Five things I learned in Romania in 2017

So, this is the post I intended to write before the end of last year – but although the clock doesn’t cheat, the way we experience time differs from time to time, person to person. Never mind –  January is still a fine month to do some reflecting. These are some of the things I learned in Romania last year. I haven’t read my notes for a while so I will probably do some re-learning while I write. 🙂

1. Adjust your walking poles

Fortunately, this is something I learned early on this year. I never thought about adjusting my walking poles to the situation, until someone who hiked with me for a bit pointed out that when descending you need to lengthen you poles so you don’t tumble over, and if you ascend you need to shorten them, depending on the gradient of the slope you are on, so that your poles are actually helping you. Makes sense, right? But nevertheless, I never thought of that.


2. Tie your shoelaces differently

I can’t remember who taught me this trick, but I’m forever grateful. Ever had sore toes after a descent? Or even worse, your toenails coming off? Unless you have managed to find the perfect shoes or are a brave soul walking barefoot or on fivefingers, you have probably had trouble with your toes at some point. I bring you good tidings: there is a way to avoid this! Basically you want to avoid shifting forward too much in your shoes as you descend. Buying the right size shoes for starters should give you some room for your toes to play in, but that often isn’t enough. The trick is to let your shoelaces pass over the top two clamping hooks rather than underneath first – and then tie them. If that doesn’t make sense, hopefully these pictures will. You’ll notice the difference. Unfortunately, I learned this after a hike on which I damaged my toenails – new shoes, long hike. Not a good combination. But they’ve almost grown back to normal – getting ready for the next stage!

3. Don’t let anyone intimidate you

I am easily intimidated. Although I have strong ideas of my own, I am always all too willing to listen to other people’s ideas, and often that ends up with me believing what they say rather than what I think or know to be right. I need to work on listening to my own voice. Of course it is important to listen and to weigh people’s advice, but some people can be very overbearing. They more or less demand you listen to their advice; what you think is automatically wrong. More than once I’ve let men blow me off my feet that way – because it was usually (well, always really) men who showed this behaviour. I’ve asked around a bit among fellow adventurers and it turns out men don’t encounter this behaviour as much as women – apparently there are quite some men about who feel it’s fine to be paternalistic with women. So it’s something I need to arm myself against. Listen and reflect: what are they trying to say? Is there room for what I think? What does my inner voice say? If your intuition, based on your experience, is usually right, then go ahead, follow it. The other person is not you. They might have a lot of experience too, but not yours. They don’t know you. So consider what they have to say, adjust your course accordingly if you think they are right, but never forget to listen to your own voice.

4. Getting lost is an art

Yes, it is. How you deal with getting lost is everything. I always panick (a bit, or a lot) when I realize I’ve lost my way. That is a perfectly normal reaction – but how you deal with the panick is important. You want to get unstuck, so you need to be smart. Panick is OK, but you need to get out of it. I used to always walk, almost run, through the panick: I’M LOST! SO I NEED TO FRANTICALLY WALK BACK, TO AND FRO AND FIND MY WAY! No. You don’t. Sit down. Catch your breath. Get your map and compass out. Reconsider. Where did you go wrong? Where did you see the last waymark? Where were you last sure you were on track? Should you go up or down? West, northwest? When your heart rate is back to normal, get back on your feet and enjoy the puzzle.

So what if you’re really stuck? Like, you are in a field of nettles and have no idea where the trail is despite calling upon the powers of map, compass and GPS? Don’t hesitate – call the mountain rescue service if you can – and go back if you need to. You can always try again. A mirror might come in handy by the way – I had to call Salvamont once and they could see me by instructing me at which angle to hold my mirror, then pointed me in the right direction. 🙂

5. Maps can be unreliable

Talking about maps – they can be unreliable. Very. They may show paths that no longer exist, or paths that are of no use to you but only to foresters; many maps are based on army maps and these are not made for tourists. So there may be misinformation, or an information overload – or a lack of it. Missing peaks, missing paths… Then there is the matter of contour lines. They are helpful to make a rough guess about the altitude you’re at if you know whereabouts you are, but they make calculating distance more difficult. Or well, not the contour lines themselves, but the fact that the terrain isn’t level and your map reflects that. If, like me, you like to measure a distance with your finger (‘the top of my index finger is 2km’), your total calculated distance might be a long shot from the actual distance – because of the altitude differences in the route. So expect routes to be a good deal longer than your finger-measuring indicates. Simple thing, but worth realizing when you’re about to set off on a 20+km hike. So don’t just trust your map; be generous with your calculations, expect surprises and if you can, calculate your route in advance with the help of a planner – like Movescount if you use a Suunto watch like me, or Strava. Those take altitude differences into account – but never perfectly. Personally, I prefer to just go and see for myself, rather than pre-programming my entire route. That way, I have to keep my eyes open.

Whatever you do, no matter how well prepared you are – you are probably going to make mistakes. You are probably going to get lost. Fall. Sprain your ankle. Wonder whether the other route was more interesting. I love what Kristina Olsson recently wrote in her article for the Guardian on the nature of walking (and writing):

And then you stagger out, blinking into the light, into the old world that has changed around you. Beneath your pen, your feet. It is old, it is new, it means nothing, it means something.

Or perhaps it is you. Because the book has changed you, as has the path: your skin, your hands; the hair wild on your shoulders, in your eyes, your brain tired and half happy. Because of course you haven’t quite done what you’d hoped. You were lost, you weren’t brave enough, the walk/book wasn’t quite how you saw it at the start. But then, it is like this with every book, every walk. Next time, you know, you will nail it.

So ‘make your mistakes, now and forever!’ (Neil Gaiman) I am looking forward to many more beautifully flawed adventures.

To be continued – because I learned even more! 🙂 See you then.

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