Luckily, most of the ‘lonely road North’ had been smooth sailing. The last stretch, however, was not.
My pack’s waterproof cover was holding up well but my body was soaked. Takeshi, Makoto, and their stuffed Sesame Street characters were long gone and I was tired from the mission.
Only four cars had passed in an hour of waiting and I was beginning to accept that I’d have to pitch my tent beside the road in the rain. It wouldn’t be the end of the world but it certainly would not be pleasant.
That’s when a bus came to a stop beside me.
“Are you getting in?” asked the driver.
“What? Is this a bus stop?” I asked.
His patronizing look answered the question before he did.
“Yes, this is a bus stop. Are you coming?”
I was flabbergasted. A bus stop in the middle of nowhere? And I just happened to be waiting there!
So I got in. I know – it was cheating. I almost told him to go on without me. But I was cold, wet, and well, I was the only one on the bus so it was kind of like hitchhiking. The driver was talkative and gave me a coffee and some sweets. (If there’s some kind of Japanese politeness rule where I’m supposed to turn down all these offers of food, well, I guess it’s their fault for assuming I know it!)
I stayed the night at a quiet Japanese inn and took a ferry out to the island of Rishiri in the morning.
As the ferry approached the island I saw the great Rishiri Mountain growing ever larger. I thought of my student, Teruyo, a woman who’s climbed more than a hundred mountains in Japan. She’d told me to try climbing one in Hokkaido. An overnight climb would get me to the top by sunrise. I looked up again at Mt. Rishiri. It was tall. It was Ominous. It beckoned.