During Corona, many races cancelled. Not that I had any plans anyway. 2020 was the year of failed race planning. I wanted the WiBoLT, JUNUT, STUNT100, but none of them matched my free weekends. I was pretty frustrated early in the year. Then came the lockdown, and I had an answer why I could not register for anything.
So I decided to tackle some journey run projects during this raceless times, when there is an opportunity. One was last week when my daughters where at my parents place and it was unclear when they wanted to return and in what combination. Tom was going back on Monday, but maybe Jule wanted to leave earlier and she does not want to ride the train alone. So I decided to make my free days into a journey to my parents place. And I remembered seeing the E6 long distance hiking trail signs both next to my and their home. The project was in the drawer for quite some time, but now came the time for execution. Only, I was running very little since I injured my big toe around Sibesse, another adventure which I may write up at some point as well. And the toe was hurting from time to time still. Add the angry tendons from me rolling my ankle a week before said adventure, and playing underwater rugby with fins aggrevated this problem as I found, and I was completely anxious about the distance. Laying out the track turned out 153k, a bit less than I expected, but still a way to go. And almost a marathon longer than my toe held up in Sibesse.
I made dead sure that I did not set any crazy time expectations like that last time. Lesson learned. I would get Ronja to the train, get back home and put my stuff together and leave in the afternoon of Thursday, and told my parents I was most likely to arrive during the night from Friday to Saturday. I could do this walking, no? But there was a bit of a hill in between. In the night due to my schedule. And there were thunderstorms announced for the entire journey. Not at all times, but every now and then. I was so glad to have gotten a super light rain coat lately that would fit my needs perfectly! But mountains and lightnening? Wasn’t this considered a bad combination? It is not that high. And there are trees. And I will not run on the peaks and ridges but more along the grades, no? I convinced myself that I will find a hut for shelter when the weather got too bad.
I checked the route for possible aid stations, i.e. gas stations. Then I realized that I will run on a workday and regular super markets are an option too. There was Duderstadt with shops at 27k, Lauterberg gas station and Barbis cemetery at 52k, Altenau cemetary and camp site at 78k, Goslar super markets at 102k, Wolfenbuettel shops at 142k. With a small detour I could fit Gielde cemetary at 121k, and was very, very happy to find out that Sieber had a public toilet at a parking space for campers at 64k. The end was a bit sparse in refills, but hey, this spacing should definitely work!
As the E6 is part of the course of the Brocken Challenge, I was always wondering why we leave the hiking trail at all. I would be finding out. There was a huge detour between Goettingen and Lauterberg/Barbis to get through Duderstadt. Taking 10k more to reach the Harz. I had plenty of time, so I tried not to bother. Still, my inner voices were not very fine with ‘losing time’ that early on in such a long run. I lived with them.
Lately, I read a lot about masculine psychology, archetypes, and initiation. This had me wondering if I could use that adventure for some evolving steps, that would be nice, so I asked Gregor for directions and got some questions to ponder during my journey. I knew I would hit some very open and very emotional phases. Also exhaustion is a good way to dig down to the core.
Thursday came, I sent Ronja off with the train and got my stuff together. This took a bit longer than I wanted, but this was kind of expected too. 16:15 was the time I finally turned the key and jogged off. The beginning was weird. In my home turf, forest roads that I ran a million times already, still different today. It felt I should already be much further. But I managed to keep my pace very slow. And also walked on the uphills very early on. The humidity from the morning had evaporated. The roads were dry, but the air was very heavy. And it got warmer and warmer still in the afternoon. I took a compromise to reach the E6. Not already at Kehr, which would be a detour, but also not at Mackenroeder Spitze either. But in between. It felt good to finally be on course. Only to find the road down to Mackenrode closed by the foresters. Oh no! But not in my forest! I took the break-neck downhill trail from the mountain bikers, and found a fallen tree at the bottom of that forest road. Well, I could have run the road… My anxiety of getting wet feet was unnecessary, the grass on the downhill to Hengstberg was short and dry.
I was tempted to climb the Hengstberg, but refrained. I would climb enough on that journey. In Sattenhausen I had to start to navigate and found that FusedTrack would not work well enough and switched to 1s GPS polling. Unfortunately, this would not solve my problems with corners that were not well resolved. I finally figured that it was the track which was thinned too much. Apparently 1000 points are not enough for a 150k route. Darn. Next time I will cut it into marathons or similar. This made for several nasty errors in navigation. In Sattenhausen it was still funny, running into a farm, running accross several fields. Later, this would drain me big time.
