Frankenweg – Franconian Way – Part 1

How do you quantify new beginnings? How do you measure the excitement, the joy, the trepidation and also the apprehension and fear, that always seem to come along with the new. I have no answers to these questions, but I am aware, sometimes painfully so, that the only way to go, always….is forward. You can’t be stuck and you shouldn’t return to what wasn’t working…even if it means that sometimes the path forward might be a solitary one. It is what it is and it’ll all somehow end up being ok….I promise.

The Franconian Way (Frankenweg) is another long-distance hiking path that starts at the northern edge of Bavaria, in a place where several long-distance paths converge, it is aptly called the ‘hiking hub’ (Wanderdrehkreuz) in Blankenstein/ Untereisenstein. The Franconian Way covers some of the most amazing natural sights and beautiful walking that can be found north of the Alps and spans a length of roughly 520km or 323mi. And it’s my project for 2021 – since I still can’t really go travel and hike where I want to (like most of us ūüôĀ ).

Day 0: Blankenstein – somewhere in the woods (~3.5km)

It’s been a while since I’ve done this….actually packed a backpack for an overnight stay and several days of hiking, but it turns out it’s like riding a bike – you might get rusty, but you never quite forget the routine. And it’s such a familiar routine, like slipping back into warm, comfortable shoes.
On the afternoon of Good Friday I made my way (slowly, slowly, through varous means of transportation) to Blankenstein, a place I’ve been to before, seemingly in another life. At a spot next to the river, right next to the former border between East and West Germany, is a place where several long-distance hiking paths come together and this is where, almost 3 years ago I started the Franconian Mountain Trail (Fr√§nkischer Gebirgsweg) – it seems surreal.

The circumstances of course couldn’t be more different, I couldn’t be more different…it’s always funny how day to day nothing seems to change, yet when you look back, everything is different. But I digress….

I didn’t spend much time at the monument, because it was already late in the day and getting chilly. So I crossed the bridge and of course the trail doesn’t waste any time shattering your illusions about it being an easy stroll….and immediately heads uphill. Thankfully it’s a beautiful day, even though it is pretty cold for the beginning of April, but the climb warms me up real fast. And it’s over faster than I expected anyway, taking me to a lookout tower with a spiral (see-through) staircase and some pretty nice views from the top. It’s super windy up here so I don’t really spend much time on top, before heading back down the way I came, retracing my steps almost to the bottom of the hill and then cutting across on some old dead-end gravel road to set up shelter for the night.

The sunset, while obstructed by trees, is still breathtaking, deep red, crystal clear air, it’ll be a cold night. After enjoying some hot cup noodles I snuggle into my trusted quilt (ahhhh, feels like home) and listen to some Podcast until it gets dark. Hiker midnight is here before I know it and I drift off to sleep, eager to really start the journey in the morning.

Day 2: somewhere in the woods – Prinz-Luitpold Turm (~25km)

The night was colder than expected and I’m also pretty sure I didn’t eat enough the evening before to keep the furnace burning and thus keep me warm. Ah well, it’s all a learning curve, even after so many years of doing this. I wake up early, as usual, but am slow to move in the cold morning. But of course, eventually, I do. It’s switchbacks down the hillside, back to the official trail, and then some easy walking in a gorge along a stream. There are a few people out and about, even this early in the morning, and I stop to have a nice conversation with a few local ladies. They’re all amazed at how someone would voluntarily sleep out in the cold, carrying everything on thir backs – it’s the same conversation I’ve had many times, and it still makes me smile – and one of the ladies offers up her vacation rental, should I not find a suitable place to stay tonigh. I politely decline, but faith in humanity is restored again by the kindness of strangers…eery little bit helps.

Further along the trail takes a morbidly hilarious turn when I pass through HELL (H√∂lle) on my way, yes that is the actual name of the settlement….but I gotta say, if hell looks like this, i wouldn’t mind being stuck there.

The next few hours are kind of a blur….just ambling along, up hills and down the other side, seeing some wildlife and lots of people…but nothing really stands out in my memory on this stretch, until I get to Naila, the only biggish town today and am able to buy some extra woolly socks to keep my feet warm tonight (hopefully). Continuing on the trail gets boring for a while, just crossing fields and agricultural use areas, until the last climb for the day is before me.

One more big push and I’m on the hilltop at Prinz-Luitpold Trum, a lookout tower with see-through metal steps (nope, not going up there…), a closed up hut and a few benches and a picnic table. There’s a lot of open area for camping, but it’s also kind of exposed, making me worried for the wind chill tonight…but alas, what can you do. After typical April weather all day – rain, sun, hail, sun, snow, sun, wind, repeat – I mentally prepare myself for another unpredictable night. Some cheesy pasta warms me from the inside and sooner than I anticipated, I’m once again snuggled in, double layer of warm socks on my feet.

Day 3: Prinz-Luitpold Turm – Zeyern (32km)

Waking up after a not as freezing night is such a good feeling. The sun was even peeking through the clouds, making it a little easier to get up and get moving. Still, there was frost on the tent – in April. Since it was Easter Sunday, there were quite a few people already moving about even this early in the morning, which is always a little awkward when you’re crawling out of a tent looking like a homeless person….
It took a while to get everything packed, I tried to let the tent dry out a bit in the sunlight while having coffee and some crunchy breakfast stuff. By the time I finally got a move on it was almost 10am, VERY late for me.

The walk was pretty non-distinct today, easy terrain, slightly undulating, through fields and woods, up hills and down again. Nothing remarkable, but it was a beautiful day to be out walking, so it was nice. One little area kind of made me sad, because it was a huge clear cut with piles and piles of sawdust and shredded wood. Kinda felt like walking through an alien landscape and thankfully didn’t last long.

The miles sort of walked themselves today, just cruising along the trail, and before I knew it I had hit the 30km mark – woohoo. Walking into the sunset with some nice views and epic lighting, I managed to reach Zeyern and the main road just as it was getting dark. I timed it perfectly, too, because not even 15 minutes after I got there my friend showed up to give me a ride. We got some burgers and fries, always a treat after a long day of walking, and I collapsed into exhausted sleep at her place -thanks Jo ūüėÄ

The first stretch on the Frankenweg started out promising and I’m excited for what’s coming up. Until next time…keeping you posted…

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