I have long wanted to visit the hilltop villages in Tuscany but at this time in my life I don’t want to visit places as a tourist. Although I am not working in paid employment at the moment, I’m not purely on holiday either. My travelling is about challenging myself and putting myself into situations where I am uncomfortable. My travelling is about seeing the wonders and beauty of the world and learning how to express that in my life. Most importantly, my travelling teaches me about myself, to really see and understand who I am, to understand the purpose of my life and how I can offer my gifts to be of service to the world.
There were two things I intuitively needed at this time. Time alone in nature and to walk. My last six months spent in Melbourne fell across Autumn and Winter. I walked to and from work almost every day. Four kilometres there and four kilometres back. My journey took me through Yarra Park around the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Fitzroy Gardens to the top end of the Central Business District where I meandered down Collins Street and Bourke Street to Kings Way. I walked for the exercise and to spend time in nature, to bracket and balance the time I spent in an office amongst glass and concrete towers.
Walking enabled me to watch Autumn transform the leaves from meadow green to sunny yellow to rustic orange and then brown like a crinkly paper lunch bag. And as Autumn turned to Winter, I watched as the trees, unashamedly, allowed their leaves to fall gracefully to the ground, their bare branches stretched up towards the heavens in exalted prayer. The icy winds scattered the leafy carpet until it disappeared and what remained was transformed into an earthy mush by the winter rains. My daily walk raised my energy levels and exalted my spirit until I glowed on the inside and out. It opened up my creativity channel so that new ideas and inspired words poured through me waiting for expression as soon as I could put pen to paper. And it became addictive. If it was raining (not torrential), I pulled out my umbrella and walked. If I was running late, I walked, a little faster than usual (and was still late to work.)
I thought that walking eight kilometres per day through city parks would be good training for my 119 kilometre Tuscan Walk. After all, I only had to walk an average of 20 kilometres per day and I had been walking almost half of that quite easily. I felt walking fit. I estimated that my at my normal walking pace of six kilometres per hour that I would walk perhaps four hours per day leaving me a good part of the day to enjoy each town. But oh how I got this wrong. In the city I walked on concrete and bitumen paths that were evenly surfaced and the only hill I walked up was the mild slope of Bourke and Collins Streets on my journey home. In Tuscany, I walked on gravel paths, rocky trails, through long grassy fields, on the skimpy grass verge on the side of busy roads with. I walked up hills that looked like they would never end, pausing to try and catch my breath every twenty metres. My body was constantly tired. My legs and feet ached and my right big toe throbbed. Some evenings I could barely leave my hotel room except to eat dinner. Other times I would explore the town slowly, often sitting in a piazza or near a church to rest my body and watch life happen around me.
In Melbourne, I knew the way. I knew which paths to walk through the park and which roads were the right short cuts to take. In Tuscany, I walked a path I did not know. And although I had signs and directions, they didn’t always agree or make sense and so I got lost, a lot. Sometimes I was saved from becoming lost by kind strangers who called me back to the correct path. Other times I retraced my steps to check signs and the guidebook directions to correct my own path. Sometimes I put my faith in my compass, finding south and walking south until I found the path again. Sometimes I was frustrated, with myself and with the guidebook and the signs and the confusion I felt. But I never felt panicked or the desire to give up. Even in the thick of being lost, I always knew I would find my way. And I watched and laughed as my stubborn determination came out time and time again to keep me going, not allowing me to quit just because things got tough.
To me, it was just a walk, a long, solitary walk through a beautiful part of the world. But when I tell people what I did, especially Italians, they look at me like I’m a little bit crazy. Eyebrows rise in surprise as they stumble to fathom that I really did walk 107 kilometres alone, unguided and was not part of a guided group. My eyebrows rise in surprise at their reaction, especially when I am told how dangerous it was for a single female to walk alone in Tuscany. The only time I was scared was when I was walking on the edge of a busy road with cars speeding past. The roads are narrow, there was no footpath and to be honest, Italians drive aggressively and at least 40 kilometres above the stated speed limit. As soon as I heard cars approach I would squeeze myself to the side of the road, sometimes jumping into the thigh high grass amidst prickles which I would pull out of my pants and legs once they had passed. I would often run, not walk, around a bend in the road praying out loud, “Please don’t let me die to day” when I knew the drivers couldn’t see me.
I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and I am glad that I didn’t know. Because if I did know, then maybe, just maybe that part of me that wants to play it safe would have over-ruled the part of me that longs for adventure and I would never have walked the walk. But I did walk and although my injured toe stopped me a day short of making my final destination, I discovered and experienced the beauty and quietness of the Tuscan landscape in solitude and in a way I would never have experienced if I drove through it. I connected with nature, with peace, with contentment and with joy as I walked the path and with courage and determination when I was lost. Finally, I admit to myself that I am courageous and that I am an adventurer, words that others have used to describe me but I would never use to describe myself. And I know now, without doubt, that I am not afraid to walk into the unknown alone.