Walking out of Quarantine

This post is a look at the hobby side of Maps & More (the “More” part), specifically my love of hiking.

The Lahn river at Buchenau

I’m standing on a bridge across the river Lahn in unseasonably warm February sunshine. Ahead of me are the next two sections of the Lahn hiking trail (Lahnwanderweg), about 30km through the river valley and the hills around it. Normally that is not a big deal for me, but today is different, as so many things currently are.

14 days ago I suddenly lost my sense of smell, which turned the slight cold symptoms I had into something much more menacing. 11 days ago I received a call from my doctor that I was Covid-positive and that I was confined to my apartment for the next 10 days. 2 days ago the public health office called for a short interview and concluded that my quarantine could end as planned. Yesterday I did a short but brisk walk and felt fine.

But a lingering doubt remains. While I only had mild symptoms, they were spread out over the two weeks and my sense of smell has not fully returned. How will it affect my overall fitness? There are more than enough reports of lingering side effects.

Trail signage is good.

So today is a test. There are several points on the walk where I can quit, and make my way back to my car here in Buchenau, but the plan is to make it all the way to Marburg and take the train from there. We’ll see how it goes.

The morning mist that obscured most of the hour-long drive to my starting point has largely cleared, but it is still far from the 14°C we are supposed to get today. I’m wrapped into several layers of clothing, but it is warm enough I don’t have to bother about gloves or a hat. The red LW sign of the trail points me out of the village and up into the hills above the Lahn, getting my blood pumping properly.

Past B&Bs and holiday apartments I slip into the woods and on the crest above I get my first beautiful view over Buchenau below.

Parts of the path are still covered in snow and sometimes ice, but I make good time up unto the first hill of the day: Hohenfels. Here the remains of two small medieval castles are hidden among the trees. Only a few tumbling stones, rough embankments and some cellar holes are visible, but the site is well described through signs and explanations. I can easily imagine their strategic importance above the trade roads along the Lahn.

Being at such high spot means of course I have to go down again, sacrificing precious altitude I have gained already. I know I do have a bit more climbing ahead of me today, but I can be quite a miser if it comes to altitude.

The next hill is the Rimberg, the highest point of today’s walk, crowned by a tower with supposedly magnificent views. But before I can verify that, I have to get there. I do feel good, get a spring in my step, and prepare to fall into the rhythm of the walk … whoosh, suddenly my feet go flying on the wet and slippery grass. Miraculously I manage to catch myself with only one hand on the ground. Alright, take it slowly!

On the way from Hohenfels to the Rimberg.

In the shadow of the Roßberg and the Rimberg the ice and snow on the path gets heavier and I slow even further as I navigate the treacherous ground underfoot. The last incline towards the viewing tower atop the Rimberg is especially difficult and I’m wondering whether the full 30km will be feasible under these conditions.

But the wonderful views from the Rimberg distract me from these doubts and I have time to rest on the platform. Nobody else is around and the sky is as clear as it can be on such a warm winter’s day (meaning not very).

To the east I can clearly see Caldern, the next village on my itinerary, and the Lahn valley stretching away.

Caldern and the Lahn valley ahead

As I watch, two buzzards rise from the trees and begin circling, slowly making their way east into the valley. I take a deep breath, put away my flask of hot tea, shoulder my pack and follow them, just so much more awkwardly along the ground.

At first the trail is still difficult with ice and snow, but it gets better as I get lower into the valley and near Caldern. With the two buzzards still circling overhead I reach the small village with its prominent church tower welcoming me.

Here I can decide whether I want to continue or already catch a train back. What do my legs say? Well, they complain a bit about the awkward and slippery paths. What if it continues that way? But the next stretch is down here in the valley and the highest point for today is already behind me. So be quiet, you legs, onward we go.

I cross the Lahn behind Caldern and turn onto a tarmac bike path across the fields. On other days I might have complained about this stretch as “boring”, but today it is a welcome opportunity to straighten my wobbly legs after balancing across the ice.

I shift into “automatic” mode and a good hour later I reach Sterzhausen, the next opportunity for quitting for today. I realize I’m a bit tired now, after a little more than half the route, but not so much that I can’t imagine finishing it.

The choice is now between calling it a day and returning half-satisfied or going on and returning really knackered. Is that even a choice on a day hike? Of course I must go on!

Leaving Sterzhausen behind

So I climb up again, to cut across the hills and avoid the large loop that the Lahn does around Cölbe. Here near Marbug and its suburbs a few more people are on the paths, dog-walkers, cyclists, joggers and afternoon walkers, but its still less than I expected on such a sunny Saturday. As I crest the hill I get to see Cölbe and touch on the outskirts of Wehrda, but then divert into the forest again to approach Marburg from the wooded hills in the west.

Cölbe (left) and Wehrda (right)
Elisabethkirche in Marburg

While the height of these last hills is less than the Rimberg early this morning, the ups and downs are quite steep and I’m now feeling my legs. I curse myself a little bit for my ambitious hiking plans, but the feeling vanishes as quickly as it came when I spot the twin spires of the St. Elisabeth Church in the evening light ahead, and the castle silhouetted against the sky on the ridge to my right.

I manage to slowly trundle into the bustling university town of Marburg (one of the oldest in Germany) with the setting sun, pretty much on time for the train back Buchenau.

Putting on the mask after a day of breathing the fresh air is a bit annoying, but nothing I can’t handle for the half hour journey on public transport. I gladly sink into the train seat, feeling tired but accomplished after 30km and seven and a half hours walking.

I’m very happy and feeling lucky that I was able to do this so shortly after my Covid-19 illness, but I’m also acutely aware that not everyone out there is as lucky. My heart goes out to all those more strongly affected. I hope you all recover as well as I was able and you soon get to do your favorite activities again!

The route and height map from Buchenau to Marburg.

More images from the walk can be found here.