The six in our group arrived in high spirits on the train, with the light cutting through the walls of the cliffs and into our train compartment and giving us flickers of a perfect and terrible horizon in the dark of the tunnel. Anyone who has stopped in Riomaggiore knows the magic of the train station, of its precarious perch over an inlet of water where the tide laps against the rocks into infinity, cutting deeper and deeper into the coast: It's only a matter of time, the water tells the rock. I know, it responds in turn.
That night we spent atop those rocks, careful not to unfurl our sleeping bags off the edge. I fell asleep outside the tent under a pile of blankets, and awoke twice during the night from the chilly October air. Each time I'd run up and down the stairs to get my blood moving before going back to sleep, and I'd make a note of the progress of the moon on its path across the sky. Above us swirled constellations and shore-bound clouds, which forced us into town quickly the following morning with a tiny cloudburst.
Undeterred, we pressed on the trail in the pouring rain, the only ones setting out while the rest of the visitors retired to cafés and sandwich shops. We came this far, we told ourselves, and rain is a shitty excuse for not having an adventure.
We sauntered into and through Manarola as onlookers questioned our sanity, and we skirted the trail boundary a few times to go investigate rock outcroppings or a mysterious cave—the rain beat on, but we weren't any worse for it.
Shortly after Manarola, the rain stopped. The sky parted, and we were bathed in sunlit blessing. Josh and Lee emerged from the cave they were exploring, and Paul pointed to a perfect swell: "I wish I had my surfboard…who would've thought you could get barreled in the Mediterranean?" In front of us lay the 300+ stair climb to Corniglia, and we were just getting warmed up. We had the trail to ourselves, and the day was still young.