I awoke early from my slumber knowing that today a formidable task lay ahead of me. One that had been lingering in the back of my mind intrepidly for some time. For today I would attempt to tackle the Bandai-Azuma Skyline, my greatest feat thus far. The road traverse’s for some 30km through the Azuma mountain range at an average height of 1,350 metres above sea level, the highest point in the road being 1,622 metres, just a short depreciation from the peak of Azuma Ko-fuji, an active stratovolcano which sits at 1,707 metres.
Down upon the deck it was apparent that I was in for quite the challenge. And as I sat outside 7-eleven bracing myself and supping on a preliminary coffee I was being curiously eyed by a local sat in his vehicle. My Britishness eyeing him with suspicion as every time I glanced in his general direction he would be eyeballing me, his face cold and non-descript. ‘What the hell is this guys problem?’ I would softly soliliquize to myself. The next time I looked back over at him he was stood before me smiling brightly, he wasn’t the enemy, a mere ally interested in my being.
‘Doko ni ikimasu ka?’ Where are you going? He would ask.
I pointed to the mountains of Azuma, ‘asoko,’ over there.
A grin began to glisten upon his face. ‘Hontou ni?’ Seriously? He then patted me on the leg. ‘Daijoubu?’ Ok? Wondering if my legs were fit for the job.
‘Ah tabun daijobu desu.’ yeah maybe ok. I replied. He nodded approvingly before whipping out a punnet of boiled eggs. He offered me one to which I gladly accepted.
‘Samukatta nai?’ Won’t you be cold? He said before tucking into his egg.
‘Tabun.’ Probably I replied with my mouth full.
‘hmm…sou nan da’ that’s probably right. ‘Ok, oki wo tsukete!’ Ok, take care! Before pushing the rest of the box of eggs before me and returning to his vehicle. His hospitality marked with kindness, something that is no rarity in Japan.
The mountain range surrounding me would rise and fall before distantly fading into a light blue haze, everywhere dotted with a procession of tree’s stripped by the indignities of winter and standing naked amongst the heavy laden snow. The snow in some places would sit stacked at some 12ft high along the sides of the road. A road which sits closed for the bulk of winter due to heavy snowfall in the area. On this day however, as luck would have it the roads had been cleared of snow and it would be the first day of the year that the Skyline would be open to the public. The ascent of the skyline naturally being a long, hard trudge as expected, yet my legs now becoming accustomed to the daily abuse, now allowing me to traverse the mountains all day without any aches or pains at the end of it. A pleasing note for the amount of strain I had been putting my body through, especially today.
With the altitude came the inevitable drop in temperature accompanied by a bitterly cold and biting wind. A scenery spellbinding and addictive and some of the most spectacular I would encounter. Beauty of which would fuel one’s urge to proceed further. After a couple of hours I would make it to a snow corridor along the highest section of the road, at the end of which one would catch sight of sulphuric gases being emitted from the craggy snow splashed mountainside. At 5pm I was now in relative proximity to the conical peak of Azuma-Ko-fuji. I was losing light fast so would have no time to trek to the peak. It was also getting increasingly cold, the ever pressing wind chilling the cold sweat upon my back. To linger now would have been a mistake. So I lingered not and ventured into the skylines descent.
The road’s were sparse with traffic and I ascended rapidly weaving around the skylines winding roads with ease hitting a personal record high speed of 32.6 mph, I was in an adrenaline junkies paradise. However the more I gained speed the more the wind seemed to howl back at me, exposing the critical error I had made of not having bought any gloves with me. Within minutes I could barely feel my digits, the freezing conditions making them look like a collection of very raw looking and slightly weird penises. I had to stop, I was getting frost bite, I had to be Bear Grylls or lose a pinky. And I had no place losing a pinky, I needed my pinky! Unzipping my fly I ushered my pork sword forth into the open, a task which in itself considering the climes was a trifle tricky, I felt like I had to wave something sexy in front of it just to get it to come out of the grotto. Yet once this was achieved I was able to bring life back to my frozen fingers by dousing them in what felt like at the time molten piss. I could feel the blood warming from within allowing me to gain back the sensation of actually possessing fingers. This was a good sign, possessing fingers is always a positive feat. Gratefully clenching my hands together with all the sensation I could muster I looked out in the direction of Fukushima City, at this altitude the city looked like Legoland. Breaching away from the city the vegetation took on various shades of green, yellow and orange, filling this beautiful landscape with a contrast of colours all the way up to my current snowy white surrounds. It was cold, so very, very cold, but to see the mountain in its wintery state coaxed in snow just added an immeasurable charm to my whole entire circumstance.
I rifled through my bag and plucked out a couple of pairs of Family Guy socks, placing them upon my hands, Stewie and Quagmire would act as my defence upon the cold descent of the mountain under the rapidly fading light. Back down in suburbia, the city of Fukushima awaited.