May 27th 2019, Heeswijk-Dinther
I set out on an adventure to run the Eifelsteig from the Weishauss, Trier to Kornelimunster near Aachen in one go. I have had the idea for years and last september I finally made a first attempt. It stranded at 196 kilometres near Blankenheim. I focussed to much on setting an FKT instead of enjoying the Eifelsteig itself. This time was going to be different. Things seemed to go almost perfectly until 296k in. Then I made one silly mistake. Although it didn’t put a successful attempt in danger directly, it triggered a sequence of events that might have ended worse than it did. And the events gave me some explaining to do to support my claims on the FKT. I will do this in a separate report here: Eifelsteig report last 17 kilometres. This one will be about experiences. My own and those of my crew and pacers. Full reports of crew and pacers can be found here.
I started this adventure on the morning of May 2nd 2019 at 5 AM CET exactly from the southern terminus of the Eifelsteig at the Weisshaus near Trier. The first 100k went by rather uneventful. I remember the loudness of the birds waking up shortly after embarking on my adventure. The equally loud racket of the Trier-Luxembourg highway. I can still feel the crisp cold morning air on my skin. I remember the few people I met the first day, pointing a couple of Eifelsteig thru hikers in the right direction and the Dutch couple cheering me on achter hearing about my ambitions on the Eifelsteig from my support crew, Erik and my dad. We went through the aidstations efficiently that first day. I wasn’t occupied with my pace too much. I focussed on the effort. It felt easy and I enjoyed the scenery and just the pure and straightforward act of running. On my pre-race blog I wondered out loud if I’m being a tad obsessive about my Eifelsteig exploits or that they might be inspired by love. These first 100k went by so smoothly that I had plenty of time to meditate on the subject. The answer was plain and clear. I’m running for love. My love for the Eifelsteig, the Eifel, for nature, my love for the people supporting and loving me during and outside the adventure. I’m running for the love of all beings and all that is. I felt small and whole at the same time: I simply am. And I continued in this state of being during the whole of the journey. Staying within myself, focussed, in the here and now.
Digging a hole @ 110k
Early in the evening, shortly after the 100k point and the aid station at Weinfelder Maar at 102k, I start having trouble breathing and I become very drowsy. I haven’t slept at all the night before and now sleep creeps in. After lying down for a minute on the trail between Daun en Neunkirchen I decide to call the support team to discuss with them what to do. Together we decide it will be best to take a considerable nap now to feel better afterward. The support team arrives from the originally appointed rendevouz at Neroth just when I’m approaching Neunkirchen at 18:35 hours. First Erik phones Gabrielle who is supposed to be running with me from Gerolstein to Mirbach. She and her partner Paul are already there eating pizza and agree to come over to Neunkirchen with their Campervan. While they are on their way, Erik and I check the only two B&B’s in Neunkirchen for available rooms. Either there are none, or the owners are unwilling to let a room for a couple of hours to two men. I don’t know what they might be thinking.
Gabrielle and Paul arrive at 19:05 hours. I have already waisted 30 minutes wandering about in vain looking for a room. But now we quickly get to business. I propose four hours of sleep. But I told my crew and pacers before hand not to show too much compassion and three hours is all I get. After cleaning myself up a bit with all-purpose cleaning wipes (it should have been baby-wipes but Erik made a slight mistake) and changing into clean clothes I clamber into my sleeping bag. My dad, Erik, Gabrielle and Paul drive to Daun for a few drinks. For a moment I feel quite lonely and deserted. When I hear a car passing by I even imagine I might be in trouble for illegally camping on the side of the road. But eventually I doze off with the smell of cleaning-wipe-lemon, oil and petrol penetrating my nose. I wake up an hour later with a strong urge. Of course! I’m on a running adventure for two entire days and nights, but precisely when I am lying down for a doze, my intestines come to life to claim their own moment of pleasure and fame! I’m not quite enthusiastic about the idea of getting out of my warm, comfy sleeping bag and into the cold damp night to squat down in some bushes. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I get out to do my business and get back in my sleeping bag as quick as I can. I soon dose of again, only to wake up again at the sound of a car passing by. It’s my support crew. They’ve let me sleep for two and a half hours, though it rather feels as twenty five minutes.
