Here’s some background. The last time I hiked this trail with Belcher, we had planned to hike to Monterosso, grab lunch, and hike back. By the time we got there, we were absolutely shot, and decided there was no way we could hike back, so we took a boat. Really glad we took the boat. It’s a pretty grueling hike on a good day. It breaks down like this:
- Riomaggiore to Manarola: Easiest part of the hike. Paved walkway (stroller and wheel chair friendly). About 20 minutes.
- Manarola to Corniglia: Dirt walkway, sometimes wooden handrails between you and a 200 foot drop, and some elevation changes. Little bit longer maybe - 45 minutes.
- Corniglia to Vernazza: One of the most brutal portions of the hike due to rock climbing (serious elevation changes) and treacherous footing. Lots of up and down and it’s a long hike. Beautiful view, but long.
- Vernazza to Monterosso: We’ll call this Stairmaster 8,000,000. Steps (some natural rock, some human-made), and steps, and steps all over the side of the hillside.
I slopped on considerable sunscreen, since I’m a delicate Viking, and wanted to be able to function on subsequent vacation days. I went to the trailhead and bought my Park Pass (it’s a regulated park so it costs like $4 to get in or something totally worth paying). I was feeling good. In fact, I was going to try to hike there and back and beat the Cinque Terre.
(Mullet kid - ha ha ha ha)
I was on a mission, so I didn’t do much dawdling in the towns as I blazed through them. Seriously, I just plowed through. Ran into Robin and Pat (from the previous evening’s dinner) outside of Manarola. They mentioned one of the paths was washed out and temporarily closed and you have to take the “advanced” or “high” path after Corniglia. Advanced, you say? More than the regular? Uh-oh…
Sure enough, just outside of Corniglia, the trailhead rangers have the path roped off and send you up a winding (but paved) road to the ridge of the hill to meet up with the “advanced” hiking trail. Also, to get to Corniglia, you have to climb about 3000 stairs in switchback formation to get from the path to the village up on the top of the hill. So my legs were already beginning the fun burning sensation when I got to the closed path.
(These old ladies took their shirts off and hiked in their bras because it was getting really warm out)
Well, the road is all uphill and winding around the hillside, so I’d estimate it adds another mile or 1.5 miles to the section of hiking path.
At the top, the advanced path appears and you trudge through sticker-y brush and start heading down the mountainside. When I mean down, I mean seriously downhill. At some points, you just lean back and hope to stop sliding. In addition, there are hundreds of stairs, so that burning feeling never left.
Eventually, the advanced path drops you onto the regular path. And which part of the regular path washed out? The easy part. So I’m stuck with finishing this leg of the path on the extreme elevation and treacherous footing part. Excellent. But I made it.
I got to Vernazza and grabbed some more water to drink.
Then I got stuck behind a group of 30 hot moms with walking sticks and backpacks taking over the whole trail. They were the slowest group ever. Walking two-wide and stopping to take photos. Wow. Have some consideration. This section of the hike is all stairs. Up and down and up and down. Brutal on the legs. When I got close to Monterosso, I ran into Robin and Pat again! How did they beat me here!!!??? They cheated by hopping a train to Monterosso and were hiking back to Vernazza. We stood and chatted for a bit. I told them I planned to grab a bite and head back this afternoon. They just laughed at me. Loudly. And I don’t even think they saw my legs shaking – visibly shaking. I said I might change my mind once I get to Monterosso, but I still “planned” to do it. Pat told me there were like 10,000 steps they had just come up and they’d be surprised if it happened. 10,000 you say? Hmmm, that’s not so bad, rght? Well, the 10,000 might be ok if it were normal standard and consistently tall stairs – which these were not.
I made it to Monteroso and it was as beautiful as I remember.
I grabbed a slice of bianca pizza (white pizza – without tomato sauce) and some more water. Went to the beach and watched some kids play soccer in a net/cage (which I referred to as Thunderdome (it really sucks being hilarious on vacation alone… ha ha ha).
Took a few photos of beach people and slathered on more sunscreen.
