Day 15: Vercelli to Robbio — 19.4 km (12.1 miles)
Every so often you meet a person who truly understands and represents the spirit of Camino walking. One of those people is last night’s volunteer hostel host, Davide Toad. From Monza, Italy, Davide has walked many pilgrim trails, but this year, because he only has a short break from work, Davide volunteered at the hostel in Vercelli as his vacation. When we arrived yesterday, Davide oriented us to the sparkling hostel, washed and hung out our dirty clothes, told us where to find the best dinner deal, then cooked breakfast for us in the morning. His spirit of hospitality and service is a joy to receive, and we felt blessed staying in Vercelli with this wonderful young man as our host.
After Charles and I said goodbye to Davide we headed out of town for the short 19 km trek to Robbio. Charles is walking from Canterbury to Rome and, as you will recall, we met a week or so ago just a few miles into Italy on the downhill walk into Aosta. He’s from New Brunswick, Canada, and brightens up whenever he hears the sound of French, his native language. Today there were five French speaking women in the breakfast room of the hostel and Charles was in French heaven. Our walking pace matches each other’s well, and over the last few days we’ve become good friends and walking partners.
Not far out of Vercelli we saw a young woman, Carla Morelli, gardening in front of her rice farm and we learned she is a pilgrim too, with many miles on her walking resumé. We talked for 15 minutes together in Italian before she insisted on sharing some tomatoes from her garden. After we said goodbye and continued on our way my thoughts turned to Theresa and how warm and cozy it is to wrap her in my arms. Charles and I talked about how pilgrimage is turning your back to your loved ones for awhile. Meeting a kind woman like Carla reminds me of the biggest cost of this adventure.
From there it was one step at a time to Vercelli. Literally. The dyke and canal trails on which we walked had just the wrong combination of gravel and river rock to force a walker to carefully consider every step. Step on a large, round rock? You may twist an ankle.
Walking a step at a time reminds me of the pilgrim discipline of not looking too far ahead on the schedule. As I look at the next six days, all to be spent in this hot, flat land, I can’t help but wish I was whisking along on an air-conditioned train to someplace more picturesque, more interesting. But, the walk happens one step at a time until its end. Each day has its blessings, and they seem to appear only when the pace is slow and the heart is open. Blessings like Davide, Carla, and many others along this way.
Hiking Notes: The challenge is this section is deciding how to divide up four relatively short days leading toward Pavia. My original itinerary had planned 35km with an overnight tonight in Morlata. That’s not realistic in this heat (39c, 100f), but several stages at 18-20 km seem just a wee bit too slow.