Thursday, July 29, 2010

National Lampoon's Fuji Vacation

I'm typing this from the library at Camp Fuji, as John is on a train going back to Misawa and Annelise plays with Auntie Kim and Uncle Ron. This whole experience has been a little surreal, so I'm sorry if the story is a little garbled...

A few months ago my good friend Vanessa asked if John and I wanted to travel with her family to climb Mt Fuji over the summer. Of course I said yes and we started planning. John and I would climb one night while they watched Annelise and Vanessa and Marty would climb one night while we watched their boys. It sounded like a pretty good arrangement and we made reservations at Camp Fuji, a Marine base that is fairly close to the mountain. The original plans were for a trip from July 28 to August 2.

Then we found out that John had some work stuff going on and shortened our trip to come home on July 31. It was still 4 days and I thought we could have a lot of fun in that amount of time, climbing a mountain and going to a safari park nearby. I started 'training', working my way up to an hour on the treadmill at a good incline and pace, then also working up to half an hour or so at a higher incline and slower pace. I bought new hiking boots while we were in Indiana and ordered some pants online, plus I borrowed a hiking pack from my friend Laura.

Then some stuff happened at work and it turned out that we couldn't leave as early as we would have liked on the 28th and John would have to be back in Misawa on the 31st. My vacation was shortened again and I was getting upset. We decided to leave Annelise in Misawa with Kim and Ron, all of the travel required plus climbing a mountain started overwhelming me and I knew it would be better for all of us if she stayed behind; plus John and I haven't gone anywhere without her for more than a few hours since she was born and Momma needed a break from Baby.

So we finally left Misawa at 5:30 pm, after getting work stuff sorted out and buying a ton of energy drinks and protein bars and fighting with the computer to load more music on my iPod and being nervous about leaving my baby behind. What if she cried the whole time? What if she didn't cry at all?

We got to Tokyo Station just fine, we've made that trip several times and it's pretty easy. I had written down a bunch of info on exactly what trains I wanted to take from there to Camp Fuji, but Tokyo Station is pretty busy and trying to dodge Japanese people while looking for the line you want to take and then finding the board for your line to figure out what track you need takes some work. We found the line, read a board, and located our track, but then a train pulled up about 15 minutes before the one we wanted and just sat there. We went back and forth, 'Is this our train?' 'I don't know, I guess if it's still here a couple of minutes before we're supposed to leave then it is.' The trains that we've been on before all have electronic boards inside and out telling you what train it is and where the next stop is, in both Kanji and Romanji (Romanji being everything spelled out using our alphabet instead of using traditional Japanese symbols), but this one didn't have anything in Romanji and of course I didn't print out any Kanji to look for (oh look, a lesson!). We tried asking a station employee, but many Japanese people do not read Romanji and he couldn't help us. We finally decided that it was the correct train and hopped on, searching for two seats together.

Since I had done a little bit of my homework, I had written down every station that the train would stop at before we needed to change trains, that definitely helped a lot. I didn't, however, do that for our final train so we relied on the timetable that I had copied down to guage how much longer we had until our stop. We got to Gotemba Station at around 11:30pm and caught a cab, thankful that Marty and Vanessa had driven in earlier in the evening and checked us in, opened our room for us, and turned on the fans. We got to catch an awesome glimpse of Mount Fuji at night with lights going up the sides, a combination of lighting from the huts and stations and the headlamps of the climbers. We were so excited and too tired to be nervous.

The next morning was pretty gloomy, it was very cloudy and was raining. We putzed around our room until 11, then made our way across base to eat lunch and buy water and other supplies. This was when we realized that my coat was not waterproof (Oh, another lesson). Water-resistant, yes, waterproof, no. So we also bought some waterproofing spray and went back to the room. Marty and Vanessa showed up and invited us to go to the local outlet mall and fun was had. We bought Annelise her first Lego set and even got some ice cream from Coldstone Creamery! Of course, walking around for a couple of hours right before climbing a mountain probably wasn't the smartest idea ever... (yeah, there's another lesson)

We got back to the room and got everything loaded up, then Vanessa drove us to the train/bus station where we realized that we left all of our pamphlets/info in the room (wait, ANOTHER lesson!). We got ahold of Vanessa and she checked their info to tell us what bus stop we were looking for (really, I remember the most random, useless things but I couldn't remember Kawaguchiko Station??) and just then a bus pulled up that was going to the right place.

