As I huffed and puffed up and up and up during the initial hours of the hike and then crushed my knees under the weight of my ridiculous 22-kilogram backpack on the first big downhill, I realized that my idea was too lofty.
I arrogantly thought I was ready for the Likya Yolu (as it’s called in Turkish). Besides day hiking in other parts of the world, marathon training and a lifetime of other sporty kinds of activities, I had walked about 10,000 kilometers, with the same backpack weight, from Bangkok, Thailand to Samsun, Turkey from January 2016 to October 2017. Sure, that was pretty much all road walking on mostly asphalt or packed dirt surfaces, but it should count for something, right? It does count from an endurance perspective, but as I quickly remembered, road walking is not at all the same as mountain and rocky trail walking.
By 11 a.m. on this already warm April 2018 day, only a short distance into the hike, I started the self-pity loop. I spun the tune about how out-of-shape I had let myself get over our way-too-long 4.5 month walking break. I cursed the guidebook, realizing that I would need many more hours to finish the section, daylight hours I probably didn’t have. I threw my backpack on rock, wishing I could kick all the way into faraway Göynük Canyon below. And, if it wasn’t for the group of Russian hikers, the first of many trail angels who helped me through different parts of the trail, I may have called it quits sooner than expected.
Reflecting on my slump while sipping water, I turned my thoughts back to the whole reason I was here: I wanted to spend time in nature before walking on asphalt again; I wanted to hear birds and frogs instead trucks and cars, and I wanted to see the beautiful Akdeniz, Turkey’s part of the Mediterranean Sea.
These touchstones followed me for a the next few weeks as I redefined my hike and picked sections that better suited my fitness level and hiking capabilities at the time. In the end, I walked these pieces:
- Göynük Canyon to Göynük Yayla
- Göynük Yayla to the Roman Bridge and Kemer
- Kemer to Phaselis
- The main road near Ulupinar to Çirali
- The alternative road from Çirali to Adrasan, instead of the marked trail through Olympus
- Karaöz to Adrasan (via Gelidonya Lighthouse)
- Myra/Demre to Simena/Üçağız
- Aperlai to Üçağız
Letting go of the daily distance requirements I thought I needed to hold myself to and finding alternative ways to move (for instance: walking some parts, taking a dolmus/minibus to another section, staying in a pension instead of camping, leaving most of my stuff somewhere and walking only with a few liters of water and some food in a daypack), opened me to new opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I spent a few days hiking and camping with my Russian trail angels, to whom I am forever grateful. I worked in an orange grove helping an elderly couple in exchange for a free room. I swam and meditated in places where the views made me drool. I was invited to a four-day Yoga Festival, an invitationI happily accepted. I made new friends and spent quality time with good people who are
now always in my heart.
In essence, I used the Lycian Way trail markings as a guideline to create a hike that meant something significant to me. I gave pieces of myself to the trail, and it gave me much more back in return. My heart is fill.
Even so, there are things I would have done (or will do the next time) to make the hike more enjoyable and help get myself on better footing right the getgo. Here are my five recommendations to making the Lycian Way your own:
- Define your hike’s purpose. Do you want to walk in nature? Are you looking for a weekend-warrior challenge? Are you looking for an escape from city noise? Do you have four weeks to hike between mountains and the sea? Knowing what’s fueling your motivation may help you push through the tougher sections when you’ve lost the trail or are frustrated with another steep up and down climb on pointy rocks.
- Build time into your schedule. Every time I read the guidebook and talked to locals who have hiked the trial, I kicked myself. They usually said a certain section took them X amount of hours to finish. Inevitably, I always had to add X+ 2 to 4 hours as a cushion to their predicted hike times. I’m slow, I carry too much weight, and I want to stop to admire whatever I see in front of me, so I have to add hours to the hike. It’s the way I manage my own expectations. I’m in a much better mood if I know I can stop somewhere to enjoy life than be hard-pressed at the end of a long day to make it to a suitable campsite. My evolving philosophy about long-distance walking is that great things happen while walking and also in-between the footsteps. I want to savor as many of these experiences as possible.
- Condition your legs and body. Unless you’re mountain climbing most days or doing crazy CrossFit workouts regularly, you’re legs will burn on some parts of the Lycian Way. Yes, some parts are easier than others, but many other sections are exhausting. My suggestion is adding more squats and abdominal work to your exercise routine before setting on this trail. Your legs may whisper thank you.
- Drop your backpack weight. Really. Seriously. My 22-kilo backpack weight (without water) is too much. I know that. But, my journey involves many months outside, through all sorts of weather and temperature fluctuations. This is a weight that works for me on the road. It killed me on the Lycian Way. But, I wasn’t alone. Even people carrying 8-10 kilos complained that their packs were too heavy. It’s the kind of trail that forces you to go as light as possible. The problem is you really have to choose your gear wisely, especially if you’re tackling the trail solo. If you’re going for the full “I’m hiking this the way it’s meant to be hiked,” then you’ll need a tent, a sleeping bag, a camping mattress, a warm layer, food and enough water (which in some sections could be as much as three days worth of food and one of water). Walking to pension to pension will help reduce the weight, but it may also limit you to which sections you can realistically finish each day.
- Bring a buddy along. I get it. Being out alone in nature can be a metaphysical experience. But, from a practical point of view, this may not be the trail you want to do it on, particularly if you’re thinking to do the entire 540+ kilometers. Having a second person along means you can share the weight — someone carries the tent and the other ones carries the stove and food. It also is another pair of eyes on the trail, and that may mean seeing the trail mark before you accidentally miss that left turn. And, you’ll have someone to laugh with it. Some parts of the trail are lonely and remote, and having send a smile in your direction once in a while will give you a boost exactly when you need it.
Wherever the trail leads you, I hope it brings you back to you! Happy hiking!
Jennifer Baljko is Barcelona-based freelance writer. The Lycian Way was her way to spend time in nature before resuming a multi-year, 14,000-kilometer walk crossing Asia and Europe. She is blogging about her journey at bangkokbarcelonaonfoot.com.