The 24th Rus Hike on Sljeme, Croatia

The local hiking club organised an outing to neighbouring Croatia today, where we attended the 24th traditional Rus Hike (originally called Rusov pohod) on a hill called Sljeme, just outside the capital city of Zagreb. I’ve written about Zagreb before and sad to say I wasn’t very impressed. The city looked bleak during my last visit which was just before Christmas, but I kept my hopes up this time. I seem to dislike big city centers, especially the ones which still have a taste of socialism on them. Green hills and spring forests are something else completely though, and spending a saturday with a bus full of jolly hikers sounds like a recipe for some good fun.

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It has to be said that our club is pretty small and to even fill up a bus is an achievement in itself. On top of that a big part of our membership consists of pensioners (as is evident from the above picture). Not the perfect demographic to hang out with, you might think, but Ah! Think again. If anyone knows how to have fun and enjoy the outdoors it’s old gray hikers who have been doing it for decades and never leave home without something to drink – and by that I don’t mean fruit juice. They’ll also never leave you in a rut, always look out for everyone else and make damn sure you’re not thirsty, hungry or generally feeling down.

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White wine, red wine, Jaegermeister, forest fruit liquor, schnapps – it’s all in those backpacks somewhere. Best of all, it’s mostly home made.

Lately I’ve been trying to bring some of my friends into the hiking game and so far I’m pleased with the results. Damjan and Sanja, friends from the fire department chose to come along and right after boarding the bus we took up seats in the back row, much like high school kids might have done.

It was about an hours drive to Zagreb with a mandatory break mid-way for an early breakfast and already there were cakes and cookies going around, along with coffee and small bottles of questionable contents. After a short drive through downtown Zagreb we eventually made it to the start point at the lower tourist information office. There we were handed small booklets containing a map and a control paper which you’d stamp at checkpoints along the way, to prove you’ve done the whole trail. At the finish point you’d then be given the final seal of approval and if this was your 3rd, 5th, 7th or 10th time completing the Rus Hike, you’d even recieve a badge or a plaque. Fancy!

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It was my first time though and I was just trying to take in the sights. As you can see, the official name of the organising club is PD Ericsson – Nikola Tesla Zagreb, but the name of the hike comes from it’s founder, Antun Željko Matišin- Rus. The first time this hike was organised was in 1993.

By now it’s become quite a big deal with attendance from Croatia and many surrounding countries, including Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia and so on. Heading up, we got mixed up in another large group of hikers and walked in a tight bunch for a while. As this is technically not a hard or steep trail, there were people of all kinds here – from locals looking for a workout to older ladies walking their dogs. There was even a small group of high school girls with last night’s makeup and fake leather handbags instead of proper backpacks.

Tired of rubbing shoulders on a narrow trail we soon decided it was time for a new break, some more pastries, perhaps a sandwich and most definitely a passaround of chosen liquors.

By now you can probably see what it all looked like. A lot of sitting and standing around, drinking booze and having fun before moving on to some other place to sit and drink. Well, you wouldn’t be far wrong by thinking that. In such events walking pace is kept low to accomodate everyone and the only thing you have to do is to forget the outside world and enjoy the company and beautiful scenery around you.

But just to assure you it wasn’t all just reckless consumption, here’s a picture to prove it.

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The “stop&go” tempo resumed all throughout the day. Here’s the big difference between hiking alone and being a part of such a big group. When going alone, or with a friend, girlfriend, wife etc., you basically just take things you’re going to need yourself. And I think this is even more true for younger people. Here though – at least in Slovenia – everyone brings stuff to share with everyone else and no one plans on taking anything back home. It makes for constant social interaction and makes one feel truly a part of something bigger, even though everyone else is 30 years their senior.

And so the pace continued throughout the day and our group went on gently climbing and descending along the green hillsides. Ultimately the route brought us to the top Sljeme, which is just over 1000 meters high. As befits a city such as Zagreb, the hill is a popular recreation point for it’s inhabitants and it boasts appropriate infrastructure. It’s easily reachable by car (or even bicycle) and has hotels, cafe bars and even a ski slope awaiting your pleasure. The views were equally as pleasing and a group photo was in order.

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We were very near to the end of our hike, but the day wasn’t done yet – not as long as our backpacks still had something in them. Our bus was waiting not far below the top, so we went to cash in our control tickets and the proceeded with the festivities. It turned out there was enough food still on the bus to host a small wedding and it just wouldn’t do to bring any of it home. When that was mostly done, it was off to the nearest cafe for some lounging in the warm spring sun. My eyes grew heavy then and all I could think was taking a nap somewhere comfy. Here’s me on the left, with Damjan holding onto his beer.IMG_8993Beer done, it was time to really start back. You’d think by that time our supplies would be dwindling, but… There were hidden caches still to be used up. People walked up and down the bus offering whatever they had left – more wine, spirits and even some pretzels this time. We even stopped one more time on the one-hour long journey. It was like nobody really wanted to go home.

Please don’t get me wrong – under no circumstances am I trying to endorse drinking or encourage anyone to drink while hiking. Serious injuries can and doubtless have occured before, not to mention simply acting like an annoying idiot while under the influence. We all go on group hikes to enjoy each other’s company and spend time outdoors. You don’t need alco to have fun, but if you do decide to bring some with you, take care to use it sparingly.

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