On May 26, 2009, Valerio Sani and Milena Dalla Piazza Mongillo left from the Principality of Monaco to make a personal dream come true: hiking the Via Alpina in 100 days.
The trail stretches from Monte Carlo to Trieste, in a succession of high-altitude hikes that connect the entire arc of the Alps: 2,600 km and a total of 130,000 vertical meters, trail after trail. Few would be up for this, even under ordinary circumstances. In this case, for a man in his sixties with chronic kidney disease, the challenge was nothing short of extreme.
Valerio Sani, 62, is an expert athlete and a runner since 1996; he has completed 40 marathons, 9 ultramarathons and countless alpine races. In 2007 he was diagnosed with acute kidney failure that quickly developed into chronic. To protect his remaining kidney function, doctors advised him to avoid all physical exertion until a transplant was available, but this in itself was an unbearable strain for an athlete. Valerio started running again, and inexplicably, his body responded well to the effort: instead of worsening his kidney function actually improved, and in the last year he has run nine marathons and finished thousands of kilometers of training.
His latest challenge began on May 26, and unlike the others, it required constant exertion for 100 days. Valerio headed out with his running companion Milena dalla Piazza Mongillo, and with a three-year-old husky named Yuk.
The route they chose for this challenge against time is one of the most memorable that Europe has to offer. After 5000 kilometers of trails and alternative routes through eight countries, four national languages, a host of regional tongues and dialects, 342 stages, and a varied landscape ranging from 1000 to 3000 meters in altitude against a never-ending backdrop of natural beauty—from the Mediterranean brush to snowy giants, from granite massifs to the limestone towers of the Dolomites, through forests and along the fragrant sea—on August 26 Valerio and Milena arrived in Trieste. A long, restorative descent towards the sea welcomed the two triumphant hikers at the end of their journey.
Will they be hanging up their hiking boots now? Not a chance. They'll have Dolomites on their feet soon enough for a new challenge and yet another conquest.
Valerio Sani e Milena Dalla Piazza Mongillo