Walk Into My Story Ela Vasilescu

First day of training

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September, 2017.

Deciding to train for a big adventure is not enough. That is the first step but not the most important one. There are so many details to think of, to prepare for, to adjust, and one missed step can push one on the edge of despair – I know, I’ve been there enough times.

My first challenge was to, somehow, wake up early in the morning and start walking. Where? I had no idea at the time, but I knew I had no chance otherwise. I wasn’t in shape. Scratch that. I was a mess. I couldn’t walk two kilometers without complaining, cursing, or opening a car-sharing app in search of salvation on wheels. Thinking of walking the hills of Tuscany was something out of a comedy series. But, I was committed.

The night before I left for my first walk I announced to my family I wasn’t going to be in the house when they woke up in the morning. Both my husband and four-year-old daughter laughed when I told them the hour I chose to leave the house. 5 am. I ignored the vote of confidence and set a destination in mind. Settignano, 6km through the woods. When I think about 6 km now, two years and a half later, I roll my eyes. But back then, it meant great effort, a challenge even.

The alarm clock began chanting at 4 am and I hit the snooze button, already thinking of excuses. Maybe I have a stomach ache. It wouldn’t be my fault. Or, maybe I have a headache. Still, plausible. Damn it! Absolutely nothing hurts!  I looked at the ceiling for half an hour, trying to come up with some argument to not get out of bed and walk. I then turned on my left side and looked at the pre-packed backpack. I had a bottle of water, two sandwiches, and a mint chocolate for energy. Nowadays, that amount of food can keep me going for two days. I got up.

At 7 am, I was out of the house, breathing in and out the chill of a September morning. An hour later a text arrived. It was from my husband, in awe that my side of the bed was empty and I had set out. To understand my family’s reaction here’s some back story. I’m not a morning person. I’m not even a pleasant person in the morning. My brain is not ready for any interaction and I let people know that without any filters. It’s not charming, to say the least. The other reason for their mistrust is because I am a woman of ideas. I get them in my sleep, at the dinner table, while looking absently at strangers walking by. I always get excited, maybe I even talk about it for a while and then the thought hides somewhere in the corners of my brain to never be heard of again. In the past five years, I broke the pattern and finished every idea I spoke out loud; still, for someone who’s lived with me for the past eighteen, five years was not enough to prove I meant it; especially when my new idea implied doing so many things I stayed away from.

Right! Back to my hike. Did I mention I was wearing sneakers and a pair of old jeans? But I meant business. I was going to walk between these two hill towns like nobody had done before. As I was to discover in the months to come, there are many paths one can take to reach Settignano from Fiesole. I made the trip at least five times over the years and not once have I taken the same path. It’s a beautiful walk through forests, gorgeous views over Florence, and many clearings. Since I didn’t want to walk the 8km from Florence to Fiesole (of course!), I chose to ride the bus that dropped me in the central square of the town, Piazza Mino. Right away the church of Santa Maria Primerana, the oldest church in Fiesole, made me smile. I had seen it many times before but never really noticed it. The two stone pillars in front of it, the opened wooden door almost invited one to step inside; instead, I followed the signs and began taking my first steps into the ‘unknown’. To reach the forest from the center of Fiesole it’s a 10-minute walk at most, uphill. I turned a few corners, looked to my right to admire the Duomo, Florence’s main attraction Cathedral, in the morning light, huffing and puffing at the same time. I took a selfie, the first of many that were to become a tradition for Walk Into My Story. 

I often say that if I could meet ‘me’ from two years ago, I would smack myself on the back of my head and scream: “Think harder. Plan better. Acknowledge and respect the process.” I stepped into the forest and instantly felt the rocks, the hardened earth, dried after last week’s rain, digging into the soles of my sneakers. Who wears sneakers when they’re hiking? Apparently I do! It was too late to do anything about it and going back was not an option. Giving up or turning around was a lesson I was going to learn later. Google Maps was my only guide and a printed piece of paper about the chosen route. The paper said to take two lefts, one right and reach the caves of Maiano. I did, and the old quarries of Fiesole, exploited until the early 20th century greeted me.

I had barely walked 40 minutes and already I felt like a superhuman. A silly one, but one nonetheless. Since the caves were less impressive than I hoped, I continued, singing the seven dwarfs song from Snow White until a clearing, unexpectedly came into sight on my right. In the middle two giant logs served as seats surrounding an old firepit filled with ash. I accepted the invitation and stopped to contemplate the perfect view. For a split second, I forgot about the blisters I could feel forming on the soles of my feet and could only focus on those ready to burst on my soul. I wasn’t a morning person, I wasn’t in shape, I wasn’t ready, but I knew Walk Into My Story was not just a whim to chase away into a forgotten corner.

I finished my 6km hike two hours later, losing the path a few times, clenching my teeth because of the pain my untrained body felt every step for the last kilometer, sipping a well-deserved cappuccino in the main square of Settignano, Piazza Niccolò Tommaseo. That night, when my house fell into silence, I glued myself to the computer, adding hiking gear to my wishlist, researching tips and making a long list of documentaries to see and books to read. I had hiked and rock climbed in my teens, yet gear was never my concern, that was someone else’s job. Looking at the three-page long list with things to buy, research to do and routes to test, my heart skipped a beat.  It was going to be a long training process, but I had already added three things and a question under the diary entry of the day. I decided that if the answer to the question will always be affirmative, decisive, without a shred of doubt, this crazy life-changing project can live on.

  1. It’s not enough to just decide to walk.
  2. Shoes are important.
  3. A medical kit is a must.
  4. Are you sure about this?

 

 

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Ela Vasilescu

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Walk Into My Story Ela Vasilescu