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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Meteora, Greece Highline gathering and epic hitchhiking!

Hitchhiking 2000km from Poland to Greece, for highlining.
Greece was the next destination. In Meteora, a small region of unusual rock towers, there would be a gathering of about fifteen Highliners for almost two weeks. It was impossible to miss this opportunity, after googling the area it was clear that it was some kind of highline Mecca we had never known about. So, with limited funds and adventurous spirits, Jordan, Janek and I decided to hitchhike there.

We had plans to leave with a bit over a week to arrive on the same date as the rest of the group; however Jordan and Janek created some delay for some silly things and we finally left on March 24th. We began the usual way taking the bus from Wroclaw train station to Auchan on the outskirts of the city. We walked to the road leading towards Krakow and began work. Unfortunately the already long journey was almost unbearable because our bags were so overloaded with gear. Janek had already told the guys in Meteora that we would bring lots of gear, however it was not until my bag weighed 40 kilograms and Jordan and Janek’s weighed even more that I realized how much gear we were bringing. It hurt to walk; it almost felt as if each vertebra was being crunched together with each step. I believe we are all a couple inches shorter after that journey. Poor guys had to listen to me complain the entire way. I even had to have one of the guys help me to put on my bag in most cases. We had a couple rides before we were on the outskirts of Krakow.

This city proved to be a pain in the arse to get out of, and we ended up walking from bus stop to highway to onramp and all sorts of things trying to get out. Finally we were forced to take a train to the border in the night just to keep moving. We ate Kebab in the train station and came to the realization that kebab shop workers are far nicer and speak better English then Policja. The workers told us Romania was a bad route because the roads were such bad quality. So, this changed our entire plan and we headed for Zakopane, a beautiful town in the mountains near the Tatra range.

We walked something like 2 or 3 kilometers uphill from the train station there, paid for a campsite and set up in the bitter cold. It was still skiing weather!

The whole grounds were covered in a layer of ice thick enough to walk on. The next morning we headed for Lysa Polana, had a difficult time getting there, but still enjoyed the beauty of our surroundings. Finally we reached Slovakia! Our ride was a tiny car and I sat on some strangers lap in the front with my head crunched against the ceiling. However, the drivers changed and we had a ride all the way to Poprad.

Little did we know Poprad would almost be the death of us!

(Not literally, only because it was a terrible spot for catching rides) Our ride dropped us off on a small road heading in the direction we wanted, as he said the highway was short and there was no place to stand. We waited, and waited, and waited. This spot sucked! The day carried on, we tried walking across the city to another place, and we fought with each other, but in the end ate pizza, drank beer and slept next to some gardens in Poprad.

The next morning it was clear bad weather was on the way.

One car stopped to take us, however we were trying to stay in three people so I turned the car down. After hours we took a train to Kosice, and then caught a ride over the border into Hungary. We waited on the sad-looking border for a bit, but were in much better spirits since we were moving.

The next person to pick us up was a kind Slovakian banker living in Austria. He spoke to us on many subjects from communism to languages to travel to politics. He was taking us all the way to Budapest. He asked where we would sleep that night, and we responded simply that we had tents. He replied with “No, you need to bathe.” Then like a truly important man he made some calls and arranged something, hung up and informed us that we had lodging for the night. So generous! We barely knew how to thank him and upon arrival he even paid a bit extra for us to have breakfast the next morning. Wow! So, we expressed our immense gratitude, he took off and we enjoyed our room.

Showers, Hungarian soft porn and a quick trip into the center of Budapest ensued.

It looked like a great city, and we all agreed it was on our list of places to return to. The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast of rolls, ham, salami, cheese, cherry tomatoes, orange juice, butter, coffee, tea, jam, nutella…and true to dirtbag style we packed some tea bags and sandwiches in our pockets then figured out how to get out of the city.

Hungarian – “ Excuse me…” = English pronunciation.

“ Are you going…” = eng. Pro.

We started on the A-5 heading towards Serbia. Our first ride turned out to be one of our most fun on the journey. Within 10 minutes a Hungarian couple stopped and said they were not going to Szeged but were driving that direction. This couple was so nice, spoke English really well and asked us all many questions about our travels. I told them the main thing I had learned being abroad was that there are stupid people and extremely nice people everywhere. First the couple went 12 km out of their way to take us to a petrol station, and then when the guy got lost he just drove until he found one. On some small road we passed the prostitutes, walking along the shoulder in lingerie—one was even wearing only a red thong and high heels! Hungarian hookers in real life! Finally the couple informed us that they were driving us all the way to Szeged. So nice, they even said if they had their passports we could have all driven to Beograd, Serbia.

At the gas station is was difficult to catch a ride because many cars were packed to the brim with stuff and families. It was raining, and we were hoping to get into Serbia that day. Finally we just walked a kilometer to the border. There were lines of cars and we stood in line with our packs, moving slowly forward with traffic. Because it was the border of the EU and not the border of Serbia, we had to walk further and wait in traffic once again before finally reaching Serbian soil. A policeman came and told us we could not hitchhike on the border, and needed to walk 2 km to the next gas station. So, we wearily put on our packs and began to trod across the grass. We noticed on the other side of the street some children near cars screaming something at us. Most of them were shouting, and we assumed they were just poking fun until we understood their words “BOMBA! BOMBA!” Janek blew it off and kept walking, however I was unsure since I had read several things about land mines that were not recovered after the war. Let’s not be the stupid tourists. So we walked along the highway until the Petrol station.

