The sun was climbing in the sky by 8 AM when the mountain guide and my granddaughter came to collect me from my mountainside hut where I'd spent the night. There was still a slight chill in the air and I had my hooded sweatshirt on. By the time we made it the short distance to where the others were waiting for me, I shed it and at the mountain guide's insistence I put it in my backpack.
The descent trail was loose lava gravel. Some places it was rockier than others and you had to be sure to plant your foot heel first. It was hard to remember sometimes. I think my son counted 33 switchbacks or so on the map he had on his phone before we would get to a more level place.
It didn't take long for me to let my granddaughter handle the backpack again. I felt badly about that but she didn't seem to mind and Bob had said that she'd been worried about me all night, asking if I would be okay. When her dad suggested she trek down to see, she decided I would probably survive.
Somewhere around the 25th switchback my knees were truly ready to scream out loud. Or maybe that was me screaming. I never imagined that the way down would be just as challenging as the way up especially since it was a gravel trail and not rocks to climb down.
With about nine more switchbacks to go, the mountain guide suggested I walk backwards. I'd seen some people doing that but I was afraid I would stumble and fall. He finally turned me around and took one arm. Bob took the other and to my surprise the knees didn't hurt nearly so much walking that way. But now I had a whole new problem. I felt disoriented in that position not to mention the fact that they were moving me more quickly than I wanted. I kept getting dizzy. My son saw what was going on and thanked the guide but took my arm in his place. At least then I could ask for a moment of reprieve every so often to stop my head from spinning. I was finding it easier to breathe though.
We reached a little more level area but were told we still had over an hour to go and it was going to cut it close to the time when our bus would leave at the pace I was going. Around a slight bend we found a couple of horses from the riding stable at Station 5. Apparently I was not the only one who couldn't keep up and they were an enterprising lot who made themselves available. It cost around $150 for a ride to Station 5 from there (close to station 7 I think). I stepped on a large boulder and one of the men took my leg and passed it over the horse where another put my foot in the stirrup. We started on down with a lady leading the horse.
There was still a little downhill section and a few small ups and downs along the way. The horse followed a little different trail until it met up with the main beginning trail that I recognized from the day before. It was not an easy ride. And it was not an easy walk for the horse. It stumbled several times as we hit an area with smooth rocks on a slight slant as the weather turned to a misty rain. Then, as we neared Station 5, the horse almost went down on one knee. I let go a little scream and the lady leading looked at me as if nothing were wrong. What was I screaming for? I patted the neck of the horse and hoped it knew how grateful I was.
Along the way we had passed several others from our original tour group easily recognizable by the orange and white ribbons we had tied on our shoes at the start. The mountain guide had let them all go on their own. I guess he figured we'd be the last ones down and if there were a problem with anyone else he'd eventually find out. Several made it to just past Station 6 where there was a horse pulling a wagon and opted to take the wagon to the finish.
Getting off the horse was precarious at the least. A two step platform was easy enough to reach as I slid off but I worried my legs would not support me. They did long enough though to get the change from the money my son and Bob had given me and to make my way to the nearest boulder that decorated the center staging area for tour groups. I sat and immediately felt my thighs begin to spasm. Between the slight chill from the rain and the pulling of muscles not used to being on the back of a horse I sat and shivered and watched the spasms come and go.
The tour guide who had probably arrived first came over to me to assure me my family was only about 15 minutes behind me. That was just fine. I wasn't moving for a while anyway.
Sure enough the rest of them showed up right on time. We collected clothes from the locker and boarded the bus when it arrived. Part of the tour also included a stop at a public bath, onsen. While I was desperate for a shower after sweating for two days and not having any water to even wash my face, I was almost tempted to take part. My granddaughter really wanted me to and couldn't understand why I wouldn't.
Me: Can I just take a shower and no bath?
Me: Can I wear the towel in?
Me: Sorry. Can't do it.
We did get a small washcloth and towel and I went into the women's side thinking that I would be able to at least wash my face at the sinks she said would be there. One look at all the twenty-somethings running around in the buff, sitting down putting on makeup, and drying hair, etc. confirmed my decision. I didn't need to expose a 60-something body amidst all that. Since the sinks were all busy, I let my granddaughter go on in and I found a restroom with no one in it where I could at least wash my face. It was a start.
Our trip home seemed really long and a few ladies were obviously offended when I sat next to them on the train ride from Tokyo station to where my son's apartment is. They pulled out their little hankies and put them to their noses.
We hit the shower directly and then enjoyed a wonderful salad and pizza that our daughter-in-law had prepared. I was grateful we didn't have to go out again. It was going to take a while to work out the aches and pains.
The only one who was sure he might go back and do it again was my son. I knew there was something strange about that child. Even his kids said never again but then they are young and there's lots of time to change their mind. As for Bob and me it's a been-there-done-that-don't-need-to-do-it-again thing with lots of great memories--many of which are painful.