“Please, just… if she comes back, protect me from her,” he says, leaning against the frame of the door to the restuarant, arms crossed. I laugh. “Oh man. And I thought you guys were flirting!” He gawks at me. “Flirting?! She’s scary! I was trying to get her to leave!” I’m having a pizza in Hillerse, and except for the girl who had been stealing sweets from a candy bowl on the counter (which I had misidentified as a blatant excuse to see the guy standing behind it), I’m the only customer. “Yeah, we sold this place, will be leaving for a new town in three days,” the young man from the counter tells me. He’s tall, curious, and admittedly… a bit cute. Or maybe I’ve just been so deprived of human contact that any decent looking human will pass as cute.
We chat as I eat my pizza, him increasingly incredulous about my entire existence, it seems. “So you’re a scientist.” I nod. “And you’re your own study.” – “In a way,” I agree. “And you’re running to the Zugspitze all on your own?! Why isn’t your boyfriend with you?” I laugh, happy he doesn’t add any other Male Guardian Options to the menu. I’ve heard “Where’s your dad/brother/husband…” too many times before.
When I don’t reply, he grins at me and says: “Even if I hated running, I would drive to where my girlfriend finishes the run each day, just to be with her. Maybe I’d even run, and get a taxi when it gets too much.” He’s very pleased with his solution. Finally, I’ve finished my pizza, and I head back to the pension in Hillerse. “Wait a second!” He runs into the bistro, and comes back out with a Fanta. “For you! Since you’re so addicted.” He laughs.
My affection is so easily bought with food these days.
The next day, I don’t get going as early as I should. The day starts off optimistic, happy, featuring me gleefully skipping down tractor tracks, very pleased with my run idea. But by noon, I’m one grouchy slug again, snailing my way south. “THE HECK WAS I THINKING,” talking to myself us becoming a thing again.
“WHAT SORT OF MEGALOMANIAC WANTS TO RUN 1000KM AFTER ONLY STARTING TO RUN THIS YEAR?!” I punch my poles into the ground with every step I take.
“NORMAL PEOPLE HAVE NORMAL GOALS, RUN A MARATHON, THAT’S IT, BUT NOOOOO. SOMEONE HAD TO GO FOR AN ULTRAMARATHON EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH.” I shut up quickly when I hear cyclists passing by.
Ah yes. This entire run from Lowest to Highest is full of Highs and Lows. As I had expected it to be.
The main thing is to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Would I have ended up in a stranger’s garden shed if I hadn’t spent a good 2hrs ranting at myself about how stupid this run is? That will forever remain a mystery, unless we not only untangle the physics of parallel universes, and then use that knowledge to go back to the point where I was being a whiny slug – and I’m not sure that’s worth the effort.
Because even though it did require me to be a whiny slug as a prerequisite, this did work out well, I continue thinking as I sip a Fanta outside the soccer club of Bleckenstedt, trying to answer the questions pelting at me from left and right.
I had stumbled wearily towards the soccer club just an hour before, to ask for some water for the night. I wanted to go further, because every kilometer I run today, I won’t have to run tomorrow. But when the man who was running the place with his wife approached me while I was filling up my water bag asked where I was going, and then offered me a place to rest at the table – and a Fanta(!) – thoughts of going on stopped short in their tracks.
I don’t say no to Fanta. Not anymore.
“So you’re going where? Alone?! How old are you? What are you eating? Where are you from? How do you sleep?!” The questions keep rolling in, an unstoppable wave. “Don’t you get scared, how are you not starving, why are you running, why don’t you take the train?!” I look around the table. Ten pairs of eyes are on me as in response, I start taking out my gear. The foldable kettle. The lentils. The mat, the bivy, the sleeping bag. The spork. “We used to have that stuff back in the army!” One of the men laughs. I start setting up my little cooker, heating up lentil soup. A dog comes to my side, excitedly begging for what it doesn’t know is not begging-worthy food.
“Hey, why don’t you just stay here?” The man who runs the bar of the soccer club says. “We’ve got a little garden shed right next to the club. We’re selling it tomorrow, so it’s mostly empty, but it’ll keep you dry if it rains!” – “And safe from all the crazy people of Salzgitter,” another man adds with a laugh.
It’s nice here.
So I stay.
“Helge, you should go running with her, get that big belly of yours to shrink a little,” the woman sitting next to me says with a laugh. “Oh damn, I would come back thin as a reed! I ain’t going!” He keeps eyeing me, and my food. “It’s all crazy. Crazy!”
