“But… I don’t want this.”
Thankfully, I couldn’t get these words out of my mouth.
If you are adventurous enough to attempt your first multi-day, long-distance hike, you will no-doubt make the same mistakes every one of your predecessors has made. You overpack. You fill your rucksack with what you consider to be the bare-minimum of what you need to survive, and then you use the left-over room for a few small luxuries that you imagine yourself needing for your adventure. By the time you are done packing, you’ll definitely have everything you need, plus some books (because you might want to read in the evening), a bottle of wine (because that would be so classy, to have a glass of wine in the middle of nowhere), maybe some jewelry (because you want to look nice on the trail in case you see someone cute), and maybe someone gave you a luxury camping tool that does everything from digging fire pits to uncorking your bottle of wine (you obviously, definitely, need this). Your hike will last a full month, but you are only bringing a week’s worth of clothing. When you finally zip up your 18 pound bag, you congratulate yourself for packing conservatively.
Then you start walking.
Day 1: No problem. You are full of adrenaline and positive energy.
Day 2: Whoa! Who put rocks in your bag last night? Getting this monster on your back today seems to be more difficult. Also, what has happened to your legs? They are like wet noodles.
Day 3: This thing on your back is nothing more than a parasitic torture device that is sucking up every bit of your strength and positive energy. — So you decide to take action.
There is a moment of serious desperation when you no longer care about the value of the items you have brought with you. If it is adding weight to your bag… Bah-bye.
The few pages you need from the guidebooks you brought are ripped out. That bottle of wine: drink it, share it, it needs to go!
The coins in your pocket: buy a snack and get rid of them!
There is no way around it. On your first long-distance trek, you will overpack because you are tethered to certain luxuries in your life that you can not let go of. After a few days of walking through the mountains, you will begin to reject the things you DO NO NEED, regardless of the value.
Fast forward several years. I’ve completed many long-distance trails in various countries, and I have learned how to pack a backpack so that it is only 13 pounds total, including clothing, tent, camera equipment. I’ve even spent quite a bit more on the clothing, tent and camera equipment so that I can get the very lightest of each of these things.
I’m about to attempt an extremely difficult hike, the month-long Slovenian Mountain Trail. A trail that crosses three sets of Alps with a total climb of 28 miles. Let me make this more clear. By the end of the one-month hike, all of the up-hill climbs along the trail combined would be the same as crossing over one 28-mile-high mountain. The trail is so full of ups and downs that on the rare occurrence you are walking on a flat stretch of path, you thank the universe for this amazing gift.
My third week on this amazing trail, I am at the hardest part. I’ve entered the Julian Alps and I’ve started making my way through Triglav National Park, and at times trails were almost vertical.
For 13 hours on this specific day, I’d crossed massive canyons, visited some stunningly beautiful waterfalls, and hacked my way through a devastatingly deep ravine with a series of natural tunnels called ‘The Galleries.’ It was already dark by the time I finally reached mountain hut Blejska koča na Lipanci, exhausted and about to collapse. After a shower and a massage of my legs, I make my way downstairs so that the innkeeper can cook me some dinner.
At dinner, the innkeeper tells his wife that I am an American. Many people from this part of Slovenia have never met an American before, and it was often quite wonderful feeling the joy of these people when they met me. But the innkeeper’s wife wasn’t satisfied in just telling me how happy she was to meet me. She went up into their living quarters and eventually brought down a small brass urn to give to me as a present.
I’d been conditioned at this point to not add any weight at all to my backpack. Suddenly there was a very solid, brass urn to be added just as I was about to climb Mt. Triglav, the tallest mountain in Slovenia.
The words were in my head “I can’t take this.. it’s too heavy.” The words tried to come out of my mouth and I stumbled over them.
But knowing this gift came from pure kindness, as a token of ultimate hospitality, I reluctantly accepted the gift and thought, ‘this urn is going to kill me.’
I have many stories like this from Slovenia. People that I have met that made an extreme effort to be kind and show me such amazing hospitality. It is not only a country of incredible beauty, but also of kindness and hospitality.
This little brass urn. I’ll keep it always.