What was the most important lesson you learned about yourself in 2011? Was it a sudden epiphany or a gradual realization?
In May this year, I walked one section of the historical Via Francigena path through Tuscany, a total of 120 kilometres, alone. I wanted to see Tuscany in a different way and I love walking so walking through the Tuscan countryside from town to town sounded perfect. In hindsight, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I asked two questions only before I booked:
1 Will there be other people walking the trail at the same time?
2 Will I get lost?
The response I received was as follows:
“May is peak season and is quite busy so it's unlikely that you would be walking alone. The entire route is well signposted and we will provide you with a step-by-step guidebook so you won't get lost.”
Comforted, I booked. And bought myself what I thought was a semi-decent pair of trail shoes and a waterproof jacket. Preparation complete.
After much delay, I finally received the guide book a week before departing for San Miniato via Florence to commence the walk. As I flicked through the book to familiarise myself with the walking plan, a small alarm bell went off. There were compass directions provided and one particular instruction was telling me to…ford the stream. A stream? I have to walk through a stream? So I added to my preparations and bought a compass. A cheap, tiny compass that I tied to my dive computer I was going to use as a watch, with a hair band.
The walk was not the romantic easy stroll through Tuscany I imagined it would be. I actually didn’t see anyone else travelling the route until Day 5 of the walk when a group of 4 mountain bikers passed me and I later caught up to an English couple plodding along the path – unlike me they looked like professional walkers with zip off khaki coloured pants and hiking poles.
And I got lost. A lot. Every day. At least several times a day. On day 1, it took me thirty minutes to find the path to even commence the walk and then within thirty minutes of walking, not used to the directions and the signs, I was already back-tracking to make sure I was going the right way.
There were lots of different signs. Sometimes frequent, sometimes sparse. Sometimes on trees. Sometimes merely arrows painted on the ground pointing in the direction to walk. Sometimes the guide book and signs agreed and made sense and sometimes they did not. Then I would choose to either follow the signs or the directions in the guide book whichever made more sense at the time. Once I walked up and down the same hill eight times looking for signs I was sure I had missed. I even walked around in a circle two different ways. Once I was so lost, I decided to walk to a hilltop town that I could see in the distance but once I made it up to the top there was no one around because it was afternoon siesta time. Unsure which road to take back down out of the town I pointed my funny little compass south, the direction I knew I needed to walk and walked eight kilometres until I found a sign that I knew was right.
Sometimes I would get very stressed. My big toes were constantly throbbing, my feet and legs aching, I was hot and sweaty and tired. And I would find myself in the middle of a field or a country road with absolutely nobody around, lost, with no idea if I was still even on the path or near the path. Sometimes I would cry. I would walk and sob wishing that I was safely at my B&B with a glass of wine.
No matter how often I was lost or how hard it all seemed, I never gave up. I never wanted to give up. It was never an option for me. I knew that eventually I would find my way. I did. And it was actually in being and getting lost that made walking the Via Francigena the wonderful adventure it was for me.
And so I have gradually realised, that being lost is part of the great adventure we call life. It is the times that I am lost that I learn more about myself and life. Let’s face it, walking a straight line is easy but if you add a blindfold, a few steep hills and twist and turns it becomes a little more difficult and a lot more interesting. think the most important lesson I learned is that no matter how lost I am, physically or figuratively, I will always find my way.
|One of the Via Francigena signs|
|Another Via Francigena sign, arrow painted on the ground|
|The path through the countryside, leading to a vineyard|
|The first people I saw on the same path as me in 5 days|
|Me in Montalcino|