When I was small, like really small, my parents took me to camping once a year in summer. At that time, it was simply an annual event that I had to go through. Even though I had no particular sentiment for it, probably I wouldn’t have been fond of it if I did. It’s a weird feeling that I’m organizing it myself, years later. But it’s not only about me. There are a lot of people who didn’t like to go hiking when they were small. It’s a wonder how radically a person can change.
Yes, we went camping this weekend. And I must say, it was not an easy decision for me. The idea was around for quite some time, but I could not make a decisive step. Probably I was hoping I would meet someone like Adrián, who would have organized a trip like this independently. It never happened, but the idea of going hiking fascinated me for quite some time. In the end, I decided to do it myself. Not just for fun, but also as an experience.
It makes little sense to go camping nearby, like why should we ever camp in Düsseldorf. On the other hand, with virtually no experience I did not want to go very far and fail. Haltern, which is close to Essen, appeared to me like a good compromise between distance and handiness. It is still within the VRR region, so even if we fail, it is still easy to go back home, but still fairly far away so that camping makes sense.
Usually there’s at least one camping ground at each major lake. There was one at Haltern, “Hoher Niemen”, which was not directly at the train station, but not quite far away (~3km?). With all the stuff like tents and grills, I thought still it was too far away. So I asked Denis if he could bring his car, so that we can stuff his car with all the equipment at the train station and we see each other at the camping site, then go hiking together. I had essentially zero idea of how many people would go hiking. So except for having talked about the necessity of maybe a few cars, I did not specifically ask anyone to bring their cars.
I was naïve. I realized how naïve I was a few weeks before the event, as the number of people signed up easily surpassed 50. I secured a few cars more and still it wasn’t clear, whether we’d manage to transport all the stuff. Also there was a question of BBQ, since my mini grill that I bought for my personal usage was way too hopeless in view of this number of people.
Instead of previous evening, I created the WhatsApp group a few days before the hike, to enable those who didn’t have a tent to look for someone who can share a spot or two. It looked like everyone was speaking and no one was listening. There were a few people who must have been planning to joining us, but probably looking at what was happening there, they must have given up the hope.
The weather wasn’t particularly bad last week, but this weekend, we saw that the already a week of good weather saw an extremely good weather. It’s not that surprising that it doesn’t rain so much in summer, but I would have certainly not hoped more than what we saw today.
At Düsseldorf central in the morning, there were already quite some people in the morning with quite some equipment. Of course they were all about to go camping with us, but somewhere in my mind, I was wondering “what are these people expecting?”, as if I was a complete outsider, or actually even worse, I was having the sensation of being a person who was about to destroy the expectations of a large group of people. Somewhere in my mind, I still couldn’t believe that they were trusting me after all.
At Haltern am See, there was a free parking right next to the train station. There were around 7 cars already there waiting for us. In that moment, we were already something like 40 people. Good that there wasn’t only Denis’s car… We put all the stuff in the cars and headed to the camping ground. The cars in the meantime went to the camping ground. Even though I only connected the train station and the camping ground via some paths, it was actually quite lovely. And somehow we also managed to avoid all the bikes which are omnipresent around Haltern due to its flat landscape.
The camping ground was run by a couple who looked like it was their hobby to run that camping ground. We were fully stuck in the conversation with them. Those who didn’t understand German were wondering how we could be talking as much. In this moment, we found out that the beach of Haltern was closed this weekend because of a festival. We had to start getting worried about that.
The hike after that seemed almost like going through a chore before achieving the real purpose of the trip. Just like the first part of the trail, there were only few cyclists. We must have been really lucky in this part.
Break right next to the river, that led to the lake in Haltern. It looked like the perfect place to spend the evening afterwards. Pity that it was a bit far away from the camping ground. In this lovely place, we tried to collect the information on what we want to eat during BBQ in the evening. Fortunately there was very little to do for me as Jen took it almost entirely over. We had essentially no idea whether what we buy is going to be enough or too scarce, although BBQ tends to leave a lot of stuff afterwards, but this time we decided to let everyone write whatever they come up with and buy all the stuff.
At the end of the break, we collected the paper. It was a great mixture of chaos. Anyway, we walked back to the camping ground going along a lovely path just as we were seeing the whole day (in this sense this could very well have been a normal hike today).
When we were about to leave the camping ground, it appeared to me like everyone wanted to change what they had written on the paper. Anyway we went to the nearby EDEKA by Jan’s car. Not easy to decipher some mysterious items some people wanted. Anyway we got all what we needed.