What was really, really important to me?
Being able to do stuff like this here. Being outside. Being healthy. Connecting with nature. The kids. Being there for them. Being a good father. Evolving. Taking care of my inner children to have them grow up. Being present. Keep a good connection with myself.
What am I really, really good at?
Not stopping, whatever I do (well, this is kind of old now). Carrying much more than what is good for me. Neglecting my own boundaries. I am really good in vanishing. Like not being seen even when I want to. Like totally immersing into another person when trying to be empathic. OK, I have a really sharp and quick mind. I am much less proud of that than I should be. But as always, what is given is easy, boring.
On my way to Duderstadt I wondered why I did not get thirsty and hungry. I attributed this to my low pace. Very long uphill stretches already got to me. Some more missed turns, backtracking over fields. Then came some funny tower on top of a hill, a nice view, and Duderstadt right at my feet. I rolled down and went shopping. Got all my stuff to a nice bench and rested for a while, ate and drank way more than I would at an aid station, but hey, this was my last meal before the next day. I took a long walk until my stomach settled and I dared to run again. Everything stayed down.
When it turned darker I finally reached the route of the BC again in Rhumspringe. I worked my way through the known patches and it became obvious that I will reach Barbis around midnight. The gas station closed at nine. I have no idea how I could imagine getting there in time. So, the cemetary it was. I was fine nutrition wise, all I needed was water. But, midnight on a cemetary? This made for a good song in my head for quite some time: Two minutes to midnight! That’s about the time I got my undecidedly supersticious ass off the cemetary. With two and a half liters of water in the tanks.
After some stretch on a dead street, I finally reached the entry into the Harz. In the very nice form of a trail starting behind some parking space of some business. A sign, a hole in the bushes and a small trail winding steeply up the hill. Yes. Adventure starts now. The climb went on for some time until I reached a forest road and stuff got more level. Two years ago when I ran the Baudensteig, the grosser Knollen, the summit I wanted to pass next, was my breaking point. I pressed a lot until I reached it, more or less collapsed into some sort of paralysis in front of my coke, beer and cheese cake. The remainder of that journey was a lot slower, without any will to push. This point happens always on my long runs. It can take time, but I’ll reach it sooner or later. Not so much this time. I went slowly from the very beginning and it seemed like the speed I can do on end. Nevertheless there were stretches that made it more difficult to accept my slow pace. The road up to the grosser Knollen was one of them. I tried to keep an idea of my directions, where I was, where I was heading, and mapping it to my former route here. I knew I would come another way, but the terrain should be at least similar. It was not. Also, the topography is quite complex there, so my route switched sides of the hills, turned north, south, east as it pleased. Then I found a sign that the summit was very near. A nice bench and some view northeast into the plains and onto the thunderstorms around me made for a good rest. Yes, the weather. I heard rumbling since it turned dark. I saw lightning since I entered the Harz, and always convinced myself that this was very far away. It was. And I would just shortly hop over the summit and then drop back down to Sieber where I would find shelter. Still, this was unsettling. What if the thunderstorm hit my directly? I better get moving and my ass down that hill. Running downhill was a good bit better than expected, I turned up my headlamp and even got the flashlight to my hand for the technical and steep part. I bombed down, and as expected, hit a root that made me roll my ankle. Ouch! I screamed and sweared. And stumbled on. This part was much shorter than I remembered. Well, a steep grade up or down is definitely a difference. Reaching Sieber with the onset of some drizzle was a relief, finding the public toilet open and with electricity was gold. I installed myself there, spread my stuff, used one of the cabinets and drank and ate quite a lot. I also took my new secret weapon: Guarana powder. I knew I run well on that stuff dissolved in that organic coke. And I need to satisfy my caffeine addiction. And I needed to be awake for what was coming. Some recharging, some reorganization, and I put everything back together. I took my time, but I also needed to battle the urge to simply roll up in corner of the toilet and fall asleep. Darn.
