Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. 7 Countries. More than 8000 kilometres, 219 days, 4 summers (and 1 winter).
E1 in a nutshell.
From the Far North to the Deep South. From the tundra in Finnmark to the steppe like landscape on Sicily. Through the vast Swedish forests, never ending corn fields in Germany, across the Alps and into the unknown, rugged Apennine and along coasts up north and down south. A trail scattered with milestones. Completing the Scandinavian peninsula, spotting the Alps, while still deep in the black forest, arriving home, seeing the Mediterranean near Genova and many more.
What a ride it has been. I have no idea, where I should start with the summary of my E1 adventure. I'm not even sure if I should call it E1 or simply my hike across Europe. While I was following E1 for most of the 7 months, I created my own hike here and there. Namely in the southern part of Sweden, Denmark and then again in Campania and Calabria. Up north because I was enjoying my hike so much and wanted to add some more regions, down south because E1 was either not defined or I didn't want to risk getting stuck in overgrown or non-existing tracks. A completely differing, everchanging hiking experience as I make my way south.
I still remember my first day on E1 like it was yesterday. Fog, briefly lifting, letting the sun through, creating a mystical atmosphere, as I leave Nordkapp at three in the morning. Embarking into a new adventure. Little would I know how unforgettable it is going to be,
Norway is wild. Sparse. With long stretches where neither paths nor markings are existing. Mosquitoes, snow, river crossings the unforgivable weather add to the challenge. So does the solitude. Long stretches in between civilization. Food for 300 kilometres leads to a heavy backpack. Yet, I love my time up there. Each and every day. Days, which are long. Never-ending. Walking in the midnight sun is an unforgettable experience.
As I enter the Sweden with its forest, the hiking changes. The trees give me the comforting feeling of being sheltered. Yet, they
have a confining effect. I miss the views. However, basically every day a vindskydd (a shelter) is awaiting me. Generally, idyllically nestled to a lake. Surprisingly, I have them for myself.
Many evenings, I spend swimming in these lakes, before warming myself up in front of the campfire. A wonderful ending of a hiking day. More often than not, these evenings where the highlight of
my day. Even when I hit the coast in Skane, leaving the forest behind. If there is something like thru-hiking romance that's probably as close as I ever get. I feel light-hearted. Happy. I am
hiking and living in the here and now, An unforgettable feeling. After exactly 100 days, I reach Sweden's southernmost point, completing the Scandinavian peninsula.
What follows next is Denmark. In November. A good idea? Well, until today I am not sure. Yes, it is cold, windy, wet. And dark. The days are short, many hours I walk in the darkness. Nevertheless, walking the deserted beaches and huge dunes, hardly able to withstand the wind, passing through towns with their Christmas decoration, spending the evenings in the vindskydds, reading my book by candlelight, trying to stay warm, gives my time in Denmark a special touch. An experience I have not had before.
The following summer, it's time to leave Scandinavia. Germany is calling. Honestly, I do not have high expectations. Lots of forest, flat terrain, cocky Germans. Things I thought would be awaiting me hiking Germany.
As a result, I don't feel overly enthusiastic when I resume my hike in Flensburg on a wet and cold spring day. But my not too optimistic mindset is helping me to be positively surprised more easily. By the trail, the scenery and by the people. In fact, I very much enjoy my hike across Germany.
Yes, the terrain is flat for most of the first three weeks. A hill of more than 200 meters is the exception. A highlight even. Yet, the walk from Eckernförde to Kiel along the Ostsee is one to remember. Wonderful late spring weather, along a beautiful, deserted stretch of rugged coastline
The lakes disappear, the temperatures are getting higher as I make my way south. The heat. A new phenomenon on E1. Something to get used to. Walking E1 in Germany is fairly civilized. Plenty of resupply points, plenty of ice cream. I am surprised by the German's hospitability. More often than not I can camp in people’s backyard or even in their homes. They offer me food and plenty of beer. Not a single night I spend on a campground or in a hostel or hotel, And I must admit, once I cross the border into Switzerland, I feel a bit guilty. Germany has proven me wrong. In hindsight, Germany has been a refreshing hiking experience.
