It is possible to get Europe’d out.
Bigass church after bigass church. Crowds on crowds. Priceless art followed by more priceless art. Also the constant “No I don’t want a FUCKING selfie stick mate. Beat it.”
I literally saw a lake in between some mountains on google maps and thought that must be pretty!
After six hours on both busses and trains, I discovered I wasn’t wrong.
I found myself in Liptovský Mikuláš, a small town amongst the Slovakian Tatra Mountains. In the same google search where I found that out, I also found out there were bears where I was planning to hike.
Obviously that didn’t worry me in the slightest, and I totally didn’t fret about it as I left my hotel to find the trail.
Literally before I even found the trail, I got lost. I misread the instructions and ended up spending over an hour trying to find the stupid start sign. I retraced, backtracked, read my phone screenshots over and over, and ended up in some logging camp or some shit. This is where I gave up and decided to just walk to the closest high point and try salvage a view before turning back.
I had told a friend beforehand if I wasn’t back by a certain time then call the banners, because I’m in trouble. So by the time I finally found the dam sign where the actual trail began, I was already too behind schedule to start. It was a long walk of shame back into town.
So the next day I decided to try again, I walked the same hour to the trail, actually found the start this time, and then I entered the unknown.
It was eerily quiet during the initial ascent, minus my loud clapping every 20 seconds in an attempt to scare away bears. I knew nothing about the woods I was in, there were no other hikers around, and I was relying on these sparse blue markers on trees for direction.
Half an hour in, the blue markers seemed to just stop. Positive I was still on the path I fought through the bush that seemed to stop going uphill. I know hikes usually end up on top of the mountain so this was confusing. After forty minutes without a blue marker, I admitted I was lost. So what did I do?
I took selfies.
If anything it was to show my last moments before the Blair Witch got me.
A glance at the shot clock revealed that I had spent about an hour and a half being lost once I was finally reunited with the blue markers. I had half a mind to give up again, but I would have left Liptovsky Mikulas a failure since I had a bus booked the next day. So I picked up the pace and decided to keep paranoid about bears and carry on.
Who would have known that six months of replacing regular exercise with alcohol, sugar, and croissants would have a negative effect on my fitness. Every 20 seconds I took a tactical stop, which was embarrassing even though no one else was within 5km of me. I felt my new gut sway as I scurried up rocks to stay in the presence of the blue markers. I scoffed my lunch to reduce the chance of the smell getting to nearby bears. Totally not paranoid though.
It must have been around two hours before I reached the top. I wish I recorded my reaction. The view came out of nowhere and from what I remember I was all like, “Ohhh wooooaaaaWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAOOOOHHHH!! CHAAAAAHOOOOOO!” This newly unfit backpacker had backed his pack to the top of Mt Olympus. (Technically Mt Poludnica but whatever.)
Although I could see my hotel, I was without a massive zipline so I had to reach it the old fashioned way. I began the trip down but instead of clapping, I took to singing some of my new songs to avoid consumption via bear. I took off my uselessly sweaty shirt, and while covered in dirt I skipped through the woods with a second wind only downhill can bring.
I reached a mountainside meadow before it started to shower. I remained dry under an evergreen and listened to the rain hit the grass with a kind of pop I would want everyone to experience. This is where the words don’t reach. Sitting there, listening to nothing but the water finding the ground was a very wholesome moment. The photo ain’t great but takes me back to my happy place when I see it.
Unfortunately despite a small break to encourage me to leave the safety of the evergreen, the once serene rainfall turned into a full on thunderstorm. Easily the loudest crack of thunder I’ve ever heard made my constant bear-clapping seem a bit stupid at this point.
Jogging through the rain in full survival mode just trying to keep my vital organs warm, still without a shirt on because it was too cold to stop moving (strange logic in hindsight…) I stumbled upon this bus shelter thing, which I totally thought was a mirage but it kept me mostly dry. I had time to put my shirt on again and wait out the rain, which must have taken an hour to calm down.
I realized how close I was to the village where I started once I got moving again. The sun peeked from behind the clouds, and I began to recognize where I was. I looked back at the summit from the township and was satisfied with having come from all the way up there. I had celebration ice-cream waiting for me when I arrived back at the hotel, like a good little pudgy traveller.
I took a few things away from this.
– Read instructions. I wasted a full day being lost because I misread instructions.
– Trust your instinct. I had to admit twice I was lost because something didn’t feel right, and both times I was right.
– Check the weather before you venture into unknown wilderness! It was so sunny for days I didn’t even think to check, but a jacket would have gone a long way.
– Listen to nike and just do it! Challenge yourself. I’ve become pretty lazy in my tired backpacking ways, but I’m so glad I ventured out the next day after failing. It was a real adventure and a highlight of Europe for me.
– Finally, bears hate clapping and singing, because I didn’t see any. Mr Grylls, you can use that tip on your show no probs mate.