Traveller, your footprints
Are the path and nothing more;
Traveller, there is no path,
The path is made by walking.
By walking the path is made
And when you look back
You'll see a road
Never to be trodden again.
Traveller, there is no path,
Only trails across the sea…
The path ahead is long. Approximately 2,083 kilometres long give or take a few kilometres.
I returned to my dreams that I placed high upon a shelf, out of sight, and I asked myself if they were dreams to be embodied and lived or dreams that float in the ether, only to live in my imagination.
Make us real, they whispered.
Make us real or at least try. And so I am.
Two years ago, I walked 120 kilometres through Tuscany following an ancient pilgrimage trail called Via Francigena. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was only when I received the guide book and it told me to "ford the stream" and provided compass headings and GPS coordinates that I realised it was more than a pleasant stroll through the Tuscan country side between hilltop villages. I went anyway although wisely I bought a tiny compass at the last minute, just in case.
I walked alone seeing no one else following the way until day 5 when four mountain bike riders passed me. I got lost. A lot. I cried. A lot. I climbed through a construction site under a massive earth mover. I ran from a dog that bit a hole in my pants. I ran around the bends of roads heavy with traffic and non-existent edges squealing and praying that I didn't die that day. I navigated my way down from a hilltop village using my compass.
My toes throbbed painfully and my feet and knees ached constantly. Eventually, I lost my big toenail. (You can read more about that experience here.)
But I loved it. Moving slowly through the Tuscan countryside. Connecting with the land around me and under my feet. Making my own way from place to place.
When it was over, it was only just the beginning. I was left with the idea that I would like to walk the whole trail one day starting in Canterbury from the Cathedral and ending over 2,000 kilometres later at St Peter's Basilica in Rome. And so I am.
I have no job and my living arrangements are soon to come to an end. I hear the words of my beloved friend and yoga teacher, Joey, telling me over and over, "If not now, when?" and know them as truth. If I don't do it now, I may never do it.
I have spent the last few weeks absorbed by my preparations. I will walk alone. I will carry everything I need with me including a tent in case I can't find accommodation or need to keep costs down. I need to pack as light as I can only taking what I consider to be essential. I have studied the trail to make sure it is feasible I can walk through France, Switzerland and Italy within the 90 days visa of those Schengen countries. I have taken my time to find the right hiking boots for my feet so as not to repeat the biggest mistake I made last time. I have been walking regularly long distances to condition my body and feet and break in my boots. I have started to re-set my financial comfort zone. This trip was unplanned. Unlike my other trips, I did not spend the last year saving for it. My bank account is dropping below my comfort level. Despite my fear and anxiety, I know without doubt that now is the time to go.
The heart wants what the heart wants. Mine wants to go on a very long walk.
Map of the Via Francigena (courtesy of goodwalkingbooks.com)
The Via Francigena through Tuscany
Sunset of San Miniato, my starting point on the Tuscan section of Via Francigena
A Via Francigena way marker
A section of the Via Francigena through Tuscany