I’m fighting to keep my balance while standing on a low flat stone on the sloping mountain ridge in Gargano National Park Italy. Mounting winds catch my backpack and bat me around like a rag doll. Thousands of similar flat rocks stud the over-grazed slope in front of me. The rock on which I stand brandishes a small uneven blaze of faded yellow paint. The buttery color is a trail marker, not much different in hue from the limestone that it’s painted on.
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Not able to see the next blaze, I’ve halted on the limestone lump for what seems like an eternity. As I continue to scan the field before me, fear rises. To my right, the mountainside drops off, revealing the green valley below Gargano National Park Italy. In the far distance, I see a white swatch, which is the town of San Severo. I’d left that municipality yesterday, so I know it is about 25 kilometers away. That walk was not challenging until I reached the foot of the Gargano Mountains. Even the ascent was not daunting as the past three weeks of walking Via Francigena del Sud have conditioned my body.
Tricky Orienteering in Gargano National Park Italy
What IS difficult is the route following. Unfortunately, it seems that I can’t download the GPX map file for this stage of the journey. And so, rather than relying on my hand-held device, I’m using the old-fashioned method of following trail markers. I’m usually good at that—I’m the one in a group of hikers that eyes the pointer first. But I’m doing this pilgrimage solo, and right now, on this unforgiving rockpile, another set of eyes would be a saving grace.
Fateful words: I hope it’s not too windy
Besides seeking ill-defined markers, I’ve been watching the storm advance over the valley. Now the squall is close, so its winds knock me around. I remember Michele del Giudice’s warning at dinner two days before: “I hope it’s not too windy up there on the day you pass.” Michele is the steward of this trail that connects San Severo to Monte Sant’Angelo, an ancient spiritual hot spot. The route is one of the Vie Francigene del Sud and runs through Gargano National Park Italy.
Approaching Storm in Gargano National Park Italy
Rain spatters my cheeks as I face the storm trying to figure out how much time I have left before it hits me with full gusto. The leading edge of the bluster is pushing fog and clouds. However, my poncho and rain cover for my backpack are already in place.
I usually can take the “head-down-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other” approach to adversity. I concentrate on the one step forward, which brings me a little closer to my shelter for the night. But right now, the high winds ignite my fear of being shrouded by fog, which would force me to hunker down on the bare mountaintop.
Edges of panic start to crowd my mind
With so much exposure to height and weather, I can’t afford to get off track and lose my way on this section through Gargano National Park Italy. Feeling the edges of panic start to crowd my mind and push out reason, I stop to pause. I know if I let fear seize my mind, I won’t be able to use my brain to figure out the next step for survival.
Pausing During the Storm at Gargano National Park Italy
So, in the middle of the storm, I pause. “Father, you have brought me this far. I trust you will bring me safely off this mountain,” I cry out loud to the Lord. Then I turn to the oncoming storm and shout: “I am the child of God! I am the sister of the living Christ! God has invested power in me to calm the seas and turn the storm. In the name of Jesus, I command you, storm, to move around me! Stand back!” Mustering the power of the Holy Spirit banishes my fear, and the edginess of panic disappears. Remembering who I am—a child of God—restores my confidence.
“Lord, you know where the next trail marker is— show me!” I prayed. Again, Michele’s words are brought back to me: “I painted the trail markers close together because of the fog.” I scan the limestone rocks that are a bit closer to me, and a dash of yellow catches my eye at last. I’m back on the march, and I’m thankful to get off the mountaintop before the gale’s full force hits.
Gargano National Park Italy Map
Here are maps of Gargano National Park Italy / Parco Nazionale del Gargano. I was on the western edge of the park, which extends to the Adriatic Coast and protects the Gargano Mountain range. The massif makes up the “spur” on the boot of Italy. (See the inset on the Gargano National Park Italy map above.)
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey broadcasting from Gargano National Park Italy
Right before the storm episode, I’d stopped for lunch in the sun. I was pretty blown away at that point by the beauty and the difficulty of this walking pilgrimage. Listen to what I had to say.
Read more about walking the Via Francigene and my adventures along the way.
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