May Update

It’s been two months since Dave and I flew back to the states from Italy to take a break from our walk across Europe. I thought it would be a good time to give you an update on what’s been going on during our hiatus.

First, both of us had uneventful returns to our respective homes; I to San Antonio and Dave to Tallahassee.

The day after I returned, I went straight to the doctor with a very sore and painful left foot. Basically, I had been walking on the side of my foot for the last 500 miles of our walk due to a sharp pain when I put weight on the ball of my foot. The podiatrist diagnosed my condition as Morton’s Neuroma. It’s basically an inflamed nerve that shoots a pain into my third and fourth toe when I put weight on the ball of my left foot. It’s fairly common for runners and heavy walkers, and very difficult to heal. The first step was to take steroids for five days. That didn’t seem to do any good. The next step was a cortisone injection into the nerve. That has helped some but I still am not completely back to normal. The next treatment option was to have a series of 4-5 alcohol injections into the nerve which would basically kill the nerve. I considered doing that, but after discussing it with the doctor, I have elected instead to have another cortisone injection about a week before I return to Italy in early June to resume the walk. The doctor believes this has the best chance of fixing the problem. So I’ve been giving my foot plenty of rest and I’m confident I’ll be ready to resume the walk on schedule.

In April, Wyn and I along with daughters Jessie and Karla and several family friends, had the great honor of presenting an Aggie Ring to the third recipient of The Walking Aggie Endowed Ring Scholarship, Johnathan Gillispie. Johnathan, a career Army Reservist, is a senior from Caddo Mills and will be graduating from Texas A&M in December. Johnathan’s family was there to share in the excitement and we were honored to present the ring on behalf of all the donors to the scholarship.

Aggie Ring recipient Johnathan Gillispie and his mother from Caddo Mills, Texas.

And speaking of the Ring Scholarship, I am very pleased to announce the return of the fund drive for The Walking Aggie Endowed Ring Scholarship. As you probably recall, on my walk across America in 2015, I solicited donations to establish an endowed Aggie Ring Scholarship. 350+ gracious donors donated over $27,000 to help establish the endowment. As mentioned above, we presented the third recipient his ring this year, and this scholarship will continue to be awarded annually to a male or female Aggie student who is a veteran of our armed services. However, there is still much that can be done to continue to grow the scholarship. With that in mind, I have re-inserted the donation link to The Walking Aggie Endowed Ring Scholarship on each page of The Walking Aggie website. A simple click on the “Donate Here” tab will take you directly to the Texas A&M Association of Former Students webpage where you can donate to the scholarship. Contributions will help grow the scholarship and ensure more deserving Aggie students receive their Aggie Ring in the future.

I’ve spent most of the last two months catching up on time lost. I’m chipping away at a list of honey-do’s and spending plenty of time with the family since I’ll be gone the entire summer. In late April/early May, Wyn and I took a motorcycle trip to the West Coast where we caught a ship for a week-long cruise to the Pacific Coast of Mexico. We went through Las Vegas on the return ride and were gone most of three weeks. The weather was perfect on the ride and cruise and we had a great time.

Cruising off the Mexican coast in Cabo San Lucas.

In closing this update, I’m sorry to report that Dave Alcorn will not be accompanying me on the remainder of our walk across Europe. With that in mind, I’ve bought my return flight ticket to Italy for 10 June. After traveling overnight to Milan, I’ll catch the train back to the station in Verona, Italy where the walk stopped on 12 March. So the trek will resume solo on 11 June with nine walking days remaining to the Italy/Austria border. From there, it’s over the Alps, across Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and finally to the finish line in Oslo, Norway on 5 Sept. So I hope you all have a great spring and summer and I look forward to communicating my walking experience to you via on 11 June. Thanks for following. John Ball ’78

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Part 1 Epilogue

This posting will be an attempt to summarize some of our experiences on Part 1 of our walk across Europe. In writing this, I hope to give you a feel for how the trip has progressed up to this point and also cover a few topics not discussed in our daily posts. 

First, a few facts and figures.  Up to this point, we have walked 988 miles.  We began walking from Athens, Greece on 7 January and ended on 12 March in Verona, Italy, just as planned. We spent 18 days in Greece walking 298 miles. We had planned to take one day off while in Greece, but due to weather, we elected to took off a second day. After taking the ferry from Igoumanitsa, Greece to Brindisi, Italy on 25 January, we continued our trek by walking 690 miles in 47 days through the heart of Italy.  We took four days off in Italy, one each in Foggia, Cassino, Rome and Florence. In total, we walked 988 miles in 59 days, averaging 16.7 miles per day. Our longest day was 23 miles, and our highest climb was a 2753 foot climb on a 14 mile day just north of Florence, Italy. 

