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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Year's worth of walking firmly packed in one day... or: the Hiking Marathon


"Follow the heart" - the official motto of the Marathon

Lack of physical activity is more fatal than alcohol and tobacco and this was officially announced by sports experts at the end of 2011. The World Health Organisation has recently ranked a lack of physical activity the infamous first cause of all diseases, except contagious.
Bearing all this in mind, doctors advise us to be active and only active, to run, to walk, to ride a bicycle. As early as in the 18th century, a doctor and a great sage, J. Tisseau concluded the following:
"The effects of physical activity
may substitute any medical substance,
but all medical substances in the world
cannot substitute the effects of physical activity”..
I'm running a bit late on this; since it has been exactly one week that I have finished my route on the Walking Marathon in Fruška gora (it'll be easier for me to show you the picture, no?)

We started where the marker is.

Both start and the finish line are at the same spot. There are many people who laughed at us saying: we do nothing but walk in a circle all day long. Yes, yes we do. And we quite much like it. 

...there is a LOT of us who like it

I'll be honest with you. I brought my camera with me. But, I am not a picture-taking person. I know, many say that pictures take them back every time they look at them. For me, it is not like that. Personally, every time I have to stop and take a shot, I have to pay much more attention to my camera, to the angles, the quality.. and I fail to SEE the image, I fail to FEEL the area. So, I've decided not to shoot (that and.. I had a friend who did more than a couple of shots.. I'm just waiting on him to share the images with me)

Let's start with the path:

As you can see there are areas marked as "KT", meaning "control punkt" (what is the proper word for that.. I suppose "stop" - since those are the stops where you can rest, refuel and even get coffee).
Also, you can see there are many ways to take your hiking the the level you are most comfortable at. For us, the biggest one (going through every stop, making the 111km long walk) was unimaginable, so we have opted for Eastern Small marathon that is 35 kilometers long.. or so we thought.

I woke up at 5:30 AM (nothing odd for me, as a matter of fact that is my usual time, since my work starts every day at 7 AM). My friends and me (total of nine people), we divided yourselves in two groups, and took two cars to get to the city. In the city, we left the car and took the bus. You can't drive your car up the mountain on the day of the Marathon, unless you are trying to stop all traffic. ONLY specially marked buses were allowed up the mountain that day. 

We have started at 9 AM, at the mountain home. All of us, all 10.000 of us start at the same spot. But, just a few kilometers later is the first dividing: to East and West. That was an easy one - we chose East long time ago, so we moved on.
Reaching the first stop is the hardest. Funny thing, because it's only 2,8 kilometers. But, your feet are unused to the mountain terrain, and the massive crowd is making it hard to walk on your own pace. Someone falls down, someone is pushing you.. but we managed.

Here, you can see the dividing markers.
THIS is where the biggest decisions are made: 
are you braving out the amazing 100 kilometers
or are you braving out your own distance?!

Second stop.
Walking from first to second punkt was not hard. For me. As there was two of us familiar with the trail, we agreed that one would lead and the other would be at the back, so that our group can take a safe journey. I took the back of the group. As we were walking I noticed the struggle that some of my friends were having while walking. You see, this was their first time ever to go to this mountain, and they have never walked up and down the mountain paths.
On the second stop we have made a decision NOT to take the 35 kilometer route, but to make is shorter, and you can see the path we took marked in green, on the map in the picture above. 25 kilometers. I did not want to risk and of our friends getting too tired in the middle of the forest (I've seen it countless times: kids sitting next to the path, crying: they could no longer go back to the previous stop, they had no strength to carry on).

We slowed down.
And Nature was kind to us: there was no rain, no wind. The sun was gorgeously shining upon us as we walked next to monasteries, next to centuries old trees, over the tiny rivers.

Image above is from my personal favorite part of the entire path. This is a part from Point 7 to Point 8 (the monastery Hopovo). Here, you walk at your own pace, there are no slopes, no need to push ourselves. This part is where you let your mind flow as you truly get to follow your heart.
Now, once you reach the monastery.. there's tea!
It's too sweet, and t's served in cheapest plastic use-it-once glasses, and it's mint.. but, it is by far the BEST tea you're ever going to have. Why say this? Someone like ME? Someone who worships the art of taking tea?! 
Because it was made with love and care. Those people that served us came there for US. To give us a hot beverage, to comfort us, to share a smile. And, by that time - you'd need a smile. 
(and a bathroom, but for that you'd have to satisfy with a going behind the bush with a friend to "guard your position" from unwanted intruders) :)

So, we changed our socks, had sandwiches.. and moved on. 
Soon after that, we headed back into the forest.

A friend asked me "How long is this path?"
What to answer her? I've asked her how tired she was. "Quite much" she replied.
"Well, once you feel like your soul is leaving you through your nose - we're half way there". This was the hardest part of the Marathon for us. There were some heavily muddy paths so narrow that only one person can walk at a time, and yet there was a great fall to those who are un-carefuller and slip from it. There were steeps so strong that I've seen people walking them on all fours. Your lungs are bursting.. you can feel the blood going into your face as you sweat going up, and up.. and (yes) up.
...and then you see it:

End of our misery.

Last stop before the finish line.
We stopped to notice that two of our friends are missing. I've let them stay behind, because they insisted that I move on, and they'll "catch up" with me in "no time".
"No time" turned to ten minutes. And with no cell reception, and no way back (you can't go back, since going down the mountain at that stage in impossible, the paths are so narrow and steep, you're be danger to those struggling to get up).
Fifteen minutes.
I got up and started searching for a Mountain Ranger. At that moment I saw them waving, yelling "have you missed us?" and smiling. The scare they gave us..

Another steep, another downhill. Truth to be told, once you've walked for some 6+ hours, your mind becomes blank. It stops caring for another 5 more kilometers you have to walk to get to your destination, it just takes you there. You walk not thinking about the walking.
Naturally, I thought. I had many thoughts, mainly about getting all my friends some special creme I had at home; used to cool down over-forced muscles. Because, I knew how much it hurts once your body finally tells your brain "we have lied down, we can hurt now".
So much thought was running in my mind, until I saw it..

LAST kilometer!

Getting another stamp in my Hiking Book, getting another day like this in my life.. and sharing it with my friends. All the pre-work was worth it. All the planning was worth it. Even having the sewing equipment was worth it (yes, we had an emergency with one of the backpacks).

I hope I have given you a glimpse of what I felt a week ago.
Have a great weekend my friends!


  1. What an incredible effort, well done and congratulations to you and all your friends on such a sterling job! The scenery looked amazing, and I love the sound of tea at the monastery. A really fabulous achievement. P x

    1. Thank you, dear.
      Your words mean a lot to me, because this truly was an effort for all of us (you see, we live in a plain, and only day we hike on a mountain is once a year on that precise marathon). On other days we prefer riding our bikes.
      Tea was, as I've written, nothing I'd take on a normal day.... but the best one ever. :)