Not-So Sempre Dritto

If you couldn’t tell from the title of my blog page, I really like walking. I love using my own legs to freely move from one place to another. I enjoy the Creation and company that often accompany the journey and the feeling of accomplishment and exhaustion after a long trek. Today, Abby and I did a lot of walking.

We wanted to go for a hike, and Umbria is the only landlocked region of Italy, the land is waves of mountains crashing into valleys. We didn’t think that was too tall a request, and in my “Hikes in Perugia, Italy” Google search, I stumbled upon a hike that seemed to be created for me – Perugia Assisi Marcia delle Pace. As in, a 15.73 mile walk from Perugia to Assisi that St. Francis apparently walked once and which peace protestors commemorate once a year. Um, heck. yes…or so I thought. There was that other moderate five mile half-day trip, but of course I zoned in on the challenge, and my kind, more reserved roommate Abby was respectful of that.
That’s pretty straightforward, right?

We began the descent this morning and I was pretty proud of ourselves for successfully navigating out of Perugia’s narrow city alleys onto the main road. The GPS map on the website looked like it kept crossing over this road, so we kept our eyes peeled for a path. We kept on, but that path never turned up. We skirted along the edge of the two lane road as European cars zoomed by at 60 kilometers an hour, begrudgingly offering us a perilous two foot breadth. So much for our serene nature walk. Not that the views were bad – the Umbrian landscape arouses my soul every day, and the vineyards and villa houses were a nice change from the city apartments.
Perugia from a distance

 When we arrived at the first borgo a few kilometers in,we were even impressed by the graffiti. It is literally art here.

By that point, though we had seen occasional signs displaying arrows with a pedestrian on Via Roma and San Francesco, we were also becoming more uncertain about this supposed Walk of Peace. It probably had to do with that black-clad, Teva sandal guy with a hunched-over, apelike walk that we passed. He had slothed around and was now a quarter mile behind us. Awesome. Or our broken Italian. Sure, you can ask, “Dov’è la strada andare a Assisi?” but if you only pick up every third word of the response, that’s none too helpful.
Then we saw two women in hiking boots carrying huge backpacks – Gabriella and Francesca. They had walked from Venice and were headed home now. In a mix of Italian and English, they wrote down the next three borgi we needed to walk through. Ma questa è la via solo, sì?” I asked, seeking assurance.
Sì, sì! Sempre dritto.

Straight ahead. Okay. No a destras or sinistras or qui vicinos.  Straight down this road. Certainly we could handle that. We kept on. Two blocks later, there is a traffic circle, and there is no sempre dritto. We took a few wrong turns and found the sign again. We plodded along a dirt road lining the back of farmers’ yards, unable to escape the tangent aroma of manure or our fears of previous wrong turns. A middle-aged woman smoking a cigarette was pulling out of her driveway. I caught her attention and asked if we were headed the right way. She seemed a little confused and alarmed as to how we had gotten there and where we were headed. She offered us a ride, and, yes, we took it. Paola is her name, and though she did not speak English, she slowed her Italian down so we could understand more. As she drove us several kilometers on, I gathered that she is 51, mother of two young twenty-somethings. Why are we walking to Assisi? Per divertente, for fun. She said we were both brave and crazy. I couldn’t respond with too much, so a lot of sì, sì’s were exchanged. When she dropped us off, she kissed both my cheeks and pointed up, saying we had a good God. I agreed with another sì, sì and grazie mille. Sempre dritto! she said and waved goodbye.

 We kept on. Assisi was now in sight, but the road was no less dangerous or sempre dritto, our walk shortened but still confusing. I greeted an old man sitting on his porch.  Buon viaggi signorine! he yelled and waved. We got lost a few more times, and we found our way once again. Abby declared that I was a leader with too much energy, she a blind follower. There’s some truth there – if you ever walk with me, those two components are pretty necessary. Eventually, feet flattened and beginning to blister, we made it to a road on which we really could march sempre dritto. Friday’s familiar blue dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli loomed ahead in the haze, and our anxiety lessened.

We plodded to the stazione, bought our €2.50 ticket back to Perugia, and rewarded ourselves with another cup of ever-delicious gelato. “Never again,” Abby declared resolutely. She was not dissatisfied, but it was obvious she was happy to be finished; I sympathize with people I rope into going on adventures with me. You never know what could happen. I don’t either.

As we walked back to a stazione bench to wait for the train, I saw two young men sporting chacos and travelers’ clothes, some of my favorite things. They gotta be American, I thought. I’ve got a Chaco radar, I’m telling you. We sat by them, and indeed, they spoke English. So we got to talking, and it turns out they just graduated from Clemson; we have several mutual friends, and the world gets smaller every day.

Today was not the perfect walk, and it definitely was not straight ahead, but when is life ever? We interacted with very kind Italians. We saw breathtaking countryside. We made new American friends and walked a truly remarkable distance. Despite the obstacles it brings, I will continue on the path of the not-so sempre dritto in Italy. I will seek direction from a God who is indeed good.  There, in the twists and turns, I will find great adventure.

Thanks, Abby. You really were a trooper today.

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