In July, I went to Italy alone—and it was awesome, almost therapeutic. I could eat two dinners, go to bed early, and stand for 20 minutes staring at my map without getting embarrassed. But the one part of the trip I struggled with the solitude was hiking through Cinque Terre. During the hike, my mind took over and I faced a war of emotions, some happy, some sad, and some very thirsty. Spoiler alert: I survived.
1. The easy path? Don’t mind if I do.
There are many trails that take your through the villages of Cinque Terre. The “easiest” and most popular is the Blue Path. I took this route from Vernazza to Monterosso. This trek is supposed to take up two two hours (without any real measurement of the average human fitness). I felt proud as I approached the hut to purchase my path pass, not to mention super sporty in my sneakers (which never really get much use). I was prepared emotionally and physically for a casual walk. There were lots of people entering the trail—surely if they could do it, I could as well.
2. Stairs be damned.
Much to my dismay, the “easy path” was not easy. It wasn’t straight or flat—in fact, it was packed with stairs. Stairs up and stairs down. I watched in awe as families (including seniors) strutted along the path past me. I needed to man up. And maybe stop eating so much gelato.
3. What a gorgeous view. I should take a break and regain my strength.
When I wasn’t walking up or down stairs, I was blown away by the views. At the start of the hike, I would turn around and spy the colorful buildings of Vernazza and the marina jutting into the ocean; ahead were rows and rows of trees and vineyards tucked into the cliffs. It was breathtaking. I was slightly bewildered that the end wasn’t in sight, but I trudged on.
4. Does this vineyard serve water?
Let it be known: Bringing one small water bottle on a Cinque Terre hike is a poor choice. I watched as hikers heading in the opposite direction chugged their huge liter bottles. I peeped through the fence of a vineyard called Vigneto Cheo wondering if a few little grapes would revive me. As I continued along the path, I wondered how long someone could survive without water. Since Googling wasn’t an option, I let my mind wander into dangerous territory.
5. More stairs.
More than Cirith Ungol it seemed. Lord of the Rings nerds know what I’m talking about.
6. How did all these cats get here?
About partway through my journey, I happened upon what looked like a tiny cat village. There were bowls of food and little wooden houses amidst the trees and scores of cats just sleeping on picnic tables. I wondered how my own cat would fair in this climate. They seemed content enough, though they were all sleeping.
7. Who lives in these tiny houses in the middle of the trail?
What I was truly confounded by were all the little houses built into the cliffs and vineyards. Who were these people who lived there? Were they in incredible shape from hiking every single day? What did they do a living? Were they secretly laughing at this out-of-shape American fooled by the signs of the “easy” trail? I did see one old woman looking out her window. She smiled.
8. If I pass out from heat exhaustion, it will be incredibly difficult for someone to carry me to a nearby hospital.
Are there hospitals in Cinque Terre? These anxious thoughts were squashed for my own sanity.
9. A beach ahead. Therein lies your salvation.
After 90 minutes of stairs and sweat, I saw in the distance a coastline dotted with little buildings and boats. I considered jumping for joy but didn’t want to waste any energy. I continued forward, winding my way through the trail. Finally, I reached a concrete stairway and knew I was in the clear. I couldn’t decide what I wanted first: a cannonball into the beach, a water, or a gelato. In that order, I accomplished my goals. As I sat in the sand, gelato dripping down the cone and onto my fingers, I was proud. I beat the easy trail.
And it wasn’t even that hard.