Back at the camping ground, the others had already put up the tents. They had made a circle and in the middle there were grills. Looked like a native American tribe (or at least what I imagine native Americans did). I brought my newly bought small grill. I bought this one, because there are disposable grills in Germany, which consist of aluminium frame with charcoal of horrible quality. The idea of having a hand bag sized grill, however, was very attractive to me. So instead of using disposable grills, I decided to buy a solid one of similar size. Hopefully I’ll be able to do BBQ in different places this summer.
We have done BBQ already a few times this year, but this time it felt like a whole new experience. Maybe the number of people (around 40) or maybe because we were camping. Anyway this was a great moment that marked the difference between a normal weekend trip and a camping trip. Some people also told me what a nice experience it was. And it was not out of politeness.
During the BBQ, Jen gathered all the money from every person. Luckily, I had pretty much nothing to do during the whole evening. It’s really great to enjoy the event without having to do anything organizational.
After the BBQ, we went over to the lake, or more precisely, we went to the river and stayed there the rest of the evening. Some of them started swimming. The guitars Ben brought made a hippie-ish atmosphere. And somewhat it was what I imagined what a perfect summer night would look like with really cool people. Some of them started swimming in the river as well. I had drunk way too much beer, so I decided not to go into water because I wasn’t really sure if I would keep equilibrium. Some people even started smoking marijuana, which was brought from the neighboring Dutch city. We had slightly less beer than what we needed and we finished the last bit of wine on the spot, although it was maybe good that there wasn’t more alcohol in that moment.
Sometime in the night we went back to the camping ground. I fell asleep really quickly. So good to be able to do so much nonsense and to be able to sleep there directly.
Next day, somehow we all woke up around 9am. Pretty much all of us had ordered breakfast at the camping ground, which was supposed to be two bread rolls with a cup of tea or coffee. Even though they insisted we order on the previous day (which we did), they did not prepare anything beforehand, which made each of us wait something like 30 min. Besides the two rolls turned out to be one roll cut in two parts. This for 4 € is hard to explain…
After some discussion, we decided to go to Silbersee, which was not quite far away from Haltern. Just as yesterday, we did the first part on foot while the cars went back to the same station as yesterday. We were burning under the never ending blue sky.
There was maybe still 2 or 3 kilometers to go before the entrance of Silbersee, we started spotting the traffic jam caused by the holiday makers. We were really lucky that we decided to go there on foot instead of by car. At least for pedestrians there was no queue or whatsoever.
Even though the traffic jam was horrible, the park itself wasn’t as full as I had feared, although it would have well been uncomfortable if there had been 10% more people. We got a place quickly and went to the water, which was, just as everywhere in Germany, not the best quality, but still you wouldn’t mind swimming there in contrast to many German lakes (which has been reported for example here recently).
We stayed there until the end of the day. As the time went by, there were less and less people from our group. We were essentially the last ones to leave the place. From Haltern Olaf drove me back to Düsseldorf. And our extremely long and concentrated weekend went to an end.
And so was the end of my very first experience to organize a hiking trip. Just by reading this report, it is certainly difficult for you to figure out what an enriching experience it was, although I hope you still understand it meant a lot to me. In many aspects it went beyond my expectations. My concern consisted of three main issues; firstly, I was not sure if this trip was going to be something special, i.e. I was not sure if this was more than two hikes on two days. Secondly, I thought there could be problems with money/time schedule or whatsoever that had to be treated centrally. Lastly, and most importantly, I was afraid of having unexpected trouble, which is of course the most horrifying issue, although I was extremely curious about this point.
Concerning the first two points, I’ve already made implicit statements that they did not present any problem at all, although I should probably say Jen took over a large amount of work so I might not be the right person to give a judgement. For the last part, I should probably say that there wasn’t any unexpected problem, but still I’d like to point out one thing: during the entire trip I had to answer tons of questions, ranging from how long the hike was, who’s going to buy stuff for BBQ to what the weather will be like, whether we should go for breakfast together, etc. They were all innocent questions and as a scientist, it would be horribly wrong if I’d forbid questions, but just by doing the simple math, let’s say if every person asks three questions, I’d get easily more than 100 questions. And there’s a certain number of people who tend to simply ask as many questions as they can think of. Even though I still don’t want to criticize them, I have to find a way to avoid this situation next time, by assigning more organizers or giving tasks to other people.
Except for this, I list a few points that should be done better next time:
We had to buy cutlery and dishes this time, which produced only waste in many aspects. We should ask the participants to bring their own stuff for the BBQ.
Since we have to collect money, it’s extremely important to have a lot of coins in advance.
The cost of BBQ (around 7€ per person) was not quite negligible for those who don’t get a salary, although for those who work it was like nothing. We should think about how to distribute the cost better in order for everyone to be able to participate with no hindrance.
We should have bought the charcoal beforehand so that while we were going shopping the others could have started putting fire.
Jen brought garbage bags but I should have brought some as well (actually we need quite a large number of them on the spot).