Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hexenstieg Ultra 2012 Part III

We departed Königshütte sometime between 2100 Saturday night and about 0330 Sunday morning.  I realize that it wasn’t that late and that, that is a wide window, I just don’t recall the specific time.  The night was dark and do had settled on the ground.  The world was asleep.

After our brief pause in the Community Center in Königshütte I had cooled down and heading back out into the night it was downright cold.  We were however headed back to Osterode, at this point in the race it seemed unreal to think that we were going to travel that far.  The next leg to the aid station at Torfhaus was 38KM and passed through Elend, Braunlage, the Wendeltreppe (Rinderstall) and St. Andreasberg.  We’ll come to a couple of points about the later in a few, but I want to pause and talk with you about Elend and how appropriate and ironic passing through this village is while running the Hexenstieg.

This photo was stolen from Thomas Ehmke.  Thomas I hope you don’t mind too awful much!

The term “Elend” comes from the Middle High German word Ellende which relates to ignorance or wildness.  Elend describes the conditions of poverty and abject helplessness.  The word Elend may be used as an adjective or noun and in current use provides a complete description of the worst possible circumstances.  In psychology Elend describes deep depression, listlessness and disinterest in anything positive.  In the physical realm Elend is not used to describe a precise diagnosis of sensation or feeling, but describes that feeling associated with perhaps a fish poisoning, having eaten foul eggs, a long bout of diarrhea, or a series of horrible migraine headaches.  The term is also used to describe a pessimistic, disinterested and exhausted condition.  Elend is also used in the social sciences and the weather.  I think that the description above characterizes the term Elend in its current form and use.  Why a village in Middle Germany would be named Elend is beyond me, but its location along our journey is both appropriate and ironic.

When we arrived in Elend it was relatively late and quite.  We passed several houses and stopped to take a short break on the steps of the third or fourth.  Günter and I flopped down, he on the steps and I on the sidewalk.  Matthias sat on the steps and stared into space.  Günter and I were asleep within minutes and stayed that way until a passing car who thought we were drunks honked and woke us.  After being so rudely awoken from our slumber we realized that we were freezing and needed to get moving.  Elend had set in upon us. 

We didn’t make it far.  There were a group of women out in front of a pub enjoying the evening and drinks.  We decided to slip into the pub for a quick drink and warm up.  Matthias treated us to a round of Sprite.  Thomas Ehmke had joined us and was his usual jovial self.  I never was a big Sprite fan (it contains no caffeine), but this was the best Sprite I’d ever had.  I assume that it was the intense sugar kick that got me going again, or maybe the smoke filled bar room (I thought that smoking in clubs had been outlawed in Germany years ago).  The bar patrons who seemed very much like regulars and who also seemed like they’d enjoyed the bar’s wares for most of the evening could not fathom what we were doing.

Feeling more than a little Elend we headed out for Braunlage and more adventure.  During this phase I often thought of Kevin Sayers thoughts on ultra running:  “Common sense is necessary… more so than high tech.  Race to the finish not race from the start…  walk when you need to, run when you can, eat, drink and be merry…”
We did a lot of walking between Braunlage over to the Wendeltreppe and Rinderstall.  The Wendeltreppe was a nice climb taking us up almost 900 meters of elevation.  Once above the Wendeltreppe the trailer has a simply fantastic view of the Brocken from the Brocken panoramic stop.  Crossing several high fields we made our way to the Oderteiche and Märchenweg.  The Oderteiche are something else to see.  These series of historical artificial lakes are approximately seven kilometers long.  Construction on the Oderteiche started in 1715 lasting until 1722.  They were until the end of the nineteenth century the largest artificial lakes in Germany. 

The Märchenweg is a ten kilometer hiking and trekking path that courses alongside the Oderteiche for much of its route.  The unique thing about the Märchenweg particularly along the Oderteiche is that it passes over a wooden deck-like path as the area is very marshy.  On any other day this would have been just super.  Feet would have stayed dry and there are a lot of benches and places to sit down and enjoy the scenery.  That was not to be on this overcast Sunday.  The combination of the mixed deck-like and wood chip path was kicking my feet and blisters ass!  My thoughts were, “Seriously, this friggen path goes on forever!  I’ve never seen a path developed like this anywhere and this downright sucks!”  I popped a GU Roctane and had a bit of caffeinated gum in the hopes of raising my spirits a bit.  (Have I mentioned that caffeine rocks!)

Finally…  We passed over the Märchenweg and approached Torfhaus and our next aid station.  That 38KM passage was a long one friends.  In retrospect I was thrilled when the sun came back up.  That Big Orange Ball (BOB) even if he’s not shining brightly is a life saver.  Your perspectives change and your mind seems to function much better than when confined to the scope of the light provided by a head lamp.

So, here we are at Torfhaus and the place is packed with hikers, site seers and many, many others, but where is the aid station?  Walk over here a minute, nope!  Walk over there a minute, nope!  Time to call Micha…  Hans-Dieter and his camper were definitely here.  Micha seemed to think that he is parked in the parking lot near the ski lift.  OK…  Time to find that darn ski lift!  After trying almost all of the cardinal directions we head off down a road as it’s our last option.  YES!!!  There is a big white camper (the only one in the parking lot)!  YES!!!