Now a few comments about our experiences thus far. First, this trek has been all we had envisioned it would be, and more. The people of Greece and Italy have welcomed us in every way and we have never felt threatened at anytime. Instead, the people of these two nations have been cordial and have always been interested in what we were doing. This has been despite the obvious language barriers we have encountered. While most people we have interacted with have spoken a little English, everyone has gone out of their way to be accommodating.  So our experience with our Greek and Italian hosts has been amazing. 

Second, it’s only fair to set the record straight with respect to experiencing the culture of Greece and Italy. Yes, we’ve had an amazing time going from one little town to the next, staying in the full spectrum of available accommodations, eating Greek and Italian food three meals per day for over two months, and just having the privilege of seeing these countries literally one step at a time. However, with respect to “seeing the sites” as a tourist might do as we work our way through this walk, that just doesn’t happen. Yes, we took a day off from walking in the larger cities like Rome and Florence, and we took advantage of that time to do some site seeing.  However, when you are literally walking 15-20 miles per day for many days on end, going to see the sites at the end of the day, or worse yet, going off route during the day to see something that might be of interest, usually just doesn’t happen. During the walking day, we’re focused on one thing; getting safely from point A to B in the least number of steps as possible. That’s just the nature of what we’re doing. We’ll have to save the major site seeing excursions for later when our wives can accompany us. 

Third, I’m sure some of you are wondering about health issues. As was true on my coast-to-coast walk across America, I’ve personally had my share of problems; specifically, foot problems.  As you can imagine, averaging almost 17 miles per day on hard pavement will take its toll on your feet. I had blister problems on both feet for the first month, and still continue to have a blister every now and then. On our day off in Rome, I had to go to the doctor with an infected blister on my left heel.  With the help of some antibiotics, that got well. However, my main concern has been a constant burning sensation in my left foot; specifically, my toes.  For the last month, I have been unable to put any weight on the ball of my foot. To get through the day, I have had to walk on the inside or outside of my foot. Of course, walking unnaturally causes other aches and pains in your feet and knees. So during our pause in the walk, I’ll be nursing my left foot back to health.  Interestingly enough, Dave also has a gimpy left foot. His foot takes a while to get moving ever morning and starts to give him problems at the end of the day. With all that said, we don’t think any of these ailments will linger and we should be ready to resume our trek on schedule in early June. 

So with all that said, I can assure you Dave and I are ready for a break at home, but are enthusiastic about what lies ahead. We’ll be spending 90 days of quality time with our families in Texas and Florida, doing a little traveling with our spouses, taking care of some honey-do’s, and getting ready for Part 2 of our adventure. We’ll return to Verona, Italy on 11 June and continue from where we left off. Part 2 takes 85 days when we’ll walk through the remainder of northern Italy, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and finish in Oslo, Norway the first week of September. We so much appreciate all of you who have followed along with us over the last two months. Your encouragement motivates us to live out this dream of walking across Europe. So please check back in on 11 June for more of the adventures of John and Dave. 

With Part 1 complete, we’ll be back in June to walk through these beauties.

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Day 65

From: Nogara

To: Verona

Miles: 19

Total: 988

We had a good nights sleep and were up early on our final day of walking to grab breakfast and then get on the road. We decided to do a bit faster pace so we could make an earlier train.

Once we stopped for lunch we had gained a half hour so we decided to slow the pace back down. It was flat farmland again so the walking was fairly easy although our road was busy with truck traffic. For the most part we had a decent shoulder along the road to walk on.

The walk was uneventful and we arrrived at the Verona train station at about 1:45 pm. We noted there was a 2:03 train heading to Milan Central Station so we went to the ticket office and they said we had plenty of time. We also bought our express train ticket to the Milan airport. Once we get to the airport we will grab a shuttle to our hotel. We are on the train right now to Milan Central Station and relaxing from today’s walk.

Walking into Verona

John is going to do a wrap up of the the first half when he gets back home in Texas. Be sure to check out the latest video that he did today as well. Thanks to everyone who has followed along as well as your thoughts and prays and to those that donated to the Red Cross and Gary Sinese Foundation. I appreciate it!

