Challenging Yourself

Written by Jacob May 25, 2015

On our first night in Paderno del Grappa, Dr. Al Ringleb, the director of the CIMBA program, shared exactly what he hoped would happen to the students studying here and it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. Dr. Ringleb wants us to “go to the wrong station, get on the wrong train, go in the wrong direction and figure it out.” He wants us to challenge ourselves and prove to us just how capable we really are. 

This weekend took me to the scenic western coast of Italy and a string of five small villages collectively named Cinque Terre. The villages are all connected by train as well as hiking trails to take you between villages. Without much else to do, I figured that it would make for a fun day to hike my way to each village starting at Monterosso al Mare and eventually end up in Riomaggiore. 

After about an hour of walking on the first trail from Monterosso al Mare towards Vernazza I passed a family from Oregon who asked, “Are we almost there yet?” Surprised they would think they were close when they were at least an hour away brought a little bit of fear into my head and after I had shared with them I couldn’t help but ask them myself, “Am I almost there yet?”.  

An hour later I strolled into Vernazza out of breath, out of water, and outstandingly confused. Everything I had read online leading up to my journey had said that the “Sentiero Azzurro” or Blue Trail was the easiest and most enjoyable. The only thing that was easy were the downhills and the only thing I enjoyed were the views! 

As I started out on the next route from Vernazza to Corniglia I ventured to ask another group on the trail how far it was to Corniglia. “Oh just over an hour and a half — it’s not too bad,” wasn’t quite the answer I was expecting. 

So after two trails and three villages I’ve already hiked at least three and a half hours. Determined to finish my plan for the day, I didn’t dare ask anyone how far it would be from Corniglia to Manarola.  That was a mistake. 

About another two hours later I found myself in Manarola with wet clothes and an empty stomach. It had rained as I trekked up the side of the mountain, past endless rows of growing grapes, and I hadn’t brought an umbrella. 

With just one more hike to make from Manarola to Riomaggiore, I was faced with a sign to enter the blue trail that read, “Trail Closed. Rockslides.” At first I felt relieved I didn’t have to make the final leg of the trip! At least until another group of hikers came up from behind me and said I could take the more challenging Red and White trail with them if I would like.  

At that point I was faced with a tough choice. Should I just call it a day and quit, or do I stick to the plan and finish it off?  Not wanting to quit early, I took the group up on their offer and off we went for Riomaggiore. 

Finally after another two hours of intense hiking we rolled into Riomaggiore and I was exhausted. Proud of my accomplishment and with a camera full of pictures, I boarded a train back to La Spezia where we were staying.

To top things off, I got off the train at the wrong station and walked another hour and a half back to our hotel because the ticket machine wasn’t working. 

Without a doubt this was the most beautiful, challenging, and breath-taking journey I have ever taken. In some places, the path narrowed barely enough to place both my feet and in others fell off hundreds of feet into the canopy of the forest and towards the sea.

Now for another quote from Dr. Ringleb, “Study abroad is not about a vacation photo book; it is about grasping a unique opportunity to create the person you want to be.” 

So far my experience at CIMBA has challenged me in ways I never would have thought and those challenges have offered me opportunities to learn and grow so much in just one week! I can’t wait to see what the rest has to offer, I just hope it’s not anymore mountain trails that never seem to end! Also, Dr. Al – The pictures will still make a pretty good-looking photo book!

Oh, and one more thing! The sign as I entered the trail in Monterosso read something along the lines of, “The Italian Government is not responsible for any injury or death related to falls from these trails. Please watch your step.”  Sorry Mom and Dad, but at least I waited until after to tell you!