Today’s Miles: 27.1
Total Miles: 3,628.4
Near Frinco, Italy – January 7, 2017
My tent is all frozen condensation. The walls crackle and ice flakes off as I roll it up. I remind myself to dry it out later, after the sun rises as high as it will go, in the few hours when the temperature slips above freezing. I shake warm blood into my hands, shove them into pockets, and walk as dawn slips across the sky.
The frost and ice play tricks against my mind. It looks like the desert. It doesn’t look cold. Plants have thorns. The ground is reddish brown and flat. The air is dry. I keep thinking the sun will bake the world warm, but it never does.
I scramble up to the highway and walk the narrow shoulder of the bridge across the Po. It’s a big river here, but will grow as tributaries to the east feed it all the way to Venice and the sea.
On the far bank, hills begin to rise. Not big hills, just small wrinkles of earth, welcome definition after the flat plains of the last days. I drift into them, down paved roads, dirt tracks, and gravel paths.
In the fields beyond a small village I meet a man walking the other way, his coat pulled tight, a hat to keep his head warm, and a big, almost toothless smile on his face. He greets me with a warm handshake like I’m an old friend.
He doesn’t speak a word of English or Spanish so we stand there, talking to each other with gestures and expressions and words the other doesn’t half understand. Sometimes silence falls and we stand for a moment looking at the hills around us. Sometimes we both try and talk at once. Sometimes I almost think I understand what he is saying, but I know I really have no idea, only a sense that he is happy to meet me there in the fields and I am happy to meet him and we are both smiling and happy to be alive in that moment.
In the end, we shake hands again and he turns one way as I go the other, two lines crossing for a moment before splitting apart.
I look back once and watch him disappear up a path toward a cluster of houses. I wonder how many mornings he has walked these fields, how many times his feet have added their bit of weight to the paths, and how many stories he could tell.
“I wish I knew Italian,” I think.
I thought the same in Germany with German and I’ll probably think the same in France with French. That bit of me that wanted to learn some of every language before I left tugs at my heart. I’d thought about postponing the trip and taking the time to study, to learn enough of each language to get by. It might take a year, maybe two, but I could do more research on the route as well, I could plan better and figure out all the places to go.
I climb the hill and the next and the next. Then find a quiet piece of grass to lay my tent out to dry. It’s too cold to risk leaving it wet even with the clear blue sky.
I sit in the sun and think of the man in the field and feel that tug again. It would be a better story if I knew what he said. It would be a bit richer, deeper, and more interesting. I might not be left to write about frozen tents and numb fingers if I just knew a few more words in Italian.
I shrug away that tug and stand to roll up my tent. I need to go. There’s only a few hours of daylight left before I have to figure out where to sleep. I’ll live happy with the smiles, the gestures, and the handshake the two of us shared because if I had waited until everything was perfect, I would never have been in that field at all.