#43 – KOBUSHI-DAKE
Strategy was required.
I hit the pharmacy early afternoon.
At a time I assumed custom would be at low ebb.
I prowled the aisles. Shampoo, nappies, razors, doctor’s masks.
“Nope,” I couldn’t do it, the anxiety of the moment overwhelmed me.
I walked out, convinced myself I would be fine, unlocked the bicycle with a clack and swung a leg over my metallic blue steed…then paused.
No. That wouldn’t do. I had to get what I came for.
I re-entered the premises.
The more I wandered the aisles, the more I stood out. This was the domain of housewives who scanned the aisles for toe spreaders and nose narrowers. Or where pensioners haggled over the discounts on lurid coloured hair tints and bladder blocker pills. Here salaryman hunted hangover cures and genital lotions. I, the gaunt, bearded, foreign, mountain climbing devil, spotted snooping through the women’s’ section, was well out of my element. I stood out like a sore thumb, though sore toes were the reason I had been driven there in desperation.
Bloody Americans. I blame them.
“Hey, Willie, you know the best way to stop blisters?” an ex-U.S. Army, Afghan vet, kiddie teaching colleague barked at me in the weeks before I departed work for the hills.
“No. How?” I asked. I mean, I knew one way, from days down on the farm, crowbarring fence post holes through clay. My hands’d blister up and Uncle Freddie, always fast to offer advice, would say, “Piss on ‘em, lad. That’ll toughen your skin up.”
I have to admit I never did try. But I already stunk in the hills, adding urine to the fragrances wafting off my body after a clutch of showerless days would probably have had me banned from mountains the length of the archipelago. And clad with my first pair of Gore-tex lined boots, I imagined pissing inside them would sort of defeat the purpose.
“Nylons,” the ex-soldier jabbed his cigarette at me between index and middle finger like it was a smoking 9mm and stared down the length of his long, sharp nose, from beneath dark arching eyebrows.
“Nylons? You mean stockings?”
“Yeah man,” he sucked from a can of black coffee. “My old sergeant swore by them. He said nylons are the best way to stop the blisters caused by new boots. ‘Wear ‘em under your socks. They reduce friction.’ He told us. ‘But,’ he said, ‘If any of you motherfuckers start addin’ lipstick and mascara there’ll be hell to pay.’ ”
And there they were. Rows of them. All those sexy Japanese legs on the packs brought a tear to my eye. Not a bruised shin or leathery knee cap amongst them.
Japanese feet were small. Women’s especially. Only wanting to do it once I had to get it right the first time. Why were there so many? Why was it so complicated? I was in a pharmacy, not a frigging boudoir!
“Bloody hell, where’s the size on these things?” I needed to summon some help. It had to be done. An older lady was better than a younger one. Definitely don’t ask a bloke. There was a middle aged woman stacking the shelves in the next aisle, bespectacled, thick, wavy short hair.
I politely sumimasened her over to my aisle.
“Um,” struggling for words I waggled my finger at the selection before us and asked for the biggest ones.
“Suto-kin-gu-zu?” she looked at me. I couldn’t hold her gaze.
“Hai. Yes, stockings. Tozan, ne. Ashi itai dakara.” I tried to explain to her that hiking had made my feet sore. “Atarashi boo-tsu,” and pointed at my new boots.
Somehow she understood, maybe.
“Hai, dozo,” she smiled, handing me a pack of four pairs, probably pinning me as a novice drag queen who didn’t have the balls to buy his own get up.
“Ah! Arigato,” I smiled at her and quickly went for the counter, bought them and got out of there.
A window of three relatively good days opened in mid-September and I departed hastily for the hills. Daibosatsu-dake, my target after Kumotori, downgraded to day hike status, I instead headed around to the western reaches of the Chichibus for a traverse of Kobushi-dake, Kinpu-san and Mizugaki.
Above the famous Nishi-zawa, I struggled up a steep trail snaking high into mountains cloaked with scrubby rhododendron and thin scatty pine. One step eked out after another, my old faithful Asahi-dake pace proving difficult to resurrect. A dry mist hung low on the mountainside and slunk through the treetops.
At a trail junction I turned west towards Kobushi and by nightfall was safely holed up in a charming ramshackle hut of the same name, mere metres below the summit. The hosiery had worked wonders. Old blisters hurt but nothing compared to the struggles of the previous few forays into the hills.
After dinner, I stepped outside to sample the night air. Standing beneath a clear sky dotted with glinting stars I shuddered briefly as autumn’s first chill crept around my shoulders. Summer was finally on the wane, the seasons were turning, at least up in the highlands, and as welcome as the cooler conditions would be, they ignited my feeling of urgency. I exhaled and watched a cloud of breath vanish in the night before my eyes.
“Just give me the time and energy to get over the Alps,” I whispered silently to the heavens.
Early the following day a strong, chilly wind whistled over the top of Kobushi-dake, carrying with it waves of cloud that, despite the blue sky directly overhead, never quite dropped low enough for me to capture a glimpse of Fuji-san standing proudly out to the south.
That made it three from three; Ryogami, Kumotori and Kobushi: a hat trick of cloud snaffled, viewless Chichibu Mountains. I could only hope Kinpu-san, standing some hundred metres higher and two thirds of a day’s hike to the south west would provide better vistas that afternoon…