Henri Craemer | Trail Fatigue
An account of trail fatigue of hiking a long-distance pilgrimage like the Way of St Francis is given. Some of the negative psychological effects and physical problems are described from a subjective point of view.
Poggio Bustone, Valle Santa, Holy Valley, Porta del Buongiorno, Rieti, Hotel Tizzi, Way of St Francis, Via di Roma, St Francis, Via Francigena di San Francesco, trail fatigue, Via di San Francesco, salbutamol, Voltarin
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Valle Santa under a brooding sky from veranda of our room. (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

Trail Fatigue

14 September 2017, just after 15:30. We are back on the main road into Poggio Bustone, at the end of Stage 22 of the Way of St Francis. The going is easy along a gentle downhill on an asphalt road. To our right, we look up a steep cliff. To our left, we have a great view of the Valle Santa (Holy Valley). Houses cling to the cliff on both sides.

 

More Dogs

As we walk along this road we encounter two free-ranging dogs. The one accompanies us through its territory. Another observes our passage from its viewpoint on the cliff above. Unlike the caged dogs, there is no hostility and no barking. The dogs seem contented. The road descends to the entrance to Poggio Bustone.

Poggio Bustone, overlooking Valle Santa (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

Poggio Bustone, overlooking Valle Santa (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

 

“We’re not staying here tonight,” Niels tells me at Porta del Buongiorno.

For a moment I wonder, are we doing the next stage as well? Suddenly my mind goes into overdrive. That would mean we still have 17.7km to get to Rieti! I have a horrible déjà vu feeling of the time we didn’t stop in Valfabbrica for Stage 14, and walked the full Stage 15 too, on to Assisi.

Niels smiles when he sees the look I give him. He tells me it’s only about a half hour further. I’m hugely relieved. It’s still a tough little walk but 30 minutes later we’re in the courtyard of the entrance to Hotel Tizzi. Two dogs on chains go totally berserk. I can but shake my head.

The proprietor – a woman in her 40s looking much like an Italian mama – books us in. She takes us to our room. Out on the veranda, she introduces us to Valle Santa. We have an absolutely spectacular view. The clouds and late afternoon light paint a view to behold.

 

Progress and Possibilities

Before supper, Niels and I discuss our progress. We are happy that we’re walking at a good pace. We’ve been blessed with weather from heaven. Distance-wise we’ve done more than 400km on foot. That’s more than three-quarters of the Way of St Francis.

We also discuss other possibilities for completing the trail. There is the option of completing the third phase of the pilgrimage which ends at Rieti on foot. Then we can take transport to each of the Stage destinations for the remainder of the Via Francigena di San Francesco between Rieti and Rome. We considered this option because St Francis died in Rieti. There are also not such strong associations with the rest of the Via di Roma with the life of St Francis.

Il Tosatore, a bronze sculpture by Anotonio Cassilla in colaboration with Romeo Battisti, 2010 at the Porta Buongiorno of Poggio Bustone (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

Il Tosatore, a bronze sculpture by Antonio Casillo in collaboration with Romeo Battisti, 2010 at the Porta Buongiorno of Poggio Bustone (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

Health Concerns

I am also concerned with my health. The days are fine, but the nights are a battle. I often have to blast my chest more than once per night due to asthma. This could also be the cause of the headaches I’m beginning to suffer. That is one of the side effects of using salbutamol too often. I’m also experiencing body pains. This could be simply a result of walking at pace for a sustained period of time.

The fact that I started having pains in my groin today is worrying. When Niels spoke during earlier stages of Via di San Francesco of these niggles setting in as you carried on walking, I never considered the possibility that I would suffer something in that line.

I’ve been withholding all this information from Niels because I’m worried he’ll react negatively. I’m very critical of myself, and he is very much like me. He doesn’t mean harm through his criticism because he’s not malicious. It’s just that his observations are so sharp.

I have to share the fact that my groin is hurting. Niels has the Voltaren. I have a thing about simply raiding someone’s backpack for anything. We discuss the injury. He’s concerned that it’s a bit high up on my side, which might mean it’s something more serious than merely a “slight groin niggle,” as I put it.

Sunset of Valle Santa (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

Sunset over Valle Santa (Photo: © Henri Craemer)

 

Ambivalence

During supper, we are the sole occupiers of the dining room apart from the family who owns the hotel. Our discussion regarding how to do the rest of the journey continues.

Perhaps the real reason why we’re even thinking of options other than hiking the rest of the trail is that we’ve had enough of walking. We’re not saying it aloud or consciously admitting it. We’ve taken in as much as we can of this beautiful countryside. I personally feel so saturated that I hardly notice the fact that I’m stopping far less often to take photos.

All the physical and mental issues are playing havoc in my mind. Niels asks me what’s wrong, although I suspect he already knows. Our discussion about niggles, health, and alternative transport, leads me to believe that he could be suffering from the very same kind of ambivalence that’s plaguing me.

Regarding the physicals, Niels’ ankle has held up very well, although I can see sometimes he is in agony when he has to start moving.

The mental side of this ambivalence cannot be underestimated. I’m torn between the feeling of not wanting to walk anymore and the commitment I made to myself and to Niels to complete the full Way of St Francis on foot.

I calm myself and restore some degree of inner balance with my pre-bedtime meditation. As a result, none of my ambivalence and physical symptoms prevent me from falling asleep virtually as my head hits my pillow. It’s still not a good night with my chest plaguing me.

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