Last night we had a powwow and this morning we made the final executive decision to skip ahead a day on our schedule. Looking to our planned route we realized, from our errors in the Alps, that we had not budgeted enough time for the Apennines. We figured it was better to lose one day of farmland and sidewalk-less town edges to gain more time in the mountains. Plus the extra day means that next week we can break up a planned day of 42 km (!!). We thought way back when that it would be good to do a day as Luther did it. Now that seems rather less appealing, and we did manage 39 km one day early on).
Roger also pointed out that our route is much less direct than the one that Luther followed, since the Via Francigena tries to avoid main roads that are almost always the most direct route (and even then we find ourselves running across cloverleaf intersections leading on and off the “superstrada”). And, in yet another one of those strange contrasts between then and now, Luther wouldn’t have crossed the Apennines but gone all the way around them through Bologna to the east. We decided to forego that attempt at historical re-creation because there’s just plain nowhere to walk. We’ll meet up with his footsteps again in Florence.
Though this was, we think, a good decision, it did not pay off immediately into a good day. I’ve found long-forgotten comfort recently in that Sunday School song “This is the Day,” but honestly it was hard to rejoice and be glad in it today. For one thing, there was rain, lots of it, all day long. It wasn’t as cold as in Bavaria in August, but it was every bit as wet. Plus the clouds sat so low on the ground that the first beautiful views we should have been seeing in the foothills were shrouded in mist, which can be beautiful but doesn’t offer a lot of variety.
Then there was the mud. It was thick, clay-ey, and gluey. It usually appeared on the uphill tracks (making us regret, for the very first time, that we weren’t walking on asphalt) and so much would stick to our shoes that it would start climbing up the sides of our feet, catching twigs and weeds and pebbles, and adding about a pound of weight to each foot. We couldn’t even knock or smear it off—we ended up using the ends of our poles basically to peel it off. Needless to say it both slowed us down and was pretty gross to deal with.
The minor highlights of the day were chiefly smells. We had lunch in a huge hay shelter with a cleared space in the middle, out of the rain, and hay always smells wonderful. Once we walked along a little stream and I smelled the mint growing, then found it and picked some of the leaves to sniff (not to be confused, however, with nettles, which look a lot like mint and have, unfortunately, figured out how to cross the Alps, along with slugs). There was some kind of cypress trees that had a powerful citrusy scent like tangerines, and I did take a moment once to stop and smell the roses, also very lovely.
The only particularly pilgrim-y experience of the day was walking past a huge lone tree in a field and noticing a notebook in a plastic case tied to it with a rosary. It was labelled “Wandering’s Book” and invited pilgrims to leave a message. We were only the second people to do so (the book started in September of this year).
We slogged in to Sivizzano around 7 p.m. this evening, weary and footsore (pruney around the toes, too, after having wet feet all day). Roger and Ginny had a big pan of spaghetti with meat sauce ready for us, which we just about inhaled, and then we drove on a few km to a campground in Bardone. Tomorrow we’ll get up quite early and get dropped off again in Sivizzano—we have under 30 km to go, but about 1150 m to climb.