Total Miles: 3,028.6
Near Darmstadt, Germany – November 27, 2016
People crowd the trails between Frankfurt and Darmstadt. Couples out for a stroll. Runners with earphones thumping music. Bikers with neon windbreakers. Dogs and owners playing in fields. Kids stomping on piles of dead leaves. And me with my backpack.
I huff along, following the white Xs leading me south, nodding and saying hello as people slip by. It’s a pretty day, not all blue sky, but pieces of it, and it’s Sunday so there’s time to walk in the woods.
I notice a man marching past me with two pine branches under an arm, a pair of sheers in his hand. An hour later I pass a couple emerging from the forest with a stroller full of evergreen branches and the displaced toddler scooped up in the man’s arms. Decorations. Christmas decorations.
I see them everywhere once I notice. Trees with ornaments in a yard. A Santa Claus clinging to a rooftop. A snowman peering out a window. A string of lights hung across a porch. They are supposed to evoke the holidays, but they only make me feel cold looking at them.
Christmas is December. December is Snow. Snow is cold.
I walk on, watching the crowds thin with the dimming light until I am alone again in the forest. Quiet comes with darkness as I set up my tent, hidden in a small patch of evergreens.
The air is crisp, my breath comes in clouds. It’s not quite freezing, not yet, but the nights are long and I know I’ll wake to frost.
I think of the two men I talked to at a trail junction. They laughed when I told them I was headed to Spain.
“But it’s that way,” they said, pointing behind me.
I smiled and pointed to the X on a tree ahead.
“I didn’t come to go the straightest route,” I said. “If I wanted that, I’d just take a plane.”
They laugh, but somewhere deep down I know they are right. I need to turn soon, to stop heading south and start moving west, to fill the gap that always existed in my plan. The E1 is like a worn pair of shoes now, stretched to fit, comfortable, and broken in. I could have turned at Hamburg or Frankfurt or any of the other places I saw the Camino’s shells leading west to Spain, but I let them go without me. It’s hard to leave an old friend for a new one.
“I’ll know when it’s time,” I think. “Or the Alps will tell me.”