As soon as I can I’m going to stop waking up at 4:00 in the morning. Although it’s nice to spend a little time over email and also to connect back home where it’s early evening, it’s tough to be awake, hungry, and have to wait four hours for breakfast.
Such is the hard life of an Ordained Writer (formerly Ordained Minister). This morning I dutifully waited the four hours until breakfast and, when it finally, arrived, was not disappointed in the spread. Mueslix, toast, yogurt, coffee, orange juice, jam. Oddly, no Nutella®, but I’m not complaining. I settled in at the outside breakfast table, with my host, Alec, talking about hiking maps for the local area. Alec mentioned that another guest, John, was planning a day’s hike with a professional local guide and suggested I might want to consider joining them.
When John arrived he agreed, and the two of us set out for Gubbio where we were to meet our guide. John works in Italy for the U.S. State Department and is on a mini-vacation from his office in Rome. Once in Gubbio we met up with Mirko, our guide. Mirko is a local farmer who trained as a geologist, and to supplement his income he took up guiding. He’s also into spelunking, i.e. exploring caves, and he shared with us that the peak he chose to show us — protected in a nature park — has an old Italian name of Monte Cucco that possibly means “Hollow Mountain” due to the 30 km of caves inside.
We agreed to a 3-4 hour hike and set off on what turned out to be Sentiero Italia. This “Grand Italian Trail” covers 6,166 km as it snakes its way across, up and down the Italian peninsula plus Sicily. For folks from the Western U.S. it would be something like spending time on a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Walking on the “S1” gave me a chance to ask Mirko about Italian trail marking, a matter I’d been curious about since last year when I noticed a variety of markings on the Via di San Francesco. According to Mirko, all red and white striped trails are marked by the Club Alpino Italia and numbered by locals based on the trails’ destinations. The Sentiero Italia is the “Interstate Highway” of Italian trails, always marked with the red/white stripes and a black “S1” scrawled in the middle. Mirko described the difficulty of creating maps for the many Italian trails, given the large number and the fact that the trail system in Italy is maintained mostly by volunteers. As we branched off the S1 we walked along Trail #3, #17, and then #10 BIS. The latter is like “10 plus,” according to Mirko, because the trail numberers ran out of numbers and needed to find something between #10 and #11.
We walked through forests of beech, then along meadows filled with wildflowers. Mirko seemed to know them all. He mentioned to us that he’d recently identified 85 different varieties of orchids within this nature preserve. We walked along a limestone lined creek bed and enjoyed finding tiny worms and leeches in the clear water. Mirko assured us that we could drink the water since its purity was proven by the presence of the tiny squirming creatures. I politely demurred and instead sipped from my clear plastic disposable water bottle.
Mirko was a fine guide, but the economic difficulties of the region were apparent as he showed us the bottoms of his hiking boots. They were worn completely smooth by four years of hiking. I found myself wishing I could help him get a new pair and I worried, with good reason it turned out, that his boots would be slippery in the wrong conditions. Mirko was very earnest, and his geological background and love of plant life showed themselves as he described the sights along the way. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt when he slid a few feet down a damp bank, landing on his backside.
True to his word, the hike ended back at the trailhead in about 3 or 4 hours. Unlike trailheads back home, this Italian one was equipped with a fine restaurant. We enjoyed plates of tagliatelle ai funghi, a local specialty, before heading back to a challenging afternoon of sunbathing by the pool at the guest house. Later I will force myself to enjoy a barbecue and some local wines with the other guests, followed by a viewing of the evening’s promised meteor shower.