The subject above is written on my map of the Rokko Mountain Range, next to an add for outdoor wear. Actually, it doesn't just leave off in the middle of the sentence. The whole sentence is "For those who don't let a little rain or common sense get in the way." Which may be the actual legitimate English ad campaign. However, in the Japanese ad, the first five words are in a huge bold font, and the second half of the sentence is in tiny print you need to squint to read. I'm pretty sure it was the Japanese design section who made that decision, and so I consider it worthy of one of my Engrish subject titles.
But let's get on with this, shall we? So I've been carrying around this map of the Rokko Mountain Range. Why? I'm planning on hiking all of it. Haven't you already done that, Jen? Yes. But this time it's going to be in one day. With a huge group of people. It's almost a race. 56 kilometers, with checkpoints you have to get to on time. 17 hours is the absolute maximum you are allowed to spend on the trail.
The date is November 12th and it's called the Rokko Juso. I was accepted as one of the participants last month, and they've recently sent me a lot of maps and info in the mail.
Now, I made a promise to the company that I would sell my so---- I mean do my utmost best to improve my area as part of the last year I'm working for them. And I refuse to show any slack in that regard. Which makes training for the Rokko Juso almost like another job. I have to make time for it, I have to let it take precedence over things like calling my Dad and sleeping enough. I only have one day a week I can really spend all my energy building my leg muscles, and sometimes on that day I have to simultaneously handle work duties. So today, for instance, every time my phone wavered in to reception as I slugged up the muddy slopes in the rain, I would make phone calls to my branches about the new schedule changes for next month.
Every week I do part of the trail.
On one hand, it's to get really familiar with it. On the other hand, I just really love hiking.
Oh, there was the business trip I took for a week... I couldn't practice on the real trail, so I booked a hotel near a foothill and climbed up it every single morning.
Almost every time I set out on the Rokko Juso trail, though, I get lost.
Not REAL lost. I figure, you're never lost if you know where you came from.
But lost as in: the place I need to be according to the map is not where I am now.
Training at the beginning of September was rough because it was still summer. Sticky, humid, full of bugs. . . I was carrying a huge pack of mostly food and water. Now that it's cool, I need less of that, and the extra space in my pack is full of rain gear and two flashlights, and a change of clothes. I'd say I have everything I need in there. I'd say that's the reason, even in my panic today, that I really was all right and nothing would have actually had gone wrong. Even if I'd been literally lost, I think I could have comfortably spent the night sleeping outside curled up under my folding umbrella. The only problem would have been getting to work on time the next day. So fear not, as I begin my story.
Today I decided to climb to the summit of Rokko mountain, and then make my way down to Takarazuka so that I could have dinner with a friend. And it rained. But it didn't rain as bad as it did last week, when I quit my hike in the middle and the path turned in to a river and I accidentally wandered in to a squatters area hidden in the woods. That hike was just stressful. Today was nice. The drizzle was weak, pleasantly cool, and almost nonexistent under the trees. It would stop for an hour, then start up again... Not so bad. The earth along most of the trail had been dug up by wild boars in the night, so it was soft and pleasant under my feet. The world smelled like rain, leafy things, fresh dirt... The rain kept most mosquitoes away.
At the top of the first hill, I had an amazing 360 degree view of foggy mountains. With the fog below, the sky threatened to clear up! I took a break for photography. Standing on top of a lichen-covered rock, I felt on top of the world. I knew even if the fog came up and poured on me and I had to give up and go back, it would all have been worth it for that one moment on the rock.
It was also eerily silent.
I'd gotten used to crows in the morning, cicadas in the day, and crickets at night. Away from the city, crows were absent, crickets were sleeping, and the cicada season is over.
As I made my way down in to a valley, one hint at was was to come waved a red flag at me, and I didn't pick it up. There were leeches. Whenever I see a leech, I just panic and run away from it. But there aren't many in Kobe, because all the deer and bears and wild animals have been driven out.
