Departing from Aachen, I was to continue following the European long distance path (#8) heading south before arching east to the Rhine River. For all the research I do at times on where to go and what to see, this time I decided I would follow the path in front of me and see what materialised on my horizon. That is one of the beauties about this kind of lifestyle, it’s all up to you. You can plan meticulously or leave it wide open. A week could include a long list of places to ride and experience or you can wake up each morning and wonder where and what the day will bring. I don’t really sit in one of those camps, indiscriminately switching between the two, although I find myself answering more and more often ‘I’ll leave it open’ to the age old question of where I am headed next.
It’s those chance encounters at the supermarket or at a beautiful lunch spot where someone crosses your life’s path and gets your imagination running. They vaguely remember a friend mentioning some magical path or mountain trail not far from a village or junction you have never heard of. That’s what I'm chasing. So my route stays wide open, god forbid friends or family trying to get a date and place out of me to organise a catch up, waiting for my plans to write themselves as it happens.
The hiking path took me past ageing farms, mansions, towns I never caught the name of, the sunny warm side and shadow chilly side, and eventually into what I came to know as the Eifel National Park. As the long distance path takes you through wooded areas as a first priority, it was hard to pin point exactly when I entered and exited the park. Time seemingly stands still in places where it isn’t measured and this felt ever true here. Sunrise meant a rise of a few degrees Celsius and time to get camp packed and hit the road; hunger meant a stop at the next view point for what could be called lunch; and a setting sun meant time to locate a camping spot and continue reading Shantaram. It was that simple. For how intense and busy my previous job could be, this couldn’t be further away from that old life.
Finding myself alongside bitumen and civilisation, I made my way down small country roads and past vineyards to the Rhine. I feel a deep satisfaction from following natural borders, like the fjords of Iceland or famous cliffs of Normandy in northern France. They were created long before we arrived and will still be there long after we’re gone. The Rhine was to be another border – a vastly important river stretching from the southeastern Swiss Alps to the North Sea in the Netherlands. Seeing it for the first time was another tick in my milestone book, all written in invisible ink.
I followed the river heading south, passing an endless stream of cargo boats and wondering what similarities I would share with the captains who live a nomadic life like mine. I hoped one of those destined chance encounters would arise with such a captain but higher powers apparently had other plans for me. Another time. Hunting for a stealthy camping spot, you would be surprised how limited they can be with a river on one side and houses on the other. I followed my nose along the river and just so happened to see a rock wall leading out to a small island in the Rhine. What was initially looking a little sketchy with no area to pitch a tent turned out to have the smallest sand patch where camp could be made.
The constant flow of water and cargo continued throughout the evening and into the next morning where I was to make a short journey to my next schedule stop. Money never sleeps and bar a dam, gravity on water doesn’t either.