Kneiff – 1,827ft
Eric and Matthew Gilbertson
Date: August 7, 2010
72 biking miles + 400 train miles
Of all the country high points we visited this summer, Luxembourg’s Kneiff had the smallest crowds. I bet that in the average year more people climb Denali, Hvannadalshnukur (Iceland), or Halti (Finland) than Kneiff. More people have probably been to the summit of Everest than to the summit of Kneiff. It’s not that it’s difficult to get to, it’s that few people think of visiting the high point when they visit Luxembourg. You could say that it’s probably as off-the-beaten-path as you can possibly get in Luxembourg.
But that made it even more appealing to us. We had just climbed the highest point in Belgium and were making a beeline to Luxembourg. We got to the border late in the mid afternoon and followed the GPS towards the waypoint we had programmed in at the beginning of the summer. We realized at that point that we were placing a dangerous amount of trust on the GPS. Back in May we had to hand-type the Wikipedia coordinates of the summit into the GPS. We realized that if we had mistyped just a single digit then we could end up miles from where we wanted to be. We didn’t have any other maps, and if we asked probably nobody in the nearest town would have any idea what we were talking about. So we proceeded nervously, since we couldn’t see the high point and all the hills looked the same.
Just like Denmark there’s also some heated debate about the actual high point in Luxembourg. Once again we had done our homework by looking at Wikipedia a few weeks before. Some people say that the high point is Buurgplaatz, which is crowned with a nice tall tower and a grandiose plaque. But actually it’s 1.7m shorter than Kneiff, whose altitude is 560m. From our research it didn’t look like a whole lot was going on at the summit of Kneiff, so we didn’t expect a big crowd.
We came within half a mile of the GPS-indicated summit but there was no road to be found, just a bunch of big empty fields. “Um, are you sure you typed in the coordinates correctly?” I asked Eric. “Well there’s not much we can do about it if I messed up,” he said. We rode a little farther and it looked like somewhat of a hump farther back in the farmer’s field. After pedaling a little farther we spotted a tiny gravel road that went up. Bingo. “Well let’s give it a try,” I said.
We climbed about a hundred feet from the main road and found ourselves on the top. And just on cue we spotted a big white-painted rock on the side of the road. No sign or writing anywhere. We recognized it from the Wikipedia article as the summit. We must have nailed the GPS coordinates exactly.
“Well Luxembourg doesn’t look too proud of its high point,” Eric said. There wasn’t much around except empty hayfields. It seemed like the nearby woods were actually a little taller but we didn’t want to argue.
We took our customary photos: shirts-off summit photo, jumping photos, and a picture of Eric juggling. And of course we collected some rocks for posterity. I haven’t seen too many other people walking around in the US with a rock from the highest point in Luxembourg. There wasn’t a whole lot else to do so we continued on our way towards the village of Wilwerdange. It didn’t look like anyone else had been up there in a long time.
We took stock of our status. We had climbed the Benelux high points in under 8 hours and now we were looking for a train to Germany to climb its high point, Zugspitze. We planned on cycling a little farther south in Luxembourg and then catching a train out, hopefully the next day. So for now we kept pedaling south.
Some of the roads prohibited bikes so we were forced to change our route. It was too bad that the GPS didn’t know about these restrictions. Luckily one detour took us into Ettelbrück, a small town in north-central Luxembourg. As we cruised into town we noticed a huge American flag flying next to a big old green army tank. “Wow, what’s an American flag doing around here?” we wondered. We stopped to take a look. A big granite monument said something like “In appreciation of General George Patton and his troops for liberating Ettelbruck from the Nazis in 1944.” It was touching to see such a nice monument to the American forces. It felt like a little refuge to us, like a little piece of American soil. We took a rest and solemnly finished off a half-gallon of vanilla yogurt.
We inquired at the train station about tickets to Germany, but it was slim pickings. The problem was the bikes. It was such a popular time of year to travel with bikes that all the bikes spaces had been sold out. We purchased the earliest ticket we could, which left Luxembourg (city) the morning after next. It turned out that we would get to see far more of Luxembourg than we had expected.
