Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back home in the good ole US of A

I can't put into words what has happened over the last 3 weeks. It all seems so surreal it never happened. I know it did though 'cause I have pictures to prove it!

The flight home was bumpy and long. The 8-hour layover in San Francisco was not fun. But we all ended up in one piece at 10:30pm in Salt Lake City airport on Tuesday evening. Even the bike and my Mount Fuji walking stick that I checked on arrived in one piece.

It is so nice to be back home...where the streets are wide, the chairs are comfortable and where I can sleep in my own bed. Life seems easy here...but that is a little scary. Scary because sometimes easy means lazy. And lazy can mean not being totally conscious about life and the little eating.

Yes, I am heavier than when I left, and haven't rode my bike since I got off of it at the 2nd Station on Mount Fuji. It's time to cook up a batch of beans and get my good eating and riding going again.

Oh well, Japan and the time off from work was a wonderful distraction from our regular life. It was a blast and a memory that we'll never forget! However, as I was laying in bed last night at 2am, trying to fall asleep, I thought about the fact that I am only half way to my goal weight. It is Fall, and winter will be here soon. There is no time to waste in putting in the other 4500 miles that I set out to rack up by now...and there still is a lot of weight to lose, and a lot of change to occur.

Onward and upward!


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Day 550-My Bike Ride to Mount Fuji (Part 2-The Hike up Mount Fuji)

If you haven’t taken the time to hear about my bike ride from Tokyo to Mount Fuji, you really should. You can read it by going HERE. This entry on my blog is part 2 of the adventure.

I will begin part 2 by sharing what happened after the bike ride on Monday evening. My family had arrived a day in advance of me by taking a bus from Funabashi. They checked into the Mizuno Hotel in Kawaguchiko, a beautiful hotel with probably the best iconic view of Mount Fuji! The hotel sits up on a hill directly across from the magnificent mountain. The other great thing about the Mizuno Hotel is that they have a nice Onsen that awaits its guests. For those of you that aren’t familiar with what an Onsen is, it is basically an indoor/outdoor hot springs bath house. Guests go there to take baths, and soak in the hot pools of water after a long day. To most Americans, this could be an embarrassing experience bathing in front of others, but it is actually a real awesome experience where you enjoy the epitome of the Japanese culture. Onsen’s are a necessary part of just about any hotel or resort you go to in Japan. Some Onsen’s are very old and look a little scary because they’ve been around for 100+ years, but there are a ton of very modern Onsens.

In the olden days people in the villages or districts would gather in the evenings together and bathe. Modesty wasn’t really a factor in those days as men and women would bathe together in the same pools.

Now days, there are separate sides to the Onsens so that the men and women bathe with their own genders.

Anyway, I give you that background as you can imagine what I did when I got to go to our hotel for the first time after the bike ride. I went to the Onsen to bathe, soak and just relax after one of the craziest days of my life! There was a nice big window in the indoor pool, or you could walk to the outside pool and enjoy the view of Mount Fuji outside. Unfortunately the men’s outdoor pool has a nice view of a telephone pole, but the indoor pool has a nice view. My wife said that the women’s outdoor pool has a marvelous view.

Also, we reserved a Japanese style room so there are no chairs or furniture per se, and there are no beds. In the evening while you are off to dinner eating in the hotel, the staff comes into your room and lays out your futons for you. So after dinner when we came back to our room, our nice fluffy futons (a very thin mattress with a down-like cover) were waiting for us. You can imagine that it took me about 10 seconds to fall asleep.

I might mention at this point that I hired a cameraman to take the train to Kawaguchiko where he would stay the night before the climb. I reserved a room for him at K’s House, a hostel for backpackers. I wanted to be careful to get a good hostel because some can be pretty crappy. K’s House though is highly recommended and gets great reviews, and Robert, my cameraman said it was a great place to stay. Usually in a hostel you can bunk up with other people for pretty low prices. Some rooms have 5 bunk beds or 10 futons so you could be sleeping with other strangers in the room. That’s a little daring in my opinion, so I reserved a private room for Robert that had a private bathroom. After the bike ride, on the way home, we stopped and met Robert and made sure that he had money and was all set for dinner, and getting up early the next morning.

