Day 64: Into the Mountains
I’m going to start this post with an aside. That I even have the opportunity to travel the way I have been for the past two months makes me one of the most fortunate people in the world. Compounding that opportunity with all of the amazing experiences I’ve had and great people I’ve met and spent time with makes me pretty much the luckiest man on the planet. I don’t know how to begin expressing how grateful I am to have lived through the past few months. To all of those I’ve been able to share these days with, all of those I will share future days with, and everyone helping and supporting me back home — thank you.
Now … it’s time to head out for a two day hike.
We leave Ivano-Frankivsk at about 8:00 on a bus that will wind through villages picking up baboosya’s ( grandmothers ) by the side of the road and dropping them off at various markets further down the road. At times the bus is standing-room only ( and not even much of that left ), at others it is only about half full. We are on the bus for about 3 hours.
Luck is not with us today. The weather is cold and wet. My feet are freezing and all of us are layering up with jackets and sweaters. To solve the frozen foot issue, we search through a street market and grab some hand-knit wool socks that should provide extra warmth.
From here, we have to grab a taxi that will take us down some rough, backcountry dirt roads to our starting point. The whole ordeal takes another hour or so, putting us at the trail and ready to start hiking around noon. We grab a snack of bread, sausage, and cheese and head out.
The Carpathian mountains are beautiful and the wet, cloudy day adds to their beauty in a sort of way. Once we are walking, our body’s generate enough internal heat to not even notice the cold.
The first couple of hours are all uphill, but on a gradual slope so it’s not too difficult. The trails in the area are small and not strongly marked, giving a true sense of being out in the wild.
A popular pastime in Ukraine is to go mushroom hunting in the woods. We passed a couple of groups of people who were doing just that as we hiked up the mountain. How do people know what mushrooms to pick? Well, really, you can always eat any mushroom you want. It’s just that some of them you can only eat once.
As we neared the top of our hike, the fog was extremely thick. Not only that, but everything was soaking wet — including my feet ( even with a double layer of socks ).
The wet and the cold would not be much of a problem, except that wet wood does not burn and we would be unable to build a campfire to get dry and stay warm overnight. After a bit of discussion, we decided that instead of staying overnight in the mountains we would return and stay in a relatively nearby village with the parents of one of my fellow hikers.
After getting down the mountain, we walked a bit through a small, remote village where a cow decided to try to eat my hoodie while I was petting it.
It’s a good thing we decided to return when we did, because as we reached the bottom of the mountain it began snowing. We got picked up about an hour after dark and drove through snow and fog to my friend’s parent’s house where we had an amazing, huge dinner that included borsch, rabbit, and other tasty dishes.
At the end of the day we had hiked 22 kilometers through mountainous forests covered in fog. Sure, we ended up not camping up there, but I’m grateful to be under a warm roof with good food in my belly instead of struggling through a night of snow, cold, and fog without a fire.