Jogging Haiku 29: Heaven and Hell

Sunrise to sunset
A day spent mountain jogging,
Mostly heavenly.

(56km If you don't want to read the account, you can also check this photo gallery)

Well, I did it. I have never felt so happy seeing the black sandbags at the end of the trail to Takarazuka as this time. Then again, it was the first time I did the All-Mountain Rokko trail in its entirety.

I left home around 5:30 to catch my train. The sky was a pre-sunrise deep blue without a single cloud, and the temperatures were cool. Somewhere around Nishinomiya or Ashiya the sun rose, illuminating the buildings with a golden hue. It was going to be a beautiful day. I arrived at JR Suma, changed to Hanshin and one station later, here I was, at Sumaurakouen station, the start of the trail. A few other hikers were there two, and after a quick snap, off I was.

On the first climb I met a couple of gentlemen who were doing the same course, but on two days, resting at the Maya lodge. I will include this in my Kansai Scene article as an option I think, although I wouldn't want to stop overnight personally; it's as much a matter of ego (do it in one day, chump, you're under 40!), as a matter that after doing the worst part, legs will be sore the next day. But if I can still hike as much as them where I'm in my 60's, I'll be happy. Good on them to be still as genki.

The first hill was finished rather quickly, which led me to the second hill, which starts with a looooonnnngggg flight of stairs. Soon after I passed a hiker, took a shot from the top, and then arrived in the Suma alps, one of the most scenic place on course. Throughout the course, memories of my Trailwalker training with Yuriko, Akemi and Carsten flooded back in my mind. As nice as the alps are, they're nicer when shared with good friends.

When I was almost at the bottom of the hill, three trail runners gained on me. By their looks (flat stomachs) I deduced they were much quicker than I. We stayed together for a kilometer or two, and then lost them when we started climbing the next hill. By their pace, I would guess they finished the course in 8 or 9 hours. At the top of the hill, there is a nice Inari shrine, complete with fox deities and red torii gates. The Higashiyama Sanjurokumine race finishes at the Head Inari shrine, so passing one was special for me. After a few more snaps, off I was. The following few kilometers are all on asphalt in a Kobe suburb (or is it in Kobe city, I'm unsure). While a little less interesting, it does have one of the only convenient store on trail, and I picked two rice balls, two bottles of water and one box of almond chocolate, my favorite snack while outdoors.

And I needed the energy for the next mountain, Kikusui. It is the steepest climb, with some high steps and rocks to navigate. I passed an older lady who told me gambatte (hang in there), and I replied the same. It's amazing to see all the retirees on trail in Japan, where few young people enjoy the outdoors. I guess with fewer cars around, people stay fit longer. But still, my hat off to those genki golden-agers.

I finally reached the top, and in somewhat better shape than I expected. It was still tough, but with no one to complain to, I focused on the job at hand. I ate some food at the top, gave my legs a little break, and off I was again. After the downhill, where I passed another man attempting the whole trail, and a suspension bridge across a road, it was time for another long climb, to Futatabi. I felt pretty good climbing, even I was starting to feel a little tired. Soyjoy bars and energy drinks gave me a boost, and I reached the top not long after.

That part of the trail reminded me of Chris Lynch, with whom I had hiked this part of the trail when he crossed the Japan archipelago on foot a few years ago. Not far after the summit there is a temple with a statue of Kobo Daishi, the famous monk who hiked all over Japan, creating multiple pilgrimage routes that are still popular nowadays. I got some water at a machine nearby, ate a Soyjoy bar, and off I was on the last major, and I do mean major, climb of the trail.

The climb to Mt. Maya is long and at times arduous. What makes it even demoralizing are the number of descents along the way. Of course going down feels good on the legs, giving the climbing muscle a break. But every time you go down, it means you have to go up again. But in general, my progress was pretty good, with only one of two crazy runners passing me. I was quite elated when I reached the top, even more so when I looked at the time, 12:30! As an objective I wanted to be there by 14:00 to make sure I'd be doing most of the remaining course in daylight (I had a flashlight just in case). To see the time really gave me a confidence boost. I took the time to eat my last rice ball, some choco almonds and a cola jelly (what? no caffeine?).

After this feeding, off on trail I was again. The trail to the peak of Mt. Rokko is not so difficult. It goes mostly up, but usually it isn't very steep. On top of that, there are many distracting sights, like golf course, hotels, day trippers, mouton restaurants and more, as well as a small convenient store where beer tempted me, but a tangerine ice bar made it's way to my stomach. I finally reached the peak, took some pictures, had a last Soyjoy, and back to trail I went.

By then, my feet were starting to hurt a fair bit. I tried tying my shoes with different levels of tightness, but nothing would do, I would just have to endure. Some of the climbs, short as they were, really took the breath out of me at times. Yet, I was surprised to be able to job on all gentle descents and flats. Having never run for so long, I was a little amazed at myself. At some point, a man came rushing in the opposite direction, and he was FAST! But he was even faster some time later when he came down behind me! I think I might have seen him earlier in the day, so I figure that he did the whole course, then decided he needed to run some more, so he backtracked! I doubt I'll ever be as energetic as he, but it gave a boost to try to push a little harder. Later, as I was taking some pictures of conifers, another trail runner passed me, although more slowly than the first.

As I don't remember the trail so well, numerous times I thought I was really near the end, yet other little uphills kept coming. My toes especially were bothering me, and progress was at times difficult. But finally I saw the black sandbags, indicating I was near the end of the mountain trail. I passed a group of hikers who were pretty surprised to see me jogging (shuffling would be more appropriate). I stopped by the nearby temple, gave thanks for keeping me safe, and off I was for the worst part of the trail, the descent on asphalt to Takarazuka station. The roads are often quite steep, and with my painful toes, I couldn't jog. It did hurt like hell. But the slope became gentler, and I jogged the last bit, feeling quite fresh even if I'd jogged and hiked over 55km already. I arrived at the station at 17:00, much to my delight. For a first time, I feel it's a decent time, even if that wasn't very important to me.

I got a beer at the department store, sadly my choice of microbrew ended up being a little disappointing. When I got home, I started the laundry and went for a dip at the local onsen. I mostly alternated between the hot and cold outdoor baths. After, I had dinner at a local izakaya, where I had some good salmon sashimi, some cold tofu and grilled chicken: the tsukune was excellent! Of course I washed it down with some beer; after all, I need some carbs too!

Surprisingly, I woke up Saturday with very little muscle ache. I guess I could have pushed harder. But as a benefit, it meant that after my photography class - where we did a bit of walking - I could go to a capoeira workshop. Then, we went to dinner, and after I walked from Bentencho to Shinsaibashi for about an hour to meet a friend whose bar was celebrating its first year anniversary. I got home around 4:00am... And then today I rode my bicycle to join a capoeira Batizado. I mostly took pictures, but I did play a little bit. Where do I find all this energy is a mystery to me...

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