I’m not perfect. I totally-otally LEAVE TRACE. On this hike alone I’ve “left” (aka lost) a pair of sunglasses, a bamboo spoon and two bandanas somewhere on trail. I’m not happy about it but accidents happen.
Now – people – I get it. Our culture trains us to use TP at every possible moment. And for women it’s expected every time we tingle to practically wipe the area raw – lest a single drop moisten our panties. But please… PACK IT OUT!!! Or, use a pee rag, like a normal human.
Tips for not joining the leave trace club:
1) carry a “used TP/baby wipes” ziplock with you. And hand sani.
2) after peeing or pooping, wipe and put used TP in your Baggie. Seal Baggie.
3) sanitize hands
4) repeat until town.
5) Throw away Baggie.
A closing reminder: it’s fun & fine peeing in nature, without the ‘effluvium of human waste’ in most restrooms (sez Groucho, who’s not a privy fan). But when pooping please do so far off trail, 200 FEET AWAY FROM WATER (at least), in a 6-8″ deep cathole. Refrain from burying wipes, especially scented or if your hole is too shallow. Critters WILL dig it up and share your secrets with the rest of us. And don’t be afraid to give that poo a stir! Mixing it with your cathole backfill helps it biodegrade faster.
Also, I totes recommend buying one of these excellent Deuce of Spades poo trowels. As Future Dad reminds us “the poo never ever should touch the trowel”. Wrong Way Gang trowels are all named for stars of stage and screen. Mine is named Brent Spiner, aka Data.
Hungarians like to drink. So do I… So I got along great in the land of breakfast beer and schnapps before AND after meals. Unicum is the national liquor – and herbal blend which kindof reminds me of one of my favorites from the States, Fernet Branca. And there are s wide variety of cheap, Ranier like tall cans available… Usually for about 230huf, or just under a buck. A 5cl shot of schnapps in a bar will set you back 500cl, or about $1.75. My kind of country!
Touted as the oldest sanctioned walking route in Europe, the Országos Kéktúra makes a long loop around Hungary – traversing low mountains, ancient villages, rolling low hills of wheat and hay fields and extensive beech and other deciduous forest. Meandering on steep (Appalacian trail like) stone trail, rolling well groomed single track, seemingly unmaintained muddy forest trail, abandoned and active agricultural roads and some highway walking the tramp offers something significantly different from Harpo and my experience of walking the national scenic trails in the US.
The road walking is kinda a bummer. After hiking for days on end thru high mountains in the Sierra, the green tunnel vibes, followed by a 5k pavement trek into town is a much different experience. This is offset by the fact that you can drink espresso every morning in some age old cafe, the bar tended by a patron only somewhat younger than the cobblestones that line the streets. And the energy, enthusiasm and kindness of the rural Hungarian people are unmatched. This is a kind of rural life we imagine with nostalgia in America, or even in Northern Europe (Huck reminds us – iz not like these even in Denmark anymore).
The trail itself is exceptionally well marked – you’re in no danger of getting lost. There is also a set of GPS waypoints available that can be ported to Gaia or another GPS app. However, every time I had a question about routing, by the time I had my phone out of the holster I spied one of the distinctive blue and white striped blazes. Other blazes indicate side trails, ruins, loops, springs and other features of interest. And signs appear at every significant intersection with more information about sites, distances and prospective hiking times. As a bonus, every small town has several water pumps offering free, unchlorinated water which we drank unfiltered without problems.
For all the road and village walking, the sections through the hilltop forest are clearly the highlight. While this is all managed forest, we see a model of what contemporary forestry practices can yield. While I’m kinda bummed about walking past stacked lumber, it’s clear that these dudes know the value in sustainability of their forests. There are no clearcuts, and the diversity of bird and insect life is unrivaled by anything I’ve seen in the States outside of the Hoh rainforest. There seems to be a decent balance between nature and industry…as a conservationist it’s hard for me to approve, but I appreciate the openness of the manicured forest, and the acres of groomed roads that allow me to access it.
