Sat in my tent, I was thinking about the reason why I was with a group of 25 strangers, in another country, about to set of on some of the most physically demanding walks that I’ve ever had to do.
I reminded myself of the reasons. I wanted to prove to myself that I’m strong enough. Mentally and physically I can sometimes struggle. I have endometriosis and the side effects from different types of medication can be difficult. I have lots of migraines and often feel shattered. I also have my own experiences of anxiety and depression. Despite this, I wanted to prove that my sense of adventure hadn’t been overshadowed by cautiousness and fears. I want to prove that I am enough and I wanted to prove to myself that I could manage a challenge this big. That being said, it was one thing booking the trip in a moment of bravado and another thing entirely actually being in a tent in Braşov, getting ready to start an unknown adventure…..
It was the first day of my Transylvania trek. Technically, this was day 2 of the trip but our first day had been a whirl of travel, so this was our first day of actual hiking. This was supposed to be a ‘starter day’, designed to help to break us in gently and help us to test our pace and stamina. I thought that the trek leaders might go slightly easier on us for this one…. forget that – it was tough!!
We were starting our walk at Moeciu and walking through to the ski resort of Cheile Gradistei. It was a beautiful start to the trip. Moeciu was a sunny, pleasant 14km walk through meadows with stunning mountain views as far as the eye could see. The weather was beautifully hot and we were soon taking off layers to accommodate the heat. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult – we were all soon feeling the exertion, huffing and puffing our way up the hill. It was also clear that the pace of the walls would be somewhat quicker than I had been used to in my training. It was at this point that I discovered that I am more of a plodder than a walker!
The sound of cow-bells were never far away as we walked through the meadows, creating an unearthly soundtrack to our footsteps.
Animals seemed to be the theme of the trip, with two dogs joining us for the walk. Whilst Moft (a scraggy but excitable companion) was completely up for the 5 hour trek, his friend Charlie didn’t seem to be quite as interested, leaving us to continue on without him for the last half of the walk. Having a dog in tow was amazing for morale. Just as everyone was starting to flag, along would come Moft and our spirts were raised again and again. Although he was quite a dirty dog, everyone soon forgot the warnings of ‘don’t pet the animals’ and were quite happily stroking him and snapping pictures. There is something irresistible about a friendly dog, and he was very instagrammable too!
Some parts of the walk were fairly comfortable, however elements of the trek were really quite hard, particularly the steep climb before lunch and the twisting paths through the meadow. The path towards our lunch spot looked never-ending and it was certainly a test of determination to keep plodding upwards. Particularly when a couple of walkers going down the hill, who were much older than me, seemed to bounce down with buckets of energy, leaving me panting for breath and struggling ever upwards. At the highest point of this trek, we reached 1187m, stopping at the top to sit for a well earned rest in a circle of little tree-stump seats. It was a really positive feeling to look around my fellow walkers and know that everyone was feeling the same sense of achievement.
The way back was peppered with more beautiful sights, particularly around the hilltop retreat marked with cairns and chair swings. Even though we were all pretty tired, we still managed a race to the swings, relishing in the chance to sit down and look out across the beautiful views over the mountain range.
Our descent took us down through a steep meadow where there was no flat foothold to be found. The entire section was carried out with angled ankles and uneven steps, making us all watch our footing a little more closely. I found myself glad of the strong ankle support in my boots, without which I’m sure that I would have ended up with an injury. The final part of the descent was down the steepest hill I think that I have ever seen. It reminded me of cheese rolling competitions and I certainly felt like I was taking part in a great cheese chase as I made my way cautiously down the embankment. Moft had no problem navigating the terrain and was waiting for the group down at the bottom, happily wagging his tail and acting like the 14k over hilly terrain was no big deal.
Heading down the hill to the ski resort was a welcome relief – particularly as people were bursting for the facilities (me included). We plonked ourselves down in one of the outdoor seating areas for the restaurant and rewarded ourselves with drinks – I don’t think that Sprite has ever tasted so good!
That first day taught me a lot about walking and about myself. I learned that I can talk to complete strangers for five hours without feeling stressed or anxious. I think that as we were talking about the reasons we were undertaking the trek and our personal circumstances, we had breezed past the small talk that I usually find so difficult. Give me an in-depth conversation and I’m super comfortable, talk to me about the weather or who won a recent TV show and I’m out. However, the whole group got to know each other so quickly and it was great to have such meaningful conversation to get us through the long walk.
I’d also forgotten the impact of sleeping in a tent. Waking up to natural light helped to reset my body clock and I found that I was more awake and ready to go much earlier in the morning (which is a bit of a miracle for me – usually my brain doesn’t wake up until later in the day). The strangest part of the day was settling down into my sleeping bag in the tent alone. Listening to the night settle in outside, I was able to rest my head and start to think about preparing myself for day 2 of the trek.
For the full trip posts, visit the links below:
Transylvania Trek 1: Moeciu to Cheile Gradistei
Transylvania Trek 2: Bucegi Massif
Transylvania Trek 3: Castle Bran and Piatra Craiului Mountains
Transylvania Trek 4: Postavarul Massif, Tampa Mountains and Braşov