Header image for Them Post-walk Blues


It’s hard to believe that only a week has passed since The Very Big Tōkaidō Walk ended. Honestly, it feels like months have transpired. And, to be extra honest, I’ve definitely had the post-walk blues.

I’m Craig Mod and this is Ridgeline, my weekly missive on walking in Japan.

Depression runs a wide gamut, and when I say post-walk “blues” I mean that in a light-touch sense. More like a mourning of completion. A slight heaviness of heart. You spend months (years?) prepping for a walk, buying maps (cutting them up because no shop sells a contemporary map of your route, and so you buy three maps, chop, tape, create this beautiful Frankenstein that lives attached to your blackboard by magnets and reminds you in no uncertain terms of the physicality of what you did each time you pass it), marking the route, calling inns, organizing gear, and then you’re off.

And then you’re off, making your way down the roads. During those first few days Kyoto couldn’t feel more distant. Somewhere in the middle of the walk you lose all sense of time — how far you’ve come or how much is left. The days are so full there’s no space to consider much else than what you did on a particular day and what you’ve got to get done before passing out.

On those first few days of a big walk you have but the faintest of ideas of what’s to come. You don’t yet know about the pirate ship, or that light in Seiken-ji, or the shivering golden gingko leaves of Josen-ji, or the lonely midnight view of the rain-soaked highway perched up in your business hotel (shot after having just eaten literally the worst pizza (delivery or otherwise) you’ve ever had, a pizza so devoid of flavor it inspired awe — genuine awe — at how such a thing could be engineered, could be concocted, how cheese could be a nothingness and how tomato sauce could be so like water, and how eating could be an act of just shoving organic material into your facehole, masticating, and hoping it wasn’t poisoned), or of the golden late-day sun to greet you at the end.

Even halfway through, surprises abound. A countryside masseuse invokes a Saigo Takamori reference in between asking if you’ve seen “them clucky clucks, them squawkers, them shrine chickens!” An elderly woman in a tea room outlines a plan to abduct you for the night and you nearly have a panic attack wriggling out in a socially acceptable way. And as you cross the Suzuka mountain pass and descend into Saga Prefecture, you’d have never imagined that the standard greeting there of “welcome home!” from strangers working in their fields could be so dang affecting.

But a completed walk is a silly thing to mourn because the walk itself doesn’t come into focus until it’s done and you’ve lived with it for a good while. In the midst of a walk there is simply too much stimulation, too much happening all around you each and every day — too much forest, as it were. The hope is that by cataloging or documenting aspects of the walk, you’re making note of the noteworthy “trees,” and finally, once complete, you have the time and space to really unpack and understand where it is you went and what you and brought back.

Wowzers, though, we brought back a lot. All the videos (1TB worth! I may have been over-zealous in my codec selection) and audio and the Pachinko Road essays (some 20,000 words or so) and all your responses! Your responses!! I’ve been trying to figure out how to convert an Airtable database of nearly 4,000 little messages and photos into something comfortably readable. So far the process involves formulas and regular expressions and HTML and CSS. I think I’ve figured it out.

Mainly, though, since I’ve come back, I’ve just been organizing and reorienting. Laundry, studio cleaning, end-of-year expenses equipment upgrades. I’ve spent far too many hours wrangling a Synology NAS into submission because I realized if I do any more “serious” video work in the coming months, I need a better storage solution, and one I can dump to on the road, remotely. And email! Email! I’ve been side-eyeing my inbox for weeks, still haven’t built up the courage to fully attack. Plus, cleaning up some business loose ends, and planning books for next year. It’s a lot!

The so-called “blues” lingers behind all that work, suffuses the morning hours with a tinge of sadness from being off the road. Of losing that floating feeling of being a true outsider — someone “outside” the normal flow of anything past which you are walking. On a long walk you’re outside of a standard routine, existing within the framework of your own, unique practice, shared by no one else, one which is transient and ever forward-moving. There are no loops on a big walk, no commutes. Each day is new and the opportunities for self-improvement feel somehow far more accessible than they do on a normal day.

But as I’ve written for over a decade, many times before, the goal is to bring back from the road what was learned and apply to the mundane day-to-day. To take the rigor of the walk and apply it, ones hopes, to the inbox.

I’m still building up to that.

Hope you’re all well.

See you next week,

Fellow Walkers

Sometime around Y2K, my family was living in Pembrokeshire, on the west coast of Wales. There is an extensive coastal path in that part of the UK—you could walk seaside from Chester to Chepstow if you really wanted to—and that summer my dad suggested a walk, just he and I, along the coast path from Martin’s Haven back to our house on RAF Brawdy. The route was something like 20 miles, and we took our time. We stayed overnight in a B&B in Broad Haven, either because that was the distance my tweenage legs could handle or because it added to the sense of adventure, I’m not sure which. Arriving back at our doorstep under our own walking power felt like a great accomplishment, and it’s one of my favorite memories of spending time with my father.

(“Fellow Walkers” are short bios of the other folks subscribed to this newsletter. In Ridgeline 001 I asked: “What shell were you torn from?” and got hundreds of responses. We’re working our way through them over the year. You’re an amazing, diverse crew. Grateful to be walking with you all. Feel free to send one in if you haven’t already.)


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(A weekly letter on walking in Japan)