The road through Sieber was no fun. I tried to run, but had some serious tiredness in the legs. And that village is endless. Finally, my route went off into a valley to the left and I expected the road to dissolve into a trail again. But it did not. This was an asphalt road, not even steep, and it seemed to last. Well, I needed to convince myself that I cannot outwalk all this. So I began to stumble, shuffle, slow jog, and settled into some sort of running after a while. It was exhausting, by maintainable. And that valley went on and on. I should reach the Acker at some point, but never really looked up how I will run it. I expected to be on the ridge, but apparently, E6 again did a bad job at finding nice trails, but rather stayed with the broad (and boring) forest roads. The hill to the left I worked my way up. At some point it started to rain again, this time a bit harder, so I got out my poncho. This thing did a very good job. Only, it pushed me over the edge of what I liked to run in. So I resolved to walking much more than I did. Thunder came nearer, I saw more and more flashes, and I felt a bit misplaced. Alone in the pitch black darkness, in moderate rain, wet shoes, trotting along a nameless forest road (well, now I know it’s name is Ackerstrasse) in a thunderstorm. Forever. I tried to put some food in my mouth to stay awake and ahead of things, but I had a hard time keeping my focus.
After what seemed an eternity, the road finally reached the ridge, and I realized it was no longer pitch black, but there was some kind of light. And really heavy fog. Add all the dead trees along the road and I felt like entering the world of the dead. I liked this idea and jumped a bit more into the thought of running myself to pieces so I reach that place of transition. Maybe I was tripping a bit from tiredness 😉 But I was excited and scared at the same time. Every tree looked like some poor crooked soul hanging in there, most of them dead for real because of the Borkenkaefer. The more and more prominent dawn made this scenery even more unreal and spooky. Old memories of the antique Greek sagas came to mind. Good stuff, and a bit frightening. Since the fog rose, the thunderstorms were gone, everything was dead silent. Only my steps on the gravel road. I tried to be as quiet as possible to not wake any of the undead trees left and right to me. The endless straight road suddenly went through a kind of portal, how fitting, that shows the entrance to the Acker Loipe in the winter. Stepping through this had my mind climb out of Hades and brought some relief to my soul. There was a rather big shelter hut next to the parking place and I entered it for a break, a sit down, some eating and drinking.
When I began to shiver, I reassembled, had a hard time to get onto my stiff legs. Outside it was already very light, only the sun had yet to reach the horizon. Somehow I missed the night. And also hoped to be a bit further at sunrise. Well. I wanted to take the way as it comes, so, here I was. Went through Altenau, not without entering the entirely unspooky cemetary and refilling my bladder with fresh water. The camp site, I was about to pass declined my request to draw water from them. Something I still cannot understand. I climbed the hill north of the Okertalsperre which was hard work. Only to find a big mess made by harvesters up there on the forest road. The sun began to shine with quite some force already. I found a bench at some intersection of forest roads and decided to set my alarm to 30 minutes and take a nap. Great feeling. Getting up afterwards was much less than nice. Argh. But I managed to compose myself and resolve to some run walk shuffle down to the big bridge over the Stausee.
Another nasty climb (why, oh why didn’t I want to use the roads again? Seeing the distances on the road signs made it obvious that I will cover a lot more distance and way more elevation…) some misses at intersections, backtracking and finally a big drop to the road again, I reached the Okertal. On of the most beautiful places I would visit on that journey. A rocky, rooty single trail along the wild part of the Oker that cayakers use for their sport. I was really glad that I still had the legs to enjoy this.
Some parts of that trail were secured by ladders and walkways. Some stone formations used for lookout spots. And always the white water splashing around the blocks of granite of the size of cars and bigger.
But, as always, the good things come to an end eventually. I dropped out the nice valley and had to make some longer turn over another hill towards Goslar. Finally my spot to refill, and a next mark where I had some ideas when to reach it beforehand, but was way behind schedule. This got to me as this turn turned out to be much longer and with much more up and down than I remembered from laying the route. And I was baked. Anything slightly uphill was a walk, anything downhill a painful wobble on stiff legs. I grit my teeth and repeated the idea of the supermarket and my breakfast over and over in my head to motivate me to go on. At some point I reached houses and it only was a painfully long downhill on concrete until I could enter the location of my dreams. I bought as much as I could carry. Some soy yoghurt (no milk mid run!) another vanilla drink, a bottle of coke, 2l of water, two buns, some cookies, nuts and raisins, a banana, an apple. Was that it? I guess so. I hopped over the street into a park with some fountain and a small patch of grass and dropped next to a tree. Took off my shoes and socks, what a relief. The feet were quite soaked and happy to dry out a bit. I tried to force feed myself all the stuff I bought. This was not easy. After filling my bladder again, I poured the rest of the water away, put on fresh socks and into the damp shoes again. This break was long. Maybe an hour including shopping? Going on was not as painful as I expected, the rest did some work this time. Great! OK, after some km through the streets of Goslar, and I was almost back to normal. But it was mainly flat and I could cover some ground.