Climbing out of the hole with Gabrielle (110-176k)
Gabrielle has the doubtful honour to manoeuvre me out of the hole I dug myself and get me through the night. My pace is slow but deliberate. I know I must be patient. Things will turn around sometime, but I must be patient. My breathing still is laborious but it’s getting better and I feel much fresher. We don’t speak much. We don’t need to. Gabrielle just keeps me going and is being encouraging. We don’t stop at the aid station at Neroth. We don’t need anything. A few hours later we pass through sleepy Gerolstein where pizzeria Costa Verde, the intended aidstation for thursday evening, is long closed. No pizza for me tonight. Gabrielle is trying to encourage me but negative thoughts predominate my mind. She tells me how cool this adventure is and how much she learns from me. But all I can think is: ‘Yeah, how NOT to do this’. I tell her. I tell her I’ve been having these negative thoughts since we left Neunkirchen. It’s impossible for her to give me the right answer. It would be impossible for anyone. But just speaking my mind helps. It helps me break the downward spiral. On my request the aid station at Gerolstein is moved 5 kilometres down the track to the campsite at the Auberg. Before we’ll arrive their we have to tackle the long climb up the cliffs above Gerolstein. I need a short break and want to sit down on the stairs that signal the beginning of a long and steep climb. But Gabrielle spots a few chairs that against a wall that seem to be put there especially for us. ‘A makeshift aid station!’, Gabrielle exclaims. And she takes a picture of me sitting on a chair. Her enthusiasm seems out of place to me. But she makes me smile innerly. Things might turn after all.
The climb turns out not to be that long after all and soon we are on our way down again, across the road en around the Auberg. The usual spotlights aren’t there for me tonight. It only seems appropriate. We take a short break at the campsite aid station and I close my eyes for a few minutes. This is going to be the tactics for the rest of the venture. Sit down, eat, nap, run. After that it’s up and over the Rother Kopf and on for a long descent toward the next aid station at Dohm. The church in Hillesheim is our next milestone at 150k point. And shortly after we are welcomed by Hennie and Jolanda. I’m shaken from my slumberings. I new Jolanda was planning on running a short stretch with me, but it is 4:30 at night! It takes me a few seconds to realize it’s them: ‘What are you guys doing here!’ It’s a welcome change. Jolanda runs with us and we meet Hennie a few times along the way. In Berndorf I notice the light slowly returning to the sky and a few solitary birds singing their wake up song. When we reach the halfway point near Kerpen, we take pictures to celebrate. From there it’s just Gabrielle and me again on to the aid station at Niederehe.
Morning seems to give me yet another boost. On a slight incline on a bicycle path, I try to keep running. We reach the top and just go on running. A short and brilliant stretch of single track follows along the Ahbach toward Wasserfall Dreimühlen with some short but steep inclines. ‘That will be to much,’ I mutter underneath my breath. But I keep grinding the short and steep uphills nonetheless. I can feel the power running down my legs and my spirits lifting. Gabrielle finally gets to see Wasserfall Dreimühlen by daylight (it was dark when we reached this spot last september on my first attempt) and we take the time and a picture. From there a long but gradual climb up the plateau follows. My spirits are high, the pace goes up and Gabrielle is getting sleepy when we finally reach Mirbach where Adriaan has Joined the team.
Adriaan and the philosophical café (176-235k)
Adriaan seems quite relaxed when I arrive. Due to my delay at Neunkirchen he has had all night to sleep in his camper. He has to wait just a little bit longer though while I eat some food and give my legs and feet some rest. Adriaan has brought all sorts of new food onto the scene. I devour a peace of quiche. After a short break I ask the crew for an extra aid station in Ripsdorf. The next leg is quite long considering the pace I’ve been running last night. It’s also the stage where things went wrong in september. And it just gives me that little extra confidence to take on the steep up- and downhills toward Blankenheim. This time my legs are a lot better at this point than they were last september. With a few short breaks, leaning with my hands on my knees, or sitting down on a log for a few seconds, we soon reach Blankenheim. Another mental barrier broken. From there to Nettersheim it’s a rather flat stretch on the Eifelsteig. No excuses not to run honestly. But it is hard to keep running all the time. So I just take little breaks from running every now and then. Never more than a minute of hiking or an occasional break sitting down on a log or bench. Time and miles fly by rapidly while we’re philosophising on faith, the reason why students should be allowed to wear headwear in class or not and the pros and cons of doing intervals on a 313 kilometre long run. Adriaan argues the change in pace might relieve the legs of the monotonous grind of an enterprise like this. Maybe even more so than walking. He may be joking, but I decide to put the thesis to the test. A few minutes are enough to conclude that Adriaan is right and I break of the experiment with a well deserved bout of hiking. In this manner we soon reach the village of Nettersheim where my wife Marieke, daughter Sarah and my mother will Join us for a long anticipated lunch break at Bäckerei Zur Römer Quelle.