Unfortunately the gas station turned out to be harder then the last. It grew dark as we stood near the exit, and once the sun had disappeared completely the gypsies came out. First two women and three children crossed the highway and went to the giant garbage bin and rummaged through it, taking what they liked and leaving piles of trash on the ground. Then they began begging. Every person standing outside of their car and every car that drove up was bombarded by dark, dirty gypsy children asking for money. Even when they were handed a fistful of coins the kids would beg for more. The amazing thing was that people actually gave them money! It was sad and annoying to see it all happen. We had been asking people for hours, and now it was a race against the gypsy kids to get to the cars first. Of course after being hounded by poor children people did not want to be hounded by poor dirtbags even if we weren’t asking for money. Someone called the Police, and they came while the gypsies crossed the highway to the petrol station on the other side. They came and bothered us, looked at our documents, asked why we did not have money since we were American, then drove to the other side of the road. It continued on like that for some hours, the gypsies would change gas stations while the police went to the other side.

We thought we would be at that station all night. Finally a Serbian trucker stopped and reluctantly took all three of us in his cab. It was a tight fit but he spoke some English and turned out to be super nice! We had been advised to hide the fact that we were Americans because apparently Serbia had a grudge against Americans, so Jordan was from “Germany” and I was from “England.” All went fine as we drove towards Beograd along the broken roads in the dark, talking about Serbia, the dominant religion (North is catholic and south is Orthodox) and the war, until the trucker was stopped by police for speeding. He immediately took out his wallet and of course the police asked who we were, and the trucker explained that we were Polish, English and German and shit! Our lie was obvious and we said “No we only live in England and Germany, we are actually….American.” The best part was that the trucker did not seem angry for our lies, such a nice guy. He bribed the police for the speeding ticket and they returned our passports and we continued on.

We were dropped off on the highway heading towards the highway to Nis, our next stop. It was 2 am, cold, and we were standing with a sign in the dark while the prostitutes stood near the corner. They had many more rides than we did. Finally we purchased a map of Beograd and tried to get out. We split the cost of a taxi just to the right highway; however the next rest stop was worse than our previous one! I stood on the highway holding a sign, but the only car to stop was police. They asked me what on earth I was doing; I explained that we were on our way to Greece from Poland, that I was American and that we needed a ride. They asked “Why don’t you take a bus, or a plane? You are American!” I replied that not all Americans have money. They looked at my passport, laughed at Jordan cooking something in a pot behind me and told me I could not stand on the highway. Everyone was tired, had no sleep for almost two days and we were stuck at a shady unpopular gas station in Beograd. There was no place to sleep, so we tried to take a public bus further down the highway. It led us off course, and finally Janek paid 20 Euro for us to get a ride outside the city to the nearest toll station. The cab driver quoted 10 Euros to drive 10 kilometers more to a gas station. We agreed, and as the sun rose we arrived outside Beograd. Then the cabby wanted 10 Euros extra, but we had only driven 5 km, so we paid him 5 Euros, but he wanted an extra 5 to drive back to Beograd! I said “No way! You do not pay cabs to drive back to where they came from; it is not how it works.” We just walked away. There was no point in sleeping, so we drank some espresso and started hitchin’. Immediately we were picked up by a chubby, cheerful Turkish trucker. Thank baby jesus Christ we were headed somewhere! So, the groggy eyed, dirty-haired three of us piled in.

 "Hfalla" = for “Thank You”
 "molleem" = for “You’re Welcome”

Once we were in the south the landscape began to turn more and more beautiful. There were some remnants of the war, and many towns looked quite in disrepair. We were left at the Bulgarian border, where were crossed by foot and waited at a gas station. The road was small and we could stand on it, however it was cold and raining.

The people working at the Shell station there were so kind to us; they spoke no English but made us free hot teas, and told me how to spell Sofija in Bulgarian. Despite all this we waited for a long time. I was beginning to think we would sleep on the border. One guy stopped and asked for 30 Euro and we said “fuck you!”

We finally had to split up and Janek and I went with more Turkish truckers, leaving a sullen Jordan alone with a sign. But, we had to keep moving. It turned out that our driver was in a line of three truckers all heading the same way, and they were all friends. It was hilarious hearing them talk on CB radio, I talked to one of the other trucks in German, and Janek tried to speak to them in Polish. Our driver noticed a hole in my sock and said “moment!” and rummaged in his overhead and appeared with a brand-spankin’ new package of black socks, apparently from his mother. He insisted I take them. (I later split them up between all three of us.) The truckers took a bypass road around Sofija trying to avoid police, however they were still stopped and we witnessed another “normal” bribe passed along. Finally they dropped us at some intersection of the E79, a small road and told us that right was going south towards Greece. We thanked our Turkish friend and hopped out. As it turned out Jordan had arrived faster than us and was on some road somewhere. Janek asked a group of people standing next to their car on our road wher e to go, and in the end they took us! They were so nice, most speaking English really well. They even drove up and down looking for Jordan. The car was full to the brim, we had our packs on our laps, but they still took Jordan in. Such nice people! They drove us all the way out of the unrecognizable center to a gas station on the road to Greece.

