by Tim Parks
I came to Locus Map to solve a problem. How to walk 400 miles through Italy, crossing many areas that are hardly popular for tourism or trekking. Italy is not famous for its detailed walking maps.
Why did we want to do this? In 1849, the revolutionary hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, abandoned the defence of Rome which was besieged by 30,000 French soldiers, left the city at night with 4000 men, and tried to march them hundreds of miles north to Venice where another group of rebels had declared Italian independence. They zigzagged back and forth through the Italian Apennines, Lazio, Umbria, Tuscany and the Marches, pursued by French and Austrian armies.
Always a fan of Garibaldi, in 2019 I came across a diary of his aide de camp, Gustav Hofstetter, a Swiss soldier, who describes in great detail the route they took and all the hardships on the way. Suddenly I knew I had to walk the same walk, to get a sense of the epic thing they did, and, since I’m a writer, to write a book comparing Italy then and Italy now.
But nobody walks from city to city today. The only well-marked paths are in the prettiest places, where the tourists go. Google’s route-finder offers only roads and walking along Italian roads out of town is perhaps more dangerous than being hunted by an army. Even when I did find paper maps with paths, they were out of date, and you would need so many they would fill your whole backpack.
Enter Locus Map. My partner, Eleonora, and I downloaded the app, set the algorithm for backpacking and began to plan our route.
I’m not going to pretend it was all plain sailing. The app does everything it can to keep a walker away from busy roads but even Locus Map had trouble figuring out a safe way to walk from the centre of Rome to Tivoli, 30 km to the east. Amazingly, it would know of tiny passages through brambles beneath elevated highways, but then bring you smack up against a huge four lane intersection where you were walking right alongside racing trucks…
… or sometimes it will take you half a mile out of your way to avoid a few hundred yards of road, unaware that you’ll be walking this route at dawn on a Sunday in August and there’s really no problem. There are times when what matters is to get where you’re going before the day is too hot. We were doing the walk at the same time of the year they did: July.
But these are quibbles. Day after day, Locus Map found a way: north up the Tiber river, through the wild landscapes of Sabina, to Terni and Todi…
… across windy plateaus and through deep gorges, up over the high Apennine passes to San Marino and the Adriatic coast.
The facility that allows you to record your movements as you walk with a strong red line is crucial for orientation. You see pretty quickly when you’ve missed a turn, which is all too easy in this kind of terrain where very few of the paths are signed. And it’s great that you can reorganize your route fast when you realize that a path or road isn’t going to work, or that you haven’t the energy to get as far as expected. The profile graph that tells you how much climbing you’ll have to do and, even more crucially, how steep the path is going to be, both up and down, is essential when it comes to figuring out your day and getting in the right mindset.
Garibaldi’s men were poorly supplied, their shoes falling apart, weighed down with rifles and gear; at night they slept on the ground without tents or shelter. We had good light trekking shoes and walking poles, carried only about 7kg in our packs, and managed to find a bed for ourselves every night, even in the most remote villages. Still, we struggled to do the 400 miles in the time they did: 28 days including two days rest. And we didn’t have to do any fighting or shooting on the way. To avoid the armies following him, Garibaldi often took the most arduous routes, through the most empty and magnificent terrain. We’d never have managed to follow him without the help we got from Locus Map. And if we hadn’t managed it, the book would not have been written.
More about the author:from Rome to Ravennahiking Italyroute plannerTim Parks