On the road. The Longest Way

Walk from Paris to Bad Nenndorf

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This is the diary I kept during my walk from Paris to Bad Nenndorf in Germany in the hot summer of 2003. I started out with my buddy Knarf and with Puk, the family dog. Knarf had to leave us after about a week, so Puk and me continued on our own. It took us 23 days, then we arrived at home.
The diary (a very bad translation that I made, sorry if it insults your eyes):

July 31st, 2003.

Knarf came along unexpectedly.

Paris to Bad Nenndorf Photo 1

Puki didn’t seem to mind. We boarded the metro at 11:30. At first the weather seemed to be rather chilly, but later, at the time of our departure from Paris-Bobigny, we were even able to present our bodies to the public demi-nu.

While we were passing the darkest apartment blocks of the 92st, we were using up our last bit of courage, and we were apparently unable to walk as fast as we wanted.

By the way, all of this was met with no considerable resistance by the natives. The word “surrender” was in the air.

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Several small villages, one railway overpass, dozens of cyclists and a small forest later, we are now resting on a stubble field in front of a few trees. The dog is asleep, our shoulders hurt, the valley is peaceful, and in the distance, behind the horizon, we can see Paris glowing. Above us there are airplanes coming down from the sky in their landing approach, and we are praying for good weather.

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August 1st, 2003.

SUPPLEMENT: 09:00 – humidity, moisture, and bugs are entering our sleeping bags, harassing our damp bodies. The dog is trying to take over my camping mat. Everyone is suffering.

Below luna’s growing crescent, the blades were laying stretched out upon the field, and we were laying on top of them. Knarf’s colorful sleeping bag was visible for miles in the soft light of the sun, which was painting the clouds in magenta at the horizon, but we didn’t care. There was always the possibility of frosty morning dew or scorching heat from above.

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Crickets are chirping, from time to time there’s a car that disrupts the scenery, and we can hear a group of village hicks listening to the radio somewhere in the distance. “Lalala” makes the radio, a bell tower strikes ten o’clock, and a rabbit dares to come as close as twenty meters.

But Puki is asleep, for the day was long and screaming hot. Water was drunken, shortcuts were taken through fields and forests, and the animal doesn’t even feel like eating anymore, it is that tired. We ourselves are also tired, and on top of that we don’t even have any food for ourselves.

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August 2nd, 2003.

Our first meal.

Well saturated we lay resting, and we need not fear snakes; the night blue sky is dotted with stars, and we can see the light of people who are speeding along above us.

The day is melting away on the shoulder of a field, the day that has asked for bread, found money, made siesta, pulled the stubborn dog, met a donkey, and finally realized that it wasn’t called Friday but Saturday, and that it should get put to bed with a can of ravioli and three peaches.

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The faint glow of my flashlight is dripping onto paper and a maze of ink, and in between cars that are speeding along and the stars that are eternally frozen in time, we slowly realize that this right here is youth’s most beautiful blossom, worthy of a celebration with fireworks.

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Knarf: „Finish up, dude, I’ve had about enough…”

August 3rd, 2003.

At ten o’clock at night, with the dog resting between the blades, and my companion mourning the loss of his reading material, I am trying to ignore the low distance yield of the day and instead take refuge in the realm of anecdotes: chased by the sun, washing ourselves in small rivers, pricked all over by vermin, we found even the shady places too warm and the dog too feeble.

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Half a baguette, two soft drinks and a block of ice in a bottle, those were the charitable gifts bestowed to us travelers today, apart from a cold shower from a garden hose at a very old couple’s place.

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The dog seems happy, at least she is snoring happily, but my companion and I feel disheartened by our hunger. We can see the city flashing through the blades, and we are speculating about the amount of tasty things that might be hidden down there.

Poetry is silent on this Sunday, and it is the hunger that is talking; Ravioli from the can would be considered a kinglike meal now.

Knarf: “You only learn to appreciate things when you don’t have them anymore.”

