2008 Run from Bratislava to Athens to Beijing, 12,024 km
..........After crossing Slovakia, I wanted to push the boundaries in people's minds and set off with my friends during the summer holidays from Finland to Spain, passing through 16 European countries. This was my way of challenging myself and proving who I am and what I'm capable of.
My most unforgettable experience so far has been running from Devínska Nová Ves through Athens to Beijing, in order to join the President of Slovakia in opening the Slovak House in the Olympic Village a day before the Beijing Olympics. I can say that together with my guardian angels, we made it happen. A simple sentence that hides many tears, pain, experiences, emotions, faith, and friendship. Running to Asia turned my life around by 180 degrees. It wasn't just about overcoming obstacles anymore; it was about getting to know myself and the world around us. Every day during the preparation, you fight against countless arguments why you shouldn't pursue your dream. Perhaps the hardest part is convincing those around you to support you, to let go of their fear of the unknown. Where does all this fear come from, this phobia of the unfamiliar? From distorted information about countries we don't know. Words like "you'll get robbed" or "you'll get killed" were a daily occurrence, especially from people who had never been far in their lives, even in a neighboring town, and had third or fifth-hand information.
Even with the European countries, we could already see the difference between vision and reality. I owe it to running that it brought me to the homes of ordinary people, showed me the power of nature and the land, and opened my eyes to the simplicity of life. It showed me that true friends stand by your side, even when they're not laughing, that they cry but hold you up, and that those who market themselves as your friends don't pursue the same things as you. That's what running means to me. During my first goal towards Athens, we were taken aback by the mountainous landscapes of the Balkans, the open hearts of the Serbs, the wildness of the Macedonians and Greeks. I especially refer to Macedonia and Greece, where I was confronted daily with roaming packs of former shepherd dogs. When, for example, 19 dogs the size of small calves surrounded you, like in the mountain village of Metaxa, it truly makes your blood freeze. If it weren't for improvised guards made of linoleum wrapped around my calves, constructed by a friend who was driving the accompanying Touareg, I would have been severely injured. Two unleashed Rottweilers bit into the guards, and at the same moment, one of them hit the car and fortunately broke its hip. So, limping, I could escape through the field to the support vehicle. Another time, a car hit me and didn't even stop but drove away. Well, that's how Greece can be.
The run turned towards countries that we know as risky - Bulgaria and Romania, where the people and the country turned out to be more pleasant and peaceful than the state I mentioned earlier. An unexpected problem was crossing 75 km through Moldova, where we finally succeeded on the second attempt after being escorted with loaded firearms and thrown into the trunk of a UAZ for my unauthorized border crossing. After twelve hours, bribes, and a little deception, we entered the infinitely vast Ukraine, where the kindness of people knew no bounds. We also understood why Ukraine is called the granary of Europe, as endless fields of grain lined our route for almost 800 km until we reached the Russian border. In Russia, we spent the longest time, running there for about 2 months. And I'll tell you, I began to understand another proverb: the poorer the people, the more heartfelt they are. Just beyond the Ural Mountains, which divide Europe from Asia, all our GPS devices stopped working, and, of course, when we asked for directions using our European maps, the locals added and scratched out many roads. People we encountered multiple times along the way offered us their food and clothing. On the Ural Mountains, we met with a local nature guardian who appointed me as an honorary protector of the Lower Urals and gave me a badge from his cap so that I could assist him.
Russia bid us farewell with the most beautiful part of the journey for me, the passage through the so-called Chulyshman Trail across the massive Altai Mountains towards Mongolia, where untouched nature reigns supreme. Even the two locals we met during our week-long journey through an area roughly the size of Slovakia still held great respect for this region. Mongolia welcomed us with endless expanses where there are no roads, only valleys that can be traversed however you manage. What surprised us was that for the entire 2,500 km, I ran no lower than 1,500 meters above sea level, meaning I crossed the highest pass at an altitude of 3,400 meters. The extraordinary nature of the journey was complemented by the fact that we refueled our car from buckets with the occasional 85-octane gasoline, just to keep going. We slept wherever we could. Freedom was so tangible that it reassured you that you were at the center of the universe. Looking at the night sky, where no city or factory lights shine, makes you want to cry at the beauty of the world. It can reward you with such a small thing that will stay with you as long as your memory serves. Yurts and herds of goats accompanied us even in their capital city, Ulaanbaatar, which locals simply call Ulan. In a city that is starting to mirror modern European culture, we encountered some amusing situations. As we walked down the street, a local "Mongol" approached me and said, "Aren't you that runner from Slovakia, from Bratislava?" It wouldn't be strange if he hadn't said it in Slovak :) After the capital, we had to cross the scorching Gobi Desert, where temperatures in the shade exceeded 50 degrees, before reaching Beijing "just" alongside the Great Wall of China. The temperatures were so terrifying that I consumed 15 liters of fluids in a single day. The biggest blow below the belt came at the border with China, where they refused to let us enter the country because our main sponsor "forgot" to arrange our entry as agreed. After a difficult three-day decision-making process, I decided to continue to Beijing alone, without any support. We split into two groups at the border. The medic and the driver returned to Slovakia in the car, covering 11,000 kilometers in eight days, while I reached Beijing in eight days on foot. But running through China is not as easy as I thought. I must say that I have never known a safer country. During that week, I was the subject of interest for local residents. I was the foreigner they saw at most on TV in those regions. And yet, I was constantly photographed by locals, treated as a guest, and nothing bad ever happened to me. Well, except for one time... When I was running through a village, a little boy named Qui joined me on his bicycle. Surprisingly, he spoke a few words of English, so he asked me where I was going and if he could join me. I told him I was going to Beijing and that it was still far, about 250 km away. But he said that if his parents allowed him, he could go. In a few minutes, maybe an hour, the boy caught up with me, holding a plastic bag and wearing jeans, saying he was going with me. I objected, but he insisted that his parents agreed and even gave him money, which he showed me—a roll of bills as big as his fist. This boy ran with me for 60 km. Hats off to him. When we lay down in the evening next to the road in the grass to get some sleep, I suddenly saw some lights and joked that they were falling stars.
Hats off. When we were lying down in the evening, a bit off the road, in the grass, to get some sleep, I suddenly noticed some lights and made a joke that they were falling stars. But he didn't laugh, quite the opposite. He said it might be the police, and he was right. We were surrounded by a patrol of angry Chinese guys who dragged me to the nearest booth (motel) while explaining something to me and frowning. Eventually, they handed me a phone, and a police officer explained that I was accused of kidnapping a minor and stealing a family's lifelong savings. I burst out laughing, and when I wanted my "Friday" to explain it to them, it wasn't possible because he was in another room. After three hours of questioning, they came to apologize, saying that my parents had arrived and everything was explained. Phew. However, I didn't get my documents back; I had to literally fight for them after another two hours and snatch them from the hands of a high-ranking officer, to whom I was cursing in Slovak vulgarities out of nervousness. Luckily, I took my documents and ran away. I was lucky; they were so shocked that they couldn't do anything about it. Well, not entirely. After another two hours of running and walking at night, I could still hear some squealing wheels behind me in the dark. I stopped, put my things on the road, and waited. After a few seconds, a car with five policemen, their lights off, appeared as they searched for me, looking ahead and only seeing the backpack. So, I surprised them from the side and tapped on their window