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Fifty Sense: Common Sense Ideas for Thriving after 50
Fifty Sense: Common Sense Ideas for Thriving after 50

Backpacking: Hiking In Slovenia And The Appalachian Trail

by Vincent Mariani

I am a 68 yr old retired engineer, well into my second childhood. When I retired in 2005, I started the Appalachian Trail. My last working day was March 9, 2005 and three days later I was at Springer Mtn GA to start my AT hike. Talk about a culture shock! In three days I went from the dog eat dog business world, where I had constant conflict, to the mutually supportive culture of the Appalachian Trail community.

I found my self shocked by the many senseless acts of human kindness that I encountered. Unfortunately I was injured (knee problem) and had to get off the Trail after 102 of the best days of my life and 1053 miles. However during my hike, I met a woman 23 years younger than me, and we went from hiking partners to life partners. By the way, I also had a Total Knee Replacement in December 2005.

We resumed our AT hike in 2006 (120 days after the knee replacement) and eventually climbed Mt Katahdin in September 2006. During our AT hike we found out about the Via Alpina. It is a network of 3100 miles of marked trails in 8 European countries. As we had planned to go to Italy in 2007, we thought we would also hike part of the VA. We picked the country of Slovenia, as we thought it would be the least developed and most un-modern (if there is such a word).

To our knowledge we were the first American couple to attempt to hike the VA in Slovenia (another American couple started about 4 weeks later). The nuts and bolts of our hike are described in our Via Alpina TrailJournal, under the names of Rocky and Swamp Fox. We eventually hiked 144 miles across Slovenia, from the Italian border in the south, to the Austrian border, 19 days later.

We had a number of adventures and odd things happen to us. On our fifth day on the VA we were climbing a steep mountain, called Nanos. It was late in the day and we were hit by a thunderstorm. We were in an exposed area, so we retreated to the cover of short trees. We pulled a tarp over our heads to keep dry, while we waited out the rain and lightning. When the rain stopped we continued the climb and came to a ledge, that was about 18 inches wide, with a vertical drop below. A cable was provided to work our way around the ledge. It was probably the scariest moment I have ever had hiking.

A few days later, we strayed off the trail. This was not unusual as the maps were poor and the trail was haphazardly marked. We ended up coming out at a small farm. My partner was very curious about the cheese making operation, and we talked with the old farmer (who spoke no English). My partner also noticed what looked like a still, and asked about that. The farmer then brought out a bottle of his brew and gave us a couple of shots. We have no idea what the liquor was, but it was powerful and we left the farm HUI (Hiking Under the Influence). My partner bought a bottle of his liquor for 5 euros, which we still have at home.

We had some marvelous moments with the local people who were generally very helpful, despite the language problem. I speak a little Italian, enough to get us into trouble. We hike for two days with a German speaking Swiss couple, who were 50 something. One night we had dinner in a hostel, with the owner and some local people. We had a wonderful conversation, with bits of English, Italian, German, and Slovenian.

The language sometimes was not a problem. My partner, who is a very outgoing person with a killer smile, once had a half hour conversation with a local farm woman who spoke no English. They talked at some length about gardening, with neither understanding what the other was saying.

Vincent R. ("Swamp Fox") Mariani
Contoocook NH

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