I tried to tell Jake this fascinating, and it will have you in stitches, I guarantee, story as we were climbing Mount Asahidake, which will also have you in stitches, guaranteed.
However, due to the mountain's rather step incline and my inability to stop from slipping on rubble, despite the cloven hooved nature of my star sign (I have to check that, or take a survey - what do you think? Centaurs - cloven-hooved or not, or cloven-hoofed, of clofen-hooved, or you get the picture...), the story came out sounding like one of those lame stories that 40-something's tell very early 20 somethings (as in, was he even?) when they are trying amuse.
The 20 somethings, being brought up well, laugh or comment politely, and you swear, 'No, dammit, it's funny! If I wasn't struggling to tell you this story with an uneven pack on my back and a lifetime of fuss and rubble slipping under my feet, you'd see that! You'd get that! My timing would be perfect!'.
As it was, I'd broken one of the cardinal rules of going up very steep things. Do...not...talk. It makes no sense to talk. The deviants among you will know what I'm talking about when I mention my septum. It doesn't take me long to need to breathe long and laboriously through my mouth, a bit like the sound of Dennis Hopper and his ventilator in Blue Velvet.
I can climb steep things. I quite enjoy it, and I'm not too bad at it, but it usually sounds as if I am dying a whole lot sooner than other people when they are climbing steep things. I almost killed myself in a yoga lesson once when I tried to breathe consistently through my nose instead of my mouth. The teacher gave me this look that said, not for you, mouth breather, these exercises; not for the peace and tranquility invoked through steady nostril inhalation and exhalation. You'll have to reach that plateau by other means, get to the other side some other way. Life is tough for some, but even tougher for others, grasshopper. I was grateful for his wisdom.
So, before I left on my epic eleven day journey I had wandered into a sports store which is adjacent to the health club I attend. There I made two of the BEST PURCHASES EVER! One was a very large quick-drying towel from Adidas. I have the smaller version, and couldn't see the point. After swimming, the small version sops up the moisture quickly and efficiently but it's not satisfactory to just 'sop up'. You know, you want a towel you can 'wrap around', and maybe not snuggle into, but 'hide behind'. This towel was that and more. It was 'lightweight'. I don't know where this profusion of quotation marks has come from, but every time an adjective pops into my head so do they, indicating a heavily accented (in piano and pronunciation terms) piece of writing. In my mind, at least.
The lightweight aspect of the towel was brilliant though, in addition to being quick-drying and the size. Easily folded, dried quickly, not heavy, covered ALL the lumps and bumps. What more could you want? The other wonderful purchase was a thing that you click to another thing. You know, if you put this link on another link on your bag then you could link something else to it, like a water bottle in a holder that also had a link. Now, that would be a bit silly. Why not link the water bottle holder with a link to the pre-existing link? Good thinking. I fully concur.
Well, you can see that the link-thingy was a bit of a 'what if' purchase, not that I knew what that 'what if' was going to be, considering that my backpack already had a link, as did my water-bottle holder. 'What if' happened 2 days into the journey though, which is not far into it at all. I travel with a very small backpack, a daypack I guess. But I also bring my monstrous handbag because you like some things to be handy. Unfortunately it also means that it gets heavy because you just shove everything, like books, into it. I always end up with a third bag, too, for some reason, like I'm never truly comfortable unless I resemble a shuffly old bag lady who's looking for her slippers even though they're not so firmly slopping on and off her feet. It requires three bags, preferably plastic, at all times, to do this.
So, there I was in Wakinosawa, having just got instructions from the bus driver on the way to the youth hostel, crossing the bridge over a very green body of water, looking out at the sea, marvelling at the sheer beauty of it all and my grand, bold adventurousness, when snap! The damn, fucking handle of the big, monstrous handbag broke. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck is what I think I said. Probably quite loudly.
But there dangling off my backpack was the rainbow-petrol-coloured link(anyone who played classical guitar and had to use a foot stand [?] which was petrol coloured underneath, the steel that is, will know what I'm talking about), which was linking another link to another link. Well, it wasn't so much the missing link as the unnecessary one, but in another context, how necessary it could be! I linked that link through the zipper of my handbag because the leather had totally worn through on the bag, but not the huge round link of the handle/strap. Phew, if I had a few more technical terms, I'm sure you'd understand what I'm on about. I'll put a photo up tomorrow.
Now, the bag has two zippers, too, they meet in the middle, or ideally they do, before you start to tell me that my invention was and is highly impractical (if you can understand it). It worked! I was on the road again! I just had to remember to use only one of the zips, and to not overload my gorgeous retro monster handbag so much. From then on in it carried clothes clothes and only clothes, and the occasional guide book. and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (well, he'd always wanted to see Japan from a handbag's perspective).
So, you can imagine the mirth and hilarity that was potentially available in that story for Jake to dwell upon. Except, no, really, what do you take me for? I might torture my few blog readers with such tedium, but Jake just wasn't ready for it. I mean, as stated above, he might not even have hit the second (third?) decade yet and he came from the big island in Hawai'i. Such minutiae was of no interest to him. The best was yet to come.
Back in my hometown, six days before I was climbing the mountain with Jake, or maybe even a few days before that, I wandered down an aisle in the sports store that is adjacent to my health club and I saw a lot of bells. As said. But we're into refrains around here. Reiteration. Rhythm and repetition. Quite big bells, but not huge bells, kind of like miniature cow bells. They were in the walking section and they looked cute and I like cow bells quite a lot, especially in music, so I did consider buying one.