Bulgaria resembled Serbia in its unorganized, poor, somewhat primitive and yet civilized beauty. It is a photographers dream. Stray animals litter the land, and half built houses and industrial buildings lay scattered like ruins. The mountains lay around almost unnoticed and yet magnificent. As we would continue passing through we would all agree Bulgaria is secretly an amazing and beautiful place.

They live in what we consider disorganization, but scattered among beautiful landscape.

Night fell fast and we realized we were again nowhere with easy sleeping. We began to make a sign, and while the boys were inside our newest station, a young guy with a small red car approached me and asked me something in Bulgarian. I apologized for not speaking the language, and he asked “where are you going?” Amazing! The boys came out and I introduced them to our next ride, a really cool snowboard instructor named Dobri that had hitchhiked himself all over and noticed us. He drove us extremely far towards Greece, and even dropped us off where we could find a place to sleep.
We bade farewell to our awesome ride, and crossed over some train tracks up some creaky metal stairs, then camped on the wet grass next to a river. It was quiet, but close to the road, however after 2 days with no sleep everyone was ready to sleep anywhere. It was a good night.

The next morning no one awoke extremely early, we rose after the sun was high. I had heard voices in the morning but it was not until I peeked out of the tent that I saw 10 fishermen all along the banks of the river doing their morning fishing. They followed their activity next to our tents as if we had always camped there. It was surreal and beautiful. The skies were blue, and we were surrounded by rolling hills. It was obvious we were in some town, with old decrepit houses and small new ones scattered about the green landscape. So, after breakfast we packed up and crossed the tracks back to the road. The main route we were on was small enough to hitchhike on, and with good traffic flow. Quite soon we had a ride within 20 km from the border. They man was very nice, told us about the mountains and Bulgaria, then dropped us off at a fancy kebab shop so Jordan and Janek could get fed. The guys at the restaurant were also very nice to us, and gave me a tea for free (I never ordered something) and paid a bit of our bill. We also enjoyed Bulgarian mTV. We then walked down and begin thumbing.

Our next ride was a Bulgarian/Greek trucker, who took Janek and I. The weather was beautiful and therefore we felt less guilty about leaving Jordan.

Our ride was going all the way to Thessaloniki, and we could not pass it up. The guy seemed quite nice, spoke little English but was young and cheerful. At the border Janek got out and crossed by foot with no bags. The border control was a bit puzzled about a guy from Poland hitchhiking with no bags all the way to Greece, but they let him go. For me they scoured my passport and looked at every stamp, gave me the third degree, and told me exactly how long I would have in Europe after the Greece trip. But I understand, those young American girls traveling in Europe are a big threat. Finally we were on our way. The trucker was named Antonas, and he insisted that that night we would stay with him and drink ouzo in Greece. We eventually picked Jordan up on the side of the highway, and it was still daylight and we thought it was a good idea to keep going, however I was feeling guilty because Antonas really wanted us to party with him. But, I later regretted my silly guilty feelings.

He drove around for 2 hours looking for the place to drop of his cargo. He could not find it. The address he had was a PO BOX, for one thing. We realized our mistake staying with him immediately. He ended up parking on some backroad with many other trucks in the industrial area of Thessaloniki. We pitched our tents among semi’s. There are also many stray dogs in Greece, more then Bulgaria even! They are not friendly though, and roam around in mangy packs looking for food, sleeping in the road and barking if you come near. So, eventually the trucker fed us and drank ouzo with us, but we all just wanted to sleep. It was fun, kind of. We communicated that in the morning he would drop us off at a gas station. But, that did not happen.

The next morning we drove around again for 2 hours looking for his cargo drop and pick up. Finally he found it and the Bulgarian guy there told us it would be another hour before Antonas could drop us off at --- not a gas station, but a parking lane. What the heck? We were all angry and decided to walk. So, we headed down the side road until we found an on ramp, climbed an extremely steep hill up to the road, and stood in one of the worse hitchhiking spots ever.

The most amazing thing happened there, must have been a gift from God! Ha! A German guy in a rental car drove past Janek and I at like 120km per hour and stopped and reversed all the way to where we were. We piled in his car, and it turned out we had been picked up by an extreme catholic. This guy was nice, but everything that came from his mouth was related to the bible. He related each of our names to Bible stories (he must have been stoked when he heard my name) and even was bold enough to argue abortion with us (He was pro-life, obviously.) The guy was nice, really, but our heads were ready to explode. He was a taxi driver by occupation. Poor customers! He bought us cappuccinos and even gave us 10 Euros when he dropped us off, and we all battled our consciences about taking the money but he was really happy to help us in any way he could. So, we thanked him and all laughed as we realized that we were in Trikala, so close to Meteora! Greece was beautiful, we had passed the Sea, Mount Olympus and enjoyed the beautiful sunny weather.