It should have been breakfast, but I find little reason to complain about that. Missing breakfast here, together with the Vogelsang and Wollseifen stage further down Der Steig, by breaking of my earlier attempt somehow became the symbol of that failure. In the build-up to this attempt I felt I would succeed once I would have reached Nettersheim and the bakery. I’ve told everybody this would be my mental halfway point. Now that I have reached this point I feel sure I will make it to the finish line in Kornelimunster no matter what. It’s great to see my girls and cuddle them. But I also sense that I am in this other dimension where running more than 200 kilometres brings one. I’m not able to connect with them on the same level. That’s alright though. I just enjoy their company. I’m also happy to have a real meal with soup and baked eggs with ham and cheese. It’s been more than forty hours since I’ve had my last descent meal, since I missed last nights pizza at Gerolstein. The goodbye after lunch isn’t as hard as I would have expected. Sarah is taking it well. Soon Adriaan and I are of again.
The following leg to the L203 aid station near Rinnen goes by quick and uneventful. When we arrive there my father is rather enthusiastic because we appear to be making up time on my expected pace. I cut him off rather unfriendly: ‘I just don’t want to know’. I am in a good head space and I don’t want to spoil the flow with thoughts on schedules and pace I’m supposed to running. After a short break we’re off to Olef (you know, where Georg Kessler, former coach of the Dutch soccer team lives (sorry inside joke)). Adriaan enlightens me with his knowledge of termics on our way Olef and before we know it we arrive in the village with its famous inhabitant. It’s the end of a relative long and flat section of the Eifelsteig. From Olef to Monschau there will be quite a few longer and steeper climbs. But the last downhill before Gemünd, where Fred is waiting to join me, is one of the coolest and smoothest on the Eifelsteig in this direction.
Making up with oldskool Fred for last september’s fiasco (235-282k)
Last september Fred ran the last leg with me before I quit at Blankenheim. I swore to myself that I would show him a longer stretch of the Eifelsteig this time. One of the best stretches too! After a short break I take my time to ease back into running. The first part of this short leg toward Morsbach is easy, following the river Urft downstream. But as soon as we leave Gemünd Der Steig starts climbing to Morsbach and then the Modenhübel. I’ve been anticipating for this tough section which is followed with another couple of steep climbs toward Vogelsang and then Wollseifen. It’s one of my favourite parts of the Eifelsteig. The history of these two sites fascinate me. The sinister Ordensburg Vogelsang was one of two training camps where the German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei brainwashed young men in the 1930’s to become the nazi leaders of the future. It always gives me the creeps. After the war the neighboring village of Wollseifen, that had already suffered from the war, was evacuated to serve as a training ground for the British and later Belgium armies. All that is left of the original village are the school, church, a small chapel and power transformer building. We take a short tour through the village as I tell Fred a little about it’s history. It’s almost as if we’re on a casual afternoon outing.
From Wollseifen it’s downhill all the way to the Urftsee and then the Rursee. After crossing the beautiful Dreiborner hochfläche the real downhill starts. It’s seems infinite. I feel like I’m going really slow but Fred says he has trouble keeping up, which gives me confidence. My legs are starting to hurt though and I’m relieved to reach the bottom. A few flat miles follow before the last steep climb to Einruhr. Though Einruhr is actually situated at the lakeside, the Eifelsteig leads us above and around the village before it goes down again and into the villige. I’m looking forward to a hot plate of pasta that is supposed to be waiting for me there. I considered taking a meal in Gemünd, where I had arrived at 17.15 hours, but in the end decided to stick to the plan and have a meal in Einruhr. Surely the restaurant would still be open when I would arrive there at around eight. The restaurant was NOT still open when I arrived in Einruhr at around eight. They had been unwilling to wait for my arrival even though my father and Erik had tried their best to persuade them. I’m quite surprised to meet my dad and Erik at the Eichhardt picnic hut above Einruhr. They have done their best to prepare us a couple of instant noodle meals. It tastes exquisite after 255 kilometres of running.
