Climb the mountains is my rallying call when I travel. I love to hike. There is something about waking up early in the morning and knowing your day will be spent putting one boot in front of the other and climbing a mountain … whether Croatia, Italy, or the USA … that energizes me.
My amateur career as a multi-continental hiker began when I discovered a UK travel company while googling “walks in Italy.” The firm (Exodus Travels) brought people together (mostly from England) to hike. I choose Northern Tuscany to strap on my hiking boots to climb for my first expedition in 2017.
It’s funny when you try to explain to the “pina colada and suntanning-perfect-vacation” demographic why climbing eight to 12 miles daily up steep mountains on your vacation is fun.
I just always have my mind on the pinnacle view—the payoff. When I climbed the steep terrain of the mountains in northern Tuscany, I knew a sense of pride that was different – physical gratification – that I just don’t get from the completion of a major work project. That’s cerebral. And don’t get me wrong, this brainiac dopamine rush is great. BUT I like feeling wonder when I hike to the top of the mountain. I want what I call “pinnacle pride” of knowing I am physically tough enough to climb that mountain. And I love when my aching knees and sore ankles are rewarded and I can stop and smell the moss.
Picture if you will climbing since early morning the undulating ridge on a gravel path leading up onto the peak of Monte Prado, the highest in Tuscany at 2054 meters. The Alpi Apuane and Apennine mountain ranges in Northern Italy are a hiker’s heaven. Slowly twirl 360 degrees to see nature’s canvas painted in such bold bursts of colors—blues, greens, browns and greys—with the wild swipe of the painter’s brush. It makes me tremble especially when I look straight down a cliff and experience vertigo.
This is why I must schedule a hiker’s vacation each year. Sometimes we have to make our physical body ache (but in a good way) to feel so alive. Sometimes our knees have to burn with pain as we descend down the mountain. Sometimes we have to give, to get. So I continue to test myself by climbing big and little mountains in Italy and Croatia and the USA. I pull on the crazy uncomfortable hiking boots to step outside of my office cubicle and into nature to experience fresh air, pebbles, grass, and trees.
Like John Muir (the founder of the Sierra Club and my hero), I feel Nature’s balm soothe me. I go to the mountains because they call me. I know the peace of the moment. John Muir wrote, “Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.”
Below are some photos of places I hiked in the last few years and which I confess stole my heart!
There are fantastic views across the Alpi Apuane national park which can stretch as far as the Italian Alps (to north) and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.
National Park Paklenica is home to the Velika and Mala Paklenica canyons, vertically cut into the mountain. I see unusual karst forms and caves.
Vidova Gora, Croatia
We ascend 230m to the summit of the highest point on Croatia’s Brac Island. From the top of Vidova Gora, I can view the island of Hvar and the famous 500m long spit of Zlatni Rat jutting out to sea.
We hike the Murgia plateau and peek inside the cave churches dating back to the 8th century. Then we climb to the top of the ravine which offers a panoramic view of the UNESCO-certified Sassi district.
I rented an AirBnb cabin up here in Boonsboro, Maryland to celebrate my birthday with my kids and their spouses. We climbed a section of the Appalachian Trail at South Mountain Park.
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