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  • Writer's pictureMateusz Górecki

Cardboard, a marker and a cigarette

Finally, you are surrounded by wilderness. The concrete forest of highways creeps proudly toward the south. The wind in the tops of the flags, laboriously cheering in your honor, hums like waves in the middle of a great sea. Huge white clouds move lazily across the blue mock-up suspended just above your head.

Although the sun is shining in the morning, you're never sure what kind of weather you'll find a dozen kilometers into the continent. It's a few minutes after seven o'clock in the morning. You're wearing a backpack filled only with essentials, a plastic map of Europe in your hand, a piece of cardboard on which the first direction of your unusual journey is about to appear, a marker and an incredible dose of optimism that towers over fear, apprehension and doubt. That will soon change!

However, let's go back a few days earlier.

3:27 in the morning. A great hour. In fact, like any other. For sleep, for brilliant fun, rather than for waking up. Habits have gone somewhere far away. Completely against them, the body fresh unexpectedly, wakes me up in the middle of the night. I light a cigarette. A few nicotine bites should kill the monster. I light it to mull it over. Out of habit, out of poor habit, I wouldn't even call it an addiction. I turn on the tap, pour a glass of water, supposedly clean and drinkable, at least that's what the owners of the hotel in Podgorica, Montenegro, where I'm currently staying, assure me. I drink. I go back to bed. Sleep doesn't come. Morpheus probably has other plans for this lovely evening(morning?), he is probably flirting with someone else today. I open the laptop. A tentatively flickering red notification heralds something interesting. I click. Message. I quickly go back to decide, with a certain joy and happiness written on my face, to make a change. A new quality in my life.

It turns out that in a few days I will return to the Balkans, this time...hitchhiking, and with 30 other people. Friends. Acquaintances. And also with people I've never met before.

The content speaks for itself: "Croatia. By foot. We will wet our buttocks in the Adriatic Sea. Completely at cost. What do you say?" Such proposals are not rejected! I'm in!

You go out to the exit. No particular excitement. No great excitement. Calmness? Habit? Experience in stopping? Or just appearances? A dream left over from a brief sleep last night. You rolled over, unable to sleep. Not because of the thoughts swirling around in your head, but because of the pain. Two days earlier you had run a marathon, with your personal record. 3 hours and 36 minutes of agony, clenching your teeth. You fought with yourself, because you knew you were running not only for yourself, but also for Aśka. The girl who lost her leg a few months earlier, falling under a train. Cheering crowds. A dozen or so people engaged in action. How could you let go? Not you!

You stand in front of the entrance to the pothole bus bay. You pull off your backpack. You open its top lid to extract a piece of crumpled cardboard-your new pass, the ticket that will get you to the Balkans. From your right jacket pocket you extract a black marker. He's been through a lot. He hitchhiked with you to Morocco. You wandered with him in the Balkans, two years earlier. He also toured the Benelux countries in your pocket. A good companion.

The first letters appear on the cardboard. The direction of Katowice!

On the way you catch a native Silesian going to load...stones! It goes fairly easily, you swallow the next towns. Near the Czech border you get into a brand-new, shiny Audi. With an empty trunk. Two necks behind the wheel and unnaturally stuffed seats. You learn that they are going to Vienna. Fear is always there, while the realization that in a few hours you could already be in Austria works on your senses.

After a few hours, the coveted capital. At least that's what you think. You change your mind after 5 hours of waiting for any transportation.

The sweat that runs down your neck, after your several-kilometer walk along the highway, accompanied by speeding cars, makes you tremble all over. You no longer have the strength.

The astringent aroma of dust and freshly cut grass that irritates your nostrils clings to your clothes.

You drop your backpack. You need to rest. Although you know that each stop reduces your chances of catching a hitch.

Intuitively you start looking around towards the nearby bushes, looking for the best place to pitch your tent. Well it won't work out-you can always sleep, maybe tomorrow will be better. At this point you remind yourself of the golden rule of hitchhiking-never give up! You pass a pudgy gentleman with a curly black mustache. Nothing special. You cast a spontaneous glance at the registration of his car. To your eyes appears a big, shiny letter "I", standing for hot Italy. Beautiful Italy! You think-if not now then when. You approach. You chat. Your broken Italian hurts with every word you speak, but finally the magic word is spoken: "Polonia." There is interest and a slight smile on the Italian's face. He gets verve. He shifts his little three-year-old daughter to the back of the car, making room for you. It turns out that he is driving to Milan from...Warsaw, where he was feasting with his best friend and that half of his body is covered with tattoos with the AC Milan logo! "Well, how about a coffee in Italy? In the morning you'll end up somewhere in a station near Udine, sipping on freshly cut grass, smelling of the morning and Italian passion for espresso.

You lazily pick yourself up from your heated, midday-sun-soaked carrimat. Reluctantly, you walk up to the first truck facing you. Without too much expectation. Without pressure. Rather, out of habit. It turns out that in half a minute you've caught transport to Trieste. Later, you'll still drive with a crazy doctor of physics. Yogis heading to an annual meditation seminar. A Croatian young father who had a baby two days earlier. A croupier from an Austrian casino and fishermen from Germany. This is the magic of the foot! You arrive at Krk, a small island, located in the Adriatic Sea, not far from Rijeka. Meeting the rest of your crazy friends on the spot! Something amazing!

Not everyone will become a prime minister, a finance minister, a famous athlete, a worshipped actor. Instead, everyone can become a new and better version of themselves. Life presents you with challenges. How you complete them will be decisive. The only difference that separates dream-fulfillers, travelers, explorers, from gray people is one small thing. It is not the amount of silver in your wallet. The former are able at some point in their lives to lift their eyes from the book. Stop dreaming about their dreams and get down to realizing them. While the latter turn page after page of their favorite reading "I would like to, but...". Maybe it's time to put that reading on the shelf and start living? To live for real!


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