Camino de Santiago- Francés Route

I haven’t written while on the Camino because I have just been taking it in. I haven’t taken many photos either as I’ve just really tried to stay present. Megan and I started the hike on September 18 from Saint Jean Pied de Port. We got our Pilgrim passports and began our journey. Right away I knew it’d be different than any hike I’d ever experienced. Within the first mile there was a freakin vending machine on the side of the road. Then as we climbed up the mountain passing people of all nationalities, ages, and health, we also passed food trucks. It was just too funny. A couple days into the trail I knew I wanted to hike bigger miles, as hiking a majority of the day makes me happier since I never know what to do if I’m not doing something. And Megan wanted more of a relaxed vibe and pace to her hike so after sharing our first ever Bocadillo together we went our separate ways. She has since ventured on some different paths and you can read her experience on her blog meganleedom.com. I paced my hiking pace primarily on where the Donativos were located. These are places set aside for pilgrims typically offering community dinners and breakfast and you just pay what you feel is appropriate. I really enjoy them. Getting to save money, Cook with everyone, eat with everyone, and then clean with everyone. It’s a fun experience and the food is typically way better than any restaurants. Some days I hiked 25 miles, others 35 or 36. Unlike most people I don’t feel the need to stop in every small town and sit at a cafe and spend money on coffee or booze. So since I don’t really stop, I can do bigger miles. But That meant the people I met, it was the only time I’d see them. The first few days were a joy as I met a couple other women, one from Sweden and one from Tahoe, which I immediately connected with and both want to hike the PCT someday! One of the things I love most about thru-hiking is the conversations. It seems for the most part the small talk is passed and you get right into deep shit. Before I know it I know a lot of peoples lives, what’s they’ve experienced, what they’re searching for, their fears, and their regrets. All before I even know their name. It is truly a beautiful thing. 

A couple others came into my journey at really important times, and I find little to no coincidence that we crossed paths. On a day I was hiking almost into a town when an old man was passing the other way, not a hiker probably a local. He ended up really badly sexually harassing me and grabbing me to where I had to fight myself off. I left crying and just kept crying as I walked. I’m not going to go anymore into that other than that it happened, and it’s shitty. But what came after was really beautiful. Well what came after a girl hitting me one her bike. The next morning I met a man named Mike, from Denver, and I had a beautiful conversation. We walked and talked for a couple of hours and his wisdom and insight were extremely helpful to me. He understood me, even more than most people who know me. And then later I met 2 very special men Dan from Connecticut and Aimo from Finland. 2 father in laws traveling together. They too, shared more wisdom than I could have asked for. Again the power of deep truthful conversations showed itself. We talked about life experiences, hardships, relationships, religion, Love, self-love, fear of letting go of control, and all sorts of good stuff. 

It’s like having that friend you can just sit with and talk and ask questions about the universe. To me it’s heaven. 

Since then I have just seen a couple people for a couple of days since I’ve slowed down which is fun. The views along the trail have been way different than I expected. Beginning in the desert was my favorite. Every morning the stars and moon would light my way, and every morning I have gotten to watch the suns rise. Which is empowering and almost mystical. There was more forest and walking through farms than I ever expected. Great, but sometimes the smells were nauseating. 

I arrived in Santiago on October 6, spoiling myself by getting a room for just me. I haven’t slept good once on the trail, staying in hostels is brutal. Every time somebody freakin snores. And there’s usually snoring competitions. Then some people start getting up insanely early and I just never get proper rest. I camped maybe 4-5 times and for some reason never slept too good doing that either. Which may be part of the reason I’ve come down with a cold to finish out the hike. 

Santiago is beautiful, the cathedral there and in Burgos I found by far the most impressive. 

One of the biggest questions asked on the Camino is why are you hiking the Camino? So I’ll share as I have a few reasons. 

  1. I’m in Europe so why not do it?
  2. Find a relationship with God/Universe/Great Spirit, whatever name you want to call it. 
  3. Get rid of self judgement and self hate. I really wanted to learn to love my body instead of continuing to live in this horrible cycle I have been.

So far I’ve noticed some subtle changes, life is always a journey. But I also understand sometimes the lessons don’t just pop up right away. So I’m eager to see my thought patterns and perceptions change and time goes on after the trail. 

 

Reflections of the Via dinarica and the beginning of a new Journey

The days since finishing the Via Dinarica have passed by much slower than anytime on trail ever could. It seems like another life time that I even did the trail. A very familiar feeling that I also experienced after the PCT. I still wonder how you can do something so special, accomplish something so big, and yet so quickly it just fades. It just seems like a story I’m telling people, not like I actually did it. Going back and looking at all of the pictures as well as rereading my journal reminded me of the hardships and beauties of the trail. The VD was far different from anything I could have ever expected. Within the first couple days I was already complaining. Complaining about road walks and unmaintained trail. Little did I know, that was just what it was. And if I would have realized and accepted that way earlier, I would have enjoyed the trail so much more. The last 2 weeks I loved it, because my perspective changed. I didn’t expect great trail, and so when it wasn’t great I didn’t get frustrated I just went with it. I think my biggest mistake was thinking it’d be similar to the PCT. Instead of embracing the differences between them I just endlessly compared. Always claiming one was better than the other. But now that it’s finished, now that I can look back with a different mind, I loved them both. I actually now enjoy some trail where I get to blaze a bit myself or one that has some fun rock climbing/scrambling as a part of it. 