The hike to Fuji began at 4:45am on Tuesday, August 27, 2013. I spent a few minutes getting my GoPro footage downloaded from the day before along with my SDT750 HD Camera’s footage. I had back up batteries, headlamps, and energy gels, etc., to pack in my backpack. My entire family, bless their hearts, all piled into the car rental that my father in law was driving, and we went and picked up Robert at about 5:15am. We then went to a Lawson convenience store and Robert and I loaded up on stuff that we wanted to eat and drink while hiking during the day. You’d think that Mount Fuji would be a pretty remote hike, but despite it’s remoteness, there are many many huts (small buildings) that feature places for hikers to sleep and buy food and drink. Obviously the higher you hike, the more expensive the prices get. We just made sure that we got all our stuff at Lawson’s, and then we wouldn’t have to throw our money away on the mountain.

I think I bought some onigiri (rice ball with surprise filling) a potato salad sandwich and a ham sandwich along with some Koala no March (chocolate filled koala bear shaped treats. Yes, my daughter says just about everything in Japan is “ridiculously cute.”) I also bought a Coke and lots of water. Again, I’m not a fan of caffeine, but got it to help perk me up and give me some sugar. I might also add that my wife wanted a Coke Zero, which I bought and unknowingly shoved in my backpack. Her drink became a stowaway all the way to the top of Mount Fuji and back! Ha ha ha.

With food loaded in our packs, we took the 45-minute drive up to the 5th station. As we went up the hill, I have to say I was impressed at how far up the mountain I was able to bike the day before. I made it to the 2nd station, and that was a good 15-20 minutes up in our car.

We drove up as close as we could get to the 5th station, but had to park about a mile down the hill because of all the tour buses and other cars that were parked there. Climbing Fuji is a 24-hour event for the mountain. People are hiking the trails 24-hours a day to either see the sunrise at 4am in the morning, or just doing the hike at the time they wish too. The day before when we went to the 5th station there were thousands of people there. This morning, maybe there were hundreds. It was not crowded at all.

Robert and I got out of the car and took a few minutes to get our packs put together for the hike. We took some quick pictures together with our family, and then, walked up the road to the 5th station. Our plan was to do this hike in 10-12 hours round trip. So I told my wife that I would give her a call and let her know of our progress. Fortunately, my father-in-law let me take his cell phone with me so that I could call while on the mountain.

Robert and I took about 30 minutes buying sunscreen, gloves, visiting the restroom, and getting his camera ready. We shot a little video there at the 5th station, and then set off on our hike. By the time we got on the trail, it was already about 7:45-8:00am. We were already a bit behind schedule.

The first part of the trail is flat and if you think for a moment that it’s going to stay that way, you’re obviously wrong. On the flat part of the trail we passed tons of hikers that were just getting down from their descent after viewing the sunrise earlier in the morning. I’m sure that as they passed us they were laughing under their breath knowing what we were about to experience. Within 20 minutes or so, the trail began to change and we soon were walking uphill. I immediately thought of my hike to Box Elder Peak 3 weeks before where the beginning of the trail is fairly steep. Box Elder trails flatten out a tad, but not with Fuji. The trail as you can imagine is a constant climb, and the pitch can be pretty severe in most parts. I immediately started to feel my heart begin pounding and the sweat began to make an appearance. I was excited to be hiking and wanted to keep a good brisk pace, but soon discovered that this was going to be similar to the bike ride climb. I needed to find a good pace, and then knock it down a level. I can’t remember what excuse I made, but I asked Robert to stop hiking for a moment while I made some sort of an adjustment to my backpack. After a few minutes of resting, I began again, but this time taking the ascent slower. I finally found a good pace to hike at.

Within 30 minutes we had arrived at what I thought was the 6th station. I thought, wow, we’re making good time, but soon discovered after a quick breather, that we hadn’t arrived to the 6th station yet. This was simply the 6th station bathroom/first aid area. If you didn’t read my entry from yesterday, let me explain that there are 10 stations on Mount Fuji, with the 10th station being the summit. Most people begin the hike at the tourist headquarters at the 5th station. So as you can imagine, arriving at any station represents progress up the mountain.