August 4th, 2003.

Late at night.

Candle light is making our bivouac a bit more bearable. We took the first possibility to rest, because the day was getting old, after we had spent most of it in front of a grocery store until sundown. We were busy looking at the population and making vain conversation, only to finish the next leg of the journey at night. In the end we marched gloriously from the hills into the lights of Fismes, and then we found ourselves eye to eye with the French law. It was four cars of the carabinerie with the corresponding men aboard, and they were threatening to put a bullet into the dog, should it turn out to be dangerous. Then they begged us to go on, because Fismes was full of gipsies that wanted to shank us, oh oh oh, so now we are sleeping here – my eyes are closing – next to a path on a field under the splendor of the stars. They don’t care, those stars, they only want to keep shining, just like the damned sun.

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This is how we are laying here, Knarf is snoring and dreaming of his reading material, and I am thinking about the strange person down the street who keeps live emus in his garden…

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August 5th, 2003.

For the last time, and for the most memorable time, we three companions are resting together. We have put our sleeping bags down in a ditch that had been made by heavy machinery, the animal with its wounded feet is in its temporary vehicle, and the crickets are there and the stars, and sometimes a car that speeds through the night.

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We owed the vehicle to the dogs inability to make another step (its paws were sore and it seemed rather plaintive), and to a friendly family in Ventelay. The dad was a tractor mechanic, and he built us some sort of wheelbarrow.

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There was a lady on the way who had the privilege to be allowed to lend us a pair of scissors for the hair on the dog’s paws. She also gave us a box of strawberry drops, and her neighbor gave us chocolate cookies.

There is one more thing that I remember about the day before, which is me stumbling into a requiem in a church in Fismes („Garde mon âme en paix, près de toi, seigneur“).

Our visit at the church of Ventelay today was not successful, because it was closed. I took this opportunity and used some of the water for the flowers next to the graves to wash my body, all the while hoping that the water from the faucet better not be groundwater

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It is the last night for us three, and my thoughts are venturing through the steady breath of my companions into the future, for which I beg healing for the dog and a (…) journey.

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Knarf is laying on his bag, because he wanted to see the stars when he went to sleep. It is time for me to follow suit…

August 6th, 2003.

He asked me to remark once more just how much he missed his reading material, then he was gone, a speck next to the highway; let’s hope for him that someone will be there to give him a lift and get him home before the day after tomorrow…

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So it’s just Puki and I now, three bottles of water and a can of ravioli, and of course the bag of dog chow. Puki seems to be getting better, at least she doesn’t mind being chauffeured through the scenery, and sometimes she gets to our resting places in the shade on her own paws.

We are next to the church in Bourgogne when I notice that my foot hurts. But where is my vehicle for someone to chauffeur me?

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A blister on my last foot (the right one), lots of kilometers done, spending the evening near Avançon, and it stinks to high heaven! Lovably, the fields have just been manured, I bow down and take a deep breath: mine apparently hasn’t yet.

I wish Knarf was here to share this stinking suffering with me! There is a bird of prey calling in the sky, I can’t see the stars yet, but I can see the moon. It has grown beyond half, and soon it will be big and fat, and there will be a grin where there is only a smirk now.

Again: it stinks!

August 7th, 2003.

D985 near Provisy.

Le Franco Belge – Bar/Tabac/Restaurant. It’s 35 degrees celsius in the shade, two mightful trees are keeping away the sun, otherwise we would sure be frying at 45 degrees, the dog with its white plastic neck brace.

Time in the Franco Belge seems to be standing still: there is an ancient foosball table and a pinball machine from the 60s. Behind the counter there are some bottles of syrup and alcohol, the kitchen is directly behind it, the eating area is to the left, where some unspeakably old looking guys are having potatoes with gravy. There is a fat old lady in the kitchen. She has seen me and my companion before, and she asks me in a reproachful voice if maybe we’re walking a bit too much, or rather: if maybe I am torturing the poor creature?