I am very grateful for the journey, I got to see so many special and beautiful places and pieces of nature that left me speechless. It was so special to get to go to small villages that far few other travelers will ever get to see. I met beautiful people from all over the world. 

I got tested every single day. And although it sometimes sucked and got annoying, what’s a better way to grow and learn about yourself? 

The VD still has a lot of work to do if it wants to become a major thru-hiking trail. For sure by making more trail and not so much road walking, and then hopefully getting the funds to be able to maintain sections of the trail that are dangerous or don’t exist at all. I wouldn’t recommend the trail to most people for now, maybe someday in the future. 

Right now, I just miss the hiking. I miss looking to the top of a mountain and knowing I just have to walk straight up to get there. I miss sleeping between the jagged rocky high mountains. And sipping cold water from the fresh fountains along the way. 

That’s why I’m so excited for my next Journey that I will get to experience and share. As tomorrow I begin the Camino de Santiago. Starting from St. Jean pied de Port, France and heading across Spain to the Camino de Compostela and continuing on to the sea before heading south along the coast of Portugal for about 200 miles. Another journey, far different than the other 2. But I too am different, and will not compare, but just accept and live in the experience that surrounds me without trying to change any part of it. 

Greece, from beautiful views to new friends!

Having traveled now for over 2 months through the Balkans reaching Greece was such a luxury. Actual salads being sold, more vegetarian options, actual legit supermarkets with real choices of vegetables. It was like a brand new world, yet so familiar. Making me feel closer to home. Our adventure into Greece started truly amazing, as we left it all up to the universe. We stood right past the border with our hitching sign just saying “Anywhere.” We had no idea where we wanted to go, and the guy who picked us up was going to Preveza which ended up being this amazing, cute, and quaint little town along the sea. We spent our time there shopping around, eating good food, watching 10k runs, and hanging by all of the boats ported along the shore. I swam and hung at the beach and got some good runs in each day. After leaving Preveza we had planned to head towards Athens, but got picked up by this super rad guy, who we decided to just stay with as he was going to Lefkada, a cheaper and one of the most beautiful Greek islands. It’s also special because you can just drive to it. We arrived, and as a slight regret we just ate and left. The town seemed somewhat expensive and I think I was personally just slightly over being in beach towns where there’s nothing to do but lay on the beach. So we left, and ended up getting a 5 hour hitch from Philip, an owner of one of the hotels on the island, and his girlfriend Velma. It was such a funny hitch. We were stuffed in the back of their car with his cousin. But overall it was perfect and comfortable! Just quite warm. 

We arrived in Athens to stay just one night in a hostel, from then on we stayed with our first Couchsurfing host, Nenad! And he was perfect. We couldn’t have felt safer or more at home. We came out of this with a new friend! I got to go workout at a local Crossfit gym, which was super fun. We went to Indian food, sushi, outdoor Cinema movie, watched people dance in the park, took evening strolls in the most beautiful area where locals sold handmade jewelry and every restaurant table was only lit by candlelight. It became my favorite part of town, as you could also see the Acropolis glowing behind you. 

Then I spent 3 nights camping on a nearby island, Agistri. It isn’t a well known touristy place which made it super nice. I enjoyed running around it, relaxing on the beach, and getting to sleep in my tent again. I slept better than I have in so long. Just being outside under the stars, the New moon, in my homey and safe tent, made me feel so perfect and cozy. I miss it so much. Beds are nice, but sleeping under the stars always wins in my book. 

But this island is definitely worth checking out! There’s great sandy beaches, a nude beach with really awesome people, kayaks to rent, good food to eat. Just a score! Just if you go camp there please be respectful and clean your stuff up! Otherwise camping there may not continue! 

Overall, Greece so far is my favorite place we have seen. It is so so beautiful, the sea is so blue, the food is so good, the people are so kind! I can’t wait to go back sometime. 

The Albania Riviera

From Theth—Valbona—Shkoder—Durres—Seranda—Ksamil, Albania was never short of spectacular and just outright beautiful. The mountains were by far my favorite, but the sea is holding its own. The days following the end of the Via Dinarica were weird. Nothing is quite as strange as figuring out what to do when you’re not hiking. I’m also just not the greatest “traveler” in the sense I hate spending money everyday, on food and accommodation. So it doesn’t take long for me to miss the thru-hiking experience where you can just camp for free. Beds, showers, and not having to pack anything up in the mornings is nice as well though. We have had our fun mix of transportation along the way. Multiple hitch hikes, busses, nice ones and cramped slightly janky ones, and a ferry. Filled with models! Not real famous model, but everyone on that ship had their own photo shoot along the way. It is so funny. But I can’t help but have so much respect for people to just not care and get themselves in some good looking pics. However, the ferry was quite long and some people took pictures literally the entire time. I definitely just love people watching and the Komani Lake ferry is definitely the perfect spot for it!!! The views themselves weren’t too shabby either. About everyday here since leaving Valbona has been spent seaside. Laying, reading, relaxing, and tanning. The beaches aren’t the greatest for activities and don’t have any SUP board rentals, beach volleyball, or anything at all. Most beaches are pebbles and slammed with people and seats just laying in rows and columns along any space on the beach. It’s quite annoying. Albania is for sure a popular destination for Europeans.  

