I recently told a friend of mine it’s been hard attempting to stick to the high road lately. Apparently, all I really needed to do was hop the pond, land in Italy and go for a hike in the Appeninos with Lisa! After that, the fabulous Universe would provide all the essentials (food, water, wine, great friends, amazing scenery, adventure and — post hike — very cute boys) on this wonderful, unpredictable journey.
Day Three: San Benedetto in Alpe – Mt. Lavone
Morning broke spectacularly sunny and warm, spiriting us straight from bed in San Benedetto with smiling faces. Downstairs, we made quick work of walnut cake and coffee, then hightailed it upstairs to pack.
It happened to be Sunday, so we found much of Toscana and Emilia-Romagna (the two provinces sandwiching this section of the Apenninos) out for a jaunt, too. Especially on the first 4.5 km to the gushing waterfall at Acquachetta — because, of course, spring is prime time for checking out waterfalls and finally, the weather seemed to agree. So, we trailed countless families traipsing in jeans, hiking groups and teenagers infested with hormones leaping off rocks at each other and us like sugared out kangaroos.
We had an ongoing joke that it was un miracolo (a miracle) we ever made it anywhere with all the frequent stops to take pictures and/or pee. Both of us apparently have bladders the size of antique espresso cups… Before today, we would literally squat next to each other like two over-caffeinated frogs in the middle of the trail or wherever, not even pausing our conversation.
Now, there were people everywhere and trying to pee and avoid being spotted was harder than picking out the ground beef in a pile of tagliatelle al ragu. It was impossible in fact, but Lisa harbors a fear that she’s gonna run out of H20 at any moment so she chugs it like a college student doing a keg stand. And I gulp water as if I were still living at the bone dry elevation of 9,000 feet except also in 150 degree weather. Sorry if it’s TMI for anybody, but welcome to hiking, where the world is your toilet and watching each other leap around tree trunks, panicked, yanking up shorts/skirts because a(nother) school group fast approached was better than anything trending on YouTube.
Anyhoo, we took our chances and arrived at Acquachetta with empty bladders. At the intersection where the trail diverged from the crowds (and went straight up) we shed our packs and hiked around the waterfall for a different perspective. There, we had a mini Contemplation Hour, just meditating on life, watching the water flow from wherever so much water flows…
And then, as I said, Up was the keynote speaker at a conference on multi-day hikes. First, we went up through increasingly quiet forests, past trees still laden with blooms despite the recent wind. Then more up past ruins leftover from the numerous hardy folk that lived in the mountains pre-WW2. As we followed a more than picturesque stream up into mossy, green forests, Lisa reminded me of how guerilla fighters also hid out in these woods during WW2.
One of the many choice elements of hiking or biking in bella Italia is the frequent attendance of potable water. Unlike the good ol US of A, people have lived in this country and its forests for millenia. As such, there are remnants of life throughout, even in more “remote” (compared to the vast expanses back home) areas like the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona, Campiga — the National Park in and around which our hike took place. Lisa filled up her bottle at a spring after we never found the supposed fountain at Acquachetta; I was too chicken. Despite Lisa’s reassurances, I couldn’t quite gulp untreated water straight out of a mountain. Not after managing to thus far avoid giardia or any slightly less hellish bacteria/virus from Colorado or elsewhere on the planet.
By the time we crested the first major ridge, we felt accomplished — but some of the good feelings melted like nocciola (hazelnut) gelato in the sun when we saw the trail’s trump card: a route straight up the next impossible spine.
By the time we made that ridge our b*tch, it felt as though our calves might explode like squeezed, ripe grapefruits. But we kept ourselves together and transitioned to a treed section of relatively, thankfully flat trail, with deep duff that took pity on our knees. Just ahead was Mt. Lavane, our highest point of the day and trip at 1247 meters (4091 feet).
Suddenly, we popped from the forest into a meadow where a natural gas pipeline stretched as far as we could see. And — just to taunt us — a gravel road gleamed in the sunshine with a red Fiat Panda parked at its end. Hiking in Europe is different from the Us, but nonetheless fantastic; rewind back to my more married days and 2009, when Tyler, our friend Pete and I haunted il Parco like pasty, foreign ghosts. They’d mountain bike and I’d try not to get lost, following peppermint-themed signs through the same forest, different valley… And I’d have the same finale: hiking for hours in The Nature, high-fived at the end by a road and/or a car.
Obviously, the uphill battle had us ravenous, so Lisa and I skirted the Panda to a viewpoint and destroyed leftover ravioli and tagliatelle al ragu from the night before. We discussed our sleeping options — ahead, there were two huts, the first of which might be (and was) in the stand of trees a ravioli’s throw up the trail.
After spotting it, we didn’t even bother checking out the second option:
Inside a giant stack of wood and a fireplace put the exclamation on a particularly emphatic sentence about not freezing our asses off at night!
A dampness lay about the chilly innards of the hut, which would require a fire sooner than later but first: Contemplation Hour!!!!