Halfway up the second hill, the trail widened a little and allowed for the growth of sasa, a kind of shrubby bamboo makes up most undergrowth in Japanese mountains.
And then something that I thought was part of a tree is making a sound that I later recognized as a squeal, although at the moment it sounded like a zombie roar from a horror movie. I'd startled it. A quick glance around the clearing informed me that there was nothing to hide behind if it decided to charge me. And then it dashed off squealing in to the sasa to hide and stopped then, watching me from a distance in silence. A wild boar.
That's the sequence of events brought to you from my brain and lasted only two seconds. Zombie noise. Can't run or hide. It's a wild boar. I didn't really even see what it looked like or how big it was. My brain couldn't parse it out from the surroundings in time.
Boars can get pretty huge, and violent if they feel threatened, or if you get between one and it's baby. I was attacked by a raccoon because I accidentally got between it and it's home. I am so much bigger and stronger than a raccoon, but it was a terrifying experience. And that same terror grew in me there. I remembered some advice from a woman I met in Alaska and held my hands over my head, clapping loudly, as I walked fearfully through the clearing to the other side.
That's when it occurred to me why Japanese hikers have bear bells. I always thought that was dumb, as there are no bears in these parts. Now I realized something like that could have alerted the boar to my presence long before I arrived, and given it time to move on before I was even aware it was there. Well, I didn't have any bear bells. So I started singing in soprano, while clapping out a rhythm. Mostly it was Christmas songs.
At some point, the trail grew rockier and the patches of dug-up earth grew fewer so I gave my voice and my nerves a rest. Then the trail ended suddenly at a kids summer retreat. Had I taken the wrong turn? Before I could get worried about that, the most beautiful moth I've ever seen came fluttering down to a tree in front of me. I threw my worries away, snapped up some pictures, ate a boiled egg and a cookie, and then took out my map.
At this point it was just before 3pm. I determined I was at last on Rokko Mountain, and heading toward the top, although which road would lead me to the trail was a bit iffy.. I figured, if I could get to the top by 3:30, then I could maybe get back down by 6:30. It was too rainy at that point to really study the map and judge distance and time, but I was sure there'd be somewhere to sit under a roof when I made it to the top. I was so excited to get there, I was almost running.
However, like I said, the trail was unclear. Old trails had been paved over and made in to roads. Wild boar trails ran through private property trails, which criss-crossed hiking trails and bus routes. So I ended up pulling out my map at every intersection, terrified I might make a wrong turn and lose time, and then ended up losing all of that time by having to stop so much and find my trail. It took me until 4 to get to the top. I should have just gone forward and saved time. At the top there was a parking lot and a gift shop, so I bought a snack for myself and ate my lunch, consulted my map again, got confused on which way to go, went the wrong way, which intersected the right way, but just to make sure it really was the right way, I retraced my steps, lost a half hour, and when I finally felt confident that I was at last on my way down the mountain, it was already almost 5 pm. Well, shit.
I decided to call my friend and cancel dinner. This is where I found out I had no phone reception. It is tantalizingly deceptive to have a busy parking lot with shops in sight, and to look over your shoulder and see a city of millions of people going about their regular business day, and not be able to make a phonecall.
The rain lifted to reveal a gorgeous sunset that even included a rainbow. A RAINBOW guys!! I found a bench and sat down to look at my map while eating snacks and having some tea from my thermos. Even just eyeballing it, I knew it would be a struggle to get to Takarazuka. I could do it, sure, but I shouldn't. I decided to go down on a trail I was familiar with - the Sumiyoshi trail. I'd done it before, and I knew there was a bus stop near the trail head if it got too rainy. Plus, it would be the fastest trail to get me to civilization. The trail was easy to find and a stopped to take a picture of the rainbow before taking a deep breath and descending off of the paved road.
As the trees closed in over my head, the world became dark.
