How it all began

“Run with us… just one loop”, Michael Schlamann said to me. In reaction to a facebook post of mine. He had posted a link to the quirky website of an even quirkier race. ‘How it all began… the introduction was headed. A weird story about drunk beavers carrying a devil called Bachstüpp on their back. A reference was made to the Rur valley, Germany. Then some stuff about a footrace followed. The race basically consists of six loops of sixty kilometers which have to be completed within sixty hours. I told Michael I’d think about it, but to be honest, the idea seized me at once. I knew I would be there. 

(The absence of) a training plan

It sounded like a proper midwinter adventure in a beautiful area. It was only 5 weeks before the start of the race and I had trained very little since the Escape from Meriden in November. But, hey, I was going to run only one loop right? What could go wrong? In need of a nice day out I coincidentally (or not) had planned a run in the same area for the second of January. I quickly planned another one two weeks later. Then a lot of snow fell in the area, about two weeks before the race began. I couldn’t let all that snow go to waste. So I planned another nice day out, five days after the last one. I might not have been in the best of shape, but I felt quite alright after those training runs. So I prepared my wife for two loops, maybe three. And I canceled my work appointments on monday just in case.

Campfire stories

On the second of February I was the first to arrive at Camp Hammer. First I had to check in at the reception of the campsite. I booked two nights, which should be enough for two ten hour loops. I could always add another night if necessary. The first obstacle to be overcome this weekend: “No you can’t pay with a bankcard. Yes, you’ll have to drive to Einruhr to get ‘bar’”. I constrained myself to roll my eyes and went out. Then I thought of my parents who were staying at a hotel a few kilometers away. They came straight away and lent me the money. First obstacle taken. I met Michael, the race director, on my way out. After exchanging a few pleasantries I went up to the campground to pitch my tent.

When I got to the campground I soon realized my plans to bivouac in the sanitary building between loops must be… well… flushed down the toilet. There were several barrel shaped structures, one containing toilets, another showers and yet another contained a hot tub. But everything was shut down because of the winter season. There was no toilet house like I had imagined while planning. I had imagined myself putting a chair, a water cooker and my bag in the sanitary building. Now, I would have to rely on the one by the reception that was 200 meters away. Too far away to carry my stuff when time was going to be precious.

There were also two small cabins, one of which was hired by Michael and the other by some tourists from the Netherlands. The wooden cabins were shaped like a tunnel, with two wooden seats integrated in the little veranda in front of the huts. The cabin that Michael had hired was only two meters wide and four meters deep. Inside the cabin were two rooms. The front room contained a cupboard on the right side and on the left a tiny table with a wooden bench on either side. A double bed occupied the entire backroom. This was to be the race headquarters and life base for the weekend. Around the cabins were several pitches available for tents and campervans. Beyond that was a field with a firepit and beyond that, in the woods, there were two compost toilets. This all made up the scene for an unusual weekend.

After further making Michaels acquaintance I quickly started to pitch my tent and install all of my stuff. In my mind I rearranged my interloopal routine. Instead of dragging the bag with all my necessities into the toilet house, I would just sit in front of my tent and hope it would not rain. I arranged with Michael that I could use my water cooker in his cabin for coffee and pot noodles. Not much of a plan, but I didn’t have a better alternative. It would have to do. 

In the meantime Tim and Désirée had arrived. Michael had told me there would be only four participants, so we were almost complete. After a quick exchange of commons I set off to Höfen with my parents for a plate of pasta. Upon my return the campfire was blazing and I joined Michael, Désirée and Tim for a drink and crisps. Soon Wouter joined us to complete the quartet that would start the challenge next morning. We tried to pull some information from Michael on stuff like elevation gain, starting time, the route and any other topic related to the race that raised our curiosity. Michael just shrugged stoically in answer to all our questions. His lips were sealed. He played his role like he had never done anything else. Soon we all went to bed because we were supposed to get up around 4 am to receive the map and gpx-file for navigating the course. Since we were only four and would have plenty of time, Michael let us decide what time we’d get up. We decided to make it 4:30.

Waiting for the run

Next morning we all gathered in the small cabin. The five of us all cramped in the four square meters of the front room in the cabin. Race briefing was short and simple. Follow the sixty kilometer course on the map as fast as possible. You have ten hours for each loop and you have to start each loop before the 10 hour cut off, so loop 2 within 10 hours, loop 3 within 20 hours, etc. As proof of following the entire course, find the strategically placed books and of each book tear out the page corresponding to your bib number. Together with a map we received our bib number and a list of book numbers one to fifteen with ‘useful hints’, as Michael called them. They were ‘elaborate’ descriptions of the exact location where to find the books, like: ‘At the pile of wood’, or ‘A gap at the view point’, or ‘Near a hunting ladder’. The books were also pointed out on the map we received. We hoped it would all make sense once we would reach the book’s locations. After we all uploaded the gpx-file on our watches and Michael did a short material check we were ready to go. It was around five o’clock. The waiting started.