The most significant different is the language barrier, of course. In the cities on Hungary everyone is exited to practice their English, but in the countryside English is met with blank (if not a little embarrassed) stares. That said, Harpo and I managed to maintain our vegan diet with little problem, and people are SUPER NICE. Like, really nice. And Huck was praising the availability of things like homemade liver pâté and paprika cured sausage in small villages – local products mostly unavailable in urban areas in the US or norther Europe. There’s always bread baked daily and farm fresh veggies; also local schnapps.
We ended up hiking the OZT in mid May, which according to the English language tourist site for the trail can entail heavy rain. We mostly avoids the rain, and the heat of the sunny days makes me wonder if an August walk would be unbearable hit. Given the terrain, we were able to easily cover 25/30 km a day (15 – 18 miles) including morning coffee breaks and long lunches. We were always building our evening cook fire before sunset. And given the frequency of small villages, we never carried more than a days’ worth of food (wit some emergency ramen in case of national holiday or not realizing shops in small towns close at 1 pm). We found our 2 season gear totally sufficient for the time of year and elevation – I never needed my base layer except when I was washing my hiking clothes.
As tramps go, our short 350 km section of the Országos Kéktúra has been super fun, and inspires me to explore more of the Euorpoean walking routes. The OKT is part of a longer trail – E4 – one of a series of walks that connect existing regional trails into long form traverses of northern and Eastern Europe. The sense of stepping back in time, traveling through pre and postwar Europe and even into feudal times – the unimaginable past, before the detritus of global capital forever littered the landscape – is irreplaceable. The lack of McD’s and billboards allows breathing room unlike the rural landscapes in the US – and offer a new and different sense of exploration.
I’ve been battling a sense of aimlessness coming back from the trail. I often find myself drifting through interstitial spaces with a blank stare – a dissociated look, distracted by speed and movement, looking for some distant horizon but surprised instead only seeing dumpsters, closed windows and construction barriers in excruciating detail.
After thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2013 I immediately started working on a gallery show with New Mystics and had a performance with Saint Genet scheduled for the summer. Returning to the comforts of the known was satisfying – the measured productivity of work, the intellectual engagement of art making, the support of the crew. Even if Harpo and I didn’t have a permanent address we still had each other, even after spending the previous weeks battling ice storms in Georgia.
It’s unnerving, returning again.Coming back from the PCT has been a familiar animal in a different skin. After so many peregrinations the connection between my body and the body politic seemed unravelled, tenuous. Feeling alien in a hostile landscape, I find myself trying to conjure images of plenitude that somehow always seem two dimensional and unfulfilling, grasping at the tattered ends of some familiar memory faded by sun and worn thin by absence.
The easy, transportable sense of home that comes from pitching a tarp wherever you end up is harder to attain in the city. The sense of purpose inherent in the continual forward motion of thru hiking make feeling at home easy on trail. A community is simply manifest because a sense of commonality is clear – we’re all here in the woods together, mostly doing the same thing – escaping the city.
The city – a multifaceted and fractured beast – rapidly transforms itself, always eating it’s own tail. It’s hard to hold on because of the rapidly shifting topography; every memory becomes unrooted and unreal as the architecture that housed it changes or disappears. People are all travelling on different vectors, subject to unknown or unknowable forces, riding strange waves towards disseperate futures. It can feel isolating, as if everything is moving away from an invisible center you’ve just accidentally arrived at.
The pressure of architecture, the continual compression of dense human consciousness, the alienation originating in feeling alone in a crowd provides a contrast to the expansive space of nature, where details are infinitely complex yet uncrowded, quiet yet never silent. Swallowed by that quiet, resting in the belly of the Earth, I feel secure again. My sense of discontinuity fades away as I’m soaked by the pouring rain, as I traverse icy streams with frozen toes, as my perception creeps closer to my reality. This kind of loneliness is satisfying…