Today’s Miles: 25.3
Total Miles: 3,794.1
Imperia, Italy – January 18, 2017
Fire catches the lower branches and rides them up the tree, spinning and swirling higher, catching one branch after the next until the whole pine is a tower of red flames. A whooshing crackle fills the air, sharp and loud. Black smoke rises into the sky. A second tree lights on fire.
The dirt road heads right into it. I watch for a moment, mesmerized by flames, staring at the raw nature in front of me. Part of me wants to get closer, to see it in detail, to feel a bit of the heat. The rest of me wants to run. I look at my maps, then turn to scamper back the way I came, back to a paved road I left two miles ago and the hope that it can sneak past the flames.
Fires seem to be everywhere in the hills. Last night I saw four. Two glowed far in the distance, almost like city lights, but the red color was deeper than electric bulbs, deeper and fading in and out as the smoke swirled in the wind. The other two were close, right across a valley, twin red lines marching in the darkness, burning away at the trees.
In the daylight, the fires are harder to see. They are smoke rising behind ridges, smoldering brush, and a haze in the air. Only close can I see the flames. None seem too big, nothing to engulf the entire coast, to burn away a mountain, but there are so many. Smoke rises everywhere I look.
The people seem calm about it all. I pass a fire truck and the driver nods at me when I point down the road and ask if I can go. Cars drive past as I walk. People stop at overlooks to take pictures a few hundred yards from a burning tree. A plane drops water and circles back to the sea for more. Bunt out sections of land run up to the pavement. There are no blockades, no warning signs, just a sense that you should be smart enough to see smoke and avoid the flames.
I decide to drop back to the sea along the shoulder of a highway, knowing that the coast will be safer. The road grows too big for me. Cars move too fast. There are no sidewalks, no room to squeeze away if someone is staring at their phone for a moment. I bushwhack down a stream and take side roads to get off the pavement, but it keeps pushing me back onto that narrow shoulder with cars rushing by.
I prefer the flames. They don’t move as fast and feel safer.
I squeeze along a guard rail, cross a bridge, then cut across an olive groove and find a quiet road to take me the last mile back to the coast. Above, a fire plane circles back for more water to drop on the burning hills.
The stress of the day gets to me as I walk the last bit towards Sarah’s family’s apartment. The fires, the road, my broken phone, it all just feels heavy. I’m tired and I’m not even moving that fast. My skin is rubbed raw behind each knee and where my legs brush against each other as I step, my joints ache, my muscles don’t fight back so easily, my back is sore, mind stretched out thin. Sometimes I realize that this whole thing is not so easy.
The apartment is empty so I ring the neighbors for the key. I trudge up the stairs and they let me in.
“I’m sure you want to rest for a moment,” they say. “But if you’d like, you are welcome to come over for dinner.”
I thank them then take a shower and feel a bit of life flow back into me as the dirt washes away. I knock on their door and find myself sitting at a table with four wonderful people, one a baby with bright eyes who smiles at me every time I smile at him so I smile more.
“How old is he?” I ask.
“Almost seven months,” Cristiana says. “Born June 21st.”
I laugh. He is already big. You can see his personality shining in that smile. His bright eyes light up a room. He is a little person well on his way in life.
“June 21st,” I think. “The day I left Kinnarodden.”
He grins at me and I grin back.
“We got a long way yet to go, kid,” I think. “But I still have some fire left in me.”