We take a ferry in the morning from Trieste to Muggia. It’s a small passenger ferry and we sit out in the open up front of the boat. We’re all excited to begin hiking today. Trieste is definitely a town I want to come back to but it seems like doing regular tourist things just isn’t quite the experience I want. I feel kinda bored and restless just walking around the towns. I need an activity, a goal. And I just miss being on a trail.
We arrive in Muggia after a quick 30 minute ride. The town is so cute! A lot smaller than Trieste, seaside cafes, people out on the water in tiny sailboats, orange-roofed homes stacked up on the hillside. The Via Alpina red trail supposedly begins in the center of town near the water. We walk to a plaza where there are groups of people at cafe tables drinking prosecco and spritzers. There’s a wedding just ending and the wedding party is cheering and clapping as everyone exits the church. It looks like they’re setting up the reception right there, tables lined with glasses of prosecco and all sorts of meats and cheeses and pizzas. It looks heavenly and we wish we could crash the party but we’d probably not blend in too well with our giant packs and hiker clothes. We backtrack and take a few side streets looking for a marker designating the start of the trail and finally just pick a spot to call the start. We take a group selfie and then we’re on our way. At first we just climb straight up a steep narrow road through a neighborhood. Really cool houses with small gardens and vineyards and so many tiny dogs barking as we pass and running along fence lines. Partway up the hill two older Italian women standing in the street smile and start saying things to us in Italian and gesturing in a way that I took to be either a blessing or an encouragement to help us up the steep hill but I don’t understand them so I just smile and wave. When we reach the top of the hill the trail turns into a small gravel road and starts going back downhill, a trend we’d soon become familiar with, lots of steep climbs up and then steep downhills. As we’re heading down the trail we see another backpacker heading toward us. She stops to say hi and we begin talking a bit about our hikes and where we’re from. She’s German and has been hiking for 27 days on the Via Adria trail beginning in Austria and now just about to finish in Muggia. The trail we’re on is 3 or 4 different trails, there’s random painted markers for all of them along the way. When Express says she’s from California she lights up and tells us she hiked the PCT last year. What?!?! We all got so excited and told her that we did too! Turns out she actually finished the trail just a day after me and Express and we have mutual trail friends. Her name is D Hiker (standing for day hiker because she always looks so clean, very accurate!). We can’t believe it and we all talk excitedly about the PCT. She tells us that this hike has been so different because there’s no trail community and that you’re technically not allowed to wild camp anywhere in Europe so you have to be real stealthy about it. We take a photo together and exchange hugs and our contact info before saying bye.
The rest of the day is frustrating, the trail is hard to follow because of all the random markings. A few times we start climbing up a marked trail only to check the gps after a bit to find that we’re not on the right trail. This continues all afternoon, although there are spectacular views and quaint little villages along the way that keep us in good spirits. That is until late in the afternoon after an insanely steep climb to a viewpoint (there’s no switchbacks here, just straight up) where we take a wrong trail then backtrack to where we think the right trail is only to lose it and get stuck on a crazy steep side-hill with loose rocks. We know we need to start heading downhill and our gps tells us the trail is below so we slide down the sketchy rocks, grasping at tree limbs to keep us from falling but as we keep going we still can’t find the trail and now we’re kind of stuck with seemingly no good way to go down or back up. Eventually Simon ventures down while me and Express sit perched precariously on some rocks debating our options. We’re almost out of water, desperately thirsty and thoroughly exhausted and know we can’t make it back up the way we came. Luckily we hear Simon yell “Trail!” just as we’re (mostly) jokingly discussing rescue options. Once we’re back on trail were ecstatic to finally get to the bottom where there’s a road and a creek with a waterfall. We immediately strip down and stand under it—heaven! But it’s getting late and the sun’s beginning to go down so we pack up and find a place to stealth camp a bit farther down the trail, enjoying the glow of the sunset on the white cliff walls and seeing a herd of little goats climbing on the rocks just above us. A thoroughly exhausting day and we’re hoping we’ve learned some lessons about checking our maps more often so we don’t keep wasting time and energy taking wrong trails. But as hard as it was I couldn’t be happier to be out here exploring places I’ve only dreamt of going to. And it’s even better being able to do this with Express and Simon. Hiking with them feels like home, it’s like we haven’t skipped a beat since the PCT and we’re back to doing what we love together.