If you sort all of the Moselsteig stages by length, stage 19 is the longest. If you sort all of the Moselsteig stages by elevation gain, stage 19 has the most. It's brutal-ish.
Thankfully, breakfast at the Hotel am Markt was more than up to the task of preparing us for the day's ardors. Without a doubt, they had the best bread I've had in years, perfectly crisp, hearty rolls and delicious sour, crunchy hippie bread. Awesome. They even offered to whip up a couple of espresso drinks, but nah, just coffee, thanks. Even more delightful was the woman staffing the office, who checked us out while chatting about hiking and how to raise children in an age of ubiquitous digital distractions, from Xbox to iPhone, and how to get them to have conversations with people, not just apps, and still find time to get outside and exercise. Cool.
The general gist of the day, as far as I could discern from the guidebooks, was that the day would be marked by three very steep uphill sections - it's kind of funny, because the Mosel valley seems to be always the same depth, so if you're going to be doing a lot of climbing, you have to do it by going all the way up and all the way back down to the Mosel again, so that must be what was about to happen. Plus, the day was going to be just plain long, which you can only do if you also go off away from the Mosel for a while and head back, which was obviously also about to happen, considering the trail map. In principle, I am fine with both of these strategies.
The first uphill was damned steep, but we made it up without event, passing a tacky concrete cross on the right and a ropeway on the left, complete with snack bar and terrace at the top station, not yet open for the day. In theory, you could see the Reichsburg Cochem, the huge castle overlooking the town, from up here, but it was still foggy enough to put the kibosh on that option. We had seen the castle a bit from across the river the afternoon before, but the lighting was terrible for pictures, so that castle is going to remain undocumented by me for now. Now, the fog was back towards Cochem, but it wasn't so bad looking downriver, so we could nearly make out the valley, complete with a huge shopping center and swimming pool on the other side. Here, at the top station, there was also a huge billboard featuring what I'm afraid, dear reader, that I described as an obviously mentally retarded bear with the unfortunate nickname of Klotti, the mascot for some kind of bizarre hybrid theme park and touch farm (?). Klotti was... really quite something, so of course I annoyed Dan for the next ten minutes or so pretending to be Klotti, the badly-drawn, potentially predatory Kinder-surprising bear from the creepy theme park with sad-eyed stoats in cages, or whatever. Hallo! Ich bin der Klotti und ich LIEEEEBE dich! Silly silly silly.
The fog starting to left, we continued along the ridge line for a bit, and the views down to the gigantic ALDI shopping center opened up fairly nicely. It looks like once again there's a Walmart-effect going on here, with town centers dying out for hypermarkets in the 'burbs, alas. And that's all I say about that for now. The trail stuck to the ridge line, just a few steps away from the drop to the valley below, and it was good, fast hiking all the way down into Klotten, a town down on the Mosel.
Props to Klotten for putting together the most amazing rest-shack ever, by the way. Throughout the vineyards on the Mosel, people have constructed small shelters against the rain, hail, wind, or whatever might come up while you're out in the fields tending to the vines. Right on the trail, Klotten had refurbished one of the shelters into an utterly delightful shelter + marketing tool + amazing art installation + bat and bee shelter - it had it all, from a place to charge your cell phone to information on where to eat in the town to odds and ends of humorous stuff that definitely brought a smile to my face. Nice job!
Heading down into Klotten, the trail went through a muddy farm road and then along a surprisingly busy road mostly traveled by expensive cars from Cologne down here on vacation, I'm guessing. And then it wound its way into town, the long way around, going out of its way to skirt a castle ruin plopped down there courtesy of a Polish queen a millennium ago. Then, it was through what felt like someone's back yard and into town... which was dead. Like, totally dead. Long out of business bars, no open stores, no people... weird. Sometimes, towns look nicer from further away. Still, who knows, maybe they're working on it, and maybe the trail just happened to show you the worst bits... alas.
At any rate, we were out of town fairly quickly, ducking under the train tracks and up onto the south embankment, where we progressed downriver just a few feet away from the rails. No trains came, and then it was down, under, and up a beautiful valley, the steep variety again, this time also a well known nature reserve with all kinds of interesting plants and rare butterflies (also known as posh moths, thanks Nev!). It was a truly beautiful spot, and it was wonderful to escape the busy/loud train corridor and get back into nature, even though the uphill slog was, well, kind of a slog, increasingly steep to the point where I discovered that there are in fact limits to what my calves will do before becoming acutely painful. This was a new one for me: although I was aerobically fine and felt like I could just keep walking uphill without it being much of a problem, the incline was so extreme that I started to feel some distinct, sharp pain in my calves. Oops. Well, live and learn, right? There wasn't anything much to do about it except to keep walking, so I did.