So we kept heading south in search of a campsite. Now the roads were getting even bigger and the population denser so the campable areas were getting more and more rare. We knew we had to find a campsite before we reached Luxembourg (city) because we were not planning on staying in a hotel. We ended up pedaling about 15 more miles before we found a campsite, about one-third the length of the country. We had gotten lucky and found an extensive patch of woods near Lorentzweiler (coordinates: 49.709845,6.133962 – don’t tell anybody) on the hillside. There was a tiny little dirt road leading up.
Now the tricky part was dashing into the woods without anyone noticing. Cars were whizzing by so we needed to be stealthy. First, Eric took a sip of water and when no cars were coming I dashed into the woods. If anyone was watching they might have just thought I needed to go to the bathroom really bad. Or they might have been distracted by Eric taking a drink. I went up a little ways to scout it out and then came back and gave Eric the thumbs up. Then Eric got done taking a sip of water and casually cruised into the bushes. It might have looked like he couldn’t hold it any longer either. We were pretty confident nobody had noticed but we weren’t taking any chances. You never know about them Luxembourgers.
The road quickly deteriorated and we plowed our bikes as deep into the woods as we could get. We passed by an abandoned house but resisted the urge to camp next to it because that would be too obvious. Way up the hill we found an old logging road grade that would be level enough to camp. We both walked a long ways away from the proposed campsite and looked at it from various angles to see if it was visible. We were satisfied with its low visibility so we finally got to work setting up camp. I guess it’d be a lot easier to just stay in a hostel but it definitely wouldn’t be as fun and as cheap.
The night passed without incident and we continued our southward journey in the morning. Pretty soon we found ourselves in downtown Luxembourg, the capital. There were all kinds of fancy buildings and palaces. Everyone stared at us because I guess not too many people cycle-tour like that around Europe. At one little gift shop I heard a strange-familiar sounding voice behind me. They were speaking English. American English. It was actually the first American English we had heard in 47 days. We spoke to them and the most striking part was that we could finally speak full-speed English. We didn’t have to carefully enunciate every syllable like we did to non-native English speakers throughout Scandinavia. Turns out they were American teachers from the Ramstein Air Force Base and they were a little stunned to hear American English too.
We still had almost 20 hours to burn until our train left so we decided to touch our toe in France, since it was only about seven miles away. How many times do you get a chance to so casually say, “you know, I think I’d like to touch my toe in France”?
On the way we tried to scout out good stealth campsites because would need to spend the night close to Luxembourg in order to catch the early train out in the morning. First we spotted a good campsite just a mile outside of the city, near a deep valley (and here’s the approx coordinates if you ever find yourself in that area 49.576387,6.155323). We marked it on the GPS and continued on. A few miles later, once we were out of the city and back into farm country we spotted an even better campsite down a dirt road into a wooded area between two farmer’s fields (49.550866,6.178772). It looked perfect so we made a note of it and continued on.
We triumphantly strolled across the French border. That brought the total number of countries that our bikes have visited to 12. We could have just touched our toe across the border but we wanted to make it feel a little more official so we made it our goal to buy some French bread. We pedaled a few kilometers into France but didn’t see any bread stores. It didn’t look a whole lot different than Luxembourg. So we just turned around and bought some Luxembourg bread when we got back to Luxembourg. It was surprising because the grocery stores closed at noon on Sundays. It wasn’t the first time in Europe that we had come to a closed store at a time that it would have been open in the US.
When nobody was looking we dashed down the little dirt road towards the potential campsite. We plowed the bikes through a few hundred feet of bushes and thorns and found the absolute perfect spot. It was one of the best campsites of the summer: no mosquitoes, flat, dry, and not much undergrowth, so you can lay all your stuff down. And it was in Luxembourg. We hadn’t expected to have such luxurious camping in such a population-dense small country. We heard some thunder and quickly set up the tent.
Thanks to our stealth-skillz nobody found us that night. We woke up early in the morning for our train and discovered a dense layer of fog all around us. It was pretty to see the sun rise out of the fog above the corn fields. Not the image of Luxembourg that I had in mind. We cruised back into town and hopped on the train to Germany.
Whew. Eight high points down, two more to go…