Ridgeline Transmission 115
My walk starting in May is currently a spreadsheet. I use spreadsheets for all of my big walks. A peanut gallery critic may decry this as being “without romance” — to place the so-called majesty of a walk within the confines of a Google Sheet. But, no, I love the spreadsheet mode of the walk. Here is what I track:
Each row is usually a day of walking, a starting and ending point. Of course there’s the date of the walk day, but also the town number. When I’m walking a route like the Tōkaidō or Nakasendō sometimes a day occupies multiple rows — a row for each post town I’m passing through.
There’s a column tracking who’s walking with me — sometimes friends join for a day or two. There’s the estimated distance, a figure almost always 30% shorter than the final measured distance.
I write out all the lodges — inns, hotels, business hotels, resorts, minshuku, minpaku, park benches, whatever — that I’m using. Phone number, address, google maps link. All inns are booked in advance. Many don’t have websites, are bookable only via phone calls. Take your reservation with a verbal handshake.
There’s a column for cost of inn so I can keep a running tally. And a column tracking what meals are included so I know what to buy or how to prep for that day.
There’s a general notes column where I’ll enter in light-touch reviews of inns, or historical points I’m supposed to hunt down in this post town or that post town or if I’ve booked a shiatsu massage in advance.
You may think this is nuts — the spreadsheeting of a walk, but for me, it’s absolutely critical. To have the walk spreadsheeted enables the full potential of a walk — enables a means to fully use the walk as a tool, a platform, an “OS.” To be able to go bleary-eyed into walk mode. To shoot photos and interview and take notes and record binaural audio and make little video “windows” out onto the world. The spreadsheet enables me to do this because it means I don’t have to think about logistics, don’t have to think about the banalities of day-to-day living. I can be in the walk, in each weird moment along pachinko road or between the rice paddies or along the ridgelines.
It also means the structure is set, gives each day a certain velocity that I find empowering. It’s a defining of a walk for what I assume is a best version of myself. Meaning, by setting these rules now, my chances of slacking later are greatly diminished. It’s like not buying junk food at the super market — if it’s not in your house, it’s hard to eat. If a walk is rigorously defined, it’s hard not to be a rigorous walker.
Mainly, when a walk is a spreadsheet it’s a pulsing thing of potential, extremely abstract though the days are hard-bound by the cells of finance software. I see the days but I don’t “see” them, can imagine maybe what they’ll be, but, of course, won’t know until they’re walked.
You load up the rows and columns and out pours days as rich and full as anything out there.
More next week, C
Not subscribed to Ridgeline?(A weekly letter on walking in Japan)
This essay is from the Ridgeline newsletter, mailed out April, 2021. Thoughts? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Atlantic, California Sunday Magazine, Wired, Aeon, New Scientist, Virginia Quarterly Review, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Morning News, Codex: Journal of Typography, and elsewhere. You could join his mailing lists: Roden & Ridgeline.
The work on this site is supported in part by paid memberships.