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.
I’ve heard it said that a person is never their true self unless they are sure they are alone; if this is true, then I must truly be a lunatic.
I have found myself, when walking in fields completely absent of others, reciting and reenacting whole musical scores such as “Jack’s Lament,” from The Nightmare Before Christmas or “If I Were A Rich Man,” from The Fiddler on The Roof. I leap from fences and logs and stumps, thrusting my hands to the sky, becoming quite animated- which made it all the more embarrassing when I walked right past someone I hadn’t seen. C’est la vie.
The Netherlands was a fun country. Rotterdam was cool, Amsterdam was overrated and smelled like tourism, marijuana, and sex but it was the ghostly sound of Dutch that seduced me. I love the way they say good morning, sounding like “Huda Morgen,” with a windy whisp of the throat and tongue on the R. And oddly enough, I thought I could understand them, even though mentally I knew that I didn’t. Such were the similarities between our respective languages.
It was in Amelo, far east, where I met someone that ended up more than a traveling acquaintance. Linda became my friend, and I actually spent more time at her place than I planned!! A first for me, as I am usually constantly moving. She introduced me to her Italian friend, and I cooked spaghetti with my homemade vegan recipe. Frederico said it was perfect, a great feat apparently, that a real Italian enjoyed a traditionally Italian meal prepared by an American.
As I live and breath, my favorite part of traveling is meeting new and interesting people who are willing to share their life with me. I have felt this multiple times with many, a sort of vulnerability that makes possible the great connection I feel- like a secret knowledge we share together. This is still somewhat of a mystery for me, however, and maybe I can understand it as I grow.
I have felt the first pangs of loneliness while sitting in a campsite in Amsterdam. I knew they were destined to come sooner or later- you can´t expect to uproot one`s entire life and not feel even the least bit lonely. But come the morning, I felt quite alright, and ready to take on the world once more. I regret nothing of leaving. I truly feel alive, a little anxious, but blessed all the same. Solitude is a gift, and I recieve it gladly. But it is still okay to miss people now and again.
I walked across the German border and took a train to Munster. Not sure where I should stay, I began walking towards a green splotch on my map (a possible Forrest?) and took a small break in a thrift store; I hoped to find a book in English, as the one I had was almost finished. In broken German, I tried to ask for one when a woman of about 50 or 60 spoke. “I have a book in English in my home if you’d like. It’s one of Steinbeck’s, but it was too complicated for me.,” she said. Of course I accepted. I made myself comfortable and waited for her return. A bad smell lingered on my clothing, and my thoughts were filled with doubts- “where would I sleep? It was getting late. What would I eat? Where can I clean my clothes” and so on. Upon returning, the woman gave me not Steinbeck, but a small collection of short stories, and then offered me a bed for the night.
“I invite you in because you have a good energy in you, and I hope that somewhere someone will help my own traveling son as I help you,” she explained. This isn’t the first time I’ve been told I had “Good energy.” A French man asked me where it came from and I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about. The woman gave me beer, cheese, bread, and other food that night. She helped me clean my clothing, and I slept like a baby.
Hannover was amazing: I met a group of couchsurfers and found a place to stay there after my CS plan fell through. Tip for anyone wanting to use it: Make sure you confirm everything so you don’t misunderstand like I did. All of them were interesting, to say the least. Garret, the guy who helped me, had hosted hundreds of people. There was a Frenchman who, “Didn’t know why he was in Germany.” He was quite hilarious, with a snarky and sarcastic sense of humor. Rebecca, a German shoe maker who invited me for tea the next day was an intelligent and kind woman. Upon meeting her she said, “You’re English is very good!” Which gave us all a laugh because I should hope it’s good- it’s my native tongue!!
I made my way to Berlin to meet with Claudia, one of the coolest, most chill persons I’ve ever met in my life. Actually, she reminded me of my dear friend Alex, and I told her as much. She took me to “The REAL Berlin,” where tourists don’t often go… Ever. This tour included three spots: Tippie Land- a homeless community where you can set up a tent and stay in, Kopi- a punk rock squat, and Yaam an African hang out. Kopi was amazing. The sign on their door read:
“We will not tolerate Facists, Racists, Sexists, Homophobes, Tourists, or Cameras.”
There was a drunk Italian man, fat, with a head too large for his body equiped with a winter hat way too small for his head. Other memorables would be the loud American girl, pierced to the nines, who sleeps in graveyards for their cheap and peaceful qualities, and a Finnish rock musician traveling around Europe.
After playing music with Claudia the next morning, swapping the guitar back and forth, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore and bought my self a small guitarlini. Decked me 130€ but if I play on some city streets… 😀
I gathered by things and made my way to Karstadt, where, after missing my train twice, I met my first workawa hosts! They took care of six horses: Santos, Argus, Akazie, Arik, Abbe, and Aiva. I spent the next two weeks (ish), shoveling horse crap into buckets, painting doors, cleaning stables, and antagonizing the pet dogs (Not really, but come on, faking fetch throws is classic). One of the dogs, a black and white poodle named Nemo, seems to have taken a liking to me; whenever I would play the guitar, he would find a way to stroll over and lie down next to me. This, as you can imagine, made me feel quite cool. The other dog, Mahjo, was far too cool and highclass for my rugged ways. But after sneaking her some delicious treats, she warmed up to me.
At one point, I was playing the guitar and this huge, fat cat waltzes right up to where I am. It looks at me, and I look at it, and this must have signaled the creature. It jump upon the table in front of me, and steped right over the guitar and found its way comfortably resting in my lap, purring loudly, rubbing its head against me. Thanks a lot, cat. What did I do? The same thing any one who has been chosen by a cat does- pet the crap out of that thing and earn more purs. Teddy was his name.
