Life, Hiking, Apple Pie & The Mountains Of Romania

Life, Hiking, Apple Pie & The Mountains Of Romania

By |2016-07-01T15:33:48+00:00July 15th, 2013|Perspectives, Romania|53 Comments

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?


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  1. Ariana August 1, 2013 at 5:31 am - Reply

    Exploring Life is the hardest lesson. Sometimes we make good and bad decisions but the result still depends on our own choice. It’s inspiring you never gave up and you are dedicated to continue with your goal. I love the place and your fun experience. Lovely insight. Thanks for the post!

  2. Travel Tips & Hacks July 28, 2013 at 4:35 am - Reply

    What an inspiring post..As with life, indeed there is no beauty nor strength without struggle. And dude, you had me at wood-fired apple pie.

  3. Kirill July 25, 2013 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Hey Earl,
    Awesome site, mate! I’ve been traveling on and off for the last 15 years and my country counter currently stands at 94:-) I’m heading out to Romania in a month, actually kicking off a RTW trip there in fact. Any tips on Maramures, Bucovina and Western Romania? Will be passing through those places on the way to Serbia. If you are around, would love to grab a drink with you and share some travel tales)

    • Wandering Earl July 26, 2013 at 9:55 am - Reply

      Hey Kirill – Welcome to the site and congrats on all of your traveling as well! I’ve never been to Maramures unfortunately and I’ll be going to Bucovina for the first time next week. So I can let you know once that trip is over. Apart from that, I’m generally based out of Bucharest, so if you are headed this way at all (I know it’s not on the way to Serbia but just in case), do let me know!

  4. Catalina July 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    Hey Earl!
    I was wondering, were you hiking to Curmătura Lodge? The pictures look familiar, and their apple pie too.
    Congrats if you were, the trail (and Piatra Craiului in general) is amazing!

    • Wandering Earl July 24, 2013 at 10:31 am - Reply

      Hey Catalina – Yes, it was to Curmatura Lodge 🙂

  5. Kristin of Be My Travel Muse July 22, 2013 at 5:20 am - Reply

    I had a weird dream the other night about climbing a mountain. The first time, I thought it was tough and I struggled. The second time, it was easier. The third time, I crushed my previous time and found it easy, and so did all of the people who climbed it with me. Then, we set our sights on a higher mountain. I woke up and climbed Kawah Ijen in Java. Weird how mountains can be so symbolic and literal at the same time. Timely post!

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 9:08 am - Reply

      Hey Kristin – That’s a cool dream and real life experience combined!

  6. kle July 22, 2013 at 1:59 am - Reply

    Travels and life have so many similitude. I believe in a very simple concept: the things you appreciate the most are those you worked hard to get. Being a difficult hike, a long exhausting swim to reach a secluded beach (i did it and it’s been on of the most scary/rewarding moments of my life). It’s all about overcome a challenge and taste our small (or big) victories. In every aspect of our life. And traveling in particular present you with some very difficult challenges. I loved this post, made me think a lot about my own experiences as well.

  7. Charlie July 20, 2013 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    How has travelling affected your accent?
    Over your 13 years or so travelling has accent turned into a jumble of intonation’s and rhythms or just stayed pretty much the same as the day you first left for Southeast Asia?

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 9:10 am - Reply

      Hey Charlie – My accent is a little mixed up, or at least that’s what I’ve gathered. Sometimes people think I’m Australia, other times European and on occasion they immediately guess American. It’s definitely transformed over the years and tends to change depending on where I am in the world.

  8. Shelley July 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    WHAT A GEM of a blog! I just discovered this today on a non-busy Friday at work. I am particularly interested in reading more about your time in India because I just moved back to Canada from there 7 months ago. I lived in Hyderabad for almost 5 years, married an Indian man and gave birth to two children (one in India). I also love to travel and have been to about 20 countries, which is really not even making a dent into all the places I’d still love to go.
    Anyway, I’ll definitely be reading and living vicariously through you. Thank you for this blog. Really. You are an inspiration.

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 9:12 am - Reply

      Hey Shelley – Welcome to the site and it’s always great to connect with someone who has also spent so much time in India! I look forward to communicating some more.

