ON A HASHIHAMA-BOUND TRAIN, THURSDAY MORNING Hi again, all. Well, my pilgrimage may be over but the journey and adventure roll on. I stayed two nights in Matsuyama, back at Sen Guesthouse right near Dogo Onsen, after a 3.5-hour bus trip across the island from Tokushima. It was great to be back there, and hosts Nori and Matt greeted me warmly. Many stories from the trail were shared. Danielle, my saviour from several weeks ago when she rescued me from that Family Mart and took me to Sen to recuperate, came over last night for a visit. First night was spent here… ..but last night I moved downstairs to a tatami-floored dorm room. I replaced some of my gear (nights are getting chilly), sent some home, and had two more hot-spring baths while I was there, and last night we retired to the rooftop for sunset with a journalist who was in town to do a story about the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Her timing was impeccable and she nearly ran out of iPhone juice recording my …
Hey, all! Yes, the circle will be unbroken — thanks for asking. At 4:50 this afternoon I entered the temple gate at number 1, bringing me back to where I started, completing a 1,200- or 1,300km loop of Shikoku and a 47-day tour of 88 freakin’ temples. I guess I’m in pretty good shape for an old bastard as my sum total of aches and pains after all that tarmac-pounding and mountain stomping is: zero. In fact I was seldom tired for more than five minutes on the whole walk. Injuries: three missing toenails (keep your eye out), some degraded toe skin, aching knees when I woke yesterday — but they’re fine today. I think I’m getting good at this stuff! As Matt (a former henro along with his wife Nori) at Sen Guesthouse back in Matsuyama said when I was there, you’re just starting to get good at the whole thing and then you reach the end. A damned shame. I have all my rituals and routines down, and have nights in my tiny tent/bedroom/ office/base camp …
I’d bought us a new washing machine that was getting delivered “between 1:00 and 5:00” — how’s that for an opening hook? — and with my morning free I set out early down Rt 9 to make the most of the Winter sunshine and stow some more road miles under my belt.
So, my last weekend in Korea. Spent the week lugging boxes to school — five so far — and slipping out to the post office when nobody was looking (nobody’s ever looking) to cocoon them in (free!) tape and throw more money at the very nice lady behind the desk. The only drama was on Thursday when I realised I’d boxed up my Swiss Army knife with my apartment keys attached, and had to run back down there. Just in time, the very nice lady handed me a box-cutter with a weary smile. This is a busy time of year at the post office in Korea. Anyway, another flashback to an Autumn walk. I had plenty of un-posted ones to choose from, but this one is a nice mix of things I loved and hated about walking in Korea…
PEAKS & PILGRIMAGE TOKYO, AUGUST 2013 Somewhere back home I’ve got two paper journals, handsome volumes in which I used to write my Japanese hike reports. There are an even 50 — this was when my mountain mania was raging, with no cure in sight short of an unplanned plummet over a precipice. On the first page of one there’s a pencil rubbing (I believe that’s the word, unsavory as it sounds) of a kanji (Chinese character) from a well-weathered summit sign. The character is…
Yesterday I woke even earlier for my Sunday ramble — ridiculously early, even for me — and hit the street before the first sunbeams. Thumped zombie-fashion down to the Yulha again, ambled its banks (where the coreopsis thickets that featured in the last post are starting to die off), climbed to the road and down to the rice paddy edges, dodged the odd early-starting dump-truck driver heading to or from the highway construction scarring the valley walls, took a few halfhearted shots of spiders and reflections and finally admitted that I didn’t know where the hell I was heading.
Hey, all. I’m typing this on the terrace of one of my favourite weekend haunts, Cafe 7gram in Yulha, 20 minutes’ walk from home. It’s late afternoon on Korean Memorial Day and I spent the day in my patented weekend Goat-walking style. Let me tell you how I get the mileage and some photography in during the merciless heat and light of almost-Summer.
..a queasy, disorienting feeling came over me. Something was missing. I stood there on the roadside, checked for wallet, sunglasses, lens cap, glasses: all present. I clicked on the camera, reviewed the last shots from my Sineo-San walk, trying to spark a memory, saw this one of the cherry-bordered mountain road I’d just descended…
I woke, for the third or fourth time — even at home, that’s a good night for me — and poked my head over the wall. Cloud obscured everything more than a few metres down the ridge; I could have been thousands of metres up, somewhere remote and alpine, not a measly 600 or so above bustling Busan. All was silent.
Part Two of the Birthday Epiphany saga. I was absurdly comfortable and warm in my down bag and bivy. I woke a few times in the night with a delicious breeze sweeping up from the valley and over my face; each time the far-off sirens and car horns had thinned out a little more.
I’ve been fortunate since I got into walking 12 years ago to have had a few memorable “trail birthdays”.
I had a brainwave a couple of weeks ago. I’ve griped about those Thursdays and Fridays at N2, my dreaded second school, more than once on TGTW. I’ve described how my heart sinks and my spirits drag around my ankles as I approach it — like going to the dentist or a colonoscopy exam twice a week. For a year.
Then the rain stopped falling and the trees dripped and I helped to spawn a school of secret dangers. Oh, we can populate the dark with horrors, even we who think ourselves informed and sure, believing nothing we cannot measure or weigh. I knew beyond all doubt that the dark things crowding in on me either did not exist or were not dangerous to me, and still I was afraid. ~ John Steinbeck, ‘Travels with Charley’
OCTOBER, 2011 I always skulk along the Tangaooma beachfront with my hackles up and bile in my mouth (somebody call an ambulance!).
Dirt. As hikers, it’s in our blood, our beds, and quite often in our breakfast.
No, not me — although arguably my own crisis started about 11 years ago, around the time I first started taking an unhealthy interest in mountains, walking, and prolonged periods of solitude. I’ll let you know when I see the light at the end of the tunnel…
Of all the hazards faced by Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers on their 2,650-plus-mile journey between the Mexican and Canadian borders — long waterless sections in rugged southern California, treacherous high passes and swollen creek crossings in the Sierra, the potential for early storms in alpine Washington — perhaps none is more dangerous than the American Breakfast.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has a new feature on their website* that allows former thru-hikers to revisit one of the highlights of their journey. For many years, hikers stopping at at ATC headquarters at the “psychological halfway point” in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia**, have been made welcome by the volunteers inside. Dumping their packs on the porch, they pose before the ATC sign for a polaroid that is labelled with trail name, dates and details and stored in a bulging album:
GREAT OCEAN WALK: Day 4 Got started at a positively tardy 6:05am. The best sleep yet, all the way through to about midnight, from which point I woke pretty much on the hour every hour. Allowed myself the luxury of a starter coffee in the shelter as I packed, then I was off into that jet-black night.
From my paper journals: MAY 19, 2006, 5:56PM Well, it doesn’t get much further from the rock fields of eastern PA than a bluegrass band doing old-time standards on a stage in south-western Virginia: