I believed I had lost something. And I had. I believed something was broken. And it was. I believed that my truth was a lie. But it wasn’t.
One of the things the road taught me is that the life we choose lies in the moment we face; that the problems left unspoken will ruin the present and echo in the future; that we are too small and insignificant to miss out on anything.
The road explained to me the significance of the word humble. It gave me the joyous feeling of a superhero and the despair of defeat. It put me above the clouds and buried me under dirt and downpours. But more than anything it created new tools for me to use out there and here, in the ‘real world.’
There is no issue in the world man created that cannot be solved. That’s what the mountain paths whispered in my ears every day. There are no threats that can’t be overcome, and no hardship that humans can’t face. But out there, where silence is a mirage filled with the songs of birds, with the howling of the wolves or wind, with the tremble of the Earth touched by the force of thunderstorms, out there, the human is challenged. His weaknesses are exposed; he is left naked, with no social masks to protect him, with his soul uncovered and his instincts questioned. Out there, the human is his only enemy and friend; nature can break his arrogance; the strength of the wilderness can kill his lies at a stroke.
I chose 1300 kilometers, a distance I believed to be enough to both dispute my inner self and to bring me back from the numbness I often felt. I never imagined that the end of my journey will be decided for me and by me at the same time. Before I left home, I pictured failure and success. Failure was somehow bearable. Victory was achieved only when I had finished walking the distance. In my mind, the distance and the destination were more important than my inner experience. I was wrong. I didn’t know that my real choice was between real living or shadowing the Earth.
For two years, I’ve walked the paths of Tuscany, from the mountains to the sea, on pavement and rocky paths. I believed I was training. I believed I was preparing for the ‘big’ journey, unaware that my experience began the day I walked on the first path. I’ll never forget that walk, a six-kilometer hike in the forest, an old road tying two cities. It was what I now call a pleasurable walk, what I then considered hard and frustrating. Midway I stopped in a meadow and scanned my surroundings. ‘I am right,’ I said to myself, ‘this hiking/walking thing is stupid.’ Thus I got up and reached the destination thinking that I tried and that the pain my untrained body was going through was not worth it. I bought my hiking boots the next day.
My boots, my friends and witnesses of the ground covered and felt, have walked more than 1500 kilometers in two years. They pushed me through deep snow, mud, rocks, pavement, thunderstorms, hailstorms, blizzards. They allowed me to guide them; they often saved me. I loved and hated them at times; I treated them as companions. The ‘Survivors,’ as I nicknamed them, are now retired. They made space for new hiking boots to follow me on new adventures.
But the ‘Survivors’ were there in the beginning; they know it; they walked it. They slept with me in tents, shelters, on mountain peaks out in the open. They saw me cry, laugh, helped me dance on the tunes of the wind, pulled me up when I gave up. And if they would speak they will tell you how I gave up on myself; how I looked down at them and spoke fears, hopes, love, and hate; how I laughed so hard one day enveloped in the wetness of the heavy rain because laughter was the only thing left that made sense; how I kept going despite it all and how I stopped because there was no joy, no pain, no feelings left to feel. They would recount the moment I decided to live, to truly commit to living and sang myself to sleep.
Their story is that of a silent observer, one that holds your hand when in need, one that embraces whatever their owner chooses to. They saw me walking home, getting on the bus, and hugging my daughter when I reached home base in Florence. And, finally, they saw me at peace, not unbroken but real, not healed but true, because the journey was not the distance nor the destination; the journey was me marked by the moment when I chose to live again.