As I mentioned previously, I now have a travelling companion. I'd met Michael on Sunday in Vercelli when I met up with Salvatore for coffee after Liturgy, and caught up with him again Wednesday evening at the hostel in Tromello. Michael is walking from Assissi to Rome, and after a pleasant evening of conversation with him, I decided to wait a day and leave with him on Friday.
We were walking through the cold damp mist by 8:00 AM, and three hours later, we had covered almost half the distance to Pavia. I've been covering lots of ground recently, but I've also been taking long breaks to enjoy the weather. The weather was certainly not enjoyable today, which may be one reason we covered the 14 km so quickly (including a 20 minute coffee break at the halfway mark). I suspect having someone to keep me accountable was just as important as the unpleasant weather.
We took another short break at the next village three or four kilometres on. My guidebook said Pavia was only 11.5 km away, which at our walking speed to that point should only have been another 2.5 hours. Imagine my confusion (and dismay) when a woman at the church office told us that Pavia was another 20 kms! I consoled myself with the thought that this distance is likely correct when following the road, but walking trails are not so constrained.
From that village, we followed a narrow country road for 7 kms, at which point the trail branched off and led into Pavia from the west after another 4.5 kms. As we were walking along, Michael pointed out all the water in the fields to the left of the road, and wondered if it was an artificial lake. That didn't make sense of the trees which demarked the field boundaries, and looking across two fields I saw flowing water.
At some point after my guidebook went to the publishers, the Ticino River has flooded. When we came to the point where the trail branched off from the road, it led directly underwater. It must have happened some time ago, because in addition to the Via Francigena signs we'd been following all morning, there was a new blaze which pointed away from the flood and along down the road.
We finally staggered into Pavia from the southeast, having made a wide loop around the town. Walking an extra 9 kms may not sound that difficult, but psychologically, we'd both been prepared for a short day under sunny skies, arriving at the parish accommodations by 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon. Instead, our walk had been extended by 33%. My plans to do some shopping and sightseeing were cancelled. By the time we arrived, my priorities were a hot shower, dinner, and bed. Having WiFi was a bonus, but once I post this I'll be saying my prayers and getting to sleep pretty quickly.
It was shortly after hearing we'd have another 20 km to go that my right knee and both hips began to ache. Michael's left shoulder is inflamed and begins hurting after about three hours of carrying his pack. We're both in our 40s, but to hear us creak and groan you'd think we were a quarter century older.
Thankfully, we are also able to indulge in some self-mockery. "I vecchi uomini" is Italian for "the old men." It took me a few tries to get the number and gender of the adjective to match the subject, but Michael's a good teacher.
This morning, we'd thought of heading on to Piacenza tomorrow, but after logging a tough 37 kms today, we'll make it a short day tomorrow and check in to the parish accommodations at Santa Cristina e Bissone some 25 kms from here. (God willing, and the crick don't rise!)