In Trikala we were a funny site to passers bye. People even took pictures of us! Two girls stopped and tried to give us money for a bus, but we refused over and over until they drove away, very confused. Finally a van with painters pulled over and we all got in the dark back. They drove us directly to Kalambaka, the bigger town underneath the rock towers. It was already apparent that there were limitless highline possibilities here. We were so happy to finally have made it! Victory!

So, then we called the Germans and they came with a rental car and drove us to Kalastraki, a few kilometers away. There we joined them at the campsite. It was such a relief to be there, and with our perfect timing the guys were all cooking up some dinner. We exchanged hello’s and introductions for others, and joined the feast.

photo by Jordan Tybon

The first highline we did was a on a beautiful butt-like tower. We drove with our friend Marty up windy and steep roads away from the small village, finally parking and hiking the rest of the roads. We ended at a tiny white church on a hill, sitting just beneath the tower.

Through the churchyard we walked (stopping in a room on the side to peak over a wall and view the piles of Skeletons that appeared to have been unearthed recently) until we found ourselves in the small back garden.

From there we climbed over a stone wall and hopped onto a vine covered pile of…something…it was crunching, and crackling, and moving in a strange artificial way. It turned out to be a huge mound of trash, sitting and growing so long that vines had grown over it. Plastic bottles, old shoes, and even an old cross lay strewn among the garbage. Apparently trash pickup did not exist at this church. We would learn on this trip that the monks had their head so high in the clouds close to heaven that they seemed to care nothing for earth and the environment.

We followed the path that led through jungle-like greenery, up and over rocks, through spiky bushes, spiraling around and finally ending on the backside of the tower at a rope hanging 80 meters, which lead to the lovely ascending.

photo by Jordan Tybon

I attached the 50 meters of threaded tubular to my harness and went third up the wall, slowly.

photo by Jordan Tybon

Once atop, we had a view of the whole area they call Meteor; a sea of gray towers standing ancient and beautifully among green hills and small villages of orange roofs. Endless highline possibilities!

photo by Jordan Tybon

You could even see the caves hollowed out here in there, some with old boards which were once prisons for monks or nuns who misbehaved. Some were walled in with stones to create old monasteries.

photo by Jordan Tybon

Atop some towers sat elaborate monasteries, perched on the edge of the spires. We wondered through the Alison in Wonderland like landscape atop Pixari, our tower, grassy patches with lovely purple flowers.

Finally we came to our place right above the new highline location. It was bolted just on the edges of the huge crack that ran up the tower, its sides sloping outward. This line was exposed to the max. Jordan and Janek rigged the line up, and eventually the German guys showed up and we all waited until the rigging was finished. It was so windy, the line was flying. Jordan took the first ascent of the line, and aptly named it “Heaven’s Gate.”

We returned the next day in order for all people to get a chance on the line. On the road below you could see the tiny silhouettes of some guys atop the line.

photo by Jordan Tybon

Janek took the next turn, sending it both directions.

photo by Jordan Tybon

When it was my turn, I rappelled down cautiously to the anchor, tied in and walked it first try both directions.

photo by Jordan Tybon

It felt great to walk such an exposed line on the first try after some break from highlining. As an introduction to the area, it was great to watch all these highliners raging!

photo by Jordan Tybon

The next line we walked in Meteora was on the Modi tower; the line was from the last year and was called “For your Eyes Only.” It was 40 meters long. It involved another long hike; through beautiful woods and amazing greenery, then a lovely ascend of another rope to the top.

photo by Jordan Tybon

At the finish were ruins of a long-gone stone wall, lingering on the very edge of the tower. There were even stairs lightly chipped into the stone, leading up to some room that had since fallen. We hiked over some more grassy slopes, and then came into view of the 40 meter “For Your Eyes Only” Highline. We watched our friend Johannes walk the line for his second time. The way back proved difficult as the sun was shining in his eyes. Janek walked next, but I was falling asleep on the rock, in the nice Greek sunshine. I woke up as he finished his on sight walk back. The line was rigged with Distance Webbing and a backup static rope underneath. The sound of the two hitting each other was a disturbing rattling sound. I took a turn next, rappelling down to the anchor. I felt no fear until I was sitting on the anchor, 150 meters high above the void, with the wind rushing through the corridor between two stone spires.

photo by Jordan Tybon

I put on Groove Armada- Suntoucher, and walked across the line first try. It felt great. The way back was a struggle, as the sun was staring me right back in the face, I fell once then walked back to the anchor.

photo by Jordan Tybon

It was a beautiful line. Jordan walked next one direction, but the way back he had major issues with the sun in the eyes. He fought hard, and yet finally decided he had enough fighting for the day, especially since he had a cut on his foot and we left back to Camp. On the winding road out of the sea of spires, a car stopped in the darkness next to us and spoke in an unfamiliar language. We responded in English, and it turned out to be an Albanian couple on holiday who offered us a ride to the town. We were hitchhiking without even trying! We eagerly hopped in and they dropped us right at the campsite. So nice!

