Although we didn't make it back to Frau Seibold's until pretty late, the bed was so comfy (and the room so dark - thanks again, German Rolladentechnologie!), we slept incredibly well and woke completely refreshed. We quietly went about packing everything up for the day ahead; once that was done, with a few minutes left until breakfast, I went ahead and ordered a new pair of shoes from Birkenstock because hey, why not? Besides, the best (read: stodgiest, most Euro Birks) are only available in Germany. Then, we quietly climbed the stairs and sat down at the breakfast table, which once again looked fantastic. She definitely had kind of a pink thing going on, décor-wise, right down to the little knit pink caps on the fresh soft-boiled eggs; I decided to indulge in some braunschweiger with the fresh rolls and took the time enjoy a few cups of coffee in preparation for the long day ahead.
Today would mark the first time we'd do two full stages back-to-back. When planning the trip, I had figured that after a few weeks of this, I'd definitely be fit enough to handle it, and I also figured that I'd probably be excited to get on with things at this point - after all, hiking is wonderful, but vacation time isn't unlimited and I still had a few more things on my checklist before leaving for San Diego. Plus, the next two stages made for an obvious combination. Stage 20 properly ends at a mill in the countryside before a lengthy feeder trail down to a small town; from there, the next stage of the trail continues to the town of Löf, so it made sense to me to skip the overnight in the town of Moselkern and just keep going.
While we were enjoying our breakfast, the bikers from near Cologne joined us; amusingly, the woman asked her boyfriend if he could please get up and close the breakfast room door because of the hunting trophies on the wall outside. I asked her if she didn't like dead animals staring at her while she was eating, and then we all tried to stifle laughter lest we offend the owner. Thankfully, being hard of hearing has its advantages! After breakfast, Dan headed downstairs for a final pass through the room, and I found Frau Seibold to pay the bill. She hadn't heard us come up the stairs and was surprised that we'd already had our breakfast; she then asked for an amount that I felt was way less than she should have charged, so I gave her a hundred-euro note and thanked her again for rescuing us from the whole not having a room in town situation. We then chatted a bit, I said my goodbyes, I put on my pack, and we started off.
To make a long day longer, of course we were already a kilometer plus away from the Treis-Karden train station, the start of the trail. The weather was cool and foggy, but I was comfortable in my wool shirt, shorts, and REI cap. There weren't many folks up just yet in Treis, but over in Karden, the train had obviously just passed through so there was a clot of tourists at the station trying to figure out what to do next. Walking through Treis was nicer than I had imagined it would be; the hotels and restaurants that had looked so dingy and grim on the Internet looked pretty decent in person, but still: freight trains all night long? Nope, no thank you.
Feeling determined to go slow and enjoy the day without any flare-ups of the pain I'd felt on Friday, I took my time and enjoyed taking pictures of local businesses. Why anyone would name a boat rental company BBQ-Donut is beyond me. Same goes for a mani-pedi joint by the name of Hang Nails. Ach, Germany, again with the Denglish! Anyhow, we were out of town before too much longer, hiking up a steep, leafy-green path with good views back over town. This stage looked to be a 2-climb deal; the difficulty of most Moselsteig days seems to be largely gated by how often you're going to climb up to the plateau from the river. The first climb was easy enough; it felt like a smooth climb all the way to the top, which was marked by a lot of rocky areas with really interesting plants, so Dan took plenty of time to inventory the local flora. At this point, we also started playing leapfrog with a Belgian who'd enjoyed a beer next to us at the restaurant in Pommern on Friday; we'd stop to take pictures, he'd pass us, and then we'd pass him again as we were relatively fast hikers.
Up at the top of the plateau there wasn't much save for a bit of forest before the trail headed back down again. OK, no sweat, but hey, before too much longer it's back up to the top of the plateau, cool, no problem, and then there's a bit of a road walk before the trail makes a sharp right and makes its way into some seriously romantic forest. Along that part of the trail there were all kinds of statues - well, more like stelae, I guess, but not Stations of the Cross type stuff exactly either. It felt like we must have been on a very old road heading towards someplace important and/or wealthy, which definitely proved to be the case. First, there was a magnificent old country home which I gather was called the Rotherhof, and then we continued on into the forest, again chatting with the Belgian, until we caught our first sight of Burg Eltz.
