First-Day Learnings – It’s Just Walking, Isn’t It?

So, my first day of hiking is done. 32km (20 miles) completed, through the fields and forests surrounding Vienna. Maybe because I effectively walked past my house (I am writing from my living room, and will sleep in my own bed tonight), it was all a bit of an anticlimax. I was disorganized, treating it only like a day hike. I slept in, and with my girlfriend deciding to join me at the last minute, we didn’t hit the trail until 11 a.m. Not the way I had expected to start my thru-hike, not nearly as nerve-wracking or exciting. But at the end of the day, it’s just walking, isn’t it?

Finally found the trailhead!

It took us 20 minutes to even find the trailhead, an old stone pillar nestled behind an old church. People were having coffee in the street, and other people were out for brunch. Others still were playing tennis, or soccer, or doing walks of their own. The city was carrying on around us like it always does. We didn’t stand out at all–my larger-than-the-others backpack and trekking poles really the only thing giving away my intentions for the coming weeks.

And so we started walking. Within minutes, the city melted away. The coffees and the cars and the tennis players left behind, replaced by forest. Vienna is surrounded by thick forest, known as the Wienerwald, which is cross-crossed by hiking and biking trails, providing an easily accessibly nature outlet for its citizens. It provided us welcome respite from the heat, which was surprisingly high, and for an amazing audio track in the background–birds singing, wind blowing, and the constant scuttle of smaller animals in the undergrowth, disturbed as we walked past.

The view back toward Vienna.

All too soon, the forest ended, and we had hours of walking through fields and (somewhat annoyingly) along streets and footpaths. Through fields, past farm animals and under the shadows of castles, we kept walking. Just walking, and occasionally talking, with the occasional greeting to the mountain bikers going the other way. At one point, we missed a turn, and wandered down the wrong path. An extra mile or so added to the walking bank. But no matter, it was just walking.

The trail is not marked the best, and this made things a little difficult. With so many trails in so many directions, it can be difficult to know if you’re going the right direction. I had to check my maps a few times to check we were on the right path. Most of the time we were, and the checking just became peace of mind. We did wander off track once more, but there were no major consequences of this, just a little more walking.

Trails in all directions!

After a late lunch behind an old monastery, the clouds started to darken on the horizon. By this time, the idea of rain was welcome–both of us were overheating and the thought of cooling down was quite tempting. The skies darkened around us, thunder started rolling in, but despite our calls and impromptu rain dances, it never rained. So, we just kept walking, and walking, and walking, until our end point, seven hours after we headed off. And then, Murphy’s Law, the storm came, and despite our earlier calls, we quickly became grateful for the shelter provided by the train station as we waited for our lift home.

Castle count: three.

So, the first day is done. I’m glad it panned out this way, and that we took some wrong turns here and that we just got to walk. Because this was just the beginning, the fields and hills surrounding Vienna are not difficult, and home is just down the road. I know that as I go farther, it will get more difficult, and it won’t just be walking anymore. I’ll be farther from home, and the path will only get more difficult.

But today, we walked. We learned. We pushed ourselves (this was the farthest both of us have ever hiked). And most importantly, we enjoyed ourselves. My nerves have been calmed (just a little), and I feel a little bit more ready for the coming weeks. Today, just today, it was just walking.

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