This year's Thanksgiving coincided with Japan's Labor Day, which means I to go home early. I spent my extra bit of free time making cookies for my mountain friends to thank them for their support for me during the Rokko Juso hike.
There is a rumor going around that I've moved already and I just want to say that that is not the case! I was giving you guys a year's warning, in case you'd like to come visit me and stay at my house. I won't go anywhere until next summer.
One of my ways to say goodbye to Kobe was to do the Rokko Juso Hike. As I mentioned in my last email, the hike covers the Rokko mountain range from Suma to Takarazuka. It's 56km (34.7 miles). The start time is 5am, and there are timed checkpoints similar to a marathon. You must be off the mountain by 10pm. The first time I heard of this, I thought the whole idea was ridiculous. The whole point of hiking is to enjoy the mountains, right? And you can't do that if you're rushing yourself trying to go as far and fast as possible to reach certain checkpoints. However as I joined my hiking club and met so many people who'd done it (often multiple times) I started to think of it as a milestone that I'd have to accomplish at some point. And when I realized I'd be leaving Kobe and my beloved mountains here, it became something I had to do.
Well, November 12th rolled around and the day was upon me.
Yossi drove me to the site at 4am. It was funny seeing so many taxis and cars lined up on roads that usually have no one. The sea was a black void and the sky above held the stars. Perfect clear weather. We waited in a long line, some young people were talking in groups, some people were stretching, some people clutched hot bottles of tea to warm their hands. Yossi waited with me until the event began at 5:00 and we passed through the first checkpoint and in to the mountains beyond.
My first goal was to get to MY mountain, Takatori, around 8:00 because I knew some of my friends would be waiting there. So the first few hours was a rush. At every moment I was trying to pass someone. But when the trail narrowed to meander through some rocks, or when there was a particularly challenging passage, people would end up waiting in a line. I used these opportunities to search for constellations in the sky, or admire the sunrise, and snap a couple of pictures.
It occurred to me that I'm a Capricorn and I have no idea where those stars are in the sky or how to find them.
When I arrived on top of Takatori, just after 8am, my wonderful friend Ms. Yoshida was waiting there outside, looking for me. She ran up to me with a big hug. Yoshida took up hiking after her husband passed away. He used to be an avid hiker, and she was a volunteer for the Roko Juso on many occasions. She said she used to bring her husband his lunch halfway through so that he didn't have to carry it. Everyone says that to do the Rokko Juso you need to go light. Seeing Yoshida's face and getting hugged by an old lady was a great boost. Some other friends gave me tea, dried persimmons, chips, and a sports drink called Pocari Sweat. My bag was weighed down terribly after that, but I ended up being grateful later on when I was exhausted and needed something to keep me going.
To enter the event, you had to get a health check and your blood pressure measured. If you're over or under, you can't join. I was carrying my documents in my bag. My blood pressure was actually too low, but no one asked to see my documents. I guess if something happened to me, they'd be able to find my information. My blood type is O and that means something about my personality in Japan, but I don't really believe in those things. It's the same as star signs, I don't really pay attention to those either because all I hear about Capricorns doesn't sound like me at all. Anyway, for some reason I was thinking about stars and star signs that day as I trudged up and down mountains. Capricorn is a goat-fish thing that's kind of ugly. I'm not interested in the sea at all, and farm goats are kinda creepy with their sideways eyes and ghostly white bodies. The Japanese word for Capricorn is just 'Goat constellation.' I'm not sure if that's better or worse.
At some point on the trail, I ended up behind a guy who had a shirt that said 'Sherow Japanicus' on the back. I don't know if the shirt was referencing an animal, but the word "Serow" popped in to my head and I couldn't remember what it meant, and I was wracking my brain.. Where have I heard this word before? It was some kind of animal...
Around that time, I collapsed. I reached the extent of my energy and I just couldn't keep up with the guys in front of me. I leaned on a rock and just sat there panting and drinking Pocari Sweat while watching people trudge uphill wondering why we are all here doing this pointless activity like a bunch of mindless mountain goats.
My mind wandered then and I remembered that Serow is the English name for the Japanese Kamoshika. Kamoshika are these awesome deer-goat things that live in the cool air of the Japanese mountains and are suffering from habitat loss. And then I remembered - the latin name for Kamoshika is "Capricornus."
Suddenly it all made sense.
I'm a freaking mountain goat!!
That's why I'm here, doing this crazy marathon, under the crisp blue autumn sky with fall leaves twirling down around me. I love it. The pressure, the sweat, the swollen ankles, the volunteers cheering us on, the free snacks and lemon water, the people doing it with you, the rocks jutting out of the sides of the hills, the trees that take the sun off your back, the insects looking for flowers... This is where I'm meant to be! I'm a Capricorn, a mountain goat, a Kamoshika, and I'm on my mountain where I belong!
I did the hike in 13 hours and 17 minutes. Yossi drove up to the top of Mt. Rokko and walked with me for 20 minutes (slowed me down!) before he left to go back to Okayama. My friend Elizabeth met up with me at the finishing point and we stuffed ourselves with Indian food. People said I was crazy for doing the Rokko Juso alone, but I didn't feel alone with all the friends I met that day. It was a great day!
All my training paid off, and I was able to go in to work the next day without much soreness. Before I did the Rokko Juso, I was nervous about my capacity. I just wanted to do it and get it over with. Having done it though, my next thought is - I did it once, could I do it again?
Anyway, I'm having a mini obsession with Kamoshika right now.
Has anyone ever seen one?
P.S. I'll be visiting L.A. and Albuquerque this winter.