Three nights ago was MAGIC. I had just finished walking my third day on the Slovenian Mountain Trail and had planned on spending the night at the Koča Planinc mountain hut. I was traveling down from a mountain ski lodge and the path to this next mountain hut was a defrosted ski run. After the snow is gone from this ski run, all that was left were large stones and boulders that make it an incredibly difficult and dangerous path.
So I took extra time and was very particular about every footstep. Playing it safe though takes up a lot of time and I arrived fairly late (at about 7 pm). As I approached the mountain hut, looking haggard and weary, a group of people sitting outside started cheering me on as I stumbled my way out of the forest and toward the house. Then they all started shouting at me in Slovenian, with huge smiles on their faces, holding up glasses of beer and wine, and all I could do is raise my hands and say “Sorry, English.” This caused a rather excited murmur.
The manager of the mountain hut came over to me and told me that this particular mountain hut is only open on Saturday and Sunday. As it was Sunday evening, they were only to be there for 2 more hours, and after that everyone is leaving. However, if I wanted to spend the night, he said I could use the shed on the other side of the yard. (I thought that this was actually kind of great.) I told him all I needed was some food and a shower, so he took me inside and gave me a towel, showed me where the bathroom was, and told me dinner would be ready in one hour.
After I spent a fair amount of time scrubbing myself, I came downstairs and everyone had moved inside. The manager introduced me to everyone in the room and tells me that everyone present was a great singer. Suddenly everyone in the room is singing Slovenian folk songs, in harmony. Then to top it off, the manager joins in with the most impressive basso voice I have heard in a very long time.
Then the food started coming in. Not the dinner, mind you, but local treats that the manager’s wife and her friend were making for me in the kitchen while they were preparing my meal. Breaded and fried elderflowers with a dash of powdered sugar. Other guests gave me samples of cured meats that they prepared on their nearby farms. I had several beers to go with these treats, then finally my meal comes out and it looked and tasted amazing.
As I received my food though, the manager and his wife gave me a message. They wanted me to have a nice warm sleep, so they would stay at the mountain hut an extra night just for me and would return to the city in the morning. I told them it wasn’t necessary, but they insisted.
I slept like a baby!
The next morning I had a very long conversation with the manager. We discussed America, Dubai, hiking, society, and people in general. I showed him photos of the amazing mountains in the UAE and Oman and he loved hearing stories about some of the places I have been. After my coffee and eggs, it soon came time for the manager and his wife to leave, and time for me to get back on the trail. I thanked them profusely for everything they had done for me and I wanted to pay my bill.
My jaw hit the ground when they told me that it was only 18 Euros. I said “This is not possible!” but he waived his hand and said, “You have a good heart. This is the price for You.”
I swear I almost started to cry but fought it off. I gave them my blogger business card and they said they would follow me on Facebook. I forced them to take a selfie with me. Just before I set out on the trail again, a small plane flew overhead and the kind manager pointed up and said “Hey, there goes Melania Trump.” and we laughed together as I set off down the path.
The funny thing about this Slovenian Mountain Trail (so far), is that at the end of each day, I feel completely shattered, yet proud of my day’s accomplishments. The next morning though, while I feel refreshed and recharged, and also stronger than the day before, I am also slightly terrified of what punishment the trail will have for me that day. It reminds me so much of Marine Corps boot camp. Every day I get seriously stronger, so the morning anxiety quickly fades away now after my first cup of coffee.
There are 80 checkpoints on the Slovenian Mountain Trail.
My original plan was to finish the Slovenian Mountain Trail in 30 days.
So far I had only been clearing two checkpoints per day.
This would not get me to Ankaran (last checkpoint on the Mediterranean) within 30 days.
So this day I was going to reach three checkpoints.
Two down and I felt GREAT!
My legs are obviously stronger than when I started and the climbing didn’t hurt so much.
So let’s to this third checkpoint.
That was MISERY!
Dom na Uršlji gori (5.6 km but a climb of 900m)
This started off so great. Uphill, but not too steep. Very proud of myself as I am learning to take shorter steps and slow my pace as the incline increases, meaning I don’t have to stop and rest so often.
I am now able to walk on 30-degree angles, no problem.
Fifty-degree angles, I really need to slow down my pace.
The last two kilometers to reach this checkpoint though, were often at 60 degrees.
Using tree roots as stairs and trying to lift my legs high enough to climb up this wall of earth quickly depleted all of the energy I had left. This last checkpoint was supposed to take 3 hours. I took quite a bit longer.
