Stuffing all my various running gear and food into sacks to tote up to my room, covered in mud and sweat from the day’s adventures, I’m greeted by the keeper of the inn, Rosie, who calls out my name brightly. She comes to stand my side at the car door, speaking swiftly in Italian. She knows I don’t understand, but slows her words and repeats some again, looking me in the eye squarely. Relentless, she waves over an attractive young couple approaching the outdoor cafe adjacent to the hotel. I understand they speak some English and can translate.
“You will come eat,” the young woman says and smiles as her husband laughs, embarrassed. His English has escaped him for the moment under the pressure.
“You will come eat, with us,” the woman qualifies.
Now I’m embarrassed. Introverted by nature, I immediately resist, indicating to the salad I’ve bought for dinner. I’m perfectly happy being alone most of the time, and at all costs I will avoid eating with large groups of people, especially people I don’t know who speak languages I don’t understand. But Rosie persists. As I ascend the stairs, she calls out gesturing with her hands: “ten minutes!” I can’t help but smile—I believe myself to be fairly independent, but under some circumstances I can’t help but do what people tell me to do.
After I shower and text my husband about my predicament, I descend the stairs clutching my phone for comfort. Maybe he will keep me entertained while I eat quietly by myself, I think.
When I pass through the door to the deck, Rosie catches me and calls out my name, holding her arms out wide, a grandiose entrance for an American tourist. Six four-top tables are pushed together on the deck draped with tablecloths, covered with drinks and baskets of bread. Nearly a dozen people turn smiling to greet me. Rosie leads me over and sits me down squarely at the head of the table.
Strategically, the English-speaking couple sit at my left side, while a young Italian couple sit at my right. For a brief moment everyone at the table is looking to me with expectation, perhaps for me to brilliantly say or do something entertaining. (I’ve heard that Europeans believe Americans to be loud, attractive, and funny—none of which I’m particularly known for.) Instead I smile and glance to the left where the woman from earlier kindly smiles in understanding and returns to her conversation with the others. I exhale.
We start with a large pile of pasta with red sauce and mushrooms. The Italian man to my right serves me first from an enormous pot. They explain the mushrooms were picked earlier that day in the mountains by two men further down the table.
The young couple to my left are from the Interlochen area of Switzerland. They come often to visit this small town, Buglio in Monte, where the man’s grandmother once lived. His English slowly comes back and he explains, “my sister—“ he indicates to his ring finger, and his wife completes: “married?”
“My sister, married?, a man from the US. I speak English with him every day, but I am now in Italy two weeks and I only speak Italian, so my English goes.”
The food keeps coming, the two large men come and scoop another heap of pasta and mushrooms onto my plate, and before I’m done, another enormous dish comes out with another kind of pasta. This time spaghetti with a cheese sauce and the group explains these are another kind of wild mushrooms—porcini.
“In Switzerland,” the man to my left goes on, commiserating with me, “we eat alone.” He gestures blinders at the sides of his face. “We go and go and do not see each other. Do not speak. We stay alone and eat. This is very different in Italy. Big meals like this.”
He tries to resist more food, laughing and patting his stomach, but the Italian men are persistent and he too ends up with a full plate. The Italian lady on my right asks two or three times if I can eat “a little” and finally I accept, finding myself also with a full plate. By now we are all sharing a laugh over our big meal and stomachs.
The Italian woman’s two young boys take turns visiting her by the table, one has pulled up a chair between us, drinking a Pepsi from a bottle. The night has grown dark, as it’s nearly 10PM. I ask the boy if he has learned English and he shakes his head no, shyly. But he tells me he is nine years old and his name. The parents explain in high school they learn English for four years but rarely use the language, so they forget. Over time I am able to explain many things in Spanish, which is much closer to Italian, and before long I feel as if we are having an actual conversation in three languages.
“Cinghiale!” I’m surprised another course comes out. Boar cooked in red wine and chocolate. I’m absolutely stuffed but again resign to accept the plate out of curiosity. The Italian lady shows me a photo on her phone of a boar. and asks the word in English. “Pig!” She laughs to her husband. Tell me about it, I think, washing down the delicious meat with beer. I don’t know how I will move ever again.
The owner of the Terre Alte Restaurant and Bed and Breakfast comes and sits by my side, asking if everything is okay. “Perfecto!” I exclaim. He’s effusively kind, making sure I have everything and asking if all is okay each time he sees me. That morning, with the help of a young boy, he explained he’s driven across America, listing off the sights he’s seen with joy: New York, Detroit, Chicago, Grand Canyon…”
Suddenly, for the first time, his smile disappears, his brow furrows, and he asks me a serious question. The men grow quiet. I turn to the Swiss for clarification.
The woman translates, “They want to know if you will win on Sunday?”
My laugh comes out loud and easily. They look at each other confused.
“No.” I state clearly trying to sound apologetic, I hope they are not disappointed. Europeans are passionate about sport and love a good competition. Communities of people will gather along the race ways to watch and cheer enthusiastically for every athlete. It’s nearly impossible not to feel pushed by the infectious drive to compete.
But I explain this event, Kima Trofeo, is a different kind of beast. Incredible athletes are coming from all over the world for the event this weekend.
The race is a feat of high-speed alpinism named after an accomplished and revered mountaineer from the area. The route links several passes through seven mountains on the cirque surrounding the Val Masino area. Posters advertise the event in store fronts throughout the area, with a picture of Emelie Forseberg rappelling down a section of chain on the famous Via Ferrata or “iron way,” which is characteristic of the race. Parts of the route are extremely steep requiring the use of fixed ladders and chains to cross without carrying protection of harnesses or ropes.
They ask if this is my first time, and how long it will take. I explain it is my first time to race in Italy, in Trofeo Kima, and in such technical conditions. The time limit for all competitors—less than 250 total, selected based on race experience—is less than eleven hours. I explain that my goal is to finish in less than the eleven hours, without getting hurt. For the sake of this group, I sincerely hope this is the case.
The fastest men, including the infamous Kilian Jornet can perform the entire course in less than 7 hours. Emelie and the fastest women take less than eight hours.
Stuffed to the hilt, I excuse myself to bed, while the group settles in to quieter conversation over a drink and smoke. Back in my room, I relish this genuine Italian dinner experience greatly, knowing in my heart it will be remembered forever, much like the soon to come race.
Kima Trophy, 2018, takes place on Sunday, August 26th in the area surrounding Val Masino, in the Sondrio region of Italy. Top competitors will include Emelie Forsberg—Sweden, Ragna Debats—Netherlands, Jasmin Paris—Great Britain, Hillary Gerardi—USA, Mira Rai—Nepal, Martina Valmassoi—Italy, Ekatarina Mityaeva—Russia, and Brittany Petersen—USA. And for men: Kilian Jornet—Spain, Cody Lind—USA, Pere Aurell—Spain, Pau Bartolo—Spain, and Ricky Lightfoot—Great Britain, among many others.
Find the Terre Alte Bed and Breakfast in Buglio in Monte, about 3 miles from Val Masino, up a winding road through neighborhoods and vineyards. The harrowing drive becomes easier with practice, and is well worth the stunning views of the endless green mountains surrounding the valley below.