Each town seems different, yet extremely similar. The markets all carry the same things. Every restaurant in every town all offer the same foods. Pizza, basic salads, pasta, lots and lots of meat, and some pitas. I’m not even hungry much anymore because nothing sounds good to eat. They don’t seem to use much seasonings here in the Balkans, everything is just bland and boring. The salads will just be some tomato, cucumber, and cabbage, or just one of them. Or a Greek salad, which unfortunately was my go-to, but since I got food poisoning from one in Saranda I cannot even think about eating another one without feeling sick. 

As a vegetarian my choices are heavily limited here. I’m sick of bread, sick of yogurt (well kinda), sick of lame meals. The food is making me incredibly home sick. 

Theth and Valbona both just hosted some small mini-markets and a couple of cafes and restaurants. They’re mainly just a spot in the National Park where people can find places to stay as they hike around. If you’re ever in Albania I can not recommend this area enough! I have literally never seen such beautiful mountains, and the hike was a breeze! There’s even cafes on your way up/down the mountain!

We only spent a few minutes in Shkoder, but had an amazing experience. These men at a cafe bought us coffee, bottles of water, went all around asking when and where we could find the bus we needed, and drove us to the bus stop. We were also offered a free place to stay, but had already booked something in Durres so missed out on the special offer! So good people there, and a lot going on so I’m sure it’s a fun town to check out!

Durres- cute town! We were down past the ferry and it wasn’t very crowded which was nice. The sea was lined with cafes and restaurants open pretty much always. Offering different types of cuisine, even sushi! And one spot serving a couple Mexican food options. So extremely rare here. We got to stay in a perfect apartment just over 100m from a small beach which is where I spent a good chunk of time. I am not really sure what else to do out here besides lay by the beach. It’s free so I keep doing it. 

Durres comes more alive at night with lots of carnival games, and vendors selling grilled corn and some with doughnuts. It was cute. 

Saranda- Luckily we only stayed one night, and only because we had a really long bus ride to reach it and decided to stay. I hope to never return only because it was-quite touristy and pricey, and mostly because it gave me food poisoning. But it is the main place to head on over to The Greek island, Corfu. As it’s just a short ferry ride. 

Ksamil- we snagged a place to stay that was only $10/pp each night! I loved Ksamil, but the beaches were way to crowded with all the beach chairs. If I ever return to Albania, which I hope to, I will no longer come to any beach towns until into September when there are far less people. What good is a beach if you can’t run on it? Juggle a soccer ball, do handstand, draw in the sand, not hear pounding house music? I’d like to avoid all of that. But the best was the last day when for less than $5/pp we rented a nice swing that hovered over the sea and just lay all day reading. And I swam out to a couple of the islands off of the mainland. One took me over 20 minute of straight open water swim to reach. For me that is a huge deal! It was fun fitness for the day!!!

Our last moments in Albania will always stand out to me as an important lesson and moment in my life. We both wanted to go to Greece, but no clue where. So we hitched back to Saranda then from there our sign just said “Greece.” A couple cool guys snagged us up, and even bought us coffee along the way. Because our hitch couldn’t get us all the way to the border we got to walk across which only felt natural to us!

The only unfortunate thing is that I have no Albania stamp in my Passport. Since we entered in the mountains we didn’t pass a border crossing, and they didn’t give us an exit stamp. Which is so sad, but I guess it just means I have to return someday!

And now…….GREECE!!!

The final days, creating the most epic moments

Within just a few minutes of hiking the next morning we entered Albania. The trail has us go through a very small section passing through a town called Vermosh, before heading right back into Montenegro. The trail from the lake was nice, guiding us into a forest, through tall trees and some muddy trail. You couldn’t even see the lake from here, it was covered by a thick sheet of fog just stuck within the mountains over the water. The trail into Vermosh turned into our consistent trail, gravel road. It passed by some really beautiful houses. Albania so far is just epically beautiful. The mountains are breathtaking. We stopped for a quick drink at Cafe Nyetra, which was on our maps as a waypoint, known for their bar treehouse. It was a nice chill spot and we even collected some apples from their apple tree! I love love love all of the fresh fruit we have gotten to forage on this trail. Soon we found ourselves back in MNE, heading towards Gusinje. Passed the border patrol where we got our stamps which is always so exciting to me! I can’t wait until my passport is just full of them! We got into town, both of us with just 1-2 bars left in our packs. It was lunch time, and everything was closed. It was a Muslim holiday. Markets and restaurants were all closed. We got nervous and luckily came across a cafe that was open and asked some locals about a place to get food. A nice younger guy named Dumir ended up offering us a ride to a restaurant in the National Park. Sat with us as we ate, drove us to his house, where he made us dinner to go. Homemade Burek, apples, candy, bread, pate. Then dropped us off to begin walking again. So so grateful! Literally asked for nothing. And he had such a beautiful soul. The way he talked about life and the importance of quality time with family and friends was really special. He even stopped while driving and passing a friend and they got out and hugged and chatted for a bit. It’s so cute, I love it! We got to pass a waterfall dropping into a cave as we headed into the mountains for our second to last day. The vastness of the mountains is epic. The lake we planned to camp at was totally dried up forcing us to walk a few extra miles. On the way up the pass we crossed a donkey. It’s keeper running up to it a bit back from us. When we were at the top of the pass we heard the guy yelling and turned around and saw him throwing big rocks at the donkey….then with a big stick smashing it against the donkeys back. What did the donkey do? We didn’t get it. It made our stomachs hurt and I so badly wanted to run back and take the stick out of his hands and hit him with it. But I know better than that and wasn’t looking to put myself into danger. So we eagerly just hiked faster over the pass to get as far away as possible. I still hear the sound of that stick smacking in my head as I try to go to bed. We found a nice campsite with literally views of mountains all around us. It was cold

Though, and for the first time on trail I am going to bed wearing every piece of gear I have. Even my gloves. 

