Deciding to start a hiking trip implies baring your soul. And there are as many possible itineraries to follow as there are possible motivations which may be pushing you to decide on this kind of trip.
This time, I left only with the knowledge that I would start walking in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna, Italy, and that that walk would take me to Piazza della Signoria in Florence, a few days later. This is all I knew when I started walking on the Via degli Dei, a suggestively named trail on the Appennini mountain chain: in Italian, Via degli Dei means the “Path of the Gods”.
I think going on a hiking trail is one of the best ways to start travelling solo. Of course, you can also choose to go to on a city trip to a European capital to start out, but the risk there is of ending up caught in packages and fast tourism, if you don’t give yourself enough time to get settled somewhere and explore.
Along a trail, everyone can create their own itinerary, just by walking along the trail. There will never be two identical itineraries, simply because there will never be two identical hikers. You’d be surprised to hear that, very often, if you listen to the stories of two people who walked the same trail, their stories might be entirely different from one another, so much so that you might think they didn’t really walk along the same trail.
Moving slowly teaches us that moving and travelling are not the same thing, and once you realise this, this awareness will stay with you forever. And you can use this knowledge in cities, too.
If I’d comfortably moved with public transport, like I always have, what would I know now? I would know nothing new. How many times have I been to Bologna and Florence? Several times, yes, but how many times did I ask myself what was between those two cities? Never.
A thought I found amazing, as an ink portrait artist, is American author B. Lopez’s, known for his essays on humanitarian and environmental issues.
“When I travel, I try to get to know the territory around me as if it were a human being, with its own complicated, mysterious personality. I wait for it to speak. I wait, and I wait.”
I asked Valeria, who has been a hiker for over 30 years and who welcomed me into her home with her husband Andrea, “How do you choose what trail you want to follow?” Her answer was “I think it is the trail that chooses you.” So, perhaps, the right time had come for the Appennini mountains to speak to me.
I’d heard a lot about the Via degli Dei over the past few years, however, the main push to go came from my friend Eleonora, whom I met while walking up a mountain in the Marche, in Italy. The enthusiasm in her voice when she shared her summer adventure on the Via degli Dei was contagious, so much so that I decided to stop waiting, and just go. I asked for time off work on a Monday, I packed my bag on the following day and went to Bologna. A day later, I started walking.
What planning steps did I skip before leaving, then? I didn’t train, I didn’t research the trail, I didn’t book any accommodation, I didn’t buy a guide until half an hour before boarding the train. And I’m a planner, I love researching places and getting ready! This time, though, my decision was so sudden that I decided to completely improvise.
As for nature, and regarding our relationship with it, we all think we have certain rights. But: any plan can be turned upside down in a matter of seconds, due to unexpected events on the way, falls, or bad weather. Being prepared only matters that much, actually: it is while walking, step after step, that you discover yourself as a walker, and you will not feel confident before you have actually left some footprints behind you.
Your senses will be given a new life, you will feel intensely again, by experiencing fatigue and sweat, and you will have a clear aim to reach. I can be pretty lazy when I have no motivation, and it is by going hiking that I find my motivation again. All we need to do is make the decision of putting our boots on and going walking, because even though we might think we are just wandering for pleasure, there is actually a destination for us, out there.
When you hike, you always do it to get somewhere – to give a shape to a question, or to find an answer
Journalist Maurizio Maggiani wrote “What I know about the world, and I mean what I really know, I learned with my feet. It may not be much, but this is the way it is.” My shiatsu training taught me that the stomach meridian is located on the front of our leg, therefore, it is this meridian that we expose first, when we bend our knee to start walking. And what is our stomach, after all, if not the organ that aids our digestion, not just of food, but also of feelings and experiences?
We might not fully realise it, but when we walk, we expose our gut, so that it can be exposed to what it needs, in order to digest a new experience. If we — perhaps unknowingly — keep avoiding what scares us, our stomach is the first that gets sent forth to explore, whenever we start walking.
Trust those thoughts that see the light in open air, through movement. Trust your gut… And your feet!