Shikoku Day Nine: A Walk in Solitude

The Morning Wait

I woke up refreshed with my best night of sleep yet and did some reading before climbing out of my tent. The henro campsite was already lively at six in the morning. Henro were packing up their sleeping bags, making breakfast on their miniature cookers, and preparing to return to the road whether that meant by foot or on wheels.

This location provided a checkpoint before a 76-kilometer coastal walk to Hotsumisakiji (24) which was estimated to be a three-day journey. I recognized many of the henro from passing on the trail, including Muriyama-San whose snoring kept me awake the previous night. He greeted me with the kind of wave you get from a child where their entire arm appears on a swivel.

I ate breakfast and wrote while I waited for my tent to dry from a light dew. By eight o’clock, there was no sign of Connor and Miles, so I assumed I would be walking alone once again. This wasn’t the first time I’d thought of the possibility. They had gone back about two kilometers in the opposite direction and usually took their time getting ready, so I would have been surprised to see them by nine o’clock. I wasn’t interested in waiting that long.

Arranging a Meeting in Muroto

I was pleased to be  on my own again so I could rediscover the thoughtfulness of a walk in solitude. Just over a week had passed and walking had developed a new sense of value for me. Movement felt synonymous to having value. This seemed contradictory to the idea I had when coming to Shikoku. I thought I would take my time and not rush the process. Maybe, if there were a place I particularly liked, I would stay there even for a whole day. That original idea now felt out of the question.

I had spoken with Cindy (my girlfriend) on a few occasions and told her she should come down to visit the island during a holiday that was coming up. I wanted her to experience the side of Japanese culture I was experiencing. Cindy took a few days off from work and was coming to meet me in the cape town of Muroto. She would be arriving in four days, so I knew I had to temper my pace to align our arrivals.

Leaving Minami Town, I took a route by the coast called the Sun Line. This route first took me through a forested area. At this point, it hardly deserved the name of Sun Line with the cover of trees hanging over me like a tunnel, but I took no issue with the shade on another hot day. I exited the tunnel of trees onto a blinding view of light reflecting off the ocean and waves crashing against cliff ledges hundreds of feet below me.

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With the sun beating down as it had every day since I’d arrived in Shikoku, the tunnel of trees soon became a pipe dream. When I did find shade, it was one of the few places I would stop to dig my camera out of my bag for pictures. I’d been regretting how few pictures I had of the trail I was walking since it was the dominant theme of the journey, and taking pictures provided a quality excuse to stop and rest at any sign of shade.

Hours went by before the Sun Line merged again into the main road for the henro trail. I carried on up the road and considering all the while just how far I would go before stopping for the rest. There are accommodations spotted across the 76-kilometer distance to Hotsumisakiji, but I didn’t intend on using them unless they were cheap or free.

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Evoking Thought

When approaching a tunnel on the road I could already see a beach that sat by it’s exit. I wouldn’t call it beautiful. It seemed more like a planned resort that was deserted part way through the project. There were piles of debris, sticks, bottles, and trash. They were organized for cleaning but now ignored. Long rows of concrete steps extended the length of the beach leading down to the sand where a few large huts were built to provide shade in the heat of midday, but the structures were worn, their color faded, and noticeable chunks were missing giving them the appearance of being closer to their collapse than their prime.

There was nobody else on the beach. This was a place mostly seen in seconds as people sped by on the road. A pier extended out in the distance where I could see the silhouette of a couple people walking towards the end. They appeared to me only as miniature shadows of an existence, not like real people. Do they see me the same way? I wondered. Or, do I not exist to them at all?

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The waves were small, brushing over the sand leaving behind a trace of their presence in the darkened color of the dampened sand. The waves were inconsistent in the distance they came up the beach, as if confused whether it was time for high tide to begin or end. But, they continued. Although indecisive in their technique, there was no consideration in whether the next wave would come. I sat leaning back on my bag with my shoes by my side and my feet in the sand just above the reach of the waves.

If there were any layout to trigger a thoughtful moment, a solitary beach scene may be the most renowned. The passing of the waves had me thinking of my own passing time in Shikoku. How does it fit in? I wondered. For what purpose am I here? I had no definite answer to this question anymore. Before I’d come to Shikoku, when people asked me why I was going, I usually gave the reason of wanting to be alone and escape a world that has become so loud. With worldwide connectivity we hear everything from everywhere at every moment; it’s a job just to think straight. I would also acknowledge how it would aid me in learning to better appreciate the advances in technology. It is, after all, a special thing that I can still contact my friends and family across the planet at a moments notice.

In this moment I became aware, and maybe I always knew, there was significant error in my motives. By saying I wanted to escape technology I admitted I just wanted to get away from it, which I could have just as easily done by leaving my computer, phone, or tablet at home, or off. By saying I wanted to gain an appreciation for technology, I admitted that there was something to appreciate. I was like a cat chasing her tale when it was already in her mouth.

It seemed I had already found what I was looking for and there may have been no reason to continue. My previous job left me with no great excess of wealth, the preparations and purchases I’d made for this trip already cut into that, and now the inevitable day-to-day costs were chipping away slowly at my net worth. That was indeed how I felt, like my value was deteriorating. Moreover, with Cindy coming to visit, I knew I would be spending some extra money on a place for us to stay. I could not make her endure the chill of the nights I’d been going through.

Waves continued to sweep in and out and I was relaxed despite what were maybe stress inducing thoughts. Whatever the calamity was, or how severe, I was aware it was just another pass of the brush; it would end and another would come. I felt no need to rush. I may have found some reasons to conclude my trip early but, even if I did, it would not be that day. On that day, I was in Shikoku. In that moment, I was on the beach. Planning for the future is undeniably useful. But, planning without the ability to be present is to be like a bird with no feet for landing.

A Serendipitous Stay

It was still early, but I felt ready to stop for the day. I realized, in true novice form, I’d made a novice mistake by not having enough food for both the night and the morning. I may have been fine, but with  days that seemed as certain to be hot as my feet were under me, I knew it would not be wise to make a test out of under nourishing myself.

I came upon a Ryokan not far from the beach where they offered both a bed and meals. The price was more than I was interested in paying, as any price would be, but the service proved worth the cost. Since I had not called ahead they didn’t have what they needed to prepare a proper dinner for me and subtracted that from the cost. They still prepared a large bowl of fried rice that proved quite filling in place of a larger meal.

A bath was drawn for me infused with a black stone that rejuvenated my body in ways I never realized I required. The bath alone made me feel the stay was worth the price and I might have continued walking the trail at that moment with the way I felt. But, I remained. I went upstairs to my room where I found tea had been prepared for me and I drank it and laid down to sleep before eight o’clock. Being in nature is nice, I thought, but this too has a strong appeal.

Thanks for reading.

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