The big toenail of my right foot is turning blue. My skin is suspiciously red in places. My legs are sore and my head aches. Diagnosis: overexertion. Cause: a 32km hike in the Baiului Mountains on Tuesday (+1611hm -1933hm). It was a beautiful and enjoyable hike most of the time, but a bit longer than planned. This is what happened.
My alarm goes off at 6am; I am out of bed by 6:10. Snoozed only once! I manage to catch the bus just after 7am; which, I think, will drop me off right in front of the station. After a while, I see we pass by the station at a distance; I assume we will make a slight detour and duly arrive there in a few minutes. Buses do that, after all – take detours. But after two more stops I realize this one is only moving away from the station, and I jump off, in a bit of a panick. I start running towards where I think the station is; I check on Google Maps and see I’m running in the wrong direction. I run back to the main road and start waving my arms wildly at taxis. Quite soon, I manage to catch a driver’s attention. ‘Gara?!’ I shout. ‘I’ll be back in a few minutes!’ he shouts back. I decide to wait for him and stop making a fool of myself waving at other taxis. He is my best bet; it looks like I’m going to miss that train anway. But there is a bus at eight. Sure enough, the taxi driver soon returns; fortunately, he is the helpful and communicative type. I tell him about my predicament; he agrees that I’m not going to make my train and will drive me to the bus station and help me find my bus. If that fails, he can take me to Azuga by taxi.
Since that is probably going to cost me, I am quite keen on getting on that bus. We arrive at the bus station; he quickly hunts down a bus driver and finds out there is indeed a bus at eight, however, it terminates at Predeal. The bus driver assures me there is another bus from Predeal to Azuga about ten minutes after our scheduled arrival. I decide to take the bus and profusely thank my taxi driver. I regret my decision almost instantaneously; it is rush hour and the bus is slow. Since fretting doesn’t make it go any faster I start to study all the notices on board the bus: ‘No smoking.’ The driver turns a blind eye to this himself. ‘Please wear your seatbelt.’ No seatbelts are available. ‘Do not place your luggage on a chair.’ Three of these. Everyone does this anyway. I’m a culprit too. ‘Please buy your ticket before departure and not from the driver to prevent congestion and delay.’ That isn’t even possible. You have to buy it from the driver.
The bus arrives at Predeal station around 8:40; a bus to Azuga should arrive any moment. However, it doesn’t, so I decide to try hitchhiking. After half a minute, I see someone waving from the corner of my eye: a man in a stationary car signals that I can join him. I beckon to another girl who is desperately trying to get to Azuga in time for something. We both hand the driver our bus fares, and he drops me off at the start of the trail (OK, 500m further up because I missed it) at 9:15. Which means I lost only 45 minutes. Not bad at all. I start walking up the trail to the ridge at a mad speed to make up for the lost time and to vent my frustrations.
After about 3km on the trail, I get a wonderful surprise: a meadow opens up in front of me and I see some hairy creatures. At first I think it’s sheep – then I notice the piglets. It’s a family of wild boar, foraging for whatever it is they eat. As soon as they notice me, mummy and daddy make a dash for the nearby forest under loud grunts – the five little ones follow suit. When I arrive at the spot where they entered the forest, they are nowhere to be seen. It makes me realize how easy it is for animals to hide and how many there are probably around me a lot of the time without me noticing.
Invigorated, I soon arrive at the chairlift station, eat an apple and start heading south over the ridge, with beautiful views of the Bucegi to my right. Things are going really well; my average speed keeps going up – I walk long stretches at 5.5 km/h. The trail is supposed to be about 26km and so far it has been well marked, so when I stop for lunch after 14km, I expect I will need under four hours to complete it. After a while, I realize that if I keep going this fast I can even make the 16:40 train; that seems a fine goal so I keep taking large strides. The trail is now a gravel road so the going is easy.
