One Man Walking

2008-07-13 Barabara

July 13th, 2008 · 4 Comments

The most interesting part of today was not that I’ve been rained on for the seventh day running. It’s not that I considered this a ’short’ day at only 38km nor that I’ve got shin-splints and the other shoulder of my favourite hiking shirt is starting to rip. Staying at Nayoro road station was interesting, but I’ll save that for the end. And being targeted by bus drivers passing big puddles isn’t interesting, it’s infuriating!

sunflowers in the rain 

No the most interesting part of today is a man calling himself Barabara. His real name is on his business card but I’ll stick with his chosen label. We actually met last night when he gave me food. This morning I was shouldering my pack when he started preparing breakfast. Since he was also heading to the same place he made me promise to have dinner with him. So this afternoon rather than slink off into the park and camp alone I went along with his plan as he paid the 200¥ for my campground site and didn’t say anything when he told the warden I didn’t have a tent. Unfortunately I’m stuck with that now and have to sleep under the cooking area roof. The mosquitoes were starting to find me, until Barabara provided me with one of those burning coils that scared them away.
wet farm 

He said all this was a present as he paid for entrance to the onsen (ahhhh, clean again) and a big dinner. It was a sort of mini-yakiniku. The waitresses lit the single tea-light candle thing under a metal plate and we grilled the most delicious steak as we liked it. It’s another huge gift that I didn’t understand but it became clearer as we talked. He’s a bit of a walker himself. A retired 64 year old from Hiroshima he said he’s done a few 50km days in his time and invited himself along with me tomorrow as I got from here to the Nakagawa road-station. I’m a little worried about how it’ll work but he’s been so nice to me I can’t say no.
steak dinner sure beats pot noodle 

Oh yeah, about this morning. Possibly in an effort to stop the homeless sleeping there the building has speakers built into the roof outside that switched to a radio station when the doors closed. At some point the frantic and exciting adverts stopped and a continuous mix of pretty good dance tracks started. With the flashing lights from the vending machines and the tables and chairs (which would have been stolen long ago in any other country) all that was needed for a nightclub was a pile of alcohol and about 50 friends. Seriously, on a warm and dry Saturday night that place would be a great place to hangout.

At 4am the music finally paused, a brief intro for the new DJ and then came Billy Joel’s Still Rock and Roll To Me. By the time The Heat Is On (from the Beverly Hills Cop films) played I was ready to start packing but still had to hear a few country songs and one from Gloria Estefan before I hit the road.

Tomorrow has only 30% chance of rain. Only.

Word of the day: shu = week

Distance today: 41.5 km

hiking  ·  onsen  ·  photo  ·  trail magic

2008-07-12 Road station hop

July 12th, 2008 · No Comments

From the road station called Toma at Pippu I walked 12 hours north to one near the town of Nayoro. I saw four small shrines, notable because Hokkaido doesn’t have as many as the other islands since it only became part of Japan relatively recently.

I think someone offered me a lift today, or they were just generally interested in where I was going. I’ve had a few toots from passing cars and motorbikes too. Now I’m preparing for another night on a tough surface trying to ignore the blaring radio, probably installed to stop scragamuffins like me hanging out here over night. There are a few campervans here and the usual assortment of in-car sleepers. I wonder who’ll be the first to talk to me.

Word of the day: go = five

update: the winner is Grumpy Employee who, as I walked around the building, called me over to ask where I was going.
“I don’t know yet”
“Well you can’t stay here”
Not that I’d been planning to. Instead I settled on the other side of the building where a guy gave me watermelon and yogurt. He returned a bit later with his pile of pots and pans and looked ready to cook me a full meal. I’d already laid out my sleeping bag and figured it was too much to take any more food and he was ok with that.
Update: I left my toiletries at the last place. Now I need a new razor, toothbrush and paste for just five nights.

Distance today: 57 km

2008-07-11 Rain day

July 11th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I’ve not even covered 10km today and until an hour ago nothing had really happened, except the torrential rain.

Here at the Toma road-station I’ve been wasting time all afternoon, writing a list of places Tania and I will go and visit (reader suggestions are welcome, leave a comment or use the ‘Contact Me’ page), writing ideas for computer programs and watching TV for weather reports. This evening as I sat here waiting to unroll my sleeping bag I was approached by Yo. A young guy I may have seen on Asahidake. He’s doing the 100 Famous Mountains and lived in New Zealand for 15 months. Even did the Kepler Track in one day!