Our nights were spent cooking with the whole group, sitting next to the fire place and sharing laughs, stories, and talking shit about the other slackliners who were not there (In the best spirit of course…) We also met one of the most memorable characters on this trip; a 72 year old Bavarian named Gustl, who had helped pioneer the area for climbing, and had a topo filled with tabs labeled “solo.” Despite his age, Gustl came every spring to Meteora and camped at Vrachos Camping and climbed or guided. He was very German, proud of it, and zipped around on his BMW Motorcycle.

photo by Jordan Tybon

He insisted on us speaking German with him, which was appropriate I suppose. He was very helpful to our group, often doing laps with one of us on the back of his motorcycle to and from the highlines. He often followed us to take photos, and loved to scoot along the highline on a carabiner, unclip and easily scramble up to the top of a tower. He sported a t-shirt that said “Crazy Opa” in English and in Greek. Yes, we had fun with Gustl. Our mornings were spent eating breakfast together, laughing and lazily heading out to rig or walk a highline.

photo by Jordan Tybon

Gustl took Jordan, Janek and I on a trail to a tower we would climb one day, clipping spiky bushes along the way. We climbed “Dohlwand Direkt” a 6 pitch route that Janek lead. It was some crazy adventure climbing! Started with a chimney, went around a tree, over some spiky bushes, then a long traverse and finally the top. Once on the spire, we saw that the highline possibilities from it were not as spectacular as they appeared from below. It was worth the crazy climb though.
photo by Jordan Tybon

Another amazing line we walked was “Disturbing Eternity” one with a beautiful view of the town in the background. It had been established the year before. This line was closer to the monasteries, and you could see the huge white streaks down the towers from the Monks washing machine liquids pouring out. We all sent the line, and Jordan took some beautiful photos.

photo by Jordan Tybon

We witnessed another gripping walk by Bernhard with his 6m long leash.

photo by Jordan Tybon

He also practiced his “Luke Skywalker” trick (yet to be stuck) which is jumping off the line, swinging in a full circle and landing back on the line again. That evening we went to dinner, treated by Bernhard, at a traditional Greek restaurant. The conversation followed the usual pattern; speaking about things related to buttholes.

A warning for those who plan to do laundry at the campsite-the washer only tosses some water on your clothing and loudly bumps it around for an hour. It costs 5 euro, but we decided to forego paying for something that didn’t exist-aka clean clothing.

There were some days of rain, where we occupied ourselves at the campsite because the moss on top of the rocks becomes quite slippery when wet. We set up slacklines at the campsite to keep ourselves entertained. One fun one I came up with was "No Diving" a midline over the empty pool at the campsite. If we couldn't swim, we could slackline!

One fateful day Janek and I adopted the task of rigging a recently bolted 51m line next to a shorter 42m line. They shared a tower as an anchor in the middle. We spent two days rigging, without walking anything. It was exhausting. These lines involved a bit of climbing and repelling, so they took plenty of energy. The last day I was repelling down from one tower, looking below me, when I felt sudden pain on my scalp and I stopped moving. My bangs were caught in the cinch! I immediately began calling Janek to as what action I should take. I tried desperately to lift my weight up the rope, however without and ascender it was difficult to say the least. Finally before anyone rescued my poor ass my hair began pulling itself from the roots and soon I was freed-with burning pain and a large, white bald spot. There in the cinch was a huge clump of hair wrapped full circle around the rope. There was no saving my bangs. Two months with a bald spot sure is a good lesson to be more cautious! I rocked a comb-over at age 20.

We ended up rigging the line with Distance webbing and a static rope backup. I do not enjoy this type of rig, as it is heavy and the clacking of the rope and line together is distracting. It is also not as dynamic as I prefer. But, despite my complaining I walked the 51m line after one fall, but the way back proved harder. I suppose with static rigging I feel that I cannot absorb the reverberation in my body as easily, since it is quick and jerky. I fought on the way back, falling many times and bruising my thighs with each catch, but I finally sent. The rest of the guys were around as well, and the lines never lacked a walker.

photo by Jordan Tybon

Janek ended up naming the 51m line “Verruckt Opa” for Gustl. The 42m was named “Master Crumble” because of the granola everyone was addicted to, full of nuts and chocolate.

One failed highline attempt was a project from Bernhard, on a tall, skinny rock tower called “The Spindle” by the Germans. It is a rock that you can see from the village below, and it is some kind of monument for the area. Bernhard bolted the line, which would be 73m long, and one day we all headed to the location for the rigging. Janek was the primary rigger, after 2 constant rigging days. The problem we did not foresee for this line was that this place was a corridor through all the towers, and the wind used it to constantly howl through. Wind + Highlines = no bueno. The process of getting the backup rope from one side to the other was also a nightmare, since in between the spindle and the wall was a patch of thick, spiky trees, filled in with sharp, spiky bushes. This alone took most of the day. Finally, after securing a backup line and taking across two webbings, Janek began to tension. The wind tore through the space, sending the line up and down with the loudest “Wa-wa-wa-wa,” I had ever heard. Some villagers even hiked up the trail to see what the noise was. It went on this way for hours, until finally in one moment all was silent. Everyone waiting around perked up, wondering how the wind was still howling but the line was deathly silent. It had broken. The Slackstar Control webbing, which was to be a backup, had broken near the slack banana on the far side, atop the spindle. We would never know if the line broke due to weakness or rock abrasion. Luckily Janek was hanging on the main line as well; otherwise it could have been deadly.