As we approach the aid station at Torfhaus we are overwhelmed by the volunteers.  Everyone is in high spirits and excited to see us.  They quickly ushered us to chairs around a table set with place settings and flowers.  Hans-Dieter wearing an apron stuck his head out of his camper and greeted us in high spirits.  I have to pause here a minute to speak briefly about what I know so far about Hans-Dieter.

Micha introduced Hans-Dieter on Friday evening during the race briefing.  Hans-Dieter is an older gentleman with white hair and short white beard (His last name is Weisshaar, rather fitting!).  Micha introduced Hans-Dieter as having completed 130 one hundred mile races.  Hans-Dieter reacted without presumption or fanfare and said that if he were not outside his camper we should simply knock on the door as he would be sleeping and he would take care of us.  More on Hans-Dieter in a bit…

From his perch in the doorway of his camper Hans-Dieter graciously asked each of us what we would like to eat; fried eggs, bacon and potatoes; goulash soup; potatoes with sauce; a soup…  A bit overwhelmed, Matthias and I split a bowl of goulash soup and potatoes.  Delicious!  We dined and drank for about half an hour being waited on hand and foot.  This was an aid station I did not want to leave.  But after eating my fill and having had a cup of coffee and glass of cola it was time to be off.

Walking and jogging gingerly on very hot blisters we set out for Clausthal Zellerfeld, “The Wall” and the next aid station.  Tennessee Williams’ thought on time “Time is the longest distance between two places” describes my comprehension of this measurement tool during much of this period of the Hexensteig.  Our GPS went down during this leg and we were forced to navigate by the map, the terrain and markings for the trails 18H, 18C-B.  It was an interesting period.  In Altenau we were given bad information by fella enjoying a beer and headed out in the wrong direction.  (I’m not sure what it is about the locals and their orientation, but all that we asked gave bad advice.)  Finally, we made it out of Altenau and onto the longest seven kilometers I’ve ever passed over, the Alter Bahndamm.  The old rail line seemed to go on, and on, and on.  It alone directed the measurement of time ticking away the moments.

Finally in Clausthal Zellerfeld we approached what we thought was “The Wall”.  The Wall is a street with almost a 35% incline that in the winter time is shut off to allow the local children to sled down it.  Up we went to rest on a short plateau that greeted another hill of the same nature.  Thanks Micha!  In Clausthal Zellerfeld we arrived at kilometer 185 of the course and the Adrenalin Tours aid station. 
Don’t know how many of you have been to Austin Texas, but the Adrenalin Tours aid station looked as if it had been picked up from one of the neighborhoods off of South Congress.  The aid station was set up in a tent behind what I assumed was the Adrenalin Tours’ owner/operators house.  Picture a large backyard; a fire is going in the drive way where someone has been grilling wurst and burgers; around the corner is a dog pen with at least a half-dozen Huskies in it; and then there is a second guest house out back that serves as a club house/party house.  The people of Adrenalin Tours also appeared as if they did not belong in Clausthal Zellerfeld, but had been plucked lock, stock and barrel with their house from Austin.  A cool place!

So, we mossy into the Adrenalin Tours aid station with smoke wafting in the air from the open fire and someone quickly asks what we’d like to eat.  Matthias and Günter are not too enthusiastic about eating, but I’m starved again and ask for a plate of noodles which I am promptly served.  I ate about half the huge plate of noodles I was served and drank about four glasses of cola.  Cola rocks! 

While enjoying the meal and the ambiance of the aid station we’re all chatting in German and Hans-Dieter who was also there having a bowl of noodles looks over and asks me in an English with no accent where I’m from.  He and I kick up a conversation and as it turns out he has lived in Austin and been all over Texas.  Check out the Hans 100 List for the races he’s run in Texas.  Hans-Dieter holds an age group record for Rocky Raccoon and a number of other significant 100 Milers.

After a bit of great conversation with Hans-Dieter and others we decide to pack up and kick out on the last leg of the Hexenstieg.  The distance of which no one can really tell us (Is it seven or eighteen kilometers?  No one knew…).  With a full belly of noodles and cola and the prospect of finishing this witch of a race I’m excited to get moving again.  The route course from Clausthal Zellerfeld through Lerbach towards Osterode was relatively uneventful.  Our spirits were relatively good and we were filled with anticipation of arriving back at the Harzer-Hof.  On the way down from Lerbach the path rapidly lost elevation which was kicking my ass (literally my feet and blisters).  We transitioned from hiking path and trail to hard ball road which was a little easier on the feet, but harder on the mind as the road to Osterode seemed as if it would never end.

In the forty-fourth hour of our journey we approached the Harzer-Hof Hotel and were greeted by Andrea Möhr who brought water and great spirits!  Andrea was one of the great supporters of the event – she was there all the way.

We arrived at the finish line at the Harzer-Hof in 44:31.  Tired…, worn…, elend but extremely pleased with our adventure.  Words fail me that describe the emotion the sloshed over me as our photos were taken and we were congratulated for our achievement.  I could not have accomplished this bewitched adventure without the help of the Brandenburger.  Matthias and Günter, you guys simply ROCK!  Thanks for having me along as your “Klette”.  It was a great ride!

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