Reaching the end of Goslar, the rain started again. Only a bit. Not enough to take out my rain coat, no… With the end of the town, almost in the sheltering woods, the rain became really heavy in an instant. I ducked under a small tree, somehow crawled into the bush underneath and took out my rain coat. OK, I should survive this. And the rain became stronger, some wind from the sides and my feet were drenched. Socks and pants too. Not moving, I realized that this will cool me out big time. But leaving the tree cover? No way. Then the front door of the house, opposite to my tree, opened and some guy told me, I could use their huge garden umbrella as cover. How nice! So I hopped around the property, into their garden and stood under the big thing. He then opened the kitchen door and told me, I could use the chairs there too, and if he could serve me a coffee. Wow! I declined, but asked for a tea. So, a few minutes later, I sat on a chair, with my legs on another one, a hot pot of tea in my hands and watched oceans rushing down from the clouds. The street drainage could not take it, so there were floods along the roads. I was so happy and thankful for my spot.
Half an hour later, the rain faded and I decided it was time to go on. Gave my pot back and thanked the guy a lot. Still in a glow from this encounter I flew over the fields, along some farm roads and through a very impressive big farm the kind that was run my monks centuries ago. Another road, some trail directly next to the road, right behind the guard rail full of nettles, thorny blackberries and all in all totally wet. Why was I running here? At the next possibility I hopped onto the road and continued my way over dry asphalt. Better at this stage. I left the road again for some flatland with farm roads and not so much more. Some trees, and eventual forest and fields. Very nice to run in. At some point, I got in trouble with my navigation again. I figured already that the route was thinned, so I took all turns with a bit of caution. This time, it was a diverging thing of farm road left, real road right and a tiny trail right next to the road. All my former experience told me to ditch the trail and the road, and the turn looked such that it was obvious that I had to take the farm road. So I did. And realized, I was slowly getting more and more to the left of my desired route. But only slowly. So I went on, and tried to convince me that this was the best way. Well, there was a point were I could no longer neglect the fact that I was off route. Only 300m, but it was obvious that the trail would have been right. No problem, I love going straight through the forest, so I just dropped right into the woods on some small trail. This was nice for maybe 100m then I reached a lake. What? I was in the very middle of it, so I had to circle it one way or the other. Left was my direction anyway and the trail kind of continued here. Trail. Maybe some deer tracks. Or boars. So, there I was crawling over and under fallen trees, along a very steep and slippery shore of some muddy lake in the woods in the middle of nowhere. 110k in a long journey run. No. I would not go on and risk falling into that thing. I tried the other way round only to find more and more nettles and blackberries. Unpassable. With some shout of anger, I turned towards the farm road, and still had to climb, crouch, bushwhack through tons of green that tried to rip of my clothes or hurt me. Dang was I done when I finally reached the road. backtracking until that pasture that I could definitely cross to reach the trail. I did and realized that this was another very exquisite piece of my route. Soft, winding, not so rooty. I had to cross the road at some point, but the beauty continued and gave me back my peace with myself.
The valley ended for some village and at one of the first houses, an older guy was about to get down a new washing machine from his trailer onto a barrow. In my nice mood, I asked if I could give a hand and he happily agreed. Only then I realized that I might not be on the apex of my strength here, but we manged well, my legs held up the slow putting down. He was happy, offered a beer, but all I needed was a small chat about what I did and how he ran in earlier years. More elated I ran on, through said village, and made my way through a more open plain towards my next stop, the cemetary of Gielde. It got more and more hot and I was so happy to sit next to the water fountain on the cemetary and refill, eat a bit and rest. Only, there were many people on the cemetary and I did not feel totally welcome. So I hurried to get my stuff together and climbed the next hill range on my way. This was a long climb. No running, and it was the detour. Had I left the stop out, I would have been already much further. This got to me. Up on the hill, I realized I still needed a break. I was lucky to find the old ritual oak of the village, a huge tree on top of a small hill on the top of the hill range. With a pretty rotten bench next to it. This was my spot. I took quite some time to rest, eat and drink, and finally spent the tree a visit and some hug, hobbled down the grade and onwards. A mere 30k to go. This was almost done. Wow!