Then the last day of the trail. I can honestly say the trail left the best for last. I couldn’t have imagined better views for the ending of a crazy journey. We hiked first on a long rocky downhill into Theth, passing many pack horses and their owners. Into town we walked along a large dried up river bed where the rocks had been shuffled around to make a road. From Theth we tried a couple routes from MapsMe both of which failed us and made us have to keep turning around and restarting. Finally on trail we went up. We have to go up and over Valbona pass. This area is very popular for hiking and it shows. I saw more hikers this day than I have seen then entire trail, like more than 10x that amount. There were people everywhere. Either making their way down or up the pass. Moving quite slow if I must say so. The uphill was easy and fun. And the top provided the best views I may have ever seen. Albania has officially won my heart. On this descent I met Victor, from DC, but he has lived in Europe for about 5 years now. Germany and Poland. Super super cool guy. We talked about hiking, life, blogging, marketing, traveling, etc. it was so nice to get to be able to chat with someone about things I love. He hung with us as we breaked at Cafe Simoni. It was loaded with hikers, and seeing packs lined up all against the fence brought back some nice memories of the PCT. Vic hiked with us all the way down into Valbona, before we said goodbye at his guesthouse. Definitely blessed to have met this rad guy, and stoked to continue following him on his special journey. The pass is so funny, known for hiking it has built and developed cafes along the mountain. You’re just walking and randomly you’re at a small cafe/guesthouse. We stayed at Quku I Valbones Farmhouse. A great place that let us camp in the lawn, it’s super cute and it was great to interact with the others at the hostel. Met some people from Germany and New Zealand. I do miss this about traveling and staying in hostels. They were all such kind beautiful people. The breakfast has made this place the best ever. Homemade bread, cookies, jam, yogurt, granola, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, coffee, mountain tea!!!! All for only 4E and it was a buffet. And we enjoyed it. I sat and ate pretty much the entirety of the buffet. I have never eaten so much yogurt and granola it was just so dang tasty! Anyways, the trail is over. We finished it before dinner at the Rilindja Restaurant. The random stopping point of the trail. I am not sure how I feel yet, or what I think about it ending. The PCT was so emotional and I felt so confident and accomplished. But so far I just kind of shrug about it when I think about what I did. Is it because I have already experienced such accomplishment with my first thru hike? Or is it because the trail was so much shorter? It seemed tougher in many ways, but it was still only less than 2 months, in comparison to over 5. 

I’m not sure, I’m still trying to process things. And I will be writing a follow up post on the experience, but plan to read through my journal to remind myself of the hard times, and the lessons I learned along the way. The things the trail taught me about life and myself that I can carry with me as my soul goes through this human experience. Overall, I know I am blessed for this trip. To have had a rad bad-ass partner, Megan, with me along the way. Blessed for her even finding this trail and letting me join in on it.  Blessed for finishing it safely without any big mishaps or injuries. And it is pretty freakin cool to be able to say we are the first American women to ever complete this journey, and to be able to say I did a continuous footstep thru-hike!! 

The Mountains of Montenegro

It always strikes me as funny that the shorter and deemed easier trail days feel the toughest. It just goes to prove that mindset plays a massive role in our perspective reality. So many life lessons continuously being thrown at me out here, or anywhere I suppose. Just out here I’m more receptive to them. All day was pretty confusing trail wise. We were following old roads, but so many seemed to branch off in a million different directions it was continuously confusing. Walk, stop, check GPS, ok no roads for a bit. Walk 2 seconds, where did this road come from? Where is it going? I guess I’ll walk for a bit and see if the gps says I’m on the right trail. Over and over and over again. But I didn’t let it get to me! Just kept taking in the views of the rolling hills that surrounded me. What’s funny is that this stage is called the Mountains of Montenegro. Before, I thought this last week or so of trail was going to be tough. Lots of time in the mountains, long breaks from towns, lots of elevation change. And the stage name would certainly make you guess that. But no, it is walking through low lands viewing the Montenegrin mountains. We made it to Srvinsko lake around 10:30am and I went for a nice swim and we got to hang for a bit. I had skinny dipped and nobody was there when I did so, but legit when I got out like 6 jeeps filled with people pulled up to the other side of the lake. We are learning consistently that there aren’t really any “backcountry” attractions here. Everything can be driven to. We met 2 groups of people today who legit made us feel famous. We laughed and laughed about the absurdity of it all. The first group, ladies with a couple kids. We’re videoing us walking up and taking pictures and selfies and videos with us. Meg made a funny joke that they are going to put it online and say, “Come to Biogradska NP, where you can see real life hikers!” Haha. The next was further up the road, a couple of jeeps filled with people who just parked and walked maybe 2 minutes to the summit of Sveta Grada. They too were all chatty to us, and one man insinuated that these mountains were like the Appalachian. We disagreed, but continued on. After a steep downhill on the CT1 following under ski lifts we reached our destination, Mountain Lodge Vranjak. We sat and ate some Burek and yogurt. And I have been wanting to work, and spend less money. So have talked about doing dishes or some cleaning to pay for food and housing. So I went to the kitchen and just started cleaning, I didn’t ask since there was a language barrier. But the woman, who we later named Mama V, didn’t mind at all. We ended up getting to camp for free, not pay for lunch, got free tea and coffee in the morning. And actually at night some guys were there and bought a bunch of food and ended up giving us some. So that was a win! The ladies who took pics with us earlier also showed up, and took more pictures. And as I was outside doing handstands a crowd suddenly appeared and I basically became an entertainer for a bit. It’s quite strange. I loved this time at the lodge Mama V is so so kind and genuine. It’s in these moments I truly wish I could speak the language as I feel an even better bond could have been created. 

