The world works in mysterious ways, but my mind isn’t one to let that be. I spend hours trying to figure out what the world is trying to teach me, why certain events take place, the reasons for meeting certain people, and why I end up in different places. Are we programmed to look for the positive conclusions during these reflections or is it just the eternal optimist in me?
I’ve spent the last few days justifying why work cancelled on me last minute, why my brand new beloved rain jacket was stolen from my pack at the airport, why it poured with rain the following few days, why the bitchy lady on the airport shuttle sent me to the wrong ticket line so I missed the bus and my train, and why my plans all of a sudden flew out the window.
It wasn’t until I was back in the mountains that I remembered the very simple way I often look at life: ‘If you’re happy in the present, you shouldn’t regret the events of your past that brought you here’. I’ve been surrounded by glorious mountains in Northern Italy, staring up at their snow capped peaks in awe. When the rain clouds in the forecast finally turned into little yellow balls of sunshine I grabbed my pack and told my friend Carissa I’d be back in three days. Her husband gave me a huge laminated map with the trails marked on it, pointed out the towns I could visit along the way, then drove me to the trailhead. When my hiking poles hit the trail and I started to ascend into the forest, a squeal of joy escaped me. I’m back, I’m finally back!
The only other people I came across that day were mountain bikers heading up the chairlifts. They stared at me, watching this lone hiker wander past, climbing the trail they were flying over. I didn’t have my stove or a way to treat water, so I went into the towns along the way to fill up my bottles and have my morning coffee.
It was a heavy snow year which meant a lot of the trails I wanted to hike were too high. I chose the lowest options between 1000 and 1600m, but even then I hit some very snowy sections. At first I stepped cautiously on the snow, as if it was going to swallow my whole leg. Then I realised it was so well compacted I could simply cruise over the top without too much trouble. The tricky part was when it covered the trail on a vertical slope and I found myself kicking foot holes in the snow with my Solomon sneakers. Luckily I had my hiking poles as I’m not sure I would have braved it without them.
On the first night I camped about 600m above a small village called Molveno. I was adamant about finding a spot with a view, and searched for a good hour without much luck. Views meant uneven ground and wind, so I opted for a more comfortable option and was bunkered down by 8pm. Despite the three layers I was wearing I woke every hour from the cold, deciding gloves and extra layers would be the way to go the following night. In the morning around 6am I woke to a loud grunting sound and the vibration of hooves. My body automatically freezes now when I hear animals outside my tent, big or small. I mostly revel in the adrenalin, especially when I know there isn’t anything out there likely to eat me.
I descended into the lakeside town of Molveno around 8am for coffee and a brioche, then prepared myself for the climb to 1667m, which was the only way to get around the mountain and over to the other side. Considering I’d experienced snow at 1300m I knew what was coming, but the lack of footprints meant I was relying solely on the tree markings and my not so accurate map to find my way to the top.
I found the only dry piece of ground, surrounded by a sea of white snow to sit and eat my lunch. The sun was in the perfect position to keep me toasty warm while the icy breeze blew across the pass. There was absolute silence apart from the birds chirping and the occasional clump of snow falling from the trees to the ground. I felt elated. I don’t know what it is about being in a place without any other human beings, but to me it’s the greatest gift on earth. Silence, solitude and being in the fresh mountain air makes me feel ALIVE. Before the PCT I never would have had the courage to do such a thing. It’s been a gift.
Coming down the mountain was not as joyous. Some of the trail was only a few feet wide, some was on dirt tracks, and other parts were steep rocky paths which I couldn’t imagine anyone actually walking up under any type of condition. I could see the town I was hoping to reach far below, which only made the slow shuffle downwards more excruciating!
Once down I made a quick pitstop into Covelo to grab some water. I bumped into a German couple looking to do a pleasant day hike up into the mountains. Their English wasn’t great, but they asked me how the trail I just came down was. I probably scared them off hiking altogether because my face scrunched into a painful grimace and I shook my head furiously. ‘Avoid the 612, it’s horrible’. They looked disappointed, so I quickly showed them all the hiker friendly trails I’d walked until they seemed satisfied and drove off heading back towards Molveno.
The trail remained flat from Covelo, taking me through some beautiful rolling pastures towards two gorgeous lakes I planned to camp near. The large no camping signs were a little off putting, and there were so many cars and people around that I continued on a little further back up the mountain to camp for my final night in the woods.
I completely underestimated the effort it would take to get back to Carissa’s the next morning. I knew coming down the mountain would be steep, but I had no idea how many loose stones I would end up slipping on and how many times I’d end up on my bum. Some parts were downright scary, and I moved incredibly slowly after bending my wrist the wrong way on my third fall. It was not a trail I would EVER walk again. One part had a wire to hold onto across a sketchy washout, but the part beyond it was actually more dangerous with nothing to hold onto. My destination seemed so far down, but gradually the tops of the mountains got higher and higher as I slowly descended about 600m in what felt like 1-2km max.
Two hours later at the bottom the trailhead was fenced off with big signs saying closed. I had to bushwhack around the fence just to get out. The next problem I hadn’t factored in was the giant river between me and the train tracks. I didn’t want to believe Google which gave me only two options, walk an hour to the right or an hour to the left to reach a bridge. This was my reaction to that…
The two hour walk home was actually nothing compared to the hell I’d just endured on the way down. I welcomed the burning sensation in my calves and the sense of complete exhaustion when I reached home. I missed that, signs that I’d really pushed myself. This is something only hiking can do for me. If I went to a gym to work out I’d probably stop as soon as my muscles started cramping and go home. When you’re half way down a mountain with the same sensations, you don’t have any other option than to keep going. You’re forced to push yourself, which is why you only discover what you’re really made of when your motivation is survival.
I’ve decided to take a break from the blog until my next adventure, so I can focus attention on my giant growing ‘to do’ list. This break in Italy has definitely done great things to my mind and soul, so you can bet I’ll be back on trail again someday soon!