A contribution from Wildwortwechsel, Class of 2022.
Why on earth would one hike 3,528 kilometers through Germany? I had asked myself this question even before I set out. And especially when things weren’t going well on the trail, the question of why the hell am I doing this would come up again. Even more frequently, I was asked this question by the many people I encountered along the way, and the answer was never quite simple, whether they asked or I did. As soon as I found an answer to this question and shared it, the typical second question would follow: What do you like best about the NST?
Answering the question of why isn’t easy for me. Everyone who embarks on such a journey has their own, often very personal, reasons. For me, it was a mixture of many factors. On one hand, there was the attempt to distance myself from the daily routine, to break out of the rut, and to savor the freedom on the trail. To live and shape my life for half a year without the pressure of work! I hoped that through this, I could rediscover myself, uncover a path to my inner self, and become more true to myself, no longer a puppet of society, work, constraints, and expectations.
On the other hand, there was this curiosity within me about whether I could even accomplish such a journey – and how I would go about it. Since I had been long-distance hiking for a while, the question of equipment was quickly settled, except for minor details. Having a specific timeframe in which I had to hike the NST also meant that I had to cover around 25 kilometers each day if I wanted to have enough buffer for regular zero days or even to wait out a thunderstorm.
To minimize the risk of failing on the trail, I trained intensively for half a year prior to starting. I hiked a route every weekend, regardless of the weather, and went to the gym two or three times a week. When I began, I felt incredibly fit for the NST. However, after four weeks, the shock came: I developed shin splints seemingly out of nowhere. Out of the four thru-hikers in the Class of 2022, three of us were affected and had to take longer breaks due to illness. For me, this meant going from a hundred to zero for four weeks! I had to step off the trail, and I hadn’t realized beforehand how much effort it would take to do absolutely nothing – I mean absolutely nothing.
Let me tell you, it was a daily struggle! Well, in the end, the patience paid off. With the help and support of many dear friends, I managed to get back on the trail. But I had changed my trail routine!
I managed the remaining 2,800 kilometers because I truly listened to my body every day and took plenty of breaks, sometimes after just two or three kilometers if things weren’t going well. I extended my lunch break to at least an hour. If it went longer, that was fine with me too. Moreover, I always tried to find a spot where I could take a short nap. It’s incredible how much energy those quick power naps gave me. I highly recommend it to everyone! In total, I took four or five breaks each day, even if it meant reaching my daily goal in the dark.
Additionally, I took a zero day after no more than ten days of hiking, sometimes even sooner. Fortunately, I had planned enough time reserves, so I could afford to take these rest days despite the setback. Honestly, I was so relieved to have allocated six weeks as a buffer, of which I actually used five weeks.
However, the most significant change was my choice of footwear: I switched from lightweight hiking boots to trail runners. With this change, I didn’t encounter any more health issues for the rest of the journey!
But I didn’t undertake the NST just because I could or to get to know Germany better. What mattered to me was the holistic experience of the trail. I wanted to connect with nature, culture, and the people I would meet along the way. For those familiar with Soulboy’s videos, you know how incredibly beautiful the NST is! So often, I found myself unable to get enough of the beauty of nature, stopping in my tracks to wait for a sunset, observing a cloud passing through the sky, absorbing long vistas of hills and valleys, forests and rivers, as if there were no tomorrow. I remember walking slowly through the forest on the Weserbergland Trail after a rain, breathing in the incredibly fresh air, taking in the scent of damp moss and wet leaves. I realized I was smiling because I felt so carefree and liberated.These moments are priceless.
Right at the top in the north, I took a detour to the Nolde Museum, which I didn’t regret. Nor did I regret any of the other detours to museums or other sights I found along the way, because these visits felt like the icing on the cake. I encountered Nolde quite unexpectedly, as I had never been so far north before. I met the Vikings in Haithabu, followed by Eulenspiegel, Münchhausen, countless castle ruins, Celtic rings, forgotten churches off the path, I even found a pyramid, and I wouldn’t want to miss any of it, especially not the small museum in Tholey, where I became familiar with the custom of adorning the young girl’s body, buried as a bride to find a groom in the heavenly realm. Even today, I think of it with a little tear in my eye.
But what impressed me the most about the NST? If you had asked me before the NST, I probably would have answered something like the nature. Or the adventure of walking such a long trail. Today, I know better, because the NST has changed everything! Above all else, it has changed my view of people. Over 3,500 kilometers, I had only one encounter that was somehow unpleasant. Otherwise, I received an incredible amount of support. For example, at the Weinbiethaus, which had already closed, where I received a full dinner despite the tough climb – and much more. In general, the people on the trail were so helpful! If I needed water, there was always someone who gave me some. If I was looking for accommodation for the night, someone gave me a good recommendation. If I felt a bit lonely, I always met people who took the time for a conversation, who listened to me, just as I listened to them.
Well, and then I met you: the Trail Angels of the NST. You picked me up, cooked for me, grilled, baked, provided me with a warm bed, often for more than just a day. For a short time, I became a family member, whether it was in the shared apartment or under your roof. You washed my laundry and let me use your shower. You visited me on the trail, gave me trail magic, accompanied me, or gave me a city tour, helped me with good conversations and valuable advice. You showed me joy and friendship that I wouldn’t have traded for anything in the world! It’s you, the wonderful trail community, that makes the NST so impressive! I am so grateful to all of you and look forward to hopefully seeing you again soon.
PS: If you’re now wondering whether I actually found my way back to myself, that’s a whole different story. Because after the NST, one thing is for sure: nothing is the same as it once was…