Sunday, 3 April 2011

A hike through Germany

Why hike in Germany? Well, after travelling around the world twice it has been a while since I have done any extensive hiking in Germany and I have simply gotten homesick a bit. I have enjoyed or "suffered" through camping in swamps, deserts, limb-dropping eucalyptus trees and tropical jungle - now I just want to be in simple German pine forests. No 40 Celsius temperatures, no 90% humidity and please, no tropical thunderstorms. Just normal German spring weather.

It also fits well into my schedule. I need some time to prepare my upcoming trips. The time window for the Yukon thrupaddle is very narrow, too - we do not have much choice other than to start around June 1st. And that left me with about 1 1/2 months time before flying to Alaska. Not enough time for a long exotic trip, but definitely enough for a little hike through my home country. And then other things fell into place as well: I wanted to visit my Swiss paddling partner for a long planning weekend. He lives close to the German border which then became a natural starting point for my hike: Waldshut-Tiengen. The finishing point was easy as well: I want to visit an Austrian hiking friend of mine (whom I had seen last at the very beginning of all my travels back in May 2008) and so I wanted to end up as close as possible to her in Germany which meant Passau as the finishing point.

Having decided on the two termini of my hike I now just had to find trails between them. Actually this turned out to be easier than expected. The first point of consideration was that I would be hiking in spring and therefore all high alpine routes could be excluded. Instead I would go for the low mountain ranges in Southern Germany. One website proofed to be incredibly helpful for planning this trip: This website not only describes almost all longer hiking trails in Germany, but also shows them on an interactive map. For most trails there even is an English description. I just had to link existing trails together. When I planned the whole route in Mapsource for my Garmin GPS another website came in very handy: On this website you can upload gpx tracks for almost all long trails in Germany - for free! This was kind of a new approach for me: Before I had just embarked on one long-distance trail about 1,000 km or longer. As most long distance trails worldwide are maintained by some sort of voluntary organisation trip planning has generally been very easy. Just get in touch with the relevant organisation - mostly just through their website - order maps and guidebooks there, ask them all the questions you have and off you go. This time was different as I had to piece together my own route and consequently planning took much longer. Still it was a fun process and now that I have the practice I will do the same thing for my UK thruhike...

But back to Germany - this is the route I am planning to do and it can be downloaded here in wikiloc:

I will start out in Waldshut-Tiengen on the Mittelweg up through the Black Forest to St. Georgen (100 km) and then go eastward on the Querweg Lahn-Rottweil to Rottweil and then freestyle up the the Swabian Alb (40 km). There I connect with the Schwaebische Alb Nordrandweg and follow that almost all the way northeast to Harburg (323 km). This is where the Frankenweg starts and I will hike that about 150 km up to Holnstein where I change onto the Jurasteig. The Jurasteig is followed eastwards for about 70 km. Then I connect to an old pilgrimage trail for 50 km before eventually joining the Goldsteig, which will lead me 253 km through the Bavarian Forest all the way to Passau. Garmin mapsource tells me that this route is exactly 972 km long! This will take me about 1 month and depending on how much time I have left (that means how many people / castles / museums I will visit on the way) I will even continue into Austria. There is a new long-distance trail along the river Danube from Passau to Grein called Donausteig that would be another 140 km. And in a last push I could continue on to Krems a.d. Donau where my friend lives on the Waldviertel Weitwanderweg (130 km). I definitely want to get to Passau, anything further than that is an extra bonus. But after reading about (and remembering!) the famous Austrian sweets like "Marillenknoedel" or "Kaiserschmarrn" (I won't translate that - have a look at the linked website or even better: you just eat it) I have a great incentive to continue hiking.

Two more weeks of fattening myself up in Germany - and then my tent will be my home again.