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It is dark in the Franco Belge and outside there are three signs that say “Stella Artois”. The last eight kilometers on busy asphalt that was crackling with the heat, with not a building or a person in sight, only just faces behind windows in cars that were speeding past, with the suffering little Puki, who only wanted to lay down – that was hell.

On a flower meadow near Jandun.

Paris - Bad Nenndorf

Actually I didn’t intend to do the last ten kilometers. At least not tonight. But then, after an old guy who smelled like alcohol let me shower with his garden hose, I ran into a dirty, toothless figure next to a field. The figure kept telling me about herself, even though most of the time I didn’t even try to listen to her. She gives abandoned dogs a home. (What are those scarred, dark spots on her arms?) She already has fifty dogs. (Could there be heroin junkies in a godforsaken village like this?)

I remember one thing: “I shit on everyone!”

My feet are hurting from the blisters when we finally follow the old witch Regine, 60, to keep going on our way.

Paris - Bad Nenndorf

When we arrived in her three-house hicktown, the eery feeling turned to panik: there was the sound of cackling and barking everywhere, and when I looked to the right I saw a huge turkey that was sitting in the middle of a bunch of geese on a wall, and there wasn’t the trace of a human soul on this side of the settlement.

On the other side, Regine was standing in a driveway that was surrounded by barbed wire. Behind her, I can see into the forest a little bit, but I can’t tell if the structure standing there in the half-dark is a hut or a trailer. And the dogs that are barking like crazy and tumbling on top of each other and making each other even more mad, I can only make out their outlines, but it might be 50 dogs or so that are howling the remains of their souls into madness.

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At that point, I feel fear creeping up within me. Fear of this place, where all horses and all cows without exception come running towards us from their pastures, and some of them are screaming at us, and there isn’t a single human being, and it’s getting later and later, and I want to leave this whole place behind me, leave this woody hill country, where every animal is screaming at me hopelessly.

One more time I pass a fence where someone is keeping a bunch of different dogs, and this time, too, there is this insane barking…

Ten kilometers later the exhausted dog and I are now finally resting on a flower meadow. Every once in a while there is a solitary sheep bleating, and there is a medium-sized town and a large distance between me and “les Tavernes” and thus Regine and her realm. I am looking at the flowers that are around me: botanical, unimposing, no colorful blossom, about as tall as my underarm, several blossoms at the head; there are jet trails in the sky and – stars…

Paris - Bad Nenndorf

August 8th, 2003

4 km until Sedan.

Today we finally reached Charlesville-Mézières. After a 14km march before breakfast we passed the town sign. Charlesville is apparently the sister city of Euskirchen in Germany. We found the place to be quite confusing, so we took a while to reach the “Place Ducale”. Of course we as true Parisians were underwhelmed beyond measure, and we took our break a little place off.

We spent the day buying food/drink, consuming food/drink, sleeping, reading, writing postcards, looking for the loo (taking imodium), using the loo, stumbling into a church by accident, trying to pray for a functioning intestinal flora, and then we went to Sedan.

And so we are side by side (tonight I shall try to place the rain poncho under the camping mat, let’s see how that goes) on a field between two roads, a garden fence and a small corn field. The gras is pretty high and there are a bunch of crawling and buzzing vermin, but what can you do?…

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— Applied some of the disinfecting stuff for the dog onto the blisters on my right foot, because I just remembered that today, at the staircase next to the Place Ducale, I punctured four blisters on my right foot. Of course I also have some on my left foot, but I wanted to see first which is better during the course of a long walk: punctured or left alone (nature probably had some sort of plan when she put all the fluid into those blisters).

— The moon shines brightly, expecting to be full soon, and the near town adds to it: I can’t see many stars. The adjacent roads are pretty busy, from the south I hear some teenagers yelling around. Looks as if they are leaving though. Let’s hope they don’t use my patch of grass here as a shortcut?!