  9. mark johnson July 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Excellent analogy, “life” and “mountains.” As a long time climber and resident of Lovely Ouray, Colorado, mountains have provided all the necessary lessons I need to “live” a fulfilling life…as long as I can continue to avoid the fatal slip, I’m loving it.
    Nice post.
    Box Canyon Mark

  10. thefancyvoyager July 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Just started following your website a while ago and I love how you always have a light touch to your writing! And its great how you linked hiking to life, giving it some sweat and hopefully the next corner turned will be a beautiful one!

  11. Yeison July 19, 2013 at 1:16 am - Reply

    Great post Earl, I hope to be able to visit Romania one day, I live in Costa Rica and we have nice paths for hiking too. Keep the excelent job and thanks for being an inspiration for many traveler.

    Pura vida !

  12. Cynthia July 17, 2013 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Hiking in another country is exhilarating. I had a moment in a snowy mountain hike in Scotland where I thought it’d be my last hike ever, so I felt the first part of this article was describing just that. I love your metaphor about hiking and life and find that to be so true. Love this article. And an example of me overcoming an obstacle would be swimming. I kept running away from my fear of water and failed so many times to try to learn. But, as soon as I had enough of being conquered by my cowardice, I finally was able to let go and was able to learn extremely fast. Now, I love being in the water. Failing and bumpy roads just help us grow even stronger. We find out so much about ourselves when we face a challenge and especially when we overcome them. Thanks for the article Earl.

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:57 am - Reply

      Hey Cynthia – They do help us grow and learn and without that, life would get quite boring. Just putting in an effort to overcome a challenge, even if we don’t succeed, is still well worth the experience.

  13. Abigail Smycken Handmade July 17, 2013 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Hey Earl! If you are still in Romania in September I recommend the Balkan music festival at the end of the month. You are going to have a great time! 😀

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:57 am - Reply

      Hey Abigail – Thanks for the recommendation but unfortunately, I’ll be headed to India at the end of September. Sounds great though!

  14. Gabriel @ We Travel and Blog July 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Oh man, that reminded me of this time I went hiking in the Great Falls park in Maryland and we where free climbing some cliff walls. My friend goes ahead of me and I follow a couple of steps behind. He made it to the type and I’m about half way through when it starts pouring rain. Instantly all of the rocks got 10 times more slippery and the fear kicked in. I had just made a move that didn’t allow for me to retrace my steps so I had to keep going up. I managed to snap out of the fear but it was an intense moment.

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:47 am - Reply

      Hey Gabriel – I can imagine. Once you put that foot forward though, there’s often no turning back, or at least that’s a good mentality to have.

  15. Gilbert July 16, 2013 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Hi Ania, where is Magura exactly ?

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:50 am - Reply

      Hey Gilbert – It’s just a village a few kilometers above Zarnesti, not so far from Bran.

  16. jennifer July 16, 2013 at 10:25 am - Reply

    What an inspiring post. It really shows how traveling can broaden your mind. You learn so much more about yourself and human nature in general than you could ever learn by sitting at a desk for eight hours a day.

  17. Cosmin July 16, 2013 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Hello Earl,

    My name is Cosmin and I’m Romanian. I really liked your post and I’m happy you made it to the top of the hill. I hope you enjoyed “vinul fiert” and I also hope you had a chance to tasta “tuica” or to eat some “sarmale”.

    I just discovered your blog and I’ll come back to follow your adventures!


    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:51 am - Reply

      Hey Cosmin – Welcome to the site and yes, I have tried plenty of tuica and sarmale! I actually just got back from a friend’s family gathering this past weekend in the countryside and it was nonstop food and drink, all of which was quite wonderful!

  18. cindy singer July 16, 2013 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Your post couldn’t have been better timed. We started our rtw trip in May and have stayed in a different hostel every 2-4 nights. After having a particularly tough time in Arusha, Tanzania, I thought I had enough and insisted we stay in one place a bit longer. Here we are now in Zanzibar with the understanding that we’ll stay at least one week. Well, it’s only been 3 nights, and I can see us moving on already.