Night is falling when Fred and I leave Einruhr for Hammer and the next aid station at Widdau. When we reach the beautiful village of Dedenborn it’s almost dark. Fred forgot to put new batteries in his headlamp and its light is rather weak. Running abreast where we can we’re able to manage with the light from my own headlamp. It’s silly how small things like this give me the feeling of being in control. It gives me confidence and a sense of power in my tired legs. This, together with Fred’s encouraging words, give me the feeling I’m running 9 minute miles though it’s closer to 9 minute kilometres. The climb out of Hammer is without end though. The downhill toward Widdau slow. There Adriaans camper awaits, sandwiches on the table. I take my time. More than I would have liked. I just want to be done now. Adriaan, Fred, Erik and my father are joking or having some discussion. They’re being rather loud. But I’m able to shut out all that is troublesome and superfluous. Just like I’ve been during the preceding few days. I’m able to stay within myself. Most of the time anyway.
The following leg to Monschau seems to take ages. I’m getting drowsy again and decide to take a short nap when we arrive there. But first we have to go through Monschau. I really dislike this town. I’ve past trough town a few times before and the streets seem to always be clogged with tourists strolling along. It’s such a contrast with the peaceful ambiance on the rocky and wooded trails that surround the ancient town. But this night the streets are empty. Except for a lady walking her dog wondering what two runners are doing there in the middle of the night. At the same time two runners are wondering aloud why a lady might be walking her dog in the middle of the night. But runners in the night mind their own business. When I finally reach Adriaans camper I ask my support crew to refill my backpack with water and food and to wake me up after 15 minutes. I don’t even bother about making myself a bed. I just curl myself up on the bench and drift of to the finish line in Kornelimunster only 20 miles further down the trail.
Traversing the moors with Adriaan (282-296k)
We decided earlier that Adriaan would run the next leg with me to Schwerzfeld and then Fred the last leg to Kornelimunster. As soon as I wake up I just pull on my backpack and start walking up the hill with half an avocado-cream tortilla in my hand. Adriaan will catch up, I’m sure. It’s uphill from here al the way to the high point of Stelling (658 m) on the border with Belgium. It never gets really steep but I’ve agreed with myself that I’m allowed to walk all the way. At some point the going gets too slow even to my own liking though and I start running again. It might have been when Adriaan tells me that we have been running a lot more than he had expected beforehand: ‘I prepared for a lot more walking.’ Adriaans proposal to try some more intervals is met with little enthusiasm though. Instead I ask him if I might be excused for just being done with the whole expedition. Fortunately soon after things get interesting again. When we reach the Belgium border it start raining. Of course. Then soon after we’ve entered Adriaan’s motherland and start crossing the moors, rain turns into sleet. Of course. Visibility is reduced to a couple of yards. Adriaan curses his decision to change lenses for glasses. I curse Adriaans behind for keeping at the periphery of my field of vision. ‘I want to take a break!’, I scream in silence. ‘We should have entered the forest by now’, I think to myself. I wonder if we have taken a wrong turn. But it is impossible to take a wrong turn on a perfectly straight road that goes on for miles on end. Sleet is turning into snow when we finally reach the forest. It muffles the sound of our footfall on the forest roads. I might have been able to spook myself when we pass the former settlement Reinhartzhof on the moors if I had had the time. I’m still too busy keeping up with Adriaans bottom. ‘Is he trying to ditch me or what!?’ When we finally get into a densely grown part of the forest I notice my headlamp is getting weaker. After screaming his name six times Adriaan finally notices. Running and walking together with the trail illuminated mostly by Adriaans headlamp we slow down quite a lot. It makes me feel cold instantly. My upper body is dry, but my legs are soaking wet while my tights keep absorbing the cold snowflakes. I’m planning to put on an extra set of pants and a warm coat when I reach my support crew. It seems as if we reach civilization after miles of wilderness when we finally do.
Dawning a new day with Fred (296-313k)
I am in a great hurry to leave. I’m cold and wet and I fear getting too cold and stiff to be able to keep moving descently. I throw my backpack in the back of the car. Put on the extra trousers. Take of my raincoat and put on a warm coat. I stuff a couple of snickers and a softflask with water in the pockets of my coat and run off. Fred, barely awake, has to hurry to get himself ready. He will soon catch up with me. After a couple hundred of yards I slow down. I know there must be a right turn here somewhere but because of the snow I’m not able to see well enough. I’m afraid I might have missed the turn and decide to wait for Fred with his GPS device.
