So...shortly before I left for Texas in February, Boz and I took a day trip to Mt Takao (about an hour west of Tokyo). I had been researching hiking routes and Mt Takao appeared to be a sufficiently challenging spot. We took the Soba Express line (yep...named after the noodle) early on a Saturday morning and landed in a remote little town near the base of Takao. We must have appeared a bit dazed upon arrival as a solo Japanese hiker immediately took us under his wing. He asked (via several gestures) where we were headed and we pointed up the mountain. He motioned for us to follow his lead for what we assumed would be 5 minutes. Takao-san is no joke, so we thought he was simply ensuring our safety and awareness of the pending challenge. It was quickly established that B and I are hiking beasts and capable of guiding ourselves, but after about 30 minutes in our threesome, it was clear this man was never leaving. The dude was just committed. He had found some Americans and he was going to get them to the summit of Takao if it was the last thing he did. In the States, this would have been entirely unacceptable to me. I prefer to be alone (or with Boz and Pancho) in nature, so I was on the verge of pushing the guy off a cliff until it dawned on me that the language barrier would prevent any chit-chat. It would just be like having my own personal mute sherpa...which is something I've always felt has been missing in my life.
The snow was still heavy in February so B and I began the hike wearing a few layers, but we were both stripped down and panting after a mile. Fortunately the Takao-san trail is dotted with colorful and distracting cultural sites, including shrines and statues of various mountain gods...and one octopus:
Our rock star of a guide:
|(...and all my female readers simultaneously think 'Well no wonder you were fine with this') |
I know, right?? Apparently Japanese sherpas are easy on the eyes.
We hiked the rest of the way in a euphoric daze and after much konichiwa-ing and bowing to our guide, jumped on the Soba Express back to Tokyo. It's quite difficult to capture the magnitude of this experience on 'paper', but perhaps this update will help:
Boz and I are hiking from the sea to the top of Mount Fuji in July. It's a 24-hour expedition called the Sea-to-Summit and the registration fees go to Oxfam Japan (to fight hunger and poverty). We are in maximum training mode right now and Boz is hell-bent on adding some hill workouts to our routine. I avoid running hills at all cost. I will run an extra 10 miles around a hill to avoid going over it. But, being the clever man that he is, Boz has lured me to the dark side with the promise of Takao-san. We are tackling hills on Takao this weekend and I am, for once, completely stoked. Even if we don't actually see the monks again, I now know they are on the mountain. And I now know there is a palpably magical quality to unfamiliar faiths and rituals. Language and raw fish flesh be damned, I am definitely starting to 'feel' Japan.