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Grass turns to field, August the 8th turns into the 9th, and I am tired, tired, tired, and sometimes the distance simply seems endless to me. Now an important leg of the journey has been completed, Sedan 1871 and Charlesville have been reached, and I have to force myself to find new attractions on the map in order to get some motivation.

Lazy tourist…

August 9th, 2003.

Exit Auby.

België. That’s apparently how they write it here.

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I found out the secret against morning dew: the poncho must be placed not on top of the sleeping bag, but below it. That way, I stay halfway dry in the morning. It’s weird, but that’s the way it seems to be.

We woke up late on our snail-infested meadow, then we looked at the Château Fort and found it to be mainly big, then I wanted a chocolate crêpe and there was none, and then we listened to the radio under the window of an old lady’s home (it was mostly about the heat wave in Europe, which has already broken a few records in France).

Then we passed the border on confused tracks and – alas! They don’t even check you on these country roads, there isn’t even a customs building, nothing!

The first thing we saw in België was a road, then a camping ground for trailers, then a beautiful town that was situated around a river in a wooden valley. People were bathing in that river, there was a huge fortress on the left side of the valley, and on the right side there were cafés and residential buildings on a slope; it was picturesque, worth seeing, inspiring, but still the town has the name of a soup cube – Bouillon.

Paris to Bad Nenndorf Photo 22— After seemingly endless mountain roads Puki and I had finally found a suitable resting place next to a field, but my feet had already kept carrying me along, and so we dragged on through a dark forest for another distance. The dog is laying there looking as if it is dead, and it didn’t even fight our evening ritual of taking care of its feet.

I will drink a sip of water soon (or maybe even ten), and then I will stretch out. I just hope there won’t be any rain, even though I don’t know why I would think there could be any rain, for there are no clouds in the sky to block my view of the stars. Maybe because it seems a bit colder than usual tonight, or maybe because the cricket in the shrubbery next to me just stopped chirping, and now there is an uncomfortable silence, and the mediterranean feeling is gone.

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Too tired to have dinner, even though I bought a baguette…

August 10th, 2003.

Close to Bastogne/Bastenaken.

Did 43 kilometers today. It looks as though we are reaching our travel velocity: twenty before lunch, then another twenty, that adds up to about thirty as the crow flies.

We had some worries in the beginning (problems with the dog’s paws, slow speed, loneliness after Knarf’s departure, hopelessness in the face of that insurmountable total distance and finally problems with my own feet), but now we seem to have gotten used to the biggest obstacle: the heat. And we are managing quite well.

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We’re getting tougher.

So we are resting here, the dog fell asleep right away under the almost full moon, only a few meters from a major road, but a bit uphill and hidden behind some trees. I didn’t want to venture further into the high grass, because of the vermin, because last time I had snails in my shoes and a long trail of slime in my sleeping bag.

We’ll see if this was a good decision or not. I just hope the dog stays quite when there are people passing by…

August 11th, 2003.

Lëtzeburg.

We passed another border: and this time there even was a welcome sign, I didn’t expect it.

I woke up with a cold this morning, but its symptoms went away after some marching in the heat of the sun. Now we are sitting (or rather: laying) next  to a tree across the road from a gas station in Lëtzeburg, and I am not sure, which pain would be better now.

I bought cookies that are called “Bastogne”, but I haven’t tried them yet. Bastogne/Bastenaken is 15km behind us, a lovely small town that got roughed up pretty badly during the “Battle of the Bulge” in WW2. Back then it was the 101st Airborne that defended the town against the Wehrmacht. Today that same division is in Iraq.

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There is a monument to their duty in Belgium, a memorial for the fallen soldiers, a military graveyard. Back then, more than 70,000 Americans lost their lives here. The more danger, the more honor.

And now I am dressed in nothing but my shorts, because it is so hot, and I am running around here in the Ardennes, enjoying history from the distance, enjoying it out of pure interest.

