Thursday, July 4, 2019

Day 50 - Pozzuolo to Paciano

We had a late start this morning. The hotel did not begin serving breakfast until 8:00, and because we were a little short of the town center of Pozzuolo, we did not pass through the official starting point for this stage until 9:00.

There is a small possibility that the brutal heat, which has gripped Italy and made this last third of the walk difficult, may be waning. The long range forecasts for next week show a cooling trend, with high temperatures predicted to stay in the eighties. That would be nice.

Most of the morning was on asphalt. We wandered across the rolling Umbrian hills. Everything was going well until we took the hiker’s bypass through the small town of Casamaggiore. We had been walking on a mildly busy provincial road. The book offered a short opportunity to get off the busy asphalt, and walk past the church of the Madonna della Neve (Mother of Snow). Caught in the day’s heat, I found it difficult to believe this portion of Umbria had ever seen snow. Nevertheless, I suppose it was possible.

Madonna Della Neve

We looked at the exterior of the church (which was locked), and then proceeded off on one of the Via’s exciting alternate paths. This led down a short dirt road, and where the road turned to the left, two arrows indicated that we should continue straight ahead, down a hill into an olive grove.

At first we were optimistic as someone had mowed the path, and the way seemed self-evident. This was a ruse. I quickly discovered that this lovely mowed path simply circled the outer edge of the olive plantation and brought us back to the starting point. Meanwhile, Mary stepped on something brambly and was picking thorns out of a vicious cut.

Maybe we should go straight ahead, we thought. This led us to a field of sunflowers. The guidebook was useless. The waymarks were non-existent. Once again we had wandered into one of those special Via places, from which it is impossible to extricate oneself without retracing our steps, or resorting to the GPS.

I am beginning to formulate a new rule: any stage that cannot be navigated without a GPS is not complete. Someone needs to return to this delightful grove and tack up a few waymarks to guide those who have never been here before.

Out came the GPS. The guidebook mentioned a road, and I saw one flanking the side of a motocross track across the valley. “Let’s work our way through the fields to that road,” I told Mary, “and then we can get back to the main road.”

I pushed my way through a thicket of tangleweed and ended up covered with burrs. Mary was still picking thorns out of her leg. Ultimately, to make a long story short, we made it into the motocross park.

“How eerily quiet,” I thought to myself as we climbed our little road that flanked the racetrack. “I wonder how they keep people out of here when the course is closed. I wonder if it is going to be easier to get in than to get out?”

We followed the road to the top of the hill, and, you guessed it, a six foot tall steel gate. It was padlocked. It was high. I looked at Mary. “Can you get over that if I help you?”

The Gate

We stared back the way we had come, though tangleweed, sunflowers, and thorny traps.

Somewhere back there was the correct path

“I’ll try,” she said.

I was able to boost her over. I passed across the backpacks, and then vaulted the gate in a single bound. Maybe it took two.

In any event, we were free again. In hindsight it seems amusing. In the moment I was less inclined to laugh. Much later, while scanning the updates to the route on the Via Romea Germanica website, we noticed that it says that the bypass through Casamaggiore is no longer possible. Obviously we bear a large share of the blame for not reading that notice before we set off, but it is still the case that out on the main road there is a waymark arrow pointing to Casamaggiore. In Casamaggiore there is still a waymark arrow pointing down the gravel road, and at the curve in the gravel road, there are two waymark arrows pointing down into the olive grove of despair. If you are going to close part of the route, someone needs to go out with a razor blade and scrape off the arrows. It is not enought to simply put a note on a website.

We rolled off the Umbrian towns in the heating day. A strange fact: most of these towns (all of those we encountered in this stage) don’t seem to have public water fountains for refilling water bottles with cool acqua. I don’t understand it. As a result, we must carry several bottles to get us through the day, and after several hours in the sun, those last two bottles are ready to brew tea. What a refreshing thing to drink 100+ degree water on a day when the air temperature is nearly that much.

Mary of the Dusty Road

Before Vaiano we passed an Etruscan tomb. This tomb was discovered when they were building the road.

Unfortunately, it was locked up, so we had to content ourselves by studying the signboards.

Locked Etruscan Tomb

We crossed under the railway line (less than an hour by train to Roma), and then began a hard march up the hill to Paciano. Midway up this hill I simply ran out of steam. I had been sweating rivers all day long, and I suddenly felt exhausted. My stomach felt queasy. I could barely crawl along the last kilometer. This is unusual for me: I usually finish the day strong. I don’t know if it was the heat, the hills, or dehydration, but it took me a long time to reach our goal.

Nevertheless, I made it.

Today’s Distance: 23 KM

Total Distance: 977.1 KM

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