Anyway we talked mountains for a while until another fellow joined us. He said he knew someone who walked Soya to Okinawa in 90 days. Needless to say I was pretty deflated, my record attempt had already been beaten. But it later emerged that the Fujisawa-san’s time was just counting walking days, not the rest days he had in town when drinking, recovering from drinking, or selling chopsticks. So maybe I’m still in line for the top spot. Not that it really matters. I didn’t start this for fame and glory, just for an interesting time which I am getting.

Apart from that the only conversation I had was at a newly-opened hotel where I tried to ask the price for one night. The photos of the rooms looked amazing, very stylishly minimalist. Not stark, but pure, simple and inviting. One had a very strange thing I assumed was for drying clothes, until I got the answer about the prices. They were for two hour segments. The man denied it was a “love hotel”, but anywhere renting beds by the hour is not a regular hotel. For the night it was going to be 20,000¥, a fact that took him 10 mins in the other room to calculate and 10 seconds for me reject.

Word of the day: meishi = business card

Distance today: 9 km

2008-07-10 Sign Language

July 10th, 2008 · 4 Comments

When pointing out one’s self in a conversation, for example “I am going to buy this”, the Japanese point to their faces, or more exactly their noses, while westerners point to their chests.

I'm Nut sure what this means 

A long and winding descent from Asahidake Onsen this morning. The weather was good and I briefly considered taking the cable-car back up to get the clear view, but I’m north-bound now and tomorrow may be rainy where I’m heading today. I spoke to an old man sitting beside his motorised scooter.
“Where have you come from?”
“Cape Sata, south”
“Where are you going?”
“Cape Soya”
“Soya! Wow, good times!”
Bear in mind that I’m 88 days from Sata, and a week from Soya. I think he didn’t understand my first sentence or chose to ignore it as the ramblings of a wandering foreigner. The other option is he simple doesn’t know where Cape Soya is. I’ve found that a lot. While every New Zealander knows Cape Reinga and The Bluff as our boundaries, and every Briton knows Land’s End and John O’Groats, the northern and southern capes here just aren’t noted. Perhaps because there are more southerly islands. Okinawa is where Chris started his walk. Kagoshima ken (district/prefecture) is well know though, so when Sata brings blank stares I use that.

When saying something is forbidden or can’t be used, for example “the mountain path is unusable”, the Japanese flatten both hands and cross their arms at the wrists, making an X.

800m is very important   Nostalgic Square 

A little while later the man silently rolled past me on his scooter, the engine strangely not running. I met him at the next town where he’d been waiting in the shade for me and gave me 200¥ to buy a drink from the vending machine. Yes I’m back in, to borrow a phrase from FourCornersOfJapan, convenient land. He wished me good luck and returned to his still quiet scooter.

To show a number greater than five in Japan, first spread the digits of one hand, like a westerner would to show the number 5. Any extra digits needed from the second hand are placed on the open palm of the first.

I drank the cold grape-flavoured fizzy drink as I walked along the now flat road. A car slowed beside me and the old man I’d just met waved from the back seat. He offered me a ride but wasn’t surprised when I said I only walk.

Extending one’s little finger signifies ‘girlfriend’, I think. But I’m not sure when to use it so I won’t.

Parking Park   Forest of the 21th Century 

At the “Parking Park” I was approached by a lady in a black t-shirt sporting an army-camouflaged New Balance Logo. She (Murokochi-san) and her husband (going by the nickname Don) are touring the country in their mini-van, which as she pointed out is their hotel, restaurant and tour bus. While talking over maps they gave me food and drink and we took some pictures, each happy to have met an interesting traveller(s).
IMurakochi-san and Don 

Word of the day: yu-ki = bound (as in I’m Wakkanai bound)

Distance today: 47 km

Trail Profile 2008-07-10 

2008-07-09 And down again

July 9th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Last night’s last arrival was the first riser this morning, and his tent was next to mine. For two hours starting not long after 2am I heard him stomp back and forth across the flattened earth, echoing through my tent as if we were on a metal plate. He cooked, he brushed his teeth, he gurgled. All with, as far as most people would consider at 2am, far too much noise. Plus it was raining a bit.

