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Hokkaido Backroad Blues

birches horz

You’re probably as relieved as I am that my latest Moreton saga has concluded. Now I’m left with a knife-gouge in my belly where I dug out the tick, a sea-turtle breast-plate on my kitchen shelf, assorted souvenir molluscs, sand still turning up in odd places, and some very pleasant memories.

It’s time to turn my attention to some colder, bleaker but no less beautiful walking reminiscence.

I always seem to have three or four threads going on TGTW, stories so long they could not possibly be condensed into a single post. This is intentional; I like to mix things up, though I understand if you’re not keeping up. Right now the threads are:

  • Appalachian Trail, 2004
  • My 30-day walk through Shikoku, Japan, 2008
  • My Gettysburg pilgrimage, 2006 (2nd half due soon)
  • Tasmania’s South Coast Track, 2003 (ditto)
  • Hokkaido, Japan, 2008, a Tale of Great Wretchedness, though not without its wonders, as you’ll see in this post.

Apart from these ongoing sagas, I’ll continue dipping into my murky pool of tales from all over the place, and mixing in some more random contemporary stuff. If you want coherence, there’s always television!

APRIL 4, 2008, CENTRAL HOKKAIDO

I got up from my bed beneath the dinosaur fangs after an okay sleep that included a record-breaking four-hour stretch without waking. I knew I had pushed myself much too hard in my flight from Sapporo; I knew I should be worried about the pain in my knee, but decided to bury the worry and just walk.

A sandwich, and I left the campground and rejoined the road. The scenery was achingly, breathtakingly gorgeous…

..and despite the pain, and the worry, I trudged all day further into the remote centre of that great, wide, white island, up deserted, snaking mountain roads, breathing steam, wincing now and then from the pain.

It was cold, and the sky was dismal.

I must have crossed a dozen bridges as I moved through a snowy and mountainous landscape with frequent vistas of peaks, forests and rivers to my right… ~ [journal entry]

I’ve seldom been more grateful for the hard, unyielding security of a road:

The rail on this bridge was alarmingly low…

..and with my monstrous pack, I steered well clear of it. Near the end…

..an approaching car slowed down as it met me; the driver made eye contact to enquire as to whether I was okay without actually winding down the window. I gave the thumbs-up and they sped off, three men in suits who were no doubt relieved in more ways than one…

I counted 59 coffee cans discarded on the roadside in one 30-minute period. There was one bad tunnel walk…

..with a very narrow raised “walkway” of crumbling concrete on which I had to hug the wall as vehicles passed. A cop car slowed and I was given the once-over, but he didn’t turn around to check me out in greater detail, to my relief…

In a long day’s walking, I passed not a single house or shop…

..and as I wrote that night:

The hardest part of the day, apart from the pain, was finding places to stop that offered protection from the elements:

When I came upon a communications tower — box-like cabin on legs with a tower above supporting a few aerials and a pair of loudspeakers — I was overjoyed. I squeezed in through the girders and leaned back to cook some noodles and soup, and felt like I’d come upon the Playboy Mansion in the wilderness…

Not much later I passed Sandantaki — “Three-Level Falls” — a beautiful stretch of rapids. The toilets there were closed, the water taps wrapped, as usual, in protective plastic. Around 2:30, after stopping for another painkiller to get me over a rise, I came to a junction at the confluence of two beautiful rivers — I think the one I am camped next to is the Ashibetsu:

I decided to explore a little snow-blanketed dirt road and came to a beautiful wide bench of frozen earth before descending to the river:

It was early but I wanted to give my knee a rest, and the site here is splendid. I’m camped on snow with stuff-sacks filled with snow in lieu of tent stakes, and the roar of the river 25m below.

I went down after laying out my damp stuff to dry — the sun broke free and it’s a lovely, clear, still evening now — and explored the river bank, stripped off to bathe in the freezing waters. I felt good and was happy I’d stopped. I spied a group of deer off in the trees further down…

To be safe, I hung my food bag very nicely after dinner. The only negative aspect is that I can’t get phone reception here. Suddenly I’d really like to talk to Mika — she said last night she was worried about me. She also told me an old man on the news, a native of Nemuro, had said he’d never seen anything like that ferocious weather that caused such a radical change in my plans.

Turns out choosing April Fool’s Day as my start day was was really trying to cheat fate — you can’t really cheat fate, it always gets you in the end…

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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