deciding if I would take on the next part of this feat.

The ladder shimmied side to side as Chuck ascended. This gave me pause, but if the ladder could hold him, then I would surely be safe. Right?

My Climb – Would I make it?

I looked up from the bottom of the rungs as they reached skyward. I took a deep breath and decided if I felt unsure, I could always retreat. I mounted the rungs being sure to always have three points of contact. Midway the ladder wiggled in waves. I held still to calm the ladder’s sides as well as to steady myself.

When I arrived at the top, I looked down and clicked a photograph.(Bottom Left) The doorway to this small room was sooo far below. Then I snapped a picture of my knight in shining jean jacket, Chuck, waiting at the top to give me a hand.

How symbolic. Chuck offering his hand to me. With over 30 years of friendship from the first time we repelled to more recently flying in his plane, he has always been there to lift me and encourage me. Raising two kids together has been an entirely fascinating journey. Here we were about to indulge in a secret view of Chicago. Another memory about to be shared.

I secured my phone and Chuck helped me get my leg over the trap door molding. Disney’s Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the guy who rang the bells, came to mind as I emerged onto the top turrets of the church.

The View

Chicago’s radiant landscape twinkled in the distance. I breathed in the cool fall evening, soaking up every sense in this moment.

At this elevation the peacefulness enveloped us. Lives were marching forward in the distance as evidenced by the flickering lights. Oktoberfest buzzed below us, yet we experienced silence.

That is until Chuck gave the large bell a swing. The clang resonated outward. The smaller bell was so heavy that it took me two swings until the sounded. The tolls of the bells went through my body in waves as the clappers made contact. It was remarkable! What a moment in time!

Chuck always has the BEST ideas! I should embrace these capers from the start!

Returning To Oktoberfest

“You’re back! So, did you get up there alright and ring the bells?” Joel asked as we rejoined the ruckus of the crew, who was engaged in a stein holding contest. “Yeah!” Chuck replied enthusiastically. “Didn’t you hear them?” Joel shook his head leaning his eyes toward the group. The pair shared a knowing smile. “Here, have a beer!” Joel offered.

Another round of stein holding commenced.

Rousing laughter, story telling and music continued as round after round of stein-holding continued. A contest of holding one’s beer-filled stein the longest is a Bavarian tradition. “Most can hold the five pound beverage an average of 1 – 4 minutes.” I was told by a cheerful attendee, “If you are able to make five minutes, you should look into joining the national circuit of competitions.” He nodded knowingly.

This celebration was more than just Oktoberfest. This was a community coming together after two years of a global pandemic. Joel and Julie had led their congregation through this unusual era of history. Now, they were able to join together with a new sense of valued comradery. I believe we have all experienced this ‘awe of appreciation’ as we’ve began to gather once again.

Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.