We were waiting for Michael to signal half an hour before the race, which would be between six and eight. Wouter went to his campervan to have a nap and Désirée went to her tent. I stayed in the cabin for a chat with Michael. Soon Tim joined us. We were chatting, studying the map and the ‘Usefull Hints’ list of books. Once again wondering if those clues would make any sense when we would reach the book’s locations. Michael assured us they would. We chatted some more. Michael pointed out the DNF souvenirs and winners trophy to us. 

Now Michael is a hunter. I had figured that out from his almost empty facebook timeline already. But the most hideous winners trophy was a most prominent token of is huntsmanship. The person that would win the race would have to take home a stuffed polecat with pigeon wings, a roe deer’s horns and badger’s fangs. As if trying to complete six loops of sixty kilometers in sixty hours in winter conditions wasn’t daunting enough. 

Troffee voor de winnaar van de Teuflischer Biber Ultra

Winners trophy

We waited some more. Michael set the race clock to half an hour. We studied the map more intensely. Then all of a sudden Michael walked out unceremoniously and blew a hunting horn. It was the signal. It was 7:13 meaning the start of the race would be 7:43. Fortythree was the number of minutes by which I would reckon time the next few days. Seventeen minutes to the full hour. We waited some more. 


Someone counted down I think. I wasn’t really paying attention. But all of a sudden someone said GO. Désirée, Tim and Wouter ran down the campsite lane, I ran to my tent. All of a sudden I realized I had forgotten my gloves. Not that it was cold. With temperatures between 5 and 8 degrees it would be quite warm all weekend in fact. But facing a strong wind up on the plateau, hands could get numb quickly. And numb hands could mean trouble when handling food wrappings, zippers and ziplock bags with books. Anyway, the detour to my tent meant I was behind from the start. To make matters worse, I took a wrong turn directly after exiting the campsite. I was off to a good start. But I felt quite relaxed about it. I had felt quite relaxed about the whole affair from the very start actually. I was out there just to have some fun and a nice weekend. And that was a good thing. It would assure that I would have a good time, without worries. I would take things as they came and would carry on as long as I could and was allowed to. In the meantime I was running up the valley while I should be up the shoulder of the hill. I checked the map. The track I was following would only lead me further from the course. To save some time I quickly decided to cut straight through the field and then the forest up the hill to the track above.

When I hit the track I just saw Désirée and Tim going round a bend in the track. Wouter was already further ahead apparently. With my heartrate up from the scramble up the slope I eased down and settled at a comfortable pace. When we reached a viewpoint on the track I caught up with Tim and Désirée. Then, after a few kilometers, I reached the site of book 1 where Wouter was already searching. Soon Désiree and Tim were with us. We had trouble finding the book. The books were hidden so that other people, not looking for them, wouldn’t notice them. The only clue we had from the ‘Usefull hints’ list, was that it was hidden on the inside of the 180 degree curve in the track. Wouter finally found the book at the most obvious hiding place, an old rotten tree trunk, after we had all checked the spot at least once before. It’s easy to overlook the obvious. It took us some five minutes but it felt like fifteen. If this was a harbinger of what awaited us with the other books we might be in trouble. Fortunately most other books would prove to be found more easily. Wouter handed me the book. I tore page forty-six from it and handed it down to Tim.

From that moment on Wouter and I worked as a team while Désirée and Tim formed another. It seemed to make sense to work together. It’s nice to have company. But apart from that it makes navigating and searching for books more efficiënt. Two pairs of eyes see more than one and navigational mistakes by one are corrected by the other. After eighteen kilometers we reached Höfen and the first waterpoint on the course. It had cost us three hours. I thought eight and a half hours for the first loop would be a good base for the remainder of the race. So three hours seemed a bit slow. But we had already ticked off more than half the books and almost half of the total elevation gain in one loop. There was easier terrain and less books ahead. That looked promising. 

Lourdes Grotte Rohren

Lourdes Grotte Rohren (Book 9)

At one point I told Wouter I knew exactly where the next book, number 10, would be. It was a long way ahead up and over the plateau. We chatted along the way about what runners usually chat about. Past races, future races and plans for adventures that may get into existence or forever remain an adventurous soul’s dream. Then Wouter all of a sudden asks: “shouldn’t we have reached the next book by now?” We passed a couple having lunch on a bench. “No, it’s up on the Dreiborner Hochfläche. We’ll reach it after a steep climb coming up soon”. Silence. Then: “Isn’t that book 11?” And then it sunk in. We had passed book 10 without thinking of it. How stupid of me! We passed the couple having lunch on a bench again. I counted the minutes, distance and elevation it took us to get back to the book: six and a half minutes, one kilometer and thirty meters of elevation gain. It doesn’t seem all that much. But knowing this could be precious time on later loops, it hurt. Wouter rubbed it in even more by telling me I would remember this when I would miss the cut-off by ten minutes at one point. After we passed the same couple for the third time we finally headed onto Einruhr.