snow bank in a gully 

Eventually I got going too and though it was still lightly raining I could see much more of the park than I could yesterday. I could even see back to Tokachi-dake where I started 48 hours earlier. The path went up steeply then across a wide plateau dotted with snow-filled gullies and flat-toped mountains. At Hokkai-dake I turned west, thus avoiding the long circumnavigation of the valley below. It really looked spectacular but I could see most of it from where I was, and the rest was hidden in cloud. A view worth 3 days of hiking, but from the north you could make it a day trip.
Clouds rolling in 

Climbing Asahi itself wasn’t technically challenging, just a lot of effort. The snow was perfect for digging poles into and soon I was at the highest point on Hokkaido, 2,290m. Along with Aso on Kyushu and Ishizuchi on Shikoku I’ve only Fuji left to complete the conquering of all four islands’ peaks.
On top of Asahi-dake 

Asahi definitely reminds me of Tongariro but the furiously steaming vents here are much more exciting than the soft vapours I’ve seen back home. The descent was gritty and I slipped a few times, mostly because I was moving too fast. I did stop to talk to one guy going up who thought this was like Mt. Everest. He was by far the youngest I’ve seen in days. As Isoda, only 31 himself, said “all the hikers are senior“.
Sugatami-ike reflecting Asahi's thermal vents 
Misty forest 

From the top of the rope-way the plants closed in again but the water on the leaves was refreshing after the sunburn/windburn I’ve collected recently. The settlement at the bottom is just a few fancy hotels, a visitor center, camp-ground and youth hostel. Unfortunately my hiking guide is well out of date in terms of prices, and all the male dorms were full. I would have suggested that I’d be ok sharing the girls dorm, but my joke may not have been recognised like yesterday. I dropped in segments of what I’m doing, partly by asking how far to the next town, and they took pity on me. I got the overflow room, whose only window looks down on the dinning hall, and as soon as I dropped my stuff they brought up a pumpkin and onigiri meal. The outside onsen is awesome and I’ll be returning for another go soon. I’ll have to, this room is baking hot.

Word of the day: u-e ni = above

Update: a definite thumbs up to Daisetsu-zan Shirakaba-so Youth Hostel. The naturally-heated outdoor onsen was going all night and I enjoyed a solo dip in the dark. The drying room isn’t very efficient though.

Distance today: 15.5 km

Trail Profile 2008-07-09 

hiking  ·  movie  ·  onsen  ·  photo

2008-07-08 Between the clouds

July 8th, 2008 · 3 Comments

I’ve seen a lot of good scenery. I lived amongst it for 5 months last year and I’ve just discovered another truly awe-inspiring place.
It rained in the night and I wasn’t looking forward to the first few hours of pushing through wet bamboo and pine brush. Isoda cheered me up by giving me one of his three pairs of gloves. With them wrapped inside my outer liners (plastic bags) I set off and wasn’t at all surprised to be soaking wet in minutes. I was surprised however when one of four Japanese campers at the next site asked if we could all walk together. I agreed thinking they wanted to talk to me but maybe he was just worried about this poor foreigner all alone in the mist. We trudged along in silence and I slowly let them get away as I kept stopping for atmospheric photos of icy lakes and rocks.

Misty snow crossing 

The descent from Tomuraushi was arduous to say the least, massive boulders and no real path, every step a potential leg/face breaker. It was here the clouds first parted and I got a proper glimpse of what this national park is supposed to look like. A glacially-carved valley stretching away to the west, a river meandering through the meadow, snow banks still sitting in the gullies. Then it was gone.
other hikers 

Clouds kept interfering with the view all day but when they opened I was treated to a landscape that could rival the high Sierras of California, which is pretty much my favourite place in the world.

I’d been fighting my way through another stand of pine brush, glad to be able to duck under a lot of it, when I met a guy with a bag big enough to store one of my younger siblings. Two of the small ones. I had no idea bags were even made that big. He was a porter he said, and I wished him good luck with the trail behind me.

The porter 

I came a long way today, but never rushed it. By not taking much in the way of breaks I was able to appreciate the views when they were there and still reach my target. I even took the time to back-track and make some clear marks in the snow for others trying to cross a large area in the white-out conditions I was facing. The only official mark pointed at the wrong angle and it wasn’t far before everything was out of view.

