Hiking the Black Forest

I wake up at 6AM, surprisingly on schedule for having gotten so little sleep the night before. Pat, however, sleeps until I wake him at quarter to nine in spite of the fact that he fell asleep two hours before I did the night before. He jumps out of bed and throws on some clothes–we have purchased breakfast with our room and he doesn’t want to miss it.

The breakfast is a large buffet that offers foods that range from the same kind of fare at American hotels to a very German assortment of meats and cheeses. I opt for a small plate of fruit, a croissant, smoked salmon, and a small piece of cheese. I go back to make a waffle, but someone else is using both irons, so I eat corn flakes instead. After filling up, we return to the room with me thinking we’ll get ready to go to the Black Forest immediately.

Pat, however, has other plans. He lays back down “only for a minute” and falls sound asleep. I get out my iPad and read. This has happened every time we’ve gone to Europe together. Pat can’t get started before noon and I can’t stop until I collapse around 1PM. I resign myself to trying to stay awake all afternoon and let Pat sleep, slipping out to the terrace to read since it’s more pleasant than our room and I think the sunlight will help reset my biological clock.

I return to our room around noon and wake Pat up. We are not going to spend an entire day in bed. Pat says he feels like he’s fighting something and I feel bad for waking him, but he gets up anyway. We pack a single day-hike pack, filling the water bladder and stuffing it with an extra lens for my camera, his rain jacket, two pairs of reading glasses, and an assortment of maps–our loot from the tourist center yesterday.

We walk to the street car and purchase two tickets. The ticket machine is in German and I am grateful that he is the one figuring out how to buy the tickets. When we get on the street car, we stamp our tickets in a timestamp machine, i ask Pat what happens if we don’t stamp them and he tells me that there is a big fine for not having a ticket. As we come to the next stop, a blonde woman gets on wearing a T-shirt and cropped jeans and carrying a black messenger bag. She could be a college student, but she looks closer to our ages than to a 20-something. Continuing our conversation, I suggest to Pat that if he sticks to speaking English, we might get away with not stamping the ticket, but he seems quite nervous about this suggestion–apparently, Germans follow the rules. A minute later, the blonde woman approaches us, holding out an ID that shows she is “control” and asks to see our tickets. Pat gives me the “I told you so look” as she examines our properly stamped tickets.

The street car takes us to the end of the line where we transfer to a bus on the same tickets. The bus takes us to the cable car, which will take us to the top of the mountain. I suggest that we hike up instead, but it’s over a 1200 meter rise in elevation and Pat isn’t feeling up to that kind of climb. A woman with two small daughters rides up with us. She tells us they were there the day before and have returned to retrieve a forgotten teddy bear. She was forced to pay for the cable car a second time, which hasn’t made her happy, but her ire is directed at the cable car operate, not her daughter. They talk softly and laugh often. Upon discovering that I speak only English, the girls practice their English a little on me–they start learning English and French in the first grade. One girl asks me, “What is your name?” in perfectly clear English. I reply with, “My name is Dianne” and we both giggle as if we’ve told a joke. I giggle because I think we sound like every language book I’ve ever used and not at all like a real conversation. I’m not sure why she giggles, but maybe I am the first person she’s talked to who can only communicate in English (as far as she knows) and she’s delighted that her English worked.

As we rise towards the top of the mountain, we go from lovely views of the valley up into a massive cloud of fog and rain. I’m not sure which gods I’ve offended, but it seems a continual theme that whenever I get to a great view point, there is fog. When Pat and I were here last, several years ago now, we spent a day hiking to the Feldsberg (the highest point in the Black Forest) after reading that the morning fog clears in the afternoon. The fog didn’t clear and we could barely see each other if we got more than a few feet apart. We also went to the Zutgsptiz, the highest point in Germany, on a cable car and had a similar experience. You’d think I would learn.

When we arrive at the top, we’re hungry. Realizing we have only a leftover bag of peanuts for a snack, we decide to get lunch at the restaurant. We gorge on lentils with a wiener and snitzel. Of course we each have a pilsner to wash it down. Pat orders a piece of cheese cake to top it off. I have a few bites, but it’s not as good as his Mother’s cheese cake–it took me a few times to get used to the less sweet version of cheese cake German’s make, but now it’s a favorite.

After filling our stomachs, we head for the trail. We have only 2 1/2 hours left until the last cable car goes back down the mountain, and Pat wants to do an out-and-back. I tend to think we might as well just walk all the way down, but I keep this to myself since Pat does better making these kinds of decisions on the fly than in advance. We set the alarm on his iPhone for about ten minutes before half our time will be up, so we can decide then.