As I struggled up the side of the hill, it became late and massive wet clouds covered the entire mountain. I could barely see in front of me. So to top it all off, I missed a turn and got lost on the mountain for an extra hour.
Wearing more layers, I was sweating, but the moist chill in the air sucked out every ounce of energy I had left. I thought to myself several times “Maybe I should just get my sleeping bag out and sleep here.” It was an idea that sounded wonderful at the time, but I kept reminding myself that I had already climbed about 1500 meters that day, the last 170 meters shouldn’t stop me.
I had been walking uphill with an 18kg pack on my back for almost 12 hours. I would climb about 10 steps, then I would have to stop and gasp for breath. Another 10 steps, stop again to fill my lungs.
Through the dense fog, I could finally make out the shadow of the Dom na Uršlji gori mountain hut, but there was no energy left in me to get too excited about it. As I got closer though, in the midst of my gasping and stumbling, I looked up and let out a scream. Hidden in the dense fog was a massive white church that I hadn’t even sensed its presence until I was less than 10 feet away from it. When I looked up, I saw two big windows that looked like eyes, and the enormity of the rest of the structure was suddenly overwhelming. Thank you god, for that final bit of terror, right when I feel like I am already about to die on the side of a mountain.
I enter the mountain hut and a kindly old lady rushes to me. It is almost 9 pm, the mountain hut kitchens are usually closed at this time, but I make a feeble motion with my hand, communicating that I NEED FOOD, with the saddest face I could muster up. She heads to the kitchen and I can hear her starting the stove. I unclip my bags and they fall to the ground like lead weights and I slowly melt onto a bench.
Every muscle on my body is so completely pissed off at me, and I can’t blame them. Kind lady brings me a bottle of water and a bottle of beer. I quickly chug the entire bottle of water, and then slowly sip on the beer. The meal was a quickly prepared, but an amazingly good goulash, and I expressed endlessly how thankful I was to this kind, kind lady.
After dinner, I limped upstairs to my room and passed out on the bed within minutes. But the sleep didn’t last long. I woke up worried and extremely anxious that I was not going to be able to finish this Slovenian Mountain Trail within my 30-day time-frame. I can not finish the trail if I only clear two checkpoints per day. The one day that I did three checkpoints, it completely destroyed me. As I laid there for over an hour contemplating the trek, my neck, arms, hands, legs, and feet all took turns having extreme and painful spasms, as was their right.
Finally, it dawned on me. I didn’t have to finish the trail this summer. I can do what I can on the trail this summer, and return next summer and finish the trail where I left off. This was not one of my pre-caffeine morning excuses to try and get out of walking. This was a decision that I knew was right, for many reasons:
1) I want to have fun on this trip and not be constantly pushing myself to exhaustion each day
2) Walking while exhausted greatly increases my risk of being injured
3) I want to go a bit slower and truly enjoy this beautiful country and all of the beautiful people
4) Having to return to finish the trail means I must return to Slovenia, and I am absolutely in love with everything Slovenian right now, so that is more than fine with me.
After coming to this decision, I looked out the bedroom window and I could see stars in the sky. This meant that the cold clouds had passed and tomorrow was going to be beautiful.
OMG. THE VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN THIS MORNING! Everything that had been hidden from me in the dense fog from the night before was visible and I could see for hundreds of miles.
There were no vertical climbs this day. Instead, I enjoyed walking on some rare, flat surfaces and even a long path through a field filled with wildflowers. The magic was definitely back and I feel like the Slovenian Mountain Trail was rewarding me for passing its durability test and continuing the journey. The views are the only things that take my breath away now and for some reason, I have avoided every single rain shower while walking (and there have been many).
My plan now is to trek for around 15 more days, ending at checkpoint #42, which is a climb to the peak of Mt. Triglav (the highest peak in Slovenia @ 2864m). After that, I will spend a few days at Lake Bled, and then a week in the capital, Ljubljana before flying to the Faroe Islands.
Next summer, I will climb Mt. Triglav again, and then continue the second-half of the Slovenian Mountain Trail.
What scares me about this plan: It has taken me an entire week to gain the strength to tackle these smaller mountains in preparation of two weeks of climbing numerous mountains through the Alps. Next summer, I’ll be going directly to the Alps after spending 6 months behind a desk. Maybe 1000 squats a day will keep my climbing legs in shape.
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