Kristyn Bacon is the editor and founder of Trainless Magazine, an online travel magazine. She is currently travelling overland from Berlin to Taiwan with her dog, Anja. (Editor’s note: this reminds me of my own overland trip from Lisbon to Saigon)! Her stories have been published by literary journals, travel websites, and athletic magazines. An architect read her work and compared it to George Saunders. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Kristyn and Anja on the Adriatic Coast, in the midst of their epic overland journey!
Day 1 – Soline-Gruda
Anja was way too tired to come with me on the walk today. I was a bit disappointed because I had planned to run on small, calm roads the whole day, and I knew she would love the peaceful, car-less walk. However, her legs were cramping and she had very low energy, so I made the quick decision to leave her with Fabian and walk the route carrying my full backpack.
Fabian and I have a great system. We both have to work, so while Anja and I run, Fabian takes the short trip by bus or train with both of the backpacks. We almost always stay for two nights so we can both work for a full day. This also gives Anja time to rest, but after two weeks of running, she must have needed a longer break. I was going to miss her, but I was a bit jealous that she was taking the bus and I turned into a camel with my huge bag!
11:00 – I started the walk super late because we had to repack the bags. I didn’t mind, though. I can walk very quickly when I am alone. I started out on a busy road, and I didn’t have to worry much about the cars because the shoulder was big enough for just me. I made it to the next town and walked down to the center. I had seen a trail going from this town to the next, which would save me about five kilometers of highway. However, once I got to the end of town, I saw a huge rolling gate and an office next to it. The guard came out and told me I couldn’t walk through there, because it was an electricity office, or settlement, or community. Whatever it was, it was super private and no one was allowed through. I wanted to hike down the ocean and cross on the rocks, but I thought if they had an office here, they’d have an office on the other side. I walked back up out of town, mad about the wasted time and energy, but I was also glad that Anja was on the bus, because there was no sidewalk on the highway for the next seven kilometers.
13:00 – I made it to the small road and the next fifteen kilometers went by easily. The road was narrow but very quiet, and I passed four little villages. I loved walking through the countryside. I got to see the hills, the stray cats and dogs, the villagers coming in and out of their homes and gardens, and I knew that I was on a safe road going directly where I needed to be. I love that feeling. I missed Anja, but I also loved being alone.
15:00 – I arrived in Gruda and got a bit lost. The address to the apartment was “Gruda 153,” but I realized quickly that every street in the village was “Gruda.” I finally found Fabian and Anja walking on the main road and we went back together. I was exhausted from carrying the bag, so Anja and I hung out in the room while Fabian worked.
Day 2 – Resting
I worked on the magazine and washed my clothes in the bathroom sink. I hung them on the line outside and took Anja for a walk in the village. It was a beautiful day and I felt so at home, walking in the late spring weather with my dog, eating an Easter egg and knowing that if I wanted to stop walking and go home, it was only five minutes away. I love that feeling.
I went back to the apartments and sat in the garden, talking to the owner’s son. He was fourteen years old and spoke English wonderfully. I asked him where he learned and he said, “TV. I watch a lot of American shows.”
“Which ones are your favorites?”
“All of them.”
Day 3 – Gruda, Croatia–Herceg Novi, Montenegro
Border crossing day! Oh no! I had a pretty bad experience at the last border crossing. We had left Bosnia on a very small country road and were stopped at the border. The policeman told me it was for locals only, and no amount of pleading, reasoning, or bribing could get us across. I had to turn around and lose two hours of the day for nothing.
I planned on crossing into Montenegro on an equally small road. I did as much research as I could, and it seemed like an open border, but I was still taking a chance.
10:00 – We started out with a beautiful sunny day and 25 clean, low traffic kilometers ahead. We passed through little villages and enjoyed the quiet, well paved road. Once we started approaching the border, however, I became nervous. The run was much longer than I had anticipated. We were already 20kms in, so if we were turned away, we would have to run 40kms just to end up right where we started.
15:00 – I approached the border slowly and an officer came out. I said hello, and showed him our papers.
“Where are you going?”
“You come by foot?”
“On foot? That is far.” He gave me my passport back, lifted the gate, and let me pass. He let me pass! Yes! I thanked him and said goodbye, but when we were a few meters away, he called over, “When did you start out? This morning?”
“Yes, around ten.”
He looked at his watch and said, “You are fast!”
I laughed and thanked him again and kept walking, a lot faster, because I didn’t want him to change his mind!