After a few hours, I say goodbye to the crowd. The man running the bar had given me keys to the garden shed. “Your hotel room awaits, Miss!” He had said with a grin. I let myself into the garden, walking past the small field of carrots and trees laden with ripening apples. “Why are you selling it?” I’d asked a few hours before. “Ah, when I first saw it, the garden was full of strawberries. And I love myself some strawberries. Thought I could turn this into my own strawberry farm!” He’d chuckled. “Putting together a strawberry farm is much more work than I’d anticipated.”
I settle into my sleeping bag. I need some rest – I’ve got some visitors, coming to see me on my run all the way in Goslar tomorrow….
And that’s still 40KM away.
40KM sounds so much further when you know the blisters on your feet are already bleeding.
Eh. I’ll be alright.
How could I have the audacity to think I knew better than Komoot, the app I used to design my run across Germany?! I spontaneously decided to cut out a section that I had identified as “useless 4KM detour” and just went on straight ahead.
Straight ahead through a stream, and then a bloody field of thorns and brambles. “Alright, so maybe Komoot had a point with the detour,” I am muttering to myself as I use my trekking poles to hack a path through the brambles. At least my stomach is feeling a bit better- actually, no it’s not. And my feet – ah, still bleeding. And Goslar, the town where I’m going to meet my parents? Still 30KM away.
“I just wanted to save 4KM, why must you punish me so, nature?!” I yell, thorns getting caught in skin. I change into the long pants – that’s a little better – and push forward. Everything ends, even fields of brambles. When I stumble out, I’ve lost an hour, moved 500m further south and need some food. I try to get some oatmeal into my grumbling stomach, only infuriating it more. It’s been feeling queasy since the coffee Helge gave me that morning. I think it’s the weather. Thunderstorm clouds rolling in, fluctuating blood pressure, and you’re sure to have a biological mess on your hands.
But the fact that my body is very, very upset with me today is not going to stop me from getting to Goslar. I will sleep in a comfy bed tonight, in a pension my parents found, and if I have to crawl my way there – I. Shall. Not. Give. Up.
It is a little concerning though that I can’t feel what the problem might be. Is it the food? The run itself? I’m normally good at feeling what my body needs, but right now, everytime I try to listen to it, I just feel rage and anger in response…. and is that a craving for salad? It makes no sense to me, it’s just watery fibers, but I briefly stop at a grocery store, and get myself one.
It works like magic. 20KM left to go to Goslar.
I feel so good, that I even begin running again. People pass me by, running themselves, or on ebikes. Their speed makes me grimace, but the only one I’m racing today is the sunset, so that’s alright.
One biker who’d passed me an hour before nearly falls off his electric steed when he sees me again, still heading south.
“You going far?!” He slows down next to me, curious. “Yeah, in a way. To the Zugspitze!” – “Damn… that’s far. But at least you can already see it.” I frown ag him. “What, no…! That mountain over there is the Brocken, the Zugspitze is on the border to Austria!” He stops short, cackling. “GEEZ. Don’t tell anyone I just made that mistake. After all, I’ve lived here all my life!”
His name is Kevin. Kevin has an e-bike, because he was caught driving a car after having smoked some weed. He later quit the smoking, but then developed a skin condition that his doctor said only weed could cure – so now, he is legally allowed to smoke weed. “But still not allowed to drive,” he laughs.
I ask him why he’s always lived here. I’ve never stayed in the same city for longer than a handful of years, so the concept of staying close to home is alien to me. “Mmh. I moved to Denmark for a while. But here… it’s nice. Everyone knows one another. You can be whoever you want to be.”
Huh. I thought it only worked like that in Berlin.
He invites me into his garden for a … Sprite. I still say yes, and as we pass by his parents’ house, he points at the name at the door.
I burst into laughter.
“Dude. It was never your fault. You were born that way.”
His name, in German, is pronounced “WEED”.
We chat for a while longer, him asking why I’m alone, and that there’s no way in hell I could have a partner with this kind of adventure going on. I laugh. It comes in so many different phrasings, but it’s always there, always on people’s minds and then on their tongues: the question about my male guardian. It feels like a question of whether I’ve been claimed yet, or if I’m still a feral. I wonder how many male solo-travelers are asked about their relationship status on the road.
Finally, I say goodbye and move on. I scuttlebug-run through a field of dry wheat, hoping to see my parents at some point, only 9KM to Goslar…
When I hear whoops and shouts from the other side of the field.
I’ve found them.