Reaching a higher ground

Back in February, before this adventure kicked off, I wrote the first post on this adventure. In it, I talked about being open to any and all possibilities. As I continue to make myself open to possibility, good things continue to find me.

The following is a story about the serendipity of life, and how staying open to possibility can result in the highlights of your life.

Sometimes when you’ve had a great time somewhere, leaving for a new place gives you a feeling that nothing could top it. As I previously wrote, the quantity of quality people I met in Ulcinj was so wonderful, so I was a bit anxious that I wouldn’t be able to replicate that again.

Arriving in the northern Albanian city of Shkodër, I assumed things would regress to the mean. I’d spend a few days laying low, checking out a new place and generally not meet any people. My hostel was definitely geared towards meeting people, and while I did chat with plenty of them, it was all surface level. In the back of my mind, I was noticing a bit of a hesitancy to go too far or too deep with anyone.

Again, the plan was to take it easy, enjoy the city and move on. The hostel is a connecting point for one of Albania’s most famous hikes, the Valbonë to Theth hike, through Valbonë Valley National Park.

I was not aware of the hike, and as such, was not planning on doing it. But each day, as people returned from the hike with raving reviews, my curiosity grew. Then a gregarious Aussie rocked up in my room and we hit it off. He was there to go on the hike and convinced me I should go as well.

So early the next morning, I boarded a bus headed north to Valbonë. After a crazy two hour drive, we took an insane three hour ferry ride. It was insane for many reasons. Firstly, it's an absolutely stunning ride. Secondly, they packed both vehicles and people onto this boat like sardines. It was standing room only for the next several hours. After standing shoulder to shoulder for so long, the idea of another 2 hour bus right did not sound appealing, but our fates were already sealed.

On the mini-bus to the guest house, conversations started to flow and many laughs were shared. The laughs and camaraderie continued to flow upon arrival at the guest house. After a quick check-in we walked into town to find a few beers to pass the time before dinner. In reflection, we all agreed this is "where it all began.” The hike crew was assembled and we knew we were kindreds. Three Aussies, two Belgians, one German, one Japanese and yours truly.

Before dinner, several of us took a quick dip in the freezing mountain river. While it was freezing, I felt incredibly recharged afterwards, ready for the challenging hike in the morning. After a delicious home cooked meal, provide by our hosts, we played cards for a bit before calling it an early night.

In the morning, after a hearty breakfast, we all climbed into a local “taxi” for a ride to the hike starting point, and we were off.

Rather than a step-by-step of the entire hike, I’ll just say it was hands down the best hike I’ve ever done in my life. The views are to-die-for, and making the trek with this crew increased my enjoyment and happiness 100-fold.

Here’s a capsule of moments from the seven-hour journey up one side of a mountain and down the other.

Upon reaching Theth and declaring victory, we found our way through town to our guesthouse. After a quick reprieve, we hiked up the canyon about an hour to a waterfall, where we hoped to take a swim to cool off. The waterfall was crowded yet beautiful, and the presence of horse manure near the waters edge put us off from a swim. So we made our way back down the canyon and found a nice spot on the river for a refreshing dip. We rounded out the evening with a sunset dinner and more card games.

The next morning we had a relatively quick two hour bus ride back to Shkodër, and back to the original hostel. At this point a few of the crew departed, but those of us remaining decided to keep the fun flowing. We rented bikes from the hostel, and had an ambling hours' long ride out to Shkodër Lake.

The discovery of a half-built house (very common in the Balkans), had us doing some urban exploring. This resulted in some amazingly aesthetic photos, and a few new inside jokes and phrases.

What followed, was one of the best moments of the weekend. A languid beer on a pier with a view of Montenegro. As we imbibed the refreshingly cool Peja, we reflected on the last two days. I then had the honor and privilege to introduce everyone to the intoxicating sounds of Phish ... playing them one of my favorite summer jams, the Reba from July 16, 1998 at the Gorge Amphitheater.

As the sun melted into the mountains, we pedaled towards Rozafa Castle, which overlooks the city and the lake. On the way, we stumbled upon a beautiful and quiet mosque, before reaching the castle. After scaling the castle hill, we watched as the sun defiantly met its fiery demise, toppled by a sky of orange and pink.

Aiming to pack in as much crew time as possible, we wiled away the night back at the hostel with a few beers and plenty of shenanigans.

Such was the deep engagement in our time, and being so present, I realized I hadn’t booked anything beyond this night. So I did the logical thing and just kept the good times rolling. The next day I joined the last of the team in heading to Tirana, where we had one last day of adventures.

Kismet is a word I love, and I so truly believe meeting these people and having these days together were fated. We were all meant to enter each others' lives and we each contributed to an amazing weekend. A weekend I’m certain all of us will cherish forever. For me, I can say, hands down, without a doubt this was the best weekend of this adventure so far. It has intensified my desire, and commitment, to choosing it.

Sometimes the location is the memory, sometimes its the people. And in the most rare and blissful moments, its both. This weekend was one of those.

Zac, Emma, Olivia, Nina, Aaron, Yoga and Max … where ever you might be, may grace and happiness look upon you, and may you see the Albanian Aesthetic everywhere you look.