Wow, it’s been a while. Far too long, in my opinion. I’ve spent the last two months in Germany with very infrequent internet access, and after a few weeks, I decided to embrace it and completely abandon technology. No visiting internet cafes to keep up with Facebook, check my email, and maintain that subtle connection to the world that we all gain by spending an hour on the web. I bought a phone card and kept in touch with my family the old-fashioned way.
I traveled all over Germany, visiting 30 cities in just six weeks, and when my grand Deutsch tour ended last week, I calculated that I had slept in approximately 130 different places in the last six months. What does that do to a person? I feel good, I am happy and healthy, I’ve seen many things, and met many people, received a lot of help, been able to give it as well, and have grown up a bit. But still, I am curious to see what effects such a transient lifestyle might have on me once I am standing still for a while.
In the midst of all this moving around, however, I’ve been able to maintain my favorite routine, which may be why I’m still feeling well-balanced and sane. That routine, of course, is running. And what runs I’ve had! Along the river right through the heart of Berlin, up into the hills in Wuerzburg, Germany’s wine country, along the cliffs overlooking the Rhine, and my favorite runs – following the main road out of a village, finding a logging road twisting up out of sight into the mountains, and climbing up, up, up, until my legs can’t go anymore. If there is one thing that I really, really appreciate about Germany, it is the never-ending network of trails and bikeways. No matter where I’ve been, however small or big the town, from tiny villages to Berlin, there has always been a trail to be found, linking nearby towns, mountains paths, parks, and rivers. And you can never go too far without signs informing you of what lay ahead and behind you, in every direction, and how far away it is. Example: on one of my runs in Thuringia, the “Green Heart” of Germany, I was about two miles into a trail run through the forest in the mountains outside a small village. I hadn’t seen a person or a house for 30 minutes, I felt blissfully alone and free to run as if the trail were all mine. I came up over a curve, and was greeted by 3 signs letting me know that 35 km down a trail branching eastward I would find another town, 11 km straight ahead I would reach a 2nd small village, and if I dropped slightly west, I would reach a Schloss, a castle, in just 5 km. I stood and laughed for a minute – it was such a strange sight to me, to see signs of order and civilization way out in the middle of nowhere. I remembered that even when I crossed the desert in Southeastern California on the one main highway, the only sign had stated simply “No Services Next 100 Miles”.
When I got home, my German friend laughed at my fascination with these trail signs – he explained that that is perfectly normal here, that those signs are everywhere. He tells me that they like to call Germany the sign forest. I like that.
So now, here I am, back in one town in Thuringia for the next two and half weeks, and with regular internet access. A lot has happened in two months, and while I’ve had the time of my life exploring via running, and have embraced the disconnect from technology, I’ve been feeling that something is missing. I’ve realized, after countless sightseeing expeditions in all the great cities of Germany, that those experiences start to have very little value, very little fulfillment, when they are not shared with anyone. I always thought I was a bit of a loner, but after seeing so many buildings, walking along so many cute cafe-lined streets, and going back to a hotel and not really being able to share the experience with anyone, you really start to wonder if there is any point to it, any reason to go out and see those churches and museums. It provides physical and intellectual stimulation, yes, but then who to discuss it with?
And so I started to think about this experience compared with my run across the country, because I was quite alone in that endeavor as well. But what I realized was that during the run, I was in fact connected in so many ways to humanity, in a way I never had been before. I visited Boys & Girls Clubs, I dined with city officials, and slept at strangers’ houses. And every single night, I got to share the day’s experiences in my most favorite way – I got to write about them. And every morning, I got to read comments from friends and family, and I got to check my blog stats, and realize that people were actually reading, and I was actually getting to share every step of the run with hundreds of people.
And so, after all this running around Germany, without the internet, with a private journal but without a blog, I’ve realized how much I’ve missed writing, and sharing my experiences through words. Just now, I was sitting here, drinking a coffee and reading a book, and Alex started to play the song “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty. A song which my Dad played for me last summer and which accompanied me throughout so many miles across the country. And without thinking about it, I was opening up my laptop, typing in http://www.wordpress.com, and starting this blog entry. I don’t know how often I will be wired in online, but writing is therapy for me, and when it enables me to share life’s experiences with my family, friends, and fellow runners and adventurers, it is even better.
And so, while I am still in Germany for 3 weeks, and then Italy for two, even being able to write here again, I feel as if I am coming home in a way.