Journal entry from Tuesday, 8 July, 2003:
I had an interesting experience while hiking.
It was a seemingly perfect day to climb up Mount Asahidake, the highest mountain in Hokkaido, Japan. Warm sunshine highlighted the Daisetsuzan Range, the country's largest national park, and the spectacular lower section of the mountain. Steaming thermal craters were surrounded by expansive fields of grass and wildflowers, along with small ponds and fingers of snow that somehow had miraculously resisted melting at the same time as their friends.
The path soon inclined sharply, cutting to the right of a bow-shaped ravine where the lush terrain suddenly gave way to a barren landscape, and leading along an exposed 5-foot-wide ridge that had about a 45-degree descent on either side. Worst of all was the consistency of the trail, made entirely of loose shale, dirt, gravel and small rocks.
While this made for tough going in my running shoes, turning back was out of the question, being that there is no greater competition than when faced with the prospect of copping out on a feat that innumerable 70-year-old Japanese women are doing with ease.
Eventually reaching the summit, I found myself alone on a barren, rocky peak, marked by incredible views of its snow-streaked neighbors, as well as a 5-foot-tall wooden post that announced, in kanji, your success in reaching the not-exactly-Everest height of 2,290 meters; then again, being that I couldn't actually read it, it may have been a really poorly placed warning for those with heart problems.
While rehydrating with the horrendously named Pocari Sweat sport drink, I once again found myself in the company of a man named Mori, who I had met and chatted with briefly in the parking lot before starting the hike. I say briefly because after a few words in broken English, and a few more in absolutely disintegrated Japanese, we had more or less exhausted all forms of verbal communication.
Puffing away like a fat kid playing dodgeball, Mori clambered the final few steps to the top, where we exchanged pleasantries about the view, though this was pretty much limited to "Sugai, ne?" ("Great, yes?"), my go-to Japanese phrase that I manage to slip into almost every "conversation" I have with a Japanese person.
We then nodded to each other and, in silent agreement, headed down the mountain. Since I had made it up the mountain first, Mori concluded that I should be the first to descend, and motioned for me to do so. While I recognized that this would transform me into a potentially bloody cushion should he lose his footing, I still appreciated his gracious gesture.
We arrived at the bottom on shaky legs, our hands adorned with small scrapes caused by frantic searches for handholds as we felt our feet slipping and disappearing from under us.
I headed to the toilet to change into clothes that weren't covered in a fine layer of dust and emerged to find Mori waiting for me with the manna of the gods: a cone of soft-serve ice cream.
While I was overjoyed at this sight, I can only imagine what other people were thinking about the man hanging around the bathroom with two ice cream cones. But to me he was much, much more than a potential pedophile; he was evidence to the possible magnanimity of man.
Here was a man whom I had not only met just a few hours ago, but with whom I had also exchanged nearly as many words as can be found in a Charlie Chaplin movie. Yet he was able to grasp my emotional, not to mention gastronomical, state, and step in to provide much-needed support to a complete stranger.
Perhaps I am waxing a bit too philosophical here and a gift of ice cream does not justify sainthood, but it's always warming to know that however you choose to lead your life, no matter what path you take, there will be someone looking out for you, whether it be your family, your friends or a Japanese man whose name in English translates to Woody.
Jon Duval is a staff writer for the Idaho Mountain Express.