I am frequently asked how I do it – how do I hike alone in the mountains, in the Balkans. Well, I don’t have the answer. I am not a professional adventurer, but I do follow my passions and learn the rest along the way. It’s how I learn the best and enjoy the most. I don’t have a ready-made roadmap for a hiker seeking adventure in the Dinarides, but I do have my experience. And that’s what I would like to share with you...
Before starting my Via Dinarica hike, I prepared the best I could. In the Netherlands, I read a lot about the Balkan region, the Dinaric Alps, and the conditions of the trail: from border-crossing procedures and the potential risk of mines to wildlife and water sources. From the Blonde Gypsy’s “Walking Via Dinarica Tour” to Hendrik Morkels’ “Getting lost on the Via Dinarica” story.
After soaking up all the information, I started talking to people - Locals who know the Dinarides like their backyard. In addition to providing me with inspiration, these chats also boosted my confidence and trust. Aware of the dangers, I created an emergency plan and safety net, and gave myself the chance to explore.
“Everyone has the resistance. Everyone feels scared. The hard part – honestly – is being brave enough to begin. Good luck!” - Alastair
There is a lot of wildlife on the Via Dinarica - something that’s exciting but scary at the same time. As much as I’d love to see beautiful creatures like wolves, bears, and lynxes, the potential of an unexpected counter made me nervous. You never know exactly what the animal will do. That’s why I put a bear-bell on my backpack - a little bell to make sure they can hear me coming. Of course that makes it harder to spot wildlife, but I was a guest on their land. They should decide whether we meet or not.
One of the first things most ask is if I am afraid of… people. Many think that we are dangerous. Many people warn of others who might harm me. And although most people I met on the trail were friendly, supportive, and extremely hospitable, the majority of us doesn’t seem to trust our own species. “You are a girl alone…” explains it all.
It is too easy to say that the chance of something bad happening is zero - Because that is not true. It is also too easy to tell (female) solo-travellers that they are putting themselves in more dangerous situations - because they aren’t. I think you can bump into people with bad intentions anywhere. There aren’t any more of them in the mountains - if anything, probably less.
I believe that trying to understand the other person rather than judging is one of the most important things. I feel judged when someone tells me it is irresponsible to hike alone. But then again, I also judge when I meet a group of loud men who are singing, yelling and drinking beer. Why? Perhaps because I feel intimidated, but also, because I don’t know how to label their behaviour as anything other than a “threat.”
Rethinking people skills for me means looking at the other and then yourself. How do people express themselves? What is the influence of the environment? Or culture? What do you know about the local customs and traditions? How do they compare to what you are used to and to where you come from?
The question is how to deal with a situation. What is your approach? When your starting position is labelling, judging and protecting yourself, it will be a completely different encounter than when you’re curious, interested, and open minded.
Break through the big wall of fear and expectations and give the Other a chance.
The biggest confrontation on the trail won’t be with dangerous animals, wild nature, or the so-called bad people. No. I believe it will be, without any doubt or exception, you. How do you deal with a difficult situation? How do you handle being scared, tired, hurt, or hungry? Or lonely?
Do you run? Or hide? Give in? Or give up? Or do you face it?
“Adventure is an attitude more than anything else.” – Alastair Humphreys
Hiking alone on the Via Dinarica trail is definitely an adventure. There are ups and downs, and being alone makes this curve stronger. Being in the Balkans makes everything even more intense: the incredible and funny moments as well as the unbelievable beautiful views, but also the pain, sorrow, and some sadness every now and then.
But that’s OK.
For me it is OK to feel all of it. The fact that I feel something means that I care. I care about the things around me – be it nature, culture, other people or even myself. I feel, I care, and I connect.
That’s how I can embrace all of it - the ups and the downs, the good and the bad. I see it all as a gift to myself. I allow myself to feel whatever I feel. And allow myself to be me. That is freedom. That is how I could not only survive, but also enjoy being on my own on the Via Dinarica trail.
Of course there were moments when I had just had enough - enough of the trail, enough of the mountains, enough of the curious people, and most of all, enough of myself. No spectacular view, amazing blue sky, or delicious homemade burek could change that. During those moments, I had to escape.
Bring an audiobook is my advice to every solo hiker who recognises those moments. By listening to an audiobook, I could immerse myself in a story which was not mine. I could escape into another world, lose track of time, space and even my own bad mood.
The great thing about the Via Dinarica is that when your dark cloud is gone, there will always be a spectacular view, an amazing blue sky, or a delicious homemade burek waiting for you to enjoy - I guarantee it!