After a two-year wait, my wife and I are finally getting the chance to return to Italy and resume our walk on the Way of St. Francis, a newer pilgrim trail that goes about 350 miles from Florence to Rome, through Assisi, the home of St. Francis.
In 2018 I walked the Camino Frances, the most popular of the Spanish Camino, 500 miles. It was life-changing and my wife joined me for the final week and we decided right there and then that this was something we wanted to do every year. We picked the Way of St. Francis as our next pilgrimage.
In September of 2019 we walked a section it, South to North, from Rieti to Assisi, about 90 miles. We loved it. The Way of St. Francis is more challenging than the Camino de Santiago, with much more elevation gain. There are fewer places to stay, and fewer pilgrims. But the Italian hilltop towns have a distinctive charm and drip with history.
Next week we will begin in Florence, walking this time North to South, ending again in Assisi. The distance this time is more like 175 miles and we will be tackling some significant elevation gains in the Apennines. That challenge is part of the adventure. We hope to return in the fall, to complete the remaining section that we have not done, Rieti to Rome. I hope that a book comes out of this adventure, since many who walk the Camino de Santiago would want to give it a try.
It was hard, waiting two years, to return to this trail. Like many other pilgrims, we missed these sacred routes and eagerly hoped for travel to reopen safely. We started training in late February, getting used to gradually longer walks with our packs. We will carry around 13-15 pounds each, maybe a bit more with extra food or water. 10% of body weight is recommended and for us both that is about right.
We always hike with poles when we can. Besides helping us keep upright on uneven or slippery terrain, they can relieve around 30% of the pressure on joints.
Last weekend we did a final, big challenge, a 10 mile walk up the Blue Ridge, elevations and terrain similar to what we will have to tackle in Italy. Now we are ready to head to the Apennines!
Russ Eanes is a writer, walker and cyclist from Harrisonburg, Va. and the author of The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on The Camino de Santiago.