Clervaux (L).

…the place looks big on a map, but in reality it seems to be just one row of houses next to a creek and a railroad track – in the middle of a forest.

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There is a dutchman who looks lost and confused, just like I am feeling. Someone shows up and explains, that the city is behind a hill, this is only a suburb.

Uh, ok.

The walk is turning into some kind of competition: will we reach Germany tonight? How many kilometers can we make in a day? When can we be home?

First field after Dasburg (D).

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…now we have really reached the homeland.

I feel connected to it mainly because of its goods, because of the Sparkasse [a local bank] and because of the fact that I am getting closer to my actual home. Maybe the feeling of a patriotic warming of the heart will be there, when I reach my county…

Not even my mobile phone has a decent reception here…

— With a whirring sound, a cyclist comes along, he passes by my field and stops at a tree in the distance. He is out of sight, seems to put down the bike and call for someone.

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Could it be those two rascals from Roeler in Lëtzeburg? Those who were living proof of the fact that you can be from Lëtzeburg and still a poor rascal? After all it had been those two who, after an interrogation-like discussion, made me feel sure that that it would be better for me to make it past the border, and not only for the sake of my own vanity as a sportsman (Lëtzeburg in one day!), but also because there was something not quite right about those two guys. Also I thought I had noticed them peering at my stuff…

I might be wrong though, but we finished Lëtzeburg anyway. Clervaux turned out to be a pearl in a forest, a bit like Bouillon, only even more pressed into the valley, and without a big river flowing through the city.

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Dasburg  was quite nice as well, and the forest after that seemed ever so long, almost causing me to lose hope. Now my legs hurt (the dog just fell over like a bag of flour, didn’t even drink anything).

The field is ours, the cyclist is riding his bike with the lights on, that at least makes me think that he might not be a crook after all. In the background I can hear some sounds coming from a stable. A cow is bellowing around, every once in a while there is an airplane in the sky, the mandatory crickets are there, in the forest there is a crow that is calling, and the moon has reached its fattest roundness.

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I want to reach home before the moon renews itself!

It has been said.

August 12th, 2003.

On a busy road close to Prüm.

The flashlight stopped working, the pen hurries across the paper blindly. In the end I wasn’t able to find a safe way next to the road, nor read the map, so I decided to set up camp.

One thing is both surprising and annoying to me: there seem to be more vermin here than in France and the Francophone countries. Wasps, spiders, mosquitos, everything crawls and flies a bit more in Germany. Whatever.

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We have already accomplished so much, in spite of heat and distress, and still there seems to be so insurmountably much in front of us – my courage is failing.

August 13th, 2003.

About 10km west of the Nürburgring, 21:40.

I am having wine gum in order to nibble along my carefree home – with every colorful sweet thing the dark forests around our field vanish a little, and the groaning clouds above us as well, covering the sky from horizon to horizon.

I can’t see the moon tonight. But what good would that do anyway? What could it do against the impending disaster?

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Okay, a downpour during the day would actually be a quite welcome thing, cooling, refreshing and maybe even cleaning. And may the clouds cover the sun!

But a cloudburst during the night would be most troublesome. We are always ready to face the weather and just keep marching on into the rain, but I don’t really feel like doing this in the forest.

Thunder. It swells up and down, and there are some undertones, so I figure it must be a military airplane. Let’s hope I am right.

We spent the hot part of the day on the historical wall of Hillesheim. Apart from that, it was mostly just warm.

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Just now the farmer parked his tractor a few hundred meters away in a barn. I am envious of him for having a roof above his head. I only have plastic ponchos and my revitalized flashlight to make me feel secure…

August 14th, 2003.

Hohe Acht, close to noon.

…the first drops woke me up at around three in the morning.

We hesitated for a while, then we lay down between a car and a wall in someone’s carport. I had bad dreams and a big head from that night.

