So we traveled to the Nagano area (where the 1998 Winter Olympic Games were). These are some grand mountains. The weather is very warm and steamy, similar to the Carolinas and also the Pacific Northwest. In the mountains we spent one day in a village (Togakushi) making Sobe noodles, learning of the history of the area and religion, and exploring the village and shrine. That night we had a cultural food exchange. We (Americans) had to find food in the village to try and make an American dish. We made Chili Mac dish and then showed everyone the wonder that is the Smor. Then the Japanese split into two groups. One made sushi and the other made a chopped meat, veggie, and noodle dish. I think everything was licked clean. I think the Americans enjoy smors more than the Japanese.
They liked it but just didn’t eat too many.
The next morning we started the expedition. A 30km (about 18 miles) straight over and back down a peak (Mt. Kurohime). About 800m for the ascent (about 2500 ft). And the Japanese trails are straight up, large rocks to hop and climb over, and super muddy trails. The hardest hiking I’ve ever done. Still the air is so warm and humid. This first day was like hiking in North Caroline. The next two days were like hiking the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. We had rain and more rain. But it was so warm; I had my own weather within my rain gear. So I started hiking without my rain gear just to stay a little more comfortable.
Which was hard with another day of straight up this mountain. But this trail had a cliff they built switchbacks on. Well really it was not much of a difference from the straight up parts. But the Asian low clouds all round us was classic. We finally got to the Hut. Which we were able to use for cooking and our WEA class. But we then set up our tents on this large snow field that was still in this bowl. Everyone was wet and chilled. So the Japanese start having Sumo and Judo matches on the snow. Now we had some light physical activity with a bit of a moral booster. Laughter! Cheering! Fun! And of course the wonderful Japanese humor. But still we all went to bed pretty early. The next morning we have some that were sick and hardly got any sleep. But I slept like a rock. Although putting on wet clothes was tough. Everyone was working in slow mode. And still we hard out last hard day to finish. The finish line was the hot springs. We were lucky the Japanese students were passionate about expedition behavior. We American were worn out from the last two tough days (DJ was sick, Lisa, Chris and I were sore and hurting). So all the Japanese students decided to not bag any more peaks. We pretty much just hike back down to the town (Iwatoya), where the springs are. This was still not a walk in the park. Our packs are heavier from all of stuff being wet. We had to hike over snowfield. Some of which were over a stream. The crazy thing is some of the Japanese thought it was funny to try jumping through the snow and splashing into the water. In all my years and knowing risk management, this was totally loco in my book. The Japanese just don’t see risk management the way Americans do. Then we pretty uch hiked straight down the stream. Water over the edges of our boots, crawling through lower trees and bushes. And this was still the trail. Then we get to the most traumatic section of trail I’ve ever seen. The trail went over a cliff. I was praying that I would not slip. This was pure slippery mud (slippery than oil on a slip & slid). And of course the cliff wasn’t pretty. With the classic Asian low clouds, one could not see the bottom of the cliff. But you could hear the river down there, and it did not sound calm. I just knew if I slipped once I was not going to feel good at all (if I would be able to feel). This section of trail falls into my top three scariest moments of my life: the other two being stuck in a lightning storm on Tooth Ridge in 1994, and the time my sisters and I spun out on the interstate in the snow and we were looking straight at the concrete barrier. I was so happy to make it through this section of trail. At the bottom of the cliff by this wonderful loud river, I met one of the Rangers of the area. He gave us some sushi wrapped in leaves and then some English Toffee candy. He was definitely going old school with his wading boots and raggedy pack. We finally got to the town and enjoyed dropping our packs and having a relaxing time in the hot springs. A tradition we don’t utilized enough in the US. I had my first lesson of Japanese bathing, which I needed after those three tough days.
We then took the bus back to Togakushi where the hotel/restaurant that we made Sobe noodles. We had our final debrief and dinner. A good celebration. I tried hanging my wet stuff up to dry. But they were still wet in the morning. I just packed all my wet stuff in my backpack, then all my souvenirs and dry dirty clothes from the conference in my duffle bag, and then had a few things in my daypack (as my carry on). As all of the Japanese students took the bus back to Nara, us American had a 6-hour drive to Osaka to fly out of Kansei Airport. Did some last minute shopping and then few to LAX. I hate LAX. After all the fluppa, my 2 and half hour lay over, I had only 15-20 minute of sitting and relaxing before getting on my flight (which still had a small delay). Then onto Denver. On the 27th of June, I spent 26 to 27 hours of traveling all within the same day (the 27th). I hardly had any sleep on flights. Although I did sleep through my takeoff from LAX, I woke up when we were in air.
It took me only one day to adjust to the time over there, but 3 – 4 days to adjust back to the time difference.