At the same time I shook my head with a fuzzy headed kind of bewilderment (my fellow shoppers thought I was trying to get pool water out of my ear) thinking how if there was a space where silence gathered then the Japanese had to fill it with noise. If you ever come here, you will probably understand what I mean. Tour buses don't just let you sit back in your seat to enjoy the scenery - every thing needs to be pointed out and then small anecdotes about the guide and the driver and so on have to be discussed, dissected and explored, and before you know it, eight hours of incessant chatter has passed. Probably this happens on English speaking tours, too, but then, I understand those.
At temples the pilgrims usually have some form of bell or jingly tinkily thing, and mobile phone gee-gaws usually make noise, as do advertisers and politicians and right-winged groups and born-again Christians touring the cities in cars decked out with speakers that would have Spinal Tap green with envy. So, I thought to myself, why do the Japanese always announce themselves? Wouldn't there be certain situations where that would be dangerous? Such as if a serial killer were lying (Lord help me with that word! The little blue book of grammar says lying is correct) in wait for prey along a lonesome, isolated hiking path (having spotted his prey, or rather heard them, from a long way off).
Anyway, I put the thought well out of my mind and the bells too. Then I set off on my adventure. Reading up on Asahidake as it came closer to the time to reach both the town of Asahikawa and the mountain itself, one phrase, which I had blithely skipped over before, resonated. "The visitors' centre can provide you with all your needs including bells to scare off the bears". Bears. Things with claws and snarly, grnarly, growly teeth and the ability to rip you into shreds and then toss your arm about in its mouth as if it were a triumphantly caught trout now having the very life beaten out of it. Of course my arm would be lifeless, but no doubt my limbless shoulder would be spouting a veritable fountain of blood, like some bit (hardy-har-har) player in South Park.
Kangaroos are another story. Yes, yes, I know they can be dangerous and really, I wouldn't be approaching one of those Old Man kangaroos - the red ones can get to a decent size, but usually the ones I see are the grey variety and they just bound away. That's if you see them. You'd have to be pretty damn close for one to be aggressive. Or, it might be disorientated by disease, as quite a few have been over the years.
Bears. What the fuck did I know about bears or any other ferocious animal? That's what those bells were for. Jake wasn't much help. He was from Hawai'i. The guy at the entrance of the cable car, once we'd reached the halfway point, gave a helpful explanation of the area, all in Japanese, pointing out the tracks you could likely get lost on, and the track where a bear was likely lurking.
Every year a bear chases a Japanese somewhere. I'm not sure if they actually get attacked and die, though, but you know, the possibility is there. This has been a summer of animals, actually. I think I've seen four snakes locally, after not having seen any for the four years that I have been here this time around, though apparently they are not poisonous, but the Japanese show a healthy fascination/nervousness around them, so I'm not sure. So, if the snakes were showing themselves, then surely the bears were going to too. Especially to non-bell wearing foreigners.
Once the group had left I asked the guy a few questions, and we got a mix of Japanese and English, which was fine. Hiking season coincides with mating season, so the bears really do not want to be bothered, but they are more likely to be bothered by bell-less hikers. The advice given in the "You are in Bear Country" pamphlet is Bring Bear Bell! Make Noise! Bear spray may be effective (but not guaranteed). When you encounter a bear, Stay calm & Back away slowly. Never Run!! Then there was another pamphlet telling you to whistle or sing or talk loudly if you didn't have a bell, and that bears were likely to be near streams (not on the top of the mountain) and what to do if one actually did attack you, was on top of you (going beyond the play dead stage). Fight back, I think, was the advice at this point.
That's what those cow bells were for in that aisle in the sports store I repeat to myself now, and then as I tried to get the idea across to Jake. Those wacky Japanese. Foolish me. Well, Jake hadn't quite got my humour yet, though he was humouring me, so I can see why he wasn't rolling down the mountain with laughter, that and the fact I never got to the punchline.
I have to tell you, though, that as I walked along the Oirase Stream in Oirase Gorge, Towada, wherever, in Tohoku, about five days after this adventure, that I whistled, and I whistled loudly, and consistently and tunelessly. I inhale when I whistle. That probably has something to do with my deviated septum, too. But anyway, it got so I couldn't stop, but not a bear did I see. Nor another person. I think they were all avoiding me. Oh, hear that? That's the mad whistler. And she's a foreigner. Best we just hide behind this tree until she's gone. Between her and the bears there just ain't no fun left in walking this trail no more. But that's another story for another post (creatively entitled, 'Day Ten').
The Japanese are more cautious about many things than most, though they seem to have got more relaxed over the years. Asahidake is a volcanic mountain. Sometimes you can't climb it. It is slippery. You can get lost. There are bears. So, even though I have this blind and gullible faith, the Australian sense of "she'll be right" which usually tides me over in situations in which others are perhaps a little more leery, a little more wary, it was with more than a touch of envy that I greeted my fellow hikers (those who weren't hiding behind trees)with their clinking-clanking cow bells (bear bells... miniature cow bells, remember) and their shiny walking poles which folded up neatly into their backpacks. Oh, those poles.
That is how Jake will remember me. The mouth breather. The lady who took two hours to come down a mountain it took her an hour to climb. The pole coveter. The teller of inane stories about bear bells. We made the summit before I even got to the bit about what a good purchase my large, lightweight towel was, and you know how it is, especially when you're sliding down steep declines of volcanic rubble, you just gotta let it go, baby, you just gotta go with the flow (and pretend that you have a choice in the matter!).