Steffi, the daughter, works with training horses via positive reinforcement: a system of training that I can definitely support, with no beating, whipping, or otherwise painful wazs of mistreating the animals. She uses a clicker strategie and took the time to give me some basic lessons. I now feel quite confident that I can teach a horse (or any other animal) that a click means a treat, and a treat means I liked what you did, which then causes the action to resurface again and again. I learned so much from this workaway, that I am quite excited for the next ones. You can see her website here. Its in German so beware.
I am back in Berlin, spending a few days here before I head towards Poland and the Zakopane mountains. Packed up my bag again, ready to hit the road once more, only this time I am a little more musical, and know a little bit more in this world of endless knowables. Till next time, share this post, subscribe, comment below.
When traveling, short-term or long-term, it is important to have a list of everything you need before you leave. This reduces your anxiety, stress, and money. If you buy things you need in advance, you can find cheaper options. I made this mistake with my Filter, Pants, and Shirts. I’ve since corrected my them.
In total, the bag on my back will weigh around 12 pounds, not including food or water. All items on my person add up to about 8 pounds. All in all, if I assume my food weighs 5 pounds, my entire weight will come to around 25 pounds.
This here is my Checklist of all the things I think I will need when I am traversing the globe. If you have any suggestions, go ahead and leave me a comment.
|Pack: Osprey Talon 44 (Blk)||Packing||149.95||2 lb||1|
|Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2||Packing||303.95||2 lb, 4 oz||1|
|Therma Rest Neoair Sleep Pad, (Lg)||Packing||179.95||1 lb||1|
|Sleeping Bag||Packing||Free||3 lb, 9 oz||1|
|550 Paracord 50 feet||On Body||4.39||5 oz||1|
|Clothing Stuff Sack||Packing||Free||1|
|Compression Stuff Sack (Med.)||Packing||Free||1|
|Rain Pack Cover (Grn)||Packing||21.99||4 oz||1|
|TOTAL:||PACKING||$660.23||9 lb, 9 oz||1|
|Merrel Hiking Shoes (Tan)||On Body||109.89||2 lb, 6 oz||1|
|Merino Wool Cushion Socks (Gray, 1)||Clothes||15.95||2 oz||1|
|Summer Hiking Socks, Merino (Blu, 1)||On Body||18.89||2 oz||1|
|Kuhl Synthetic Polyester Pants (Gray)||On Body||56.99||12 oz||1|
|Synthetic T-Shirt (Grn)||On Body||21.53||5 oz||1|
|Longsleeve Synthetic Shirt (Blk)||Clothes||3.95||1 lb||1|
|Winter Scarf (Red)||Clothes||Free||7 oz||1|
|Ghost Whisperer Jacket (Blk)||Clothes||142.83||7 oz||1|
|Padagonia Rain Coat (Blu)||On Body||1.05||8 oz||1|
|Patagonia Rain Pants (Blu)||Clothes||Free||8 oz||1|
|Head Lamp Black Diamond (Grn)||On Body||23.95||1|
|AAA Batteries (4)||Misc.||Free||1|
|ExOfficio Boxer Briefs (2)||On Body||42.05||4 oz||1|
|TOTAL:||CLOTHES||$436.81||7 lb, 1 oz||1|
|Mini-Stove; Wood Fueled (and sack)||Cooking||Free||10 oz||1|
|600ml Titanium Pot (and sack)||Cooking||28.5||4 oz||1|
|Cleaning Sponges||Cooking||Free||0 oz||1|
|Titanium Spoon, Chopsticks (and sack)||Cooking||Free||0 oz||1|
|Bic Lighter||Cooking||Free||0 oz||1|
|Small Matches||Cooking||Free||0 oz||1|
|Homemade Pot Cozy||Cooking||2.05||0 oz||1|
|Sawyer Mini Water Filter||Cooking||24.95||2 oz||1|
|50 oz. Water Bottles (2)||Cooking||Free||0 oz||1|
|TOTAL:||COOKING||$55.50||1 lb, 5 oz||1|
|Toilet Paper||Hygiene||Free||4 oz||1|
|Nokia Lumia 1020||Misc.||120||9 0z||1|
|Sony Cyber Shot DW800 20 MP Camera||On Body||82.63||4 oz||1|
|Passport, 28 Pages||On Body||Free||2 oz||1|
|Solar Powered Charger, Plugs, and Cords||Misc.||23.95||9 oz||1|
|Gerber Knife||On Body||Free||1|
|Compass: Flat, Multi Purpose||Misc.||Free||0 oz||1|
|Mountain Climbers Clips||On Body||Free||1|
|Sewing Kit, Zip Ties||Misc.||Free||0 oz||1|
|Pencil Sharpener||Misc.||Free||0 oz||1|
|Moleskin Journal 193 Pages||Misc.||12.95||5 oz||1|
|TOTAL:||MISC.||$163.48||1 lb, 6 oz||1|
|Band Aids||First Aid||Free||0 oz||1|
|Pain Relief (10 Tablets)||First Aid||Free||0 oz||1|
|Diarrhea Medicine (12 Tablets)||First Aid||9.99||0 oz||1|
|Bandages||First Aid||10.95||1 oz||1|
|TOTAL:||FIRST AID||$20.94||1 oz||1|
|Estimated Worn Weight||On Body||_||5 lb, 4 oz||1|
|Estimated Bag Weight||Packing||_||15 lb, 8 oz||1|
|Estimated Consumable Weight||Food||_||6 lb||1|
|Estimated Total||All Categories||$1,341.22||26 lb, 12 oz||1|