May 27, 2009

Marathon Over the Mountain

"I can't wait to go to bed tonight," said Conor.

He and his wife, Kacey, both PCVs, were visiting us for the weekend and all four of us were sitting in the town square. It was pitch dark, which lent the impression that bedtime was, indeed, a near event.

Actually, we'd been up only twenty minutes. It was a few strokes before 4 a.m. and though the sun would eventually bring with it temperatures in the 80s, an early-morning breeze had us huddled and hugging ourselves on the pavement as we awaited our taxi. Along with thirty or so other hikers, we were catching a ride to a monastery in the village of Lesnovo and then hiking back over the mountain range to our own town's monastery. The day's grand total: 44 kilometers, or 27 miles; the local hiking club's annual marathon hike. So at that particular moment bedtime felt like years away.

Spurred on by too many cups of Turkish coffee and encouraged by constant Formula 1 coverage, the taxis spent the next ninety minutes passing each other on the windy mountain roads all the way to Lesnovo. Now exhausted and carsick, we explored the Lesnovo monastery where Jillian and Kacey were obliged to wear borrowed skirts due to a monk's presence there. Sunrise over the 800-year old complex noticeably improved our spirits and by the time the group set off up into the hills the weather was already clear and warm.

At the Lesnovo Monastery before the hike

Twenty-seven miles up and over a moutain range is pretty much what it sounds like: really long and really tiring. We passed through no less than half a dozen terrains and I think several microclimates on our journey, including a boggy marsh, a beautiful meadow, some loose boulders and for about 500 meters, a desert. But the hike's best moment came at the river crossing when we waded through with the help of a rope strung across the water's width. It wasn't particularly deep, but the bottom was rocky and dark, making each step a tad precarious. I think everyone crossed with the same thought in mind: I don't want to be the one who falls in.

[I should note here that Conor's dad is currently in the midst of a hundreds-of-miles long trek through northern Spain that began with a climb through the Pyrenees. I reminded myself of that whenever I felt fatigued or sore along the way.]

At a break along the way...10 miles to go!

We reached our destination, the Osogovski Monastery, as dusk approached. Having drunk our weight in water throughout the course of the day, we happily filled our packs with beer just outside the monastery, plunked down at a table, and toasted a great hike. Following a short ceremony, dinner was served to all the hikers, though Jillian and I had to skip out to dash home and shower in time to be two hours late for Bube's graduation party. After 44 kilometers, I could think of nothing better than dancing oro with her grandmother.

No doubt the day's best performance goes to the little black dog who lives at the Lesnovo monastery. When he was still with us after fifteen kilometers, it seemed that he intended to make the hike with us and after he successfully navigated the river it was obvious that he would. As the hike neared its conclusion, we remarked to the trek's leader that this little dog was quite the trooper.

"Oh, him?" the man asked with a shrug. "He comes along every year. Then he walks home alone."

Of course he does. Probably climbs the Pyrenees every few weeks, too.

Crossing the river

With a few miles left, this guy wanted an interview. No chance.

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