Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Taisetsuzan national park, BLAZAM!

One of the many informative trail-side signs

There was mountains, and snow, and big places without anything.

Everything was blooming. For those interested I have about three hundred thousand million pictures of blooming plants.

Thar be bars in these thar hills

It got foggy.

It's so easy to take nice pictures of ferns. So I did.

This is what I looked like while I was hiking.

And this is what I looked like on top of a rocky peak.

There are mountains here.

This hole in the mountain was created by EXPLODING HOT LAVA.

A picture of me.

Out of the park, onto a bike, and all the swarthier for it.

Twilight falls, and it's my last night sleeping out with the Captain. Ahhhh, sad.

Just before I unloaded the Captain for the last time. Oh the times we had.



Here is where I truly found solitude. And, unexpected in Japan, wilderness. Unpeopled, thick wilderness. A five day hike took me down the spine of the mountain range, the roof of Hokkaido.

Day 1: A 4000' climb up a smoking volcano. Switchbacks must be frowned upon here. I eat dinner atop Hokkaido's highest peak at sunset, and camp on rock - only a few mosses and small hardy plants can grow this high.

Day 2: Trails here assume a desire to climb mountains. The track just goes up and over every peak along the way. Once more, an absence of switchbacks. Volcanic soils show me layers of red, green, and rich grey. I descend into the alpine plants, and they are exploding with eager blooms. The smells are intoxicating, and the landscape dotted with yellow, purple, white. I see bear tracks after lunch, and vigorously shake my bear bell for the rest of the day.

Day 3: Oh, rain. Oh fog. Oh wind. I hike through brush - like hiking through a carwash five miles long. My gore-tex, pinnacle of waterproofing technology, gives in after 30 minutes and water streams from my sleeves and pant legs. I am left alternately miserable and exultant at the fog-shrouded beauty around me. Smells of rock, snow, and vegetation are made richer by the moist air. Sometimes the trail disappears under snow-fields. The wetness seems like it must go on forever.

Day 4: Sun. Exultant joy at the first dry patch that appears on my pants, and the blessing of footprints ahead of me. Someone has beat me to the punch, sweeping the rain and dew from the brush along the trail. By lunch everything is dry, my belly is full, I think that joy might come shooting out of my ears. I hike ridges, bask in the intoxicating smell of sweet flowers. There is forest and rock as far as I can see in every direction, and I am only with myself. I think my face is still creased from the magnitude of my smile. Also my shoes smell like a skunk that died of terminal halitosis.

Day 5: From solitude to society. It is sunday, and I see hundreds of people. I don't know how to react. The beauty continues, but is somehow diluted because I have to share it with so many. Thinking becomes difficult, and I meet many many people. It is a long day - I take a path to avoid walking on the road. It is longer, I think, but so much nicer to walk in the woods. The path goes straight up a mountain and straight down the other side. I am so relieved to set up camp that I lay in the grass at my campsite and laugh. I wash at the hot spring there at the campsite.

Realizations from the hike, do with them what you will:
1-Skepticism and reason are useful, but too much of them can suck the color from life.
2-Everything is our experience of it. There is no universal truth.
3-Nothing is certain.
4-Nothing is permanent.
5-So I should just relax.

Any thoughts?

Kobe and bicycles

Me'n Mayo 'n Kentucky

Oharas plus one

This is what the deck of the ferry looked like

This is what Captain Stag and the Hobo Army looks like

Tree. Fungus.

If you hike up Tarumaezan, you could see this too

This is the volcanic cone of Tarumaezan. HOT FREAKING LAVA.

Me. Flying above the clouds. Snap.

Oh, my old friends, your friendly faces fill me with joy.

Yoteizan is a big mountain.


Shakotan also=pretty

Shakotan also=pretty again

Crows. Dang.

Yes, Japanese bikers are as threatening as their road-names

Bus-stop graffiti

Buddha statues all get dressed up.

