19 Jan Stage 11, Part 2: The Ups and Downs the Apennines
Refreshed after our break at Bar Sasso, we are ready to tackle this part of the Apennines. Until now it has been a very easy walk on the Way of St Francis. It seems as if most of the 889m* ascent of Stage 11 still awaits. Tomorrow will include most of the descent of 607m.
We start off with me leading. The pace is good.
“I will know that I’m truly fit when I can do a fourfold breathing pattern while hiking,” I remark to Niels, as we’re walking the last of the asphalt road before we head into the hills.
“What is that?” he asks.
“It means I take four paces while breathing in, hold my breath for four, breathe out for four, and hold my breath out for four, and then repeat the cycle.”
Without looking around, I sense his disbelief. I too wonder if I’ll ever achieve this. We’re walking quite fast as I attempt the fourfold breath. I manage only four cycles of this breathing pattern, and it’s back to my normal pattern – breathe in over two paces, and out over two paces, no holding of breath in between.
Soon we turn right and leave the asphalt for a gravel country road that narrows as we progress. We cross the Soara river. As I look up, I see there are the ruins of possibly an old castle, or very large villa at the top of the hill. By its size, I can see that we’re in for steep climb if we’re to pass it.
The forest becomes thicker as we start climbing. We ascend an unnamed poggio along its spur, via a number of steep switchbacks. Niels pulls away from me; only to be expected by now, since this is the kind of walking he prefers because it’s easy on his ankle. I lose sight of him, but take comfort in the fact that there are enough waymarks.
The clouds are intermittent, making walking conditions very pleasant. Again, I find myself walking alone as Niels settles into his own pace, and I into mine. The familiar footprints of those who preceded provide additional assurance.
Only God and the Italian farmers will know how they negotiate these narrow gravel mountain trails with their small Fiat Panda pick-ups. Without exception, we greet each other in passing. Interestingly there are stretches of cement on the gravel roads. That means only one thing: without it, the climb is so steep that it becomes slippery and impossible to negotiate when it rains.
At the top of the poggio I look down on the ruins I saw from the bottom of the hill. I feel proud of having managed better than ever before. A bit further on, I catch up with Niels where we break for water and snacks.
I cannot stop marveling at the beauty of this landscape. Who would not want to walk in such stunning surroundings? I let the silence flow through me, and drink in the peace of my surrounds.
Soon we’re on our way again. The gathering clouds have a distinct Baroque-look about them. It takes a while for them to close in. The slight breeze cools us down considerably. I feel the first bit of drizzle, but it doesn’t warrant taking out a raincoat.
After going into a valley, we have a gentle ascent to Candeggio where today’s walk ends. I catch up with Niels, waiting at the place where we’re to meet the driver to take us back. Concerned about the rapidly growing prospects of rain we walk to the nearest cottage.
Niels phones Hotel Le Mura. What took us around four hours to walk this far, takes the driver less than a half hour. The drive back can only be described as interesting. At times it feels like being a passenger in a rally car. The driver seems to know the route like the back of his hand. At Bar Sasso we stop, and the driver hops out for a quick “watering break.”
I attempt to make conversation with the driver. In my very broken Italian, I try asking him about football. He does not respond. Perhaps the defeat of the Azzurri at the hand of the Spaniards last night is a sensitive point beyond conversation.
As on the day we arrived at Hotel La Mura, we’re back in our room by around 14:00. That leaves us with an afternoon to explore more nooks and crannies of Città di Castello.
*Conversions from Metric to SI
889m = ~2917’
607m = ~1991’