As a schoolboy, inspired by the stories of my heroes, by Roman mythology, and the children’s novels I was reading, I spent most of my classroom hours staring out the window and dreaming of adventures of my own.
One of those dreams was to travel the full length of the Nile River. Or the Amazon. Traveling the length of the world’s two longest rivers doesn’t particularly interest me anymore, perhaps because I believe those expeditions would be too costly and the logistics too laborious. Or perhaps I just lack the courage.
But the idea of traveling a major river from source to sea has persisted throughout my life. The Rhine River came to mind as a possibility after I lived in Germany for a number of years, in a village only a couple of kilometers from the Rhine where the beautiful Black Forest rose to the west.
I spent many, many hours walking near my small village along the Rhine and paddling its tributaries in a canoe. I enjoyed the serenity of it, and the friendliness of the occasional passing pedestrian.
I thought that one day I might paddle the length of the Rhine, but now, thinking about how to acquire a canoe and figuring out the logistics of canoe transport and portages just makes my brain hurt. Why worry about those complicated things when I can just throw a backpack over my shoulders and travel as I wish?
So I’ve decided to attempt to walk the length of the Rhine River, from its source at Tuma Lake in the Swiss Alps to the North Sea.
I’ll follow a cycle route on this adventure, which primarily winds its way through Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, with short dips into Lichtenstein and Austria. Although the Rhine River is 1,232 kilometers long, the trail is longer, at 1,378 kilometers. I’ll only have 40 days to walk it, so I’ll have to be firm with my step if I want to enjoy some of the historical and cultural offerings along the way.
In Switzerland, I noticed that even a simple dorm bed in a hostel can cost over $100 CAD. My budget is much too slim for those prices, so I will be carrying my trusted stealth-camping tent. I’m helped by autumn’s shorter daylight hours; it’s always easier to be stealthy in the dark. I’m told by some Camino pilgrims that wild camping is allowed in France, but I’m not sure about the other countries. So best for me to be careful.
I’m starting in the latter half of October and Lake Tuma sits at 2,345 meters. I’m hoping there won’t be any snow yet. The route drops almost 1,400 meters in the first 50 kilometers, so hopefully after that, fingers crossed, I won’t have to worry about snow at all for the remainder of the walk.
I’m on a bus traveling through France as I write this. Although still a day or two away, my destination nears. And I have that familiar exciting feeling I get at the start of a new adventure.
The Rhine doesn’t know me well yet, but I’m sure we’ll soon become fast friends.