Towards the top there was a short, beautiful view down to the vineyards below, and then the trail decided to basically go bananas and a take a huge timeout from being anywhere near the Mosel and go have a look up on top of the plateau for a while. Like, for ten kilometers or so... a really, really long time. And that was fine. I hadn't really seen a stage like this in a couple of weeks, so I was happy to go wander around the edges of fields being plowed for the next crop, past some kind of large farmer's house (I think) called the Annischer Hof, and then around and around the Pommern forest, all dreamy woods with occasional open fields and one point, a farmer carefully stowing all of his elaborate plowing equipment to traverse a narrow path over to the next fields. The weather was fine, with high clouds and no rain on the horizon, so I was happy to just keep walking, even if the pain level was moderate every step of the way. Not bad enough to medicate, but hard to just put out of mind.
For most of this stretch, there was what appeared to be a family just ahead, walking at nearly exactly the same pace as us, and only pulling ahead in fits and starts as we stopped to take pictures here and there. Eventually, the trail took a hard left and started heading towards the village of Kail in the distance; when it took a right to make a detour around most of Kail, they kept going straight ahead and we never did see them again. Finally, as the trail took another left to actually head into Kail this time for sure, there was an orange sign from the Moselsteig folks announcing that a distillery in town was now selling chilled soft drinks to hikers at certain times of day...and YES, we were in luck, so now there was something to look forward to: a cold drink! Hurrah!
Kail itself was kind of empty and depressing, with two sad cats staring at each other while a man vacuumed out his Opel. It didn't look poor or anything, just... empty. Then, surprisingly, towards the end of town, a hyper-modern distillery popped up, the Brenneri Hubertus Vallendar GmbH, with trucks outside, shiny and clean, advertising their services both as a producer of spirits and a grower of fruit for same. So odd to see something so brand spanking new in such a small town - complete with a welcoming bench out front with the Moselsteig logo on it. Cool! We dropped our packs, went inside, and a friendly young woman sold us a Coca-Cola and an Apfelschorle, which were delicious. Figuring this would be a good place to ask, I chatted her up about what Trester was, which I'd seen on spirits lists off and on for weeks now. Turns out it's what I guess we'd call marc in English, or grappa: schnapps distilled from grape pomace. She offered a taste, I happily accepted, and it was good. Like, really good. The packaging looked amazing too, especially a line of high-design stuff, one of which was apparently based on asparagus. Crazy. Before we left, I asked if I could take a picture of their adorable dog hanging out in the shop, and that's how we met Lafite, aka the coolest dog on the Mosel. So so fun. Cheered and hydrated, we hoisted the packs back up and kept on walking.
We passed a small church with what appeared to be a St. George and the Dragon freeze - huh - and a bunch of AfD posters - ugh - and then navigated a construction site to begin another long descent back down to the river, this one apparently a fave of mountain bikers. The sun was now very much out, and we enjoyed the babbling brook below as we navigated the muddy track down to the vineyards of Pommern, and then eventually on past the famous Pommerner Sonnenuhr, or sundial. Here, there were a number of folks out picking grapes, and there was also a brief surprise detour back up into a side river valley for just a bit before thankfully descending again all the way into the small town of Pommern. The one restaurant in town was open, so we dropped our packs again and... well, we couldn't order lunch because the kitchen had already closed, but they were more than happy to serve up two amazing open-faced uncured ham sandwiches as well as a Pils for me and a Weizen for Dan. Tasty! As we rested and enjoyed our snack, we watched as many, many bicyclists arrived at the hotel/restaurant, apparently as part of a semi-organized tour, and had their luggage delivered to them so that they could take it up to their rooms. Awesome. I've seen a few outfits that offer services like this - hike a long distance trail and they'll move your luggage around for you - and I would happily do that the next time, say, with Klein's Wanderreisen. I didn't mind carrying a full pack for this journey, but a day pack would have been more comfortable. If Klein's or the Moselsteig people had offered a full-Moselsteig tour, I probably would have done it... but then again, it was also fun to save money by carrying everything myself and by booking all of the hotels/B and Bs/Fremdenzimmer myself. Hard to decide!
After our snack, on with the packs and away we went for the third and final lengthy uphill stretch of the day. This time, it was up to the mons martis, or Martberg, a reconstructed Roman temple at the top of the plateau. The uphill went by fairly quickly, although I suspected Dan was starting to tire of all of this uphill. It was pretty warm up in the vineyards, and I was doing my best to drink all of the water in my pack to compensate, but it sure felt warm regardless. As we neared the Martberg park, it looked closed, Drat. It was Friday, they're usually open on a Friday, but on this Friday they put up a sign saying "sorry but we are closed on this Friday for no particular reason." Ah well. So, we amused ourselves with a look around the park sans coffee and cake, and then kept going. As the Moselsteig kept wandering around the plateau, we saw a couple of signs pointing to Treis-Karden with very short distances marked; as luck would have it, this was definitely shaping up to be another bonus/punishment round on the trail. We were less than a mile form town, but the Moselsteig planners had decided that it would make more sense at the end of what was already the longest day on the trail to turn away from town, head back away from the river, and then fart around the plateau for a bit before coming down a different river valley the back way into town. Sure, why not? I'd hazard a guess that they did that of make sure that you didn't miss yet another stations of the cross (this time a vaguely fey Jesus in red terracotta striking a pose in front of grumpy Roman centurions), but confidential to Mosellandtouristik GmbH: not necessary. That was a lovely couple of km but dang it, this is a long stage and I'm guessing most hikers just want it to be over at that point.
