Taste the Trail – The Fire of Adventure

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Waiting in the little hall of the hotel. Everything around me is made of wood; the floor, the walls, chairs and the couch. A desk, containing a little bowl of candy for the visitors. Am I a visitor? The owner of the hotel is away, filling my water bottles. My eyes drift away to the candy, my mouth is salivating and after a breakfast of warm water with pine needles I really have to control myself not to start munching on these delicious candies.

The night is cold and wet with squeaking pine trees all around us. Without any food to keep our inner bodies warm, it is a broken night. Marin slept like crap, if she slept at all. Sleep is important during trips like these. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re not well rested and the coming day will be way harder. Mostly this is to be compromised with food. Thats why Marin gets three rosehips in her pine needle tea, which should be breakfast after a broken night. She’s having a rough moment and we have to pull each other through it.

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The first couple of kilometers are heavy and drowsy, but soon we hit the village of Monschau. This semi-urban and cultivated area should be home of some apple trees, pear trees or other fruit bushes. While we walk into a street my eye is spotting a grapevine and my legs and heavy backpack are following. Big clusters of grapes stick out between the leaves and quickly my hands pick as much as possible. I see somebody watching, but I don’t care. This is our breakfast. When I look up from the grapes I see two disappointed nuns watching us, and giving us gestures of discontent. This is not the way we are supposed to behave! Maybe the grapes are used for wine or maybe they will not be used at all. We don’t want to imagine. We want to imagine breakfast. Quickly we walk away from the angry looking nuns, around a corner, devouring our freshly foraged breakfast.

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We have become hunters. Our eyes scan the area for edible things. A sunflower with unripe seeds. A flowerpot with herbs. Edible flowers at a random balcony. An apple tree in a garden. It sounds like a full meal, but after three clusters of grapes, three flowers and an apple we head out to the forrest to walk the remaining kilometers. We’re in a rough time; nuts and seeds are not ripe yet and the fruits and berries are overripe. We find a lot of “policeman’s helmet” or (Impatiens Glandulifera). The seeds and flowers are edible, they taste a little like hazelnut. But how much can you eat with our any problems? We don’t want to get sick or end up with our underwear full of diharrea so we try not to eat to much.

When we walk we look at the ground. We don’t look in front of us, but to the sides of the trail. Scanning for mushrooms. The first mushroom of the day presents itself and before we know it, we have enough for a little soup. The idea there will be something of a meal in the evening makes us happy. It’s quite hard to not know if there will be food, especially because food makes the nights bearable. We are truly blessed with money in our pocket and a supermarket on the corner. There are countries where people are not so lucky as us, and for the first time in my life I experience this feeling of uncertainty of an evening meal. But this night we will have something. Together with the herbs I “borrowed” from the last village we will have a perfect warm meal. Mushroomsoup with lavas herb, nettle leaves, parsley and some other herbs. With a “full” stomach and a roaring river on the background we let the cold night fall over our tents.

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The next morning my body and mind feels heavy. During the night I kept on waking up, until I ate an apple. Feeling downed by the flu I woke up, but stay in bed. I’m cold and my mind is weary. These kind of adventures always make my inner fire burn, making me feel raw and wild. In my sleepy mind I see  remains of the fire. No big flames, just smoldering coal. There is no fuel to make big flames. I decide get up while Marin already got all her stuff packed and starts to make an elderberry tea with blackberry leaves, fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) and wood sorrels (Oxalis). This warm liquid doesn’t only heat up my body but also firestarts my mind. The flame starts to burn and I start to feel human again. Adventure awaits us. After a breakfast of apple compote with elderberries we decide to end our journey at a restaurant. The nights are terrible without proper food in our stomachs and we are here to enjoy ourselves and see how this turns out. It is nice to feel good, and in this case food is giving us this good feeling.

The last day of hiking is pretty ok, we don’t have a real goal to achieve. Our goal was to hike three stages of the Eifelsteig, but on empty stomachs this was too hard. In the end we hiked two stages; this journey is not about the distance, it is about foraging and gathering.

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During the last day we check out our surrounding more, the weather is quite nice and the expectation of a hot meal does the world for me. On the way to our final destination we eat some lost raspberries to get rid of the taste of all the apples we eat. We don’t drink too much, because we eat so many apples. After 50 hours of hiking, foraging and improvising we finally get to Einruhr where a restaurant is waiting for us. The meal we have (the first one since three days) tastes good, but it’s not the best meal I’ve ever had. I thought this would be the case, but our own foraged mushroom soups tasted better and made me feel better as well. Food made by ourselves has more energy then food made for us.

