Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

June 5, 2005

What is a Volksmarch?

A volksmarch is an organized hike or walk (or run, if you prefer) which usually covers a distance of 10 or 20 kilometers (6.2 or 12.4 miles).  Some clubs also offer 5, 42 or 50 kilometer trails. The 5 or 10 kilometer trails are highly recommended if you are new to volksmarching.  The trail usually goes through woods or near historic or scenic areas. It is designed to appeal to everyone and it is not a contest of speed or endurance. Volksmarching (walking) is good exercise and encourages outdoor physical activity for people of all ages and physical condition. It is a great family activity, it is lots of fun and provides an opportunity to make new friends from all over.
Volksmarch originated in Germany during the early nineteen sixties. Originally designed to promote as competitive running events, the program gradually lost its appeal to the general public. To regain public interest, West Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria founded the Internationaler Volkssportverband (IVV), or International Federation of Popular Sports in 1968. The countries developed a union of nonprofit sports organizations to promote folkssport (family-oriented, for the general public) events. Volkssport started in the United States in 1976 in Fredericksburg. In June 1979, the American Volkssport Association (AVA) was formally organized and officially recognized by the IVV.   Today, there are thirty-three member nations involved in volkssport, including the United States, Canada and much of Europe, and member clubs stage a variety of events including walking, biking, swimming and skiing.
Getting there
To find walking events in your area, look them up on the (AVA) http://www.ava.org/ or Deutscher Volkssportverband (DVV) http://www.dvv-wandern.de/ websites.   Almost every weekend in Germany, there will be an event within a reasonable driving distance.   Events are less common in the USA, but many clubs offer permanent trails that can be completed any day of the week.
At the start
The price for the standard start card is 1.50 euros for an IVV-stamp and includes insurance should you injure yourself on the trail. If the club offers an award that you want, your start card will cost 3.80 euros (1.50 euros standard price plus 2.30 euros for the award).
On the trail
To help you find your way, paths normally are well marked. The most common trail markings consist of brightly colored tape wrapped around tree branches, posts etc. Other methods include painted signs or even arrows placed on the ground in sawdust. When multiple distances are offered, the club will use different colored markers to help the walker distinguish between trails.

Control points, or Kontrolle, are posted every three to six kilometers. Present your start card for a validation stamp. These Kontrolle stops serve as break areas. Usually you can find free tea or buy sandwiches, sodas or even some alcoholic beverages.
Rewarding end
After you successfully complete the walk, present your validated start card and any IVV incentive awards program books at the Stempelstelle table. The awards program is separate from the prize found at each walk and is broken into two types of participation: events (10, 30, 50 and every additional 25 events) and distance (every 500 kilometers). Through this program, you can earn awards consisting of stick pins, cloth patches and certificates indicating your level of achievement.

Once your books are marked with the official IVV stamp your start card will be returned to you if you purchased an award.  The awards vary from club to club, but some of the more popular prizes are decorative plates, beer steins, cups and stuffed toys.  Retrieve your award from the table marked Mediallenausgabe.

These events usually are very festive and include inexpensive food and drink and, many times, live music at the start hall.

Now that you’ve finished your walk, grab a bratwurst and a drink!

June 1, 2005


5 Countries

I guess it actually all started the day before we left on our most recent trip. I was completing the steps necessary to earn a German Proficiency Badge, which includes several sports events, a “road march”, and German pistol qualification. I had done the sports events the week before, which included swimming, running, jumping (high and long) and even the shot put, and next week is the Pistol range. But 24 hours before we took off this time on our latest adventure, I began a 15 mile “road march” in boots and uniform with a 25 lb. rucksack on my back that I needed to complete in 4 hours and 10 minutes. I didn’t have very much time to train for the road march because I didn’t know I was expected to do it until only five days before. So I did it cold, and within only a couple of miles of the start, all the walking muscles and tendons in my legs started to get stretched and pulled…and at every time check along the route, I was only a minute or two ahead of failing, … even at the fast pace I was keeping. And by the last couple miles, I didn’t know which leg to limp on. My final time was 4 hours 4 minutes.