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Day 64

From:  Mirandola

To:  Nogara

Miles:  22

Total:  969

Today’s walk was pretty basic; though it was long and on a busy road most of the day. 

We left the hotel in Mirandola at 8:30 after a good breakfast.  The morning was crisp with clear skies and light winds. The forecast said it would get more wind after lunch; more on that in a minute. Because we got started a little earlier than usual, there were a lot of cars on the road, probably headed into town for work. Also, the truck traffic was heavy all day. 

The area of Italy we have been walking through for the last couple of days is all farm land. It reminds me very much of the area of Texas around Lubbock. Very flat with miles and miles of crops. After walking a few miles along a two lane highway, our route took us down some dirt roads through farmer’s fields. We even saw an occasional dairy. Of course, with the farm operations everywhere, you also get that lovely natural smell of manure. Brings back old memories. 

By lunchtime we were about 11 miles into our 22 mile day and ready for a break. We were lucky enough to be in a small town that had a cafe so we sat for about 30 minutes and had a sandwich. Shortly after our lunch break, the winds started blowing really hard. The forecast was 10-20 mph from the north. They were more like 40 mph from the west. That made it a crosswind for us. At times it was very hard to walk a straight line. And since we were walking through cultivated farmland, there was rarely any tree cover to break the wind. Also, there was some blowing dirt from the fields. Luckily, as we got closer to our destination of Nogara, the wind started to die down a little. 

So we’re now at our last hotel before we finish Part 1 of this adventure. Tomorrow will be a long day. First, we walk 19 miles to Verona.  That marks the end of this part of our trek. We walk  straight to the Verona train station and take a two hour train ride to Milan Central train station. At Milan Central we transfer to an express train to the Milan airport.  From there, we take a shuttle bus to our hotel near the airport. Wednesday, Dave and I both have flights leaving around 9:30 AM to take us home for 90 days. We’ll meet back at the Verona train station on 11 June to start walking again. Hopefully this will all come together tomorrow and we’ll get home on time Wednesday night. 

So basically another successful day of walking. One note of interest; this afternoon we could clearly see the Italian Alps off to our north. We’ll get even closer tomorrow but will not start our climb through the mountains until we return in June. 

We spent some time off-road today walking through fields.
The Italian Alps lurking in the distance. We’ll tackle those beginning in June.

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Day 63

From: Crevalcore

To: Mirandola

Miles: 17

Total: 947

After a light Italian breakfast, not a lot to choose from, we headed down the road again. It was Sunday morning so early on the traffic was light in town and we were on crosswalks. It picked up a as we left town but a couple of miles after leaving town we turned off the busy road onto the countryside. The road went from paved to gravel and then to grass across a farmers field, but it was dry and we could see the connecting gravel road ahead. After about half a mile we turned off the gravel road onto a single lane paved road with absolutely no traffic. It was nice walking.

We knew from going over our route we would have very little chance for lunch. We came to a town at about the four hour mark. Our route ended up not taking us through town, but John recommenced taking a detour and heading into town to see if we could find a lunch stop. We were glad we did. The first place we checked out was by the village theater and it was closed on Sundays for lunch. We knew there was a cafe up ahead and it was open. We had our usual hot sandwich, chips and a coke and gave our feet a much needed rest. Leaving town we were able to take a nice walking and biking trail for about a mile. It was a picture perfect Sunday and there were lots of people out walking.

Bike and walking trail

We tried calling our hotel, which was on the opposite end of town just before we got to town but there was no answer. That was a bit concerning since there was only one other hotel in town and it was closer to the side we were entering town. We decided to drop by that hotel first in case the one on the far north side was closed. The first hotel was open and had rooms so we got a number from the receptionist there to call a taxi in case we needed to go back to that hotel.

When we got further into Mirandola, our stopping point for the night, there was a big flea market going on downtown where you could probably buy almost anything. People were everywhere.

We finally got to the outskirts north of town and behold, our hotel was open. The people running it were just busy running the hotel restaurant at lunchtime and didn’t hear the phone. We considered going another 3 or 4 miles down the road and have a taxi pick us up and take us back to the hotel and drop us off at that spot again in the morning, but we decided it was easier to just stop at the hotel for the night. Although the hotel restaurant is closed tonight since it is Sunday, and there are no other restaurants close by, the receptionist said we could order a pizza and have it delivered after 6 pm. That was great with us since we don’t even have to leave the hotel or walk anywhere.

