Have they put these chairs here especially to watch the road construction works? Or is this their regular evening leisure? I imagine two elderly people sitting in their driveway, interfering with the roadworks; giving the workers directions. Or reminiscing as the sun drops behind the hill. Right now, these cushioned chairs seem the perfect sleeping place to me. I sit down in one of the chairs and put the back down. What would they think if they saw me sitting here? They wouldn’t come out at 4.30 in the morning, surely? I suppose it’ll be alright. I set my watch for 20 minutes and I’m off to another place.
I am fifty kilometres away from my destination at the Weis Haus in Trier. I spent the last 44 hours running and hiking the 313 kilometre hiking trail, the Eifelsteig. People ask me why I keep coming back. I’m not quite sure myself. It must be love I guess. I feel at home. When I’m out running I feel at home. I somehow coincide with my authentic self I guess, when I’m running long distances. Maybe… I’m just scared of being my authentic self when there’s people around. Or maybe I just wanted to see how I would feel and manage on my own. Anyway, there is nothing that compares to the uncomplicated and straightforward concept of moving cross country. Running and hiking for days on end, your mind solely occupied with beautiful landscapes, the issue of getting enough food and drink to be able to keep moving and well, a place for the occasional nap. But then, one can sleep everywhere really.
Seeing myself off
I could tell by the look on her face she had had a different notion than me of what ‘Der Eifelsteig laufen’ really means. I had to explain to the lady that I would be running the whole length of Der Steig in one go and expected to finish in a little over two days. I’m not sure if it was just disbelief or that she thought I’d gone mad. I paid for my stay, and drove off to Kornelimünster. There on the Korneliusmarkt is the northern terminus of the Eifelsteig. It was the 16th of July. I waited until it was exactly nine o’clock to see myself off. Live on facebook. Being able to get enough drinking water would be the main theme of the whole adventure. I made it so myself. I wanted to be as minimalistic as possible and I didn’t want to carry more than a litre of water all the time. Besides, I wanted to spice things up a bit with a little extra ‘risk’. Anyway, the water sources I had counted on for the first 30k of the way weren’t available.
The Wander bar in Roetgen was closed at 10.30 in the morning and I didn’t want to waste time on a detour to the supermarket or gas station. I suppose I really am lazy. My second source was a stream coming from the moors. The water looked more like flat coca cola than water, so I decided to pass the cup. The weather was rather cool, with a drizzle for most of the day, so I didn’t need too much water. I gambled for Monschau. Shortly after I had reached the highpoint on the Eifelsteig at Steling, with its 658 metres (Live on facebook) and not far from Monschau, I came to a stream that looked good enough though. I knew it came from Mützenich, but it was above the water treatment plant, which meant that no wastewater would be in the stream. Not from the sewer anyway. Of course you never know what people might dump in it but it tasted alright and I decided that it would be ok with the water filter I was using. Besides, it was enough to get me to the graveyard in Höfen, so I was able to move through Monschau without a stop. This picturesque, historic town is probably my least favorite place on the Eifelsteig. With it’s streets crowded with tourists I always feel rather displaced. After refilling in Höfen I quickly went on to Einruhr for coffee and apple pie at Café Zur Schmiede. I felt a bit awkward to be using a face mask at first, but I got used to it quickly. After a short stop I went on to one of my favourite parts of the Eifelsteig. It’s beautiful and steeped in sinister history at the same time. After skirting the banks of the dammed rivers Rur and Urft I worked myself up the climb to Wolfseifen. Vogelsang on the next hill comes to view first. It’s an imposing fortress-like building. Soon after, I reached Wolseifen on the top of the hill. Live on facebook. When I reached Gemünd soon after I felt rather fresh and hungry. I had dinner at a Turkish snackbar where I recharged my watch and phone, drank a cold alcohol free beer and a coke. After refilling my water bottles I left after quite an efficient break. I would lose my efficiency quickly after this one though. Although the breaks did get more pleasant as I progressed along Der Steig :-D.
