Well I made it safely to Japan and my travel was relatively uneventful. Columbus to Chicago, Chicago to Toyko (14 hrs), Toyko to Osaka, and at Osaka I had one of those guys with my name on a sign pick me up and take me to my guesthouse in Kyoto (about a 45 minute drive).
My guesthouse is quite comfortable with a living room with a PC and high speed intenet, a full kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.
I left at 10:30am and arrived at 7:10pm the following day. I didnt sleep well on the flights so I was exhausted. After having tea and a tray of Pringles and fudge striped cookies (intersting?) with the woman I am renting the guesthouse from, I was getting ready to head up to bed when my friend Marcus called. He said "get some sleep, we are meeting at 7:45 to go hiking tomorrow in Omi Nagaoka." Ok, cool. Some plans for my first day.
I met him and 2 of his friends at the Kyoto train station in the morning and we took about an hour and 10 minute ride to a remote little town with a really big mountain. Mount Ibuki stood towering in the distance and Marcus pointed and said "I think that´s what we´re climbing," I laughed...Marcus is really a funny guy. I knew they wouldnt do something like that to me my first day, after 26 hours of traveling and 6 hours of fitful sleep. We met 4 more friends at the Omi Nagaoka train station so in total there were 8 of us. 3 from Japan, 4 from the US, and 1 Canadian (Marcus is from Canada), and we headed to the base of the mountain.
This entire time I was still not believing that we were actually going to climb the mountain. Maybe hike around it, or go halfway up, or take a scenic ride...something other than scaling (literally) up a mountain. So we began walking...and walking and walking and walking. Straight up. Not weaving back and forth like when usually climbing up a large hill...no, STRAIGHT UP. The group quickly split into 3 groups, the super climbers, the middle of the pack, and then me and Tomo. I remember at one point we stopped at a sign written in Japanese, I asked Tomo what it said and he said it was the second stop. I asked how many stops there were total, praying the answer was 3...he said 9. I´ve never climbed a mountain before and had not at all prepared myself mentally for what was ahead of me. On top of everything else, my body was telling me that it was midnight and it was time to go to bed (there is a 13 hr time difference). So after climbing for about an hour we meet the group halfway up. They were taking a nice little break while waiting for us. I sat down and thats when I felt my legs tell me "there is absolutely no way you can walk one more step, Maggie." But the rest of the group jumped up ready for the second half of the climb, nicely rested. Tomo and I looked at each other, I´m sure thinking in our two different languages the very same thought..."we´ll see you guys on your way back down." But instead, we stood up too, and what I accomplished from there has become one of my proudest accomplishments to date.
Physically, my body was done. There was nothing left in me. Jetlag is bad enough when you are just out shopping, nevermind climbing a mountain. But something in me was saying you have to do this. So I kept going, literally willing each step, living one second at a time, afraid to look up to see how much farther. I hated Marcus, I hated Japan, I hated everything. I have never felt this type of physical pain and exhaustion, but for some reason I kept pushing through. As we got closer to the top it became much more difficult. We were climbing with our legs and arms now through large rocks and narrow trails. I was running on nothing but sheer willpower. Finally when I allowed myself to look up I saw my new friends (even though I hated them) smiling and cheering and taking pictures of us (hated them for that too).
I did it. My first day in Japan I climbed a mountain. At the top we ate lunch (which was heaven since all I had to eat in the past 2 days was airplane food and a breakfast bar that morning) let our legs relax for a bit and took in the sites. I was trying to play it cool on the outside, so my new friends didnt think I was a huge dork, but inside I was beaming with pride. I cannot ever remember a time in my life when I pushed through something so physically streanous by only using the strength of my mind, because there was no more strenght left in my body. Already this trip has started to make a difference...
So, what goes up must come down, right? I was a master at going down, but my knees and blisters the size of bowling balls disagree today. Brett, one of the other Americans told me to embrace my pain, so I kept repeating "I love my blisters, I love my blisters" and he was saying the same thing about his knee. We reached the bottom, and just sat for a bit. It took two and a half hours to go up and an hour to come back down.
Now the story could end there, but what´s a good story without some nudity?
After a day like that nothing sounds better than a hottub. So we headed to a traditional Japanese hot spring, called an Onsen which included indoor and outdoor natural baths. I had read about these baths before, and thought it was funny that such a modest society holds business retreats at these hot springs where you are bathing completely naked with strangers, or worse, coworkers. But, as they say, when in Rome...
So I put my own modesty aside, paid for my little towel and an hour in the Onsen, and proceeded to let my muscles relax in the soothing natural springs. You have to first wash yourself with soap in a shower, and then you are free to go into both the indoor and outdoor baths. One of the large indoor baths had some bags of herbs floating in it, and one of the outdoor baths had bubbles like a hottub. The other one outside was simply carved into a large rock. It was wonderful.
I´m guessing by now you are wondering if these baths are coed...sorry, nope. The women and men seperated and met back up in a quiet relaxation room (like a yoga room) where we just laid on the floor waiting for our taxis back to the train station.
I crashed on the train, and made my way back to my little home. I slept for 8 consecutive hours and am starting to feel like I am catching up. My knees and blisters are still killing me, but I just look at it as a reminder of my accomplishment on my first day in Japan.
Today I am going with Brett and his brother Mike to visit some temples and tonight we will meet Marcus and head to Osaka for dinner and a night on the town.
I am still trying to get my bearings and still can´t quite believe that this is just the first stop in 4 months of travel. I dont think I could have scripted a better first day.
On a side note, I feel like I should also address those people that might be reading this blog whom I havent met, that saw the little blurb in the Dispatch (all 4 of you). Originally I set this up to keep family and friends updated on whats happening in this hemisphere, but was excited about the opportunity to share my travel (and life) stories with Dispatch readers. So welcome, I hope you enjoy. And please remember "The thoughts and views expressed here are solely those of the author and in no way reflect those of the Columbus Dispatch"...blah, blah...my official disclaimer.
Ok, going to make some tea and begin the second day of the rest of my life...