The forest is different than Pat remembers it from his many childhood trips here. There are many deciduous trees and he remembers only pines. When we get lower, there are more pines, but they are younger and less dense than he remembers. It’s beautiful none-the-less and we see few people on this Tuesday afternoon. We hike slowly down a broad path, trying to preserve our knees. The forest is quiet, and so are we. Just as Pat comments that there are no critters, a huge woodpecker appears from behind a tree. I get out my telephoto lens, but as typical, it disappears again before I can get a shot. If we were in the states, I would say it was a Pileated Woodpecker, but it looks different and I don’t know the birds here.

We walk on, the trees clear briefly and we look down into a pasture full of reddish brown creatures that I am sure are cows. Pat thinks they are deer, but the long lens on my camera proves my eyes are better than his. We wonder if there are deer here–we have seen no signs of them.

As we continue down the mountain, the path gets narrower, steeper, and rockier. My left knee reminds me that I am 44 and I’ve asked a lot of my knees over the decades. We take smaller steps, careful of the rocks, trying to step lightly on now painful knees. I don’t like hiking as much when my knees are shooting sharp pains up my legs with every step, but it still beats laying around. I think again that we would have been better off hiking up than down, but I don’t say anything.

We find ourselves at a junction that doesn’t match anything on our map and has no signs. We debate which way to go. A man on a mountain bike appears from the path above us and Pat asks him for directions. We follow his advice and walk on. A few minutes later, our alarm goes off. Pat looks up the hill we have been working our way down, the grade seems daunting, and suggests we continue down instead of going back up. I agree, since that was my plan anyway, but I’m glad he thinks it’s his idea. We walk on as the trees grow thicker and the forest darker. Pat wonders if we will make it back before dark. I realize that we didn’t take anything out of my pack and put it in his when we left mine behind–the first aid kit, the emergency blankets, the flashlight are all back in our hotel room. If we were confident that we are on the right path, we wouldn’t have these worries, but we are not.

We continue down the trail, reaching another confusing junction. The problem with tourist trail maps is that they don’t have all the trails on them. I don’t know why people think you don’t need that information–it’s hard to locate yourself on a map if you can’t recognize the drawing compared to the situation. I suppose this is life, however, you never really know exactly where you are, but you keep moving forward in the hope that it’s the right direction. Another cyclist appears as we ponder the signs at this junction. He comes up behind us, pondering as well. I say, “Do you know where you are?” to him. Pat laughs because I have spoken to the man in English without warning. But the man answers, he thinks he does. Pat consults with him and we head down one of the trails.

The sound of hammering reaches us from the valley below and we think we must be getting close to civilization. We reach a dirt road that runs along a stream, with banks covered in purple flowers. They are so fragrant, the air drips with their sweetness. We pause to check the time; it’s nearly 6PM. We wonder what time the last bus stops at the cable car station. The trail cuts to the left from the road and winds through a pasture surrounded by electric fences containing goats. We pass by, watching the goats, especially a baby. They are preoccupied with eating and barely notice us except one, who follows us along the fence as if he thinks we might be good for a hand out.

The trail goes back into the woods, down another steep incline, and then comes out to a paved road. It is a country highway and we cross it at a blind curve, hurrying so as to avoid surprising any drivers. Then, it returns to woods. We are going slowly again, now. In spite of feeling time pressure, our knees will not tolerate a fast pace as long as we are headed downhill. When the path looks clear, we take turns turning around and walking backwards, stretching our calves and resting our knees. Walking backwards, however, is not easy, so we give up when the trail becomes rocky again. Eventually, we can see the cable car. We wind our way through an open field and one more wooded area to the parking lot, relieved that we made it, but still not sure of the bus.

We walk to the bus stop and read the signs. There is no where to buy a ticket and the signs are somewhat confusing, besides being in German. I decide that the sign indicates a bus will come in 7 minutes. Pat has to be convinced that the numbers are times–apparently the words only make the sign more confusing. We sit and wait, the cable car station is completely shut down, looking as if it’s been boarded up for the season, although I know the wooden shutters will open again tomorrow. The bus arrives in just 2 minutes, ending our worry, but it’s going the opposite direction. The driver tells Pat we can get on now and she will turn around in a few stops. So we board and ride. I’m glad we did because the views from the mountain road of the setting sun are fantastic.

When we stop at the turn around point, the driver turns off the bus and we sit for a few minutes. I notice a ticket machine on the bus and Pat goes to purchase tickets for us. He’s unable to decipher which tickets to buy and another man, having just gotten on the bus, comes over and helps him. Germans do not understand why my husband speaks German with no accent but doesn’t know how to do things like buy bus tickets. This man is patient, however. Now that we are legal again, we sit back down and enjoy the views once more as the bus takes us back towards town. We are tired and ready for our next meal.