After only five minutes, I stopped and pulled out my head lamp and flashlight. The lights are really, really good. I felt confident. Moths darted in and out of my vision. But through a part in the trees, I noticed the way down seemed very, very long. Could I keep this up for another hour? I shook away the question. Why not?
Then my light shone down on freshly dug-up earth and the remnants of a native fruit called Akebi. Wild boars were here.
I held the light in one hand, slapped my thigh with the other hand, and started singing again. Although my voice was tired, I couldn't keep a high pitch, and it sounded weak and strange in the darkness. Could anyone hear me? I came to a fork in the road that was not on my map, and picked the trail that headed down faster (with a brief consultation of the compass, just in case.) My confidence wasn't so high at this point, but like I said before, it wasn't like there was anything life threatening about the situation. Wild boars don't eat people and the pit vipers have gone in to hibernation. When the trail turned in to sasa plants knee high, I didn't mind my pants getting all wet. When the sasa plants became waist high and I lost visibility of the ground, I started wondering about hidden roots, rocks, and other dangers. When the sasa plants became shoulder high, I stopped. Out of nowhere, one of those giant Asian hornets flew right by my face and a panic started to rise in me.
I stopped singing.
I stopped clapping.
It was dark outside of my headlamp.
And then it started pouring rain.
Panic makes you run out of breath a lot faster, which makes backtracking uphill full of pain. Especially when every shape in the dark might be a wild boar, and even though you know the way you came from, it didn't seem THAT steep when going down, so how can you be sure this is the right trail? When I got up to the road, it was after 5:30pm and pitch dark. Which meant that no matter what, I would not be hiking down the mountain. It would be better to just sleep by the road. The road was dark and no cars or people came. No street lights. I ran. I hate running and I ran in the rain with the moths at my side who were trying to get in my head lamp. I ran until it hurt and I had to stop, and I panicked that I was stopping and I would miss some Last Bus or Last Taxi if there even were such things there. My idea was to get back to the parking lot. Would it even be open? On a weekday night on top of a mountain?
The road I was on opened to a larger road and I speed walked down that one until a car passed me by. I almost flagged it down, but what would I do then? I definitely don't want to get in a car with strangers... A few minutes later another car passed. That calmed me down a little. There are people here. However, I had severely underestimated how far it was from the parking lot. What I thought would be a quick sprint took a long 30 minutes of fret and worry. Rain hit me in the face, my ankles hurt, there still was no reception. All I wanted was for someone to stop their car and notice me. I felt small and invisible, with an intense craving to speak to another human being.
This sounds really cliche, but the rain really did let up just as I got to the parking lot. And it was FULL of people going on dates to some steak restaurant and some night light-up overpriced art thing. There were even tour buses full of Asian tourists.
Standing among these people, I realized that the worst of my worries was just in my head. I had to force my brain off of panic-mode. I will not sleep on a mountain tonight. I am not lost. There is surely a way down from here. Worst case scenario, ask to borrow someone's phone and call a taxi. So really this story isn't that exciting and nothing really bad happened. I just made some poor choices. Which reminds me of what my map says: FOR THOSE WHO DON'T LET a little rain or common sense get in the way.
That's exactly what I did. I didn't let rain or common sense stop me from going on. And look what happened. Now I'm an emotional mess in a tourist parking lot, soaked through and covered with mud.
I asked someone how to get back to Kobe, and they showed me where the bus stop is. The bus stop had cell phone reception!! So I was able to call my friend. The bus took me to the cable car. The cable car took me down the mountain. I got on another bus that took me to a train station. I walked to a different station that would get me home. I took a train to my stop. Then I walked home.
It wasn't even 8:00 when I arrived at my door. That's how quickly things went from "How am I ever going to get off of this mountain??" to "Let's check facebook."
Anyway, many lessons learned today. I ate a big dinner while reading articles of survival-in-the-wilderness stories. On the 12th of November, I'm going to do this all over again. But with so many more people at my side, all rallying each other to keep going. I can do it! (Right?)