A lot of work back in Berlin

I am back in Berlin and have 5 weeks to prepare my next adventures. As usual the first problem has been logistics. Luckily friends had found me a place to stay and even bought and installed a laptop for me. It still took almost a week before everything was running smoothly: Get the bare necessities out of my selfstorage unit, find a German SIM card for my cell phone and lap top to be able to communicate, download programmes onto the new laptop, get health insurance for Germany etc.

It is amazing how many little things have piled up in the 14 months that I have been away and that have to be done now: I had to go through the mail of 14 months (luckily not that much), do my tax declaration (I even got money back from the tax authorities) and look after my bank affairs - and seeing several doctors. The dentist could not find anything, my eye doctor said I am still seeing fine and the yearly cancer screening was negative, too. My biggest concern was a constant pain in my right hip that had been accompanying me since the road walks in Florida and that got worse after I had stopped hiking. Being a hypochondriac I could already see the end of my hiking career due to osteoarthrosis, but luckily my friend Wulf directed me to a chiropractor. I had never been to one and actually had never believed in them either. But this guy examined me, performed a completely painless joint reduction and now, a couple of days later, the pain is almost completely gone! Well, my shoulder is hurting now instead.... but never mind. Seriously now: My visit at the chiropractor's has been an epiphany for me. Before, I had only consulted orthopedic doctors and they usually gave me bad news. One recommended glucasamine injections into my knees (which I had luckily declined and the pain went away anyways) and others have predicted an artificial hip joint at age 65 (I am only 43 now, so we will see...). Only the chiropractor had actually done something that brought immediate relief.

And now I am mostly sitting in front of my computer. It feels really nice and decadent to be inside all the time even when the sun is shining outside and half of Berlin is sitting in an open air cafe. But there is a lot of planning to do for three different trips:
  • hike through Germany (about 1,000 km)
  • thrupaddle of the Yukon River (about 3,000 km)
  • hike through the UK (about 2,000 km)
For the two hikes I had to download maps and plan the routes in Garmin mapsource. Because I am mostly piecing together existing long-distance trails  I can often download gpx tracks from the internet and link them together. But I do not want to rely in my GPS device alone in the field. In 2010 two devices broke without warning and left me standing in the rain. Therefore I will carry guidebooks and/or maps for my European hikes, too. And this is why I have been pilferring my existing maps and guidebooks and bought a lot of new stuff. Some maps I had to print out. Of course everything has to be lightweight and so I cut out pages and copy on back sides of print outs and so on.

Equally important are logistics: Where en route are grocery stores (especially my favourite Lidl!) and outdoor shops in order to buy new gas cannisters? How do I get to the terminus and back to Berlin again? Is there anything interesting to see along the trail? Are there any friends and acquaintances that I could visit? Are there any potential couchsurfing hosts for rest days? All that involves a lot of internet research.

Then there is gear maintenance and replacement and here I have been especially lucky: First of all Colin, a British UL hiker whom I had met on the AZT, has asked me to "test hike" his new UL back pack - and therefore I will get a brand new and very interesting new back pack for free. And then even more amazing I was given an almost brand new Tarptent as a present! I had been posting on a German UL hiking forum and when a forum member realised I was about to buy a new TT Rainbow he offered to give me his as a present - just because he likes what I am doing! And I had never even talked or seen this guy before...thank you so much! Still I had to do a lot of research and buy new gear especially for the upcoming paddling trip as I do not have any paddling specific equipment like neoprene gloves or life jackets . The room I am living in looks like a mess: guidebooks, maps and hiking equipment are strewn all over the place and even I sometimes lose orientation.

Preparing the upcoming trip is almost like working again, although I love this kind of work. But I also do some recreational stuff and visit or call all old friends and family. Being culturally deprived after 14 months on the road I love to visit theatre plays and museums. And the very best is that I can go shopping at my beloved Lidl and Aldi (which are just 2 blocks from where I am living now) every day and eat German chocolate, real bread, cheese and butter all the time. I definitely have to go hiking soon or I will become overweight.