Contrary to my expectations, today saw me slogging through mud and underbrush, walking up and then down steep, slick, leaf-covered rocky paths, and also dodging traffic around hairpin turns. Not at all ideal. The last six kilometres took me three hours, and it was all the more frustrating because I had already caught sight of the suburbs of the town I was aiming for.
The good news is, the forecast for tomorrow is sunshine most of the day. The bad news is, the off-road trails will still be as treacherous as they were today. The views from the ridges will be better, though. Shifting veils of mist, droplets of water shimmering on every branch and limb, and the muted sound of water dripping in a muted forest is wonderfully poetic imagery, and beautiful in its own way, but I've been moist for a week. Give me some of that famed Tuscan sunshine!
My goal for tomorrow is to reach Avenza and the sea. The first section of the walk presents me with a dilemma. Do I stick to the official Via Francigena trail, or chance the traffic on more sharp bends? The trail is 17.5 kms cross-country, and from the description in my guide, I expect it to take six hours. The road route (mentioned as an option in case of bad weather, with the appropriate caution about traffic) is only 14.5 kms, which I can do in three hours.
Another factor for me to consider is that, after having taken a wrong turn in the mountains two days ago, Michael is back on the road to Rome. As I had suspected, his reluctance to do any strenuous off-road work had led him astray, and it was only after walking seven kilometres in the wrong direction that a kind-hearted local stopped and pointed him in the right direction. He wound up staying two days in Berceto, so he would've been there when I walked through the town yesterday. Then today, since he doesn't have the luxury of paying for his own lodging, he braved the rain and the traffic and ground out 49 kilometres along the main road. Since he had no money, he didn't stop for coffee along the way, and he arrived at the parish hostel in Aullo a few hours before I did, in spite of having walked more than 1.5 times the distance. Mosquitoes may be annoying, but they are to be found anywhere on earth there is human civilisation. (Research stations in the Antarctic don't qualify.) Hardy and adaptable creatures they are.
I was VERY glad to see that he had not wandered off the edge of a cliff in the dark two nights ago, but I was also rather surprised. Wasn't he headed to Parma to stay with friends? Well, he'd changed his mind. Fair enough.
Although I do love mountain vistas, I think I will take to the road in the morning. After today's trek, Michael (who is already snoring gently) only intends to walk the 14.5 kms to the next available parish accommodations. By noon at the latest, I'll buy him one last coffee (maybe?) and then continue on my way.
After parting company in Sarzana, I can choose to follow the waymarked trail back up into the hills and pass, among other sites, the marble quarries of Carrera, or I can find my own way down and along the coast. Tomorrow's high is forecast to be in the upper teens - maybe I'll go swimming!
So, lots of options for tomorrow. I wonder if Michael would be offended if I started calling him Smeagol - it's a compliment, of sorts.