I couldn’t sleep, it was too hot and the wood deck too hard for my thin bedroll. After four hours of turning I decided to walk until I was tired enough to tolerate the pain in my shoulder blades. The memory of the atmosphere being too cold to sleep just fifty kilometers up the trail was still fresh in my mind, surreal from the same discomfort in the opposite situation. Fortunately Japanese mountain roads often have shoulders and just enough light to walk by.
After an hour I found an old henro koya, tucked into the darkness. Heavy doors were pulled shut, stuck with the swelling of the warping wood. With difficulty and a lot of noise I was able to pry them open. Inside a shrunken old man lay on a futon, his limbs barely more than bones. The light from outside cut a shaft into the musty room, the discomfort hit me immediately like a kick to the gut. Awkwardly, I shuffled inside to not stand gaping from the door. The man contracted even smaller for a second, then pushed his withered body up. I sat down on the a ledge and loosed my shoelaces. He said he’d been walking but grown weak recently and stopped in the lodge to rest. At first a few hours had become three days, apparently. My intrusion spurned him to slowly gather his things in embarrassment, while he muttered that he should continue if he had the strength. I was so tired, I needed just fifteen minutes of sleep. I lay down on the tatami mat as he rose and pulled his cart outside. Not knowing what to say, I was glad that he was gone. I thought the advent of a mat indoors would lead me to sleep immediately, but something blocked me, and for ten minutes I just stared at the ceiling. Still unable to sleep I shouldered my pack again and returned outside. I saw the old man still shuffling around the outside of the lodge, once I started walking he immediately turned back to the murky room, barely able to put one foot in front of the other. Dread of what would become of him pushed everything inside of me down, and I focused on the road.
The time for rest is when it’s time. Occasionally I start to focus too much on my watch when I’m tired, growing anxious for the next rest stop. In this case I usually end up putting the watch away and try to forget about it.
It’s in the back of my mind to meditate. I prefer to do so near moving water if I can find it. Discovering a set of stairs from the road that lead all the way down to the river is an unexpected treat.