A damp night
After a dry afternoon, a steady drizzle sat in soon after dinner. It kept me cool and I quite liked it. The stages to Nettersheim and then on to Blankenheim I was quite unsure about my water sources. Until Nettersheim I was lucky though. There was a tap in a roadside garden in Golbach. I detached the hose and refilled a bottle. In Steinfeld I first checked the monastery without luck. Fortunately the restaurant across the road was still open and they were happy to resupply my water stores. A couple of miles before Nettersheim the remains of a Roman water pipe line can be found. By the time I reached the side of the pipeline it was raining quite hard. Live on facebook. If I hadn’t been too busy teaching history on facebook, I might have had the presence of mind to fill up on water right there. Though I’m not quite sure about it’s source, the water sure looked fresh. Instead of refilling I went on to Nettersheim to find both the campsite and cafés closed. The railway station was my last opportunity. Maybe there was a public toilet or vending machine, but I was disappointed to find neither. I sat down in a waiting booth for shelter. After eating one of the sausage rolls I saved for the night and some M&M’s, I gathered myself for the next twelve kilometres to Blankenheim and the source of the river Ahr. Cynically, I was running along a stream which was only accessible through thick undergrowth of nettles and thistles. I wasn’t that desperate though! I was alright when I reached the source in Blankenheim an hour and a half and twelve kilometres later. I had to lay down to reach the water that was flowing through a concrete canal from its barred source. From there I was sure to find a reliable water source every fifteen to twenty kilometres until my next mayor break in Hillesheim. My mind was at ease now.
I love the stage toward Mirbach. The first few kilometres are quite tough with a couple of steep climbs and descents. But the area around Alendorf is beautiful juniper country. The otherwise bare slopes around the village are sprinkled with junipers. I imagined the fragrances that would come with it during a hot summer’s day myself, for the contrast to the damp night was strong as I climbed the hill with its way of the cross above Alendorf. Although I’m not religious I kneeled down before Christ on his cross on top of the hill. I told myself that when I would feel miserable and pity myself later, to remember the agony this man must have suffered before he died.
The most exciting part of my adventure was probably refilling my water bottles in the graveyard of Mirbach in the middle of the night. I am an expert at giving myself the chills by thinking up silly stories about ghosts and stuff. This time I pretty much succeeded in NOT imagining the local supreme spirit stretching it’s eerie fingers at me. The hairs in my neck stayed down as I walked away unscathed. Next was Niederehe which I reached at daybreak and soon after the halfway point of the course near Kerpen. Live on facebook. It was only a short distance from there to Hillesheim which I reached precisely on time for my planned breakfast at the bakery.
This break turned into quite a substantial one. I changed into clean and dry clothes and socks. Recharged my phone and my watch. Breakfast wasn’t as pleasant as I had hoped. It didn’t sit well on my stomach. I was able to eat only one roll. But before I left I bought an extra sandwich with mozzarella and tomato and vacuum packed it in a zip bag. I was going to save it for the night, when I wouldn’t be able to get any food from stores and cafés. After breakfast I resupplied at the supermarket. Somehow I thought it would be a good idea to buy cherry tomatoes.My mental capacity was decreasing apparently. I downed a coke in the hopes to settle my stomach a little and after restoring my rain jacket that I left behind at the bakery, I shuffled off eating as many cherry tomatoes as I could before leaving the rest on a picnic table at the local running track for someone else’s breakfast. I had spent an hour and a half in Hillesheim. Not quite as efficiënt as I had hoped. Partly because I had trouble eating and partly because of tiredness and accessory listlessness after the night probably.
Things always get more interesting the second day
After my stop in Hillesheim I had trouble settling into a good rhythm again. My legs felt rather stiff and I was pretty low on energy. Although things got better after a while, I never really found my flow back. The sun had come out during my stop and it was soon heating up. I decided I had better use some sunscreen since the following stages would be mostly in the open. Again I spent some time applying the sunscreen and enjoying the scenery as if on a touristic tour around the country. I struggled on toward Gerolstein and the water source right on the track. Towering Gerolstein are some impressive rock formations which are aptly nicknamed the Gerolsteiner Dolomites. I wasn’t sure of water sources until Schalkenmehren, 36 kilometres after the source in Gerolstein. So I was being economical on water. That wasn’t very helpful as it was soon heating up. I crossed a couple of streams just before Neroth. They were hard to reach and I didn’t fancy a scramble. I was also being naive in counting on the Sportplatz in Neroth for water. There wasn’t any. Just a couple of hoses I couldn’t reach through the fence. I had two options. Going back two kilometres to the stream I crossed or go on to the Kleine Kyll downstream from Neroth. I didn’t like it all that much, but at least it was above the treatment plant. It turned out to be hard to reach. I had to make my way through breast high grasses, nettles and thistles. By now I had no choice really. I was about to face the long and hard climb up the Nerother Kopf. The next possible opportunity would be after the descent near Neunkirchen, 5 kilometres and probably an hour down the track. The water tasted rather quire, almost like sewage water. It kept me from drinking much. I later realised it probably was sulfur that gave its taste to the water. I had forgotten that I was deep in volcanic country by now. I had made the right choice though, since the stream near Neunkirchen was dried up and the next opportunity to refill would be in the Kurpark near Daun. When I reached it, I foolishly emptied my bottle with ‘bad’ water to refill it with the medicinal water from the ancient tap. Now that was a mistake! I’ve never tasted water so bad in my life! I’m sure it was full of the most wholesome minerals one could think of, but I spat it all out. I’d rather take on the steep and long climb up the Mäuseberg in the heat of the day than drink any of that water.
