Today, I will choose happiness.
Cold. So very cold was the night that I could hardly sleep at all, and spent most of my time rubbing my feet together within my sleeping bag. I remember reading a book that my friend Jim lent me: ‘The Gentle Art of Tramping.’ In it, the author Stephen Graham recommends heating rocks, shoving them into a pair of socks, and throwing the bundle into bed with you to keep warm on frigid nights such as this one. I lit a fire, and followed his advice. This was excellent… for about 4 or 5 minutes before my socks burned up. One pair of socks less, still icey in the morning, I trekked on to my goal. I have been visited by wild pigs almost every night- their tramping, digging, and vocals made their presence known.
On one particular night, as I was recounting the day’s events in my journal, I did hear a very loud screech in the distance. My eyes opened wide, ears alert, as the sound echoed through the forrest where my camp was set. No one near me for miles; I was alone. I thought it better to ‘lock this one in the vault,’ not think to much about it, and sleep as best I could. These screams and coughing sounds would persist every night on the trail.
I became dirty from the trail, weary from the walk, and sleepless from frozen nights or sickness. And yet, there was a goodness that the experience birthed, a freedom.
This is a map of the Kektura, which I walked along:
Hungary, a land that has gone through the hands of many. A beautiful place filled with hills, fields of yellow and green, lakes and streams, and a generous populous. On March 20th, Starting at the Austrian border, I made my way East all the way to the tiny village of Hollohaza, 1,128 kilometers later, on May 8th. Could have finished earlier, but a specific Hostel in Budapest and a bad virus kept me a week or two.
Though persons rarely spoke English, a surprisingly high number knew German which certainly helped me in communication, as I had picked up quite a bit of the language from my time on the horse farm with Steffi and her family. One man asked me if I was alone,
‘Und wo ist deine Frau?’ (and where is your woman?)
‘Ich möchte kein Frau!’ (I don’t want a woman)
At my response, he threw his hands down as if to say, ‘Bah, Humbug.’
Why did I decide to do this? It is still somewhat of a mystery for me. It seemed so clear at first, but as I moved, everthing slowed down. Life on trail is unbelievably slow, almost to a point where all time merges into one stream, where there are no consecutive days, but rather one long, never-ending time line. Did I meet that couple yesterday or two weeks ago? It all seems the same to me, words like ‘monday’ or ‘thursday’ mean little to nothing, and this created something of an other worldy environment. Two opposing phenomina occur simultaneously- the memory of starting a single day past, and the feeling as if I have always been livng this way. In this manner, all life comes to a halt and nothing moves until I deviate from this path.
The trail itself may look, depending on your own tastes, rather boring or plain, though I found it stealing my breath on a regular basis.
My diet consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, sardines, and a plethora of sugary sweets to keep my sugar high. You would be amazed what a Cola can do to you when you feel exhausted. On average, I walked about 18 miles a day- 11 being my lowest, and 24 my highest. My feet were very displeased, and they sure took a beating. If they could talk, I am postive they would say, ‘Good God man, what the hell are you doing? Stop it this instant!’ and they would recite this phrase in a British accent.
I avoided blisters by sticking to a very strict ‘easy going’ strategy:
- Wake and break down camp.
- Walk for five miles
- Take a rest, eat breakfast and remove shoes and socks.
- Walk for another 5-10 miles.
- Take second rest, eat lunch, remove shoes and socks.
- Walk for another 5-10 miles, set up camp, change clothes, dinner, and finally sleep.
My breaks lasted about 1-1.5 hours. I often would nap during these times if it was warm enough, or simply sit and read a book.
The trail is littered with stamps. 147, I believe. Though, I was only able to collect about half of them, as many bars would bring them inside their business, yet would be closed for the day. Which, while we’re at it, let’s address the village schedules.
Every single village has 4 main buildings in addition to civilian homes:
- A church
- Municiple Building/Post office
- A Bar/Restaurant
- A small grocery store
All of which are close promptly at 4pm. This is absolutely inconvenient since you cannot always get to a village in time to buy food for the next day. And you never knew if there actually was a market or not.
There also several blue water pumps scattered through each one which had fresh drinking water. (Yes, I would drink this). And thank god, they were there, as the Easter holiday shut down every grocery market for two days in a row which I was unaware of. There was a time where I had only peanuts and water, hiking up and down hilly areas all day. THAT was an exhausting time. Though one cyclist gave me some protein cookies.
The main mode for sleep is in a tent, which as I already mentioned above, can get quite chilly in the nighttime. After the burning socks incident, I tried a new technique- boiling water in a thin metal bottle, stuffing it into a sock, and putting it in the sleeping bag. This worked wonders. I also bought some large wool socks to put over my normal pair as I slept, as well as thermal leggings. Camp sites would ideally be in a meadow (I feel safest in meadows?), in one of the few specific camp site areas, or near a Kilato watch tower like in the photo above.
Though, occasionally, when I traversed a particularily hard day, or when I became very sick, I would splurge and stay at guest houses (Anywhere between 14-25 Euro a night). Also there was this one day I had walked 24 miles in the pouring rain:
When it Rains, it Pours
And this could not be truer than for Hungary. My morale was low, and I was quite unhappy with my situation, as all my things were soaked, myself included to the bone. But as the sun was setting, I thought to myself, ‘You know what? This is the only time in my life when I will be here, walking this day, in this rain. I am already wet, so what will complaining do for me now? If happiness is a matter of the will instead of a matter of exclusive factors, then I might as well choose happiness. I pulled my hood off to get the full effect and I continued singing as the sky cried down upon me.
In the next hour, I came across a Monestary where, after speaking with some men in German, I found myself with a bed for the night, dinner to fill my belly, and an excellent conversation about Hungarian literature with some professors. As I hung my things to dry, I played music into the night, reflecting on how the universe, or God, seems to smile on me. Something that has also perplexed me. Life is full of mysteries.
What did I do to entertain myself while walking? Sing. An over abundance of singing. I would also have theological and philisophical debates with imaginary figures, tried to deal with the burried pains of the past, self reflected on my life’s worth, and much more. It is truly amazing just how much baggage you can ressurect within you as you go along slowly in solitude. This is, perhaps, the greatest benefit of a solo hike.
In the end, I eventually made it to the small village. I can’t say that I walked 100% of the Kektura, as I often lost my way or had to move quickly t make up for lost time. But I did walk 700 miles all the way to Hollohaza, where I sat down, breathed deeply new life into my lungs, and reflected back on everthing that had brought me to this very point in life. How every action, as small as buying a candy bar or tying shoes, and as big as moving across the world, is a consequence of past choices, both of our own and of others, however willful or nonconsensual. How my entire life, and the lives of my parents, friends, even of people I have never met before, is altered by the decisions around me, behind me, and in my future. And if anything can be considered a miracle, surely it’s this. How God has directed my life is a knowledge that will forever be unknown to me.
Until Next Time, Share this post, Subscribe to the blog, and I’ll be around later.