180 kilometres and 1500 photos later, it’s hard to arrange everything in a tale that doesn’t end up being as long as a Greek poem. That’s probably why it took more than a month to get here. Besides, the Inspire project is taking over and it’s happily requiring always more attention and love.
But let’s get back to us.
Since there are SO MANY things about Alta Via N.2 I would love to say and tell and think about with you, I will choose only one point of view and I will do my best to stick to it – even though I’m the Queen of Digressions.
Therefore, since I believe in learning from nature and this is what Alice goes around is all about, I’ll talk about the many great lessons that AV2 taught me. Which really is one. Maybe two. Well, actually three!
What is Alta Via N.2
First things first, I think it’s important to give you an objective idea of what Alta Via N.2 is. Starting from Bressanone and ending in Feltre, this long-distance hiking trail crosses the Dolomites from North to South, meeting seven different groups of mountains: Plose, Odle, Puez, Sella, Marmolada, Pale di San Martino and Bellunesi.
It’s generally divided into 12/14 sections, for an overall of a couple of weeks. Of course, everyone hikes their own hike and chooses how to structure their adventure. We met people who hiked it in six days carrying a tent and dried food. Some others would take a rest day every other day. Some put together four or five sections at a time and hike them in different moments. We even met a man, Susumu, who’s 70 and hiking it all by himself (can’t hide the admiration there!). There’s no right or wrong, there’s only your choice. There’s only your life.
So, regardless the guide you will choose to get ready for AV2, ask yourself what you want, determine your own goals and go for them. It’s your hike.
Don’t expect pristine, remote places. There will be some solitary sections, indeed, and the Dolomites really are a unique and incredibly beautiful place. However, solitude is going to be rare and the contradictions met on the way are many and great. Indeed, in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, the number of tourists is almost unbearable – and to me, this already sounds like an oxymoron. Chairlifts are everywhere, but the same doesn’t happen when it comes to environmental education. Shelters reach prices of 4-star hotels, pretending however to be far away, isolated places hidden away in the mountains. “We have no water for showers”, but if you pay 6 Euros then drought is not a problem anymore, and even though Overshoot Day hit on August 2nd, there’s still plenty of resources to host a couple of hundred people in the restaurant. Ah…money disguised as nature!
Nevertheless, these same contradictions make you feel even more the urge to live a more coherent life. They remind you that it really is up to each one of us, and that a different way does exist.
It’s hard to feel far from civilisation while hiking AV2. While I was up there, I didn’t feel as present and meditative as I thought I would. Many times I had the impression of not being there. Of not being present.
Only after descending to the valley at the end of my long-distance hike I realised how present I actually was and how much silence I discovered within me. All the distractions and voices and eyes and offers and options that are in our society made me realise how peaceful life can actually be.
Silence is focus. Silence is the union of all sounds: my heart, my breath, my steps, earth beneath me, the air around me, clouds in the sky, animals hidden in the distance. Silence is the present moment. When you truly are one with it, you experience such profound of a silence that there really are no words to explain it. After all, the present moment is not meant to be explained, but to be lived.
Going solo became paradoxically easy in our society. Yes, you have less support, nonetheless, you choose for yourself. You are just one and you don’t have to care about anyone else. You won’t be hurt by anyone else. You won’t have to compromise with anyone else. Individualism is not so much different after all. We go solo in our lives, we go solo in our travels, we go solo on our adventures.
And what used to be a great moment of reflection and appreciation of others, actually becomes a reason-less trend, spectacularised and romanced by the media: solitude is precious as far as it’s not a shield or a show-off.
Few go solo because they actually want to reflect by and on themselves and, eventually, “appreciate the value of those next to you”, as Susumu would say. Few go solo to learn to be together.
My AV2 wasn’t characterised by the romance of solitude. My explorations and travels generally aren’t. Not because I wouldn’t like them to be, but because they would be so much easier and they would teach me a lot less.
