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Scene, Sunday, August 5, 2007

When he couldn’t find a guidebook on hiking the hills and coastlines of Italy’s scenic region of Tuscany, Jeff Taylor, a Department of Defense Dependents School teacher in Livorno, Italy, took matters into his own feet and hands.

He explored the area and then wrote the book himself.

“When I moved to Livorno about three years ago, I spent the first six months doing hikes,” Taylor said recently by phone from his home in Marina di Pisa, Italy. “There were no books, so I decided I’d be the one to write the book.”

The outcome, 2½ years in production, is “50 Hikes In and Around Tuscany: Hiking the Mountains, Forests, Coasts and Historic Sites of Wild Tuscany and Beyond.” It provides specific directions, distances, difficulty assessments and descriptions of 50 memorable walks in Tuscany and nearby parts of Italy.

“My favorite hike is the Gran Sasso, near Rome,” said Taylor, 33, who’ll be teaching chemistry this fall at Naples High School since the Livorno school has closed. “There’s a big glacial basin, a cirque, that you can go down into. It’s very remote. You don’t feel you’re in Italy anymore. It’s more like the Arctic.”

Taylor rates the Gran Sasso route, 14.3 kilometers long, as “strenuous,” but there are plenty of easier trails among his 50, too.

“There are various degrees of difficulty,” he said. “The majority are moderate, but there also are flat hikes suitable for families. I tried to make it as varied as possible.”

Shortest of the 50 walks is a 2.5-kilometer tour of the ruins of Volterraio on the island of Elba, rated “easy”; longest is a 29.5-kilometer tour of the Southern Alpi Apaune near Lucca, characterized as “strenuous.”

“All of them are day trips,” Taylor said, “so you don’t have to backpack.”

Taylor has been a serious hiker since graduating from college a dozen years ago. He has hiked in the Pacific Northwest, where he grew up, as well as Hawaii, the canyonlands of Arizona and Utah and now Europe. He plans at least one volume about hikes in the Naples area when he moves south in August to begin his fourth year with DODDS.

“If I do just one book, it’ll be hikes in central and southern Italy,” Taylor said. “If I add Sicily, I’ll have to do two books, because it’s so large an area.”

However many books he does, Taylor will use the methods he employed on the Tuscany hikes.

“I use a GPS system to draw the maps,” he said, “and I take notes at every way-marker to goad my memory when I recall the hike. I also take digital pictures of each trail marker.”

Taylor said publication came quickly for “50 Hikes in Tuscany.”

“I sent the manuscript off to four publishers,” he said, “and within three weeks I heard back from one of them.” The book, his first, is published by The Countryman Press, and his agreement provides for him to receive royalties of about $1 for each one sold.

So far, “50 Hikes in Tuscany,” which came out in late May, is available in Europe only through Internet merchants such as Amazon.com. But according to an Army and Air Force Exchange Service spokesman, that will change. AAFES’ overseas book distributor has obtained the book and will sell it in its Italy stores.

Taylor’s Web site, www.50hikesin tuscany.com, has maps, typical illustrations and a list of the hikes in the book.

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