The Black Forest is probably the second German region behind Bavaria that most of us have heard about from overseas. We know it’s, well, a forest and that it has something to do with fairytales. The Brothers Grimm, perhaps?
I’m of course talking about the fairytales in their original version––not the cutesy, sanitized versions that found their way to Disney. The German versions wouldn’t give two Scheiße about our modern conceptions of protecting children from violence and gore. The violence and gore were front and center in these stories. And many of these stories were inspired by the region of southwestern Germany we know today as the Black Forest.
“This might be the most beautiful place I’ve been in Germany,” I told Melanie.
It was just our second day in Saxony Switzerland National Park in southeast Germany on the Czech border (not Switzerland, to most everyone’s surprise). The country had just started to open up again and it felt safe to wear our masks for a two-and-a-half-hour train ride to Bad Schandau on the Elbe River for a short getaway after hunkering down in Berlin for what was starting to feel like a lifetime.
I’ve been on the record as saying that what I’d miss most about living in Düsseldorf is access to the Rhineland. Düsseldorf is as flat as Berlin, but you can get some scenic elevation in Siebengebirge and the trails along the Rhine, Mosel, and Ahr rivers.
Not so much with Berlin and surrounding Brandenburg. There are cartoon characters underneath ACME anvils with more topography than Brandenburg. So my expectations for finding a good hike around here were about on par with getting a burrito dripping with Cholula in Minsk. Fortunately, as with most things in life, I was quickly proven wrong.
You go to France for the food and wine, you go to Norway for the hiking. Thems just the facts.
But approaching the topic of hiking in Norway can be an intimidating endeavor. It’s both a small (population-wise) and large (territory and terrain-wise) country at the same time. There’s the temptation to try and do it all at once, somehow simultaneously without taking into account the limits of the human body.
You imagine all the views from the top without seriously considering the transportation to the trailhead or the hours of trodding alongside hills and mountains to get those vistas––and what that does to your body. Besides making you tired, it makes you hungry, and Norway is without exaggeration one of the most expensive countries in the world for purchasing food.
That’s why it’s best to go into Norway with the right attitude, and the attitude is beautifully Norwegian in nature. I’m talking about “Takk for turen.”
“Fuck this. I’m never doing this again. No more running.”
That’s all I could say to myself as I started another 200-meter climb with about six kilometers to go in the race. My legs wouldn’t let me run up anything resembling even the slightest ascent. They were shot from the previous 800 or so meters of climbing.
I was out of water to boot, having felt a false sense of relief after taking a drink at the last aid station. My throat was so dry, I couldn’t swallow a tiny bite of my Clif Bar without nearly activating my gag reflex. All I wanted in the world was to cross the damn finish line and be done with this mistake.
“Where are we?” I said to Melanie. “How have I not heard about this place before?”
We were in Walporzheim, walking through the village center—a convergence of two quiet streets with a couple of restaurants and a bus stop—during a sunset that looked like it was painted with acrylics. The orange-violet sky shrouded the valley in darkness, amplifying the quiet of this place we’d never heard of until about a week earlier. We’d only had a glimpse, but I could already tell that the scenery would be something spectacular as soon as we got onto the trails in the hillsides the next morning.
Walporzheim is just one of a collection of villages and towns that sit along the Ahr River, a tributary of the much larger Rhine that runs westward to the half-timbered village of Blankenheim. I selected it for this holiday weekend getaway because the Internet told me it’d be easy to get to by train and it was along yet another one of Germany’s multi-day hiking trails, the AhrSteig. But what’s appealing about the Ahrtal (Ahr Valley) on paper is greatly exceeded by seeing it in person.
I’ve been in a bit of a running kick as of late, so much so that I’ve been signing up for half-marathons left and right––at least one per month since April. (That makes it sound like it’s more than three, but… it’s three.) Looking for one more to do before heading back to the States for a 10-day family visit, I spotted the EVL-Halbmarathon Leverkusen.
After doing the VIVAWEST-Halbmarathon in and around Gelsenkirchen, I decided I was especially digging races in smaller town/cities that I otherwise might not think to visit, following courses that show the best the region has to offer. Leverkusen matched that description to a T.