A swell of emotion came up to strangle me. My throat felt tight and constricted. I was in the middle of a 5k run. This has been happening to me, lately. I’ve been supressing stress and anxiety and letting it build too long without release and it comes up unexpectedly during exercise.
I felt like I might cry. I took a deep breath and on the inhale I said to myself, “Its ok. Whatever happens here is totally fine.” A gnat hit the back of my throat and bounced down my gullet. I gagged, “including bug eating,” I added.
I felt proud that I didn’t even break stride while facing such adversity as bugs hurtling themselves down my throat. That’s when it started to rain.
“Man, World, you really like to challenge me, don’t you?”
This catapulted me back to Mount Kanetsukido.
My husband, Adam, and I love to hike. We even met on a hike. Mt. Kanetsukido was our first real hike in Japan, and it rained the entire way up.
A few weeks ago, we’d hiked along the cliffs of the Izu Penninsula, but that was more of a path. It was paved. We’d passed women wearing skirts and kitten heels.
Not only did the trail to the top of Mt. Kanetsukido go through some serious forest (one might even call it a jungle), but it was steep and there was a summit. Also, there were lots of spiders.
On our way out that morning, we stood on the platform for the train and watched it pour. We were on the wrong platform because we took the wrong bus, so I was feeling anxious that our first hike wasn’t going so well.
Our destination station wasn’t equipped with transit card readers and we had to buy paper tickets. The rest of the trip went smoothly, though, and the rain had stopped by the time we’d arrived.
Our first hiking stop was a pond with a nearby shelter. We’d walked to a grocery store between the station and the pond and sat in the shelter to eat our snacks. The pond was one of the ugliest and murkiest that I’ve ever seen. A fence circled it and multiple signs warned us not to hang out, fish, and for the love of god, don’t swim. There was a pretty nice new bathroom nearby, though.
Parts of Japan in the summer feel straight up like the Amazon jungle. The heat and humidity will totally disrespect your personal boundaries. The bugs and frogs are so loud that they can cause hearing damage.
Shortly after we left the lake, it started sprinkling again. The forest was dense enough that we got lots of tree cover as we ascended. The way up was immediately steep and dark and spider webs seemed to cross the path every few meters. I was in front, so… yeah.
I had to stop and rest a couple of times on the final set of stairs to the summit. My glutes hurt for days afterwards. I was spurred on by the steady rain that was turning into a downpour. We collapsed in the shelter at the top. In it, three Japanese guys were listening to a baseball game on a transistor radio while they also waited out the rain.
We sat for about an hour and watched the rain, clouds, and mist float by. We conversed with the men using broken Japanese (us) and broken English (them). They told us all about the amazing things we would be seeing if we weren’t socked in by clouds.
I was uncomfortable spending the whole hike wet, of course, but I also felt like the water was renewing, rejuvenating. Mountain mist is magic. Mountain rainwater is medicine.
We descended into a valley and continued towards a temple along a path that was lined with 500 carved Buddha statues. At the first statue, my foot came out from under me like I was standing on ice. I told Adam to watch his footing. A few meters later, his foot slid out from under him creating a slick mud track. He told me to watch my footing.
The descent was eerily dark and the insects were raging even though it was shortly after 4pm, but we got out of there without a major fall. The Buddhas seemed unimpressed, but then again, they were made of rock.
As for me, I loved it. Since I’ve been in Japan, I’ve been in survival mode. Although we live in the countryside here, this was my first chance to be fully in the woods. There was so much about that trip that was rough—the rain, the incline, the spiders, the eerie darkness in the middle of the day—but it opened me up in a way that I haven’t been open since coming to here. Somehow, being challenged in nature helped me drop my guard.
Remembering this on my run opened me up again, and I didn’t cry. I felt joy.