We made it into town feeling reasonably good given the length of the trail, and although I was definitely feeling pain for the first day on the trail, it was still more than manageable, so I was cool with that. Here on the Eifel side of the river, we were in Karden, but our hotel was across the river in Treis, so we had another mile or so to go before we could call it a day. We passed some sketchy looking hotels - glad I didn't stay in Karden - and then ducked through the train station to go under the tracks and out by the river. The walk to the bridge was not so fun: on the road verge with a whisper of a sidewalk crowded with bicyclists, so I made a note to find a better way (perhaps the bike path the next time). My phone battery died at this point, and we still had to find the hotel, a small winery on the far side of town, so I asked locals who gave us directions. At the winery, I walked in, waited for the owner to arrive, and started the "My name is Chris Pratt, I have a reservation" spiel only to be interrupted and, well, chewed out for not having arrived yesterday when I said I would. Wait, what? Dan kindly said he'd be a surprised if I had made a mistake, but hey, I do make mistakes, so it could be... I tried my hardest to charm her into helping us out by finding us an alternative place to crash for two nights; she did say that she was pretty pissed off and that it was the weekend and really busy in town, but much to her credit and to our gratitude, she made two phone calls, the second of which scored us a Fremdenzimmer a few blocks away. She wrote down the address, I apologized further, and we started heading for the next place. It was in a street that I didnt' remember seeing, and I wasn't having any luck charging my phone enough to find it, but then a Dutch bicyclist who had heard the whole interchange helpfully came over and guided us a bit further until we found it. This would be the only Fremdenzimmer of the trip, and it turned out to be a real win. We wound up staying at Frau Seibold's house. Frau Seibold let us in, I explained who we were and why we were here, and she replied by saying "I didn't hear a thing you just said as I'm hard of hearing!" Oops! So I tried again, louder and slower, she smiled, and we negotiated the room for the weekend. I thought I had misunderstood when she had said she wanted $42 per night, including breakfast, but nope, that was the price. Wow. A private room, with great wifi, a clean shower and comfy beds, and a more than adequate breakfast with fresh rolls, ham, cheese, jam, and butter? Oh, and with good coffee to? Damn, count me in. So we wound up saving a hundred euros AND we had a great stay.
(As it turns out, the problem with the room reservation was one that I'll mostly blame Frau Castor for this one, but the fault is partly mine. I had written her asking for a holiday flat on the 22nd and 23rd; she wrote back saying that she had a regular room available instead, so I responded and said sure, I'll take that, sounds great! What I didn't notice was that she had also changed 22-24 to 21-23 - and didn't explicitly mention that she didn't have anything on the dates I requested. Ah well. Pro tip: especially when dealing with non-native speakers of your language, make it clear that not only do you not have what they requested available, but that you also don't have it when they wanted it.)
Pretty dang beat at this point, the only obvious thing to do was to take a shower, change clothes, and PIZZA. Thank God for La Mula, a wonderful Italian place in town, for settings us up on their patio and asking simple yes/no questions that we could answer in our exhausted state. Beer/wine? White/red? Italian/Mosel? Dry/sweet? And boom, a jug of delicious Riesling was there for us to enjoy on their patio watching the daylight fade as they cooked amazing pizzas in their wood-burning oven. Dan had pear, Parma ham, and Gorgonzola; me, I had my usual, which is anchovy and caper (and which totally rules). Completely happy, we wandered off in a daze and thought it would be a fine idea to keep walking some more to get to the local supermarket to find some shower gel and snacks for the last few days on the trail. I found some fancy Kneipp foaming shower gel that was supposed to smell like pine needles and affluence, I think, and some Tabac deodorant that I hoped would minimize the eldritch stench of horror coming from my hiking shirt at the end of every day. Dan found Studentenfutter, his favorite, as well as some kinky Ritter Sport with stuff like macadamia and quinoa. On the way back, we ate a little nut-filled bakery thing that sucks (discarded next to an AfD poster at the dump), I had some Milchreis, and then we had nothing left to do but walk past the room past the miniature golf slash beer garden and the lovely shoreline and then quickly fall asleep, ready for a day off and a day trip to Cologne.