Yesterday I walked the last stage of the Via di San Francesco and I’m definitely feeling bittersweet as I hang up my hiking boots for the summer. I’m glad the primary research for my guidebook, The Way of St. Francis, is now complete, but I know I’ll miss Italia. I leave for Seattle in two weeks, saying goodbye to this warm and rich country I’ve come to love.
As I walked each day I held in my right hand the little device on the left — a Garmin Oregon 650 GPS, given me as a farewell gift by the kind folk at First United Methodist Church of Seattle. It tabulated each days’ journey into the total for the whole trip — 845.2km (525 miles). Thanks to the Garmin I was able to record my tracks, so now I have GPX files to share with other pilgrims to help them find their way.
In my left hand was my other companion — my iPhone 4s — which I used for dictation of walking notes. I ended up with 41 separate audio files for something around 16 hours of notes, which I transcribed each evening after I walked. These all were distilled into twenty-nine chapters of walking descriptions for 32,100 words.
Clothing-wise: I brought my favorite pair of hiking boots with me which unfortunately will not make the trip back home. They already had about 400 miles on them and were growing bald with age (like their owner). After I bought it in Vienna I wore my fluorescent yellow running shirt almost every day, along with the North Face hiking shorts I brought with me — the best shorts I’ve ever had (cool, stretchy, quick-dry). I almost never used my rain jacket or black, quilted North Face jacket — just too warm here.
Thanks to the loan of a great Sony camera by Robin Werner I’ve recorded the experience in 2,156 RAW-format photographs. It’s taken all the storage available on my laptop, but some of the pics are pretty good and will form the visual core of the upcoming book.
One of the best parts was walking with two people I enjoy. I walked from Santuario della Verna with Jacqueline Zeindlinger of Austria, part of our 2011 camino family and a big help in various aspects of this project. Then on July 15 I was joined by Theresa Elliot and we had two weeks of fun as we walked from Spoleto to Rome. I’ll never forget Theresa, dangling between the iron bars at the cupola atop St. Peter’s Basilica.
Some have asked for my daily itinerary. I walked 29 separate daily stages, but had to repeat five of them either to find the best route or to create a good GPX track. Here are the stages of the Way of St. Francis that will be the core of my book:
- Florence to Pontassieve
- Pontassieve to Consuma
- Consuma to Stia
- Stia to Camaldoli
- Camaldoli to Badia Prataglia
- Badia Prataglia to Santuario della Verna
- Santuario della Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano
- Pieve Santo Stefano to Sansepolcro
- Sansepolcro to Citerna
- Citerna to Citta di Castello
- Citta di Castello to Pietralunga
- Pietralunga to Gubbio
- Gubbio to Biscina
- Biscina to Valfabbrica
- Valfabbrica to Assisi
- Assisi to Spello
- Spello to Trevi
- Trevi to Spoleto
- Spoleto to Ceselli
- Ceselli to Arrone
- Arrone to Piediluco
- Piediluco to Poggio Bustone
- Poggio Bustone to Rieti
- Rieti to Poggio San Lorenzo
- Poggio San Lorenzo to Ponticelli
- Ponticelli to Monterotondo
- Monterotondo to Monte Sacro
- Monte Sacro to Saint Peter’s in Rome
- The Seven Pilgrimage Churches of Rome
This was a tough walk. Tougher than the Camino de Santiago. Yesterday was an 800 meter (2600 ft) climb, and most every day of the first six includes climbs like this. Future pilgrims need to know that this is not for the faint hearted.
All told, though, I’ve loved it — every moment of it. This summer I’ve learned some basic Italian, I’m gotten into decent physical shape, I’ve met new and interesting people, I’ve lived in a charming foreign country for a few months, and I researched the basis of a book that I hope will be helpful for pilgrims who follow after me. The best part has been digging into the geography and culture of this amazing country. I love Italy and I know I’ll be back.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll flesh the book out by adding helpful and interesting information about each of the places mentioned in the walking guide. When I get back to Seattle I’ll complete the introduction, sort my photos, draw my maps and then, by December 31, submit the corpus to my publisher. But first, I’m accepting the invitation of a friend to visit his family in Catania, Sicily, and on my way back I’m stopping in London to meet my publisher. Two weeks from today, God willing, I’ll land on the tarmac at Seattle and see my favorite walking companion, Theresa, plus my boys and family, for a happy reunion after a summer of walking, work, walking, learning, walking, and adventure.