OK, no more Polish jokes. Promise.
This tale is about MY FIVE stupidities (and my Mr. Magoo Lucky Factor that partly made up for them).
Stupidity #1: not knowing where I am
You know you've been traveling too long when you get off a bus and have to ask someone, "What city am I in?"
I had told the attendant at the bus terminal in Krakow, Poland that I wanted to go as close as possible to the High Tatras in Slovakia. As usual, the person who sells the tickets at this international city didn't speak a foreign language.
Magoo Factor: I turned up in the right place.
You're not supposed to camp in the Tatras, but it's easy to do if you follow these steps:
I woke up and was surprised by what a sharp grade I climbed. (I spent 20% of my 3 days in the Tatras using my hands to get around. Getting off the trail doesn't help.)
"I would hate to slip here and fall down. It's a long way down...." I thought as I reached for my camcorder in my pocket.
In slow motion I said, "Noooooooooo....."
I watched it do somersaults, back flips, and a half twists with corner pike all the way down the mountain.
Stupidity #3: fumbling the sleeping bag
I was despondently stuffing my sleeping bag and thinking, "OK, I gotta put this in a place that's pretty secure because everything here is at an incline. This looks good over here...."
Because of its loft, it bounced MUCH farther than the camcorder.
To give you an idea how far it fell, it took me 20 minutes to retrieve it and come back.
Magoo Factor: Despite the sharp rocks and the incredibly long fall, the stuff sack only got a minor tear.
Stupidity #4: eating glass
Lamenting my precious peanut butter and my woes, I sat down and decided to eat it anyway. After all, I hate seeing good food go to waste.
"Nah...." I thought and carefully worked around the glass as I spread it on my bread.
I was chomping away when suddenly I heard a "CRUNCH!"
I spit what I thought was the bad portion and swallowed the rest. Hey, I was hungry.
Magoo Factor: I felt very minor pain (I think it was psychological) for about 5 minutes afterwards. Otherwise, no internal bleeding. The glass tasted good! Just like peanut butter!
Stupidity #5: abandoning the belt clip
That night I was again stuck above the tree line when the sun set. I found two big rocks and set up my tarp just in case it rained. On cue, the moment I got under the tarp the sky lit up and thunder roared.
That was a lonely night on top of another craggy outcropping. The lightning storm just added a bit of drama.
The next day when I changing from pants to shorts, I didn't transfer my cell phone belt clip. I left it behind. Idiot.
High Tatras: best backpacking ever
Despite my misfortunes, I adored the Tatras. I have never experienced such an amazing backpacking in my life. They brought back many memories:
- THE MAJESTY of the Tetons
- THE JAGGED EDGES of the Ansel Adams Wilderness
- THE ALPINE VIEWS of Yosemite
- THE HUTS of the White Mountains of New Hampshire
- THE DIABOLICAL TRAILS of Maine
The trails were insane. They've managed to blur the line between backpacking and rock climbing.
Many trails required you to use a long metal chain to go up or down the mountain. Lose your grip and you're history.
Bring gloves if you hike here. The cold metal numbs your hands. Which is the last thing you need to have happen when your life depends on your grip. At least once person dies in the Tatras every week.
Abundance of TP
In Belarus I wished for more toilet paper, but in Slovakia I wish there were less... on the trail. This is the only stupidity I found Slovakians doing.
I asked a Slovakian why is there so much toilet paper on the trails. She blamed the "tourists."
"OK, this is a national park lady, we're all tourists," I told her, "So can you be more specific? Why don't they pack it out?"
An 18 year old man said the Slovakians are also to blame. Having visited their small local parks and seeing TP everywhere, this guy may be right: this is also a Slovakian tradition.
The stupidest thing I saw was this outhouse near the summit of a mountain. It did not contain the waste, but just let it all fall down the steep mountain gully. With a little rain all the toilet paper and shit just roll down the mountain into the pristine water below. Brilliant.
Pity, because it is a perfect place otherwise. They call it the biggest little mountains in Europe. They're only 7,500 feet high (about 2500 meters), but they look and feel much higher. I just wish the territory were a bit bigger. You can see almost everything with three days of vigorous backpacking.
Pit stop in Trencin, Slovakia
It was a cute town on my way to....
Another well-preserved old town in Eastern Europe. I'm surprised I'm not sick of them yet.
Although Bratislava was wonderful, the highlight of Slovakia was the High Tatras. See them when you go to Krakow, Poland. It's about 2-3 hours away. But don't go to the Polish side of the Tatras. Most believe the Slovakian side is the best.
August 17, 2004