Castle Eltz is, well, a castle. In fact, in a lot of ways, it sets the standard for picturesque castles. Apparently never conquered, it's in a breathtaking spot, perched high up on a hill with only one narrow connection to the surrounding countryside. As we got closer, though, it was clear that this was prime tourist country; I think it was National Children's Day or something, so it was clogged with families walking in from unseen car parks to experience the castle, complete with special guest appearances by local actors who were recreating children's entertainment from medieval times. Cool, but dang: crowded. There wasn't much point in trying to work through the crowds to see the inside of the castle, so we elected to leave the castle and continue along the Moselsteig instead.
After a long set of stairs down to the creek below, we continued more or less along the creek for about half an hour until reaching the end of the road up from Moselkern. It was along this path that we ran into a few things that I only encountered this one time during the entire Moselsteig: non-European tourists. Burg Eltz must just be that famous. After passing a few Japanese, I ran into a huge mob of Americans: first, a young couple who were visibly exhaling cannabis smoke (I'd know that smell anywhere), and then a huge number of Americans decked out in bike touring gear. To their credit, they'd learned how to say Guten Tag more or less, responding to my Grüezi mitenand! And at the end of the trail, all of their bikes were there, matching rentals, so I guess that must have been a heck of a bike touring company in business.
Walking down the road towards the Ringelsteiner Mühle, the end of the stage, we passed young German girls happily playing with flowers at the side of the road, watching their seed-pods explode when touched. I had been making noises about having lunch at the mill (there's a restaurant and a hotel there), so we sat down at an outside table, not far from the Belgian, and waited for the waitron. Alas, I was definitely getting the "this is going to take FOREVER" vibe, so when we finally got the chance to order something, I just ordered two beers, which were a welcome treat. After paying and wishing the Belgian a good day - he was only doing the first stage today - it was back on with the packs and off to the apparently correct start of Stage 21.
As luck would have it, Stage 21 started out with the steepest uphill of anything on the entire day and the trail was suddenly mobbed with older day-hikers. I figured what the heck, I can certainly pass this slow-moving pack, which I did... and then quickly realized that although I was aerobically fit enough to do that, my leg muscles were perhaps not quite up to the task, at least not without being really vocal about it. So, I passed everyone, felt fine about it... and then within a few hundred feet the pain that I'd noticed creeping up on me last Friday was back. Kind of a aching calves, something not quite right in the feet kind of deal... I briefly regretted thinking it was a good idea to push myself that hard, but then again, why not, really? If you're going to hike the way you want to hike, sometimes it's going to cause some hopefully temporary physical discomfort.
The next stage was also about 50% longer than the previous stage, so there was still quite a ways to go. Looking at the map, it was pretty clear that we were in for some nice, fast walking through fields at the top of the plateau before descending back down to the Mosel for one more trip back up to the top... cool. So, after passing the other hikers, I detoured out to a viewpoint over the river - not bad, the weather was clearing up a bit - and then headed back to the trail, where I rejoined Dan and we continued upwards to the plateau. At the top, sure enough, the trail switched over into gentle ambling mode, following edges of fields until crossing a road at a small chapel. I was fixing to take a break and enjoy my lunch, so the sign pointing out a viewpoint/rest area ahead was most welcome... but alas, the viewpoint was totally occupied by another hiking party, so no go, we kept walking.
Up ahead was a small side-trail over to another viewpoint, and an older couple said hello, and we got to chatting for a bit. They were locals and had been hiking the Moselsteig in stages for some time; they said that the final stages weren't all that interesting, and that the weather wasn't good enough to make the detour to the viewpoint worth it, so we opted to just stay on the main trail. We also somehow veered into talking politics; I think they were retired teachers, so it was no surprise that they felt dismay at the almost certain results of today's election. Alas. Lovely people, but we said our goodbyes and continued on down the trail to the small village of Lesserg, which had a definite depopulated feeling to it. Even the two cats hanging around a car on jacks had a depressed, let's-get-out-of-here feel to them. There just wasn't much to see in this town other than the usual AfD posters, although a jewelry workshop seemed a bit out of place. The Rother guide said that there was a restaurant on the edge of town, which there was, yup, but it didn't look that compelling, so we skipped it (I wasn't in the mood for pulled pork sandwiches, ugh). Thankfully, just a tiny bit further on, there was a massive rest area and viewpoint which showed up just about right as the sun came out. We unloaded our packs and started drying everything out in the sun before deciding it was now in fact too hot to stay in the sun, whoa, so we retreated to another shady picnic table to enjoy our lunch. There were butter-flavored potato chips (hmm, not bad, but would not buy again), plenty of Landjäger (always a treat), and of course random other stuff like sour gummi bears and water. Yeah, not so healthy, but it sure tasted good. There was a sloppily-hewn owl statue nearby, a set of construction fences, and another trail headed downhill, which I followed down to another set of picnic tables and a stunning view of another castle and back down the Mosel valley... amazing. We finished our lunch, and suddenly a large number of hikers coming in from the other directions swarmed in; we happily gave up our spots and continued on our way towards Hatzenport, the next stop on the trail.
