All we wanted was to get our laundry washed.  We were down to our last change of clean clothes, and the forecast for yesterday was for thundershowers, so it seemed like the perfect time to take a break from hiking.  Unfortunately, when we checked at the tourist information booth a few days ago, we were told there isn’t a laundromat in Zabljak.  The only available place for doing laundry was at a campground just outside of town.

Despite the forecast, yesterday morning there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so we decided we would walk to the campground.  We wanted to double-check the location of the camp and so stopped at the tourist center, where the man there laughed at us and said “Today isn’t a day for laundry.”  He explained that by morning all the weather stations had changed their forecasts and the day was supposed to remain beautiful, with the storm not arriving until night.  He pointed out the many locations we could easily visit, and we were convinced.

Dropping our laundry back at our room, we packed a few things into a pack and our knapsack.  I always feel a little ridiculous carrying a pack when everyone we pass is simply strolling along, but I also feel safer carrying our fleece jackets, mac in a sacks, food, water, etc.

We looked at our map and considered our choices.  The map we have is the only one sold in town, but it’s not particularly good, since it is a few years out of date.  We’ve already found several new roads, and the trails don’t always match up.   Some of the trails are listed as “Marked Routes” and generally they are marked, but not always, and many intersections don’t include any signage to point the correct way.  Still, Jablan Lake beckoned and we took off.  Between a late start, a wrong turn or two, and many pauses to decide which was the best route, it wasn’t until early afternoon that we were on the final ridge that would lead up and over to the lake.

We’re normally quite cautious hikers.  Once, when we were hiking along the Snake River, we started up a trail and then turned back after a couple of hours because we weren’t absolutely sure we were on the right track to take us back to the river and our water source.  We camped that night by our Jeep.  So, usually, when in doubt, we play it safe.  But we had a slightly frustrating experience two days ago struggling to find another lake that turned out to be reedy and a bit of a disappointment, and we just wanted to get to our destination and find a beautiful alpine lake.

It was on the ridge that we noticed the first real clouds.  There have been clouds every day here, but it has only rained once, and the prediction that the storm wouldn’t arrive until night (it was only about 1:30) helped convince us to push onward.  This is where our stupidity took over.  We know now, and to be honest we knew then, we should have turned back at the first clouds but we were so close to our destination we decided to press onward.  I know that my hope of a quick skinny-dip and Amy’s desire to pick wild berries isn’t quite the same as the goal of summiting Everest, but I now have a little insight into that mindset that pushes people on when they know they should turn back.

Just as I took off my shirt, the first peel of thunder rolled over us.  We know that in a field with only one tree it’s not smart to sit under that tree in a thunderstorm, but what do you do when you’re in a forest?  We put on our jackets and hunkered down, making ourselves as small as possible and not getting too close to the trees.  On the other hand, it was the thought of returning over the ridgeline with no trees at all that scared us the most.

We debated what to do.  Every time we thought the lightning had stopped, and we decided to push onward, we’d hear more thunder.  Then there was the flash, very bright in the daylight, followed quickly by the thunder, and we knew we were in the middle of it.  Again, we’re cautious, and we had outer jackets, fleece jackets, and synthetic pants and socks (“cotton kills,” we were once told, because when it’s wet it doesn’t retain any heat) so while we were getting miserably wet we really didn’t think we were in much danger of dying of exposure.  Lightning yes, rain no.

The lightning seemed to have moved past us, so we hurried as fast as we could over the exposed section of the trail.  I’d have sworn it was longer coming back than going out, and unfortunately we couldn’t move as fast as we wanted because the mud, roots, and rocks all had turned very slick in the rain.  We heard thunder every few seconds, and I know I was trying to hunch as much as I could as I walked, though I doubted it would help.  I devoutly wished we had a Montenegrin or two with us, since they’re all so remarkably tall (we’ve read they are the tallest people in Europe).

Eventually, of course, we made it back into the forest and while we weren’t home yet (we still had more slick mud, roots, and rocks to get past), being in a forest in the thunderstorm seemed safe.  I mean, what are the odds of lightning striking the tree we happen to be walking by?  We made it back to the road into town and the same unjustified feeling of safety stayed with us.  Here we were walking around in a thunderstorm and feeling so comparatively safe that it just didn’t really register as being dangerous any more.

The weather this morning is much cloudier, but it could have been the best day of the year and it wouldn’t have shaken our desire to do laundry today.

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