Two more fairly long walking days left before we hop on our flights home on Wednesday. The anticipation of seeing everyone soon will help us get through those long days. Thanks again for following along!

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Day 62

From:  Bologna

To:  Crevalcore

Miles:  17

Total:  930

Today was a straight walk from our hotel on the west side of Bologna to the small town of Crevalcore. Gone are the mountains of central Italy. Today, the highest thing we walked on was an overpass. 

We left the comforts of our nice hotel this morning about 8:30, but not before we had a good breakfast. When we got on the road we thought for sure the traffic would be light since it was a Saturday morning. That was not the case. Seems everyone outside of Bologna wanted to come into town, and everyone in Bologna wanted to leave. Suffice to say, the traffic was heavy most of the day. 

Our route today was literally a straight line with one little turn about halfway through the day. We found a good place for lunch at about noon and made it to our destination city around 2:45. Crevalcore is a nice little town with limited options for lodging. When we arrived at our desired hotel, there was no one there and the outside door was locked. We rang the doorbell but no reply. There was a phone number listed on the door so Dave called and a nice lady answered and told him there would be someone there to help us in 40 minutes. While we waited, we walked down the street to the only other hotel in town and it was also locked up. We couldn’t even raise anyone on the published phone at that hotel. So we went back to our first choice and waited, hoping someone would arrive to help us soon. Sure enough, a nice gentleman walked up right on time and checked us into their very adequate lodge, the New Europa Hotel. 

Tomorrow we continue north another 17 miles in the general direction of Verona where we’ll arrive on Tuesday.  We hope everyone had a good Saturday. Ours was fairly uneventful. Thanks for reading. 

Our home for the night, the New Hotel Europa.

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Day 61

From: Vado

To: Bologna

Miles: 16

Total: 913

After a good breakfast at the hotel, our day started with a walk back to the closest train station which was about three quarters of a mile. It was only one stop from there to the central station in Bologna where we needed to switch lines, but it was a fairly long ride there. Once we got to the central station we had to walk to the opposite end of the station for our next train. The train was comfortable so it was a relaxing ride. It took about 40 minutes and seven stops to get to Vado and start walking again where we ended yesterday.

Bologna Central Train Station
John getting on the train back to Vado

The initial walk out of the train station was a sharp incline but it was only about half a mile or less. Most of the rest of the day was spent walking on fairly level ground or a slight decline. Initially the traffic was light. As the day went along the traffic picked up but after lunch we mostly had sidewalks or walking/bike lanes into Bologna.

Crossing a river on the way to Bologna

It was a nice sunny and warm day for walking with no issues. On a historic note, Bologna is home to the oldest university in the world, the University of Bologna, established in AD 1088, and that’s not phony baloney!

Have a great Friday!

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Day 60

From:  Montepiano

To:  Vado

Miles:  23

Total:  897

Today’s walk was a long one. Luckily for us, it was mostly downhill with a strong wind at our back. Unfortunately, our day did not end at the end of our walk. 

We knew we had a longer trek than usual today so we got on the road at 8:00. The wind was forecast to be 20-30 in the town where we started and 10-20 as we descended later in the day.  Well, it was every bit of 30 MPH when we started walking. We had some tree cover most of the time, but when we were in the open, it was hard to walk a straight line. We almost immediately started a descent on switchbacks down the mountain with only an occasional climb. Traffic was fairly light on our two lane road.  After about three hours of walking the switchbacks, we started a more gradual descent along a ridge line into a valley. 

Today’s lunch break, which we try to take about halfway through the walk, came at about 12:00. Because we started walking earlier today, we were whipped and ready to stop after 4 hours without a break. Things were looking pretty questionable for finding a place to stop when  we happened upon a gas station with a cafe attached. Unlike most cafes in gas stations, this place actually had a lunch menu. Dave and I both had pasta and bread. 

So with lunch out of the way and 11 miles left to go, we were back on the two lane headed down hill into the valley.  We knew before we left this morning our lodging options were going to be limited for tonight. Therefore, we had a backup plan in mind in case we couldn’t find a place to stay. The backup was to walk to a train station along our route in Vado and take the train 15 miles into Bologna, which is tomorrow’s destination. Before we got to the train station, there were two B&Bs we had our eye on. When we got to them, we could not get anyone to answer the doorbell or phone at the first, and we couldn’t even find the second. We asked a man that ran a bar next to the address listed on Google Maps about the location of the second B&B but between the language barrier between us and him, and the fact that we were running out of time to walk the rest of the way to the train station to catch our once-per-hour train to Bologna, we gave up on the B&B option and hurried to the train station. 

