|w o r l d a w a i t s . c o m|
|Tales of the World
Italy is hot in July. I looked at my backpack lurking in the dust -- an overstuffed sack of lead waiting to drag me down. Why on Earth was I carrying a goosedown parka and Goretex gaiters in this bone dry oven? I should have had "Embarrassed Idiot" tatooed on my forehead so people would know that the sweat-soaked pack mule stumbling by was self-aware.
It had been a day of hot trains, a hot bus, and a hot stroll through not-so-hot Pisa for a "yeah, big deal" glimpse of the leaning tower. I had finally reached the charming town of Portovenere and the cool, blue Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the hot wind blew off the land and a midday climb lay ahead. The Cinque Terre stretched away northward -- and upward. That was my destination; Rick Steves said it was nice...
Regardless of the heat, I was ready to move on. Everyone I saw in Portovenere seemed to be part of groups that couldn't include me. They lay with friends on the rocks by the water. They sat with friends and sipped cool drinks behind dark glasses. They shopped, boated, strolled and played with friends and family. I was alone.
Being alone is a condition, though not necessarily a problem. If you hang out in places where everyone else seems to be with friends, alone can become lonely. I needed a hot climb alone more than a pretty town lonely. I hoisted my pack and started off.
There's a point in a long climb when you know that most of it's behind you. You may be at your hottest and most tired, but you know you'll soon be sitting on a rock, dining on the fruits of your labors. You smile as a sudden whiff of breeze confirms the truth of it. Suddenly, that nagging pain in your knee fades and your lungs rediscover long lost capacity. The slope or saddle or spur rounds off toward level and, with a last steep scramble, you're up. It's never a final triumph -- there will be plenty more "up" ahead -- but each peak or pass is a joy.
It was mid afternoon when I reached the broad ridge. I walked along through a forest of thirsty pines, the air still and stifling. At last, the path turned outward and awkward views began to show through the brush and branches. A small trail appeared to my left, winding its way out through some rocks toward the promise of bright sunlight beyond. I followed it eagerly as it hopped in short yards to a fantastic platform of stone, carved decades ago to hold a great piece of artillery. Giddily I stood on legs weak with sudden vertigo, gazing from sheer fall to golden sun, up and down the rugged Cinque Terre, my eyes wide as saucers as I soaked it all in.
It was only three o'clock, the thought flashed -- I should go on. But an instant later I recalled as I would many times again that I was already there -- I could go when and where I pleased, for good reasons or none. I had a piece of the freedom I had wanted for years. It just took some getting used to. The next miles were there whenever I wanted them.
I set up camp and enjoyed the day.