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January 2019

A muskrat going about its business. Notice the black clouds in the background.
A muskrat going about its business. Notice the black clouds in the background.

I had decided to take a nice walk along the Rhine river. The Black Forest was not an option — there had been so much snow at once and thus the risk of being hit by a branch falling from a tree was too great. I checked the weather forecast and it was supposed to be cloudy with some sunny spells, 8 degrees Celsius. Perfect. I took the tram to Linkenheim. 30 seconds after I left the train, the first raindrops started to fall. Thankfully I had brought rain trousers, just in case... it started to rain cats and dogs while I was still hopping around on one leg, trying to put them on. Ten minutes later, water dripping off the edges of my clothing, I noticed it was soaking through my right boot. Werenn't they supposed to be GoreTex waterproof? And then the hail started, with the wind coming right at my face. What a lovely day! It promised to be – as I had hoped – a solitary outing, devoid of any fair weather walkers. If you have ever wondered what it feels like to get caught in a cold front, this would have been your chance!

As if nothing had happened, the low winter sun illuminates the floodplain forest.
As if nothing had happened, the low winter sun illuminates the floodplain forest.

After an hour and a bit I arrived at the Rhine ferry Leimersheim. At this time of the year it only runs in the morning and in the afternoon to serve commuters. It wasn't afternoonish enough yet, so I drank a hot chocolate at the Restaurant Rheinblick near the ferry to pass the time. Though it had stopped raining, it had cooled down considerably and the thought of waiting outside for 20 minutes wasn't inviting, even to me.

Rhine gauge at Maxau.
Rhine gauge at Maxau.

The ferry ride was enjoyable, and, as promised, the sun had come out! I was really looking forward to walking south along the river towards Wörth, watching ships and birds and enjoying the day. And so it was, for the next few kilometers. Ah, but then, did I mention that all the snow from the Black Forest and southern Germany in general had already started to melt and that water levels of the Rhine had risen considerably in the last 24 hours? And it was forecasted to rise even further. Soon I came across several sections of the path that were partly inundated, with waves washing over it whenever a ship passed. When there was a longer section with deeper water, I had to take a detour through the forest to bypass it. Then there came the moment when I couldn't even see when and where the path would resurface again. So I decided to leave the path at a right angle to reach the dike to the west.

Inundated bridge.
Inundated bridge.
Inundated section of the path.
Inundated section of the path.

The woodland was full of dry nettle stalks, mud and rotting logs. In between, the tracks of wild boars were clearly visible. Is it a good idea to follow their well-trodden path into the thick undergrowth? Probably not! Using the GPS and map on my phone, I navigated from one distinguished tree to the next, until I reached ... an unexpected body of water which was not inidcated on the map. Apparently, water levels were already much higher than usual and there was water in places where it was not supposed to be! The flow direction indicated that there would be no chance of reaching the dike this way. No choice left but to go back to the north and either take a big detour to reach the dike, or simply go back the way I came. I decided for the second option - at least then I could enjoy some more of the river view.

One of the inundated sections of the path that I had crossed earlier happened to be a bridge, so it was not possible to just walk around it. And as the water had risen even further (I estimated 5cm per hour), now it turned out to be too deep to get through with dry feet (apart from the fact that my right foot was still wet anyway). So I had to take off my shoes and wade through barefoot. What a wonderful adventure!

Nightfall over the Old Harbour.
Nightfall over the Old Harbour.

The remainder of the day was fairly unspectacular; I went back to the ferry, crossed the river again and then walked along Linkenheim Old Harbour to the tram station to return home. It was already dark, but the half moon and open sky provided sufficient light, and I was walking on a dike now, so no chance of getting lost or wet any more.