The Mountains of Romania

For a moment, I thought it might have been the end. The path was steeper than I had expected and I had some serious doubts that this was even a path at all. I took another step, trying to hold on to a flimsy branch to maintain my balance….and then I slipped. The branch broke off and I was going down, sliding along the muddy incline with no end in sight. I prepared myself to tumble over the rocks, and to get banged up quite badly, on my way to the bottom of the hill, far below.

I probably slid for a mere three seconds in the end but it was an intense three seconds. Had I not stopped where and when I did, I would have been in some serious trouble. But somehow, I managed to cling to a patch of grass, to which I held on tightly in order to avoid another potentially dangerous fall and to figure out my next move at the same time. And there I remained for a while, stuck and holding on for my life, and all I could do was laugh at the fact that I was now covered in mud only ten minutes after my hike had begun.

So, that was how my seven hour wander through the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, inside of the Piatra Craiului National Reserve, got off to a start this past weekend. I did manage to slowly inch my way down eventually and after tripping over a few rocks near the bottom and stepping directly into a creek that I hand’t noticed, I found myself back on track and ready to continue the adventure.

Piatra Craiului, Romania

A Long, Difficult Hike

Hiking around mountains and through forests is one of my favorite activities while traveling the world. It’s something I do whenever I have a chance simply because, as is the case for so many others of course, extended periods of time in nature tends to be remarkably therapeutic, especially for someone who also spends extended periods of time staring at a computer screen.

Interestingly enough, however, it wasn’t until this past weekend that I realized the similarities between the hiking I enjoy so much and my life in general. And I made this realization while eating a piece of homemade, wood-fired apple pie and drinking a tall glass of vin fiert at a remote mountain lodge, halfway through my hike the other day.

When I, or anyone else, begins a hike, we must choose a particular path before we can start walking. Then, once on that path, we tend to start off moving quite quickly, perhaps a little too quickly as our overexcitement about the adventure ahead and our overconfidence in our stamina and strength takes control. Undoubtedly, the path we chose will soon have its twists, it will have its turns and chances are it will have its ups and downs as well. There will be moments of ease and then, as soon as we turn a corner, we will encounter moments of hardship.

Hiking the Carpathian Mountains

Just think about those times when you are hiking along, humming a tune, wide smile across your face…and then you come around a bend only to find yourself at the foot of a steep, steep incline. You tell yourself it will be easy and you begin to tackle the climb, step by step.

After a short while, a bead of sweat drips down your forehead, your breathing becomes heavier and you begin to feel some discomfort in your thighs, in your knees, in your back. You try your best to push forward with that same excitement that you started the day with, but the path only gets more difficult.

As you continue to climb, the clouds appear and before long, it begins to rain and you are now forced to trudge through slippery, muddy conditions. You stop for a quick rest and now you can’t help but wonder if this hike was such a good idea after all. The idea of giving up, turning around and heading back down the mountain creeps into your mind as your steps become shorter and shorter and your heart beats harder and harder.

A minute later, you need to stop for yet another break, hands on knees, breathing ever more deeply, sweating, wincing in pain, wishing this hike was just over and wondering what on earth you were ever so excited about in the first place.

But somehow, despite that pain, after a few gulps of water, you summon an extra ounce of energy, just enough to make it over the next hill. One foot in front of the other, you move on, through the mud, over the rocks and then…

…you look up and find yourself staring out at a wide, lush green valley surrounded by a massive forest of beautiful pine trees, you hear the meditative sound of the bells swinging from the necks of the grazing cows below, you watch the dark clouds part, as if on cue, and the sun begin to shine, providing you with a warmth and joy that, for a little while, you had forgotten was even possible.

Magura, Romania

A short distance away, you see a small mountain lodge, the lodge that you never thought you would find. With an extra bounce in your step, you now continue walking until you reach that lodge, where you immediately find other hikers hanging around. Some are taking photos, others are chatting away and some are simply standing on the balcony admiring the undeniably awesome view.

You go inside and meet the friendly lodge owners, a family that has lived for so many years in these isolated mountains. You have a great conversation with them before ordering a piece of their homemade, wood-fired apple pie and that tall glass of vin fiert you’ve been waiting for and you sit down on a bench to enjoy your well-deserved rest. And at this point, you realize that the mud no longer matters, that every drop of sweat was well worth it, that the pain in your legs and back have vanished…and that your mind is clearer and happier than it’s been in a long time.

Apple Pie in Piatra Craiului, Romania

The confidence, the inspiration, the excitement returns and now you can’t wait for the second half of your hike to begin.

Life Is Like A Long Hike

Life, and hiking, do not involve flat paths through forests filled with enchanting sounds, endless fruits and dancing hobbits inviting you to celebration after celebration after celebration. They involve ever-changing paths instead, paths that wind and climb and descend, paths that are sometimes light and sometimes dark, paths that feel secure and paths that make us afraid…and everything in between.

But the good news is that you never know what you’ll find around the next corner. It could be a steeper hill or it could be the most amazing view you’ve ever witnessed. You may meet other hikers along the way, perhaps some that you connect with, or you might end up on a long stretch of path all alone. You’ll probably feel some pain from time to time and you’ll suffer and you’ll question many of the decisions you’ve made as you stumble towards your goals, but you’ll also experience the absolute best and most inspiring that this world has to offer.

The important thing is to understand that you must climb uphill at times, you must sweat, you must get dirty, you must face moments of confusion and moments when all you feel is lost. Only then will you have a chance to experience the benefits and the wonders of life, most of which lie on the other side of those difficult challenges.

If you give up, though, and run back down the mountain at the first sign of hardship…well, I personally don’t want to know what happens then.

Have you faced the challenges that have appeared in your life or do you tend to back away? Any examples of overcoming difficult times and being rewarded in the end?