While I was in the parking lot taking care of sending our end-of-day message, Dave went in the small, unattended train station and bought two tickets. The train was right on time so off we went to Bologna Centrali station. Once we got there, we switched to another train that took us to the west side of Bologna near our hotel. From there it was a 15 minute walk to the hotel. So with all that, we ended our walking day at 3:45 in Vado but didn’t get to the hotel until 5:30. 

Tomorrow morning we’ll catch the train back out to the little train station in Vado where we stopped walking today and walk from there back to this same hotel west of Bologna. So tomorrow we can “slack pack” which means we can leave all nonessential stuff here in our hotel rooms and just take with us what we need for the 15 mile walk. That lightens the load some. 

So that was our Thursday. One last thing. About an hour into our walk this morning, we passed a sign saying we were leaving the Tuscany Region. It was all we thought it would be; especially the food and scenery. We hope your day was a good one at home. Can’t wait to see everyone next Wednesday!  

Walking through a valley toward Bologna.
We began to see crop land after leaving the higher elevation south of Bologna.
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Day 59

From: L’Isola

To: Montepiano

Miles:  14

Total: 874

After a wonderful Tuscan meal for my birthday last night and a good nights rest at our hotel we headed out about 8:45 this morning. The walk was a relatively short 14 miles but our google maps showed an almost straight up incline at the end of the day with a 2300 ft climb. We weren’t looking forward to the end of today’s walk.

Our Tuscan restaurant for dinner last night
Their menu of the day.

The first half of the walk was easy and we made our usual halfway stop for a sandwich, chips and a coke. It was a lively place. One of the ladies behind the bar was singing. John said it was a bit early for a karaoke night. After being seranaded at lunch we were back on the road.

The entire second half of the walk turned out to be a climb. The good news was that it was a steady climb all the way to our hotel. The google map directions were wrong and we didn’t have a super steep incline at the end. The road was relatively nice the whole way as well.

View back down to the valley where we walked from

The village we are staying in tonight, Montepiano is built on a pass at 2600 feet above sea level in the municipality of Vernio in the Italian region of Tuscany. The village has a population of 600, but due to tourism the population triples during the summer. It is common for people living in the nearby city of Prato to have summer homes in Montepiano.

The village of Montepiano

Our hotel tonight is somewhat spartan, but it is clean and modern. It also has a restaurant. Since it is the off season for tourists and the only hotel in this town we called ahead and made sure it was open.

Thanks again for following along and we will see everyone back home one week from today!

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Day 58

From:  Florence

To:  L’Isola

Miles:  16

Total:  860

Today we left the beautiful Tuscan capital city of Florence behind and are now on a four day walk to Bologna. To get there we will be walking over the Apennine Mountains that run perpendicular to out route. That means three days of climbing and a decent down the other side into Bologna. 

We got off about 9:00 after spending two nights in Florence at the Hilton Garden Inn.  It was a nice break, but as usual after a day off, it was hard to get the feet and legs moving again.  But after about an hour of hobbling along like a couple of old men, we were back in the groove and walking our usual 20-minute miles. 

Today’s route took us through several small towns west of Florence and along the Fiume Bisenzio River.  Most of the towns along the river had walking/bike trails so we spent about half the day away from roads and traffic. Eventually we turned north toward the mountains and picked up our road route, SS 325, which we will be on all the way to Bologna. It had quite a bit of traffic on it today, but that will probably slack off as we get farther away from Florence.  Tonight we’re staying in a very nice B&B in the tiny mountain town of L’Isola. The rooms are great and the staff was very welcoming. 

Tomorrow we have a relatively short day of 14 miles, but most of the walk will be uphill. Also, we have entered our last week of walking for Part 1 of this trek across Europe.  We’ll be finished with the first 1000 miles next Tuesday and fly home on Wednesday.  Lucky for us the weather forecast looks pretty good for the next week so we’ll knock this next 140 miles out, head home for our mandatory 90 day exodus from Europe, and pick back up in early June where we left off.  

I guess that’s all for today.  Thanks for following along. 

Today were luck to have several miles of walking/bike trails.
We followed the Fiume Bisenzio River for several miles today.
Highway tunnels means we’re back in the mountains.

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