It was first Bogdan’s idea to go hiking inside the VRS area (around Köln), when we were in lockdown. We did it a couple of times and I really liked that area. If you live around Düsseldorf you certainly know that VRS is an area that cannot be reached for free with the VRR tickets, which are what most of the people living in Düsseldorf and the Ruhr area have. So, so far I mostly avoided VRS for this reason, but now after having done so many hikes inside the VRR area, and also because of this thing called Bahncard 50, that I bought recently, which allows me to travel to Cologne for little money, I decided to start organising hikes inside VRS as well. And today was essential the first try in this series.
As I expected, I saw a lot of new faces on the event page. It was funny to see that a lot of them started writing me yesterday telling me that it was their first time. Not quite surprisingly for me, but maybe slightly surprisingly for them, they were the majority. I’m glad that Zaman joined, because he understands the autonomous spirit of the group.
Today’s trail was the first (or the last – depending on the definition) section of what’s called Sieghöhenweg. Bogdan and I did one section together during lockdown. While today’s trail was the first section, we did it in the opposite direction, meaning we walked from the beginning of the second section to the beginning of Sieghöhenweg. This has a certain reason: A lot of people do this kind of long hiking trail (this one is around 200 km), but not many of them make it till the end. And since they usually follow the sections as they are defined, there’s always a stronger flow from outside to inside. In addition, as for today, there was also another reason: I wanted to finish in the city of Siegburg, which I know has a beautiful city center, which I somehow never managed to visit.
At the beginning of the hike, as usual, we made a large human circle to see what social distancing should look like. I explained the usual stuff, e.g. what it means from the scientific point of view, we want to stick to the existing rules, the fact that I’d rather trust their sense of responsibility etc. Well, trusting the sense of responsibility is a super important point for me, since if they break the rule and the police catch us, I will be made responsible for that and end up getting a 25,000 euro bill. At least I knew that the ones I knew knew what they were doing. I simply decided to see what the new ones do.
As I had announced in the WhatsApp group right before we arrived, I walked fairly fast at the beginning to make the density lower (which follows what’s called Bernouilli’s principle ✌️). Anyway it wouldn’t have been so nice to be walking slowly in this unusual strong sun for Germany with a lot of cyclists along the way at the beginning. Throughout the day, I almost never stopped. So unusual for me since I usually tend to stick to the tail group.
Even though it was just a mistake that I made in a hurry in the morning, it was definite a wrong decision to take a winter jacket today. I guess the temperature was close to 30 degrees with pretty much no cloud to see. Luckily, we were mostly walking in the shadow (although that’s not the impression that I’m getting while looking at the photos…), but whenever we could see the clear sky, we had to dash to the next shadow to not be burnt down.
East of Cologne is a mountainous area, but fortunately we were not far from the Rhine, so after the first slope shooting up to a certain height, we didn’t have to go up and down a lot.
We had a break in a field right next to Stallberg, at a playground. I didn’t talk about this so far, but actually I did this trail some time ago during the lockdown. At that time, this playground was closed, meaning children were not allowed to play there. Frankly, there’s not quite anything that bothered me during lockdown, but it was painful for me to think we were restricting the freedom of the smallest lives that cannot even protest, even though they are the ones who need it the most. I don’t know whether we, adults, can possibly justify what we were doing, but at least we should be aware of the huge responsibility we carry for oppressing the weakest in the society.
However, my feeling was quite obviously not strongly echoed in the group – there were indeed people who openly ignored social distancing among the new ones. I had to undergo this bitter moment when they even started justifying what they were doing, with no logical argument. Again, ignoring social distancing (in a sport event of more than 10 people) is not only scientifically wrong, but it’s also illegal. And I’m pretty sure that everyone knows that the organizer is held responsible for law infringements.
It is saddening for me to realise that while I often heard people thank me for organising these hiking events, maybe I was in fact hearing empty words. Well, it may have been real, but the more important reality probably is that they were also fine with the fact that I’m held accountable for their law infringements in the end, and who knows, if I get caught it’s gonna be the very moment for me to realise that there was actually no one to rely on.
In fact, I’m having to put up with more blows these days, as I naïvely always believed people would listen to scientists, which I today have to admit is certainly not the case. And I also always thought we can change ourselves whenever there’s a problem in the society, whether it’s global warming, income inequality, racial inequality or gender inequality etc. But just as much as we are simply accusing other people during this pandemic, the reality is probably more like racial minorities are simply accusing the majority, and feminists are just accusing men. In the end, what we have been doing for years is simply to force others to change, without even trying to change ourselves.
We had a short walk after the break, then took a train back home.
P.S. I quote Zaman: “Many people are still careful”. Yes, that’s true. I shouldn’t give up on something important just because of a small number of people. Let’s keep going.