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Now we are just one kilometer from the observation tower Hohe Acht, but in order to go there I would have to walk in the opposite direction from my route, and I feel like going home!

Besides: how special is an observation tower anyway?

On a field on a hill, looking over the Rhine, 22:55.

This was the worst day. All around the Nürburgring people drive their cars fast, citizens turn into idiots, and truck drivers turn into motorsport athletes. We did too many kilometers without stopping, because we wanted to meet up with grandma at a lake: 40.

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After a refreshing dinner with Bibi and Zsuzsa, with noodles and salad, the question arose whether I should stop or not. I chose the end of my plan.

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The scheduled end in 10 days and 300 kilometers.

After that, everything went better: tonight I didn’t do any more kilometers, but I had a cool coke in a very rural bar, and I played 3 rounds of pool in a youth center across the street. All of this in N…

The world seems to be in order there…

The area around the Rhine shines bright from 1000 lights, not as many as in Paris, the city of lights, but still ecstasizing at the horizon. The sky is dotted with clouds, not covered with clouds, and the crickets are still chirping, even though there is a cold wind.

They say there will be rain on the weekend, but who knows?

I wish myself luck for tonight, and tomorrow in the morning I’ll sure buy myself a tent or a bivybag.

I think if I pray against rain now, though, just in order to feel comfortable, I will find myself in a pathetic minority in this area. There are so many catholic farmers here. But doesn’t God help the weak, doesn’t he have an ear for the poor, especially if they hear his word (and I have already reached the Book Isaiah)?

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Shit, this field has fleas…

Lights off.

Pray.

August 15th, 2003.

Dierdorf 23:40.

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With a roof upon our heads: this is how we are resting, after food and drink, in a hut built of wood. The local Beautification Association had come together at old wood builder Erich’s place in order to inaugurate it today.

Every December 13th they have a Christmas market here, and I am supposed to come back then; oftentimes these things just kind of vanish with the wind, but these Rhinelanders/Westerwalders have been really nice to me…

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I could hardly believe it after my experiences with those aggressive hellbent drivers on the roads in this area.

It has gotten cold, and the warmth of the midday sun is elusive – I need a tent!

When I am eating or sleeping or just resting, then some of my courage to finish my plan returns to me.

Only those endless dragging meters are robbing me of my motivation…

August 16th, 2003.

When you are in Elbern, and you go to the DaVinci-House, and once you are there you climb over a fence with a notice that says “no trespassing!”, then you will find me. Puki and me. DaVinci must be a wood-processing company or something like that. Anyway, this place is very nice for a rest, because there is some safety from the cold wind and hopefully also from all sorts of moisture.

Just now I had a cooked corncob, a steak and a bread roll. All of this had been given to me by a Russian family in Rosenheim. Wonderful! And the best part of it: I even have some cake left!

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Besides that, the day was pleasantly quiet. We are steadily getting closer to home, sometimes the hours of marching grow long, but the breaks are great. Today we spent three or four hours in Hachenburg, which is also a pretty nice little town; picturesque old town surrounding a castle on a hill.

This morning, after a frosty night – even though I had spent it in the hut – I was allowed to take a shower at Erich’s place, and have breakfast there, too. Man, that was great. A warm shower, some hot tea…

August 17th, 2003.

Bus stop near Lützel. 22:17.

It is raining. I would even say, it is pouring down, but I am afraid saying so would mean taunting the weather, causing it to become even worse.

This bus stop hut came at a very opportune moment, and so far it seems as though it is safe from wind and rain, even though it is open on one side. I chose not to lie down on the ground though, even though it is dry, but I would feel threatened by the cars that are speeding over the wet asphalt outside, and by the spiders that have built their webs down there.

There is a downside: you can never be sure that the rain won’t come inside at some point, and the cars are extremely loud, and the bench, on which I am resting, is hardly as wide as I am. Also, I need to get up very early tomorrow morning, because the first buses leave at six o’clock.

