Shannon Wolf | January 1, 2016 10:00 PM ET
Tramprennen Finale: Triumph and Celebration in Albania
PHOTO: All Tramprennen 2015 competitors. (photo by Jonathan Goepfert, all others by Shannon Wolf)
There’s a quote that points out, “It is not about the destination, it is about the journey.” I never fully appreciated or understood that quote until I lived like I had for the last month — existing solely for the moments in the journey.
It was, quite literally, a race to the finish. We awoke before the sun rose to frigid cold fog and surrounded by mountains. I bundled myself up in every article of clothing I could find to keep out the damp and the freezing chill.
All gloves were off now and everyone kept quiet. We packed up our tents and bags and quickly stood along the river. Once the clock stuck 7 a.m. we all trudged through the numbingly-cold river with our bags, praying that we wouldn’t slip and fall, then up and over the rocky forest trail to the main road for our last and final stage of the race: the finish line at Omare, Albania.
PHOTO: Our early morning rise along the river in Montenegro on our last leg of the race.
Jonathan and I were the second team to leave and managed to overtake the first team along the way. We screamed goodbye out of the car windows as our hair blew in the wind and our driver laid on the horn, laughing as we turned around the bends.
Being the last stage of the race, the journey to Omare was the shortest of all the distances yet, but we knew by now that didn’t mean it was going to be any easier.
Again, just before the border, we got stuck. Even in the early morning hours the heat was nearly unbearable. Jonathan and I took turns standing in the minimal shade offered by a stick-of-a-tree while the others stood in the heat. Sweat rolled down every inch of our bodies, leaving us nearly delusional.
Car after car passed. Each one that stopped asked us for money to drive us to the border. Car after car our frustration rose as we said again and again, “no money!” to which they would laugh and drive off. Okay, so getting to Albania may be harder then we initially thought…
When we were convinced that we were about to lose the race and that every team must be minutes behind us, a car stopped. When we looked into the back seat we saw that, to our dismay, it was filled with another team from a separate route that we hadn’t seen since our first meeting in Germany two weeks earlier. “Oh my god! Hey!” we all screeched with excitement.
Although we weren’t getting a ride, it was still nice to see a friendly face. We talked for a minute telling them they were in the clear as no other teams had yet passed. As they were about to leave and we were about to wave goodbye, their driver graciously offered to drive us to the border as well. We instantly accepted! As I was the smallest, I happily crammed myself (again) into the back next to the bags and off we went.
We sped through the border quickly and effortlessly, leaving our signs behind and cheering as the couple decided to drive our two teams through the countryside of Albania and directly to our final destination.
It was a bittersweet moment when our car pulled over to the side of the road. We had finally made it. This was it; the moment we had been waiting for and yet, a part of me never wanted it to end. As we all crammed out of the vehicle, thanking the driver and his wife for everything, we were greeted by other teams and found that we had made it first from our route!
Slowly but surely, tramp after tramp arrived and we all cheered as we reunited with people we had met and befriended people we hadn’t. Once all of the teams had arrived and crates of beer were consumed; we all headed back to the campground to hear the results for which team won the race. Excitement filled the grounds of our campsite as teams were called one by one.
“We have two teams from separate routes this year who tied for first place with equal scores!” said the announcer. Silence of anticipation hung around us waiting to hear the results.
“…AND THE WINNERS ARE….” He said pausing.
“…SIMONE AND SOREN FROM TEAM FANCY…
…AND SHANNON AND JONATHAN FROM NO MONEY NO PROBLEM!”
Screams, cheers and hollering filled the air as Jonathan and I looked at each other and everyone in astonishment. We screamed, smiling ear to ear with delight as we rain in the sand through the crowd of tramps, high-fiving people on our way up to the makeshift podium and cheered as we hugging and congratulating the other winning teams.
“WE DID IT! WE WON! HOLY S#!T!” Jonathan screamed. I laughed, unable to withhold my happiness and we bear hugged, stoked beyond words at winning our first-ever hitchhiking race.
Once the congratulations were over and we took a group photo commemorating Tramprennen 2015; we all headed to a nearby restaurant where we had met locals a few hours prior who hooked us up immensely. This small, local restaurant and town was turned into a full fledged party after locals called everyone they knew, bringing over a massive sound system, DJ and a cheap, endless supply of alcohol for everyone.
PHOTO: Our tramp family on the Cottbus route for the last two weeks.
The race may have ended but the party sure didn’t. The energy level grew with the music as 170 of us and our new local friends celebrated and danced until the sun rose in our finale of Tramprennen.
Two weeks, over 3,000 km of tramping, wild camping and relying on the kindness of strangers will ultimately change you. You will stand, at the end of the race smiling wholeheartedly, replaced by gentler eyes, an open heart and the realization that the world is still abundant with compassion.
Tramprennen is truly a life-altering experience for all who participate and those two weeks; although seemingly short, is an experience rich beyond measure that money could never buy with memories and friendships that will last far beyond the race.
PHOTO: A candid of our team No Money No Problem and fellow teams who won the race!
More by Shannon Wolf
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