When given the opportunity, my dad will proudly tell the story about TreeUmph: When I was about 15, we visited a zip-line obstacle course in the middle-of-nowhere Bradenton. The course has five levels, but participants have the option to skip the final part because it requires a lot more strength and stamina than the rest of the course. Me being who I am, there was no way I was skipping any part. But I had no idea how hard it was going to be.

As dad remembers, before each obstacle in fifth and final level, I would get this look of concentration on my face – nothing was going to stop me. And somehow, I managed to complete the entire course. In the end, I finished. I don’t know how, but I did.

Kriváň was the same way – except ten times worse. We started the hike around 9 a.m. and were told that it would take about 8 hours. Please keep in mind that I’ve never been hiking before. Not really. I got lucky and was able to borrow all the necessary hiking gear from my host mom and cousin. I needed good shoes, ski socks, leggings, and a jacket so thick it weighed almost as much as I do.

The first part of the walk (and by first part I mean the first 45 minutes) was a cute little trek through the woods in comparison with what was to come. Ashley even said – and I quote – “Who said this hike was hard?”.

After about an hour, we got to the point where the path split. Half the group went left to walk for another leisurely hour around a lake, and the rest of us went right to continue up the mountain. This was the “oh shit” moment when Ashley and I looked at each other and asked, “Wait, we have to go right?” From then on, the hike only got progressively harder. In the week leading up to the hike, all my Slovak friends gave me funny looks when I told them I was going to Kriváň, but I couldn’t figure out why. I got it now. Boy, did I get it. Up until the very end, Ashley and I couldn’t even figure out how we were going to get to the top.

In the final stretch, we were completely on all fours scaling the rocks like monkeys or mountain goats or who knows what – not like Floridians that’s for sure. My arms and shoulders are just as sore as my legs because half the time I had to pull myself up rather than simply step up. But whenever it felt like we couldn’t go on, we would find a ledge somewhere to perch and have some Horalky. Or apples. Somehow there seemed to be an endless supply of apples. But Horalky was a guaranteed fix for everything. (Horalky is a traditional chocolate wafer snack – very Slovak – but I love it.)

The whole time all I could think was, even if we get to the top, how will we get down?

Ale ako pôjdeme dole? | But how will we get down?

I’ve never worked hard enough physically to the point where I was worried that my body wouldn’t be able to do what my mind told it to do. But there were definitely points – especially on the way back down – where the only thing between me and a steep drop down the side of the mountain was the trust that when my foot touched the next rock down, the rest of my leg will be there to support me. Half the time I wasn’t entirely sure my legs would hold me.

I have to say. The view at the top was worth it. At over 8,000 feet, Kirvan is the 3rd highest peak in the High Tatras. Fun fact: we were the first exchange students ever to make it to the top. I’ve never been that high before. It’s an amazing feeling.

It was really cold at the top. Once you stop moving, the chill kicks in, but we were just so happy to have made it all the way to the top that it didn’t matter. After the obligatory flag pictures, we had sandwiches and shots before beginning the trek back down the mountain. I would have felt accomplished simply by reaching the top of the mountain.

Little did I know that the hike down would be worse. I would have felt no shame in taking a lift or something – anything – down. Believe me, we tried to figure out alternatives, but the only way that we could call a helicopter was if someone broke a leg. So…I suppose that wasn’t an option.

Honestly though, I was laughing the entire trip. I wish I had a GoPro or something so that I could have recorded all the hilarious, sarcastic, sassy things that came out of our mouths. I have to say, we kept our humor until the very end – at that point survival mode kicked in.


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