There's a weird phenomenon that you know if you've ever wandered around for any amount of time. When you come across a fellow wanderer, you connect. You form a bond so quick and so strong. There is just a simple understanding that you can't get anywhere else. You feel lucky to know them, responsible for them, and proud of them instantly. And the feeling is mutual. Whether you hang out with them for a five month 2,000 mile hike, a two day boat trip through Laos, a cramped six hour van ride, or an afternoon city tour, this connection will last a lifetime. Unless they just kind of suck, but that rarely happens.
So this was the case when I met up with Arrow. Arrow and I met a couple of times while thru hiking the Appalachian Trail last summer, but never more than casual hellos as we passed each other. This did not worry me though as I took the train from Munich an hour north to Ingolstadt with no particular plans. I knew I would be in good company. And I was immediately proven right when we got to his house and started preparing dinner around the fire pit outside. A huge boar's leg on the grill and sautéed veggies and potatoes on the coals from the fire. We ate around the fire as it got dark talking about the trail and life and how great it all is while drinking some Bavarian beer. It's hard not to talk about how great life is when your drinking Bavarian beer around a fire on a cool German night. Seriously you should try.
In classic wanderer style, we made a very loose plan to set out hiking the next morning for somewhere between one to more than one days. We drove to our starting point after missing our bus because we were too busy making German pancakes. Worth it. We parked the car at our trailhead which happened to be a castle on a hill and took off through the German countryside. Hiking here was unlike any other hiking I have done. The trail went from little, quaint village to quaint, little village. Up the mountain, down to the river valley, up again, down again. Lots of road walking and nicely groomed trail highways where we could walk side by side and not worry about tripping over any rocks or roots. Radically different from the AT, although Arrow did use this trail to train for his thru hike. We made it two solid hours before stopping at our first biergarten of the day. With training like this, no wonder Arrow was one of the best beer drinkers on the trail.
The timescale in Europe was so hard for me to wrap my head around as an American. Everything is so old that it's not even considered old unless it is from before America was discovered. On our hike we passed medieval castles, Roman towers, ancient grave sites, lost settlements, and caves where tools were found of hunters camping here some 6,000 years ago. If it was good enough for them, it's good enough for us. We camped in this cave too, but not before a trip to the next village to find a biergarten.
When we returned to the cave to set up for the night, we were surprised by a mom and son hanging out with their two giant pups. We built a fire as the sun went down and the air got chillier. The cave kept the heat in surprisingly well. We made some classic cave drawings of mammoths and hunters in hopes of somebody discovering it in another 6,000 years. The mother told stories to the son, in German of course. I have no idea what the stories were about but they sounded cool. And a little scary. But that's every story in German I think. Eventually they went home, and we turned the cave into our home. We finished the beers we brought with us and found a good spot to sleep for the night near the fire. That was my first night spent in a cave. It was cosy. Note to self: sleep in caves more.
We continued on the next day through the same beautiful scenery. It was a nice stroll. We were hiking with no particular destination, just waiting on a sign. Then it came. It was late afternoon and we hadn't even stopped at one biergarten yet that day. We were excited and hungry when we saw a village up ahead. The excitement didn't last long though; the hunger did. Turns out all the biergartens in this village are closed on Monday afternoons. I don't know where these Germans drink their beer on Mondays. I was tempted to check the fire station. There was no beer, there was no food, but there was a bus stop. There is no clearer sign. We made our way back to the car by the castle on the hill and then back home. We made homemade pizzas in a homemade brick oven and had a few local brews while we celebrated our successful walk through the country.
After that nice warm up hike we decided to step it up a notch. Like world class mountains step it up a notch. We drove about two hours south to the Alps. We arrived with enough light left to set up our stealth camp on the pebble beach of a river running through a valley surrounded by mountains standing guard on all sides. The river was as clear and cold as the night. With no cave to keep us warm, I put on every article of clothing I had and cocooned myself in my bivy. Once again, I survived.
The next day we hiked to Austria. This was actually a surprise. I didn't know we would be in Austria until we reached a mountaintop with a border marker at the summit. Austria to the south, Germany to the north, me sitting on a concrete border marker on top of a mountain in the middle. The hiking in the Alps was magnificent, beautiful, challenging, scenic, wild, steep, cleansing. All those words and other ones too. It was a really awesome two full days of hiking on some real mountains. Views everywhere. We only got lost a couple of times. That's expected. When you hike enough, you learn not to worry about getting lost. It's going to happen. As long as you have a general idea of where you are and where you are going, the path you take isn't so important. Sometimes you just have to make your own. And if you have tortillas and peanut butter, well shoot, you can last for days out there in the worst case. So now I always keep tortillas and peanut butter near me. Crunchy, never creamy.
All over the Alps there are hut paradises. Little oases hidden in mountain notches full of hot food, warm beds, cold beer, and friendly people. These places are awesome. They are small and self sufficient. They are run on solar power. The food is all homemade. It's a pack it in, pack it out kind of place. Some huts have a dirt road running to them or a cable car linking them to the valley below, but the one we stayed in (Tölzer Hütte, just across the Austrian border) was as secluded as it could be. Just a narrow hiking trail down the mountain to the nearest road. I guess all their supplies are brought in the old fashion way, which is amazing because they had beer on tap. I've been known to pack out a few beers, but a keg!? Bravo, Austria.
It's always a good night when you have a toilet and a bed, but this was a great night. Toilet, bed, Bavarian beer, cheese, spinach, and bacon dumplings, beautiful Alp views, wild mountain sheep roaming around, and the most colorful sunset I have ever seen. One last classy night in the Alps.
Thanks for all the trail magic and showing me some real Bavaria, Arrow!