3 things I learned from hiking in Japan

Golden Week is a period of 4 Japanese holidays in a row at the beginning of May. During the 2016 Golden Week, my husband and I decided to hike one of the trails (Nakahechi route) of the ancient Kumano Kodo.

For over 1000 years people from all levels of society, including retired emperors and aristocrats, have made the arduous pilgrimage to Kumano. These pilgrims used a network of routes, now called the Kumano Kodo…

Previous to this, together with friends, at the end of March of the same year we hiked the Choishimichi pilgrimage trail that goes to the sacred ancient city of Koyasan.

hikers

In total, we have hiked around 64 km, 40 km in Kumano Kodo and 24 km to Koyasan.

Moreover, apart from pain and blisters, I have taken three valuable lessons with me:

1. Train yourself for the future

Though I have strong legs and I am used to exercising, it is not the same to walk 20km with a small backpack, as I did when I hiked to Koyasan, as to walk 20km with 10kg on your back.

Because after hiking to Koyasan I knew that I was able to walk 20km in approximately 7hrs, I thought that I would be able to walk the Kumano Kodo as well.

However, as the trail turned steeper, I realized that I should have hiked to Koyasan with the same amount of weight to train myself for Kumano Kodo. 

 

2. The adventure starts when you leave your comfort zone

However, I was there, almost at the beginning of the trail and already tired. To quit would have been a relief for my legs, but a sad disappointment for my adventure-loving husband.

I was about to panic when I realized that even there I had options:

Either I stop hiking and start arguing with my husband trying to convince him to come back with me, or…

…I EXPLORE how far I can go.

 

3. There’s bliss beyond the pain

During the Kumano Kodo we walked 40km in 3 days: 18km the first day, 2km the second day, and 20km the last day.

However, because the Kumano Kodo is a UNESCO World Heritage, it is very popular around the world even if you are not a fan of hiking. So if you do not want to walk to visit its famous shrines, there are some buses and even boats you can take from one shrine to the other, or even along the hiking trail.

And that is what we did the second day. After walking 2km, we took a bus at a near station to a camping site 20km further on, set our tent, left unnecessary weight, and came back the next day by bus to the same bus station. Then, carrying only one lighter backpack, we re-started the last and longest section of the trail.

But as our work life is not free of hurdles, our vacations are no walk in the park either. 

Though the 3rd day was weight-free for me, there was no way to avoid hiking under the rain. And so I did.

I have no words to describe the feelings I had the last 2km we walked to our destination. Walking under the rain, tired as I have never been before, I stopped being aware of my body in pain. I was walking faster, jumping with excitement the roots and the rocks on my way, with my full attention on the trail to be aware of any poisonous snake.

I was clear focus and flow. I had no body, I was only mind. And as we arrived at the main entrance of the last shrine, I cried.

 

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