Today I decided to stop using the map and just go. Coast, no coast. Direction becomes much easier in that setting. So I picked a road and stayed the course. It felt empowering. I felt adventurous. Funny how being on an adventure like the one I’m on leaves me feeling compelled to add some adventure to it. There’s wisdom to be pruned from that statement but I can’t see it yet.
I was going south longer than I should have been. Getting deeper into farm. Fields of wildflowers called out with the sounds of spring. Bees buzzing, a breeze over rolling hills of green, red, yellow, purple; smells to invigorate the soul. Hardly a structure of any kind in sight save the ancient stone walls only a couple feet high separating someone’s from someone else’s. The bees didn’t care or even seem to notice the distinctions.
I saw a dirt road to the left, to the sea. It went over a hill. I couldn’t see past. I circled back. This is my path. It started out well enough but quickly turned to less and less of a road. Up ahead the large tractor that I passed while we were on the road went by me. I heard it say “this is MY path.” Maybe it’s both, I thought. I pressed on. Ahead where the tractor had already gone I saw a place where the road ended. And then I saw where it started again. In between the lands end and beginning sat a pool of water just large enough to cover, entirely, any chance of bypassing it without at least stopping in to say hello.
Well, this is the path I chose. Heave-ho, bicycle goes up on the shoulder. With a pannier on the side, this act is suddenly tremendously harder than I remember it with an empty bicycle. Ahead, at the barn, the farmer leaves his tractor inside, pulls the door closed, turns toward his vehicle and spots me, which stops him cold. Pretending to do something and something else he waits and watches. I imagine a conversation between he and his tractor begins:
“Ooooooooh man, you have GOT to see this one!!!!!”
“What?! WHAT?!?! Open the door!!!!!”
“Ok ok ok check THAT out!!!!”
“BAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA I TOLD HIM IT WAS MY PATH!!!!”
“Ten bucks says he’s some Americano tourist, and double that if he can’t speak Italian”
“HA! You’re on, I say he’s British, no bet on the language though, clearly he doesn’t speak Italian.”
I make it past the water without having a dip. I set my bike down and get on. As I roll up to him we see each other’s face. I say “Ciao, dové Otranto? Qua?” And point towards Otranto. “Si.” He looks unimpressed. I laugh and pedal on. I imagine the tractor is fuming. This is my path.
After more pedaling on grass and two tracks, another pool of mud to circumvent and an unexplainable fenced off area containing no less than 50 dogs all living community style (they looked well taken care of, don’t worry) I finally reach pavement. I play Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam and thumbs up the car that honks at me as I cruise out onto the road. I spot the sea. I know that somewhere between us there lies a lake of bauxite. I believe I’m close. Don’t spoil the momentum I think to myself. Leave the map where it lies.
I see cars parked around red dirt. I am close. A little here and there and back and forth and I’m standing in front of the sign explaining the Laghetto di Bauxite. I sit atop the lake and have lunch.
I spot some people hiking in from a different direction. I was supposed to visit Otranto today. I’ll see where they came from instead. I follow the road on my bike until I crest a hill. It gets way too rough for my bike. Or rather, there’s no need to smash a rim, pop a tire or anything else just because I COULD ride it. But beyond the rough part I see a dirt two track that looks inviting and it looks like it goes all the way to the sea. It’s undeveloped here and it’s just the land and the sea for as far as my eyes will stretch. It’s green rolling downwards. The dirt is red and contrasts against the blue sky and green grass and shimmering turquoise water and I think that I hear a voice calling me. This is MY path.