This was a deterrent enough for some of us, and we argued that this line seemed to be more trouble than it was worth, however Bernhard was persistent so the rigging continued for another day until it was finally finished with a backup rope. Some people tried it, but no one was able to send or even come close. It was not meant to be.

It was around this time we met Nikos Pilos, a photographer working for the biggest newspaper in Greece, who had come to do some photos for a story about our group highlining. He ended up coming the next day again when we went to walk Bernhard and Alex’s other project; “Nunnentanz highline.”

This line was especially aesthetic, however it was nearby a monastery and the monks dislike highliners. We were unable to walk it by the time they de-rigged, so we re-rigged the highline the next afternoon. Our new German friends came along since it was their last day in Meteora. Finally I took a turn in a swami, and at the time it was my longest onsight attempt in a swami-belt at 36m, with full exposure. I walked it second try one direction, and onsight the way back. The photographer asked kindly to do the last 10 steps over again several times, and I could not help but smile for the fact that I was scared shitless in a swami, repeating the last quarter of the line.

By the time Jordan and Janek finished walking it had started raining, and the rock was slippery. All the towers that usually stood in gray and black had turned to beautiful shades of green. Nikos gave us all a ride back to camp, luckily. We thanked him (he was very cool) and looked forward anxiously to his article.

Eventually we were the only highliners left along with Bernhard. We all agreed to do one last project, and I was dying to make a first ascent. Oddly enough we had all been eyeing the same tower, on the Kelch rock. It is a tower with an odd, off-balance boulder sitting atop it. It was agreed that it was a worthy project, and one day we set to climbing it and the surrounding towers to find a level place to bolt. Bernhard and Jordan took the Kelch, and Janek and I climbed another tower with a technical, well bolted route that did not fit in with the usual saxonish style routes. It was difficult for me; however I followed him up without falling. Once at the top we found that our tower was not nearly as level as it appeared. The climb was fun, but for nothing. We repelled down to check another spot. With no topo, we searched for a route on a tower that split near the top into two twins. We could see bolts, and the beginning looked easy enough, so Janek began leading (which started with a 12m solo) At the second bolt, we were atop a flake that had trees and plenty of spiky bushes growing from it. The way up had been an ugly chimney with only one place for protection-a small rock wedged in between a crack that Janek slung. I climbed with a backpack, trying to figure out with my limited climbing knowledge the best way up a chimney with a backpack. Not enjoyable. After that the route was a mystery, we could not find another bolt, and as Janek traversed left, and wondered about just going for it, we heard the calls of Bernhard and Jordan from somewhere.

We decided to repel down and try again with a topo. When we arrived at the road, Gustl was waiting on his motorcycle to take me to camp, then return for Janek. Gustl explained to me in German that many girls had arrived at the camp-my first thought was that Jordan would be thrilled, however upon arrival I saw a double decker tour bus, with highschooler’s pouring off it. Oh no. The girl’s bathroom was piled high with cell phones charging, hair straighteners, and makeup. Oh no. As I walked to our campsite I became even more distained to see forty or more quick-open Quechua tents. Heaven forbid someone actually use a tent pole that disconnects! So, for two days we were plagued with vain French highschooler’s, and yes I admit I was once one of those.

Early the next morning, Bernhard and Jordan left to climb the opposite tower and bolt the line.

photo by Jordan Tybon

By the time they returned it was late afternoon, and Janek and I prepared the gear to go rig. The unfortunate part about this line was that it demanded 100m of jugging to get to the top-that means pulling yourself up a rope for over 300ft. Janek and I both ascended carrying backpacks of gear. This took the longest. One on top, Janek crossed the guideline left by the other guys to make an anchor. Meanwhile I prepared the Kelch anchor, with four foot spansets on two bolts, using a farther back bolt from a climbing route as backup. We used a red dynamic rope as backup, tying a clove-hitch to a small steel shackle while tensioning, then finally tying a double figure-eight for the final knot. Once the backup was ready, we replaced the pulley system to be attached to the type 18 webbing. By this time the clouds were heavy and dark, looming at the horizon. Night was also closing in, but we continued to rig. This was before the era of linegrips, and after the first pulley system length the line was still loose, so we had to redo the entire tension-release the pulleys, make them longer, and pull. Night was upon us, and so was the rain. Without any raingear as dirtbags that we are, we continued pulling. Finally it was finished-except for taping. However the rain was pouring down and so Janek did a few quick security tapes for the night and we began to get the f' out of there. Janek repelled first, in order to retie the ropes to the anchors. I got stuck in the gap between the kelch boulder and the next tower, as I repelled too far down and had no ascender to pull myself up the slack in the rope. I screamed to Janek repeatedly until finally he came back up and handed me an ascendor. Last we trudged happily down the road and into camp, quickly putting all our clothes next to the fireplace.