Because of this lofty goal I don’t allow myself any breaks – not even to check my location. And that, of course, is a mistake. When I do check, I find out that I am not 3km away from my goal as I assumed, but about 2.5km off the trail. Dismayed, I turn around and retrace my steps, uphill – the sun straight in my face. By the time I find the very inconspicuous and unmarked path that I should have followed, my feet are swollen and sore. The trail is grassy now though, so I take my shoes off until I reach the edge of the forest, and a new hut. There is a fire, so there should be someone around. According to the owner, it should take me about three quarters of an hour to reach Posada, my destination. I notice waymarks so I cheerfully start descending – but the waymarks soon disappear again and my GPS tells my I am off the official trail. I start pacing back up to find the trail, but there is no other trail – I head back down the same way again and hear voices: the guests of the hut owner. I am on the right trail after all. However, soon the path forks; waymarks disappear and I am at a loss again. This happens about three times: waymarks disappear, the path forks, and I have to somehow figure out which way to take. It takes me much longer than 45 minutes to reach the railway halt at Posada. I arrive just eight minutes before the 18:39 train comes in – and when it does I tear up. My husband can follow my progress via a tracker app and texts me ‘Well done, you were fast!’. Fast, yes – but I didn’t plan to walk an extra six kilometres and injure my feet.
I alight at Bușteni station and stumble to my pension – why did I have to pick the highest pension with the best view of the mountains again?! I buy an icecream half way to soothe my sore throat; it melts fast and half of it falls on the street. Upon my arrival I realize I don’t want to make my way down into town again to find dinner. I ask my host if I can order pizza anywhere and she kindly offers to make the call for me. I’m glad she did because it turns out it isn’t all that easy to order a pizza in Bușteni: I can’t order a drink because they only have the type that comes in glass deposit bottles. My host changes her tune and tells the pizza guy to buy the drink at another shop. Apparently he has doubts about the whole transaction, because I hear my host impatiently reply with ‘Yes, yes, she will pay – all of it.’ My order arrives after half an hour, and is delivered by taxi. The pizza isn’t great, but I’m not all that hungry anyway, even though my Suunto watch tells me I’ve burned over 4000 calories.
As I reflect on the day and my situation, I realize that I am in no fit state to continue into the Bucegi Mountains the next day – I can hardly walk. It makes me feel sad; I so wanted to go on a multi-day hike and now I’ve ruined it. Except I can’t really blame myself: yes, I missed a turn, but these things happen – the trail wasn’t well marked and I’m only human. (I blame the bewitching cricket choir that lured me into the wrong valley.) Also, I’ve only just started hiking again, so it is only normal it takes some time to get back on track: I need to learn the tricks of the trade again and build up stamina. But still, situations like these are hard to accept.
My sister is getting married on the first of June – I may not be able to squeeze in another hike before that. Which I find very frustrating, but I’ll have to deal with it. The fact that I started so early this year means that I’m ahead of schedule anyway; so everything I get done before the end of this month is a bonus. So far I can tick off five walks, three mountain ranges and 87 kilometres. I suppose that isn’t bad for the first three weeks. But it seems so little, especially compared to what is still ahead of me.
I’ll try to stop fretting over this. But I like to be in control and clearly I’m not. But there is one thing I can do, except for the obligatory ‘rest and digest’: find new shoes. I’m already fed up with my boots – I might turn to trail runners next. I hate to say it, but I just haven’t become very good friends with my boots (Hanwag Yukon, B/C category); the toebox is too small for me and the heelcup too large, so I keep sliding forward no matter how ingeniously and tightly I lace them up. And they’re just so… bulky. I want something lighter. So time for some explorations. This article on trail runners vs boots seems a good start.
I don’t quite know how to end this story – perhaps because this hike was a bit of a loose end. But that’s part of my job; I can’t tell the mountains how to behave, or order better marked trails. I think I sort of forgot to mention the Baiului is beautiful and worth hiking in – if you follow the GPS trail closely. I’ll upload mine here as soon as I’ve edited all the ‘lost bits’ out of it. Well. I’ll try to not let a little hardship knock me off my game. So hopefully I will be back with new stories (and new feet) soon!
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