The next day we had a quick gravel road walk to Trenjevik, a small but cute town. Offering a couple cafes and a place to stay. We hiked on passing a couple other hikers and a few mountain bikers. The 3 miles from there to Stavna was nice. A road surrounded by forest. Stavna was great! I had a delicious veggie omelet and we just hung for a few hours. My maps have been disappearing off my phone lately so I had to redownload them all, it has since happened again. But luckily we’re almost done. The trail after Stavna was an actual mountain trail! I loooooved it! The slippery mud and rocks felt so foreign again, but so much like home. We were surrounded by the beauty of large, rocky Mountains. I wanted to go up Kom Kuchki, but knew a storm was coming so there was no time. I never would have made it safely. So on I went. To Katun Carine where we planned to camp. The Katun was so legit! It had water, coffee, cookies, fuel, stove, candles, wine, all kinds of stuff. We killed a bottle of wine and hung out on rocks watching the sunset and the storm come in. And boy did it come in fast. All of the sudden we just heard hard pellets on the roof above us. It turned out it had hailed quite a bit, now I’m even more happy to be in this shelter. We slept inside, again thinking it’d just be a normal night but again, we were wrong. Not sure what time it was but a truck pulled up with 2 men. They got stuck in the mud and for quite a long time kept trying to get it out before giving up and just going to sleep out there. As much as I wanted to help, we didn’t think it was a good idea to expose ourselves as 2 women alone in a shelter with no where to go. The hut was locked from the inside, and they never even tried to open it so I felt safe

An occurrence early the next morning reassured me that we made the right decision by not going out to help the men. As we were walking Down the road a car pulled over with 2 guys. One very obviously checking me out up and down, not trying to be discrete at all. He keeps saying something, but I can’t hear him. Then I do, and so does Megan. Sex? He says….wtf is wrong with people. I was so disgusting. Part of me wanted to say yes and have him get out of the car just to kick him in the balls. But instead I sternly said no and immediately walked away. Only feeling safety from the fact there was a car behind them and no where to turn around. After that mess we entered back onto normal mountain trail. First going through forest then up to the top of Maglic peak. We have summited 2 Maglic mountains here. Both on the border, or very near, to country borders. The first Bosnia/Montenegro, and this one Montenegro/Albania. It was BEAUTIFUL! And a perfect snack spot. The mountains were just so vast and endless and rocky and jagged. We can see Albania from here. The descent was fun, some ridge walking followed by going up and over and down little humps along the mountains. Then weaving through and around rocks until we met the road that brought us to Rikavako Lake. Like usual, we enjoyed ourselves for a bit. Swimming and doing some laundry. Looking forward to relaxing and lounging. When some horses decided that wasn’t ok. They came over to us and started going at our things, licking everything of Megan’s, stepping on equipment. And just being annoying. We couldn’t get them to go away. So instead we packed up all of our stuff and we moved. Something always happens when we think we’ve found the best spot. The rest of the day I was bored then suddenly very tired and endlessly hungry. I ate most of the food I had left and want to just keep eating. The days we hike and do less my body just aches for more food. Must be another reason I like hiking all day instead. Now only just over 40 miles left. 

DD85C100-82D0-4200-A02C-D6F10A155B2F

The end is near…but the appreciation for the trail is just beginning

After leaving Zabljak we ended up doing some bigger mile days than expected. Since it was mellow road/gravel walking it didn’t seem to irritate Megan’s knee much so we were able to knock some easy miles out. I enjoy easy miles, something I love about knowing exactly how long it’ll take to get places. Not much of the unknown factor there. But I also miss the mountains and the trails. And I know that no growth comes from within the comfort zone, so as much as I enjoyed these quick days, I was ready to head back into the wilderness. First day out of town we hiked about 25 miles, gravel road all day. Super easy and just going through valleys and pastures. Just spent the day chatting, and listening to music or podcasts. The only struggles on these days was the fear we get each time we get barked at, and some times run down, by dogs. They are super aggressive here giving us anxiety each time we encounter them. And no owner really seems to care much as nobody comes out to stop them. Luckily, our trekking poles make descent shields and weapons if needed. It rained and stormed on us the last few hours of hiking. There was no where to hide as it was just exposed pasture land. We got a brief break from it as a family invited us in their home as they got us water. We ended up camping just randomly in the grazing pasture land during a quick break of just sprinkling so our stuff didn’t get soaked as we set it up. We laughed this day about how this stage we were in we planned to take 4 days….and it will only be taking us 1.5 since we rerouted to hiking mountain bike routes instead. Too much food being carried for sure!