The next 250 kilometres across Switzerland are so different to Germany. First and foremost, they are on home Turf, then the terrain: mountainous with lakes every couple of kilometres. The way I like it. Furthermore, there's the great company of Fredy and the wonderful surprise of meeting Klaus and Gisela. This all adds to a lovely 10 days in Switzerland. Yet, I am happy to reach the Italian border. My feet feel tired and the hot weather too, has left its marks.
After a well-needed break, I tackle Italy a couple of weeks later. Resuming E1 in Porto Ceresio. From the very beginning, it is
somewhat of a struggle. The three-week break is too short to fully recover from the previous stint across Germany and Switzerland, yet long enough to throw me out of my thru-hiking
rhythm. Additionally, the first week, leading me across the Po flat, is mentally demanding: flat out boring through a desolate landscape with the odd dirty, smelly village thrown in
between. Dogs keep barking at me. For most of the time, hiking trails are often non-existent and thus plenty of the first 250 kilometres on asphalt. The cycle tracks along the Ticino
River are okay while the stretches on roads are, thanks to the terrible Italian drivers, not a lot of fun.
Things change dramatically once I enter the Ligurian Mountains, where proper, well-marked hiking trails are popping up. With the clearer air and the higher altitude, the views are getting better with every day. When I spot the Mediterranean, I must shed a tear of joy as I start to realize how far I have come on my E1 adventure. Mentally, this helps me a lot. And I need this extra motivation as the trail is getting physically demanding as I head into the Apennine. Lots of ups and downs, sometimes on technically demanding trails. Never dangerous or extremely exposed though. E1 becomes surprisingly remote at times, meaning my backpack is generally rather heavy with food for up to six days and plenty of water. However, my effort is rewarded with spectacular ridge walks, breathtaking views and lovely camping spots (while officially not allowed) wild camping in Italy is absolutely doable. Especially in the Ligurian Mountains and the Apennine I never struggle to find a spot). It's exquisite hiking and one of the best so far on E1. After pausing near Firenze for the winter, I continue in 2023, where I have left the trail a couple of months earlier.
I am mentally fighting with myself, making my hike harder than it should be. Around the earthquake destroyed area of Amatrice, I reach a personal low. Never in my thru-hiking career did I struggle with myself so much. I am close to giving up. I'm glad for all the support I receive from home and overseas. It helps me to change my attitude, accept certain things the way they are, even see the good things in them. Like the rain.
Italy is a long country. Walking down its spine seems never ending. Until I hit the coast.
Different walking. No more rain. Sunny and hot. Very hot. Mostly enjoyable walking. Having the deep blue sea to my right, always available for a swim, gives me good feeling. It feels like I am flying down the boot and across Sicily towards Italy's southernmost point and southern terminus of E1.
Of all countries hiked, Italy is by far the most challenging. Physically, with the heat and the mountainous terrain until reaching the coast but especially mentally.
Many hours have I thought about it. Trying to figure the 'why'. Why the mental struggle? Is it the 'walking away from home', the difficulty to connect with the locals, the barely existing hiking culture? Or not knowing if the tracks I walk on are really existing. The uncertainty. The missing identity of E1 in the middle and south of Italy. Maybe a combination. Maybe also the fact that E1 has been consuming me a lot for the past 4 years and I am somewhat tired. 8000 kilometres is a big number to walk.
To cut a long story short:
On E1 in Norway, the trail, the journey is my destination. The spectacular, mountainous scenery, the solitude, the remoteness, the untouched nature, the hospitality of its people is simply unbeatable. But also extremely challenging is adding to the positive experience.
In Sweden, after hiking through forest most of the time, the amazing shelters or vindskydd (as they call them), which were usually nestled close to pristine lakes and provided firewood and comfortable sleeping possibilities, were undoubtedly the highlight, my destination of the day. Germany was, what I would consider, comfort hiking. A country able to really surprise me. In a good way. Getting close to Switzerland, home, was the driving factor for most across Germany. Switzerland, well, that is home. Unique, different. Not much to add. Then Italy with its ups and downs in so many ways. Being so far into my adventure there is really no turning back or giving up. My motivation. So I continue. And knock the bastard off.