Well, again, arriving at this first station was exciting as again, I thought we had arrived to the 6th station. After we hiked for another 30-40 minutes we arrived at another hut, and I though perhaps we had already arrived at the 7th station. But I realized very quickly that this was the actual 6th station. This was not going to be as easy as I thought. In fact I kind of thought that each hut that you see up the mountain was an actual station, but soon realized that there are huts that greet you before and after the stations. Some huts are just there and have no relation to a station at all. They’re just there to harass you. ;)

Actually, the hike from the 5th station up to the top of Mount Fuji is only about 4800 feet, which is less than a mile. But the fact that the pitch of the mountain is like 45 degrees makes it a very long and tricky climb. I say tricky, because as you look up and see the top of the mountain, it doesn’t look like it’s that far away, but then as you trudge along very slowly, you realize that it took an hour to move not very far up the mountain. In fact you look down and see that you haven’t moved very far and wonder if you’re even making any progress.

Let me mention here that just like when you’re riding a bike up a hill, there is a threshold point where you can only pedal so much weight up a certain incline. And there is a fine balance of having to maintain a heart rate that allows you to function and not overdo it, other wise you have to stop and take a rest to let your heart settle.

I found for me, and noticed that probably with most everyone else, that you had to walk like a zombie, putting one foot in front of the other in what seemed like a snails pace. The constant temptation was to stop and rest as your brething is always pretty heavy. I kind of got a rhythm going with my breathing so that I turned my hiking into a little walking and breathing dance. Then as I made my way forward at a snails pace, I’d be temped to stop and rest because its just such a monotonous action to move up a hill so slow. I found myself always wanting to take a rest but would simply just tell myself, “No. I’ve got to get up this mountain.” I had to push through the pain and monotony and keep going.

Robert is a young guy in his late 20’s. He’s a skinny guy. He only brought a fanny pack. But his challenge, which probably wasn’t really one, was that he got to haul his camera and monopod up, and run around and videotape my climb. He did great. I think it worked well as my pace needed to be slightly slower. This allowed him to hike up ahead and get shots from above, or stay behind and get shots from below. We kind of got a shooting rhythm going.

I saw some pretty amazing people up on the mountain that day. And my hike turned into a spiritual experience as I had thoughts come to me about how hiking is a lot like life is. My sister who has been on some pretty good hikes shared with me that she had had that same insight about hikes…and their parallels to life.

As I hiked up the trail, I saw very old people, probably in their 70s or 80s who were moving very slowly up the trail. I wondered how they were ever going to make it to the top. I then realized that the climb is not a race, it’s a journey, and that we’re all trying to make it to the same destination, even if some of us get there at different times.

I saw one man who was literally on all fours crawling in pain. I could not believe he was even on the mountain. I wondered why he was there. This was no place for crawling. But I couldn’t judge him. I had to give him the benefit of the doubt and had to respect the fact that he was there for his own purposes…and he, despite his groaning in pain, and looking like he was in the most pain of his life, was there---doing it! I asked him if he was okay and he didn’t respond, possibly out of embarrassment. I told him to Ganbatte (hang in there!) A few minutes later I saw him at the next station that we were all climbing towards. He made it.

I saw a young father with maybe an 8 year old boy hiking up between the 5th and 6th stations. I wondered why a father would bring his child up on this scary and dangerous climb? I then had an impression that perhaps he was allowing his son to experience, not the entire hike, but a sampling of it. I was right, as a little while later I heard him tell his son, “Mo, kairimasho ka?”(shall we go home?) I was touched that a father would take the time to come all the way to the mountain to let his son get a taste of what it was like to hike Mount Fuji.

I also saw a group of adults that had about 10 little children that were coming down the trail up. They also brought these kids to have a small taste of the climb.

One thing was for sure, we were all humbled by the climb, and to each of us in our own way, we were moving in the direction and at the pace we needed to go for our own experience.

One part of the trail, about half way up, consisted of a climb up lava rock. Most of the trails were fairly hike-able, but one portion was literally a mini rock climb. There was no obvious trail other than metal poles with chains poking out of the side of the trail. Each hiker would not ascend the rocks the same way as some rocks were too high of a step for some hikers, so a different approach would be made. During this portion of the hike I kind of freaked because I had just gotten a good rhythm going when the hike was no longer just walking. Now it was climbing and holding onto rock and chains to pull one’s self up. This obviously took a lot longer to navigate and I was already concerned that we were behind schedule. I don’t know how long we hiked on the lava rocks, but I was grateful when it stopped. I don’t know why that part of the trail had to go over the rock. It was not fun, but it’s now an interesting memory.

