Section 4 - Midlle and South Italy. Some thoughts.

I knocked the bastard off. And a bastard it was for sure - this last stretch of E1. 

But I will come back to that a bit later.

Mid-June, I prepare myself for Italy, where heavy rainfall is causing death and destruction. The weather settles just as I continue my journey on Passo della Giogo. A good start. Dry, not too hot, not too cold a good track.

Things quickly get a bit more challenging with overgrown tracks, ticks and afternoon  thunderstorms. Some fabulous stretches, like one a bit northeast of Perugia, the area around Castelluccio or the Abruzzo mountains are able to keep my hiking spirit from plunging. Stretches which by far exceed my expectations. Also the endless beech forestes are a pleasure. Overall I am mentally fighting with myself, making my hike harder than it should be. Around the earthquake destroyed area of Amatrice, I reach a personal low. Never in my thru-hiking career did I struggle with myself so much. I am close to giving up. I'm glad for all the support I receive from home and overseas. It helps me to change my attitude, accept certain things the way they are, even see the good things in them. Like the rain. 

So I carry on. However, shortly afterwards I start to realize: the route I have planed to hike across Campana and Calabria (along Sentiero Italia) is out of my league at this time. Too long, too many vertical meters, the uncertainty if the tracks are walkable.

In my head, I am mulling different option. The most appealing and realistic one is simply follow the coast from Salerno the Villa San Giovanni. The ferry terminal for Sicily. Yes, it would involve a lot of road walk. But by then I am tired of missing markers and getting lost, so I opt for the coast. With the beach calling, I can gain new momentum and I have some great hiking days.

Nevertheless, I then extremely spontaneously decide to take a couple of days off anyway. Head home, leaving the trail in Sulmoma. Waiting for the weather to improve, plan my new route.

Is it the right decision to take a break? Or should I have used the momentum. On the train home, I question my own decision keep on doing so during my 6 days off trail. What I can certainly say is that they help me to sort my thoughts and hit the trail well motivated and mentally recharged. A different hiking experience. Like in the good old days. And after a few days inland (where I also meet Umberto, who, with his amazing hospitality boosts my hiking spirit and therefore adds a lot to my achievement!) I hit the coast. Different walking. No more rain. Sunny and hot. Mostly enjoyable walking. Having the deep blue sea to my right, always available for a swim, gives me good feeling.

And following a flat, fairly straight route, obviously is flushing my down the boot towards the end of the mainland, compared to the inland route. Together with the lovely company of my friend and future TA, Maria, I tackle Sicily. Leaving the coast, leaving the road. Yet another completely different hiking experience. Remote, wild, hilly. And a volcano. No more water to cool down makes walking in the heat challenging. People I talk to think that I have lost my mind walking in this heat. With my goal so close, I am able to ignore it. Push all the was to Italy's southernmost point. Yet enjoying every day. Completing Italy, completing E1. 

Of all countries hiked, Italy has been by far the most challenging. Not just this year but also last year. Physically, with the heat and the mountainous terrain until reaching the coast but especially mentally. 

Many hours have I thought about it. Trying  to figure the 'why'. Why the mental strugge? Is it the 'walking away from home', the difficulty to connect with the locals, the barely existing hiking culture? Or not knowing if the tracks I walk on are really existing. The uncertainty. The missing identy of E1 in the middle and south of Italy. Maybe a combination. Maybe also the fact that E1 has been consuming me a lot for the past 4 years and I am somewhat tired. 8000 kilometers is a big number to walk. 

Anyway. I made it. I knocked the bastard off. In the end much faster than I anticipated. Better this way than the other way round. 

As I am typing this, I am sitting on a pebbly beach near Taormina, still on Sicily. Enjoying Pizza and Ice Cream. Feeling fulfilled. Proud. And despite all the challenges, I don't regret hiking it a single bit. 

My flight back is on July  4th. Maybe by then, or when I look down from the aircraft, I will have fully realized what I have achieved. 

I already mentioned my gratefulness for the support I received from family back home and friends overseas. Namely Fredy, George and Rob. Also a big thanks goes to Pierangelo from Bernate Ticino and Umberto from Bologna. Your hospitality meant so much to me. And last but not least Maria, who joined me for a couple of days, enduring me and my stubbornness. She is still recovering from her blisters. I hope you can keep your toenails and also hope you could gain some experience for Te Araroa. 