The final approach to Hakuun-dake hinan-goya (mountain hut) is long and clearly seen from the hut’s deck. I saw the occupants watching me and when I finally got within speaking distance I started off with “where’s the hot bath?” and a smile. The hut warden looked very worried. He started to explain they this was a mountain hut, no hot water, so I explained back that I was joking.
12 hours of wet socks 

Word of the day: to-zan-do = mountain path

Distance today: 26 km

Trail Profile 2008-07-08 

2008-07-07 An audience

July 7th, 2008 · 1 Comment

I thought I’d be the first up the hill today but a bus-load of keen and young-at-heart hikers were dropped off at 4am and soon got going. I was 30mins behind them until I got confused at the first sign. One way was to a mountain I didn’t want, the other to one I didn’t know of. I was just back tracking in case I missed the real junction when Sato-san came up and assured me that turning right was the way to go. So we walked together until the trail split. He was off to Furano-dake for the third time, because he loves the flowers.

Sato-san goes to conquer the mountain 

I ascended into the clouds and stayed there all day. The tour group were moving slowly which gave me the chance to talk to a guy who had lived in Christchurch for a year. Soon he ushered me past and as I went he loudly told the others
“Make way! This person has come from Kyushu and is going to Soya”
That got everyone’s attention and they stood aside and wished me well. They caught up at the hut as I was leaving and another english speaker stopped me. He’d heard I was meeting Tania so he raised his little finger and asked
“All for your girlfriend yeah?”
I understand that the gesture just means girlfriend in Japanese, but where I grew up it’s used to insult someone’s manhood. I really suggest finger waving be only used when you’re from the same background.
“How long have you been gone?” the same man asked
“97 days today”
“Then your wife will have forgotten you”
And on that cheery note I headed into the mist again.
halfway up a mountain called Oputateshike 

It was now getting wetter, settling on anything facing east. I walked and walked as the visibility dropped to just 30m. Around 1pm I heard a tinkling from below and soon Tony and Mika came into view. British and Japanese I assumed. He asked if I was from Tokyo which seemed odd so I just said I was on a trip from Kyushu. Amazingly he’d heard of me! While searching online for Hokkaido hikes he’d found my website. Yay! Random people know me!

A few minutes later I heard a call from him up the hill,
“Hey Craig! Do you have a bear bell?”
“Do you want one?”
What he said next got lost in the wind. I imagine it was either “good luck” or “but there’s a bear just 10mins that way!”. I soon changed my mind and started whistling, then talking loudly as I pushed my way through head-high bamboo and especially as I crawled under trees into a mound of boulders that totally looked like bear country. After a while getting soaked by plants and bashing my legs on hidden logs the loud talking began to turn to profanity. If moma bear didn’t run away she’d at least cover baby bear’s ears.

White out   Mika and Tony 

Trail in the mist   Trail in the mist 
Trail in the mist 

I’d just got off that train of thought and onto another when I said out loud “I’d better stop now in case there’s someone coming”, and there was. He didn’t understand me though. A little while later I began again with “hello!” to no-one in particular but a bush asked me where I was. I raised a pole and yelled “here” and a man popped up out of his hidden tent. This trend continued when I finally found a camp spot and spoke excitedly about it to no-one in particular only to surprise another Japanese guy, Isoda, in a tent just over the slope.

It was a long day. 12.5 hours without sitting down. I’m totally exhausted and expecting another mammoth effort tomorrow.

Word of the day: ku-mo-ri-no = cloudy

Distance today: 28 km

Trail Profile 2008-07-07 

2008-07-06 Siesta

July 6th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I’m in the car park of Tokachi-dake Onsen roughly 1,000m above where I started today. I became a brief talking point when I met three girls leaving the onsen building and was polite enough to stand back and let them pass by saying “dozo” in the Japanese way. I was having trouble talking because of my water shortage but got through the basic introductions and left them saying “good times” as I ducked inside for a few drinks.

Lavendar at dawn 

From the graveyard I had camped beside it was only a few hundred meters to the Lavender Forest of Furano. A much better camping spot but the lavender wasn’t at its best yet. By 8am it was oppressively hot and I spent the next few hours staggering along the road side awaiting the next passing bus to create even the slightest breeze. At Bestom I stocked up on food for the five-day mountain trail ahead of me. Now my bag looks monstrous. Much like it did when Vortex called it “Ernie the Enormous”. I could not have walked this far this fast if I had been lugging so much food around.

I passed an amazing ice-cream cafe today and now passing it seems staggeringly dumb. It served a dessert it called “Santa Claus’ Beard” which consisted of half a melon (a cantaloup for Americans) with the seeds removed and replaced by a mountain of soft-serve ice-cream. If I can gather the ingredients in Wakkanai I think I have discovered my celebratory dinner!