I brought with me one of my aluminum hiking poles that survived the Box Elder hike 3 weeks earlier. But I learned from that hike that having 2 poles is a must! I bought a wooden walking stick that you can buy at the 5th station for the hike up. The stick already has a wood burned stamp on it of Mount Fuji. Then at just about each station AND at almost every additional hut on the way up the mountain, you can stop and pay 200 YEN to have someone wood burn a different stamp onto your stick. The idea is that when you finish your climb, that you’re about $40 poorer, but you have a beautiful hiking stick with wood burned stamps on it. After shelling out about $15 on stamps, I soon realized that this is also a slight scam. I guess it’s cool to get the stamp of each place, but at the same time, is it really necessary? Anyway, I stopped getting the stamps until I finally reached the top and then got the stamp of the Jinja (temple) that is on top of Mount Fuji.

Anyway, getting this hiking stick and getting the stamps on it has been something that I wanted to do so I can bring it home and get it and a few other things mounted in a shadow box to remind me of the incredible day.

Initially as we began our hike late, I set a new arrival time for about 1pm. As we got up the mountain at what seemed like a snails pace, Robert and I soon realized that we weren’t going to make the 1pm mark. Soon 1pm became 2pm, and then 2pm became 3pm. We’d taken some rest breaks, ate lunch, shot video, etc., and so our hike was now at the 7 hour mark! I’ve heard estimates that you should be able to do the hike to the top in 5-6 hours. I started to remember my hike to Box Elder Peak in which I got stuck 3 miles up on the mountain when the sun had gone down with no light or water. I didn’t want to get stuck on Mount Fuji in the dark. But the reality of things was that if it took 4 hours to get off the mountain, being at the 3pm point would mean that we weren’t going to be off the mountain while it was still light. The sun is down by 7pm. Yikes! Fortunately, we had plenty of food and water, and I brought our Petzl headlamps! So this time, I was prepared.

Well, we just kept pushing and pushing, walking amongst the zombies, and at 3:45pm, I walked through the gate to the summit! Talk about an exciting moment! There was actually a point during the hike where I recalled the pain of my previous days bike ride, and was feeling similar pain. I thought for a moment that perhaps I might not make it to the top. But that thought didn’t last very long. Even if I had to hike late into the night, I was getting to the top and accomplishing my goal and dream!

Robert had walked through the gate earlier and had positioned himself and the camera perfectly to get the moment that I walked through the gate. I did a little fist pumping and then walked a few more feet up to the landing. There at the top is a Jinja (temple) that awaits all those that arrive at the top. We went in and I got my walking stick stamped with the Jinja’s summit woodburned stamp. Robert bought a few goodluck charms for his girlfriend, and I bought one for my mother and father-in-law.

There weren’t very many people at the summit. We took a few pictures for other people as they posed for their memorable moment, and then we asked them to take our picture. It was a little surreal to actually be there at the top of Mount Fuji. This was the place that I had dreamed of climbing I could now tell people that I had hiked to the top of Mount Fuji! I pulled out my cell phone and dialed my family. My wife answered the phone and said, “Where are you?” with a little smile in her voice. I announced that we had finally made it to the top!

One of the things I wanted to see when at the top of Fuji was the volcano crater. About 50 yards away behind the Jinja is the crater of the mountain. We walked over to take a look and it was really strange to see the massive opening. It looked like something you’d see on another planet. It’s just not a sight you see everyday.

Robert and I stood in awe looking over and taking pictures of the huge crater.

Initially I had hoped we’d have time to hike to the other side of the crater. Apparently there is a weather station and a post office that you can drop letters and postcards off at and they will be stamped with a special postal stamp. We were running way behind and it was just a little after 4pm so this time we weren’t going to the post office. We quickly walked over to the exit gate and began the long descent down. Fortunately the trail down is a separate trail from the one we took coming up. These trails are long wide man-made trails that zig zag all the way down. I’ve heard of some people running down. I wouldn’t dare. The rocks and soil are just a little too unpredictable and it’s very easy to slip and lose your balance. The last thing one would want to do on this mountain is to break a leg or sprain an ankle. I made sure that each one of my feet and both of my walking sticks were well planted in the soil with each step. There was no way I was staying up on this mountain any longer than I needed to be.

