Friday, December 21, 2012

Nippon Extremities: Hokkaido V

August 8, 1997

Awoke to good weather for a change.  Jordan and I rented bicycles and rode out through Sounkyo, under waterfalls which cut the rocks into large squared pillars.  The trail ended at the overlook for an unidentifiable rock formation where J. and I sat and talked, two streams running on either side merged as one, not unlike our minds.  

Back in Sounkyo, we caught a bus back to Asahikawa.  We had time to kill and sought out a place to eat, but moments before our Asahi-dake bound bus was to arrive, the rain began again, breaking the back of Jordan's camel.  He suddenly decided to head back to Sapporo.  

On the bus back out to the mountains, I was a bit sad and frustrated.  It was strange knowing that this would be one of the last times I'd get to see J. before he left Japan the following winter.  Yet I was a little angry too, with the way he'd overplanned the unplannable, and couldn't face up to the hardships that he hadn't foreseen.  I did give him credit for setting off on a hitching jaunt back to his home in Himeji, an odyssey that is of course impossible to plan.  I wrote him a poem.

Hitch Bhikku
--for Jordan

Inspired by compassion,
You set out by thumb,
Hoping to find and return kindness,
In a brief merging of paths
Where everyone takes someone home.

As I left the bus, it began to pour, and during the incredibly long time it took me to put up my tent, it, my bedroll, and my pack got soaked.  The campsite was well constructed but was unfortunately built upon nothing more than sand, which has the penchant for creating large puddles.  I dug a trench around the tent to create a channel for run-off, but these too eventually flooded, and a large pool formed beneath the tent floor.  In the end, I was unsuccessful with my irrigation, and by now my clothes too were drenched.   The night was further complicated when I couldn't find a crucial part of the stove that J. had left with me.  (He had donated all of his dried camping food too.)  Embarrassed, I walked to an adjacent campsite and meekly asked them if they would boil some of my water for me.  Back in my tent, I ate instant enchiladas and hot chocolate, then called it a day around 8:30.  The rain was incessant, but the sound of a nearby stream lulled me into what proved to be an unsound sleep...

August 9, 1997

...the next morning I was up at 6:30 to make instant pancakes.  I discovered too late that I needed a skillet to fry them, so I basically drank a bag of watery flour for breakfast.  The rain had stopped briefly, but the fog was rolling in, so I quickly broke camp, stashed my wet gear at the nearby visitor's center, and headed up the Asahi-dake ropeway after balking briefly at the 2700 yen price.

The trail started in clear weather above the clouds, and amidst a beautiful alpen meadow, a lone cuckoo singing from somewhere.  The collapsed cone of the volcano rose before me.  Within the crater, steam poured from yellowing, blistered rocks which looked like open sores.  The ascent wasn't particularly difficult, a straight narrow path over shale, and amidst disfigured volcanic boulders, offering great views of nearby snow fields.  Then I entered the fog.  Walking in this atmosphere and treading over this terrain was like walking the road to hell.  Near the summit, the trail cut to the left over an exposed face, the wind tearing right through clothes damp with rain and sweat.  I shivered on the summit only long enough to read a couple of Snyder poems, then hurried back down, the rain and fog following.  The cold, along with a strange silliness, carried me on to a round trip time shorter than the time usually given for the ascent itself. 

Back at the visitor center, I had a two hour wait at the bus stop, but the time passed quickly while in conversation with a California guy now studying in Tokyo.  On the bus back to Asahikawa, I chatted with a cute college student from Yokohama who I had seen repeatedly throughout the day, frequently exchanging smiles and random bits of conversation.  Her good nature beckoned out my own.   Goodness of nature tends to be the first thing to retreat during a week of lousy weather.  And I was happy to be leaving Daisetsuzan and its strange inclement weather behind.   Where we couldn't find adventure, we can make legend. 

Hokkaido, the one part of Japan which rarely sees typhoons, had one on the way.  I decided to stay out of it in the comfort of a hostel, so I rode the train a bit north of Asahikawa.  On the train, a young Japanese guy fresh from England tried to start a conversation.  His constant use of idioms and asinine questions seemed more an attempt to show off his english ability, and I quickly grew bored.  (So much for good nature.)  The train let me off at an unmanned train platform in the middle of the wild, so I stood confused in the rain awhile with a similarly puzzled Japanese girl, but eventually we figured out our way.  

Taking a bath at the hostel had made me late for dinner.  At my table, three out of five people were from Yokohama.  Why is it that everyone I've met in Hokkaido is from there?  The girl from the train platform talked in a silly obāsan way that started me laughing, and the wacky hostel cook finished the job.  After dinner, I played an old video game that was in the lobby.  Called simply, "1942", it was basically an American bomber that flies along, blowing the shit out of Japanese Zero fighter planes.  Or perhaps in Japan it was vice-versa.  Back in my room, I drank a beer and listened to someone blowing a mournful harmonica somewhere.  I was happy in my decision to find comfort, yet from my bed I could see the dry pavement of the road which I hoped would lead me north the following day...

On the turntable:  Allan Ginsberg,  "Holy Soul Jelly Roll"
On the nighttable:  Melissa Goodwin, "The Christmas Village"

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