Five days passed as I lazed around lake Toya. I have no idea where it went but by the time I woke on that last day I was ready and raring to go. You can only sit in a peaceful place like that for so long before you need to get up and move out. Where my tank had previously read ‘E’ now the needle sat hovering beyond full. I could hear the road calling my name and I was ready to answer.
I bid my neighbor goodbye and left him to figure out how to disassemble his kayak. The previous morning I had seen him working non-stop for hours to bring it from a random assortment of pieces to what it was today. I did not envy him for the work that lay ahead but then again it was a beautiful Sunday and he had nothing but time.
The sign said 2km to the junction of prefectural highway 230 and the country road where I walked but I knew from experience that it was going to be a little more then that. From where the campground sat to the highway it was all uphill. The road wasn’t steep but it was one of those never ending inclines that, especially with a heavy backpack, you begin to lean in to to keep your balance.
As I hiked the last hundred meters out of the valley my eyes caught sight of Mt. Yotei and I stopped to gaze upon it. For days the mountain had shied away from sight behind clouds and mist but today it had come out to show its full glory. There it was, the Mt. Fuji of Hokkaido, standing alone amongst the scenery.
It was at this point I noticed a whirlwind of emotions wreaking a bit of havoc on my system. It was just over 4 years ago that I had seen this mountain, but from the other side, with my girlfriend of the time on a snowboarding trip to Niseko. Four years, countless experiences later, how had I changed? I stood for a few minutes lost in my own mind. A line from a classic movie came came unbidden to my lips, ‘the circle is now complete.’ Not quite (the real completion would be if/when I got to Nagasaki) but it did feel that certain things had finally been closed off.
The road was perfect for a hitch and it wasn’t long before someone stopped. It turned out to be a train worker from Osaka (neighbor city to Kyoto) here to see a friend. First, though, he wanted to see some sights in Lake Toya hot spring town but then he could drop me off at the next town. Back to where I started, sure why not, as long as I got just a little bit further. I was in no hurry and figured it would be fun to see something new. After all, wasn’t that one of the purposes of my trip?
Turns out the crater he wanted to visit was pretty cool. The small emerald green crater lake contrasted sharply with the dark brown of the hillside with an aesthetic touch. True to the Japanese style of sightseeing we only stayed a few minutes before setting out on the road again.
He dropped me off just outside of town on a deserted stretch of road where I could be seen easily and where there was some place to stop, just like I asked. I barely had time to set down my pack before a van pulled up and asked, ‘where to?’
‘Oshamanbe.’ He smiled, ‘get in.’ An avid fisherman and master of a small traditional Japanese restaurant in Tomakomai he was an easy and friendly man to talk to. He had to laugh when he heard my reasoning for my destination. ‘Just because of the name? And because there might be okay food and a small hot spring? Wow.’ Sometimes you just have a feeling that a place might be interesting, even if you don’t know how or why. Turns out I was right.
He let me off in front of the station and I found myself yet again in the middle of a one road town. The station staff was moderately helpful (the sightseeing information booth was closed) and as I munched on some crab rice at a restaurant across the street I considered my options.
Apparently there was a campground ‘in’ town but it was an indeterminate distance away, somewhere between 2 and 5 kilometers, the staff couldn’t give me a firm answer. I figured I’d give it a try and so began my trek.
I don’t think I mentioned it but by this time I had already hiked close to ten kilometers. Remember, the 2km hike to the convenience store? I needed breakfast in the morning so the 4km round trip was my warm up. Then there was the 2km (actually 3) hike up the hill. Then a bit of hiking around with my first ride and a bit of hiking around this town. So after 30 minutes of walking I saw a sign that cheerfully proclaimed, ‘Camp grounds 1.2 kilometers’ I said screw it and instead pitched my tent in a convenient grove of trees behind the sign.
There are so many if’s in life. If I hadn’t forgotten my razor when I headed off to the bath, and if the lady who owned the land where my tent was pitched hadn’t walked by when I emerged with my shaving gear, and if I hadn’t talked with her for a bit, and if I had chosen a different city as a destination then I wouldn’t have run into Ross and Takako at the Seicomart when I stopped to use the bathroom.
About them I cannot say enough good things (especially since they might read this blog). Within a few minutes of meeting me I had been invited to dinner as well as a few drinks. Drinks progressed into a few more drinks and before I knew it I was staying in their spare bedroom. One day turned into two and might have turned into three but I had to refuse their hospitality lest I end up looking for my own apartment in the area. They too were world travelers and had some quite interesting stories as well as advice for my own journey.
There seems to be a thread that connects all of the people who have helped me out so far. They all seem to be adventurers themselves in one way or another. Whether they travel or have traveled the world or carry a small spark of desire to do just that they all want to do something to lend a hand. I could hardly call it a code amongst adventurers (I don’t call them travelers because many of the travelers out there, tourists, wouldn’t lift a finger to help you in your most dire of times) but rather a good habit. Not everyone has it but those that do, really do.
It was difficult to say goodbye to Ross and Takako, very difficult. I almost convinced myself to stay another day just for some more interesting conversation and awesome home cooked meals, even their two cats had gotten used to me, but I had to keep moving. The itch in the back of my mind that said I would be staying because it was easier then trying to move on couldn’t be scratched away. Those of you have traveled will know what I mean. When you’ve become accustomed to one place and though you know the next place will be filled with wonders (or maybe not) the idea of once again dashing off into the unknown after already doing it countless times is daunting and staying seems easier.
So with a wave I was off and as I walked down the road in a mist of sadness my steps were light. I was off again, where would I end up next?