The next morning we left early to finish taping. Gustl and the other guys showed up, and I went for my walk. I fought my way across, wanting to send this line as the first in the best style. I walked it OS FM FA. It was a great feeling to establish a new line in this highline heaven. I ended up naming the line “The Purgatory Highline” Because the rigging was just about as in between heaven and hell as one could get. It was not the worst situation, but it definitely was not the best.

photo by Jordan Tybon

I also liked to continue Jordans theme of naming the line something related to heaven. Bernhard and Jordan agreed to rig down after their walk, so Janek and I went to town with Gustl to try and buy bus tickets to Athens (our next destination.)

So we ended our highline trip in Meteora, but only for the time being. All of the new faces we met there have since become our regular friends to see around Europe always on a line. It was worth the week of hitchhiking, worth the tiredness, worth the dirtiness, but we still had to get back to Poland!

We first traveled to Athens with Bernhard as well, and couchsurfed with a lovely girl named Asmina.

She hosted us for four days, showed us around the busy city, packed full of six million people and hardly any greenspace. There were constantly public transit strikes, so we spent much time on foot.

We attempted to set up a line at the acropolis, but decided it cost too much to enter and were satisfied to set up a line below.

Janek face planted, ending our fun early, so that was the extent of our slacklining in Athens. Here we also gave an interview for the article Nikos’ photos would appear in, and we saw the section of the city where anarchists dwell-a place covered in graffiti and street art, appearing quite hip these days. We spent one evening in a park that had once been a parking lot, until outraged Athenians came and tore up the asphalt, planted trees, and staged a sit in until the city agreed to make it park space.

Here is a video from highlining in Greece!

We left Athens by taking a city bus to the outskirts, and began hitchhiking. We had decided to travel along the coast through Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and then east to Hungary and back that direction. We soon caught a ride, and eventually found ourselves at a fairy crossing where we went on my foot, marveled at the fact that we were hitchhiking by boat, and landed underneath a massive bridge that apparently Greece was still paying off debt for.

It was quite a camping spot! All night the sound of the sea lapping against the stones was peaceful, however we were under a bridge so I slept cautiously.

In the morning we packed up and walked to a nearby street to catch a ride. The rain seemed to be coming, just our luck!

We split up here, I took a ride with Janek and we agreed to meet Jordan somewhere down the road.

Janek and I were left in a beautiful town on a lake, the water the same color as the Mediterranean. Here we stood for quite some time, ate some Gyro’s, and finally caught a ride.

A car pulled over, and it was obvious the woman passenger was yelling at the male driver. We ran up to the window, at which she lowered it, looked us over and asked in a thick accent “Where are you from?” I responded that I was American and Janek was Polish. She cut me off to say “You are an AMERICAN girl?!” and I said yes, to which she asked where we are going and finally allowed us in her car. Turns out they were an extremely nice Albanian couple; she was a business woman and spoke fluent English. They took us all the way to the border.

We had word that Jordan was in a car with an Albanian as well, and was going quite far and we could join him. So, at the border we all piled into an old, shitty sedan with a broken muffler that bounced on the ground as the car bowled along. We were soon regretting this decision. Our new driver was a large, fat man who was sweaty and wearing dirty overalls and consistently played static over the radio the whole drive. He spoke no other language other than Albanian, and constantly cursed as he drove. After crossing the border within a kilometer the road changed drastically. It was no longer smooth asphalt, but crumbles of a long-since destroyed road, sometimes changing into dirt mounds and back to asphalt again.

We passed through a small town as darkness closed in, and there in the other lane stood an eerie sight; a burned touristic bus, all its machine parts burned out, no windows, and dark characters stood nearby, just standing. Further in the town there was a small fire burning on the side of the street, not wood to keep a body warm, but debris, with no one to watch it. Every kilometer along the route was a cross for an Auto-accident, but this was no surprise as one side of the road was a steep drop off and it could barely fit two passing cars. Hours passed, and we saw random Mercedes with bullet holes passing us on such roads, sometimes semis. We finally came to a decent pavement, where stood a roundabout, however our driver took a sharp left, foregoing the roundabout and driving towards oncoming traffic for half a mile. We all gripped whatever we could. The odd thing was that not a single car honked or flashed their lights. After this small stretch of normal highway, there were five police cars sitting at the next roundabout. The fat Albanian ended up arguing with them and finally bribing them, and then we continued on. Finally in the wee hours we arrived on a proper motorway, complete with Petrol stations. We unloaded at the first one, thanked him and began to take our packs when he grabbed my arm saying “Money! Money!” We all said “Auto stop, FREE-Auto stop, FREE!” But he was relentless, so we just walked away; glad to be rid of this grotesque asshole. There was a gas station attendant, who spoke minimal English, and asked us “Alpinists?” He ended up allowing us to sleep on the deck under the tables for 2 hours until he finished work, bade farewell, and we were back to Hitchhiking.