    Life is an adventure, and with each misstep comes new knowledge. We always say that in the end, we’ll have quite a story to tell along with all the memories. We laugh at the people who tell us we’re crazy for going to some of the places we’ve traveled, meanwhile, they’ve hardly been out of their own backyard. Who knows what’s around the next corner. We learn from our mistakes and will continue to grow. I don’t want to be one of those people who say, “Oh, I wish I had done ……” We’re on this earth but a short time; I want to push myself, I don’t want to get stale. Going out of my comfort zone is a challenge, but that’s what I need.

    Sometimes I might need a reminder, Earl, so thanks for that reminder. I’m moving on and not looking back (except through my pictures).

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:52 am - Reply

      Hey Cindy – Just keep on enjoying the journey and after this trip of yours, you will undoubtedly have quite a tale to tell 🙂

  19. Adrian July 16, 2013 at 5:38 am - Reply

    Glad to hear you’re OK after that hike and I hope the tall glass of vin fiert has helped you recover faster 🙂

    I totally agree with you: life can often feel like a difficult hike, but if we aim for that nice piece of homemade apple pie and that tall glass of vin fiert after every challenge, chances are we’ll make it through safely every time.

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:53 am - Reply

      Hey Adrian – Yes, yes, yes. And the vin fiert was an ideal way to take a break for sure!

  20. Runawayhippie July 16, 2013 at 1:06 am - Reply

    Wow! Very nice post! This is one of the bet ones I’ve read! So inspiring and so true. The analogy of hiking to life was very well articulated. Thank you!

  21. Isabella Rose July 16, 2013 at 12:22 am - Reply

    I also love to hike, especially when I can find spectacular, forgotten trails that no one else is on. (Probably not the smartest thing for a solo female traveler, but still….)

    It is a good metaphor for life. There are those that I know who will get to a trail, and then refuse to go any further.

    “There is sand in my shoe…my shoes will get dirty…what if something happens?”

    And so they go back.

    But I have noticed that they are the same ones who never venture out in life, and always life worried about will happen next.

    I suppose the world needs both though, in one way or another.

    I enjoy being the more adventurous type though. 🙂

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:54 am - Reply

      Hey Isabella – In that case, all you can do is continuing seeking out more adventures.

  22. Motivation | wandering rush July 15, 2013 at 11:29 pm - Reply

    […] that one). His blog is always inspiring, but this post really motivated me. You can check it out here. It’s called “Life, Hiking, Apple Pie, & the Mountains of Romania and is a very […]

  23. Someday I'll Be There - Mina July 15, 2013 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    I’ve told you before, and now I know more than back then that you’ll enjoy it, walk the Camino de Santiago!

    I’ve experienced those exact feelings/thoughts while walking and write a few posts about it (it is what made me start writing in the first place) and I agree with what you said about life being resembled by a long hike, with all its hardships and ups and downs, but there are always moments of happiness along the way, and the destination (goal in real life) is always worth that long tiring hike

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:55 am - Reply

      Hey Mina – Haha…I know, I know. It’s on my list I swear!

  24. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures July 15, 2013 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    Wow what an incredibly poignant post my friend!

  25. Verena July 15, 2013 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Oh Earl, what would I do without you and your lovely blog? <3

    I will take this post as the sign for me to tell you my story, which I wanted to do ever since:

    When I was younger, I hated going to other places and always preferred to stay at home for the whole duration of all my vacations. Then, in my last year of highschool, I made a 180-degree-shift and decided that I wanted to spend 6 months in India all by myself. You think that's a little bit bold? So thought everyone else, but I still sticked to my plan and was sure I would have an amazing time.

    Three days before my plane would take off, I had an accident in which I broke my spine and my left sacral bone. Everything was cancelled and I spent months and months recovering, learning walking again, and was dismissed from hospital with 5 big screws in my body. You can probably imagine how I interpreted my accident: I had been too naive, everything I had wanted to do would've been way too dangerous, and I would probably have died somewhere abroad if this hadn't happened to me. That was in last September.

