Erik vs Romanian mountains 1 – 0

I spent last weekend in the Romanian mountains in Rasnov. I arrived on Friday evening and we lost a lot of time on the drive towards the pension where we were all staying. On Saturday I facilitated the first Romanian Gamestorming retreat ever for 12 of the most active members of the agileworks community. I’ll write another post specifically to describe how that day went. In this one I want to focus on what I did on Sunday.

As you will be able to read in the other post that I’ll write soon, Saturday was a very intense and long day of creative work and learning experiments. So some of us went for a little walk and a beer that evening. And when we got back to the pension we had a pitcher of wine to close off the day. This was not my best idea. Although the wine tastes wonderful, it does have an after effect on me, especially with the extreme high temperatures I had been exposed to during the day. I’m from Belgium, we start to complain when the temperature rises above 25, so the 36 in Rasnov was quite a challenge for my body. And still I drank too much, so the next morning I had to fight off a hangover.

On Sunday we were going for a walk on the nearby mountains. I knew this, I was prepared for it. I even bought hiking shoes and socks last time that I visited Romania in May. I drank a lot of water, took some meds to calm down my stomach and take away my headache and I was ready for an adventure that I had been looking forward to for a couple of months already. And still I was scared as hell. I’ve never been much of a walker. I love all modes of transportation, ranging from boats to airplanes, from bikes to cars. But walking has never been something I did for enjoyment. And my body was not prepared for this kind of an adventure. I didn’t really have a proper physical preparation for this.

I agreed with Adi that we would just see how far I could go. If I couldn’t reach the top, we would just go back. It was as simple as that. And with that in mind we started our trip. As you can see above, we started our walk in the forest, did make it a lot easier to cope with the temperature and sun. In the forest and at this height it was only 26 degrees. That was pretty doable for me.

We passed a couple with a little girl during the first half an hour. Tom, one of the guys that was walking with us was so curious about her age that he asked the parents. The girl was only 3,5 years old. I couldn’t help but think to myself, if a 3,5 year old can do this, I can do it as well. It wasn’t long after that thought that my body started to let me know that it was not ok with this idea of climbing a mountain. So the first of 4 breaks was a fact. We used this first break as an excellent opportunity to get an “action picture” of me, to prove I was actually there.

After the little break we were off again. I spent most of my time talking to Adi and Tom about the most divers topics, from the roleplaying games like D&D and LARP to our previous jobs and professional adventures. It was fun to learn that Tom had a lot of the same interests, down to playing mmorpgs. Geeks united! Because of the invigorating discussions I wasn’t really paying attention to time whatsoever. Luckily Adi reminded me to drink enough water to avoid dehydration. I think we were about halfway when we passed by a very cute little spring. The water felt icy cold and it was so refreshing to feel it run over my face and down my neck. My body wasn’t liking me very much up until then. The cold water helped smooth things out for a while at least. For the first time in my life I drank real spring water directly from the source.

We had already climbed for about 600 meters, which I guess translated into about 5km of walking. And I was enjoying the view, the nature around me, the calmness and mental peace it brought for me. My body was not giving me a too hard time, it was going better than I had expected. It was about 2/3 of the way when I really started to feel like I wasn’t going to make it. We had reached the edge of the first part of the forest and needed to cross an open plateau, out in the sun where it was about 6 degrees more. Was this my turning point? I wasn’t going to give up without trying, so we set of on the plateau with the sound of the cowbells in the back. It was there that I experienced one of the most amazing views of my life.

Oh yeah, that’s Tom on the left and Adi on the right here, just so you know.

Crossing this plateau wasn’t half as bad as I had imagined. By this time we were at about 1200m height, so the temperature was still ok. And I kept thinking to myself: ‘I’ve come this far, I can do this shit. I can reach the top!” Adi’s girlfriend Ramona was already surprised I made it this far. And to be honest so was I.

In about half an hour, we crossed the plateau and went back into the forest. By this time the leaf trees had been replaced by pine trees all around. And Adi reassured me that we were almost at the top. It was only about 40 minutes more. And I really started to believe I was going to make it. I kept thinking about the ultimate achievement of actually reaching the top. And that way of thinking really worked against me. It was as if my body wasn’t willing to wait anymore and my legs started to hurt, as well as my back and even my tummy.

But I was determined to get there. Backed by willpower and the most stunning sights I had ever experienced, I kept walking and walking and then walking some more. By this time I was moving so slowly that we already lost Tom and Adi was also walking a bit ahead of me. He wasn’t going to leave me of course, he was an excellent guide and coach all the way. He was there when I needed him, reminding me to drink water and waiting patiently when I needed a break.

And then it happened. To everyone’s surprise there it was, the chalet at the top of this climb. I had done it, I reached the top, I finished!!! I can’t remember the last time I felt this kind of happiness when it comes to a physical accomplishment. Come to think about it, I think it was gym class when I was 19 years old. I finished as third in the Leger test back then. I got beaten by a guy that had been playing soccer for 12 years and a guy that was doing track sports for 13 years. So it was 14 years ago I felt this good about myself when it comes to physical activities. I had proven to everyone, including myself that I could do this. I had won a significant battle!

We had a nice lunch there, some cabbage and sausages and I drank a lot of tea. Yes, you read that correctly tea. No it wasn’t iced tea, it was hot tea and I loved it. I drank a total of 6 cups to re-hydrate my body. I also ate some of the best cake-pie ever. There were two kinds, one with apples and another one with a kind of creamy cheese. We were all pretty hungry so we ordered a lot of stuff and I ended up eating 2 pieces of pie, which I didn’t really mind XD. I really felt like the apple pie and it was good, but not half as good as the amazing cream cheese and dill pie.

I discovered up there that the walk up had taken about 3 hours, which according to Adi is not really a bad time for someone who has never mountaineered before in his life. I wasn’t there to break records, but it did add to my happy feeling. And after a long lunch break I started to worry slightly because we still needed to go back down. I didn’t really want to leave this place, it was so amazing. And I was also dreading another 3 hours of walking to be honest again. But there was no other option of course, so we took our group picture there and off we went again.

The walk down went amazingly fast. Tom and I walked in front of the rest of the group for the bigger part of the trip. We got in some sort of talkative trance and really enjoying the decent. We actually managed to get down in half the time it took us to get up there and I was even the first person to arrive. I was started to get into the rhythm. Don’t get me wrong, my legs and shoulders were hurting and I was glad to reach the cars again. I was also looking forward to a refreshing shower, but my mind had realized that I can do this walking thing, if I really want to.

It was an exhausting but also immensely energizing adventure. I met myself again a couple of times on that climb up and down. The fact that I got to talk about a lot of things that I did in my past and also about all the crazy things I still want to do with Co-Learning  and my long term ambitions to help change the world around me, all that formed the perfect context for getting in touch with myself again on a deeper level. So much even that I’m already looking forward and trying to plan a next trip there. It will have to wait for some time now, since our little boy is due in less than 2 months. We have some training scheduled with Mozaicworks there in November so I might squeeze in a little walk around that time. Even just being in Romania, far away from my normal surroundings already helps me to clear my mind.

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