Hello from Genova in north western Italy. The beginning of this week feels like it was a month ago. Argh! I hurt. I've walked 108km in last 2days alone & I have no idea how many km's for the whole week. It was long though. Last Sunday will go down as was one of the most difficult walking days of the entire journey with numerous factors making it a physically & mentally tough challenge. From Orbetello to Grosseto I had to tackle insane holiday traffic on a road with only 30cm between the white line & the crash barrier & that 30cm was overgrown with knee high grass. It was a hot day & the 44km day felt like a 70. My arms were exhausted from constantly having to drag the poles through the long grass & my legs were burning. It didn't help when some drivers wanted to make of point of their disapproval of me walking beside the road by driving as close as they could & squeezing me up into the chest-high crash barrier. The whoosh of rear-vision mirrors & dopler-effected slurs defines that day. My left hand clipped a barrier join half way through the day & it placed a nice slice across the finger. Blood started flowing but with nowhere to stop & grab a band-aid form my bag it was left to 'run its course'. I'd trudged past a few road-kill snakes & found myself thinking about the probability of stepping on a live one in the long grass on a 44km hot day. It was less than 5seconds later that I was jamming the walking poles into the ground with full force & thrusting myself backwards away from a 1metre Biacco snake as it took flight in the other direction. Probability: 1. I was relieved to finish the day & I was offered a small room behind a church with nothing more than two bench seats, which I pulled togther & made into my bed for the night. I had been directed to that church by a young lady who had walked From France to Santiago de Compostela & said that she remembered how difficult it was when no one welcomed her, so she wanted to make a point of helping me find 'something'. I felt very welcomed. The next day was my 500th day on the road. I celebrated by looking at my itinerary halfway through the day & muttering, "Wow, 500 days... Thanks Lord." And that was it. I'll celebrate at day 571. I was lost a few times that day as my map didn't line up with the actual roads & the road signs pointed to towns that weren't on my map at all. I Began the week a day behind schedule & was struggling to hold onto that 1day gap until mid way through the week when the roads opened up, the traffic eased off & the map & signs became helpful. I caught up the extra day by walking 25km on my rest day but it was a fairly relaxed walk & it still felt like a rest after the torturus beginning to the week. Having said that, I was also very close to throwing all my gear away as I left the city of Pisa on Friday. I was going to toss my backpack in the ditch & somehow walk the rest of the way to Spain with nothing. I'd had an absolute gut-full of the locals behaviour that it was the only non-violent protest I could think to make. Within a 12hour space I was followed & heckled by 20youths who kept yelling out, "Hey! Hill-billy!" as they laughed & made jokes, I was turned away from a church were they told me they weren't interested to hear what I had to say (& I hadn't yet said anything), I was pointed at by a young woman who burst out laughing & pulled her boyfriends attention to me & I then had a young bloke toot his horn at me as I walked down a footpath & I looked over just in time to see him give me the 'bird' (middle finger). I've heard a song on the radio lately that has a chorus line of, "Stop & stare" & it was playing as I walked into a shop & everyone did exactly that. I actually found that one funny though, "What is this! Am I in some sort of Trueman Show Muscial!!" I know throwing my gear away might not sound particularly applicable to the situation, but it made sense at the time with a philosophy of if they weren't going to take the unity of the broken body of Christ seriously, I would. I didn't toss the bag though (my shoulders would have appreciated it!) but instead put it all to good use as I found a campsite & then met the very welcoming hospitality of 4 camping couples from Holand. Funnily enough, they didn't know each other. They'd all driven down from Holland, set up their campervans next to one another & then discovered they were all Dutch! We ate together & shared a lot of stories in a very relaxed posi a short distance from the beach. It was such a diverse 24hours. I've had a little more of a taste of the different world of driving over here. A firetruck rumbled past me at full speed with lights flashing & siren wailing before 3 more firetrucks came into view in the same manor. As they approached me the traffic pulled over to give them a clean path through but a fellow driving a semi-trailer decided it was a good oppurtunity to drive out off a side road onto the main road. Being a semi-trailer he had to swing out across the entire road & thus forced the three trailing fire trucks to both brake heavily & make a line for the gravel on the far side of the road. I was still a few hundred metres off but it didn't stop me yelling out, "What are you doing!? Un-be-lievable!" The semi tucked it's nose around just in time for the fire trucks to squeeze past & accelerate on towards the billowing plume of smoke now rising from the town I'd only just passed through. There's just something fundamentally wrong with that. Who pulls out in front of racing emergency vehicles? The other side of the new world of driving I've walked past was the Sunday motorbikes covering the same mountain I was traversing. I'm a bike rider myself but I was torn between, "Nice!" & "Are you serious!!" all day long. Nice bikes, very dangerous speeds & lines through corners. Twice I saw a rider take a dangerous line through a blind corner in order to get maximum speed out of it, only to be met by a bike coming in the other direction doing the same non-intelligent thing. It seriously had me flinching as they jaged onto new lines to avoid becoming intimitly connected. Another fellow had to change his line & speed so drastically as a family van rounded the corner that he locked up the rear wheel & fish-tailed it sideways before regaining control. He missed the van by a good 50cm, not bad when you're not in control. So which one of you is the real Valantino Rossi? Nice bikes though. And then there was the Porsche 911 Carrera that was actually over-taking the bikes. Thnakfully I could here him coming from a few kilometres away so I 'went bush' for each of his passes. I don't think I was on his 'obstacles to avoid list.' More & more though I was thinking not about which bike I'll buy next, but about what my priorities are in life. To a point, surrounded by so much gleam & chrome made me long for missionary work with the poor. Probably best not to look at the bikes too much & concentrate on a little more prayer. That day was 62km long & lead me to yesterday's walk into Genova. Here, after quite an exhaustive effort (it's a whole blog in itself) I have met with Ann from England, a vertran of pilgrimages after her return to the church a few years ago. Ann has waved goodbye to her husband & working sons for a week to join me on the road in prayer & conversation. I'll introduce her properly next week! I'm about to duck off to the post office to mail home some gear that I either no longer need or is weighing me down & then we'll hit the road. My gear is suffering a little. To use an engineering term, my backpack is stuffed. Some zips are completly stuffed, while others are almost stuffed. The straps are somewhat stuffed & so I'm removing as much stuff from it as possible so it doesn't progress to the totally stuffed phase. I did a fresh air swing with my walking poles this week & nearly landed flat on my face. I was confused for a split second as to what had happened until I looked back & saw that half the walking pole was laying on the edge of the road. It's stuffed too. The good ol' sticky tape has once again come to the rescue! So, with a bible in one hand, sticky tape in the other & less weight in my backpack it's on towards France! Pray, pray, pray. God bless & peace be with you, Sam.
"Be joyful, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances" 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18b