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One look at the – unfolded – map made me lose my courage today again: it seems as though I am hardly advancing at all. Today I walked almost sixty (60!) kilometers, cross country, uphill and downhill, along the highway, through forests and fields, following the compass, following the map, and I hardly ever rested – but on the map it looks as if I only walked half of it. This has to change if I want to make it home within a week…

Today I reached Siegen and left it behind me. There was a bakery where they gave me a little cake, and I fell asleep near the castle, waking up a little later to some kind of dixieland band and a bunch of old visitors. I lay there stretched out under their seats and their legs, while the band was performing their silly/happy tunes, and the people were trying to rhythmically clap along.

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The hut seems to be safe from the rain so far, and it seems as though my courageous tired little dog and me will be able to spend the night in peace.

August 18th, 2003.

Another bus stop five kilometers down the road. 08:04.

Now it is really showing what it can do: it is raining pitchforks, the streets have turned into rivers, and we were luckily able to find refuge in this bus stop hut. We got wet feet though.

I am thinking about curling up in the sleeping bag and wait it out, but this place seems too dirty for that. The way it looks right now, it might just continue raining like this all day, even though it seems better now than a few minutes ago. But I can’t see any clouds that might eventually move along – the whole land is covered in white, and it is constantly dripping and splashing, just as if someone was squeezing out a huge white sponge above us.

What is there to do? It calmed down a bit just there, should I dare to continue on my way?

Langewiese, 750m altitude. Afternoon.

…walked 30 kilometers through drizzling rain, and now it feels very nice to be able to look at this rain from the inside of a building, in the warmth of a sleeping bag, with food and drink and something to read on top of that, and the poor wet dog is not shaking anymore and does not feel cold, because I wrapped her in rain ponchos. This feeling could hardly be topped (but how often does one think something like this and yet find oneself proven wrong every time?).

Forsthaus, Winterberg. 21:30.

I strolled across the fair in the ski town Winterberg (suitable name), bought a raw bratwurst for the dog because the shops were closed already, and for myself I bought some roasted almonds, 200g.

We had fought through a whole day of cold rain, and I had lost hope. After all, we had been forced to give up on our goal of reaching Brilon before dusk, and it seemed questionable whether I would be able to get anywhere within the next few days with this chattering, shaking dog.

But now we are resting in the lobby of the sauna of the hotel “Forsthaus”, it is not cold and not wet either, there are no vermin and no people to annoy us, and all of it is a thousand times sweeter because it was made possible for us out of kindness and with a smile…

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The dog is asleep, the radiator is humming, the nice lady from the hotel is probably upstairs working, and the almonds rustle, crinkle, crackle – and they taste so good!

…after reading the entries from the first few traveling days I just thought of something: someone gave me a strawberry croissant in a bakery today. The lady at the counter had seen us the day before on the way from Siegen to here, and she was unable to accept any money from us – nice!

Grandma has a theory: this walk is supposed to have a special symbolic meaning for my life: we will see whether I persevere or give up. It is a bit like a deflowering, because this first time of being on the road is unique and can never be brought back.

Paris to Bad Nenndorf Photo 44

Something else pops into my head: as I am laying here, everything being wonderful and all, there is an evil stench that I can’t get out of my nose. I am wondering whether it is a) wet dog, b) unwashed human, or c) a phantom smell, something that I made up.

I hope it’s c).

August 19th, 2003.

Wood depot in Wünnenberg. 21:53.

We did a lot today: 50km are between last night and tonight, and this time it even looks like a lot on the map for a change. It appears as if the annoying mountain roads are behind us for good now.

Brilon, the place with the charismatic name – it took us 5 hours and 30 km this morning – turned out to be quite ordinary, maybe even boring. I overly enjoyed the pleasures of a discount grocery store, then I listened to a group of Turkish and Albanian teenagers for a while, then I left Brilon behind me. Even though the name is so interesting.

