In Europe/ Outdoors

Trail Running on Gozo | Malta’s Wild and Windy Island

It’s our fourth day in Malta and I’ve yet to hit the trails. Excuses kept conveniently presenting themselves.

“What if the weather turns and I get caught in a storm on the coast?”

“Running doesn’t seem particularly popular here. I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb with my red running vest.”

“I just don’t feel like it.”

My excuses are fruitless this Wednesday morning. There’s nothing more than a gentle breeze in the air and the sun is shooting through a clear sky like a tractor beam pulling me outside. I decide to just pick a route off Komoot and get my ass out the door.

Hop-On, Hop-Off

I head down the hill from the hotel to the bus station at the ferry terminal––plenty of time before my bus to Marsalforn in northern Gozo where I’d run 15 kilometers along the coast and back to Mgarr. That’s when two women in matching red jackets pass me by, my red runner’s vest clearly marking me as a tourist.

“Are you interested in the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour?” one asks me.

I can’t imagine a circle of Hell in which I would be, so I decline. “No thank you,” I say with a smile behind my FFP2 mask. “I’m waiting on the TD31 bus.”

“Oh, it’s not running anymore, just so you know,” she says. “They suspended it because not enough people were taking it.”

There are other ways to get to Marsalforn, but it’d be long and involve a transfer. I want this to be uncomplicated, so I pull up another route on Komoot that starts right in Mgarr. I’m not sure why I didn’t just do that in the first place. I suppose I felt like I needed to go further from my hotel to really get away from it all, which is preposterous considering I already flew thousands of kilometers to do just that. I guess that’s part of the faulty wiring in my brain. I always want to keep going, even when I’ve already gone.

Off and Running

My morning bread and coffee are still swirling around in my stomach as I take off from the ferry terminal, coming almost immediately to a stop. Car traffic is rolling by and up the hill I just came down from. Slow and steady but nobody seems keen to let me cross. A ferry must’ve just parked and let out a literal boat-load of drivers.

A couple of minutes go by of car after car rolling by just fast enough that it would really hurt if I ran across and timed it poorly. It all seems a bit much for an island of 30,000, like the vehicular equivalent of clowns getting out of a car. Not to mention drivers seem to be an otherwise rarity on Gozo (not so much on the main island).

Finally, someone lets me cross and I’m truly off and running, cutting through a makeshift ferry parking lot and up a narrow dirt path to the coastal trail. There are few official trail markers––just the occasional faded red arrow or dot on a stone that’s easy to miss. But I’ve got the route on my watch, beeping at me if I go too far astray. Though the trail is fairly obvious to follow, slicing along the rocky coast, narrowly through bushes and rows of prickly pears.

The views are spectacular. Dramatic, naked cliffs hang over the calm morning sea. Once in a while, there’s a car or pickup truck pulled over with a couple of swimmers or scuba divers in black wetsuits walking along the shore.

This being a rocky, hilly island; the trail meanders up and down again, turning the run into equal parts hiking––especially when I’m compelled by the scenery to stop and take a mental (and literal) picture.

Gozo Run
View this route on Strava

Second Run | No Time to Wait

The overnight rain is gone by the time we wake up but forecasts predict more to come. (Though on a small island, your guess is as good as anyone else looking up.) The radar suggests I’m in the clear if I get moving after breakfast––and so I do just that, opting for a route that’ll take me to the northeastern end of the island this time.

I get off to a stupid start. I find a series of stairs that seem to be a shortcut to the harbor instead of having to dart across the road through speeding traffic. But the stairs turn into an overgrown, muddy path with more cacti than I’d seen anywhere else. My brain tells me to turn back, but my feet keep shuffling forward, turning steps into long, gangly movements as if I’m avoiding land mines. I can see the pins of the cacti stretching towards me. This could end badly. But I take my time and eventually emerge out onto the harbor just in time for the wind to pick up with spitting rain.

I hesitate, wondering if I should just hold out for a sunny afternoon. I decide to go for it. Waiting has never been my forte and if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no time to wait around.

Uncomfortably Close Calls

The trail starts off at a dead-end roundabout along the harbor, lifting into the rocky, coastal hillside. My feet immediately sink into heavy, light brown mounds of mud. I need to use both hands to crawl my way up, fighting the pull of the slick path. I’m successful, even if my hands are now blocks of wet mud. But the views, much like the day before––dramatic with increasingly violent waves pounding against the naked rock––make up for it.

At least, to a point. Over time, the trail flirts uncomfortably close to dangerous dropoffs. Nothing Mr. Free Solo would bat an eye at, but I don’t do well with terrifying flashes of bone-cracking death. I’d rather go out in some kind of blaze of glory, not because I slipped on a wet rock.

So, I cut over to the dirt road at a certain point where my footing is surer. Plus the inland roads of Gozo are just as scenic with nary a vehicle in sight over the roughly patched concrete.

Getting Seasoned

The run––turned slow hike––is taking me much longer than I budgeted. I decide to adjust course while remaining determined to at least make it to St. Anthony’s Battery for no other reason than it sticks out on an aerial view of Google Maps as a thing to see.

Hoping on-and-off different trails, I reach the battery––sitting stoically on the edge of the rocky coast facing the increasingly heavy waves head-on. My path continues around the battery and meanders along an elevated section of the shore. But I’m close enough to the sea that the wind blows the mist of the waves, landing lightly against my upper lip. I can taste the salt as if I’m being seasoned.

Ahead, I see more of the same rocky shore looking less like a path and more like a trap for a hungry sea. I decide I’ve had enough, climbing onto the grassy hillside to the nearest road for a relatively straight shot back to the hotel. I felt like the wind gave me enough warnings to turn back, smacking me against my stupidly ambitious face as if to say, “Not worth it!” I finally decide to heed the wisdom and call it a day.

Eastern Gozo Run
View this route on Strava

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