We end our journey with a german beer in a open wooden shack where we share stories of our lives over a little candlelight. Finally we get to know each other a little better; before we didn’t have any energy for these kind of things. It was straight to the tent and fall asleep from exhaustion. All energy went to foraging and trying to stay warm in the night. The last night I sleep in the open fresh air with the stars shining down on me. When I wake up I hear birds singing and see the shadows of pine trees on my sleeping bag. I grab the paper bag next to me and take a big bite of a chocolate sandwich. Real breakfast.

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Picture By Marin Leus

 

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Taste the Trail – Storm and sour apples

[Do not pick or eat mushrooms/berries/seeds from plants you don’t know! We left some mushrooms because we were not 100% sure they were edible. Marin is a professional forager. Please take care!]

“Look Marin! There, is that a good one?” I’m bending over and with a twig I flip over the mushroom and look at it. No gills, so that means it’s a Boletus and most of these are edible. We feel happy like little Johnny on christmas morning; tonight we are having a mushroom broth from this little mushroom! Add a couple of leaves from a nettle and we’re having a beautiful dinner!

Normally I don’t forage for mushrooms; I have no clue which ones are poisonous and which are perfectly edible, but this weekend I make an exception. Together with Marin from “Groene Avonturen” I will hike for a few days and eat only what we can forage from nature. We will live for three days as hunter-gatherers to see how this works out.

We will hike three stages of the famous Eifelsteig in Germany. But the first night will be at Plooni, who kindly hosts us in the hills of south-east Netherlands. We eat our last meal while the stormy night  blows her breath around the house, rain hits windows and my dreams about the future prepare me for the coming journey. I wake up and have a glass of water for breakfast. The journey begins.

We take the bus from Aachen to Roetgen, where we directly find something to eat. Our ziplock bags are quickly filled with hawthorn berries and rosehip. The rosehip doesn’t really taste good, the maythorne tastes like nothing. Next to the boring taste we know it’s a mild laxative and we don’t really feel like walking with a full underpants so we don’t eat too much from these. Walking out of the village we see a tree with little apples all around it. The storm of the last couple of days has kicked some immature apples out for us to pick up. Our faces are like the face of a child eating a lemon for the first time, when we taste the small apples. We decide they are good for some hot compote in the evening.

Blackberry after blackberry crosses our path as well as hazelnuts. Sadly the nuts are not ready yet and the blackberries are on their end. Or they are really soft or really hard and not edible. We don’t find to much and when we see other people sitting next to the trail eating their lunch we decide to keep on walking. “Don’t look Marin, they have cookies!!” With our mouth full off rosehip we keep on walking and find our first mushroom. A nice big one, perfect for a hot steaming broth! We find a couple more and all of a sudden we find ourselves foraging a whole meal! Our meal contains:

– three and a half mushrooms
– a hand full of nettle leaves
– 15 sour mini apples

Cold and wet we sit in a wooden shack and see the roaring storm pass by. With our cold fingers we bake the mushrooms in a little water and when soft we add some extra water and let it boil for some minutes. Add some nettle leaves and we have a great and simple soup! The first warm sip slides down in my stomach and I feel the warmth going trough me. After a half a liter of soup our bodies are warmed up and we feel it’s time for the next course. Cooked apples. We cut the apples in really small pieces and cook them till they’re soft. We ignore the sour taste and eat like it’s our last meal.

After this simple but warm meal we hike on, in search of a spot for our tent. The best spot would be next to a river, so I can fish or make a fishpod. In my mind I really need fish for some extra protein; some blackberries, apples and mushrooms will not bring us 25 kilometers further. The feeling of hunger is doable, sometimes I hear a pig squealing in my stomach, but I can still ignore this pig inside of me. When we find a bush with some blackberries we eat everything we can find. 10 tot 20 blackberries each and our stomachs are filled. Until 15 minutes later, when the pig starts to squeal again.

We find a nice place on the edge of a meadow, between the trees. The storm is still blowing and the squeaking trees give us perfect protection. The sound of the trees above us, makes us realize the storm is not over yet. Sadly there is no river, so fishing has to wait. For Marin this is her first time camping in the wild. Her little blue tent is thin and I wonder how her first night of real wildcamping will be. Her face in the morning tells the whole story…

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