My little coffee at the train station in Romanshorn, Switzerland, along the southern shore of the beautiful Lake Constance, costs me 4.80 CHF (Swiss Francs), about $7.20 CAD. But it’s the first wifi I’ve seen since I started walking the Rhine.
It’s day 5, and it rained for the first three days. Yesterday was cold, but sunny, so I was finally able to dry out my tent and sleeping bag. It’s amazing how the sun immediately improves the wanderer’s morale.
Getting to Lake Tuma (known locally as Lai da Toma and/or Tomasee), the source of the Rhine, or Rheinquelle, was practically a pilgrimage in itself. It took a 32-hour bus ride from Santiago de Compostela, Spain, to Zurich, followed by two train trips and a bus ride to Andermatt, an overnight sleep in my tent at the edge of town, an early morning train ride to Oberalppass in the Swiss Alps, and finally, a 90-minute climb up a mountain, enjoying the gorgeous views all along, for me to reach my destination. I could hardly believe I had made it there. And since it’s the off season, I had the entire lake to myself.
I spent well over an hour up there, walking among the rocks, watching the lake turn into the Rhine River as it fell over the cliff. It’s known as the Vorderrhein at that point. It would be a couple of days of walking before I would reach Reichenau, where the Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein meet in a mixture of white and grey to finally be called the Rhine River.
The walking is fabulous, although much of it is on asphalt because it’s a bicycle path. I’ve left the trail frequently to take walking paths, even though I don’t have any other maps. It’s difficult to get totally lost, especially for the first few days; I just needed to follow the valley between the two mountain ranges. I have to pay more attention now that I’m on a flatter terrain just south of Lake Constance, since the lake isn’t always in view as a marker.
It’s a wonderful adventure so far, filled with plenty of solitude, despite that I see plenty of other locals walking and cycling along the path. The longest conversation I had so far was with a German tourist. She stopped her car along a vehicle pullout at the top of a ridge while I was eating my lunch on a bench. She pointed, and in German, she said, “Is that the Rhine down there?” “Ja, das ist der Rhein.” “So beautiful,” she said. “Ja, so schoen.” She stared down at the water and at the villages speckled along the hillside, and recognizing that I had exhausted my entire German vocabulary, she said goodbye and drove off.
Every day has been a joy, despite the rain. I’m ahead of schedule; it’s almost impossible not to be since there’s nothing else to do when it rains but to keep walking. I’m eating well; fresh fruits, bread, jam, and cheese can be found in nearly every village. I’m addicted to Chocoly cookies, with their yummy vanilla wafers stuck together with chocolate. And because the weather has been poor and my feet sore, I’ve been treating myself to a daily dose of Swiss chocolate. Walking relieves one of the guilt of eating chocolate.
There’s something so soothing about walking through the hills, in and out of little villages with their fountains of drinking water that are so convenient for me, listening to the almost constant sound of cow bells permeating from the fields and slopes, gazing up at snow-covered peaks, and hearing the echoes of voices past in the old churches and monasteries along the way. I particularly like walking in the dark, early in the morning and before I find a stealth-camping spot for the night. To see the lights of the villages against the dark shadow of the mountains or reflected in the water of Lake Constance is just so joyous. Sometimes I stop, stand still, and listen to the quiet while my headlamp catches the wisp of fog from my breath. Peaceful.
I’ve had some down moments on the walk, of course. After having walked with others for a month, to suddenly be walking alone again takes some getting used to. I’m not lonely, but sometimes I notice something interesting and turn to point it out to someone, but there’s no one there. The joy of walking with others is the sharing of views and thoughts, and simply being witness to one another’s lives. Walking alone means I’ll miss some things. And no one but me is witness to my adventure.
So I try to savour it all the more.
When I get down, particularly because of poor weather, which seems to be a gauge for my mood, I simply look up and yell, “I’M HIKING IN SWITZERLAND! WOOHOO!”
Thank you for this life.