First steps alone

“Not all those who wander are lost.” - Tolkien

During my first few steps alone, I felt a mixture of pride, eagerness, regret and sadness. Once I said goodbye to my parents and walked around the corner, I was really alone. The people I said goodbye too today took refuge in my heart, never to leave that place again during my trip. Soon I found myself making my way into the Reichswald, heading towards Goch. Tomorrow I was expected in the pilgrims house in Kevelaer, so I started my trip with a deadline to make. I had to walk about 60km in the first two days, 30 a day. I picked up the ‘Jakobsweg’ and followed the blue/ yellow signs the rest of my day. The roads in the Reichswald over which I walked were all asphalt and walking them didn’t really feel like an adventure. Walking the stretch during a weekday made that I only occasionally encountered a mountain biker in the shades of the big, green trees. Nick Hunt, one of my predecessors walking this forest in winter 2012 wrote: ”The path through the forest ran so straight it might have been scored with a ruler. The trees tracked identically past, quadrants of managed pine interspersed with leafless oak. It was a tame, regulated forest[…]  My mind started to stray in this forest. It didn’t really know what to long for, adventure or a phone call from Anouk, telling me I should come back and live with her.

As it was getting later, my feet became tired and I grew hungry. Time to find a place to pitch my tent. Although I was in a forest, I could not really find a suitable place to camp. It was scary. I wild camped a lot in May, during my last hike with my brother in Turkey. We walked part of the Lycian Way and found a perfect camp spot almost every night. The sun would set over the sea and as soon as we pitched our tent we would make a fire. The sound of goat bells around us only added to the serene feeling. But now it was different. I was alone, camping here was illegal and there was no great view to enjoy. Making a fire would be the most stupid thing I could do now if I wanted to stay unnoticed. I strayed from the path through high bushes and blackberry branches. Thorns grabbed my pants and backpack, leaving scratches on my arms. The spots were well hidden, but too overgrown to pitch a tent.

Camping on the Lycian Way, May 2014

Camping on the Lycian Way, May 2014

I pushed on a little further, leaving the blackberries for what they were and headed to a group of ferns. The largest part of the forest was just pine trees here with little growth on the ground. There was no way of really hiding myself, except in this group of ferns. My nervousness grew. What if someone would discover me? Would there be any hunters here? Maybe the police will find me here, then my adventure could be over already. Every crack I heard made my heart jump and every voice echoing through the forest would make me crawl in my shelter a bit further. I cooked my pasta and worried about the steam being seen from afar. I strung the leftovers to a tree to prevent pigs getting to it during the night. It never crossed my mind that they would be more interested in cookies or bread, which was still in my tent. But it was Germany, I was soon to learn every boar in the whole country was shot already.

I fell in a restless sleep. My legs ached, they felt as if they were still walking. I was surprised at the amount of noise I heard during the night. I could even hear beetles crawling over the dried leaves on the ground. Mice were running around and birds unknown to me started screaming. Day one was done.

Next morning I awoke refreshed nonetheless and was excited about a new day of walking. I took the leftovers from the tree and had breakfast. Cold pasta was not really what I hoped to eat in the mornings, but it would be a shame to just throw it away. After packing what was now my home (it took me only three minutes) I left the woods and set out along the small but clear flow the Niers, my guide of the day.
As soon as I entered Goch I tried to find a German simcard to have access to internet. The guy in the shop helped me well as I explained myself in whatever German spoke. I was, and would be for a couple of weeks, in the presumption that Germans did not speak English. A great gift, for this thought really improved my German along the way. The shopkeeper did not tell me that in order to get the simcard working one needs to have a German address to register. I discovered this as I was trying to get the card working during my midday break. I called the customer service but the lady refused to help me. I felt far away from home already, trying to express myself on the phone in a foreign language. I would solve this problem later, when I had access to internet somewhere else, I thought and lay down for a nap in a wooden shelter on a crossroads.

When I woke up I found a bar of Dextro Energy on my backpack. There was no one to be seen, I would never know who gave it to me. It was the first gift I received on my trip. I brought a lot of food from home and didn’t really need this. But the fact that a total stranger would give me something made me feel like a real traveler. I said a small prayer of thanks and continued my way along the Niers, which would provide me some distraction from the staggering heat the sun was spreading by now.

Between Goch and Kevelaer the Niers was occupied by rafts. As I was walking up stream, every now and then a floating piece of happiness would come towards me. People yelled and waved while turning up the music just a little bit louder. How I wished I was part of one of the groups on these rafts. They seemed so happy and without worries. How different did I feel! My mind was restless. It kept thinking about what once was, what could have been and what should have been. I thought about the great times Anouk and I had. The travels we made, the things we saw and the plans we had. We had plans to travel around the world together, see places where no tourist would ever come. Now I was traveling alone, set aside by her so she could live with some other guy in Istanbul. I felt worthless for not being able to live up to her expectations in this. Why was I not good enough? I was angry. But it would make no sense to blame her for being in love with someone else, for I was to blame of the same. There was no stopping this thinking, it was already the second day and just getting worse. ´´Listen to the birds, they calm your mind, they bring you back to who you are´´ my dad would tell me. But today it was too hot for the birds to sing. There was nothing to hear expect the laughter coming from the rafts and the mosquitoes buzzing in my ears. I was tired and sat down to watch the rafts float by, one by one. But not too long, I had a schedule to make. I was expected somewhere.

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The memory card on which I stored the pictures of the first part of my trip is damaged beyond repair. We’ll have to do with other peoples pictures.

The Niers on a hot summer day.