A feat on foot through Europe

For Port’s Allon Bostwick, his 178-mile trek along the Walk of Peace was a life-affirming journey through the battlefields of World War I from Slovenia to Italy

HOLDING HIS walking sticks high, Allon Bostwick stood at the Adriatic Sea in Trieste, Italy, and celebrated the end of his 178-mile trek that began in Slovenia along the Walk of Peace through World War I battlegrounds in September. It took Bostwick 18 days to complete the journey, averaging about 10 miles of walking a day. Photos courtesy of Allon Bostwick
Ozaukee Press staff

 You can measure Allon Bostwick’s recent hike along the Walk of Peace from the Slovenian Alps to the Adriatic Sea in so many ways.

It was a physical accomplishment, a solo 178-mile hike in 18 days on a trail through Italy and Slovenia that at times traversed Alpine paths where he edged along narrow walkways, clinging to a cable attached to the mountain with a 30-pound pack on his back. 

At the end of the Pot Miru, or Walk of Peace, he was told he was the first American to complete the entire trail.

It was also a pilgrimage for a history buff, traveling along the remnants of World War I, through outdoor museums, along trenches and battlegrounds where soldiers fought and lost their lives and past burial grounds where these young men lay for eternity.  

It was also life affirming for Bostwick, who 25 years ago wasn’t sure he would ever walk again after a malignant tumor was found in his femur. He went through four surgeries, a recurrence of the tumor and treatments that left him wheelchair bound for a time.  

“The fact I could do this walk was icing on the cake,” he said.

It was also a profound journey of introspection and discovery that gave Bostwick time to ponder his life and his place in the world.

But for Bostwick, the journey in many ways revolved around the people and the kindness he encountered during his travels.

“The people really made it special,” he said. “I kept asking myself on this trip, ‘What’s important?’ People.”

He recounted tale after tale about the kindness of strangers, from the people who would give him directions to those who took him under their wing, providing him with experiences of a lifetime. 

“Kindness is something that today you wonder if it still exists. It does there,” he said. 

He recalled Tony, the food writer who he met in Solkan who recommended a restaurant when he was hungry. Tony told him to ask for Ethel at the restaurant, where he had a fabulous meal. At the end, Ethel took him to her house where Bostwick joined her husband Sasa in making wine the old-fashioned way, cranking a wine press. Afterward, they insisted he try various vintages of wine they had made. 

When Bostwick hadn’t arrived back at his room by midnight, a worried Tony called to see what had happened, then drove over to join the party, which lasted several hours — and bottles of wine — more.

There was the night he was bone tired and after dinner faced a two-mile hike back to the inn where he was staying and a young waitress offered to drive him back.

There was the woman he rented a room from along the way who did his laundry for him, the many people who insisted he have some schnapps with them because it was “good for his circulation” and Lorenzo, the doctor who helped him when he got lost, then insisted on walking with him for part of his journey.

“He told me, ‘You’re strong. You’re going to do fine,’” Bostwick said.

While the trip may have ended up being about the people he met, it all began with history.

Bostwick is a history buff who travels to Slovenia frequently to visit his extended family. Three years ago, he and his cousins Marko, Mihela and Edo visited several World War I battle sites, an experience he says was “very interesting and very moving.”

Then Marko gave him a book about the Pot Miru, or Walk of Peace, that takes followers back and forth along the border of Italy and Slovenia and along numerous World War I sites, from battlefields to cemeteries and from trenches to churches.

Bostwick took it as a challenge and decided to go on the journey this year, which is the centennial of the end of World War I.

“It was the adventure of a lifetime,” Bostwick said. 

He started out on Sept. 11 with a roughly eight mile hike, which he said was a warm-up for the days to come.

Most days, he would start at 7 a.m. and hike 10 miles, Bostwick said, adding the shortest leg of the trek was four miles and the longest was18.

The first half of the Walk of Peace was the most arduous, Bostwick said, because it was the most mountainous. 

“Early on, almost every day started with a climb of 1,000 meters,” he said. After a walk at the top, he would travel down the mountain to a village of several hundred people and seek out a place to eat and a room to stay the night.

The scenery was stunning, he said, and the history was “tremendous.”

“Wherever you go, there are caves and trenches and tunnels,” he said, noting Italy and Slovenia have been working to restore many of these sites.

One of the most moving sites was in Brestovec, where he visited a museum where excerpts from the letters and diaries of World War I soldiers had been placed on plaques.

“They order us to jump over the wall. We have our bayonets fixed and we advance ... once out there, the men fall like wheat before the reaper,” read one plaque.

Another was a letter from a man to his mother, telling her he was waiting for orders for battle and he might never return home.

“It brings a tear to your eye,” Bostwick said. “You think about the soldiers. They were all young men. The initial thought was this was going to be a two or three-month war. They went in enthusiastic.”

Instead, the “war to end all wars” lasted years and resulted in carnage that the soldiers bore witness to. Even civilians were impacted as they were evacuated from fighting zones, losing virtually everything they had in the process, Bostwick said.

Bostwick completed his journey in Trieste, a place that held special meaning for him. His maternal grandparents Franc Novak and Marija Jerse were married in Slovenia and two days later traveled to Trieste to sail to America.

“The idea that they stood almost in the same spot I was — it was amazing,” he said.

He visited the Walk of Peace headquarters after completing the trek and was told he was the first American to traverse the entire trail.

“I was so proud of myself when I finished,” Bostwick said. “After the first and second nights, I had my doubts. I knew I had some difficult hikes ahead.

“It was a physical challenge, but it was a spiritual experience as well — being by yourself, thinking about life, being out there in nature every step of the way. It was almost like meditating for three weeks. You’re in a zone of peace.

“But I can’t think of anything else I’ve done that was so rewarding.”


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login