The Year in Walking — 2021
Hello Subscribers to this Electronic Mail Magazine —
To jog the brain: I’m Craig Mod and this is Ridgeline, a newsletter about “walking” that I started in January 2019. It’s been a few months since I’ve written to you all. You may have signed up a long time ago, or very recently, as inspired to do so from my Tiny Barber, Post Office newsletters I wrote while walking around Japan in November / December.
In theory, Ridgeline is weekly, but in practice, this past year, it’s been more sporadic. That’s because we’ve been busy, and in order to make space in the mind for the other work, we’ve cut back here a bit. Net-net, I think it’s been a very good thing.
2021 was remarkable in just how much walking I did, compounded by just how unremarkable it felt that I had done so much walking. A year, I suppose you could say, of … *gasp* … maturity? If maturity is defined as more easily doing a thing that was once unthinkable and daunting, logistically and creatively and psychically intimidating.
I now feel pretty adept at planning big walks (where “big” = four+ weeks). Not just planning, but leaning into them, using them as tools and platforms for creative work. For turning walk days into some of the richest, fullest kinds of days I know — days that use the body and the mind and are inventive and human and leave you a little dizzy at the end of it all when you flop down onto a bed at night. Where you walk the morning and afternoon, engaging with folks and geographies along the way, and evenings, after an early dinner, you sit down and review: import, collate, edit the photos and video and audio of the day, consolidate your notes and thoughts that emerged while walking into some kind of mildly coherent, hopefully entertaining, god forbid humorous, narrative.
I now see these combination of walks + pop-up newsletters as grist / very rough drafts for books. As forcing functions, the newsletters get me to write more and be more observant and more outgoing than I’d be on my own. I love that about them.
So, anyway, what the hell were the walks this year?!
There were two big ones.
Once again, like 2020, Covid made international travel a bit complicated, so my focus was squarely on Japan.
1. Kii Peninsula
In the late spring, I completed a 600km+ wander around the Kii Peninsula (home to Kumano Kodō and co.) and wrote the Where are all the Nightingales? (WaatN?) newsletter. The point of that walk was to connect / finish / “complete” a few bits of the Kumano Kodō I had missed along the way, and to really suffuse the body / mind / feet in the life of the peninsula.
I’ve now walked (many of these routes multiple times, some five, six, seven times) down there: Nakahechi, Kohechi, Ōhechi, Ise-ji, Ōmine Okugakumichi, plus the routes circling Kōyasan (Nyōnin, Chōishi, et cetera). In August, I was also invited to join a tourism “research” group out to the Ōdaigahara area of the peninsula, a spot I hadn’t yet been. It was grand, the trip and the place, the flora (didn’t see much fauna sadly) and the people.
It hasn’t been updated since 2020, but my website walkkuamano.com has information for folks looking to walk the peninsula. One of these days I’ll get around to adding more gps logs since accurate gps walking data is some of the highest value data you can provide folks.
That May / June Nightingale Kii Peninsula walk was a great success. It felt like a leveling up — through hours of rigor — of my writing and photographic eye. In fact, I had so much fun on that walk and with what I wrote and the people I met, that I decided to make my followup book to Kissa by Kissa (2020) about the Kii Peninsula. It’s currently in progress. I’m publishing a sort of “diary” of the writing / production process for SPECIAL PROJECTS members called Nightingalingale. If you join my membership program, you get access to that newsletter (with archives). The goal (perhaps one totally unreasonable, completely insane) is to go to press with this next book around March (2022). We’ll see!
You can watch twenty-four very “boring” Nothing Exciting binaural videos from the May / June walk on my YouTube channel.
2. Ten (“boring”) Cities in Japan
The second mega-walk of the year was my recently completed, November / December, Ten (“boring”) Cities walk. Along the way I wrote the Tiny Barber, Post Office newsletter. We visited: Hakodate, Morioka, Sakata, Matsumoto, Tsuruga, Onomichi, Matsuyama, Yamaguchi, Karatsu, and Kagoshima. We hit Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. We met a host of absolute gems of humans, and drank enough coffee to kill a stallion several times over.
During the WaatN? spring walk, I wrote some 35,000 words. That was a record. And then I managed some 55,000 words published out to TB, PO which is just wild — that’s a lot of words (for me), and to have written them while undergoing the rigors of the days of walking and engaging with folks was yet again, a level of craft meticulousness I hadn’t yet experienced.
It’s a good exercise — the whole schtick of whittling yourself to a nub and promising a few thousand folks that you’ll send them 1,500 - 2,000 words + photographs each day. You sit down at night and think: Oh, God, I am empty, zonked, zeroed, got nothing … and then, like so much creative work, it tumbles out and you realize the most important (maybe the only important) thing is to show up, sit, turn off the internet, and type. Do that thirty days in a row and something changes inside you.
That ten city walk was a joy. In the end I didn’t “abide” by all my “rules” precisely; the biggest shirk was to not walk fifty kilometers in each city. I ended up walking about 350 kilometers overall (so, thirty-five each city). Most of these cities could be “covered” with ten or twenty kilometers, and to knock down fifty would have meant significantly minimizing my engagement with the folks / places I encountered along the way.
Within a few days it was clear to me that the point of this walk was the people, and to feel the “energy” of these “third” or “forth” tier Japanese towns. The plan is to return to this massive corpus of stories and photographs that is TB, PO in late 2022 and think about what kind of book it all could become.
You can watch thirty-three very “boring” Nothing Exciting binarual videos from my walk through those ten cities.
You can also watch my post-walk Q&A livestream.
I chopped the Q&A up with timestamps; you can hop right to questions from this list:
- 00:00 Intro / Welcome
- 01:42 Walk Overview
- 05:14 Map of Walk
- 08:53 "How did you decide where to visit?"
- 12:21 "If you had to move to one of these cities …"
- 17:32 "Any other 'subplots' that you didn't write about?"
- 25:07 "How did you learn Japanese?"
- 29:50 "Can you do this trip without Japanese?"
- 31:23 "Blue Ticks! Social media?
- 39:44 "How do you connect so easily with folks on the walks?"
- 42:13 "Talking to folks!"
- 45:53 "Gear notes!"
- 49:39 "Do you edit much on these newsletters?"
- 57:47 Dark Roast kissa coffee
- 01:03:17 "Would you recommend Tsuruga?"
- 01:06:00 Thoughts on Daibo
- 01:12:16 Kissa Abe!
- 01:17:10 "How can you be so shrewd about the US without living here?"
- 01:23:38 "What's your next walk?"
- 01:25:58 "How do you scout your walks?"
- 01:27:31 "Ebikes?"
- 01:31:43 Overview / Wrapup
Before, between, and after those two Mega Walks, I did a bunch of smaller walks, walks of a so-called quotidian nature, loop walks, all the kinds of walks you’d expect a person capable of walking to walk during a year. I also biked a bunch; but not road bike lycra-slicked-up-let’s-run-intervals-on-the-nearest-hill-until-we-barf biking; but rather dorky-as-all-heck e-bike biking, and wrote about it for Papersky magazine.
It was a great and productive year, and I thank you all for coming along for the walks, all the kind words sent in response to the pop-up newsletters, and of course, all the generous new members to SPECIAL PROJECTS and folks who bought the third edition of my book, Kissa by Kissa. Everything I do is powered by memberships and book sales. So thank you thank you thank you.
See you in 2022.