Puki defended us against one of the teenagers today. The guy was trying to catch one of his friends, and he made a few hasty steps into my direction and jumped over sleeping Puki. So Puki woke up, howling and leg-attacking, and she defended both of our lives, which I found a bit sweet, a bit embarrassing and a bit likable.

Now the heroic one is asleep under a chair in a model wood hut, and I am laying next to her. The hut has two tilted windows and a closed door, all made from glass, and there is wind and industrial light coming in from the outside: cold and glaringly white.

Paris to Bad Nenndorf Photo 45

We are resting 35km before Paderborn, and it is really not far from home anymore. Now, that I am resting in a safe place, reminiscing the things that we experienced, I feel torn between uneasy anticipation, happy excitement and nostalgia.

My anticipation is uneasy because I have no way of knowing whether that moment of stepping into the door and putting the backpack down might be disappointing or not. Also, there is the danger of falling into a hole afterwards, whatever sort of hole that might be: boredom, pointlessness, emptiness, etc…

I am happy in my excitement because I can’t wait to eat warm things, drink cold drinks and sleep in soft beds.

And I am nostalgic, because between those images of my little street in Paris with its nice grey facades and my shabby yet comfortable little room, there are new images now. Images of cows that are running around on green hills, nightly camps under the stars in unknown places, and that diffusely happy feeling that you get when you have walked for hours through a forest and now you are reaching a settlement that might even have a grocery store…

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And it is something very close to happiness to be able to rest after a long march, in a nice little place, with some tasty things from the store, and to be able to stretch out ones legs and look at that strange place and just do it like the dog: relaxing is best achieved by doing nothing. It is this sabbatical nothing that is so hard to attain and yet contains so much sweetness…

August 20th, 2003.

Bad Lippspringe, Lidl. 16:58.

One of my toes started bleeding.

Bad Lippspringe, restaurant. 19:44.

Paris to Bad Nenndorf Photo 47

After an orgy at Lidl there must be no words about the following. Thanks to civilization and imodium.

21. August 2003.

Cappel. 09:15.

Breakfast.

Yesterday night we pressed ahead next to the speedway in the Egge mountains. We had to sneak along next to the road, and when there were cars coming into our direction we pressed ourselves against the crash barrier. Then, when we reached Horn and then Bad Meinberg, we shook dust from our feet three times, for three times we were shown the door. In the end, at about twelve thirty at night, we found a nice place under a balcony next to the spa administration building in the spa park of Bad Meinberg.

Paris to Bad Nenndorf Photo 48

It was cold, and I could see the stars, and it didn’t rain. Nobody bothered us, and it turned out to be an easy night. It was especially nice how Puki, who, being a dog, was not allowed in the spa park in the first place, insisted on dumping a big one right on the lawn, even though we had spent the night there illegally.

Now we’re not far from home anymore…

Hessisch-Oldendorf. 22:40.

It took me one week from picknick to picknick, just now I was having lunch with grandma and great-aunt at the Laachsee, and now I am here with my good friend at a table in a field, far from the Laachsee, but not far anymore from home.

Paris to Bad Nenndorf Photo 49

Both the dishes and the conversation are delightful; I have persevered until now, the rest seems like a piece of cake.

After Jörg left, I tried to motivate the tired dog and my tortured leg muscles to take on that last little bit of distance on the map.

Now it’s almost eleven o’clock at night, more than six hours later, and my tired hands are writing by themselves, while my eyes keep closing. The dog is felled as well – like a tree: tchack!

One last time, tonight in a garage on the area of a marble company. I squashed some woodlice on the floor, found them to be disgusting and to be ignored.

Jörg said, “one” always imagines these things to be so romantic, but in reality it’s probably not like that.

Paris to Bad Nenndorf Photo 50

In some rare moments it is, though. Then it grips me…

August 22nd, 2003.

Rodenberg, Wassergarten. 16:07.

Now it’s almost over

2km.

20min.

—.—

A very short clip of something that I used to do a lot back then: