Tall climb and renewed friendship

Feliciano, center, with Luke and me.

Day seven: Piediluco to Poggio Bustone — 24km (14.9 miles)

Today’s big climb of about 600 meters presented an obstacle that our group handily overcame. We arrived in Poggio Bustone and settled into the new apartments of my friend, Feliciano. His Locanda Francescana is by far the best pilgrim overnight option in this quaint and pretty hill town, and I’m so proud of Feliciano’s efforts to prepare his new rooms to coincide with our arrival here

Seven of our eleven pilgrims opted to walk the whole distance. Left to right: Lisa, Mary, Mike, Mary Ann, Denise, Fiona, Millie.

Views to the Sacred Valley.

Photo op at the wooden cross above the St Francis Beech Tree.

Walking down from the heights.

Results of recent forest fires near Poggio Bustone.

Our nervous group encounters a nervous cow.

On GPS this is what my day looks like. The red line is our intended track as we arrive in Poggio Bustone. Blue is my actual recorded track at our arrival. Our intended distance for the day was 21 km. Actual distance today was 31+.

Waterfall river lake walk

Mist rises from the falls just after the flood gates are opened.

Day Six: Arrone to Piediluco– 18km (11.2 miles)

The Marmore Waterfall always refreshes me, and today was no different. Our pilgrims started from the bottom, walked up, and then feasted at a friendly and efficient restaurant at the top. Afterward we walked along the river and then the lake before settling into our lakeside hotel near a spot where St Francis preached.

Lovers’ Tunnel is very wet.

Luke and I pose for the camera.

View back toward Arrone.

Walk along the dike.

Panorama at the lakefront.

Lost and Found on the Via San Francesco

May 21,2013 — Piediluco to Poggio Bustone

Last night’s dinner was over-the-top delicious and plentiful, which led us to wonder how much we would owe for the privilege of enjoying it. We’d made a bargain with the hotel/restaurant proprietor yesterday to rent a room, then later agreed to have dinner too, but we realized we’d asked the price for the room but not the dinner. This morning when we headed to reception to settle the bill we learned our per-person total was 70 euros for the rooms, dinner, breakfast wine and snacks in the afternoon, plus a big bottle of water for the road. Not a bad price really, but we realized we should be more careful in the future to get the whole price before confirming.

As we walked outside we were greeted by a cool, dry day with high clouds. We crossed our fingers, hoping the clouds would keep their moisture to themselves so we would have a dry climb up the anticipated 2100 ft (700 meter) elevation gain to Poggio Bustone, an important St. Francis site in the Rieti valley, just across the mountains standing before us.

20130521-210131.jpg“See the town on the mountain up ahead?” “Yes.” “Good. We are climbing there.”
As we turned out of Piediluco, passing the Italian National Crew (rowing) headquarters, we noticed a hill town high up ahead and wondered if it was Labro, our intermediate stop for the day.

Before long something important became obvious: the waymarks were becoming fewer and less noticeable. We had relied on a blue and yellow stripe combination since the very start, but now the blue was gone and an occasional, halfhearted yellow stripe haphazardly appeared. Our theory was that we’d just left the region of Umbria and now were in the region of Lazio, whose waymark caretakers aren’t as diligent as their Umbrian peers. The lack of good waymarks would become important as the day continued.

In spite of the infrequent trail markings we managed to make our way up a gravel road to Labro, about one quarter of today’s elevation gain. Labro is a typically quaint and gorgeous Italian hill town, with centuries-old tile roofed houses stacked atop each other, all of them clinging to steep hillsides and separated by cobbled streets.

Somehow we missed the “centro storico” (old city) with its crenelated walls and ended up walking on a road at mid-city height that spit us out without coffee or croissants at the police station on the edge of town. It was only 10:30 anyway, so we kept climbing up the asphalt road, then turned onto a gravel road next to a cow pasture with two classic, tiny Fiats rusting under a tree. “I want that one,” said a wise Andreas who recognized them as stylish, urban collectors’ items — anywhere but in Italy.

We followed the road as it snaked uphill several kilometers while it started to rain, then arrived at the little town of Morro Reatino, which was blessed with an open cafe. Though at 11:30 we were very ready for pizza we settled for coffee and croissants since pizza would not be served until noon.

During our snack we studied our Lazio guide booklet, which indicated the direction to Poggio Bustone. Less hungry now, we faithfully followed yhe scarce marking and vague guidebook directions in the cold rain. Higher and higher we walked until we reached the top of our climb where we were presented with a confusing intersection.

In one direction was a sign for Faggio Bustone, the “beech tree of St. Francis” where tradition says he prayed and performed a miracle. In another direction were the yellow waymarks, seemingly pointing to Poggio Bustone, our goal for the day, but oddly north of the road we’d taken up — the opposite direction of Poggio. Our map suggested another possibility, that we go to the miraculous beech tree and walk past it to Poggio. The final option was presented by a shepherd, sitting in his old, white Rabbit pickup, who pointed vaguely at the road we’d just come up as the road to Poggio.

20130521-210340.jpgTiny chapel at the Beech Tree of St. Francis
After a discussion of several minutes we opted to follow the map. During an hour of uphill climbing we met several handsome tan colored horses, a half dozen white cows, and two Swiss hikers — coming toward us, in their words: “in the direction of Poggio Bustone.” We now realized we were lost. We tried our cell phones to see if we could find our location on a suitable map. No signal.

By now it was 2:30 and I started to do a calculation in my mind of a) the amount of daylight left, b) the amount of food we had with us, and c) the downward direction of the temperatures.

We stopped to discuss where to go. Straight ahead would take us north. Going back would cost us another hour of time. Finally we opted to head back to the Beech Tree, where we’d seen our last waymark.

Fifty minutes later we were back at the Beech Tree chapel, where our Swiss friends were taking their lunch. While the others in our party shared the little bits of cheese, crumbled bread sticks and cherry tomatoes we had left, I walked down across a large meadow and found a new set of waymarks –red and white stripes — one of which had two welcome words written on it in black marker: “Poggio Bustone.”

We briefly headed back to the confusing intersection, which we still couldn’t sort out, then finally opted to follow the red/white striped waymarks I’d scouted back near the chapel. These waymarks, it turned out, were meticulously painted, leaving no doubts about our direction. Following the markings we picked our way down a steep, slippery trail to a dirt road below. Our direction clearly was now southerly and carefully following the markings we found ourselves after two hours on the outskirts of the scenic town of Poggio Bustone (applause!).

20130521-210443.jpgOur view to below after climbing 2100 ft (700 meters)

None of us were ever scared in the slightest that we might have to overnight in the cold, wet mountains of Lazio, but we all knew we could begin to see the limits of our stamina and the potential dangers ahead. The red/white markers were a huge relief and the kilometers melted away under our tired feet.

As we walked down the gravel road to Poggio Bustone we were startled by a large, white cow who charged out of the bushes ahead of us. We noticed her udder was dry and that she was quite alone in this very remote stretch of mountain territory. Since we’d walked throughout the valley we knew quite well that the nearest herd was at least 2-3 kilometers away, and we felt for her as our presence on the isolated road inadvertently nudged her farther and farther down the valley. Later, as we entered Poggio we saw an old, bleached cow skull and thought about life and death in the remote mountains and about the lone cow somewhere in the hills without her herd.
20130522-092734.jpgIn Sebastian’s words, “In a couple more wrong turns we would have looked like this.”

We’d made a reservation at La Locanda Francescanna in Poggio and were surprised to be greeted by its proprietor as we made our way into town. He’d driven to the end of the road, where the path spills out on the north side of town, perhaps to check up on our well being. It was 5:30, a few hours more than a normal walk should take from Piediluco, and we were late to receive his hospitality.

His employee greeted us kindly at the hotel’s reception desk, then we rested and showered before enjoying an ample dinner at the hotel’s restaurant a few blocks away from the hotel itself. OK, yes. We did get lost getting to the restaurant. But we’re used to that by now!

Package price for overnight, dinner and breakfast? A prearranged 45 euros. We’d learned our lesson about pre-negotiating our price, as I think we also learned not to be caught under-prepared for a hike in the cool, wet mountains of Lazio.

Short and Beautiful Walk Leads to Happy Reunion

May 20, 2013 — Arrone to Piediluco

20130520-153439.jpgViews toward Arrone as we left town after breakfast and shopping

Our morning started with a breakfast of coffee and “biscotti,” which sounds promising to an American used to the Starbucks variety of biscotti, but which in Italy seems to mean a sugary pastry preserved forever in a plastic Twinkie┬« bag. Still, smothered in jam or Nutella these biscotti give ample, sweet calories for a day’s walk. We lingered over breakfast, then lingered some more after breakfast, to give ample time for our clothes to dry in the morning sun.

After buying apples, checking my weight at a crowded pharmacy (down 3 pounds), buying toothpaste, and clarifying directions with a helpful member of the local polizia we left Arrone under partly cloudy skies, in shirtsleeve temps on a level track through the valley behind the town.

20130520-153535.jpgOne of the many fisherman along the accompanying river out of Arrone

By the topographical chart we knew we had level ground as far as the Marmare Waterfall, but at that point we’d climb about 400 feet to the Marmare viewpoint. We were excited about seeing a beautiful waterfall, even if it meant a steep climb to get to the top.

The climb ended up being quite steep — like a stairway without the steps. Sebastian led the way up, up and up to the large park above the falls that includes a museum, food kiosks, ballfields and a campground. The steep climb had prepared us for a bite of lunch, which we took at one of the kiosks near the ticket office. We asked about the cost of tickets and learned they would go on sale “when they turn on the waterfall.” Seems the beautiful falls do double duty as a power generator and part of the day the water is diverted to make electricity for nearby towns.

Rather than wait a couple of hours for the waterworks we headed on toward our goal of Piediluco which was just 7k ahead. About two-thirds of this track was on tranquil, gravel road next to a wide canal, but unfortunately the other one-third was on the edge of a busy two-lane highway. So we made our way into Piediluco alternately in either sun-splashed bliss or barely controlled terror.

20130520-153622.jpgStepping off the path to watch a visiting painter

By 3:00 we were in the lakeside town and a kind man directed us to the only open hotel in town, a renovated monastery above the famous Church of San Francesco from the 13th century. We settled into our room, showered and headed to the terrace, just above the church’s tile roof, to write in our blogs and diaries. As we wrote we were charmed by various local cats and by the hotel owner, too, who brought us bread, cheese and a couple of tiny pizza slices for a snack.

Even though we’d seen some beautiful scenery, the big event of the day was the arrival of our 2011 camino friend, Andreas of Finland. We long ago knew he’d be able to join us starting on May 20, but it wasn’t clear until a couple of days ago that our rendezvous would be here in Piediluco.

20130520-182133.jpgFisherman among the boats at Lake Piediluco, a place also popular with Italy’s competitive rowing teams

Andreas is much-loved in our 2011 pilgrim family. I appreciated especially his jokes, skits, and comedy sketches. He’s a faithful Lutheran and a student of theology and journalism.

Tomorrow we head into “real” St. Francis territory as we cross from Umbria into Lazio and overnight at Poggio Bostone, a place closely associated with St. Francis’ life and spiritual development.

20130520-215140.jpgFrim left: me, Sevastian, our host restaurateur/hotelier, Jacqueline, and new arrival Andreas