So I pushed on to Schalkenmehren along the three beautiful Maaren, Gemünder Maar, Weinfelder Maar and Schalkenmehrener Maar. Weinfelder Maar used to be called Totenmaar actually, but I guess that sounds a bit unfriendly. The name is derived from a legend about a mean count who found his castle, wife and son engulfed by the lake. He begged for his son to be retrieved and a cradle with his son appeared and came floating to the shore of the lake. In gratitude the count commanded the construction of the church that still stands above the lake. The Maren were formed as a result from volcanic activity. Rising magma hitting water containing layers resulted in gigantic explosions some 20.000-30.000 years ago. After the explosion funnel was filled with rock again, rainwater remained in the crater. While skirting these ancient phenomenons I made my way to Schalkenmehren where I ordered coffee, a coke and Eifelsteig cake. Unfortunately the lack of liquids the last couple of hours was giving my stomach trouble and it took a whole deal of patience to get the cake down and keep it down. On my way out of town I refilled at the village’s natural water source. It should be enough to get me to Manderscheid.
The climb out of the crater was hot and exposed, but after reaching the top at the L 64 the track went down into the forest for an easy and shady downhill toward the Üdersdorfer Mühle and the beautiful Lieser valley. I let the fairytale scenery with water buffalo and farmers herding sheep in the lush green valley enlighten my heart and mind. It was early evening and the scenery and cooler temperatures inspired me to make an effort in running most of the way toward Mandersheid along the undulating tracks and trails. Soon the Oberburg (upper castle) of Manderscheid came into view bathing in late afternoon sunshine. It was 20.00 hours when I finally reached town, just in time for dinner at the Alte Molkerei. Live on facebook.
I ordered an Alkohol freies Weizen in the hope the carbon dioxide would settle my stomach. It didn’t. And when dinner was served I really didn’t feel like eating at all. Maybe I had better not pushed that hard the last few hours. Now I really had to force myself to eat. I decided to leave the baked potatoes alone and started with the fresh salad with it’s sour dressing. That seemed to sit quite well on my stomach and eating slowly and deliberately I was able to also eat the delicious, juicy piece of pork steak with sundried tomatoes and mozzarella. Not the lightest meal I know, but it was wholesome. And I would feel much better after. Dinner took me so long that they kept asking me if everything was to my liking. It was almost 21.45 and the sun was down when I was finally done and set out into the night.
Things always get even more interesting the second night
It turned out to be a rather damp and cool night. I was barely able to keep myself warm enough while running or hiking. I put on mhy water resistant shorts over my regular shorts to give some extra warmth. On top of that I was wearing a base layer and a hooded long sleeve. It was just enough to keep myself warm whilst moving slow. I was so sleepy I could barely keep my eyes open. Running helped a little. But the fogginess in my brain kept me from doing so, though physically I was able to. But I was in a state of listlessness. I knew I might get in trouble if I didn’t get any sleep. So that second night I had several naps to keep myself alert, just enough to keep myself going and my mind sharp enough to know what I was doing, navigation wise and nutrition wise
The first nap I had on a bench south of Karl, while moving out of the Lieser valley and on to the Himmerod monastery in the Salm valley, just after midnight. After dinner had settled, I felt I was moving at a decent pace. The Lieser valley between Manderscheid and Grosslitchen is quite a narrow ravain. Even during a moderately warm day it can get stifling hot in there. On my first attempt on the Eifelsteig in september 2018 I was in trouble there while it was only around 20o C. This time was different with the cool night temperatures and I was able to make good progress despite the difficult and at times steep terrain. I wasn’t using much water and the side stream that I dared trust wasn’t easy to reach. So I decided to gamble for the Himmerod monastery. Before I got there sleep started to creep into my body and mind and I was slowing down even on the relatively flat track out of the valley. So on encountering a bench right next to the track, I didn’t hesitate for a second to lay down. I put on my rain jacket for an extra bit of warmth. I set the alarm for twenty minutes and closed my eyes. I woke up once because I was getting cold. It wasn’t too bad though and soon I drifted off again. When the alarm went off, I just got up, put my jacket away and moved on. I still felt rather drowsy, but I didn’t dare to sleep any longer, afraid my body might stiffen or I might get hypothermia.