Boek 10

Book 10: Am Rande des Wahnsinns

Without any significant events we drew near Hammer and the campground in just under eight and a half hours. The weird thing was, that we had two and half kilometers to go according to the gpx-file. I wondered if we had to go up the hill once more. But that didn’t make any sense, since there surely would have been another book on top of the hill. There were no more books on the list. I figured that the starting point of the gpx-track must be two and half kilometers down the road. Looking back, that didn’t make any sense either. I would realize my mistake later in the race. We finally reached the Beavers castle, as the campground is dubbed for the weekend, just under eight and a half hours. Perfect. I handed Michael the fifteen pagenumbers forty-six I had collected and started my interloopal routine.




Wouter and I had agreed to take 20 minutes in camp and then head out together. Wouter was perfectly on time, but I wasn’t not ready yet. I didn’t want to hold him up and told him to leave without me. We would meet up somewhere along the way. The second loop was counter-clockwise, just like the first. Wouter and I had talked about that at the end of loop one. Wouter was going to quit after loop two and wanted to see the loop from a different perspective. I, on the other hand, was now thinking about a third and maybe even fourth loop. I figured knowing the way would make it easier to navigate and find the books in the dark. Michael had said that the first to leave would choose the direction. It turned out that meant the first to leave was to toss a small flat stone with a circular arrow on each side indicating clockwise and counter-clockwise direction. Wouter had thrown the stone, which gave us counter-clockwise. I left 10 minutes after Wouter and the gap seemed to stay the same all through the second loop. I only saw him at the out-and-back to book 15. 

Not much happened during loop two until I reached book three up at the viewpoint above Monchau. On loop one the book had been on a beam of the shelter there. It wasn’t when I got there the second time. I searched around the shelter. Nothing. It was dark by this time and shining my head torch down the rocky outcrop I couldn’t make out much. I decided to call Michael to ask him what to do. He told me it was probably blown down the rocks by the strong winds up there. He asked me for my page number and told me to go on. He would come over and look for the book.

Uitzichtpunt boek 3

Viewpoint Monschau (book 3 is not there)

In Monschau the cafeteria was still open. I had currywurst for dinner. It was delicious. I ate it while climbing out of town toward book 5. I had just finished the currywurst when I scrambled up the steep embankment to find the book. Book 7 was easily found now, but I still had some trouble finding books 6 and 8. Somehow I mixed up their locations in my mind with that of other books. I managed to reach Höfen in a decent time, where Michael handed me my page from book three. It had indeed been blown down the rocks by the wind. He told me it was now under the shelter.

Mühlenbach crossing

Mühlenbach crossing

The rest of loop two was rather uneventful. I finished it in just over eight hours. That was just under seventeen hours of total race time, which meant I had three hours to spare before I had to start on loop three. It was after midnight and I decided to take a nap while I had the opportunity. I asked my parents to wake me up after twenty minutes. But it took me a long time to nurse myself. It had started to drizzle early during loop two and it never led up. My feet and clothes were soaking wet. I guess it took me ten minutes to change clothes and dry myself. It’s pretty tough to put on tight clothes on wet skin while lying down in a small tent! I had just dozed off when my father called me. I asked him for another ten minutes. After his second call I got up. I thankfully accepted Michael’s offer to further tend to myself in his cabin. It was warm and dry in there. I ate some pot noodles, drank some coffee and refilled my supplies. Michael told me Wouter had quit, like he had planned to and Tim also quit in Erkensruhr during loop two. I already knew Desirée had quit after loop one. After eating and refilling my race vest. I was now the only competitor in the race. It felt a bit lonely. But then, I like it that way. It also meant that I was allowed to throw the stone this time: counter-clockwise. Again!


I had spent over an hour in camp. It must have been around two o’clock in the morning when I left on loop three. That was eighteen hours into the race, which meant I had twelve hours to finish loop three and start on loop four in time. Not much happened during loop three. The drizzle was still not letting up. The only variation was the space between drops. The ground got more soaked by the hour and up on the plateau, winds were strong. Somehow I still had trouble finding books six, eight and thirteen. At one point the sun came up. It was on top of the Dreiborner Hochfläche. But it was hardly noticeable. I took a picture of a gray sky where I guessed the sun must have been. Near the ground shades of gray mixed with shades of brown and green: brown mud and leaves, green grass and gray stones. I greeted the horses in their stable where book fifteen was hidden, told them I’d be back soon. Then I quickly headed back to camp. I finished loop three in ten hours and change, after 28 hours and 23 minutes of race time. Not bad. It meant I had enough time to nurse myself and still have time to spare while starting on loop 4. 