The next day we hit 24 miles. I’m really enjoying the hiking lately and doing so by purposefully being positive and present with each moment. Gravel road and some non-existent old roads led us to the town to Mojkovac. Here we just hung out a few hours eating, wifi-ing, researching, and doing nothing. But I did buy a small soccer ball which I’m stoked to get to carry and have something to do during breaks and on early camp days! And Burek for a snack!!!! Always a win, it’s literally all I want to eat. I wish they delivered it like pizza. We left town around 5 and hiked 6 miles to Dom Dzambas hut where we camped just outside. A spot with a nice area nearby to see the sunset. This was the first time in the last few hiking days we actually hit any trail, it was a fairly steep uphill but I had so much fun doing it. The challenge felt good on my legs. Going to bed with only 85 miles left of trail, our plan is to do just 15/day to not rush. And also, that’s where it seems some of the best camp choices are. But we will see. Things seem to change a lot out here. 

BDAED2DA-81F6-4A8F-B4C6-B0EC2D9C80000E95D822-73B4-40E5-9E34-66929DA747043D587756-0065-43A7-8DC8-7A81DE0308E42E8E68FF-AFB1-41FB-8341-B3DAE4C71AF2E5E89BC2-F74F-44A8-A99B-592A007C7E9380FF0E59-117B-4404-AF59-928D24CD03DF

Heart Lake, Maglic mountain, Montenegro, Durmitor NP

Grateful to have the hitching experiences behind me, we woke up and enjoyed a nice homemade breakfast before I briefly went into town to fill out my Albania entry form. Since we are entering through the mountains instead of a legit border crossing we are paying a company to notify the Albanian police of our arrival to assure no trouble when we enter. We have to choose a specific date to enter, and we chose August 24. Which means the 25 will likely be the last day of this trip. We did a short 10 mile hike this day to a near by backcountry lake, Strinsko Lake. The trail was nice, began as gravel then took us into the mountains on nice grassy pasture. There was a storm coming so we hid in some nearby dwarf pines prepared for it, so of course it didn’t come! The lake was total bliss. It provided the kind of views and night that literally brought tears to my eyes. Just endless beauty and ruggedness. The extra legit thing is that this was the New Moon. So we chose to cowboy camp to stargaze. It was really cold, and we woke to our sleeping bags being soaked from condensation, but it was so worth it. I saw at least 15 shooting stars. It was so magical. My favorite night yet, and I’m sure my favorite of the whole trail. 

The next morning we crushed it getting to Orovacko hut then hitting the lake soon after. The summit up to Bregoc was nice and mellow and offered fantastic views. I have found that just from changing my mindset since leaving Mostar the trail itself has become easier and more beautiful, not a surprise. We then followed a nice footpath along the ridge to the next mountain, following no markings, but obvious trail. The mountains here get storms every afternoon, and this day was no different. I heard the thunder and really pushed it down the mountain to the next lake. We decided to just keep walking to the road and through the forest as it provided a nice coverage from the rain. The forest trails here are so nice! We had lunch at Donne Bare Lake as it poured. We crashed the “party” of those reserving the hut by eating lunch with them on the patio to stay dry. They luckily didn’t seem to mind. A long road walk brought us to Suha where we slept on picnic tables under shelter from the rain. It was cool to have this huge camping area all to ourselves. 

The last couple nights I haven’t been sleeping well. I feel tired, yet not tired at all. It’s frustrating as it hasn’t been a problem all trail, but I’m not sure what to do about it. We did a super short day to Trnovacko Lake. It was mainly dirt road then a nice forest path that lead us into our next country, Montenegro! I am happy this is all we did this day as I felt super drained, foggy, and unmotivated. I only felt a small glimpse of myself while being in the forest and climbing uphill. We saw a ton of other hikers leaving as we were entering, a good sign! Beings it’s Sunday most people are heading out. Trnovacko Lake is literally paradise. It is a heart shaped, blue colored lake surrounded by some of the highest Bosnian mountains. We paid 1E for the National Park entry and 1.5E for camping. The host made us some Turkish coffee as we sat on the patio. Pure luxury. Got to spend the afternoon just reading, writing, swimming, and sewing up bits of my pack. But a very needed recovery day. Before dinner it started to thunder so we made our way up to the deck where there was coverage. After a lot of staring on our part we were invited to join the rest of the campers for dinner. Bread and cream, cheese, tomato, cucumbers, crackers, everything. It was so so good. We hung with them the remainder of the night laughing extremely hard. They were all getting drunk, LOVE the fact we’re from America. They took pictures with us. Serenaded us with Balkan blues songs. It was a good time even though we could barely communicate with each other. The unfortunate part is it didn’t stop, ever. At 3am the Crazy Balkan Gypsy, the nickname of our drunken friend, was still belting out songs from his tent. The dogs wouldn’t shut up all night, the Europeans were blasting techno music. So again poor sleep, but I can’t be mad at people for having a good time. 

