All year I’ve been gearing myself toward thirty critical days, the four weeks plus two days in which I would actually walk the route that is the subject of my upcoming guidebook. It’s hard to believe that I’m nearly one-third of the way through. I’ve learned a lot about a wonderful and quirky GPS device, about a great camera on loan to me, about myself, and about the difficult and beautiful way I’m walking from Florence to Assisi to Rome.
I should say first of all that I’m fine, my health is fine, all my gear is intact, I’m not lost (at the moment) and I’m having a good time. I should also say that in the last few days I have been dealing with very hot temperatures, long days of walking and some poor way marking that has meant I’ve sometimes had to invent my own way to get from one stop to another. And let me say too that there has been some good company along the way. Dear Jacqueline has been with me since La Verna, three days ago, but unfortunately her knee has given out and she’ll be taking the bus or train to Gubbio and then on to Assisi, skipping ahead about five days and then heading back to Vienna. I’ve met other pilgrim friends — three Italians, a Frenchman, an older German couple and three fun mental health professionals from Lübeck, Germany.
But this walk is different than any other walk I’ve done. What makes it most different is that I’m working as I walk. I walk with the GPS in my right hand, with my iPhone in my left hand, and with my camera strapped around my neck. Every step I’m looking for a good photograph, making sure I don’t miss a turn in the way for the GPX way marks I’m creating, and describing it all into a dictation program on my iPhone.
Every day I learn more about the GPS device. I learned yesterday that if I stop the stopwatch function I also stop the track recording. This is bad. In my futile attempt to save battery I just erased the steps I’d walked (though I later found a way to recover them).
As I walk, though, I find that I’m thinking not about myself but am thinking about how best to describe what I’m going through for future pilgrims who will read The Way of St. Francis. I’m taking the sights of this walk and trying to explain it in words that will go on a page, along with a few maps and photos. How do I condense all this experience into a book small enough that pilgrims will be willing to toss it into their backpack with them? How do I make sure they don’t get lost (like I have 3-4 times in 9 days)? How can I be certain I haven’t missed a turn or a landmark that will be explain where they’re at and where they should go? How also do I represent the amazing sights along the way, like the serene Santuario della Verna, nestled atop a mountain in the Central Apennines?
So many questions, and as I walk ahead and blindly speak into my iPhone I recognize I won’t have the answers until I finally sit down with all the material at the end of my walk and begin to flesh out what can and can’t go into the guidebook. At that point I will probably be hundreds or thousands of miles away from the trails that are the source material for the book, and I will just have my recordings, my photos, a pile of receipts and some random memories of hot, long, beautiful days in Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.
Oh, and I’m using my Italian every day. I wish I’d listened better to Flora, David and Maria of Comitato Linguistico in Perugia. But even though I wasn’t the best student I’m putting their helpful lessons to work all the time, and my Italian is getting better.