All of that would normally not be a big deal, and some soreness expected after such an event, but the very next day we were leaving to go on trip to Austria, …TO GO HIKING. I could barely walk down the stairs in the morning, but sitting in the car didn’t hurt, so I had a pleasant time being a passenger (Rob drove this time) on our trip southward.

Our first stop was the famous Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps, where I barely managed to hobble up the steep path through the woods to the castle spires and gate and take a picture of the most photographed castle in Europe, … before hobbling back down the hill.

Once on the road again, we choose a route from the map that turned out to be very scenic one during the evening’s soft colors that dead ended at the foot of the towering Allgauer Alps of Austria. We camped there at the end of the line, … falling asleep to the sounds of a babbling brook nearby and distant cow bells worn by our neighbors. Unfortunately, we had to cancel our plans for a hike the next morning into the snow capped mountains surrounding us because we (ok, I!) was still too sore to try any hiking like that. So we came up with a different plan to just go driving and painlessly drove instead further into Austria and then towards Liechtenstein. Oops, there is an actual border crossing into Liechtenstein, because it and Switzerland are not in the EU, and we hadn’t brought our passports because we hadn’t planned on going there. This we didn’t remember until the border crossing was within sight, and we started to sweat Yet for some unknown reason, the guard let us pass and enter with only our Military ID’s, and not more than a few miles later (it is a small country after all), we passed the Red Cross flag welcoming us to Switzerland.

From there the drive got even more beautiful, as we went up and up and eventually over famous San Bernadino Pass. The weather went from sunny California type hot on the climb up, to cold and cloudy at the top where we found some snow to play in. Down the other side, we blinked and thought we’d turned somehow into Italy by mistake (the border was only about 10 miles away), although we knew we were still in Switzerland. When we stopped in a small village to shop in a store, we noticed all the signs in town were in Italian and we were greeted with “buon giorno”, “grazie”, and “arrivederci”, instead of “guten morgen”, “danke”, and “auf wiedersehen!” The Alps obviously really used to be a big barrier for settlement…. and although Switzerland owns that part of the Alps, it was the Italians who claimed that mountain valley a long time ago.

We next felt like we were really a long ways from home, as we turned and drove up another magnificent Swiss-Italian valley enroute to climbing back over the backbone of Switzerland. We were for all intents and purposes still in Italy and happily within the Mediterranean influences found south of the Alps, although actualy in neutral territory. Palm trees and rose bushes were in abundance, and almost every home had windows open letting in the warm shining sun. And then just as we were getting used to reading road signs in Italian, we climbed over another ‘high in the clouds’ pass, where everything turned back into German going down the other side. And from then on, the late afternoon and evening was a show of snowy mountain peaks at every bend, and large beautiful lakes surrounded by cozy marinas and towns. Then with the setting sun, we found a parking lot up on a mountain side where we planned to spend the night in the back of the van. And shortly after we settled down to snooze, an amazing Swiss Alps lightning and thunder storm passed over and displayed yet another aspect of life in Europe’s big mountains.

We spent the next two days back across the border in southern Germany where I was finally able to walk some easy trails in the relatively tame Black Forest. We also visited a lot of interesting cuckoo clock shops there, watched a bike race in Triberg, ate sauerkraut, goulash, and jagerschnitzel at an outdoor café, and spent lots of time simply searching for “black” in the forest which was mostly rolling hills of evergreen pines.

Then, for our eventual return home, we figured out that it was quicker to go through Strasbourg, France from the Black Forest to get to Landstuhl, than to stay on roads in Germany, … which made France the 5th country we visited on a trip no longer than Des Moines to Chicago and back. So now we were hearing French on the radio, and had no idea what the road signs said. But we were in for one more treat within 30 minutes of being home, when we came upon a huge citadel atop a hill in a small town called Bitche (pronounced Beesh). And then how strange it was, to suddenly drive up our driveway after all we’d seen since we’d last left it.