(Takijiri-oji to Tsugizakura-oji – Distance: 18.2kms. Walking time 6hrs 25mins to 9hrs 40mins. Elevation 82m to 688m to 374m)
The Kumano Kodo trail continued behind Takahara. Leaving the village, Mik, Patrick and I climbed steeply for another two kilometres and gained a further elevation of 200 metres. This climb was as demanding as the initial climb from Takijiri-oji. Once we reached the remains of Uwada-jaya Teahouse at the highest point of the Kumano Kodo for Day 1 at 690 metres, the trail descended to the Michi-no-Eki rest area.
The Michi-no-Eki rest area is a beautiful spot, and one of the highlights of the Kumano Kodo. There is a river here and a café surrounded by maple trees. It is a peaceful place. There are also rest rooms. The café serves cold and hot drinks, as well as noodles and ice creams.
We took off our backpacks and sat down for half an hour. I bought a macha soft serve and an ice coffee, as did Patrick. Mik partook of an icy cold Asahi.
Not long after leaving Michi-no-Eki, we reached the village of Chikatsuyu-oji. Chikatsuyu-oji is surrounded by rice fields and situated in a valley beside the Hiki-gawa River. Bigger than Takahara, I had unsuccessfully tried to book accommodation here when I initially organised our trek. Consequently, we still had another couple of hours hiking ahead of us before reaching the minshuku that I had booked at Tsugizakura-oji.
As I crossed the bridge spanning the Hiki-gawa River, I noticed that my feet felt slightly unbalanced and that the soils of my hiking boots were making a slapping sound as they hit the bitumen of the road. This was not good. There was something wrong with my hiking boots.
My hiking boots had always been reliable. I had done numerous walks with them over the years. I remembered the first time I put them. They had not needed to be worn in. Rarely had they given me blisters. In Australia, I had scampered over boulders and climbed up cliff faces and my feet had not slipped. I had traversed rivers and trekked through snow and they had kept my feet dry. I had run from bush fires and they had kept my feet cool.
I looked down and lifted my right foot to check the bottom of the hiking boot. To my unhappy surprise, there was a crack in the rubber sole and the sole itself had begun to come away from the leather rear of the boot. I then looked at the sole of my left hiking boot and it had met a similar fate. I pondered the chance of the soles of two hiking boots cracking at the same time. Was it a consequence of conscious obsolescence on the part of Scarpa, the makers of the boots, a playful act of some mischievous kami (nature spirit) inhabiting these parts of the Kumano Kodo, or just a random occurrence? I did not know.
This moment of uncertainty was then replaced by a feeling sadness. I was fond of these boots and quite attached to them. They had been with me so long and had carried me so far. They had become like a pair of friends to me.
However, this feeling of sadness was in its turn replaced by a sense of surprising dispassion, one rapid in its onset and liberating in its clarity. I saw my hiking boots for what they really were: two objects bereft of thought and feeling whose time had come.
All things begin and all things end.
My attitude towards them paralleled the attitudes of so many Buddhist pilgrims who had walked the Kumano Kodo before me. Like these pilgrims, I realised that the source of suffering is attachment, and in order to free myself of suffering, I must free oneself of attachment. I then remembered something I had written some years earlier:
Yearn for what you need and not for what you want. Keep your possessions few. The more you have the more you carry. And the more you carry, the more the things you carry shall distract you…
With a clear mind and a light heart, I looked down at my hiking boots and realised I had two options. Either try to find some duct tape, repair the boots and hope that they stay together for the next three days of walking, or just chuck them.
Luckily, I was carrying a pair of black Adidas runners in my backpack, which I had brought with me for walking around Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Before leaving Melbourne, I had considered just bringing my hiking boots so I could avoid having to carry the extra weight of another pair of shoes in my backpack on the Kumano Kodo, but I was glad now that I had decided against this.
As Mik, Patrick and I made our way through Chikatsuyu-oji, I continued to mull over my options. I knew my boots would get me to Tsugizakura-oji that afternoon so I decided to leave the final decision about their fate until that evening or the next morning.