We spent the next three or four hours stretching, napping and taking turns reading my novel aloud to each other on the Sunniest Bench in the World. In the glorious spring sun, I folded my thoughts around the theme of acceptance like a piadina (a Romagnola-style tortilla) around squacquerone (a soft white Romagnolo cheese that pairs perfectly with piadina and a little arugula).
Only since I departed Dillon and cast off the mantle of familiarity have I truly accepted and embraced joyfully my freedom! Tyler and I are finished — and the world lies ahead of me, ready to be devoured like an orb of piadine e squacquerone. Now, my heart and head are standing on the same shore, ready to depart. What a process… and it’s not as if my heart doesn’t still feel pain, or that I don’t feel lonely or angry. The difference, my friends isn’t pissing in the wind: it’s a sort of calm acceptance I’ve been able to develop of wherever I’m at, whenever I’m there.
And so I sat in the sun, not exactly without a care in the world, but with diminuitive cares and out in the world. Glorious!
After Contemplation Hour came fire and smoking ourselves out of the rifugio repeatedly. I assumed a helpful Smokey the Bear attitude — not only preventing forest fires but also the accidental preserving of ourselves and our eyeballs like wild caught, sockeye salmon. To date, all my camping paraphernalia still wreaks enough to bring back poignant memories of my firefighting days. Even before figuring out the delicate balance between smoke and oxygen, we had to take a break for the sunset:
Eventually Smokey nailed the smoke-air algorithum and the rifugio was comfortable enough for more book reading, more leftovers and later, a comfortable night’s sleep.
Day Four: Back to the barn, Mt. Lavane to Faenza
In the wee hours, both of us heard great footsteps around the rifugio as if the giants of our dreams sniffed about, gazing at the abundant stars. After we arose, the mysterious footsteps were revealed: a herd of horses grazed in the meadow below, with four foals in tow, two of which looked positively new to the world.
With the last trickles of our water, we made espresso in Lisa’s little bialetti and broke our fast with pears and cheese. Throughout, we watched the horses lay down, get up, graze, whinny and romp around. As Lisa pointed out, watching horses in normal life wouldn’t be magical; but under the bluebird sky, in the moment, it was.
The wind fairly blew us down the mountain — then back up, because we managed to miss a few of the pepperminty signs. Then down again in leaps and shoves, through meadows, fences, forest, down the ridge, down, down, down.
A couple hours later, thirsty and with aching shins, we met up with a gravel road in the metropolis of Campigno. A handful of houses quietly watched as we excitedly approached the town faucet, set — as most of them are — into a stone wall.
“It’s off,” Lisa said, the disappointment in her voice matching the dryness of my mouth. She called to an older man emerging from his front door — was there another fountain? Maybe down the road, he said. Do you need water? Come fill up inside.
So we climbed the steps and were positively assailed by hospitality. An older woman inside said oh, if you’d come sooner, you could’ve had lunch! A second older man in a red sweater said, in a thick accent, how about some wine? How about vin santo (a traditionally Tuscan desert wine)? We acquiesced; this vin santo turned out to be homemade and positively delicious. Lisa and the other three conversed; I tried to keep up with my fledgling Italian skills but I was soon happily lost in a dehydrated vin santo buzz, parked next to a fire. Soon enough we were also being offered coffee — why not?
Outside the sky blackened just to offset our light moods. We reluctantly left the warmth and hospitality behind to tackle the next climb over to Crespino. Just in case it rains, said the older man who first invited us in, there’s a mill in the valley, somebody lives there, but you may be able to hide out.
Shortly, we reached said mill and the skies cracked. We knocked on the door of a large house in the drizzle; no answer. After deciding we were doing nothing wrong — in case we were “caught” — we popped into a large metal building full of rabbits, guinea hens and farm equipment as the sky unzipped itself. As we waited to see if it would stop or continue, we heated up water for instant soba noodles and read some more book. I’d really gotten Lisa hooked now 🙂
Really, the rain was there to stay, like a clueless houseguest. Despite wanting the hike to never, ever end, we threw the towel in because it was, apparently, a very wet towel. Instead of a soggy, muddy scramble over to Crespino where we may or may not be able to sleep indoors — the jury was out til we got there — we opted to retunr to Marradi on the road. In Marradi, we could catch the train and return to Lisa’s warm, dry castle.
However, we’d spaced an important detail: Monday, May 1 was an Italian holiday. Therefore, when we arrived at the train station, we found tiny symbols next to all the trains we could catch sooner or later… the *which denoted, with quiet power, those trains did not run on holidays. Currently, it was 1600 (4 p.m.) and the next train was at 1852 (6:52). Nothing to do but hole up in a bar and warm up with coffee, take the hungry edge off with Nutella gelato, then move on to Spritz and the assortment of salty snacks that make the experience aperitivo. Viva l’Italia!
Back at the castle, we managed to still be hungry… so we ordered pizzas, unpacked and Lisa got ready to leave on tour in a couple of days. On the train, we’d made a pact to adventure together every year — on bikes and/or foot.
Ole! Let the adventures continue!