I wake up, pop my head outside my tent, and am again blown away by the scenery around me. Albania is killing it! Today is potentially our last day on the trail. Originally we’d planned to break up this section into 2 days, but we ended up hiking extra miles yesterday due to the water situation and the crazy donkey-beating man, so now we’re only about 18 miles to the end of the trail. Even though there’s a decent climb ahead of us this afternoon, knowing us we’ll have plenty of time to just finish the darn thing.
I have to admit, I’m ready to be done. It’s such a different feeling than what I experienced at the end of the PCT. Last year my body was tired and ready to stop hiking after five months on the trail, but I felt a mix of elation and sadness and loss when I reached the Canadian border. In all honesty I never wanted that trail to end. Today, however, all I can think is “Thank God we’re almost done!” This trail is considerably shorter than the PCT, we’ve been hiking for less than two months, but it’s been immensely more physically and mentally demanding. The lack of any sort of trail community adds to the difficulty. It’s lonely out here! I knew the PCT community was a big part of what made that trail so special, but I didn’t realize how big a role it played until hiking the Via Dinarica where there are little to no other thru hikers and 99.9% of people who live on or near the trail have never even heard of it. On the PCT I’d walk into a town and feel like a celebrity and have an instant friend group of other hiker trash to hang out with. On this trail we just get odd, questioning stares from the locals and feel uncomfortably out of place most of the time.
But back to the last day….the sunrise is fantastic and we follow the trail down a steep, rocky descent into the town of Theth. These few downhill miles are painfully slow for me. The trail conditions are my absolute least favorite—steep loose gravel and scree. Not one step feels stable, I constantly feel like I’m about to slide and fall down. There are some precarious drop-offs so I’m being extra cautious. No accidents on the last day!
As we get within a mile of Theth we begin to see a slew of other hikers. It’s so weird to us. We’ve been on the trail for nearly two months and can count on one hand the number of other hikers we’ve seen. Now on our last day there are people everywhere. Apparently it’s a super popular trail for tourists to hike from Theth over a pass to Valbonë. It’s definitely beautiful but I don’t know why this trail in particular is the only one people hike.
We stop for a coffee and a few snacks on the outskirts of Theth and then join the masses on the hike to Valbonë. It’s a decent climb, about 1000 feet per mile, but it’s only about 4 miles to the top. After all the ridiculous climbs we’ve done already this one seems like a piece of cake. I’m passing people left and right and finally I don’t feel like I’m such a slow poke! I’ve been comparing my speed to Express’s this whole time, but I’ve come to realize that I’m actually pretty fast and she’s just absurdly fast. It’s annoying getting stuck behind big groups of hikers who don’t move over to let me pass. I also have to keep stopping to let caravans of horses laden with luggage coming down the hill go by. It seems like most people hire the locals to have horses carry all their stuff while they hike over the pass with a small day pack.
I reach the top of the pass faster than I’d anticipated, admire the views with about 20 other people, and do a little jump for joy. This was the last big climb of the trail and I killed it!! I’m in such great spirits—the views are some of the best I’ve seen on the whole trail and I’m feeling strong and the end of the trail is just a few hours away!
As I jog down the other side I catch up with Express. She’s hiking and chatting with a guy she just met. His name is Victor and he’s a professional traveler of sorts. We hike with him the whole way down into Valbonë and swap stories. It’s fun to have someone join us for a small part of the hike! On the way down into Valbonë there’s a bunch of tiny rustic trailside cafes. We stop at one called Cafe Simoni. It’s packed with hikers and mountain bikers. We hang out for just a few minutes to rest and fill our waters. We’re anxious to get to the end!
We walk with Victor for a few more miles along the road, passing all sorts of fancy guest houses. He says goodbye at one of the houses where he’d already made plans to stay for the night. Now it’s just a couple more miles of trail (road) to go. About a mile before the end we pass a farmhouse called Quku I Valbones that we’d heard is a great place to stay. We decide to check it out and it turns out to be amazing! We can camp in the yard and use the facilities and take part in the home-cooked buffet breakfast for less than $10 a night. We drop our packs, set up our tents in the yard, and walk the last mile down the highway to officially end the Via Dinarica and grab dinner. It just so happens that the trail ends at a restaurant! It’s very anticlimactic—there’s no official marker or signage to indicate the terminus. We decide the trail map for the Valbonë National Park is as good a place as any. We pose in front of it and take official end of trail photos then walk a few feet to the restaurant for a celebratory meal. A bizarre end to a bizarre trail.