Sunrise on Dreiborner Hochfläche

Sunrise above Dreiborner Hochfläche (book 11)

Uitzicht op Erkensruhr

View on Erkensruhr

Paarden bewaken boek 15

Horses guarding book 15

My feet didn’t look too well. But I didn’t really take good care of them. Just let them dry a bit and put on dry socks. I chatted with Michael, my parents, Tim and Desirée, who were still there. After eating some food, drinking coffee and refilling my race vest, I was ready to go. Seventy-two was my new number. I threw the stone: clockwise. Finally!


I was glad with the change of direction, the new perspective it would bring. Although the scenery was rather the same dull grey, brown and green as it had been the previous three loops. I had eleven hours on the clock when I left camp. I reckoned I should be able to finish loop four in that time. Three hours for the first third to Einruhr, then three hours for the second and easiest third to Höfen. That should leave me five hours for the last and toughest part of the loop between Höfen and Hammer. 

It only took me around 2:30 hours to reach Einruhr where I met Michael and my parents. ‘Would I like some soup at Zur Schmiede?’ Michael asked. ‘Well, yeah! But do I have time?’ I hesitated. I wanted to continue as quickly as possible. ‘Will it be quick?’ I asked Michael. He ensured me it would. I caved. I was glad to take a short break and the prospect of some hot soup was too tempting to ignore. The soup was hot, salty and richly filled with peas, vegetables and wurst. It was also rather rich in fiber. Soon after I had left Einruhr I would experience the consequences.

I had spent some fifteen or twenty minutes in Einruhr. That was fine. The first leg to Einruhr had been in daylight and quicker than I had anticipated I slowed down significantly over the next leg however. I felt I was slow when I met Michael in Erkensruhr. I felt slow going up the Dreiborner Hochfläche and back down in the Erkensruhr valley when darkness fell. I still felt slow going up to Rothe Kreuz up the plateau where the windmills were still swishing their blades in the dark night. A wolf howled in the distance. But it might have been a farmers dog. When I reached Rohren I started to realize I was going too slow. Going down the valley again, I tried to pick up the pace. I tried running up the hill to Höfen as much and as hard as I could. I met Michael at the edge of the village. It motivated me to keep running till I reached the watering place at the Alte Mölkerei. It had taken me four hours, soup included, to get from Einruhr to Höfen. I had counted on three hours. I wasn’t able to think clearly anymore. I thought I had only three and a half hours left for the last leg because I reckoned I had only ten hours for loop four. In reality I had eleven hours to finish it in time. I thought I really had to speed up to make it in time.

Cairns on the track up Dreiborner Hochfläche

Cairns on the track up Dreiborner Hochfläche

So I did that. I quickly refilled my water bottle and continued. I pushed myself as hard as I could without allowing myself to ease up anywhere. Monshau was deserted as I walked up and down the stairs to the castle and book 4. It was only when I reached the viewpoint and book 3 after Monshau that I was starting to believe I would make it. I reckoned I needed to add 2.5 kilometers to the gpx-track, since it was 2.5 too long in the other direction. I counted half an hour for that. It would be tight. So I continued pushing on. I had no idea about the distance or time it would take. I reached book 2 ‘At the pile of wood’. I would be safe now, surely. On to book 1. One last time up that miserable tree trunk and bramble infested slope. Things would get much easier after that I knew. Book 1, finally! But wait, it isn’t that far back to camp, is it? I continued on until I realized I was at the top of the last descent. I had 45 minutes to spare! There’s no 2.5 kilometers short in the gpx-track after all. My mind was racing: ‘What should I do? I will have time to start on loop 5. But I don’t want that. Shall I wait?’ My mind was so fixed on finishing loop 4. I had been so sure that it would be too tight to be reasonably able to start on loop 5. I wasn’t able to cope with the idea of it. I hesitated: ‘but waiting for the time passing by would be silly. Wouldn’t it?’ At long last I decided to continue and finish loop 4 but then call it quits. No matter what.

I finished loop 4 in approximately ten hours and fifteen minutes. Almost as fast as loop 3. I had forty minutes to get ready and leave on loop 5. I sat down on a bench in the cabin. I took off my shoes and socks and just sat there. My feet were starting to develop trench foot. I really should have taken better care of them.  It was now the second sleepless night. Sleep deprivation would soon kick in. If I would start loop 5, I would only have ten hours and change to finish it. There was no way I would be able to finish it in the same time or faster as the previous two loops. Not in the physical state I was in, I convinced myself. I resigned myself to the inevitable. My parents left for home. Together with race directors Michael and Kevin I watched as time on the big race clock ticked away. We didn’t say much. We just sat and waited. 

Forty hour cut off for loop 5

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