Catching a ride on the side of a highway is difficult anywhere. In Albania, it only results in confusion. The men working at the Gas station thought we were trying to catch a bus, we tried to explain our thumbs and hitchhiking, but in the end took a bus (circa 1970) 150km for 10 Euros for all three of us. Apparently bus stops in Albania consist of a group of people standing on the side of any major road. The scenery through the Albanian countryside looked much like Serbia.

This dropped us in the biggest city in the North- Shkoder. This place was bustling with people, cars, men on bicycles with cages of chickens, children playing, women with babies and scooters. It looked less like Europe then anywhere I had been. There were buildings still showcasing huge holes from the war, most crumbling to rubble. It was apparent the distribution of wealth in Albania was not fair. A young English speaking Albanian came and helped us locate the bus stop, but to our dismay they stopped running at 4pm. We sat in a swarm of waiting taxis, all trying to bait us with a twenty Euro price tag for a 30km ride to the border. We said no, and finally Jordan began shouting “Ten Euro! Ten Euro” which they waved off. Finally, an hour later a taxi driver ushered us in. Ten Euros in Albania is not worthless.

Crossing into Montenegro was an immediate change of scenery. The bunkers, barbwire and bombed buildings disappeared; we were in a much cleaner country.

We stayed close to the coast, and recognized the friendliness of the people there. We finally made it to a beach, my primary goal on this hitchhiking trip.

It was a tiny inlet called Petrovac; near Budva. The tourists came later, so we had it to ourselves with the few locals. Victory!

We peeled down and enjoyed the sunshine, swam once since the water was frigid. The sand was rough, stony and the view was amazing.

The buildings lining the tiny beach were all old and lovely.

We met a Serbian man and spoke to him about many things; our lifestyle, the war, the world….
That evening we decided to head up a steep hill and camp.

photo by Jordan Tybon

The boys went ahead of me, and built a fire. We were so famished, having eaten hardly anything all day, and tired. I began cooking pasta, when 6 lights began flickering around our camp-the Police! There stood 6 huffing, sweaty police officers, obviously disappointed to find three people with tents cooking supper. Five of them hiked down immediately, and the last one insisted he take our passports. We refused to let him go without us too, and packed up the whole camp. I hiked down behind carrying a hot pot of pasta sauce and noodles. We sat in the station as he questioned us, told us open fires were illegal, and tried to think of some way to get us in trouble. Once he found out that we had no money, he just scanned our passports and told us to hike back down the road two km to another campsite. We said, sure.

As we left, we made a b-line for the beach, hungrily ate the pasta, and passed out in our sleeping bags not 200 meters from the station. They never came.

The next day we slowly left, and found that hitchhiking along the coast was easy as pie. People here even hitch rides with no bags to the next town over! We split up a few times, one ride offered Jordan a kilo of marijuana which he kindly refused, and then offered the both of us ten thousand Euros to get married. Maybe next time…

Janek and I met some nice young guys in Croatia when we went looking for an abandoned house that someone told us we could sleep in. They invited us to the docks to party with the, and we sat and spoke about the war—they carried much bitterness for Montenegro and Serbia, even though they were in diapers at the time of the war. I think it will take years before these countries reconcile. The pointed us towards a campsite that was closed during the off season, and we set up our tent on nice, flat ground. I also found the foundation for my dream home there.
The rest of the way was easy, and we eventually made it to Croatia.

The scenery constantly became more beautiful. We stayed split up after this, and Janek and I took a ride with a rich business man who described everything luxurious about his life as “standard.” He treated us to Goulash and Croatian wine, a delicious meal! He left us on a major highway in Zagreb. We thanked him and then worked on getting to Hungary. From there it was almost smooth sailing, despite one night sleeping in a parking lot; we rode to Budapest, then had a ride with a friendly Russian towards Bratislava, then caught a lucky ride all the way to Poland!

We arrived in the night and thought we wouldn’t find a ride, but one small white van pulled over, a cyclist who had ridden all over Europe, and he took us to Wroclaw. Six days.

Poor Jordan was stuck in Split, Croatia for three days, but finally made it back to Berlin, better late than never.

It sure was an epic trip. I am so thankful we decided to hitchhike, even if it was not always easy I saw so many countries along the way, different lifestyles, cultures, and scenery. I might have not seen those places had it not been for this trip. And thank you to all the rides that got us there and back safely.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog, Faith! Started reading and got sucked right into your adventures.

    Couple things..

    First off, love your taste in music- Suntoucher is a great song, and its funny to hear someone mention it by name. lol Maybe I'm just not hanging with the right crowd.

    Two, so crazy- but right before I read the part about the guy who passed by you guys and then went in reverse- I started spacing out, and 'saw' myself in a car, passing you guys by quickly, and then slamming it into reverse. What's up with that?! lol Guess I was just sucked into the story and was reading more than words.

    Anyway, loved reading about your adventures- hope to read more soon! You guys all have such great energy, and I love your sense of adventure. I may even pick up some slacklining gear when I can and start learning.