Everybody on the train looked exhausted. Granted it was a summertime Friday, but it wasn't yet nine in the morning. Even the school kids, off to some sports event, had their bodies slumped onto one another, a far cry from their frenzied ass-grabbing antics that usually annoys the rest of the commuters. With the grated metal window blinds, the Hankyu car looked like it was transporting cattle.
Miki and I both found ourselves with a rare weekday off, the perfect opportunity to finish the Western end of the TSH. We were pretty careless this time around, no checking of bus schedules as usual, and thus found ourselves stuck for 45 minutes in a bland bedroom town, trying to keep at bay both the heat and the accompanying grumpiness. We finally made it out to the base of Ryuōzan just before lunchtime. Depsite the lighter packs, our legs were still carrying the weight of last week. We walked silently along the trail, through a dead landscape of downed trees, corrogated iron rice fields, and wood shards littering the trail. Yep, we were back in Kansai. Machine cluttered farms lined the trail, above perpetual signs of road work and the industrial metal clang coming from further out in the hills. It was as if the world was a film set being constructed. Passing through a heavy anti-boar gate, we came to a small pond whose surface was nearly covered by lilipads. They formed a triangle not too dissimilar than the shape of our rice balls, bisected by the slight trace of where a duck had recently swum across. A beautiful blue bird perched on a low branch, then had a brief pre-lunch dip.
We found a hamlet next, where an old farmwoman snoozed in the shade and a lizard fell from a sheer stone wall with a 'smack!' A small white truck was parked along the next forest road, with more loud banging just beyond. Intending to gather police evidence, I took a photo of the license plate, switched my camera to video, in order to shoot these men as they dumped their trash. To my surprise, the racket they were making was them instead cleaning the forest. Beyond them, middle-aged couples were filling jugs with water spilling from a forest spring. Here the trail gave us our only climb of the day, which seemed to annoy our calves until they were appeased by the level ridge that followed. It was a straight and narrow path, past massive cemeteries and the odd stones marking bigger, more important men. (Are we truly equal after death?) The trail dropped past a large granite TSH marker sitting before a nature center. And here we lost the trail for the first time. There were quite a few paths with different names, which has been our curse since entering Osaka-fu. We chose the one that seemed to match our guide book, following it up a hill until we saw a sign that pointed back the way we'd come, reading, "Start of Tokai Shizen Hōdō, 0.5 km."
Apparently we'd finished about 2 minutes before at that big grey stone. It was the perfectly ironic way to finish, missing the marker as we had done dozens of times before. But it was a major letdown. After 431 km, over 12 months, there were no hugs, no high fives, no moments of relieved smug satisfaction. Instead, we'd marked the occasion with our all too familiar, where the hell is the trail? It is only in my role as a yoga teacher that I can appreciate the perfection here. How often are we focussed on reaching a goal, getting far more caught up in the idea of finishing than in the appreciation of the process. Just this morning, Miki had said she would've been fine not to complete this walk, and she wondered why I'm so attached to my desire to finish. I wonder that too, actually. Today's walk in particular felt spurred on toward its completion, rather than enjoyed. How poetic then, that when we finished, we weren't actually there.
Profoundly disappointed, we moved along toward Minō Waterfall like a couple of deflated balloons. There we stood in the spray, feeling it on our faces, arms out in supplication...