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When the mafia is chasing you: HIT THAT GAS PEDAL. Pt.1 – Strolls Down Memory Lane

Just like climbing, wildcamping isn’t always fun.

“So… there might be bears here,” my climbing partner mumbles, pointing at a large sign covered in Italian words – and a picture of a bear. It’s past midnight, and we’re on the outskirts of a town we haven’t seen in daylight yet.

We’d been in Italy for a few weeks now, having both defended our master theses, and in desperate need of a break. Neither of us cared much for hostels or campsites, preferring to wildcamp for a few weeks next to as many climbing crags in northern Italy as possible. It was the perfect plan.

But just like climbing, wildcamping isn’t always easy. Or safe.

Shivering out in the cold, I ask: “But isn’t this supposed to be a climbing crag?” He points further up the dirt trail winding its way past two concrete barriers. I can barely make out the shadow of a rock jutting into the black night sky. That must be it. “If you ask me, they’ve turned the crag into the local trash dump, and that’s what’s attracting the bears,” I hear him mutter.

That’s another thing climbing and wildcamping have in common: they both expect at least as much daring of you, as firm skills of risk-assessment.

We get back into the car, checking the climbing guides for clues as to where we might find a nice place to pitch a tent that hopefully wasn’t crawling with bears. I’m in the driver’s seat. I’m trying to get better at driving stick-shift. The driving itself hasn’t been going too well. I cried more than once, ashamed of seeming unable to improve, no matter how desperately I wanted to. And then there were those nightmarish steep inclines: Every time we hit a hill, we had to switch seats for fear of me killing the motor and us getting stuck on the mountain roads.

But as much as I hated driving back then, I hated sucking at it even more, so there I was: at the wheel again.

I’m sketching out a plan in my mind where we could set the tent and still be safe from bears (between the car and the concrete barrier?), when suddenly a car pulls up next to us.

Its headlights are turned off. And more are coming.

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