    Still I knew I wanted to see the world and again started to organise things when I knew that I would fully recover. Finally, everything was set: I would spend 4 weeks in Dubai for an internship, then fly to Delhi, travel to Kathmandu via bus and train from there, and see the Taj Mahal and Varanasi on my way.
    But during my weeks in Dubai, I got cold feet again – everyone kept telling me that this "border-crossing-thing" would be way too dangerous, that I was way too inexperienced, and so on. In the end I was convinced to stay at a family's friend in Kerala – and there I was, the most unhappy person on earth. It took me one week to realize that I didn't want to spend two weeks in a yoga center somwhere in the deepest outskirts of South India, I wanted to see the Taj Mahal!! And so I travelled all the way up in night trains and busses, had the most inspiring day in Mumbai, and finally came to see the Taj Mahal on a thursday, 5 minutes before they would stop the entrance.

    I've learned a lot about myself in those two weeks and now know that you shouldn't care too much about advices that people who haven't travelled in said country before want to give you.

    When I came back from the journey I just told you about, I had my screws removed and am now more or less restored. Three weeks after the surgery I set off for a six-weeks hitchhiking tour through Europe all by myself, not caring at all about anything anyone had to say about how unbelievably dangerous was going to be. And here I am – still alive, and a million experiences, encounters and amazing moments richer. Ha! 😀

    As you see, I indeed did face some challenges in my life. Through all this time you and your blog have accompanied, inspired and motivated me. I'm sure I wouldn't have done a lot of the things I have done if there wasn't you and your blog. And there's still so much to come. Thank you Earl!

    If anyone wants to read about the Europe-Trip, feel free to click on my name above (:

  26. Jaunting Jen July 15, 2013 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    Great post Earl! I love hiking as well and try a new trail almost every weekend at Shenandoah National Park.

  27. Forest Parks July 15, 2013 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Nice post Earl! I’ve made these sort of comparisons for my own life when doing my wanderings, especially in New Zealand where I did some really tough walks (worth every second).

    Just that moment to stand on the top and take in everything you have done, before bringing yourself back down to earth and planning the next hill to climb.

  28. Steve C July 15, 2013 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    I’ve also always used:”Ya never know what’s around the next corner” as inspiration when the trail gets tough. I guess I’ve always been an optimist by thinking the unknown just over the hill is always going to be better than where I am now. I know of no other alternative as to how to think of the future.

    Great post Earl. You’re a never ending breath of fresh air, ray of sunshine and path to happy trails around the world!

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:45 am - Reply

      Hey Steve – And even if the unknown over the hill turns out not be as good as we had hoped, there’s plenty of more unknown to try and reach!

  29. Ania July 15, 2013 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    So great to read! I was just in Magura 4 weeks ago and did many hikes in the same area! I have a picture on that same trail.. except there were far more cows in my way! Magical place. If you ever go back I highly recommend Hille Guesthouse, amazingly hospitable hosts.

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:44 am - Reply

      Hey Ania – I saw Hille Guesthouse actually and it looked very nice as well.

  30. Linda July 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    Inspirational post! Lots of food for thought.

  31. Traveling Ted July 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Great post. I love the metaphor for a hike in the woods to life. Reminds me of a Robert Frost poem.

  32. Nita July 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Great comparisons and analogies between life and hiking. The most difficult paths often lead to the most rewarding outcomes! Lovely post Earl 🙂

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:44 am - Reply

      Thank you Nita 🙂

  33. Owen July 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Wonderful post Earl! (As always 🙂

    I love hiking on my travels as well and I could relate to literally everything you wrote. I’ve also found that as with travel I’ve tended to meet particularly interesting people when hiking. Some of the interesting places I’ve seen and some of the best shortcuts have come by making wrong turns.

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:43 am - Reply

      Hey Owen – Wrong turns are definitely quite often the best turns!

  34. July 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    Great post Earl! I love hiking too and try a new trail almost every weekend at Shenandoah National Park.

    • Wandering Earl July 22, 2013 at 8:43 am - Reply

      Hey Jen – I’ll have to try out some hiking in that region as well at some point!

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