Next morning we summited Magic, the highest Bosnian Mountain. So we camped in Montenegro, summited a mountain back in Bosnia, the descended back to Montenegro. We were making great time. The trails are so easy to navigate here! I LOVE YOU MONTENEGRO! Seriously I’m in heaven. We walked further than anticipated and ate lunch at the river which was an unreal amazing green/blue. Another amazing swim 2 days in a row! So grateful. We then road walked a bit, through some dark tunnels which was fun and across the dam. Megan’s knee is really starting to bug her and we had a big uphill, she got through it though. The uphill was said to be brutal and really steep and I found it to be so much fun! It was steep and narrow trail at times, but such a good time. And it lead us to this beautiful plateau filled with green pastures. I waited for Megan at an elderly couples house, Ratko and Sevata, they provided water, shade, and kafe. They couldn’t speak any English but we all still tried to talk and laughed with each other. Such beautiful people here. They, as the people last night, said Trump the second we said we were from America. Giving him the big thumbs down, we agreed. We found camp soon after. I have found the trail to be fully dictated by my own attitude. When I am negative and grumpy, it seems to be crap trail, or hard to follow. But when I’m positive it’s all easier and beautiful. But I know it’s not the trail that different, just my perception is making the whole experience so different. And what a beautiful power we have to be able to do that. 

The next day Megan’s knee was doing worse. We had a 12 mile road walk to Nedajno. When she arrived there she mentioned she was done and couldn’t go on. She would try and hitch to town, Zabljak. After breakfast I routed and reviewed some maps and routes and headed out. Still wanting to complete continuous footpaths of the trail. I decided to stay out of the mountains, not wanting to stress about navigation and water with nobody around. So I took the bike path which mixed roads and gravel down into town. 19 miles later, and only 5.5hrs, I arrived to town. We decided to stay an extra day today for Megan to rest her knee and tomorrow we will see if she is hopefully able to continue on the rest of the trail. It sucks to have happened so close to the end, when she has already been through so much. We aren’t really sure what’s going on or what she did. There was no specific fall or anything. The pressure of time is now against us since our Albanian permits have the specific date set. Besides from that this section has been great. Durmitor National Park was insanely beautiful and I hope to explore it more some day, so far Montenegro is pretty pretty amazing. 

Another thing I have loved about this section is seeing so many fellow backpackers/hikers. After seeing very few the last month in a half, it’s refreshing to just get to walk by someone smile and say hello. 

Crazy hitching stories…sorry in advance to all the parents out there

I woke up at 3:45 to pack up quickly and head out to begin my 13 mile hike to Kalinovik. From here I plan to hitch to Sarajevo then to Jablanica to get to the post office and retrieve my replacement shoes. The hike was quick and easy, although my feet were killing me. I actually stopped and put on all 3 pairs of socks just to add cushion. Getting to town and out I got my first hitch from a nice man driving a delivery van, drinking a beer. At 8:30am. Totally normal to me at this point. He drove me the 12ish miles to the next highway junction. After trying for a bit another man stopped to give me a ride to Sarajevo. It started fine, he like the other man cannot speak any English. Yet some people just keep trying to communicate and saying the same thing over and over again. But I still have no clue what they’re saying. So I’m giving this guy the benefit of the doubt in this area. That there was a language barrier and I may be incorrect. But about half way through the 45min ride he looked at me and said “sex?” I repeated it back to him unsure if I heard correctly and he said it again. I have no clue if that’s what he meant but I really harshly said no multiple times and he just gave me thumbs up and kept driving. Sorry to freak all the Moms out there out with this story. But I actually just felt slightly creeped out but not unsafe. He dropped me at a cafe where after awhile I got another hitch just over a mile, closer to the actual town. When I got out of the guys car he touched my thigh……..idk if it’s their culture or just dudes being endlessly creepy. I had trouble getting a hitch from this point so walked to the bus station to see if there was one to Jablanica, a no go. But I did see the AT hiker there. I then got another hitch from a super nice guy to the highway that drifts off to Mostar, passing Jablanica. After a bit a guy pulls over and I get in for my last ride as he’s able to take me all the way there. He was nice. Kept trying to get me Kafe, a burger, and take me to the beach. But I was assertive about getting to town by 1pm as I wanted to take the 1:42pm bus back to Sarajevo. Being over hitching at this point. I literally ran all around town, easily got my shoes which was a huge win! Resupplied and even ran to the other grocery store to load up on peanut butter, a must, before getting my bus ticket literally the moment the bus arrived. This bus ride was heaven. Nobody to try and talk to and cozy. Once I got back to Sarajevo it was crazy hot and I had to walk almost 6 miles back to the cafe where there is a junction that leads back towards Kalinovik. Nobody would pick me up. I was so wiped. Had walked almost 20 miles today and only had 1 liter of water. A man, who was giving a couple who were backpackers a ride to Montenegro, picked me up and drove me to the final junction back to Kalinovik. On the way he was chain smoking cigarettes, a joint, and drinking a beer. Haha. After he dropped me off I just felt it was too late and nobody would be heading to this small town of nothing and I was almost crying expecting to have 15 more miles to hike to where I’m supposed to meet Meg. But I prayed, literally so hard for a car to come. And one finally did. A guy in a nice Audi that was a super fast smooth ride to the gas station where I had gotten my first hitch. It’s after 6:30pm so by this time I expect Meg to have already left town and head to our camp spot. The walk to camp was nice and mellow. But when I got there Meg wasn’t there. I met with the household owners about camping and a few minutes later Meg. She was happy I was ok, but thought I was meeting her in town. We figured it out, and ended up camping at the household and were able to shower which was heavenly. Today wiped me more than any other day. Just mentally and emotionally the most draining day ever. I’m so glad it’s over, and so glad to have my Comfy Xero Shoes again! 