Kobe and bicycles.


I shot off of Shikoku and away from the tomatoes in a bus. Riding to Kobe to meet an old high school buddy in the comfort of a cushioned seat, snacks in hand.

I met Mayo and her husband at the Kobe station, and was immediately absorbed into the family. I lived as an Ohara for four days - eating with them, playing with them, sleeping on their floor, my laundry mixed with theirs.

As a city, Kobe is nice enough. Modern cities are in many ways all the same. The joy in this visit was clearly with Mayo and her family. I played with Mayo's son, we ate magnificent meals, we watched TV. They are so fun and generous. I last saw them from the deck of a ferry. I waved down to them as the ship pulled away from the dock, out into the darkness and fog, north to Hokkaido.


Sapporo, largest city on this northern Island, and the fourth largest in Japan. Hokkaido is supposed to be a wild place, of forests and rivers and things, so I decided that the best way to see it might be from on top of a bicycle. I also wanted more freedom than is allowed by public transportation - how very American of me. So I bought an old bicycle. Captain Stag, the name was printed on the bar ends. Perfect. Rounding up gear, food, parts took a few days - the hardest thing to find was a helmet. All of the helmet wearers are either children or people serious about being serious, so I could only find tiny and expensive helmets. After much searching, I ended up with a roller-blading helmet. These are almost exactly like bicycle helmets except for two crucial points - the people in the picture on the box are riding roller-blades, and you can't buy them at bicycle stores.

Noggin protected, Japanese language map in hand, I strapped a mountain of luggage to the back of the Captain and rode south into the fog.

Captain Stag and the Hobo Army.

I got odd looks - people here are generally properly equipped and image-conscious. I was clearly not properly equipped, and had what looked like all of my worldly possessions crammed into an assortment of bags tied onto the back of my bike. And I was sweaty.

I rode, I hiked, I climbed volcanoes. I met wonderful friendly people. But the most interesting things happened inside of me, and are by their nature difficult to put into words. I will try. Being alone and living outside strips life down to a bareness, where happiness is most tightly bound to warmth, a full belly, and being dry. The smells of plants in the woods and by the road were vivid, as rich and green as the leaves around me. Sounds of the birds and bugs, punctuated by my own breathing and the hum of tires on pavement still echo in the back of my head. Fears came and went - fear of the grizzly bears that prowl these woods (yeah, wierd huh), fear of flat tires, fear of supplies running out. Sleep came with darkness at 8:00 and I woke with the sun at 3:30 - funny to start my day slow, with a relaxed breakfast and a little walk, and still be on the road before 6:00.

And after a day or two of riding and walking, it is so, so awesome to wash the stickiness from my body and soak in hot mineral water. For five bucks, the ubiquitous hot spring baths provide showers, soap, shampoo, and a soaking pool. Aaahhhh. They are everywhere, I can't get over how great it is. So great. Really great. Shockingly great.

I rode through some deep woods, to high mountains, through rain and some wind, up big hills and down the other side. I learned that an acceptible substitute for a new tire is coating the inside of the old, dangerously frayed tire with two layers of duct tape - 1000km and still going strong. I saw rice farms at the base of towering volcanic peaks and ate fresh asparagus from roadside stands. I ate rice balls from convinience stores. I ate ramen and curry from little restaurants. I ate and ate. My eating peaked towards the end of the trip. I realized one day that I was having my second lunch - after two breakfasts, a snack, and a first lunch - at 10:30 in the morning. And losing weight.

I rode through long tunnels, I camped in grassy lakeside campsites with crows that stole my dinner - those jerks. I hurt my knee and it healed. I hiked in fog, in rain, and the brilliant clear. Above the clouds, in blackened barren volcanic craters. Smells of alpine flowers and of sulphurous steam gushing from cracked mountains.

After two weeks, my pedalling led me to the entrance of Japan's largest National Park, Taisetsuzan.