Based on an annual tradition at the author's own high school, this masterful tale centers on the "training walk" held each October at North High School. All 1,200 students spend a full day covering a distance of eighty kilometers?an undertaking that for third-year students marks the last big event of their high-school lives.
The first sixty kilometers is organized as a group walk, with each class carrying its banner, while the last twenty is a "free walk" in which the students, having napped briefly, can team up as they choose from around 4:30 a.m. Takako Koda, the story's heroine, has decided to take a small gamble at this year's walk?she plans to speak to her classmate Toru Nishiwaki about their situation. The two of them are half-siblings. Takako's mother is single; Takako is the result of her adulterous affair with Toru's father, who has since died of stomach cancer. Assigned to the same class for the first time in this, their senior year, each is too self-conscious to speak to the other. Yet their classmates, who know nothing of their blood relationship, gossip about them, saying that they resemble each other, or that they are dating.
With just ten kilometers to go, under a clear blue autumn sky, Toru sprains his ankle and can go no farther on his own. Takako runs over to him. Their close friends extend their help. When the two are finally alone, moving slowly toward the school's finish line, they begin bashfully to talk . . .