Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A New Challenge

Again I'm trailing behind a bit on blog entries, but I suppose I wouldn't be living if I posted everything as it happened :) The weekend before last, I headed out on a 36km (about 22 miles) hike in Hakone National Park. Hakone is a popular tourist destination for Japanese and foreigners alike. It's a hot spring area as well and popular here are black eggs, boiled in the sulfur hot springs there.

The reason I went on this long hike was because I'm beginning a new challenge. I've decided to join a team for the Oxfam Trailwalker.

Oxfam is an British based organization that fights poverty and injustice around the world. They provide emergency aid to places like Haiti and Sudan, as well as ongoing support in countries like India, Cambodia, South Africa, Laos and the Philippines.

The Oxfam Trailwalker is a 100km hike over 48 hours, with basically no sleeping in between. It's completed in teams of 4 and the team must begin and finish together. Below is my team, now unofficially named the Fuji Crew. Each team must raise the equivalent of $1200 for Oxfam, with most teams raising on average of $3000. You can check out how the money is used here if you're interested. So our team started our training with this all day hike.

The Fuji Crew

There are several Trailwalker events around the world, but Japan is said to be one of the three most difficult courses, if not the most difficult. Here's one of the uphills (is upmountain a word?) near the beginning of the hike. We were training on the actual course, from Start to Checkpoint 4 (there are 10 checkpoints in all to get to the end). Hitting checkpoints 1 and 2 were about 9 kilometers each with a lot of uphill and a little bit of downhill.

To stay on course, we have maps that include lots of landmark pictures. They are quite helpful and can be easily printed off the internet. It's a great system. Anyway, this scrapped car was halfway up one of the mountains. It was a landmark on the map and all of us thought it was strange that it was marked on the map. Gave us something to talk about - trying to decide how a car got halfway up a mountain full of trees!

This is one of the tourist hot spots that we hiked through. The Old Tokaido was the highway that used to run from Tokyo to Kyoto. This used to be the checkpoint where people had to go through. Most of the checkpoint has been restored, including the gates, fence, housing for officers and foot soldiers, a prison chamber and a lookout tower. We obviously didn't stop to see it all, but we walked through the gates and the main shopping street.

The gate is located next to Lake Ashi, which has a popular view of Mount Fuji and its floating torii gate. This is a different one than the other pictures I posted. It's much closer to my house. It wasn't super clear that day, so Mt. Fuji is blending in with the sky a bit in this picture, but if you look close in the background you can see the snow-topped Fuji. Also is the pirate tourist ship, apparently a must have at tourist destinations.

We saw a few of these trees like this, upturned so you could see all the roots. Pretty cool.

The third checkpoint was a bit more flat (well, more like lots of downhill and no uphill) and to the 4th checkpoint was pretty much flat walking around the lake. This picture is taken on the same lake as the Mt. Fuji picture above, but near sunset. Though the last checkpoint was flat, it was longer than the others at around 13 kilometers. After climbing earlier in the hike, it was still exhausting and our bodies started aching and blisters forming. But we made it.

We actually didn't take many breaks during the day. It was cold (there was frost and a bit of snow in several parts of the course), so if we stopped for much more than 10 minutes we would start freezing. The actual race is in April, so this shouldn't be as much of a problem then! It was good to keep us moving. We mostly stopped at each of the checkpoints, so about every 2-3 hours. We stopped and ate some of our food and snacks, and obviously hit up some vending machines along the way for water and Gatorade. While we were moving, the temperature wasn't really an issue, especially in the sunny areas.

Here we are exhausted on the train after hiking from 7:15am til about 5pm. It was a long day, but felt awesome that we finished. Still exhausting to think that in the real event, we'll have to do what we did that day 2 more times without sleeping. More training needs to be done so we can get to that level!! Our team will continue working hard and we'll be looking for your support in the months ahead!

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