07 Apr Stage 15, Part 2: Breakthrough on the Road to Assisi
It is just after 15:00, 6 September 2017. There is silence at the watering point after the Pilgrims’ Cross. I decide to give myself as long as it takes before setting foot on the road again. The absolute refusal of a rebel^ fills me after my raging breakpoint on the first part of Stage 15.
After a while I feel quite surprisingly refreshed and strangely calm. I’ve had my storm. I’m ready to continue. Everything feels strangely light as I set off again. The realisation of the kind of prayer that God has just answered amazes me. My cry was certainly one of primal anger, yet He helped me.
I let go of self-pity, and let the beauty and energy of the rolling hills and greenery fill me. It’s still hot as hell, but the heat doesn’t seem to affect me that much anymore. Clouds start rolling over the hills which adds to the cooling. A Lynyrd Skynyrd song called “Still Unbroken,” comes to mind, and I feel the lyrics:
Countin’ miles, countin’ tears
Twisted roads, shiftin’ gears
Year after year – it’s all or nothin’
It’s all or nothing for me now. Lines from the chorus in particular echo in my head:
Guess I’ve lost everything I’ve had
But I’m not dead, at least not yet
Still alone, still alive, still unbroken.
The Subtleties of Confrontation
I see Niels sitting next to the road not too far from farm buildings.
“I thought you’d already be in Assisi,” I joke, perhaps a bit sarcastically.
“No,” he says, dead serious. “You didn’t see the sign, did you?”
“Sign? What sign?”
“That one.” He points to a pole. It takes me a second to see the sign that has dropped to the ground. Not only that, it also looks blacked out.
I shake my head.
“You’d have carried on, wouldn’t you? Look up Henri! I’ve told you that many times.”
“With all due respect, I did see you sitting over there,” I point at him. “That’s why I wasn’t looking for a sign.” And hello, the sign is on the ground!
“Come on, carry on,” irritated, he waves me on. “I’ll catch up.”
“No doubt you will,” I mutter to myself.
I turn to go. As I walk on, I wonder if the abuse he has dished out is not perhaps some limp-wristed attempt at getting me riled up. It wouldn’t be the first time… I feel no need to react, but wonder if this is not cause for him to behave in this way.
Getting Closer to Assisi
The descent from that point is quite rocky and sharp. My next landmark is a picnic table. Seriously! With more landmarks I could orientate myself far more accurately. I miss the picnic table but get to the t-junction. The signs are practically useless. They’re either completely bleached or blacked out. At least I know I’m on The Way to Assisi.
The road undulates though forest and clearings, providing occasional sightings of Assisi. My pace is good enough to stay ahead of him for about 30 minutes. As much as I am tiring, I’m also growing in the absolute belief that I can do this. With God’s help.
There is a long and gradual descent towards Assisi. Views of the Basilica di San Francesco become more prominent (featured image). It’s a bit alarming because every step downwards will mean two steps upwards at the end of the trail, and that when you’re really tired. Yet my belief remains strong.
It is 16:35. I’ve been walking flat out without a break for 90 minutes. Niels is resting at the statue of Padre Pio; only about 2km to go. I am flat buggered tired, and extremely grateful for a breather. There is water and I have lots of it.
To my surprise the Swiss pilgrims arrive a few minutes later. How did I get ahead of them?
“I thought you were stopping in Valfabbrica,” the woman sounds surprised.
“I lied,” says Niels.
I can almost not believe what I’ve just heard. I’m too tired to question this now.
The man looks at his GPS. “35 km!”* he says. For a Swiss he is quite enraged.
Final Slog into Assisi
The last bit of the walk into Assisi is a 114m climb over a distance of 1.2km to the St Giacomo Gate. My faith and self-belief fail. “Oh dear Lord Jesus,” my thoughts start spinning again.
“Come on, we must go,” says Niels.
I feel a bit like Peter sinking while walking on the water to Jesus. His faith failed him, and he started sinking. As Jesus helped him, from nowhere there is a glimmer of strength. I get up and start walking.
“Lord Almighty, how I thank you,” I keep chanting by myself. Step by step, one foot in front of the other, I cover the distance. The Swiss couple overtake me two thirds of the way.
It is 17:35. I get to the St Giacomo Gate. Niels is waiting.
“Almost there,” he says, smiling.
*Conversions from Metric to Imperial
35 km= ~21.75 miles
114m = ~374’.
1.2km = ~ ¾ mile
Awareness, no matter how confused it may be, develops from every act of rebellion: the sudden, dazzling perception that there is something in man with which he can identify himself, even if only for a moment. – Albert Camus.