If you've ever visited Italy, at some point you likely encountered Giuseppe Garibaldi. Not in the flesh, of course, as he's been dead more than 120 years, but as a statue or the namesake of a piazza, pizzeria or cafe. The ubiquitous revolutionary is considered one of the forefathers of modern Italy, along with Giuseppe Mazzini, Vittorio Emanuele II and Camillo Cavour.

Due to the political and military efforts of these four men, the handful of states, kingdoms and duchies that partitioned the Italian peninsula in the mid-19th century were unified in 1861. (Rome wasn't added for another nine years, but don't worry about it; Italian history is complicated.)

While Garibaldi's military victories immortalized him, his reputation was largely built on how he handled defeat in 1849. Following the loss of Rome to the French fighting on behalf of Pope Pius IX (remember, complicated), Garibaldi refused to surrender and instead led a monthlong, 400-mile retreat to Ravenna.

In 2019, exactly "a hundred and seventy years and twenty-three days" after Garibaldi fled Rome with his pregnant wife, Anita, and 4,000 volunteer troops, English writer Tim Parks and his partner Eleonora walked the same route, yielding "The Hero's Way," part history, part travelogue.

Parks tracks the twinned treks across central Italy, one needing to elude enemy armies closing in from all sides (Garibaldi), the other striving to overcome blisters and eat vegetarian (Parks). They both get off to rough starts, with a lengthy recitation of messy military maneuvering in Rome (Garibaldi) complementing an initial stage along a freeway "through a suburban haze of carbon monoxide" (Parks).

Parks' route is gleaned from historic accounts by participants in Garibaldi's retreat, as well as later works of scholarship, but despite his genuinely transparent and occasionally (melo) dramatic storytelling, the only real adventures come with Garibaldi.

Parks' comprehensive knowledge leads to overindulgence or name-dropping at times, but Eleonora acts as an able stand-in for the reader, providing valuable prompts such as "get on with it."

Rich characters like the Roman tavern owner Ciceruacchio, who Florence Nightingale credited with "a common sense almost amounting to genius," give up their vocations and often their lives to accompany Garibaldi, but few are as devoted β€” and beloved β€” as Anita, who (spoiler alert) tragically dies at the finish line.

Parks and Eleonora face nothing more dangerous than feisty hornets as they peregrinate between B&Bs (Air and otherwise), agriturismos and hotels, but there are still challenges, largely because they seem incomprehensibly unprepared at times, despite more than a year of planning. Their navigation app only lives on Eleonora's phone, and while the 64-year-old Parks packed trekking poles at the urging of friends, Eleonora, who is 30 years younger, "thought them a pointless expense and unnecessary weight." (She quickly changes her tune.)

But even with the relatively pedestrian nature of the present-day pilgrimage, Garibaldi's heroic journey and Parks' enthusiastic guide work make this a trip well worth taking.

Cory Oldweiler is a freelance writer and editor.

The Hero's Way
By: Tim Parks.
Publisher: W.W. Norton, 384 pages, $27.95.