I've occasionally heard PCT thru-hikers kvetch about the strong odorants most of us use at all times, and I get it, now more than ever. Dan washed some clothes in Corsica last summer, and the residual Ariel smell is still with us, months later. At the breakfast room at the Hotel Halfenstube, I went to sit down and had to move as sometime had apparently just emerged from an Yves Rocher swimming pool. Feh. Anyhow, on to breakfast. Verdict: better than average, but with a twist I didn't see coming. There was a fancy-shmancy coffee machine, but for whatever reason I really don't feel like a macchiato or whatever at breakfast these days, so I used it to pull some hot water to make Ostfriesentee, which is pretty much the best kind of tea, and they even had Kandiszucker, rock candy sugar, which goes nicely with that. There was some excellent fresh scrambled eggs on offer as well as a fairly robust spread on the buffet; I mixed some seltzer with wine grape juice from their own production and enjoyed that along with some Mettwurst on decent whole wheat rolls. Not bad. Even better was muesli and fresh yogurt with okay commercial honey.
I sent Dan upstairs to finish his packing, fetched my pack, and waited and waited around downstairs for someone to check me out of the hotel. Eventually, someone did turn up after a good five minutes and help. It was funny cuz neither of us could see well enough without glasses to figure out which invoice was mine, so she gave up and found her glasses, found the correct paperwork, and I handed over more money for a single night's room than I would do at any other point on this trip, which was okay given the huge room, but only just. I walked down the road a bit to hang out at the bus stop and wait for the Marmot, who eventually peeked around the corner just as I was getting way too cold to just be standing there, and then we were on our way.
From the hotel down to bridge across the Mosel wasn't far, and once again we walked past a collection of AfD election posters that seemed to only ever pop up in economically depressed/lower-class parts of town. Eeesh. Weather-wise, it was supposed to get sunny around 10, but it was just before 9 and the damp, chilly morning fog was still in full effect. As we walked across the bridge, we watched as random Dutch criss-crossed the lawns of the RV resort below in their bathrobes, presumably either showering or fetching fresh rolls from the camp store. I couldn't make out a single white license plate below (Dutch have yelllow plates; most everyone else in Europe doesn't); rounding the corner, we saw a sign that announced that the RV park was called HOLLAENDISCHER HOF, which of course made perfect sense. Hee. And then up a tow path past a sleepy boat harbor, across the street, and... TD. That's right, please avert your gaze as I discuss the delicate matter that is traveler's diarrhea. I wasn't expecting it, but there it was, just enough to be irksome and thankfully not enough to have reached crisis levels. I crossed the road, dropped my pack and asked Dan to wait, and lurched off to a gas station in the distance.
Every once in a while, you get lucky, the stars align, and when you show up at a random gas station about to further shit yourself, you're lucky and the woman behind the counter is on her mobile chatting with someone. This is fortunate because the German guilt will kick in when she eventually puts it down to ask if she can help, and when you beg to use the toilet, OF COURSE you will be allowed to use the nice one with the good soap and TP and take a minute or two to recompose your slightly soiled self before loping back down the road to your pack. So, shout out to random gas station lady. Thank you.
This was the latter half or so of stage 17 of the trail, and now that I've hiked it, I'll just say that it was perhaps the least interesting of all of the stages so far, and that's really saying something. Starting in Eller, it was just an endless series of up the slope, through the vineyards, around the brook, down the slope, wash, rinse, repeat. That's it. Here, on the Hunsrueck side of the river, it was more of the same, but this time with some seriously crap public art littering the hillsides as well as a bunch of rock plaques every so often with Words of Wisdom™ chiseled on them, pretty obviously by some kind of rock-carving machine that had all of the default Microsoft Word 2000 fonts installed, or something. Other random trail-tat included a rock lifting station - don't try lifting this 10kg rock unless you can sure that you can!!! - and some kind of love tree, the explication of which had been vandalized beyond repair. Me, I was trying to be amused by all of this unnatural stuff, but found myself mostly annoyed. If I'm in nature, I kinda prefer it be left in a sorta natural state.
Finally, the trail gave out near what looked like an abandoned booze factory - I seriously wonder, who the heck drinks hard alcohol much these days, and how much of that is going to be distilled fruit that you can grow in this climate? - and then made its way around to a sign warning of the terrible dangers that awaited fearless hikers ahead, for they were about the enter the eldritch world of Briederner Switzerland, yet another soi-disant Switzerland, aka a slightly Alpsish bit with some steep slopes and maybe some cheeky forest. Sure enough, the trail finally got to be fun for the first time on this stage, with a narrow, crumbly, muddy, and generally beat-up trail winding through some groovy forests. Even better, as we progressed through the woods, the sun started to break through the morning fog, providing plenty of grade-A Jesus Effect™ lighting - you know, diagonal rays of sunlight shining through the forests as if leading the way to the Catechism Gift Stand over there - and eventually even some welcome warmth.
At the end of the fun trail, we were suddenly on a hill overlooking the river - nice! - and just up ahead there was a Jewish cemetery that had existed from the Middle Ages up until 1942. Thankfully, the locals had restored it they best that they could, and removed any entrance gates into the area to keep AfD voters out. (Zing!) A truly lovely spot, to be sure. Up ahead, an ordinary Thanks Mary! chapelette, and then SURPRISE whoa that is one huge fricking castle ruin. We paid our $3 to enter the rusty gates of Castle Metternich, passed the huge cafe serving defrosted cheesecakes to wheezing tourists who'd struggled up from the town below, and bounded up the tower for an even more dramatic view down the Mosel towards Koblenz. The sun was out, the views were great, and then someone's cell phone started ringing and he started yakking away in fervent middle manager-ese about something involving agile development. Ugh, gross. Down, down, away from that moron, please, and then out the back gate of the castle and down the Moselsteig into the pretty in a fake way town of Beilstein, that is soooo ready for any medieval romance movies you might want to make it's not even funny. Plus, indoor plumbing!
The trail led right through the courtyard of the church... which had a huge cafe there, so we stopped. I chatted with the waitress a bit about why they didn't portion off at least some of the terraces for nonsmokers - obviously no one had ever thought about doing that, so cultural reasons - and we enjoyed coffee and cake, mine decaf this time, with a slice of Riesling-flavor cake (should've got the regular cake, but it was funny at the time). As we were getting ready to go, Mr. Handy showed up, and we got a good, long look at him as he hemmed and hawed about where the Moselsteig might possibly go from here (uh, there's only one staircase down, and there's a sticker on the lamppost, dude). He was wearing brand-new Jack Wolfskin everything - it's hard to explain JW to non-Germans, but it's like a luxe outdoor brand that is everywhere German outdoorsy types go, like Montbell except overly fashion-y at times, or REI if REI cared more about form than function. His pack was way bigger than most everyone else's - I'm guessing that most Moselsteig hikers are doing it with tour companies that move their suitcases around for them so they just have tiny day packs - and it had lots of stuff hanging off it, liked insulated water bottles and I think I may have seen a pet rock, but I'm not sure. He was chatting with passers-by, trying to get them interested in how he was hiking the Moselsteig, and I was getting strong Dan Clowes vibes (think WILSON). Huh. He took off, though, thankfully, we paid, and then it was down down down through the rest of the cute little town to the Mosel and the start of stage 18, which I'll write about in another post.