Today was a solid day of hiking. I managed between 36 and 40 kilometers, depending on the source. I am now at the base camp of the reputed most difficult mountain temple, Unpenji. It’s already quite cold so I don’t expect much sleep. I do however have a roof and all the fresh water I can drink, a blessing.
There is a custom to carry the henro staves over bridges. The reasoning behind this is that Kukai, the progenitor of Shingon Buddhism, was forced to sleep under a bridge once while on the pilgrimage. Out of reverence to him (represented symbolically by the staff), we do not use the staff to cross bridges.
Fittingly, under a bridge is exactly where I slept last night to take shelter from passing showers.
There’s something appealing about using instinct and experience to make tactical choices that guide your movements. Perhaps it’s romance, or the yearning for escapism. So often our lives are dependent on information provided to us on a liquid crystal display. So much of my life in the city is without mindfulness, constantly distracted. But walking on the trail with no information other than what you extract from the environment, that’s thought. The reasonable, cognitive kind of thought that led man out of the caves and into ordered civilization. You study the clouds, think of the pain in your blisters, or the condition of your stomach. If you stop a moment, and focus, you gain a deeper connection with existence that is so easily now stuffed down in the dark corners of the mind, and forgotten.
This is the kind of awareness that runs through the fourteen hours one spends on the road all day.
It had rained, and looked to do so again. The city opened up into a wide, shallow river, with deep banks of weeds, concrete blocks, and silt. From my point on the tiny shoulder, I could see far to the west, over the river and out of the city, to the mountains where the clouds mixed and elongated like whirls of blue cotton. Headlights from a line of waiting cars dotted the road ahead. I looked again to the rapidly darkening horizon and decided I wasn’t going to find anything better for the night. Self-consciously I climbed over the guardrail and slid down into the riverbed, imagining the stopped drivers that must think I’m some sort of derelict.
Under the large bridge there land was broken into three strips of stones, sand, and concrete. I’d heard about the river level rising suddenly after a series of rainstorms, and eyeballed the distance between the river and the concrete bank, wondering how quickly I’d have to move before anything was lost. Two summers before when I was learning to surf in Kochi, I’d misjudged the current of a river after a mountain storm, and nearly been drowned on some rocks while swimming it.
I picked a moderate plot of sand and began laying out my things. Hundreds of slimy insects festered in pools on the concrete embankment, crawling over one another. I wondered about snakes and parasites while the evening rush home of cars piled up along the road above. Feeling slightly apprehensive I stuffed everything except my shoes and bedroll into my sack, and hunkered down in my sleeping bag while the sound of runoff from the bridge wavered in the night wind.
I had an opportunity to purchase food at a grocery store for lunch around 11:30, but it was still early and my instinct told me that I’d have a chance to find a restaurant before long. Unfortunately this was another of my gross misjudgements in the level of suburban development. After that store I didn’t come to another establishment until three hours later. As my stomach murmured and growled, a large portion of the walking I did was through one of the never ending series of wheat fields. Rugged, topical asphalt, the road was pitted and worn from trucks, bearing no respite from the beaming midday sun. I had another minor lapse in humour fraught with irritated grumbling. By one thirty I could take no more and sat down on the ledge of a sluice gate to eat emergency rations under the withering sun.
Later I would come across an udon restaurant just before closing. I hungrily slurped up my soup and downed six glasses of water in the deserted restaurant. Just as the clock struck three it played a lilting version of “If” by the 70s folk band Bread. Ironically, this was exactly the song I was singing to myself earlier that morning when in better spirits. The chagrin brought more that one tear to my eye.
– kannon statues
– camera man guy
– hakui purchase
– bamboo guy
– lost, circles