It was at this point when I realized how bad my legs were shaking. In fact, not just shaking, but spasming. But only when I stopped. So since I have multiple degrees in a variety of subjects (not including anything medical), I deduced that they wouldn’t spasm if I kept moving. I’ll remind you, I’m not a doctor, despite my middle initials being M.D…
Remember those stairs? NordicTrack nor Stairmaster has launched a Cinque Terre model of stair climber because people would sue them. Already wondering if this was a bad idea. I eventually made it (albeit much slower this direction) to Vernazza. Should I take the train back to Riomaggiore? Nah. I grabbed some water and hit the trail again. Oh yeah, this was the brutal section of the regular trail! And then, I realized all that sliding downhill I did earlier, I would now have to climb. Crap. Really bad idea, Einstein. Why didn’t I think of this when I was near the train station? So I scaled the heights as best I could, stopping (and I’m dead serious) probably 30-40 times to catch my breath and drink water. Fortunately, tears and sweat look the same. I had to pep talk myself multiple times into continuing and not hoping a medical helicopter would fly overhead. Oh, so THIS is what they meant by “advanced!” when I got to the top of path, I met the paved road and discovered I had some serious “jimmy legs” – whether I was stopped or not. I took this photo, so you could visualize the moment.
I started down the winding paved roadway like a combination of Sloth (from the Goonies) and Lon Chaney as the mummy. Originally, I was worried about running out of daylight. Now, I was hoping I would run out of daylight before collapsing in the road. I made it to the town of Corniglia and remembered the hundreds of switchback stairs I would have to take to even get to the train station. Either way, I would be climbing down stairs. When I got to the bottom, I did some (sun, pain, and delirium-induced) calculations and figured, if I was this close to Manarola, I might as well keep going, right? It was more flat in these sections than the others. I kept going, like a fool. And of course there were WAAAAY more steps than I remembered the first time!!!
When I got to Manorola, it was nearing dinner time for the Americans and the path goes right past all these fancier restaurants. So here I was dragging multiple parts of my body through the dust past people with cloth napkins and fancy wine. I’m sure it was a great show for those jerks. Ha ha ha. Actually, I’m sure I would have laughed too… Then, I was home free to Riomaggiore. I even stopped at the kissing bench to take a photo for Lo-Vee back in Minneapolis.
Once I got there, I remembered the 31 steps leading up to my room. And they left their impression on me as well. I made it up them, and then went and stood in the shower for about an hour.
I was starving, so I went back down the stairs (remember, 31 of them) to the nearest restaurant. La Grotta it would have to be. Fortunately, they had room for one and the food on people’s plates looked great. I sat down and ordered a half bottle of the Cinque Terre white from Tobiolo (2008 with grapes from Manorola). Crisp light and not terribly sweet. I ordered Trennete, a linguini-type noodle with pesto and potatoes (a local specialty). It was extremely good and fit the wine very well.
I ordered a second course of Cima di manzo ripiena - beef stuffed with cheese and vegetables (also a local specialty). This was an amazing meal, and I know Gerd would have loved it because we loved to work other foods directly into other non-related meat dishes.
I polished off the wine and ordered another glass of Sciacchetrà (I really like this super sweet dessert wine). The waiter thought I was done and then I ordered another glass of limoncino. I needed a couple drinks to numb the pain.
And of course, I couldn’t just bail out on my friend, gelato! I walked (slowly) up the street to the gelateria and scored some smarena, amaretto, and stracciatella (chocolate swirl).
I went back to my apartment and called MO to tell her I was likely going to be crippled tomorrow when we met at the airport. And of course, I would be the only blonde guy for miles. I also talked to my nephew, the Delivery Boy, at length about a trip to San Anotnio. I wonder how much THAT call will cost. I totally cashed out on the bed with my clothes on. I was done for. I didn’t know until the next morning just how done I would be…
Top 5 things about Day 2
1. Most beautiful landscape in the world on this hike
2. I didn’t get sunburned
3. It’s good to get out and hike for your health (not your physical destruction)
4. Perfect weather for hiking – nice breeze and sunshine
5. Gerd would have hated (and simply not done) 95% of this hike, and I would have had to do it alone anyway
Bottom 5 things
1. Most brutal hike ever
2. There is no snooze button for power tools in the morning
3. Stairmaster 8,000,000
4. 31 stairs to my room
5. I now know how Christopher Reeve feels (I know it’s inappropriate, but you know you chuckled)