I'm still alive.
I set out into the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) around 11 am from Freiburg, and found myself instantly on some of the most beautiful trails I have ever run. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, I have been spoiled by nice trails...but these were like none I had ever seen. I just had to follow the right colored diamonds, so I didn't have to worry about stopping to check out my map at every fork (none of these trails are on my map anyways). When I left in the morning, I knew that I had to choose between three short days in the Schwarzwald or two long ones (the latter would put me in Zurich by Friday).
A fast 31.5 Kilometers put me in Hinterzarten, where I could have potentially stopped for the night. I felt like I could keep going, but I went into the tourism office to see if they could suggest anything for me. The man informed me that the place I would be heading towards was not a town at all, but just a spot in the middle of a gorge. There were no places to stay there, he said while showing me the map, suggesting that I stop in a closer town. For me though, if I continued on, I had to go far enough to where I could get to Switzerland in the next day. If I wasn't going to make it at least half way, I might as well stop where I was. The map that he had showed many places in the forest where there were caves, castle ruins and covered campfire areas, so I figured I could find a place in the forest even without a tent or sleeping bag and camp for the night. I asked for the cheapest restaurant in town, and bought the map that he had shown me. I spent about an hour eating some Blackforest ham and cherry cake while planning my next move. To get over the huge amount of food in my stomach, I walked a couple kilometers to Titisee where I looked for all the supplies I thought I would need for the night. I found a little box of matches for free at the pharmacy, and headed to the little grocery store to find some things to eat. I ran out of town with a Capri Sun, two nectarines, a mini baguette thing, four bratwursts and three candy bars (Bounty, Snickers, Marzipan Ritter) figuring that I would have enough for both dinner and a light breakfast. When I bought the bratwurst, I had the option of buying some precooked sausage, but I thought to myself "I'm camping, of course I will have a fire."
Along the route, I made some detours to find some castles that were marked on my map. All I found was several minutes of stingy nettles and nothing. I decided that castles were not my best option, and that I would run to the next covered cooking area and stop there. The trails were amazing, and I found myself happily making the climbs and discovering the views with the additional weight of food on my back.
I arrived at the Schattenmühle hut and fire pit before 8 pm, having covered a stupidly huge 62.4 kilometers to get there. I had eaten the Bounty bar during the run, and when I arrived I ate a nectarine and the Ritter Sport and drank my Capri Sun. I was shocked to find that the place was not actually a covered fire pit, but a fire pit and a covered building which were not connected. My plan to sleep sheltered and near a fire was ruined. I cursed my map.
The "camp site" was near a road which had a construction trailer on it, so I spent much of the remaining daylight trying to get into it with tools fashioned from a rusty tent stake that I found nearby. No dice. I also gathered a bunch of wood, but because it had rained, most of it was pretty damp. As it started to get dark, I started to feel hungry and impatient to have a fire going. I quickly built a little tepee out of the sticks that felt the most dry, and tore up some of the now useless pieces of my map and tried to get a fire started. The wood was too wet, and it wasn't long before I was sitting in the dark with no fire and no more matches. Fire is a difficult thing. You have to be patient with it. Around midnight, I went and waited by the side of the road, hungry and tired, for a car to come by. I got a lighter from a woman and headed back to try to make magic happen. I gathered all of the dry sticks and leaves from around the hut and tried to make my fire. It wasn't enough, and the lighter was almost out of fluid and wouldn't start...and it was starting to rain. I resolved that I would go to sleep and try again in the morning. I ate the little piece of bread and the last nectarine and pulled out my space blanket and sprawled out on the hard wooden bench. I maybe slept for a few minutes off and on, but I was cold and my stomach was grumbling. Around 3 am, I decided to make another try with the fire. I went out onto the road and waited again. I got a lighter from a pair of construction workers that drove by and went back to start my fire. I found an old board that was dry on the backside of the hut (under many heavy clay shingles) and spent some time jumping on it and throwing rocks at it to break it up into manageable pieces. I built a perfect tepee and used the last of my map as starter fluid. I smiled at my success, the fire was starting and I was ready to eat. Just as my little friend crackled its first strong breath, it started pouring with rain. Minutes later I was underneath the hut with some rescued wood, cold legs, tired eyes and raw bratwurst. It was 3:30 am and my spirit was breaking. "Why did I buy food that needed to be cooked?" I tried to go to sleep, sitting upright in a fetal position in my space blanket igloo. Somehow I managed to sleep until 5 am, when the sun came up and I resolved to try to make a fire one last time.