At first, the trail looked like it was going to be easy for the rest of the day: the descent into the town of Hatzenport was moderate, passing mostly through terraced vineyards and along easy trails. However, once we actually got down towards the village, things changed fairly radically, for this turned out to be the only part of the Moselsteig that was also a Klettersteig. A Klettersteig is something like a scrambling/climbing path and not a typical trail; instead of being something you can easily walk along, there may be ropes or chains fastened to a wall, ladders bolted to rock, or other things that are a little bit more... extreme than just a trail. Kind of fun, but slightly tricky with a backpack on. So, just as we made it down into the village, the trail headed back uphill along a paved road, crossed it, and then... Klettersteig! It wasn't long, but it was a fun challenge from the usual day's walking. I strapped my poles to my pack (well, mostly - I had broken the gizmo used for that earlier in the week, so it was a little crummy), and then went up and down stairs, ladders, and cliff faces with ropes to work my way around to the northern end of the village and its small train halt. I was hoping for a store where I could buy a cool drink, but nope, none of that here, so there wasn't anything to do but to just keep going.
Consulting the Rother app again, it looked like there was a good rest area/viewpoint way up ahead called Rabenlay, so we agreed to stop there for a rest. Up and up we went, climbing far above the vineyards; towards the end of it, we started tailgating two women, not intentionally; it's just that they were hiking about as quickly as we were. Finally, we were at the top and there was the stunning viewpoint... and alas, it was Sunday, so it was busy. Even worse: it was filled with middle-aged German men drinking. Not cool. They promptly offered the women a place to sit down and enjoy the view if the women gave them some wine... ugh, no thanks, you creeps. The women laughed politely and said nope, this is a private function (in the sense of this is a party you're not invited to), and all four of us pretty obviously made the decision to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, because who wants to hang around creepy chauvinists drunk dudes? Yeeesh. So we kept going, Dan and I hanging back a bit to give them more space, and we enjoyed the trail as it bumbled around the top of the plateau for a while before eventually settling into a long uphill bit alongside a forest. I then saw a sign for a Zuweg - a feeder trail - off to the right, kept walking for a minute or two, and then thought huh, this direction seems totally wrong, let's check the Rother app. Yeah, totally wrong, so I backtracked a bit and discovered that the Moselsteig proper had been closed due to "forestry works" - looks like a bunch of trees fell - and that the feeder trail was actually just the shortcut to get to the part of the trail that was clear of trees. Oh. Well, no problem. The women had kept going in the wrong for the Moselsteig direction, but they clearly knew where they were going, so that was that.
Back on the Moselsteig proper, there wasn't much more to do except continue along up the Kehrbach valley, where the trail crossed the brook, making a U-turn of sorts, and then continued down the other side of the valley, eventually passing still more stations of the cross, and then eventually into the town of Löf. Yay, our day was almost complete. Leaving the trail at a railroad bridge, we wandered past a cool beehive exhibit and down to the riverside, where our room at the Hotel Lellmann awaited. I had no problems changing a single room for a twin; opting for a quiet room, we wound up on the rear side of the hotel in a clean, but somewhat dated room with obvious wear and tear and a window that wouldn't tip, only open, which was great to cool the room down, but alas it also brought in a large number of flies. Ah, whatever. We washed out some clothes to take full advantage of the drying rack in the bathroom, rested up a bit, found that the wifi didn't work at all, grrr, and then wandered downstairs for a drink.
In the wine bar downstairs, I asked for the wine list... and then promptly cracked up the waitress when I ordered two Alt, a Düsseldorf beer I hadn't seen yet on this trip. It was pleasant, quiet, and empty save for another couple eating dinner in there, and their food looked amazing, so we finished our beers and ordered supper. Dan had a incredibly good beef steak - I was amused because that's the last thing I would have expected him to order - and I had some very good pork with chanterelles and noodles. And before you know it, we had run out of things to do that would have required consciousness, so we headed upstairs, turned out the lights, and hit the hay.