At this point I want to tell everyone how much I live in Japan. Not only is it beautiful and just amazing, the people are so friendly. When the bus driver realized that we didn't really know where we were going he called me up to the front and we had a broken conversation where I told him where we were going and he told me what time we'd get there. Would that really happen in other countries? Can't you see some annoyed Frenchman telling me to piss off and find my own way? (not that I have anything against France, but really I can't say Englishman since we've got one in the family now) Japanese people are just so friendly and I'm really going to miss that when we leave.

Ok, so we get to Kawaguchiko Sta and accidentally find the bus to Station 5 of the trail we wanted to hike. There are a number of trails up the mountain and they all start and end in different locations, but they all start with Station 5 and the summit is Station 10; we chose the Fujiyoshida trail because it is the one that John hiked last year and is considered the easiest and most popular trail. We got on the bus and as we started up the mountain I couldn't help but notice how much wind and rain there was.

At this point I had already had several minor freakouts about climbing, I'm not an athletic or outdoorsy person but I really wanted to do this. I went from one extreme of KNOWING that I wouldn't make it up the mountain and would embarass myself by having to tell everyone that I wussed out to the other extreme of KNOWING without a doubt that I could do anything I put my mind to, especially if John was along to support me. One of my freakouts occurred not long before we left the hotel room and John looked me in the eye and promised me that as long as I tried my best he'd get me up the mountaint, that we would take it one step at a time and every step would be together.

I've got this idiotic penchant for caring what people think about me and wanting to be seen as a very strong person who can do anything when I'm actually very nervous about trying new things and fitting in with new groups of people. I wanted to climb Mt Fuji to prove to myself that I could do it, but also because at that point I had told everyone I know that I was climbing it and didn't want to return to facebook with my tail between my legs. I put on all of my gear and was fully prepared to climb that damn mountain as we stepped off the bus. We went inside Station 5 to buy a hiking stick for me (which can also be used as a bowstaff, I'm just saying) and a rain slicker for each of us when we heard an announcement over the PA that we all had to leave the station because they were closing. We overheard one of the station workers tell a group of hikers that all of the other stations and huts were closed and it was too dangerous for us to climb right then. The announcer said that the last bus back down the mountain was outside and we had better get going. We put everything back where we found it and hopped on the bus that brought us up the mountain, prepared to go back to Kawaguchiko Station.

As more and more people squeezed onto the bus, it soon became apparent that we didn't have enough space for everyone and the bus driver tried calling for an extra bus, then tried calling the hotel at Station 5 to see if there were any vacancies, then called back demanding that another bus be sent because we were out of options. By that time the Station had closed up and there were about 15 people huddled outside our bus that wouldn't fit; they had to wait about an hour before their bus finally arrived. It took us a long time to get down the mountain, there was a lot of rain and the fog was pretty dense in places, but our bus driver just took his time and played it safe.

We all knew that there would be no buses or trains out of Kawaguchiko this late at night, but it was a big station and I was sure that we could make it work. Oh wait, the bus/train station was closed and we ended up huddled under one covered portion with 50 of our closest hiking buddies, including one odd guy wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and a fedora with Chuck Taylors and no pack or supplies of any kind. Including a group of 15 high school and college kids on a mission trip. Including people from about 6 other countries. And the bathrooms were closed so we had to trek a few blocks to a 24-hour 7-11 if we needed to pee. I'll admit to allowing myself to become a little dehydrated in order to not have to put on our packs and walk to the convenience store. They're kept pretty clean in Japan, but we had somehow claimed the one bench and I wasn't giving it up. I slept on and off for a few hours from 12:30 to about 4:30 while John kept watch so that no one tried to swipe anything, but the sleep I got was fitful and I was definitely not comfortable.