Only, I was done too. The legs were stiff, burning, refused to go into a smooth gait. Climbing was hard on my circulation, descending was extremely painful. The soles of my feet were a mess. Every step hurt. I took longer and longer walks. At some point, I entered the woods that marked the beginning of the end. Just this forest and I will be in Wolfenbuettel. Then a quick refill at MacDoof, I dreamed of fries and a milk shake for quite some while now. And the home stretch, the last forest between Wolfenbuettel and my parents place. A mere 13k. Only, the first forest was endless. I knew that my routing was kind of a zigzagging, and this drove me nuts. I am sure there was some kind of reason behind this, and I did not dare to leave the route I laid and go straight, as I was unsure what straight meant at this point, and was afraid to make some bigger navigational error and end up with a much longer distance. I so wanted this to be done. I no longer wanted to run. Or walk. Or move. Stop this! I cannot endure this any longer. I am done. Only, I was still in the middle of some huge forest. No human being in sight, or even in shouting distance. The only way to finish all this was going on. So I did. Got in a shuffle, only to walk again 50m later. I hated myself and everything around me. Stupid trees, damned gravel, stinking, noncooperative feet, hurting back, Stupid pack! My hope to reach the kids before bedtime faded and so did the daylight. Argh! I realized, I was pretty raw emotionally. You guess. With that realization came some sort of control back over the situation. So I decided to play with it. I was exhausted and totally helpless. I jumped into that feeling and got back to my four year old self, the one that was so good in containing himself, not needing anybody for anything. To the outside. Inside he needed help, he needed guidance, he needed someone to protect him. But he did not ask. He managed to pull himself through everything by himself. Here I was, in the same helplessness. In the same feeling of being left alone, exposed, unguarded. I was crying from pain anyway, so I threw in more and more pleas for help. Towards my parents. Knowing they would not come. I was very happy to not meet a single human being in that stretch. I might have been handed in to the police or at least the medics. Imagine a grown up man, stumbling through the forest, sweaty, dirty, exhausted, crying and shouting for his mama. What would you do?
As with everything, this phase faded at some point. The crying got less, my emotional state stabilized to the common grit again and I worked my way to the end of the forest. Finally, I saw the lights of Wolfenbuettel. The road still to take was long, and I walked most of it, even if it was the smoothest asphalt, slightly downhill. Easy running, you would say. No. Not for me, not any longer. I was broken. Somehow the hero in me died in that forest. I had a big panorama view of my own mortality, my own limitations. This was too much, what I asked of myself. Of course, the autopilot took over, I plotted my feasting on fries, and walked into the town. Every step as painful as the former. And the next to come. I did the math. No more supermarkets due to the time of day. Maybe a gas station to refill. But I could get water and have my fries. And hey, only another 13k. But I needed to deal with those feet. Otherwise I would fill the next forest with my moaning too. So, one hour getting something to eat and putting my feet back in shape, then 13k in the usual hobble. With breaks to compose myself. Another three hours? Worst case, maybe, but probable. So, I would reach the finish at one in the morning? Maybe two a.m.? Everybody asleep, and I should find my way silently to the shower? Not see the kids, as I really wanted?
Hey, maybe I try a new thing. And drop. Right here. And ask for help. Ask my parents for help. I shoved this thought around my head for some time, and then decided to do this. If only for trying to reach out for help. I was pretty sure they would come get me. And so it was. As always, there was a little bummer to it, as my dad asked me to meet at the market place. I hoped, I could break down at the very spot I was and just tell the street name. Well, I was not done yet, it seemed. I now exclusively walked, made no attempt to run. I got really nervous and then angry, that I did not see MacDoof on my way. Not that it mattered much now, but I so looked forward to this, that the thought of not finding it, had I needed it, got on my nerves big time. The city was really crowded, and I got my deer in the headlights feeling again. Too many people, lights, cars, streets. Anything. When I found the right market place, and a bench I dropped onto it and stared into the void. This was it. So close to the finish. I did not make it.
Getting driven was a big relief. Seeing the kids very nice. A shower, eating and drinking all the better. Dropping into some bed was heaven.