This morning started early. Maybe I was anxious about my up and coming flight or maybe it was the over indulgence of food from the night before, but I could not sleep. The sun rose early, my hosts were up early, and I was at the ready earlier than I thought I would be, despite trying to lie in bed a little longer. I’ve been in Germany for 10 days and it’s time to go home. My friends Kenny Barker and Julia Smith have relocated to Germany for a year on Julie’s military contract. Julie is a psychiatrist assigned to one of the Army bases in Kaiserslautern. Kenny is on a spouse visa, which means he can climb as much as he wants, climbing partners pending. Because of Julie’s work arrangement their trip has not evolved into the European exploration they had imagined. Still, having guests visit means they make time to travel more…Julie, with only limited Holidays, attempts to join as she can. This was probably the biggest downside to the trip….as it was, I managed both weekends with her and saw her off to work on my last morning. They were gracious hosts and I had a wonderful, albeit short, time mostly exploring the various local and not so local climbing areas and taking in some tourist treats. Like many trips, I marvel at how acclimated I became in such a short time that I am sad to leave so soon. But, this trip must come to an end like any other. Besides, I have new adventures waiting for me Stateside!
Motivated to shed some of the pounds I packed on since starting my transition out of Vegas and enjoying the food delights here in Germany, I plan to take on one more run in the nearby hills. The morning is cool, and the sun is out, the clouds are sparse and the wind mild. Early morning runs are generally my favorite because the aromas seem crisper, the birds seem louder, and I get the sense that I’m alone in the forest and it satisfies me. But, on this morning, being alone had me a little anxious as I found myself lost in the woods and running for much longer than I’d anticipated. Thighs burning, I wondered how Kenny would find me and whether I would find a house or town or a person who could help. This was not a good idea, I realized, taking off on a new path, on my own. The sign at the trailhead clearly marked the trails and I thought I had been following one of them, but then, I lost the trail, got side tracked by a 10th or 12thCentury AD spring (damn history!) and found myself running trail after trail trying to find my
way back. Fortunately, I found a road and a cyclist who spoke some English. I was thankful, then, that I remembered the town that Kenny and Julie lived in: Kindsbach. The cyclist pointed in the opposite direction than I was going (naturally!) and I looked behind me at a long stretch of road with no sign of a town and set about in that direction. At least I was now on more or less level ground and not running up and down trails in the woods. It took a little time, but I entered the town, found the right turn and ran the final stretch, uphill, until I returned to the trailhead and Kenny and Julie’s home. *whew* crisis averted. And, since I had the early start, I didn’t lose much time for packing and such.
For my last morning, after my run and with plenty of time to catch my train, Kenny and I stop for a sit down breakfast at one of the cafes in town. We also squeeze in a visit to an old castle before I’m left at the train station to begin my journey to the Frankfurt airport. European transportation is quite refreshing and easy. I booked all of my trains online before I ever arrived in Germany. I even paid the extra 4 Euros for a designated seat, which came in handy and I never had any trouble finding my platform, wagon or seat. Stowing my backpack and computer case, well, that was a different issue. Some of the trains
even have a wi-fi hotspot and power outlets so I could alert my hosts of any changes (like my delayed train when I arrived that made me miss my connecting train and made Kenny wait an extra hour for me at the final train stop…if only he’d been connected to the internet!). One of my trains was a double decker and super nice. There was a gentleman who took my seat on my first train but I had a cabin with a window seat on the next, which made up for it. Travel to the airport was just about an hour and a half with one transfer, but it was an express train both times so there were no stops along the way. This was completely unlike my initial train ride when I arrived. Since I’d missed my connecting train, they put me on a local train, which was not as nice and had many stops but got me to Kaiserslautern sooner than the next express train. So far, things are going off without a hitch.
The flight is full and there is no chance for an upgrade. I’ve got an aisle seat and I’m just behind the wing so the flight is pretty smooth most of the way. I am determined to stay awake so I can adjust to local time when I arrive, but I am tired from lack of sleep the night before and have a nap, anyway. Refreshed, I reflect on the past 10 days.
Germany has never been high on my vacation list (not for any specific reason), but with friends to visit, it was the top of my list this year. I’ve been to Germany before, even Frankfurt, briefly, but I’ve never spent a lot of time here. In fact, one thing that was notably different from my last visit through Frankfurt (that had to be in 2001) is the lack of machine guns and police patrolling the airport. Next, staying in a town with a high U.S. military presence meant I hardly felt I was in Germany at all. Everyone spoke English really well; the shops, cafes and restaurants catered to the American population so there were burgers, wings, pizza, bacon and egg breakfasts, etc. if you wanted that. In fact, there was only one evening in Grafenwöhr near Frankenjura that Kenny and I had a full-on German experience and it was at a Thai restaurant! We were the only Americans there and it was nice. Maybe the dinner in the hotel restaurant earlier that week compared. There was a room full of older Germans who broke out into song, numerous German songs, after their meal concluded. We speculated on the type of group gathering it must have been but never found out for sure.
Otherwise, I spent most of my time exploring the rocks in the area. In fact, I think I climbed 8 of the 10 days I was there, including one day in the gym. Both weekends we climbed in Pfalz and despite the weather turning out to be better in Pfalz during the week, Kenny and I went up to the Frankenjura. Afterall, this historical gem could not be overlooked. Climbing in Germany reminded me a lot of climbing back home (and by back home, I mean Ohio) and in the Southeast. The last crag I climbed at could have been sandstone from the Red River Gorge!
While in the Frankenjura, I sampled some Wolfgang classics, paid tribute to Action Direct and pondered the tweakiness of the climbing there. These Euros have tendons of steel! We climbed in areas like Pottenstein, Krottenseer Turm, Waldkopf and Spitzer Turm to name a few. The weather was hot, sometimes humid and muggy, sometimes deluging and sometimes dry. Still, we climbed no matter what. Kenny made good progress on an 8a+ called Slimline and I’m sure he’ll do it quickly when he returns, but I had some difficulty with some climbs, including this one, because of my height. This was a place where Kenny could turn a German grade 9 into an 8-/8 and where, for me, the grade could easily be pushed up a + or so. This was frustrating but then it only showed that with the time I had, I should wisely select the climbs to try. Two must dos include Chasing the train and hitch-hike the
plane. Slimline is a beauty and the line to the right of it, as well, but I found some of the holds super tweaky and if I wanted to send either line, I’d need more than 1 rest day after 5 days of climbing. My tendons were tendor by Friday making my last two climbing days interesting. In the Pfalz, Magnetfinger is an absolute must do. And, well, if you go there, you will instantly be drawn to many other lines, too, especially if you are fond of the Red River Gorge climbing style.
As it turns out Pfalz climbing, while a bit different style to the tendon tweaking, powerful, Frankenjura, it too, had some reachy climbs; roof spans that were nearly impossible if you were short. I tried some, and didn’t waste time on others. There was plenty of variety to occupy my time. We did a day of bouldering inMuhlenberg, and 2 days route climbing in Burghaldefels (where the rock looked like it was transported from the Red River Gorge). And during our free time, we explored the cave in Pottenstein, dined in the castle of Neuhaus, watched the fireworks down the street at a neighboring U.S. military base, sampled the ice cream at the Dolomiti, explored the trails in the nearby hills, watched a few movies, and played a lot of Crib. Kenny is just gifted with cards and though I am getting better at the game, he still pretty much dominated.
That’s the low down of my trip to Germany. Now to the heat (finally the rain has ebbed) of Seattle.