One upside to this train station adventure was that I met a sweet girl named Brooke, who is a very proud member of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Class of 2014. That's right, I managed to find an Aggie at Mount Fuji, it's really the whole reason I wore my Aggie hat on this trip. It made me a little sad that the fish this year are 10 years younger than we are, but it was also really cool to see her excitement over attending A&M. Brooke was a part of the mission trip group and told us that they made it up to Station 6 before they were told they should turn around, that the conditions sucked and that someone had died of hypothermia that evening.

So we rested, watched the other hikers with amusement, and wished for some liquor. They sell liquor at convenience stores here, but again we didn't feel like leaving our uncomfy little bench. Our dinner and breakfast consisted of power bars and crackers, snacks we had planned on eating on our hike. The station started coming alive around 5am, with locals showing up for a train and everyone starting to gather their things together. A worker finally opened up the doors to the rest of the station and many of us moved inside, where there were more benches and we wouldn't be in the way of the commuters. And yes, I was very grateful that I could finally use the restroom.

We were lucky enough to be able to leave pretty early, the first bus going back to Gotemba left around 7:10 and we were pretty tired of the train station by then. The clouds would clear up for a little while and then crowd back in, but the rain was gone and it had warmed up, it looked like the conditions for climbing the mountain were pretty good but John had to get back to Misawa so we said 'matane' to Mount Fuji, which means 'see you later' in Japanese.

The trip back to Gotemba was uneventful, I had a nice conversation with a Brit while we were on the bus and then we hopped a cab back to base; at that point we didn't feel like figuring out another bus schedule and $20 for a cab was well worth getting back to our room quickly. Just as we pulled up to base, the clouds moved away from Fuji and we had the most amazing view of the mountain. John had actually never seen the mountain, it was surrounded with clouds when he climbed last year, but I've seen it once from a plane. It was an amazing, and bittersweet, sight to see.

So we rested up and John caught a ride to the train station from Marty and Vanessa. I slept for a little longer and now I need lunch after spending so much time typing, but now it's time for the lessons we learned...

~Next time we travel, print out copies of the important interchanges and locations in actual Japanese instead of just Romanji.
~Always check everything to make sure it functions properly. Why did I assume that my winter coat was waterproof? Why didn't we bring any of John's Gore-Tex jackets (of which he has 3)?
~Rest before a big trip, that one's so obvious it makes me sad that we overlooked it.
~Check and double check that we have everything we need before we leave the room.
~God is in control. Always, everywhere. We get to make our own choices, but really everything is going to turn out according to God's plan no matter what. I believe that we were never meant to climb Fuji this year, that God gave us plenty of 'outs' but also plenty of chances to test ourselves. He wasn't testing me, I was testing my own resolve and abilities.
~Prayer really does help. The whole way through I kept praying for the strength of body, mind, and spirit to make it to the top. Then I added in that if we weren't meant to climb, I would need a definitive sign; all of the huts closing and the guy at the 5th Station warning us was sign enough for me and I'm very thankful for that.

John and I are both disappointed that we didn't get to climb this year, we were so ready. Ok, maybe I'm not actually physically ready, but I would have done it. What I mean is that we really connected on this trip, John saw that determination and strength in me that I'm always working for and committed himself to helping me get up the mountain. I saw that he really believed in me and it strengthened my resolve. Even though we didn't get to climb Mt Fuji, I think our marriage is stronger because of this adventure.

Another amazing thing is that not only were we both praying the whole way through this, we were praying for the same things, to be strong, to support each other, and to trust in God's plan. I didn't get to sing 'Climb Every Mountain' from the Sound of Music at the top of Mount Fuji this year, but I've been singing 'Jesus Loves Me, Yes I Know' and 'God Is in Control' in my head for the last day or so.

So we're going to try again next year. I'll be in better physical shape and more prepared for the actual climbing, God will still be in control, and you can bet that if I make it to the top I'm going to sing 'Climb Every Mountain' at the top of my lungs, even if I do hate that song!!


Jessica Kok said...

Next year!!

The Asker said...

BOWSTAFF! That cracked me up.

What an amazing adventure, even if you didn't make it up the mountain. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Linda said...

What a wonderful story of adventure and love! Thanks for sharing a bit of your unforgettable trip to Fuji-san. :)