We walked through Igalo and Herceg-Novi on a pedestrian path following the ocean, and met Fabian on the beach. I could see the mountains rising in the distance and I was happy to know after a few days of rest, Anja and I would be in them.
Days 4-6 – Resting
We spent the next few days resting, working, and exploring Herceg Novi. It was a really beautiful little city, with lots of character and friendly locals. We felt like we were back in a real city again.
I had to prepare and buy some supplies for the hike. We walked through all of Meljine, Herceg-Novi, and Igalo looking for a map. Almost all of the tourist agencies were closed and the infrequent few sports stores had neither a sleeping bag nor a map of the trails. Finally, we found a bookstore. I found a big, very detailed map as well a book about the trail. The book was in Serbian, but I couldn’t buy one without the other. I happily paid the ten euros, because I wanted that map.
I didn’t do much the day before we hiked. I was nervous, so Anja and I spent some time sitting quietly on the beach, looking at the water and trying to imagine the trail. We had dinner and watched a movie. We also had some beer and I ate an entire chocolate bunny in about two seconds because I was so nervous!
Day 7 – Herceg Novi-V. Celico
I was still nervous as I got the rest of my things together, and Fabian ran to the store to get tea candles for my tent. I fed Anja and I really envied her. She didn’t have to worry about the trail or the roads or where the water stations were or if it was cold at night. She just wore the leash and followed me around, hoping to see a lizard. I wished I could be more like her.
My backpack was packed and completely full, and just as I put it on, I realized I forgot the water. I filled my Osprey bladder and a second emergency bottle. I really wanted to leave that emergency bottle behind, but Fabian reminded me that it was probably the most important thing next to my tent and the Osprey bladder. So then my backpack was overflowing.
9:30 – On the road! I turned right at the roundabout and walked uphill on a busy road until it turned into a trail. That’s the whole plan!
I started seeing big, well printed signs with clear instructions on how to follow the trail. I was so relieved! We passed through a very small village with a few houses, a hotel, a cafe, and a church. People waved excitedly and said hello. This was very reassuring, because it meant they might see hikers often, which took away some of the mystery and seclusion of the trail.
But it was hot and sweaty, and I still hadn’t seen a water station. This area in Montenegro is desert-like, with tall, dry hills, very few rivers, and almost no lakes. This means no mosquitos, but it also means that I needed those water stations to be full. The well was very deep, and there was a small spout on the side that let the cold, clear mountain water rush out onto the path. The bucket was very rusty and it wasn’t until I pulled it back up that I realized there was a big hole in the bottom. I used the spout to fill my bottle. Running water is safer than still water!
15:00 – We got to a crossroads and took the path that claimed to be easier. The two trails led to the same place, but the one we were on said it had twelve easy switchbacks going gently up the hill. Complete lies! Those switchbacks were steep as hell and sharp! And completely made of rocks! Anja had a bit of trouble on the boulders, but she followed me up like a good little wolf. I was happy to see lots of wild flowers growing on the gentle hills in front of us.
16:30 – The flowers were gone. They were buried in snow, and soon, the whole forest was snow. Deep snow. Making me slip and sink. Filling my shoes. Soaking my socks. Driving Anja crazy because she loved snow! It was a mess. I had no intention of camping in the snow, so we hiked well past my hungry, tired, and cranky point. It was still quite early, but the forest was dark. I saw a sunny spot on a hill in the distance and decided to camp there. We were low on water, but I didn’t want to hike any further without stopping to eat and feed Anja. I knew by the time we did that, it would be too late in the evening to keep hiking.
The hill made for an absolutely beautiful campsite. There was a very wide, flat section covered in soft, dry grass. I set up but Anja was too nervous to get in the tent. I gave her some food and water and went in to clean up and eat. I had pretzel sticks and peanut butter and I tried luring Anja into the tent that way. It didn’t work; I just picked her up and brought her in.
I read by candlelight and Anja slept. When it was time to sleep, I wrapped the food in plastic and put it up in a tree. I looked at the stars until I was too cold and then we went in and cuddled up in the blankets, keeping each other as warm as we could, and trying not to think about how low our water supply was.
We lay there listening to the night noises. A bird barking first to the left of the tent, then above it, and then far away up a hill. An owl hooting and dogs in the villages, and then the food I wrapped in plastic and balanced on a branch fell out of the tree.
Kristyn and her dog Anja are currently resting in Turkey, and and plotting their route for the rest of this epic journey. You can follow along Kristyn’s adventures on Twitter @Trainlessmag.