I hope you’ll pardon the blatant reference to the Hobbit (yes, I’m a huge Tolkien fan), but my second-ever hike in Germany was truly unexpected.
Journeys are all the rage right now. If you google “It’s not the destination that matters but the journey,” you’ll find many permutations of that sentiment. It’s almost as though our collective mindset sees destinations as unimportant, anti-climatic, or even unattainable. But while reflecting on this concept a few days ago, I realized that the destination is as equally important as the journey. In fact, without the destination, the journey wouldn’t have much of an existence at all. I suppose it’s a chicken-and-the-egg type of issue: having a destination in mind, we begin a journey. The subsequent trials and triumphs encountered on that journey are what make the destination all the more satisfactory when we finally reach it. So the journey gives the destination value, while the destination gives the journey purpose. You really can’t have one without the other.
What could be at other end?
All of these musings only happened last week. But the beginning of this process is rooted in my hike that happened my second full day in Kandern. Remember how I first stayed at the Art Factory before moving on to Freiburg? That’s right. I was three days in Germany, and I was already going on a hike. I was determined to explore before my work at the Factory went into full swing.
The day before, I had climbed up to the gazebo that overlooked Kandern and I had wondered what was at the opposite end of the path. I mean, who could resist that tree-shrouded trail?
The incline up to the path killed me. Central Florida is as flat as a poorly played tuba, so you can imagine how many breaks I had to take on the way to the crest of the hill (a mountain, by my Floridian standards). On one of my breaks, I sat looking out over the field where sheep were grazing; they had spooked en masse when I first appeared from behind the piles of wood that lined the path. I glimpsed a shepherd — complete with feathered hat, lederhosen, and sheepdog — reclining on the roof of a windowed shack, but I was too shy to say hello. Ravens cawed on a gnarled tree in a neighboring field.
Sheep without borders
As I walked, I remembered something one of my parents’ friends had said. He had been to Kandern before, and he encouraged me to visit a castle ruins while I was there. The Holladays had alluded to it, too. Would I see it today, perhaps?
I had set out on this hike without much idea about what I was going to see, but the further I walked the more determined I was to find this castle. All of a sudden, my stroll had a purpose, and even though this goal was newly set, I would be devastated if I didn’t find the castle within an afternoon. My journey had begun.
The only problem was that I didn’t know the castle’s name. With so many paths rising up to meet my own, I paid careful attention to any landmarks that might help me find my way on the trip back. The signs for the trails were infrequent, and often the path split off without any sign at all. I didn’t have a functioning German cell phone, and I had trouble understanding the local dialect. A few other people crossed paths with me, but none of them looked interested to chat and none of them walked the same direction as me. For the most part I was alone. The afternoon was deepening.
I came across a small cabin, and the path split in two. I took the left branch, all the while wondering if Hansel and Gretel’s witch would catch me first. The oven wouldn’t fool her a second time.
The experts agree: not made of candy.
With the sun clearly at a slant, I knew I needed to save enough time to get back. I was very tired, a little cold, and not wearing the right boots. I began to doubt–only now–the rationality of my goal. I hadn’t started the trip early enough. But because I couldn’t bring myself to just turn around, I made a promise that I would turn back when I found something–anything–noteworthy. I paused at a part where the trees thinned out, and I could see a little ways into the valley. Houses were sprinkled about, and it was all rather pleasant. There, I’d seen something interesting. It was time to turn back now.
But when I looked at the path again, I just had to know where it led. There was something waiting for me at the end of it, if I ever even found the end. I might not get another chance to come this far: I might never come back to this part of Germany at all. If I turned back now, I might wonder the rest of my life what would have happened if I hadn’t given up. So I pushed forward. Only ten minutes later, the stony head of a castle tower peeked above the trees:
Elation rushed through me. Even after all those branching pathways and unclear signs, I had chosen the right path. I was glad more than ever for not turning back. I wanted to run towards the castle, and would have if I wasn’t saving energy for the hike back. As it was, I slowly approached the castle. Even though I could see it, the castle didn’t look like it was getting any closer. The thrill faded.
Although you can’t see it in this picture, there was a fire pit, surrounded by benches.
But finally, the path ascended in a spiral; I climbed a score of steps; and there I was, standing in the middle of Sausenburg castle.
A few hikers had all come here from different directions, and two older Frenchmen gave me a friendly smile. It was one of the first warm gestures I had encountered the entire hike. People were different here: they had made it finally and were excited too. After about fifteen minutes of enjoying the view and taking pictures, I headed back. I had spent hours on the trail and only a small fraction at the ruins. But it was all worth it.
I headed home, and the shadows were much darker now. Once I reached the Art Factory, Mary Beth greeted me and said she was concerned when I hadn’t come back hours ago. I felt a little guilty, but I was so proud of myself for hiking on my own. Little did I know that the rest of my time in Germany, I would wander alone for hours, looking for that same exhilaration. But nothing could ever quite compare to a castle ruin at the end of a quiet path.
Though the day was a little misty, I still had a good view. Taken at the top of the tower.