Beauty of Bosnia

The trail since our long break in Mostar has overall been positive and in my opinion quite exquisite. I’ve made it a point to agree to myself that I won’t complain about the trail as long as it is well marked making it easy to follow. And mostly it has been, so that’s a win!the hike out of town was a good gravel road/bike path to Boracko Lake. My body felt achey and tired this day, possibly from a long break, a really heavy pack, or maybe I’ve come down with something? I don’t sleep well in towns, I find myself fixated to screens and being able to do things I’m not able to out on the trail and kind of binge on them. Definitely a typical habit for me in many aspects of my life. So possibly the lack of sleep from that and eating bad food just made me crash a bit. A couple hour break swimming at the lake was quite pleasant. It began raining before we left luckily only lasting a short period before we headed out a couple more miles to camp at a more peaceful spring. The next day my energy wasn’t much better. Feeling continuously wiped. We did about 18 miles of which at least 16 were uphill. It was just a never ending uphill battle today. The morning climb was tough and I got crazy sweaty. My shirt, buff, and shorts, all soaked like I jumped into a lake. But it was a rad hike through the canyons! After the next uphill we had to go on quite a search for the marked spring. There was an arrow up so I followed up a bit and never saw anything. Neither of us had much water, and Meg was quite dehydrated so we had to find some. Luckily, with 2 of us we were finally able to spot some markers that led us to a small natural “well” where I could dig out some water. After that Meg took a short cut on a road while I followed the Via Dinarica path through a nice cool forest trail that led through open pastures filled with cows and onto the top of the canyon where I could just walk across the top with beautiful rocky views the whole way. I found Meg sitting under a small bit of shade under a tree before we ate lunch in the shade at the cemetery. It’s so funny to me the things we do out here. That we find it totally normal to unload our packs and dry all of our stuff out and hang to eat at a cemetery. But it just feels normal. There was nice short grass and good shade so it’s the perfect break spot. the trail continued along the ridge of the open canyon for a bit drifting in and out of the forest. The trail continued up, up, up, to the town of Lukimor. A popular tourist destination for local hiking through the canyons. And is also the oldest and highest altitude village in Bosnia. I struggled so hard the last couple miles there, but immediately found relief at the local hostel/restaurant. While waiting for Meg I hung with the owner Nrsid, who offered to let us camp out back for free. He was so kind and helpful. I knew if Meg felt anything like I did we didn’t want to walk any further at all. We ended up having a great time there. I Met a 2016 AT hiker, a rad woman who has since then yet to go back to work and has just traveled hiking around the world with her boyfriend. Nrsid brought me some Rakija, the famous homemade liquor of the Balkans. It’s strong as shit, and he brought it to me after I said I don’t really drink alcohol. And he told me it was cherry juice, haha. I had Megan finish it for me after I had just a couple sips. Slept great this night listening to all the sheep live their joyous lives all around us. A lot of livestock here!

Leaving Lukimor we got to hike through the beautiful canyon. It led us to some water mills that forced us down quite a steep downhill. I ended up slipping but my pack hit the ground first and just led me the rest of the way down on my ass. Meg just avoid the fall, sat down and sled. Basically a butt glissade, on dirt instead of snow. There is so much water here! It’s like a whole new world. A beautiful, perfect, magnificent world where dehydration isn’t a daily thing. There’s so many rivers, streams, and fountains. We had a climb to Drstva Mtn, after snacks, and since my legs were feeling quite fatigued I had to go with the counting steps method to get up. That’s just counting steps and I make myself have to be exactly at a 100 steps before I can break. Usually I make it 500+ but it’s helpful to not let myself self just stop 30 steps into a 100 step segment. The trail itself was perfectly maintained and marked. A lot of blueberry pickers also use it! I met 3 nice men at the top of the mountain, 2 Bosnian 1 Italian, they offered me beer. And we’re heading our same direction along the Knifes edge to Vito Mountain. The Knifes edge was epic, just like the one in Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington. Just amazing. And so much fun to walk on. On the way down I had a good fall and banged my arm up a bit, but then the trail was majestic again and my attitude quickly shifted back to pure happiness. 

What made this day epic is we actually met 2 other hikers who are thru-hiking the VD, northbound. The first Matt, from Belgium or Germany, I can’t remember. He actually started SOBO but got bitten by a dog in Slovenia and has had to go home every couple of weeks for more shots, so now he’s just doing sections. Later, after getting confused for a bit and losing trail we met the other hiker. Timon, aka Kermit, a 2016 PCT hiker. He had tried to summit the large mountain in Albania which is still packed with ice. And after realizing it was too dangerous he slipped trying to go back down and had a huuuuuge thrash on his leg/butt. We will be avoiding that mountain as every hiker has had to bail on it. It was so so amazing to meet and chat with other hikers, and I wish it could have all lasted longer. We all seemed to have the same feelings about the trail, it’s nice but not amazing. Glad we’re not the only ones. We camped in town, I believe it was Laura, near some abandoned buildings, again so funny how little we care about these things these days. Tomorrow I plan to wake super early and hike into town to begin hitching to get my new Xero Shoes!