[Started August 12]
It's been a rough couple of days. Honestly, if I'd gotten more sleep or given myself a day to rest, I might have taken things a bit more lightly, but as things were, I think I'm not much cut out for this sort of travel.
The climb to the top of Kiri ga Mine [the hill I mentioned climbing in my last article about Nagano] was grueling, and I cried a bit when I finally reached the top. Dehydrated and exhausted, I never wanted to see another slope, but since it was fairly early and I'd only gone about 20 km horizontally, I passed the first campsite and went on to look for a more primitive site about 5 km on.
This meant climbing more hills. Normally they wouldn't be that bad, but I was utterly worn out. I stopped at the tourist-trap shopping mall and got water and tea, then kept going. I walked up the hills, then rode down, then walked up. I missed the turn the first time, then realized I wasn't to turn off the highway, but needed to actually go under the highway to meet up with a hiking route marked on my map. I jumped off the road and waded through shoulder-high grasses for a while until they cleared and opened up to reveal a visitor center. I filled my water bottle then moved on. The campsite was at the end of a long, very long gravel path. There were three buildings behind a wire fence, and I saw no one. Fearing the worst and yet still hoping, I searched for any sign of a caretaker; finally I saw a sign reading, in Japanese, "This campsite is closed at this time. Please use another campsite."
I broke down here, just completely overwhelmed by what happened that day. It really wasn't far to the previous campsite, maybe another 30 minutes or so. But I couldn't stand it anymore. I considered staying in the large, open field across from the three buildings that had obviously been used for camping before, but I'm a bit timid to do something like that without provocation. So, uncertain what to do and not really interested in doing anything, I sat there, trying to look pleasant when hikers coming from a nearby meadow path passed by.
Then a savior of sorts came along on his 250cc Yamaha Virago. Actually, "catalyst" is a better word, I guess. He didn't register me at first, but when he got off his bike and looked at the sign on the entrance to the open-field campsite and said "What, it looks like it's closed," I thought he was talking to me. In fact, though, he was talking to himself.
I talk to myself, but I'm usually fairly discreet about it and never knowingly do it in front of other people. I'm not of the "first sign of madness" mindset, as I've done it for 32 even years and have yet to go (completely) insane. It seems a bit more socially acceptable here than in the US, and I have several Japanese co-workers who talk to themselves publicly, especially when busy (which is nearly all the time). I recently read somewhere (I'm afraid my source is somewhere in the ether) that people who talk to themselves are more likely to be able to think through things more thoroughly (I'll let the alliteration stand), though again I am proof against that. In any case, I think it is more a sign of loneliness, or aloneness, than of madness.
Still, it is a bit unsettling to see, I know, and my biker friend was having a much more involved conversation than I am accustomed to, and at a louder than conversational volume. Finally he noticed me, and we complained to each other about the closing of the site. He said he'd been there many times, and that he really liked the place. Then, after a bit of public consultation with himself, he decided to stay anyway.
He was obviously a drinker, with rotting teeth that came to points and a generally dirty appearance (though of course I wasn't exactly spotless after three days without a shower), but he was also obviously a kind and friendly person who had a bit of trouble relating to "normal" people. Very often the two go together.
As I said, he was a catalyst, and I decided, after some quiet and private thought, to follow him. We agreed that threatening clouds encircling the heads of Yatsugatake were a good excuse in case police came out. We avoided much conversation as we pitched tents and prepared our separate dinners. When dinner was ready, though, he invited me over for conversation and some extra food--he guessed rightly that I wasn't able to carry much of a variety of foods on my bike. I declined until he offered some cooked ham--protein sounded pretty good at that point, and it was something I had very little of.
Our conversation was almost entirely in Japanese--occasionally he groped for an English word to explain a Japanese word I didn't understand. Because of this I'm not completely sure of the accuracy of my interpretation. But we talked a bit about camping and the growing number of roads in Nagano after the Olympics, and how difficult it is to get away from city lights in Japan. Even where we were, 1400 meters about sea level, away from even the small population of visitors to the mountains, mostly concentrated in a small area, even there the lights of Suwa city below lit up the western horizon. It was difficult to see the Milky Way, such a brilliant feature on dark nights on Mt. Shasta or in the boonies in Kansas.
We talked about languages, then his hobby, listening to shortwave radio for broadcasts from North Korea by any Japanese abductees. As I said, sometimes I didn't fully understand the conversation, and here is where it became most difficult to follow. From what I understood, abductees have made shortwave logs of their daily lives, and there are volunteers who listen at certain times of the day for these logs and register the results to some website.
He later brought out his liquor, saying one of the reasons he came to the camp was to drink. Can't say that I blame him, but alcohol is terrible for any physical activity and I haven't been much interested in it since the beginning of my trip. I tried a shot, though, and it was good--it had a spicy flavor, as if made from jalapenos, a new flavor in liquor for me.
Suddenly a deer barked nearby, and my companion told me deer had increased in the area. He said he'd been there in fall when the bucks' antlers begin to itch, and at one point had been woken up by the startling sound of antlers being scratched against a fence near his head. He then started talking about an insect, or animal--what it was I didn't understand at first. But as he continued, talking about deer's hooves and eggs dropped on the ground, I figured out he was talking about ticks and Lyme disease. He suggested that it might have been fear of Lyme disease that had closed the campgrounds. I had first seen a tick earlier in Yatsugatake, then another in this field as I was putting my bike away. Sitting in my shorts and flip-flops, I suddenly became very nervous and checked everywhere for the stupid things. I didn't find any, but the thought disturbed me until I left the next day.
I slept poorly. I blame the liquor, though I didn't drink much. I set up for breakfast. Hikers passed by, and I noticed one in particular who seemed to be well equipped, a veteran hiker. He sat on a rock nearby but behind me, and I forgot about him: I had more important matters to consider. My camp espresso machine, exactly like one I used on my trip from California to Kansas a couple of years ago, had broken, and after the frustrating day before I had a short fuse and threw a fit as well as the espresso maker. I'm sure I looked like a buffoon to the park ranger, the man who was sitting on the rock behind me. He came over after I'd settled down to trying to light my stove. He asked a few questions, was fairly friendly, but I sensed he was holding something back. He asked me a couple of times how long I planned to be in the area, then we sat in silence for a while. He wished me luck and walked off. Just before I left, my friend from the night before woke up and poked his head out to say goodbye.
I was uneasy about the whole deal, ticks, and trespassing, and all, but when I came by around noon a couple of days later, there was a camper who had actually taken down the fence and parked their car in the camp site, and they seemed to have had no problems.
[End of my short journal]
That was longer than I expected, so I'm afraid there will be a part four. The next one will have pictures!