Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Fuji, Once Around (The Roads)
I leave the comfort of my inn only to be lashed in the face by the cold. I'm wearing every piece of clothing I've been carrying, yet the cold still find a way through. The sun isn't yet up, but every step through the dark brings warmth into my body.
When walking roads, I tend to leave early, so as to get a good two or three hours under my feet before the traffic builds. But already, the accompaniment of headlights sweeps my front and back, escorting me out of town like a lynch mob. The road, Rte 469, eventually winds up a hill past a golf club, then becomes a long straightaway which bisects a section of military base. Olive trucks continue to make up the bulk of the traffic, and here and again a lone soldier stands by the roadside. They look like actors playing GI's in some WWII film, lean and lanky in a uniform two sizes too big.
Both sides of the road are low grass, mowed and kept trim by one of these low ranking soldiers probably. The tips of the grass are white with frost, and as I move along the sun finds me, popping up behind the Hakone range to the south and stretching my shadow toward the great volcano.
It had been a bitterly cold night, yet despite this Fuji seems to have lost some of her snowy cap. Nevertheless, it extends well down her shapely shoulders. I sit awhile on a concrete berm watching her. She watches me drink coffee. To my left, Mt. Ashitaka who tries to tempt me away from the road. I long for another day like yesterday, moving along the peace of mountain trails, and nearly talk myself into temporarily leaving the highway and meeting it again on the other side. But to do so means adding additional kilometers and I'm facing 37 already. I'd never make it Shiraito today. Which means returning to complete the journey sometime in the future. I stay with the bitumen.
I leave 469 for another road that looks smaller on my map, yet I find it more heavily trafficked. Worse, it leads straight uphill. There are no shoulders here, so I hug the sides, tightrope walking above the gutter beneath high concrete walls. The exertion brings on sweat beneath all the layers, tempting me to shed one or two, but each passing truck splashes me in its cold wake. Morning rush hour is the worst time of day to walk, drivers speeding late to work, little expecting the walker coming out of the sun. More than half are certain to be further distracted by mobile phones. I dread most the blind curves, anticipating the moment when my body gets its final lesson in physics. As if a reminder, a surprisingly large deer lies newly dead on the side of the road, light still in its eyes and foam bubbling from slightly parted lips.
But I make it finally to the top of the low hill, to an open area that looked like pasture. The Suyama route to the summit is somewhere in the trees behind me. I warm myself in the sun awhile, then walked past the safari park to take a longer rest at the trail head to Ashitaka. As I remove a couple layers, a group of hikers stretches in the parking lot.
I've swung to the south of Fuji now. Restaurants, B&B's, and tourist shops have replaced the bases here. Plus the traffic is much, much lighter. I walk an actual sidewalk, along a sunny stretch of road. It's still Rte 469, yet in my mind, I am in the northern limits of New Mexico. The trees are different, but they frame a distant landscape filled with the snow-capped towering peaks of south Colorado. I feast on this view until the eyes are overruled by the cravings of the stomach. Climbing wearily up to a shrine to the yama no kami, I gaze out at Suruga Bay, just visible from this height. It reminds me of something I once read about the yamabushi, about how their sacred sites are in the mountains because that is where they found the best views of the water. The Japanese are a seafaring people, and so are their gods.
Body and mind thus sated, I press on. I'm quite pleased at my pace, 25 km before noon. I had many such days in Shikoku, but only after a three week build-up of daily walking. Today however is only day two. I take a final rest at an outdoor BBQ place, across the road from a half dozen railway cars converted into karaoke boxes, yet now rusting and sprouting weeds. The BBQ pits too look unused, if only since the end of summer. Yet I am still able to find a working outlet to charge my GPS. The whinnying of the ponies in the adjacent corral serves as lullaby as I take a quick catnap on a bench in the sun.
I move toward a grove of high ceders to find Murayamasengen Jinja. Shinto in name, the shrine is filled with Buddhist deities. Again, the roots of Fuj worship go far back in time.
But I move forward. Up Rte 72, a dull walk ever lined by monocultural forest on both sides. For the first time in two days, I can no longer see Fuji beyond my right shoulder. With so little here to attract the eyes, I allow my music to take me to other places. Before long, I'm coming into Shiraito town. A couple more kilometers to the falls. Just as I'm hoping that there is a craft beer on sale in one of the shops, I notice a small cafe that claims to sell German brew. In the parking lot is a European man loading crates into the bed of a pickup. He tells me that he'll be closed until 4 pm, but he can sell me a bottle to go. As he rings me up, I tell him that I'm planning to toast my walking 7 albeit nonconsecutive days around Mt. Fuji. Not only does he not seem at all interested, but he acts as if he hears this kind of thing from every customer. With a similar lack of chalance, I drift out the door and up the road.
Then I'm standing at the overlook to the falls. The water is indeed a white thread stretching effortlessly down the face of the rock wall. Just as they were the first time I'd stood here a year ago, workmen and machines tear into the floor of the river bed, making the future passage easier for high heels and pampered pedigrees pooches. I think that I'll probably never return, then turn and walk back past the old shops and their perpetual Showa era goods, out to the road in order to follow where my thumb will take me.
On the turntable: Wings, "Wings Greatest"
On the nighttable: Robert Macfarlane, "The Wild Places"