When I finally reached the monastery I was happy to find the toilet building open. I quickly filled all my water bottles, for the next opportunity was 27 kilometres and probably five or six hours away in Geverath. I considered taking another nap in the bathroom. The floor was hard though and somehow sleeping in a public toilet didn’t seem attractive enough. I decided this might be a good time to eat the pesto, tomato and mozzarella sandwich I bought in Hillesheim in the morning. It was delicious! It gave me a boost to somehow force myself into a trot the next two or three flat kilometres along the Salm. That kept me awake. But at the first little climb I was more than happy to fall back to walking and soon sleep started creeping up again. The straw under a horses shelter I found at the Musweiler Mühle was too much to resist. Again I slept for twenty minutes. When I woke up I didn’t feel very rested, but I was cooling down too much and I didn’t allow myself more sleep. The hardcore houseparty that was goning on further down the valley helped me stay awake. Although by the time I reached Landscheid I was drifting along the track like a drunk man.
It’s strange how one’s notion of what’s ordinary shifts when running for days on end. In my mind it was perfectly normal to lay down in a horse shelter in the middle of the night, or use the chair of a stranger as a sleeping place on his driveway at the break of dawn. I hadn’t given the issue of sleeping much thought beforehand, but in hindsight, to me this was really a cool extra dimension to the whole undertaking. It gave a true self-sufficient feel to it and despite the relatively densely populated area I felt rather alone and isolated that night.
To the Weiẞ Haus
After that last nap in Landscheid the sun started painting in the vacant shades of night. The land fell silent in those last moments before dawn. It was invigorating. Maybe it was the anticipation of the finish, but from that moment on I didn’t have any trouble staying awake anymore. I enjoyed the arguably the most beautiful part of the Eifelsteig, the Salm valley between Landscheid en Bruch. By that time I was short on water again too. And I was relieved to reach Geverath and its source. Live on facebook. By now I was also looking forward to breakfast at the Café am Eifelsteig in Rodt. I was glad my stomach was alright again and I was also glad the finish was only 25 kilometres away. Trier was on the signposts for the first time at the Deimlinger Mühle. That’s strange! Twentysix kilometres. That’s three more than I’d expected. This discrepancy occupied my mind the rest of the way. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it!
Another sandwich and a coke at the bakery in Kordell. That was delicious! On the climb out of Kordell some raspberries. Then the long descent toward Burg Ramstein and beautiful Butzerbach. Here the Eifelsteig runs parallel with the Römerpfad. A very popular local hiking trail apparently. Usually I take a little time to admire the Genoveva and Clausenhöhle, but the crowd is making me nervous. I feel I’m in another world then theirs. Another dimension. A woman asking the way drags me from. Back into the real world. Is it? I don’t know. Ten kilometres to Trier now. I still don’t understand. It should be seven. I don’t understand. I still don’t when I reach Biewer. It should be only a couple kilometres now at most. When I start the climb up the ridge above the Mosel and Trier finally it makes sense to me. Two kilometres to the Weisshaus! The southern terminus of the Eifelsteig! I’m not to run to Trier! The Weisshaus is the finish! I enjoy the fews from the ridge, the rooty trail and the smell of pine until I reach the Weisshaus. Live from facebook.
I reach the finish after two days, six hours and twenty one minutes.
The planning I made beforehand, can be found here. I made notes of what I ate and drank (column H) during my stops and how many water bottles of half a litre I refilled at each source(column G)