Compared to the barren wasteland of the moors the last leg from Schwerzfeld to Kornelimunster seems rather enchanting, even in the current circumstances. The first few kilometres are in open terrain but when we get back into the forests the snow and winds aren’t too troublesome. Visibility is still poor though and I’m glad Fred has brought his GPS device. After a steep climb to the top of the Dreilagerbachtalsperre a more friendly incline brings us on the Struffelt moor. Snow covered wooden boards lead us through the bogs while the first light heralds the break of a new day. The birds are silent this morning. I want to take a picture of the snowy landscape, but my phone is in my backpack in the back of my dad’s car. Fred tries with his GPS device: nothing but blackness. Soon after we pass the village of Rott where an aid station is planned. There’s no one there. Strange, I would have expected them here, but I vaguely recall a discussion about it earlier. I tell myself they probably drove straight to Hahn where Erik will join us for the last two miles to film and celebrate. An uneasy feeling settles in the back of my mind as we continue though. The sound of a tree succumbing to the weight of the snow on its branches deepens the uneasiness. When we reach Hahn, no one is there. ‘Maybe they just drove to Kornelimunster because of the weather.’ There’s only a few short yet treacherous ups and downs along the Vennbahnweg, a former railway. After that the last few flat kilometres will lead us into Kornelimunster. Fred takes some pictures. It is light enough now. A new day is dawning on us. So is the realisation we’ve made it. ‘What will it be like? How will I feel? Will I be happy? Will I feel anything at all? Surely someone will we waiting at the bridge across the the river.’ When I get the bridge in within sight, no one is there. I stop in my tracks in the middle of the road. ‘Fred! I’m not carrying the tracker!’ The uneasy feeling explodes like a volcano in my stomach. I feel as if my legs are swept away from under my body. What has happened? I still hope they will be at the square in the village centre. But when we take the final turn there is no one there. Just snow covered cars on an otherwise empty square. I feel deserted.
Leaving the Eifelsteig
When I finally manage to get my head around I ask Fred what the time is: 6.05 hours according to his GPS. Fred takes some pictures of me under the signpost next to the information board of the Eifelsteig. I fail in my attempt to smile. I’m worried. What has happened? Are they all right? We search the square for an orange car in vane. A man is loading a car with bread from the local bakery shop. Maybe we’d better get inside. We’re getting cold. In my best German, which has suffered much from running 313 kilometres, I ask the lady if we may wait in the shop. At first she refuses. ‘But we’re wet and cold and someone will pick us up soon’, I plead. She gives in reluctantly. Asks something about the Eifelsteig while I’m settling down. But my mind is somewhere else. It’s with a tracker in the back of a car in Schwerzfeld. What has my rash action brought about? ‘I just did it, I just ran the whole length of the Eifelsteig’, I answer absently. The lady stares at me sheepishly for a moment and then carries on with her work.
Just when I’ve settled down an orange car arrives on the square in front of the shop. I quickly get up to head outside. Just in time I remember to thank the lady before I hurry out the door. I knock on the door of the car smiling. But when I open it, my moment of joy is quickly abrupted by my dad’s nervous activity. ‘Get in the car! You must run the last leg again with the tracker! Adriaan is waiting with the tracker at Schwerzfeld! You must run the last stage again for the FKT! Oh, and Erik has had an accident. He went over a guardrail with Fred’s car. Don’t worry. Erik is ok.’ I notice Fred’s anxiety. He is supposed to take his wife to the airport for a holiday in Greece the next day. ‘We’re NOT going to Schwerzfeld and I’m NOT running that last stage again. I’ve finished the Eifelsteig. I’m done. And we’re going to see Erik first. To see of he is all right. To see what can be done about Fred’s car.’ My dad finally calms down and agrees with my suggestion. After a quick change of clothes I get into the car to leaving the Eifelsteig behind.
In some respect I feel I really did forsake the Eifelsteig. I didn’t get the time to really let the whole experience sink in. It took me a while before I was able to write down my story. I started with putting together the facts to support my claim on the FKT. But this wasn’t about the FKT. It really was about… well, I guess I found that out during the first 100 kilometres as I have described in the first paragraph. And I, or we, let the FKT get in the way of what it was really about. That makes me feel sad. And I didn’t get the end to my adventure that I’d hoped for either. Though Fred and me ran the last leg in a style that seems fitting to me: off the radar and oldskool (accept for Fred’s GPS). I hope that in writing down my story I’ve made a start with processing the whole experience. Mentally and spiritually. I will probably be back on the Eifelsteig soon. I already have been secretly contemplating a self-supported Eifelsteig and the double Eifelsteig as future adventures. And Marieke is speaking about a family thru hike when Sarah is old enough. I can’t tell how many times I’ve been daydreaming about that myself while out on the Eifelsteig! No matter how abrupt and unsatisfactory my last goodbye to the Eifelsteig might have been. My love for Der Steig has only been fueled!