As the sun started to go down behind the mountain, you could see the cool sight of Fuji’s shadow on the clouds below. As it got later and later the shadow stretched for miles and miles out on the cloud covered sky.

It’s a long walk down off the mountain and it started to get dark about 6pm. By 7pm it was dark! I pulled out a couple of headlamps, and gave one to Robert and put the other one on. I noticed that there were other hikers that did the same. The hike down in the dark was a little eery. The zigzagging trail soon changed to man-made tunnels constructed to protect hikers from possible rock slides coming from above. Then the trail started to turn into man-made stepping stones which was really annoying. They made a fairly solid trail, a notch harder to walk on due to the potential of the flat rock being slippery. I imagined that this part of the trail would be hell for hikers descending in rain or some sort of precipitation.

As we got lower we soon merged into a lower trail that hikers ascending the mountain used also. It was cool to see all these headlamps going up the trail. It looked like a long line of fireflies moving up the mountain. The night before from my hotel room, I could see a long line of sparkling lights flowing up the mountain from afar.

I saw a sign that said something like 1.7 kilometers to the 5th station. That’s really not more than a mile or so, but it seemed like our arrival at the 5th station would never come. We kept walking and walking and walking. Finally, after what seemed like 3 miles, we arrived back at the little village at the 5th station. All the shops were closed and small groups of hikers that were either arriving off the mountain or were preparing to hike were gathered. It was a little past 8pm when we arrived back. Our entire hike had taken 12 hours.

We needed to get Robert back to the train station for his ride back home by 9:19pm and it’s a good 45-minute drive down off the mountain. My father-in-law put the pedal to the metal and got us down in record time. It was so nice to be sitting back in the car again on a comfortable seat! We arrived at the train station with 25 minutes to spare. Robert packed, and got on the train and left.

It was 9:15pm and we were all hungry. So we went to Royal Host to have dinner. The last time I was at Royal Host the day before was not a very good memory. So I was glad to come back and make a better one. I had some spaghetti, and treated myself to a hot fudge sundae! I deserved it…plus I was craving something sweet. I had been eating non-tasty stuff all day on the mountain. It was time to eat something that actually tasted good!

I might add at this point just for fun that I had bought some hiking boots a week earlier that I hadn’t broken in. They worked like a charm for me! My feet felt great, thought hey were very tired from the hike.

We went back to the hotel, and again, I went and jumped in the Onsen, smiling and thinking about where I had been that day!

I was satisfied! I was proud of myself. I finally after having anxiety and worry over the past year or so about the bike ride to Fuji and the climb up the mountain, could now relax and smile with satisfaction! Finally!

My day on Mount Fuji will be a day that I will never forget. I will never forget the other people that I saw while hiking. I will never forget that man that was crawling on all fours. There were so many things I saw and heard while on the mountain, that I didn’t share here that will only have special meaning to me.

I am grateful for this fabulous experience, and that I set the goal to challenge myself to bike to and climb to the top of Mount Fuji! I did it!
Beautiful Mount Fuji from my hotel room at the Mizuno Hotel in Kawaguchiko, Japan.

Me and Robert Cook, my DP, before we take off on the hike.

The first part of the trail is flat. But will soon change.

Taking a moment to stock up on some energy.

Many huts dot the trail on the way up the mountain.
The city just to the right in the background is where we stayed for 3 days.

A look up the mountain as the huts and mountain disappear into the clouds.
The trail changed from fairly hike-able to crappy.

Climbing the lava rock was not fun.

Looking up at the span of lava rock.
I would say the pitch of the mountain is 45 degrees.

Looking up to the summit from the lava rock.
Robert carries his camera up the trail.

My hiking stick being wood burned with a stamp.
Wood burned stamp at my walking stick.
Making my way up the trail,
At the top of this span of trail, you can see the gate to the summit.

Each side of the gate have a dragon protecting the entrance to the summit.

A little fist pump for a hike well done!

This is me at 12,389 feet. Tokyo is at sealevel.

The mysterious looking crater at the top of Mount Fuji.

The trails down the mountain are steep and zig-zag back and forth for forever.
At about 6pm you could see Mount Fuji's shadow as the son began to go down behind the mountain.

Stairway to Heaven.