Thursday, November 24, 2016

Weekend Marathon Trail Run

Calm and misty but not rainy weather was forecasted for last weekend, with no great flying possible, so we took time to revisit our favorite local mountain range, the Kyushu Central Mountains, about a 2 hour drive from our house.  Thrust up by the straight fault clearly visible on the right side of the image below, it's a 50 by 50 km area of extremely rugged mountains (Mt. Kunimi at 1738 m is the highest), with steep terrain everywhere, difficult to cross even by car, and to date, flown over by paraglider by yours truly only!  It's actually one of the remotest areas of all of Japan.

The tour: red course is mostly trail run (64 km, 3800m gain), yellow return course is mostly dirt road, 45 km, 1500m gain.
The 64km first day mostly follows the ridge tops after the initial climb up from the fault valley, eventually gaining 3800m, almost exactly the height of Mt. Fuji.  Leanne's course was a shorter variation at 37km and about 2000m gain, but she had to carry the pack with the camping gear.  Amazingly only one dirt road crosses the course, and it's almost entirely within virgin forest that's very rare in Japan; in fact the trail is very faint and difficult to follow, with a lot of deadfall and other obstacles. So in fact it was mostly not possible to run and I averaged only about 4.5 km/h in spite of giving it full effort.

Along the trail on Day 1.
We weren't sure we could actually make the whole course but we could communicate with ham radio transcievers (no cell coverage here!) and we arranged the logistics so that we would pass each other mid-way.  There were also various options for bailing out. But in fact, we both made our objectives, though our efforts stretched from dawn until 11:30pm.  (My day: 14h 30m, 5100 calories!)

The Shiiya Pass dirt road on the return trip.
After only chocolate bars and sausage for dinner and 6 hours of sleep, we began the slog back via the Shiiya Pass forest road, the only road that crosses this stretch of the range.  This time I carried the pack, which weighed about the same as a lightweight paragliding kit. 

These mountains are basically just heaps of earth and rubble, so landslides are extremely common and regularly render any road here impassable; only the Sisyphean efforts of hundreds of Japanese construction companies keep them from completely disappearing.  This slide was steep, fresh and loose, and actually pretty hazardous to cross even on foot.

Fearing more slides ahead we shortcut a section of the road, down a very steep ridge and eventually crossing a small clear river via a landslide control dam.  The freezing cold water felt so great for the feet, I had to go wading some more!

Finally back in civilization, the last 15 km to the car were on paved roads.  In spite of the previous day, we were able to walk an average of 5.5 km/h today, and were not really tired, just our feet hurt.  At the end of 110 km of trekking in 2 days, we relaxed at a local hot spring.

Whereas I only got one blister, Leanne's feet were pretty trashed.  This trip has shown us many lessons which will be valuable for the X-Alps.  For instance, it would have been great to have had a needle along for blister control - presumably, if treated early, they won't blow up so big!  Also, we should try those vaseline-like creams to see if they work.  

A more subtle lesson involved the power of concentration.  I find it very meditative to run or walk long distances, and so I don't notice things that might be important.  As an exercise, I tried to measure the time between kilometer markers on the forest road, but often missed the small signposts even though the GPS was counting the distance very nicely for me.  Zoned out, I would look at the screen only to see I'd already walked 1.5 km from the previous marker!  Of course it didn't matter today, but during the X-Alps paying close attention to accurate navigation is very important and besides, I'm sure there will be many other logistical things on my mind.  I must train to be able to walk and think at the same time!

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