This time, I was patient. I didn't have any more paper, so I spent an hour and a half picking slivers off of the board that I had found, producing as much tinder as I could. My hands were trembling and cold, and my legs were wrapped in my (useless) space blanket...but I was patient. It was raining, so I built my structure on a portable wooden base that I could move outside when it stopped. Around 7, I had a beautiful little structure of tepees within tepees full of hand generated sawdust and a found cigarette-butt fuse. As soon as it stopped raining for a second, I carefully carried my precious little friend to the fire and tried lighting it. After a couple flint strikes, a fire started to grow, and I wrapped my hands around it in desperation. "Take my warmth, whatever you need...just live!" Man did it live. Tired cold and covered in ash, I saw my friend grow through bloodshot eyes...one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I threw my bratwursts on the grill and ignored the drizzling rain. I would eat this morning. Those bratwursts are among of the greatest things I have ever eaten. It was 8 am, and I had to cover 55 more kilometers to get to my destination in Switzerland.
Tired and still a bit hungry, I started walking east to Achdorf where I would transfer trails and continue south. On the way I found a snack hut where I got some sports drink and some food, along with a bag of Gummi Bears (which I had to eat while still in Germany). The trails were muddy, and the forest that was paradise the day before was a completely different place. Tired, I stumbled through the forest, taking some time to explore abandoned structures or caves along the way that might have been better places to stop the night before. I also stopped to take a nap on a bench in a field, and I arrived in Achdorf around 18 kilometers later under drizzling rain. Somehow it was nearly three o'clock when I arrived, and I still had nearly 37 kilometers to go. I took the mandatory first couple steps, and started to run. I needed to get into Schaffhausen (Switzerland) before too late. The trails were incredible. Much better than the day before, and so much clearer than the trails that I had been on in the morning. It was like paradise, I ran along narrow trails in lush green forest along cliff edges and over tangled roots by stones that were carved to look like mythical beings. Tired as I was, it was incredible. Too bad the battery in my camera was close to dead. I didn't take any photos...you'll have to see it for yourself. Running on trails like that is like dancing, you move fast and without thinking, subconsciously finding the proper footholds through roots and rocks. On occasion, I would slip and feel certain that I was about to die at the perils of a steep cliff...only to catch myself with the other foot. I ran the rest of the run with the lyrics to a Johnny Cash song stuck in my head: "That's one you owe me, I let you slide..." One foot to the other...my feet make good teammates.
I arrived in Schaffhausen in the evening, wiped out and bleary eyed, unshaven and covered in ash and the smell of campfire. I was pretty sure that I couldn't make another night outside...so I started my general process of wandering around hoping that a miracle happens. I wandered around town and through a castle. I withdrew some Swiss Francs (from a Swiss bank!) and got some dinner at a Chinese takeaway place. I spoke with some young people who informed me that I would be hard pressed to find hospitable people in the country. "People are just cold here and unwelcoming of strangers." I sure hoped not.
After some other uneventful events, I found myself in Cross Box, a backpackers bar and hostel in town. I ordered a beer and started talking with the bartender, who put me in touch with the head bartender. After explaining myself in some pretty terrible German, and asking if there were any nice locals in the bar, she told me she would look about. She returned with two young men and a place to stay. I had a drink with Jeremy and Michael and discussed some common interests in music. They are some pretty awesome dudes. I was wiped out and so excited to have a place to sleep. Jeremy's roommate was out for the night, so I had a bed to myself, and I took a shower and slept for a solid 10 hours. It was amazing. I love bed.
10 July 2009