Tokachi-dake area 

Onwards and upwards until I needed a rest. The mountains were hidden in haze until I was within about 10km of them. Even as just a line defining ground from sky I was impressed. So impressed that I lay down in the grass beside the road and took my first proper siesta in a long time. It was only half and hour but in those 30 mins I did as little as I could and as I came around and got ready to walk again I really felt like it was the best use of my time.
Dozing in the grass 

And then I came to this car park. I have wandered up the trail a bit, but there’s nowhere to put up a tent so I’ve anchored myself with big rocks on the tarmac. There are at least 5 others here. Two mini-vans arrived and have stayed silent, a third contains three Japanese of at least 50 years old. They’ve come down the hill today and gave me a water report. When I said I was leaving early they mentioned sunrise which I asked for in Japanese. It happens to be the name of a park I saw today. Unfortunately not in bloom yet, but two weeks from now it should be beautiful.

Word of the day: hinode = sunrise

p.s. Toughest conversation of the day: I asked the little old lady at the onsen how much it was, for one night.

“No, tonight I have a tent. But later I will return”
“???????” Much rapid fire Japanese that I didn’t understand, so she called in her daughter

“how much is one night?”
“No, tonight I have a tent. Maybe later I will return”
“Tonight we are full”
“Ahhh. But how much is one night?”

That went on far too long, but eventually I managed to get the price out of them, ¥10,000 for one, or ¥9,000 each for two.

Trail profile 2008-07-06 

Distance today: 43 km

hiking  ·  onsen  ·  photo

2008-07-05 Water alert

July 5th, 2008 · 1 Comment

On the PCT, if you’re carrying the Data Book and reading ahead, you are able to tell when a waterless stretch of trail is coming and make sure you’re carrying enough to get through. I don’t have that luxury here and thus I walked about 40km on less than 1.5L, and it was hot. Luckily for me some entrepreneurial ladies had set up a stall at a carpark near some scenic rapids and when I bought two bottles they also filled up another from their own supply. I got another top up about 29km later just before camping. It’s been a hot day and because I needed water I passed through the longest and hopefully last tunnel of this trip. Now I’m on the east of the range and hoping to be up the mountains by tomorrow night.

For a brief while I entertained the idea of skipping Daisetsu-zan National Park and going straight for Wakkanai. I could be there in 8 days I think, but I promised to wait for Tania so I’d have four days just sitting in sight of the finish line. That’d be pretty frustrating for sure. I’m just so keen to finish. To get out of this way of life and back into being a tourist.

Word of the day: ma-gu-ro = tuna

(yay! I found foil-packet tuna in Sapporo. It was a major part of my diet last year. Don’t like it as much as the chocolate bars dad sent me, but tonight felt very like camping on the PCT)

Distance today: 61 km

2008-07-04 One after another

July 4th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Multiple failures of fairly critical items have plagued my day. My shoes have been wearing out for a while. The lop-sided heels show I’ve been waking in pavement for too long and dragging my feet most of that time. I had to buy new headphones in Sapporo because my old iPod ones were only playing in one ear. My shirt, the one I was just telling Richard about as being tough, is ripping apart on the shoulder and my sewing skills are not up to patching it. The best link I have to the outside world, the N810 I am typing on right now, is starting to act weirdly and I don’t know if it’ll make it to the end. But the failure that really bothers me is the broken tent peg. I’m no ultra-light backpacker but I don’t carry a spare one so I’ll have to improvise my way across Hokkaido.

I left my last organised town stop later than planned because of the N810 problems. Richard and Masako have been great hosts and I learned a lot about getting a life beyond teaching. He’s made the transition into IT and knows the country and culture better than any non-Japanese I’ve met. Staying with them I got a day touring Sapporo and a day inside letting my feet relax before the final push. I needed that.

Walking was tough. Mentally tough. For the next two weeks I’ll be alone and trying to resist hitching my way to Wakkanai. Even at this late stage, with 12 weeks gone and only 2 to go, I want to give up. The weather certainly didn’t help. It was a single shade of grey until 4pm when a light drizzle became a downpour and a few lightning strikes had me considering finding a hotel. In the end I’ve tented near the road after failing to find the path to the hill-top observation tower a passing American JET recommended. I had a number of other options but I came here and broke my tent peg instead. Awesome.

Word of the day: Ko-wa-re-ta = broken

Distance today: 46 km