Lifting her eyes, Bartlett’s next thought was to walk across the US, but visa restrictions made it impossible. Instead, she fixed on the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrim’s trail from Italy to Canterbury, and onwards with a cricket bent. She wrangled six months off work and scratched up $20,000. She was determined to pay for herself; any other money that came in would count towards funds raised. They stand now at around $52,000, and she hopes for $100,000.
Her parents thought her mad. The psychiatrists where she works said they wanted to lock her up. Her Sturt teammates thought they wouldn’t see her again. She left the day after leading them to last season’s premiership, and will arrive back the day before the start of next season.
Bartlett walks alone, packs light – her backpack is half-filled with diabetes treatment – and maps her route as she goes, booking accommodation only a day ahead. Sometimes, she arrives only to find she has no booking, and it’s 8pm, and the next closest accommodation is 10km away. What does she do? “I walk another 10km,” she said. She averages 30km a day, but one day walked 46km.
Fastidiously, she won’t cut even a corner, let alone a skip a leg. “Walking through the Swiss Alps, the road had only opened that day,” she said. “The only way before then was by bus, which I wasn’t going to do. I’m very precise. I’ll finish at a hotel, or touch a sign, and come back to the exact same point the next day.”
She wears proper boots, and braces on both ankles, and has avoided tears or strains. She hadn’t had one blister this time. She gets sore, of course, but she says it has not even remotely crossed her mind to give up. “I know the difference between injury and muscle pain,” she said. “I’ll just push through the muscle pain – until it becomes an injury!”
She pulled a groin on day one, a 38-km reach, and took two weeks to walk it out. Notoriously ardent young Italian men plagued her then, one returning six times to offer her a lift. Most in Italy were mystified by her mission, she said. “But in one little town, the mayor had heard about my story and I had to go to the office to be presented with a certificate.”
Somehow – she suspects Facebook stalking! – a little of her modest fame has preceded her. “A few places, I’ve gone to pay the bill the next morning and they’ve said, don’t worry about it,” she said. “Sometimes I haven’t even told them. One Airbnb said they had been tracking me in.”
Bartlett’s journey can be seen literally as a pilgrimage, going the extra mile for the sake of a cause at the heart of her being. “I hate walking!” she admits. “I’m not a runner and I’m not a walker. I like team sports, I like people around me. I play cricket and golf. It’s very lonely out on the road for me.”
She is a fifth-generation cricketer at Sturt, a wicketkeeper, opening bat and captain. In under-17s, the South Australian coach made her an opening bowler for the interstate carnival. Megan Schutt, now Australia’s opening bowler, was second change. “I still think I’m a fast bowler,” said Bartlett. “But I haven’t bowled since.” The game holds her in its thrall. In her odyssey, she has reached Preston in northern Lancashire, but has back-tracked to be at Old Trafford this week. She does not expect to see any other Australian walk.