In this experience, like the majority of the others, there’s the romance of shared curiosity. The will to meet and learn to share, especially when being alone would make things easier.
To learn to leave space without leaving. To relate in order to thrive. Ultimately, to learn to love.
During my days in the Dolomites, KJ2, a mama bear who had been categorised as “dangerous”, was put down. There’s no coexistence in a world where mankind claims the right to define, limit and decide for all other beings and, of course, mankind itself. We are in no safer world now that KJ2 is dead. The same way we are in no safer world now that boundaries between nations become more strict and harder to cross.
The most delicate of flowers will resist the strongest of storms at 3000 metres, but will die if you place it in a vase at home just because you think it’s safer. And this is the hardest thing to learn.
As I said, there are many ways to hike the same hike. For example, many sections of AV2 can be simplified by taking a chairlift, or a bus. We chose not to. There, as in life, everything is a choice.
Especially nowadays, every single way, ethics and solution is a choice. Everything can be chosen and changed according to our wishes.
AV2 is a choice. To walk 180 kilometres with a heavy backpack on your shoulders is a choice. To stay away as much as possible from social places and expectations is a choice. To sleep in a Shelter is a choice, to sleep in a tent is a choice. And so on.
I chose to be part of nature. To hike my hike the way I hiked it. To accept, at the end of it, the things I want different next time – and the fact everything didn’t go as expected this one. To be here and share my thoughts. The same way I can choose to live with less. I can choose that a backpack of things is enough. I can choose to consume less, to buy less, to live more.
During these 14 days, I realised that a good 80% of the things we think we need are illusions. We need them because we are taught we do, but if we dig deep into our true necessities, we won’t find them.
Before going to the Dolomites, Daniele and I went to Gran Sasso, and right after AV2 we went to Sardinia. Many responded to our wanderings with surprised faces. They said we are lucky to have all this time off, usually mocking us a bit because of it, as if we were a couple or lucky slackers.
It’s true, we have a lot of time off if we work our days properly and I personally couldn’t be more grateful for the life I strive for and came to have. At the same time, I can’t imagine it any different. I could never choose anything else.
To live as much as you can doesn’t mean to slack, regardless what society wants you to think in order to keep you in offices and shops.
Isn’t to live what life is made for? I respond as much surprised to how many people are willing to give up their lives for a cage. At times I don’t feel lucky, I just feel human. I just feel that I’m doing what I was meant to do. It’s not luck, it’s life – hence, choice.
Our society created a structure for which life is made to work, make money and own as much as you can. It’s made to become famous, to climb the social ladder and reach the highest point you can. It’s made of distractions, illusions, property, envy and hatred. Personally, I don’t feel like considering my “luckiness” according to these standards anymore: I do not want to. I’m lucky because I have the physical possibility to do what I do. The mental peace. The will. I have the friends and the love. I’m lucky because I belong and no one is trying to force me away from my life because of war, illness or discrimination. And I will strive my whole life to keep it this way.
I don’t want to measure my life according to a trap. And I truly, deeply, outrageously believe that if everyone did the same, the world would be a loving, nourished, kind place. Stop owning, start loving. There’s something so much greater than us, after all. And the great news is that we are part of it because we too are nature.
This happiness is simple. All you need, you already have it. The only extras are a backpack, a couple of t-shirts, possibly a change of socks and a shelter – whichever you choose.
During our 180 kilometres, we never reached a summit. You hike from fork to fork. You don’t walk to reach the highest point, but for the journey itself. As someone would say, you don’t go to the mountains so that the world can see you, but to see the world. You hike to realise how much grateful you can feel for your life – if you choose to. It’s all a matter of perspective after all.
In this horizon-less territories, made of mountains that look like dragons reaching for the sky, I found the greatest of views and I received the greatest chance to change for good.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that once you’ve seen the truth, then you cannot avoid suffering. But the truth showed me that I can be the change. That each of us can choose. That a different way exists. What I cannot avoid then is empowerment.
And this is so much more than anything else I will ever own.