So that was Italy. Most probably, I will also write a quick summary about my whole E1 experience in one last (I promise) blog entry. Stay tuned. 

Erecting a small cairn to honor the end of my E1.
Erecting a small cairn to honor the end of my E1.
Time to leave. Heading north.
Time to leave. Heading north.
The view from my hostel in Taormina Giardin
The view from my hostel in Taormina Giardin
Enjoy the Dolce far Niente
Enjoy the Dolce far Niente

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Comments: 7
  • #1

    Rob (Sunday, 02 July 2023 07:08)

    Tenā koe Sandro. Yeah you "knocked the bastard off!". We know how at times this beast almost knocked you off. NO REGRETS! Everything you did, got you there. I liked how you said your stubbornness. I had to smile about that because in my brain, I quickly rephrased it and called it Determination. At days end, you had to do what you felt was right for you. Afterall, you were creating it. You were living it. You had to live with your decisions. You can't change what was, and with that, you can only take from all of this - ideas and ways, of how you will deal with things in future. The importance of your mindset, and you will overcome whatever brings you in the future.
    For the record today - we are both lousy with colds and haven't been outside at all. It's too cold at 14C. Snow down south and snow up north. It's cold!
    E1 has been an all consuming part of your life for so many years and in the words of your opening remark, you "knocked the bastard off" it's been a big accomplishment. I remember (through our history) that it took Sir Edmund Hillary a few goes before he finally reached his goal. He had setbacks. He had hardships. But he never gave up. He was DETERMINED to reach his goal, and he did. He finally reached the top of Mt Everest. There was much rejoicing afterwards and his mission stayed with him for the rest of his life. His accomplishment remains part of our nation's backbone.
    In your circle, this will remain a forever time. I am sure you will relive many times of your hikoi.
    Along your way, you have taken me back to places I had been to in my youthful travels. Many a time, I checked my travel diaries and relived my memories of those places. For my hikoi, I thank you Sandro.
    I too would like to acknowledge and thank everybody who has supported you along your hikoi - particularly your whānau, and especially your parents (Fredy and Hettie). Afterall - they gave you to the world. Kia ora kōrua.
    From us both (George and I) to you Sandro ...
    Ngā mihi nui kia koe e hoa mā.
    Ps: your E1 face looks good! So TA!!! �

  • #2

    George Mills (Sunday, 02 July 2023 07:32)

    You should keep the beard it suits you. Just little trim. I was correct guessing your hostel. The advert for it has a very similar one to the pic you took. It's been a privilege to follow you. E1 will be with you forever. Enjoy your last days and your flight home.

  • #3

    Rob (Sunday, 02 July 2023 07:52)

    Tenā koe ano Sandro. Beaut photos. A cool location of your hostel. Lovely!
    Ahhhh Canolli and gelato what a perfect way to enjoy a day at the seaside. Possibly only better would be pizza and a bottle of Italian wine. Good company and someone breaking into Italian opera. All while feeling and seeing the sun go down Perfect!

  • #4

    Rob (Sunday, 02 July 2023 08:35)

    Arohamai Sandro - Hetty

  • #5

    Lili (Sunday, 02 July 2023 16:07)

    Du hast es geschafft! Herzlichen Glückwunsch und geniesse il dolce far niente �

  • #6

    Fredy Koster (Wednesday, 05 July 2023 19:58)

    Passo del Giogo. Day 184. Section 3 finished. Tutto Posto. That was your saying last year.
    Oh, no way would it be that easy.

    You started the last section. The finish of E1 in mind. I think you, me too, underestimatet big the last part of Italy.
    This big beautiful country. Lovely Italy. Look at all this pictures you took, the sunsets, the sunrises. And from the beginning it was a big fighting, no tracks, dead ends, ticks and always worring about thunderstorms.
    And it seemed so endless. Amatrice, I still remember your struggle. Your very good decision to take a break.
    Recharing, coming back and hiking down to the end of the mainland of the E1. Crossing the strait of Messina. Pylon of Messina, the Mount Etna. Falling down to the end of Sicily, the Isola delle Correnti. Enjoying thru-hiking.
    Well done Sandro, congratulation.

    Looking forward to your summery of your E1 experience. Hopefully not your last one:)

  • #7

    Maria (Thursday, 06 July 2023 15:05)

    Such an incredible achievement! Very proud of you for finishing this really impressive and inspiring E1 Project.

    Thank you for the opportunity to join you a couple of days, it has been a good experience!


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